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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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!

City Girl from Farm Country Moves to the Ranch

I grew up in one of the largest South Dakota communities on the east side of the state, or East River as South Dakotans say. Agriculture east of the Missouri River in South Dakota consists mostly of growing crops with some livestock production done primarily to supplement income.

My family moved to the country, just a few miles outside of town, the summer before I started ninth grade. But we didn’t choose country life for agricultural purposes. My father is a diesel mechanic, and he wanted to build a large shop for his work. The only animals we ever had were my mom’s Shih-Tzu and a few outside cats, and the closest thing my dad did to farming was to plant and tend a shelter belt of trees around our place.

Uncles, aunts and cousins, however, exposed me to farming as I was growing up. There were cows to milk, sheep to shear, corn to combine, and hay to bale. I spent weeks visiting these relatives during my summer vacations from school. I remember the farm talk, and I remember some of the actual activities. But overall my actual experiences were fairly limited.

My experiences are still limited, but I am learning more about country life and ranching all the time. It certainly is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a career.