Our Sheep Are Baaack and Having Babies!

Black-Faced Ewe With Twin Lambs

With everything going on with Sports Girl and her knee surgery and recovery, I haven’t mentioned that our sheep came back to the ranch sometime around the first of the year.

The ewes had spent the last three months of 2009 at my brother- and sister-in-law’s place a few miles away getting bred. And then in the last week or so, they started lambing. Three of our five ewes have had babies so far – and all three have had twins.

Unfortunately, we did lose one lamb just 24 hours after it was born. Cocoa, the mother, was the ewe who lost her first lamb after giving birth in a snow storm last spring; I don’t think she really wanted to deal with two lambs for her mothering experience as I don’t believe she was letting the second lamb nurse at all. By the time we realized this, it was too late to save the poor little thing. Just another sad fact of nature, I guess. My girls didn’t cry, although there was certainly a feeling of sadness hanging over all of us.

So we have five baby lambs frolicking around our sheep pens. And they are really cute. Busy Toddler got the biggest belly laugh out of watching the little lambs when she went down to help feed this afternoon with Handsome Hubby.

My father-in-law has been very busy calving for the past month, as well. The winter weather here hasn’t really been very friendly for newborn calves and sheep, but somehow things are going all right.

In my naïve, younger years, I always pictured tiny baby lambs and calves laying with their mothers on a bed of bright green grass with the sun shining brightly down on them. I suppose that scenario would be more realistic if these critters were born in May rather than February and early March, but that schedule doesn’t work well for us.

My father-in-law calves in February and March so he has more time for farming later in the spring; we have to lamb as early as possible so the babies will be as close to grown/finished as possible when it’s time to show them at the county fair. So our babies have been born amidst snow, sleet, rain, fog and mud. If the critters themselves weren’t so cute, it would be anything but a pretty sight.

We’re still watching the other two ewes, hoping to keep our lamb crop ratio as close to 200 percent as we can. And we’re hoping for warmer, drier weather.

Advertisements

Horse Lover Struggles To Get Time on Horse Back

Horse Lover's passion revealed itself early. Here she is at 3 years of age using our Welsh Corgi as her trusty steed. Note the saddle blanket and lead line. I'm sure she would have had a halter around the dog's nose if she would have allowed it.

Sometimes I think Horse Lover was born into the wrong family. While we do live in the country, and we actually have two horses at our disposal, Horse Lover doesn’t get to ride them near as often as she would like.

Honestly, she hardly ever gets to ride at all. That’s because Handsome Hubby is gone a lot for work, and my horsemanship skills are seriously lacking. Horse Lover actually knows a lot more about horses than I do, but unfortunately horses are just too large and potentially dangerous for a pre-teen to ride without some experienced help and supervision.

Even if Handsome Hubby was around more, I don’t know if Horse Lover would get to ride any more often. Handsome Hubby grew up riding horseback while working cattle, not for leisure. He might not admit it, but he really doesn’t get the intricacies of showing horses in shows or even understand the importance of certain skills such as proper “posting” techniques.

But Handsome Hubby does respect the knowledge Horse Lover has accumulated through reading and watching. He might even admit that Horse Lover may already know more about horsemanship and equitation than he knows.

I’m Not Interested in Horse Back Riding

Meanwhile, I must confess that I really don’t want to add horsemanship to my list of lifetime skills. I feel bad about that sometimes, but I have absolutely no interest in riding horses. That probably makes me a bad parent, but at least I’m honest!

I do feel some pressure to take up horseback riding for my middle daughter’s sake, but I don’t know when I would do it. As the old saying goes, “There are only so many hours in the day,” and I believe I am already trying to cram too many things into those hours.

Thankfully, Horse Lover is somewhat cautious in her horseback riding approach. So we don’t have to worry about her going off and trying to ride horseback without help. Yet her apprehension does have its drawbacks as it keeps her from improving her skills very quickly.

Horse Lover would like to compete in our county 4-H horse show this summer, but she is scared to ride Sadie, our horse with show experience. The horse is well trained, but she likes to test her riders, and she is a bit rusty. Both Horse Lover and Sadie need some training help, but that presents another problem – we don’t have a horse trailer to transport the horse nor do we have the extra hundreds of dollars at our disposal to pay for these services.

Would It Be Easier If We Didn’t Even Have a Horse?

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier on Horse Lover if we didn’t have a horse at all. Wouldn’t it be easier for her to handle NOT riding if she didn’t even have a horse to ride?

The winter weather has given Handsome Hubby and I a bit of a break from Horse Lover’s pleas for lessons and to ride. After all, even the most dedicated rider can’t get excited about riding in sub-zero temperatures with 40 mph winds and drifting snow. (Did I mention that we don’t have an indoor riding arena, either?)

What Horse Lover lacks in experience, she makes up for in desire. And while I admire her passion and diligence, Handsome Hubby and I may well go crazy when spring arrives and Horse Lover resumes her begging. I’m not sure which will be harder to bear – a long winter with cold, snowy weather or a long spring with a pre-teen daughter persisting to ride her horses. I should know the answer to that question in a few months …

The Sheep Cycle Starts Again

In mid-June four ewes graze in our little pasture created with electric fence.

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!

County Fair Comes and Goes …

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

We Ate Purple 44 Tonight

I made a nice pot roast from the crock pot for supper tonight — complete with carrots, celery, onions and seasonings. As we were enjoying the savory meat, I informed everyone that we were eating Purple 44. In other words, we were eating the cow with the purple ear tag emblazed with the number 44.

