Using a Marking Harness on Your Ram

We want to breed for April lambs so we introduce our ram to the ewes’ pasture in early November. Prior to moving him to the girls’ field, we put a marking harness on the ram. This harness holds a rectangular crayon.

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When the harness is strapped onto the ram’s body the crayon is held at his chest.

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When the ram mates with a ewe, the crayon rubs against the ewe’s rump and leave a color on her wool.

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When using a marking harness you need to change the crayon about every 2 weeks because a ewe’s estrus cycle can be last anywhere between 13-19 days, depending on the breed and individual sheep.

We have had a couple ewes that cycle every 14 days so we change the crayon on our ram’s marking harness every 14 days. The new crayon is always a shade darker than the crayon before, i.e., yellow is followed by orange then red. Changing the marking harness crayon to a darker color each cycle will indicate if any ewe is mated (or covered) during her second (or third) estrus cycle with the ram.

We leave the ram in with the ewes until there is a cycle where none of the ewes are mated again. Once the ewe is bred and the pregnancy takes, she will not ovulate (or cycle) again.

For example, on day 1 we put the harness with a yellow crayon on the ram and put him in with the ewes. On day 14 we change the crayon to orange. Say all 11 of our ewes are marked with the yellow crayon before we change colors on day 14. After we change to the orange crayon, we wait to see if any of the ewes are re-mated and marked with the orange crayon. If none of them have orange rumps after day 14, we would conclude that they were all bred and became pregnant during the first estrus cycle and it would be safe to separate the ram from the ewes.

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If any of them end up with an orange rump (like the one above), we would change the crayon to red on day 28 (14 days after changing to orange) and wait to see if any ewes are bred once again.

By using the marking harness you not only know which ewes are pregnant, but you can also estimate due dates. As with estrus cycles, gestational periods vary by breed and can range from 144 days to 152 days. If you make note of each ewe’s breeding you can calculate her estimated due date and lessen your trips to the barn or field to check for signs of labor.

 

The Lambs are Growing

The lambs’ first time outside is always exciting as they explore their new surrounding and really stretch their legs.

The lambs love racing around the fields in the evenings, especially when they’re little. It’s always fun to watch them run and bounce through the pasture.

It’s nearly time to wean the lambs from their mamas and the have grown so much over the past 3 months!

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This is the end of May and the lambs are 3-8 weeks old.

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Here are the lambs a week later. Maya (the Jacob lamb) is 3 weeks old and her horns are peeking through her hair.

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Maya is 5 weeks here, and Maggie is 2.5 weeks old.

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The mamas and lambs are loving the green pastures, and hang out in the shade during the hottest parts of the days.

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Lambing lasted about a month this year. We had 12 lambs (plus one stillborn lamb) born to 8 mamas.

Kathleen was the first to lamb with her first lambs. She had twin ewe lambs on April 3rd.

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Fiona and Bertha both gave birth on April 7th. Fiona had twin ram lambs…

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…and Bertha had a single ram lamb.

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Erin gave birth to a ram and a ewe on April 11th.

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Esme waited until I was in Allentown setting up for the Allentown Fiber Festival on April 12th to have her twin rams.

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Coco had her twins the next day, on April 13th, but the ewe was stillborn and only the ram survived, despite our efforts to revive the ewe lamb. With everything happening so fast, I never took a birth photo of her lamb but did get this one with our barn cam.

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Kate gave birth to her first lamb – a ewe – on April 17th. We were so happy that she lambed before Noah was at school since Kate is his sheep.

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Izzy was our last ewe to lamb and she gave birth to a single ewe lamb on May 5th.

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Kathleen’s ewe lambs, Coco’s ram, and both of Erin’s lambs will be available in early – mid July.

If you are interested in purchasing any lambs please contact us by email or phone, or on our farm Facebook page for more info.

Kyle is Growing Up

If you’ve been following our farm for a while you probably know about Kyle, our lamb that was born without wool on his body. He was born on February 25, 2017 to Annie and sired by Hurley.

Over the summer I decided I wanted Kyle to move south because I didn’t want him to suffer through our cold Pennsylvania winters. I found a wonderful woman in Texas who fell in love with him from my various Facebook posts about him, and in October 2017 he moved to Texas! God provided people who were moving other sheep from Virginia to Texas and agreed to bring him along. I drove him to Virginia where he was cared for by a friend and fellow Tunis breeder until the couple arrived to pick up their sheep (and Kyle).

