Monday, November 5, 2007

Let the breedings begin!

So this morning---after a bit of work over the weekend--- we have now officially begun our breeding season. Icelandic sheep are seasonal breeders and so they start "gearing up" in the fall, about September, as the days start to grow shorter. Then as we get into October and move to November the rams and the ewes (surprised?) will start to fight and jockey amongst their selves to reestablish and affirm their position in the group. While we wait for the true period of readiness--- we make lists and decide who will get to breed who.

One advantage we have always appreciated about this seasonal breeding aspect, is that we can put the ewes, rams and lambs together for most of the year--which is very convenient care wise. However, in the beginning of September, we do separate all the rams out from the ewes and give them their own pasture or pen. That way when we put them back together we know for sure who is the sire of which lambs. We like to choose the sire of each ewe's lambs based on the various aspects, both pro and con, of each sheep. I know they would probably like to choose for their self---but such is the life of a domesticated sheep.

Generally I would like the sheep to be separated into their respective breeding groups by the middle of October. This year though we have been so busy, and gone at times, that time started to race away as our rams languished in the ram pen and the girls in their own pasture.
So this weekend we finally finished fencing another part of our yard and we now have a small group there (in our back yard). Those are the sheep in the picture above. The brown sheep is my ram Guy and the white and black sheep are two of our ewes. Guy is three this year and we are breeding him again since he is by far one of the largest rams we have ever seen. The reason for him getting only two ewes though is that unfortunately his horns are actually "scurs". They are not fully formed horns---but he didn't' turn out polled either. Personally since we raise them for meat, parasite tolerance, and heat tolerance, horns really don't fit into the upper part of our breeding program. We do have to consider them though since others like them and we do sell some of our sheep for breeding. Guy is really a great sheep---so it's easy for us to overlook his horns.

We also have a larger group in our back pasture with our new ram Tex. He is being quite the vigilant guy back there even though he is just a 7 month old ram. He has been fighting with his girls (a natural occurrence each year as the young rams have to convince the older ewes they ARE in charge), keeping them grouped and not letting them spread out and checking religiously to make sure they haven't come into heat in the 5 minutes since he last checked. I am hoping in his vigilance that he might give me early lambs this next year. The very end of March and beginning of April would be my preference---but I don't always get what I want.

My last group is up in the "new ram pen". No longer new---but now used by the rams for the last few months it was a great place to send our last two ewes and their ram. We have two white ewes that may never, because of the way the color patterns in Icelandic sheep work, throw colored lambs for me. White is actually a pattern in Icelandic sheep---not a color. White pattern covers EVERYTHING. So if even one parent passes the white pattern---then the sheep will be white.
I think maybe my girls got that pattern twice, once from mom and once from dad, which means they will only be able to pass white making their lambs always...... white. Easy to understand right? It can seem confusing I know.
So, these two beauties are being bred to a ram that absolutely passes on color---Ike. At least then, though their lambs will be white, the lambs will have the potential to throw colored lambs in their future breedings. Ike also has magnificent heat tolerance. He sailed through this past summer even during our hottest of hot and driest of dry days, so we don't have a problem breeding these two "northern girls" to him at all. He also has the most fleece of all our sheep---so again, a nice thing to try and pass along.

So now the count down begins. From the day that the first ewe is bred I have 145 days until lambs arrive. Hopefully this year rain will arrive with my lambs ---unlike last year. It seems like a long time but with thanksgiving and xmas coming up it will go fairly quickly. It's the last month that always gets me---I am a fairly impatient person after all.

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