Friday, February 12, 2010

Night checks

See anyone big enough to pop out a lamb yet? These three pictures were taken last weekend. Click on the photos to enlarge them and have a good "butchers."

What you look for to begin, to note when pregnancy has begun to "show," is the filling in of the hollow behind the diaphragm. That's the first sign. Then the ewe develops obvious bulges on the flanks, central to the torso. Tillie, the ewe in the photo by herself, is not pregnant, and so her flanks hollow out behind her rib cage.

Maggie, however, the first of the sheep in Indian file, has filled out behind her rib cage, and is pretty obviously pregnant, as is Molly, right behind her. Which is good. they were both among the three ewes we wanted to breed. Molly is a particularly good ewe, sturdy and a fine mother. I can't quite tell for sure if Maggie, the last of this triad, is pregnant yet, but she probably is.

Tootsie, however, the lightest of the naturally colored ewes in the two group pictures, has also filled out. And we didn't want to breed her. She's too old to breed, was kept separate from the ram almost all fall, except for one accidental occasion, and in fact should probably be culled for mutton. But she sure looks pregnant to me. So she may have been bred the day the ram got out.

Poop. But the others seem not to be pregnant. So far.

I'm going over this because our lambing "window" has either been open for several weeks, or is opening in about two week's time, according to Aimee's records, and it's time to start thinking about night checks.

I couldn't sleep anyway, and so went out to give myself some practice. Our sheep are also hanging out in a different place, further behind the barn to the back of this picture, so I wanted to work out how best to get to them. I found I can swing my legs over the fence easily enough and get right in among them, which is best. The poor sheep were of course disturbed by this apparition coming at them with a flashlight at 02.55 am, but they need to get used to me.

And then I got Aimee's livestock record book out and checked the dates against the traditional lambing calendar.

The first possibility for this year's lambing has in fact passed, I just worked out. This is a point in early August last year when our old ram, now slaughtered, called Abraram or Abe, had accidental access to at least one ewe that we saw before we caught him and put him back in his private pen.

That ewe was Larkie, our "too-stupid-to-breed" sheep. Lark, a WMD survivor (white muscle disease, not the other kind of WMD), isn't playing with a full deck, so we don't want to breed her. But we can't cull her because like Tootsie and Tillie and Jewel, she was one of the original herd, for which we made a promise to the previous owners not to cull or slaughter them for meat, but to let them live out a "natural" life. But that means she can be bred accidentally. And so can Tootsie, Tillie and Jewel, all now retired.

Rams can always get out. We have fences, not solid British style stone walls, on our farm. I never saw a common-or-garden stock fence strong enough that a 200 pound Romney ram couldn't batter down if it really tried.

Another reason to cull responsibly, if you're going to keep livestock. These days I tend to think that it isn't natural for a farmer not to cull, and that the romantic "animals are my friends" types actually hurt animals with such mistaken notions.

But Lark isn't "showing," so we may have squeaked by there. Molly, however, who may or may not have had access to Abe at the same time we caught Lark having fun with Abe, is showing, however, and is quite huge. So is she early? And bred to her own dad, the dirty bugger.

The problem is, Molly is always huge. And on consulting the book, that breeding date was August 8th, so the due date would have been weeks ago.

Squeaked by again.

Still, it is possible that something else might have happened that we didn't see or record, however unlikely. At one point Abe, for instance, was trying to mount the ewes through the fence. Although he wasn't succeeding, we noticed these rather desperate measures on his part and intervened. But he may have succeeded when we weren't looking. We need to make sure we don't lose lambs, especially from such a good mother as Molly, so we have to begin night checks now or soon.

We don't know for sure when the actual two to three weeks of our planned lambing season will be, but we can estimate the most likely start point, which is March 20th.

Snorri arrived November 1st, which makes the first due date for his lambs March 20th. He's a fairly mild kind of ram, so I would guess later rather than sooner. He was given free access to Mollie, Maggie and Nellie for about four weeks. he also got out one night and had access to all the other ewes, not all of which, however, would have been in heat.

It would be possible, but not that likely, for lambs from Snorri to be born before then. They would be premature.

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