Kyle arrived safe and sound in Texas and settled in right away.

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He made friends right away with his new owners dog …

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and became buddies with her cow.

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He got a nice sweater to wear when temperatures turned chilly.

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The winter of 2017-2018 brought snow to parts of Texas that hadn’t seen snow in 30 years! I joked that Kyle brought the cold weather with him. He was prepared for the weather with his new coat to keep him warm, though.

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I keep in touch with his owner and Kyle turned 2 years old last month. He’s such a big boy and looks so happy soaking up the sun!

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His owner also tells me he has a mischievous side and sometimes joins the donkey in chasing the cat up the fence posts.

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We learned so much from Kyle being born with hypotrichosis, and I’m so glad that I met his owner and we were able to transport him to Texas. He’s been a blessing and I hope he has many healthy years ahead.

 

~all photos are from Kyle’s new owner~

 

How We Control Parasites under the New Recommendations

When we first got into sheep, in 2006, it was recommended to (de)worm sheep at regular intervals then move those sheep to a “clean” field (one that sheep had not been on in at least a couple weeks). There are 3 classes of parasite drugs, each targeting certain types of parasites, and it was also suggested to use a medication from a different class at each interval.

From research and from many farms dealing with parasites that are now resistant to certain anthelmintic drugs, recommendations have changed over the past few years. Shepherds are now advised to test sheep for parasites and (de)worm after sheep have been in an area for at least a few days so that any parasites that aren’t killed by the medication and are expelled from the animal’s body will have a better chance of breeding with “normal” parasites instead of other resistant parasites. Testing can determine what parasites are present and, therefore, what class of drug (if any) is needed.

With this new info and advice about parasite resistance to worming medications, I have been doing fecal tests every 3-4 months on my flock to see if I need to treat them. If I notice certain sheep are acting off I will do individual fecal tests on those sheep. My ewes were last wormed in Jan 2017 and my boys were wormed in the summer of 2017.

If there are obvious signs like pale eyelids (indicative of anemia), I worm with cydectin right away instead of waiting for a fecal because barber pole worms can become a fatal problem very quickly. In this case, I would run a fecal 1-2 weeks after treating to see if a second treatment is needed.

I have noticed that some of our lambs have issues with parasites over their first summer and autumn, and need multiple treatments. This doesn’t necessarily indicate that they will always be susceptible to a “normal” parasite load. I’ve noted that most of those same sheep will not need worming their 2nd year. Once they are bigger they seem to be more resistant to parasites.

Parasites can be an issue to sheep that we bring to the farm or that we sell. The stress of moving to a new place can trigger worms to become more active. Each farm also has different populations of parasites and it can take time for the sheep’s body to adjust to the population of the new farm. Because of this, I recommend checking new sheep more often – doing a fecal once a month or so and checking eyelids weekly.

Questions? Leave a comment below and I will answer as best I can. I urge you to do your own research, though. The Maryland Small Ruminant Page is a great resource run by Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist for University of Maryland Extension. The Ohio State University Sheep Team runs a sheep blog that is very informative. If you don’t have a local vet who is knowledgeable with sheep, Pipestone Veterinary Service can be reached by email or phone for sheep questions. You can also Google topics and find many other resources. If you don’t have a local vet who can run fecal tests, you can send samples to MidAmerica Agricultural Research.

“Mom, are you crying?”

Bertha seemed to be in the beginning stages of labor early this afternoon. She progressed slowly and by dinnertime she had started pushing. I ate dinner quickly and went to check on her because nothing was happening during her pushes.

I got out to the barn with the supplies I needed to check the lamb’s position. I soon realized Bertha’s lamb was full breech, meaning its tail was coming out first and all 4 legs were pointed the other way. I tried to find the legs, but it was already at the cervix so there wasn’t much room for my hand. I called our vet to come out and assist because I didn’t think I would be able to turn the lamb. Dave came out and put up a gate to keep the other ewes out of the way and Hannah came out to watch.

Bertha kept pushing so I tried again to maneuver the lamb, but every time attempted she would lay down – making it harder for me to work. I eventually was able to push the lamb back from the cervix enough to feel the lamb’s hind legs. I needed Bertha to stay standing so I could straighten the back legs and get them out.