We had looked this cow in the eye – more than once – but no one was upset about eating her. In fact, Sports Girl thought it was great.

Purple 44 actually spent most of last summer in the corrals just over the hill from our house. She ended up not calving or else she lost her calf last spring, and so she was being fattened to be butchered along with two steers Sports Girl has selected to “finish” and show in the county fair for 4-H. Handsome Hubby and Sports Girl provided the cow and two steers with thousands of pounds of corn and alfalfa hay – one five-gallon bucket and pitch-fork full at a time.

Unfortunately the steers never did get halter broke and weren’t tame enough to show. Handsome Hubby and Sports Girl attempted to get close to the steers, but Purple 44 actually seemed to interfere with the process. She must have been the “alpha cow” in the herd, if there is such a thing with beef cattle.

As the week of the fair eminently loomed, Sports Girl’s aunt came to help try to halter the steers one day. All the activity that ensued resulted in the ornery cow bashing through the panels that surrounded her pen and running off into the next field.

Purple 44 was missing for quite some time. In the fall a neighbor found her amongst their herd; the family brand on her left hip showed to whom she belonged. After this she was kept in a corral at the home ranch to be finished again, and then she was taken to the meat shop in February. We picked half of her up in three boxes a few weeks ago and now she’s in our freezer.

She doesn’t provide the most tender meat, and it is strange to know which critter we are actually eating. But at least no one’s too upset to stomach the meat.

The steers ended up in someone else’s freezer. We had spent too much money buying feed for them, and we needed to recoup some of our expenses. Besides, their meat was much too tender; we simply couldn’t enjoy such a guilty pleasure. I keep telling myself that a smart business owner never keeps his best products for himself.

So now I’ll be spending the next six months trying to tenderize the wild cow meat, and we can think of her ornery behavior every time we eat beef!

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep (& White, Too!)

We have had five baby lambs by three of our ewes this spring – two sets of twins and one singlet. One set of twins is all white, while the other set of twins and the singlet are black-faced lambs. They are as cute as can be and are growing as fast as Aunt Myrtle’s mustache!

Here is some video footage of both sets of twins, which were born on Saturday, Feb. 28. They are only a couple days old here.

Four of the lambs are whethers (males) and one, a white lamb, is a ewe (female). Sports Girl and Horse Lover are now feeding, worming, docking, neutering, vaccinating and taming the lambs – with the help of their dad, of course – all in preparation to show them at our county fair in August.

I’ll keep you posted …

The Pains of Selling 4-H Livestock

Horse Lover watches as another 4-Her wins overall champion black-face lamb. Patrick was the champion feeder black-face lamb.

Horse Lover watches, holding Patrick, as another 4-Her wins overall champion black-face lamb with her market whether. Patrick was the champion feeder black-face lamb at our county fair.

Maybe if the lamb hadn’t been named, it wouldn’t have been as hard. Or maybe if he hadn’t done so well at the county fair. Or maybe if he just hadn’t behaved so well when Horse Lover led him around the fairgrounds.

Then again, it probably would have been emotionally hard for Horse Lover no matter what. Patrick had to be sold at the 4-H county fair livestock auction.

“Why can’t we bring him home,” she lamented, sniffling and wiping at her tear-stained cheeks. No matter how hard I tried to explain it, she just couldn’t understand why her father and I wouldn’t let her keep a whether sheep forever and ever.

“It just doesn’t make business sense,” I explained for the third or fourth time. “We are trying to raise a flock of sheep, and a whether cannot have babies.”

My argument is wasted on this 9-year-old who obviously now also loves sheep. “But I love him, and he’s been so good for me,” she retorts. “And this is the thanks he gets …”

Of course her sister, 12-year-old Sports Girl, is quick to point out that Patrick will likely be killed after arriving at the sale barn. Our only salvation is that he is actually still considered a “feeder” lamb; he isn’t really finished and ready for slaughter, so he most likely won’t be put down right away.

I didn’t personally have a hard time selling Patrick, but then, we don’t eat lamb. I’m not sure I could actually butcher and consume an animal I had been feeding or even one I had looked in the eye. I just kept thinking of all the feed we would save and all the extra time we would have with one less sheep.

I don’t know where my husband stands on the “fed animal” dilemma. I know, however, that he’s not entirely opposed to eating an animal after looking into its eyes, because he has butchered and eaten many animals he has killed while hunting. And my oldest daughter hardly seemed upset about selling her first 4-H sheep five years ago, although she says now it did bother her.

Horse Lover’s angst was truly a surprise to me. Back in May when we selected animals, this girl hadn’t even wanted to show a sheep for her first year in 4-H; she wanted to show a pig. But just like it made better business sense to sell the whether after the fair, it made better business sense for Horse Lover to show a sheep. One of our ewes had had a whether lamb on St. Patrick’s Day (a.k.a. “Patrick”) that would need to be sold anyway, and we were already set up and ready for sheep.

So began Horse Lover’s routine of feeding, watering and walking her sheep through the summer. She gave him baths and broke him to halter. In mid-August, Patrick served as a gentle companion for Horse Lover and her friends as they walked him around and around the county fairgrounds. Ultimately, Horse Lover led him through the 4-H show and sale rings and then had to say goodbye.
Neither the trophy for champion black-face feeder lamb nor the check for $256 eased her pain. These things may have actually made it worse for Horse Lover; each served as a reminder of her dear Patrick.

Next year Horse Lover wants to show another whether, but her father and I plan to have her show a ewe lamb, as well, so she can bring at least one of her animals home. I hope it gets easier for her.