Cow is to Heifer as Ewe is to What?

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?

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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!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch …

So my health has been an interesting situation. One that has kept me distracted since the end of May. I do believe I’m finally on the mend, and I hope to go home from the hospital tomorrow.

In the mean time, many things have happened in our country life. It was time to let the heifers and their calves into the pasture to eat the grass surrounding our home. Unfortunately, we had taken out the barbed wire fence to plant our trees, and we certainly didn’t want the cows trampling the little seedling trees.

We were undecided on what type of permanent fence we wanted to install, and time was critical, so we purchased and installed an electric fence. The heifers and calves were very curious about the fence and I think every one of them must have tested it out at least once. Each instance resulted in a startled critter jumping quickly away and sometimes bellering.  These “tests” would have made some great video – if I had had the energy to capture it. But it probably would have also drawn negative comments from more animal rights activists, so perhaps it’s just as well that I only have memories of the incidents.

A few times the cow or calf jumped the wrong way and went through the fence. They usually made their way back through the fence, but I think we had to help at least one critter out of the enclosed area. Thankfully, these animals seemed to learn fast as after about a week the fence malfunctioned for a couple of days while we were out of town, and yet all of the cows stayed away.

Besides the electric fence, Handsome Hubby planted the grass seed between our newly planted shelterbelt and our home. He and Sports Girl also planted a garden.

A couple of days later it started to rain. And rain. Even though the mud was a real pain to contend with, the moisture should certainly help all of our new vegetation to prosper. We can already see stalks of grass starting to sprout. Now if the temperatures would just warm up a bit.

The cows were moved on to the next pasture almost quicker than they were moved in, and now they are awaiting their ride to the woods in a semi-trailer. Handsome Hubby’s family has a few different permits from the U.S. Forest Service, and they summer the majority of their cattle in the Black Hills National Forest from mid-June until early October. The arrangement isn’t the most convenient, but it provides an additional source of grass while the family farms for next year’s feed.

We’re still using the electric fence to allow our flock of sheep to graze on a little grass while not worrying about them wandering away. At least now I don’t have to disable the fence and open a gate every time I come and go from home. That’s an inconvenience I really dread, but I try to be a good sport about it. I know how valuable that grass is for feeding those cows. And thankfully, I only have to do it a few weeks out of the year.

Barbara Walters Sympathizes With Escaped Cow

Barbara Walters announced on The View yesterday that she was getting closer to becoming a vegetarian. This after the top news story of Wednesday in New York City was a cow escaping from a slaughterhouse and roaming Queens.

The cow was ultimately captured, and sent to the Brooklyn Animal Care and Control facility. There she was named Molly, and the plan was to send her to a farm. Read more about the escaped cow story here.

“I am more and more becoming a vegetarian,” Barbara Walters said in the opening Hot Topics segment of the May 7th episode of The View. “This broke my heart.”

She goes further in her discussion of cows. “When you really start to think of them, you know, as having feelings and stuff, I find it very hard …”

Then in typical The View fashion, another of the ladies cut her off in mid sentence. It’s just as well in this case. Does Walters really think cows have feelings? It’s scary when people start assigning human characteristics to animals.

Walters falls just short of offering this cow a safe haven at her home. “If I had a big back yard, I would have Molly the cow,” she said.

Does she have any idea how awful it would be to keep a cow in her yard? It could never be big enough to serve as a permanent residence for a cow. There would be no grass left, and there would be cow pies/piles of manure and hoof prints everywhere. I have a small flock of sheep roam around my yard from time to time, and they leave their own, albeit smaller, mark on the landscape.

But a couple of the other ladies from The View were more reasonable about Molly and eating meat or beef in general. Sherri Shepherd said she had bacon and eggs for breakfast even after reading the morning’s front-page news. Whoopi Goldberg went the furthest to polarize Walter’s comments.

“If I had a big back yard, I’d be having a barbecue with Molly,” Goldberg said. And she even clarified that she wasn’t talking about inviting the cow as a guest.

Sounds tasty to me.

My First Trip to the Ranch

This is the scene from the car window these days as we drive through the pasture to get to the in-laws house.

This is the scene from the car window these days as we drive through the pasture to get to the in-laws house.

Handsome Hubby and I became engaged while we were attending South Dakota’s land grant institution East River. I had never met his parents, so the first long weekend we had, we took the long trip across the state to his home and family ranch.

East River is predominantly farm country, and I was about to visit a ranch. At the time, I don’t think I considered the differences to be much more than subtleties. But after nearly 18 years of marriage to a rancher’s son, I have certainly come to understand that there are almost as many differences as similarities between farmers and ranchers. I noticed one difference right away on that first trip.

As we edged closer to the ranch as an engaged couple, it seemed as though Handsome Fiancé was somehow trying to prepare me for the visit. “This is a ranch,” he said. “It’s nothing fancy and there are cattle around.”

After a few statements like that, I said something like, “Well, it’s not like you keep the cattle in your front yard, is it?!”

As it turns out, the answer to that question depends on exactly what you consider the front yard.

It was spring – calving season – and we turned into the driveway of the ranch, crossed a cattle guard, and proceeded to make our way through a herd of cows and baby calves. About a quarter mile later we crossed another cattle guard, leaving the pasture, and made our way towards the house.

I sat speechless. Technically, I suppose, the pasture wasn’t exactly the front yard, but I had sure never driven through someone’s pasture on the way to their house. East River you drive up to the house first and the barn and cattle (if there are any) are generally behind the house.

I’ve gotten used to the concept now. In fact, for a few weeks at certain times of the year our visitors must drive through a herd of cattle before reaching our house, as well. I’m sure some of them think it’s strange. But now I just wish that we had a second cattle guard at our place – because that sure would save on having to get out and open the gate!

Meet Calf “Red 100”

meetcalfred100Sports Girls shot this photo for me as we were leaving my in-laws place yesterday morning. It seems they are using red tags on the calves again this year. (See my previous post entitled, “How to Tell One Cow From Another.”)

Handsome Hubby’s family calves in February, so this little calf is probably about 2 months old.

February is a bit early for calving in South Dakota, but our family was sure thankful to be done calving by the time all the winter storms hit later in March. My father-in-law said all he had time for during those blizzards was to feed. He wouldn’t have had time or been able to get around well enough to check and sort cows who were about to calve.

The calves learned to stick close to their mothers during these storms, and thankfully it was never really that cold. So all faired well.

They were busy branding, castrating, vaccinating, etc. But I think they are about done, and I didn’t get any pictures of any of that (probably for the best). Maybe next year.

Speaking of next year, it’s almost time to start the cycle over again. The bulls get let out into the cow pasture May 1.