Notes from Windward: #55

flushing the Ewes

Fall is breeding season, and this year we're trying a process called "flushing" the ewes. The ewes like it a lot, because they get extra rations of grain for 17 days. Here's the first ewe in line, waiting for breakfast. Not only does the extra nutrition bring the ewes into better physical condition for breeding, it also tends to bring all the ewes into heat at about the same time. When the birthing begins, that's a plus.

A few more ewes have joined the waiting line. Surely, lunch must be on the way! The only part of flushing that the ewes don't seem to like is that we separate the ram from the ewes during those 17 days. Some of the ewes came into heat during Lambie Pie's "incarceration." They'd stand on one side of the fence, Lambie Pie on the other, just . . . waiting.

flushing also results in twinning (births of two or more lambs), both because of the better nourishment and because there's something to be said for the old adage "absence makes the heart grow fonder." The ewes have a higher likelihood of dropping two ova when they've been separated from the ram prior to coming into heat.

Here I'm bringing a sack of grain over to the feeding troughs. The sheep have figured out who's in charge of the extra food, and whenever I walk by, they're pretty loud in demanding another portion. We started out giving each of the ewes about 1/4 lb of grain each day, then built up to 3/4 of a lb. Of course, nature being what it is, the stronger, older ewes tend to muscle out the younger, less experienced ones.

Finally, lunch! This also gives me a chance to pull a few strands of wool out of the fleeces to help determine which ones are keepers, and which ones will be going to the auction. We're hoping to breed a new ram this year. Lambie Pie's five years old and has brought excellent blood lines to our herd, but genetics are never static, and you have to keep looking ahead.

We have several options for a new ram: crossing Lambie Pie and one of his daughters should produce a big ram with excellent fleece. Lambie Pie was a bummer lamb from a commercial flock, and two years ago we got another bummer lamb (who's leg was broken) from the same flock. We have a fondness for animals that have gone through tough times and hung in there.

Although we're not positive which of our fleeces took Champion at the County Fair, I'm pretty certain it was that ewe. If she should produce a ram this year, we'd keep him.

Another possibility for a new ram is from a commercial rambouillet flock down near Pendelton. Rambouillet is an excellent spinning fleece, as well as the primary wool used by the nationally famous Pendelton Woolen Mills.

The goats have figured out the grain routine and believe they have as much right to the goodies as anybody else, so I try to feed the ewes at different times during the day when the goats aren't hanging around. That works sometimes better than others, but even so, the goats get into the act if they can. Fortunately, the ewes waste little time getting at the grain, so by the time the goats get their heads into the feed trough, there isn't much left.

And now we have a mixed herd of four-leggers sharing the lunch table! Since the ewes should birth around March, they'll be getting extra grain again in February. That will help them prepare for birthing and also produce bigger and healthier lambs. Last winter reached sub zero temperatures and most of the lambs were born between Christmas and mid-February, the coldest time of the year.

Unfortunately between the bitter cold and the coyotes, we lost about one-third of our lambs this year. That's a hard thing, both emotionally and financially, and we're working on doing better next year.

Selling the finished lambs is the primary way we pay for the grain and hay that sustains the herd. Increasing the percentage of double births is a key way to insure that the herd pays for itself next year.

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