Hannah was watching from the other side of the gate and was a bit grossed out by birth process. She knew I was having trouble, though, and asked if she could come over the gate to help… yes! I explained that I needed her to hold Bertha’s head and let Bertha lean against her while I worked to get the legs turned around. I was able to get my hand on the leg and found the hoof, then I cupped my hand around it and tried to bring the leg backwards without damaging Bertha’s uterus. It was so hard and scary but I got it turned around. I was on an adrenaline rush and both surprised and relieved at what I just did! I laid my head on Bertha’s back and heard Hannah ask, “Mom, are you crying?”

After a few tears and deep breaths, I got the other hind leg turned around the same way as the first leg, then let Bertha rest until she had to push again.

The problem that arises when lambs are born with back legs coming out first is that the umbilical cord is pinched before the lamb’s head is delivered, causing the lamb to begin breathing while it is still surrounded by amniotic fluid.

When Bertha began pushing I pulled the legs to fully extend them and pulled the lamb out quickly so it didn’t inhale any fluid. Once out, I wiped the birth fluids from its face and rubbed its side to get it breathing. Bertha’s ram lamb starting shaking his head and calling to her right away.

I was so overwhelmed with relief that I found myself crying again! I called our vet to tell him the lamb was born but asked him to come check on Bertha since he was on his way.

Bertha was perfect and neither of us felt another lamb so this little guy has his mama all to himself. Well, except for me milking her so I can make some sheep’s milk soap.

Answers from Around the Globe

By 1 month old Kyle began growing some “peach fuzz”.

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His face remained patchy with hair and his ears stayed hairless, but his body was soon covered with tiny curls.

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By 3 months old he was being weaned from his mama and his “wool” was about .5″ long.

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This wool wasn’t like any of our other lambs though. It spiraled instead of having a crimp pattern and it felt dry.

I began wondering if he might have some other kind of disorder or even a mutation affecting his hair and fiber growth instead of hypotrichosis.

In May 2017, I read an article titled “Scientists Look to Unravel Mutant Sheep Wool Mystery“, about a research project by AgResearch in New Zealand looking into a specific wool mutation in sheep.  The sheep carrying this mutation grow wool that is straighter and more lustrous than normal wool.

I contacted and sent photos to the New Zealand researchers, asking their opinions. They didn’t seem to think it was the luster mutation that they studied because Kyle’s wool wasn’t shiny like the sheep in their study.

The researchers eventually obtained permission for me to send them raw fiber samples. I snipped a small area of wool from Kyle’s side, as well as 2 half siblings for comparison. These other 2 lambs were twins from Bertha and Hurley. Hurley was Kyle’s sire and Bertha was Kyle’s dam’s full sister.

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You can see that #0088 still has a lot of the red hair that makes Tunis lambs cinnamon-colored intermixed with his wool fiber. Both samples from #0088 and #0087 have crimp that makes the samples look airy and bulky. Kyle’s wool sample, in contrast, lays flat.

The researchers were intrigued by Kyle’s wool sample and it’s helical appearance. It definitely wasn’t a luster mutation, but it also wasn’t normal wool.

During the summer months I discovered that Kyle’s wool was also quite fragile. When the flies landed on his body he would bite at them or rub against something. His wool began breaking off in those places he was trying to scratch.

We became diligent in spraying him with fly repellent when necessary because the more he swatted at flies and scratched the more his wool broke off, thus making it easier for the flies to bite him.

In June, after the wool samples arrived in New Zealand, the researchers began to determine the best method to collect DNA samples for testing and to check what permits were needed import DNA samples from Kyle and a few other related sheep in our flock.

We received an AllFlex Tissue Sampler in early September. The sampling gun was similar to our ear tagging guns in application. This sampler, however, didn’t leave anything on the ear – it punched a small hole in the ear. The vial is placed into the applicator, you then place the ear in the space between the vial and applicator. When you squeeze the blue and black handles together, the applicator punches a small sample of tissue right into the vial and seals it in one motion.

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You can see the small sample between the red and green parts of the vial below.

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After collecting samples from Kyle, his dam and sire, and his dam’s sister, I packed up the samples and equipment to send back to New Zealand. The vials contained a preservative so the samples didn’t need and special shipping requirements for the return trip.

Although there were no projects involving wool mutations going on at the time I sent the DNA samples back to New Zealand, the plan was to have those samples ready in the event another wool study began or in case the samples could be tested along with another study.