Here’s a timelapse video of our 23 sheep and lambs being shorn this year.
Coco went into labor Saturday morning, May 2, 2020. The first lamb, a ram, presented butt-first and I was unable to turn him to get his legs out first. I slowly delivered him so not to damage Coco. The 2nd – a ewe – was a normal presentation (head and 2 front legs) and was born without any issue. The 3rd was also a ewe and was presenting with only 1 leg forward; her head and other front leg were turned away from the birth canal. I live-streamed the lambing on Facebook Live once we realized there was a 3rd lamb. You can see the video below: (it is graphic and stressful)
After the 3rd lamb was born we made sure they all nursed, got weighed and navels dipped in iodine.
It became clear by the afternoon that Coco didn’t want to feed the ewe lambs – only the ram.
So we brought the girls in the house for a while…
but decided that they needed to be with Coco as long as she didn’t hurt them.
We added a couple boards in the jug we had Coco and the ram lamb in so that the girls could get away from Coco if needed.
We held Coco so the girls could get some colostrum, plus we supplemented with bottles of colostrum we had frozen the previous year (in case of emergencies) mixed with colostrum we milked from Coco. We continued to milk Coco for a few days until her milk supply had slowed for only 1 lamb.
After a couple days in the jug, we let Coco and her lambs out with the other mamas and lambs. She watched over all 3 of her babies, and we went out a few times a day with bottles to feed the girls.
We were thankful that she didn’t totally reject the girls because lambs learn so much from their mothers, including what is edible and how to interact with other sheep.
Over the 3 months of bottle feeding we decided to keep one of the girls that had become such a love bug. We named her Natalie and she is growing into a beautiful sheep.
In discussing rams, I feel it necessary to first warn you about rams in general. Rams can be dangerous, and after years of breeding sheep we have decided that there are too many good-tempered rams out there to risk harm in keeping an aggressive ram on our premises. We have also seen that demeanor is a heritable trait. One year we bred half our ewes to our 1st ram, Zeus – an aggressive ram, and half to our 2nd ram, Karloff – a sweet and gentle ram. As both their lambs grew close to weaning age (3 months) we could pick out which ram lambs were Zeus’s or Karloff’s by how they watched us and acted toward us. No matter how correct or beautiful a ram is, he’s not worth the risk of injury to you or the risk of passing on those aggressive traits in his offspring.
Breeding sheep can be done in multiple ways. Shepherds who are wary of keeping a ram on their farm full-time may choose to lease a ram for the breeding season or send their ewes to another farm to be bred. A few choose to artificially inseminate (AI) their ewes. Many other shepherds prefer to keep only 1 ram on their farm and trade or purchase a new ram when they deem it necessary. There are still other shepherds who keep a couple to several rams on their farm.
We have had between 1 and 3 rams on the farm at once over the years. Keeping a single ram doesn’t mean he should be alone, and experts warn that keeping a ram by himself may cause him to become aggressive. A wether (castrated male) is a great companion animal for the single ram. The wether will keep keep him company and won’t fight with the ram for dominance.
If you plan to keep more than 1 ram on your farm at a time and don’t want to or don’t have room to keep them in separate areas, you will need to introduce them in a small pen or stall – like a lambing jug (stall).
When rams fight for dominance, they back up, then run and headbutt (or ram) each other. By putting them in a small area you’re taking away the space they need to back up and gain momentum before ramming. They will still headbutt each other but you have greatly reduced the risk of serious injury.
This introduction period can take a day or 2. We check on the rams throughout the day to monitor behavior, every couple to few hours – depending on how they are getting along. After they work our their pecking order we send them out to pasture, but we still check on them a few times a day at first. If we witness fighting, they go back into a stall for another day. **If you introduce rams in hot weather – put a fan on them. They will be hot from pushing each other around.**
Sometimes rams can’t get along, and need to be kept separate. You would need to decide if you have room to meet those needs on your farm.
Now that you have your rams together, you may think they will always get along. This, however, is not the case. Anytime the rams are apart for a period, they need to be reintroduced in the same way. i.e., after breeding season. It is also necessary to pen them after shearing. Although they both smell the same, they look very different and need time to assert dominance in a safe space.
