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
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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