Farming Through the Year
During January we shear all of our pregnant ewes. We've found over time that this is better for the sheep, for several reasons:
- There is more room in the barn and around the feed bins
- We are able to see their body condition scores so that feed rations can be adjusted accordingly
- Their fleeces stay much cleaner so that we are able to produce our quality wool products
It is one month before lambing begins and time to vaccinate ewes with CD&T. All of the ewes are checked over to see how their udders are developing and what their body condition score is. Feed rations will be increased or decreased accordingly. They are then separated into groups according to when their expected lambing date.
It's Lambing time! The first lambs of the year are always anxiously anticipated. In 2011 lambs should start arriving around the middle of March. The lambs usually arrive first thing in the morning around 5 or 6 am here at our farm. During lambing season, the barn is checked numerous times during the day to check on the flock for signs of labor.
Lambing season will extend into April most years here on the farm. After all of the ewes have lambed, we begin the process of growing the lambs. For the first several weeks, the lambs are nourished solely by their mothers. Lambs will begin trying to eat hay and grain, as their mothers do, within a few days after birth. After 2-3 weeks, they are ready to begin getting fed grain to supplement their diets. As they continue to grow they will eventually be turned out onto pasture. Some years this can begin in April but this depends on the weather and if grass has grown tall enough for grazing. There is nothing cuter than the first time the lambs are let out onto pasture and the happy frolicking they do. Of course there are always the frantic cries from their mothers as they try to find their babies.
As the warmer weather comes, the grass continues to grow and so do the lambs. The lambs are weaned 8 weeks after they are born so weaning usually starts in May. We try to wean the lambs before the weather gets warm enough to have the windows open. The lambs and ewes can make quite a racket when weaning begins!
June, July, August
The work requirements for the sheep are somewhat lessened during the summer months as the flock is out on pasture and only the lambs require grain supplements. Water is checked frequently throughout the day to ensure that they have clean, cool water all day long. On the very hot days of summer, we fill plastic jugs with water and freeze them so that we can put these "ice cubes" into their water to cool it down, as sheep are not fond of drinking water that is too warm.
Breeding season begins here on the farm. Before breeding begins we need to make sure that the rams are in good breeding condition and have been fed well over the summer. The next step is start feeding the ewes grain again. They are fed a feed with a higher protein content so that they start producing more eggs that helps to increase our chances of having twins.
The hardest decision every year is to start selecting our breeding groups and which ewes will be bred to which of our rams. The rams are fitted with a harness that contains a marking crayon. This crayon will mark the ewe when she has been bred. It is important to us to know when each ewe was bred so that we have accurate dates as to when they will lamb. The marking crayon is changed every 14-17 days to another color. This enables us to see if the ewe was bred again or if the first breeding resulted in pregnancy.
Breeding season normally continues into October. At this point in the season, we may need to start feeding hay if we do not have grass available.
The ewes still remain out in the pastures, even if they are being fed hay. It is good for them to exercise by walking around. The flock will remain out in the pastures until the weather starts getting cold enough that their water freezes during the day. When this occurs, the flock is brought down to the barn where we have water heaters that are put into the water so that it doesn't freeze.
While down at the barn, the flock has access to being either outside or inside as they desire. Most often we find them outside, even during snowstorms. The flock begins to start getting grain supplements again to ensure that their increased nutritional requirements are being met.