After weaning, we sometimes move our ram lambs to the ram pasture. We bring the adult rams and lambs together in the barn first to see how they react to each other. The adult rams may not react to the lambs in the same way they would react to another adult ram. It usually depends on the age and size of the lambs, though. Larger and more mature lambs may need to learn their place in the pecking order of the group, while smaller lambs may naturally assume a lower spot in the order.
Last week we talked about sheep during our Virtual Field Trip.
Have questions? Please post in the comments.
For our friends who aren’t on Facebook, here is our latest Virtual Field Trip. We talked about wool and the steps we take to process it from a freshly shorn fleece into yarn.
We are often asked how the sheep in our flock are related. We keep many of our ewe lambs so most of our sheep are daughters, sisters or nieces to the other ewes in the flock. I can pick out familial traits in the sheep, whether wool texture or bodily features, when I am with them, but that’s because I see them daily.
Below is our Flock Family Tree. Names in parentheses are sires (dads). Rosy & Star were our first sheep purchased from a farm in PA and were half-sisters. We purchased Camille from a farm in Ohio, and Coco from NJ (but Coco’s sire was born here, to Rosy). For photos and ages of the sheep in our flock click here.
Not all these ewes are still with us or still breeding. Rosy, Star and Camille have passed, and Abigail, Annie, Bertha and Beatrice have been retired from breeding.
Please post any questions you have!
With schools closed because of the Covid-19 virus, we decided to host a Virtual Field Trip to complement any learning your children are already doing from home. We broadcast the field trip live on Facebook Friday, March 20th, but also wanted to post it here for anyone not on Facebook.
We hope you enjoy this, and please post any questions you have in the comments below.
We will be hosting another virtual field trip on Wednesday, March 25th live on Facebook at 1pm EDT. The topic of this broadcast will be Eggs.
If you’ve been following us for a while, you may remember our Tunis ram named Raulie. Raulie was a special guy and lived out his days on our farm. I shared a little about his health is another post, but after finding a question about sheep spitting out cud on a Facebook sheep group I thought it might be useful for others if I detailed my experience.
In late November 2017, shortly after we started feeding hay for the winter season, Raulie began regurgitating large wads of his cud. He was born on Christmas and was just a few weeks from turning 12 years old.
I took this video of Raulie when he spit up his cud so I could send it to our vet before she came out to examine him.
After observing him and checking his vitals and teeth, our vet felt along Raulie’s throat. She felt a lump on his trachea and concluded that may be the cause of the regurgitation. Our vet mentioned the possibility of there being a tumor or growth in the rumen or other part of the digestive tract, but any further diagnosis would require more invasive, internal examinations. We decided we didn’t want to put Raulie through that.
Our vet prescribed 2 weeks of steroids to hopefully shrink the lump on Raulie’s trachea, but he bloated after a just a couple doses. We gave him a water and baking soda mixture by oral drenching gun to neutralize the gasses in his rumen and he recovered quickly but was unable to continue taking the steroids.
Instead of getting regular hay twice a day, Raulie was now to be fed hay pellets soaked in water 3 times per day. The hay in the pellets was chopped so small that we had no more issues with Raulie choking on or regurgitating his cud. He always came to us for his hay pellets and was in good body condition when we sheared in late February.
We did lose Raulie in March 2018, but he was active and bright-eyed even on the day he died. Changing his diet from hay to hay pellets gave him a few more quality months of life.
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.
When the harness is strapped onto the ram’s body the crayon is held at his chest.
When the ram mates with a ewe, the crayon rubs against the ewe’s rump and leave a color on her wool.
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.
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’ 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!
This is the end of May and the lambs are 3-8 weeks old.
Here are the lambs a week later. Maya (the Jacob lamb) is 3 weeks old and her horns are peeking through her hair.
Maya is 5 weeks here, and Maggie is 2.5 weeks old.
The mamas and lambs are loving the green pastures, and hang out in the shade during the hottest parts of the days.