When I was in fourth grade my class did a crossword puzzle and one of the clues was “A female sheep.” Having first cousins as sheep farmers, I was the only who knew this was a “ewe,” and I also knew how to spell it!
The scary thing was that this was 30 years ago and this happened in the heart of farm country in eastern South Dakota! I wonder how many kids in big cities would know this today?
A “ewe” is just one classification of a sheep; the term refers to a female sheep. In fact, the first five capitalized words used in the title of this post are names of types of sheep. A buck and a ram are male, intact sheep. A ewe is a female sheep and a dam is a mother sheep.
Some of you probably thought I spelled “Wether” wrong, but this is a play on words. A wether without the first “h” refers to a male sheep who has been castrated.
Take a look at all of the proper names for different animals at this Enchanted Learning site. So if you want to sound like an animal expert, the next time you are talking about a baby penguin, call it a chick. Or if you are referring to a group of penguins, you could sound really intellectual and worldly if you call it a rookery.
I did a little research online as I was writing my post about getting the ewes bred. From that time spent surfing, I’ve discovered that there is no special name given to a ewe who has either never had a lamb or who is expecting or has just had her first lamb — at least no name that’s widely known and used.
I thought there might be a special term for these young, inexperienced ewes, because in cattle, these are called “heifers” while the more experience mamas are simply called “cows.”
My father- and brother-in-law often refer to the “heifers” or “first-calf heifers,” and these cows are handled differently when they are bred. At our ranch the heifers are generally artificially inseminated with the bull’s “seed” rather than allowed to be bred naturally by the pasture bulls.
The AI-ing is done to increase the likelihood that the heifers will be successfully bred, to shorten the calving season (they all calve closer together when they are all bred on the same day), and to control by exactly which bull they are bred. It’s generally not a good idea to use a bull that has a history of throwing larger birth weights on a heifer. Heifers must also be more closely watched when they are calving as they are at an increased risk of having trouble during delivery.
But enough about cattle. The things is, other than the AI-ing things, first-lamb ewes have many of the same potential issues as heifers. So I wonder why do cattle have a special designation for this situation and sheep don’t?
In mid-June four ewes graze in our little pasture created with electric fence. The white spots in the middle are plastic shopping bags tied onto the fence wire in between fence posts to help critters (and people) see it better.
We are sheepless at our house right now. But don’t worry — it’s not permanent.
We took the mama sheep to another ranch at the end of September to be bred. We will get them back in a couple of months, and they should be “with lambs” then.
I say lambS, because sheep regularly have twins and triplets aren’t uncommon, especially as the sheep age. And for two of our ewes, next spring will bring their third lamb crop.
Ewes cycle about every 17 days, but in our colder South Dakota climate this will generally only happen in the fall and very early winter as the days get shorter. So leaving our ewes with the ram for 2 months will allow three chances for the ewes to become pregnant as three cycles should occur. Our more mature ewes, especially those who have lambed before, may be bred sooner than the younger lambs who have never been bred.
The average gestation length or length of pregnancy for sheep is about 147 days, give or take a few. So, if our four mature ewes were to be bred today, which is about 3 weeks after we first exposed them to the ram, they should lamb on or around March 11. I used a nifty Lambing Calculator that I found online to figure this out!
Honestly, I am enjoying our brief vacation from feeding sheep. Once school starts, the girls really don’t have time to deal with the sheep in the mornings as the school bus arrives at the end of our driveway at 7:20 a.m. The girls are also busier in the evenings with school and church activities. Handsome Hubby does most of the work this time of year, but sometimes he asks them to help which usually doesn’t happen without some protest. It’s during these times that I miss those previous years where we sold all of our lambs at the fair and didn’t start over until spring.
But the girls are very good about caring for the sheep during the summer months, and they love having those baby lambs. We should have at least five lambs again come March — so stay tuned!
Sports Girl and Horse Lover both showed sheep at the county fair in August. Following are some pictures leading up to and of the event:
Horse Lover helped halter break the lambs this summer. I think walking the sheep is her favorite part of showing.
Sports Girl briefly reunites the mama white-faced sheep with her two lambs during an evening walk before the fair in August. The lambs were weaned and therefore separated from their mama in early June.
The lambs must all be sheared just before the show. They are all shown as market or "meat" lambs, and therefore the condition of their carcass is much more important than the quality of their wool.
Handsome Hubby transports the sheep from the ranch to the fair using a rack in back of his pickup.
Sports Girl (far right) shows one of her black-faced lambs at our county fair in August 2009. I believe all of our sheep earned purple ribbons, although none were top finishers in their classes. Oh well ... there's always next year!