Sunday, December 7, 2014

sheepish dates

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Ty checks out the Icelandic ewes at Litengård - Little Farm

There's a new guy in town - a black ram lamb by the name of Ty that we're leasing for the breeding season. 

Last year our three Icelandic ewes were accidentally bred by an overwintering castrated ram.  

{Yes indeed, castrated.  If you've ever seen an intact ram with his fuzzy boys hanging down nearly to his ankles, you would not mistake an intact ram for a castrated ram lamb.  The boys we had last year were definitely castrated. Apparently someone had something retained that was still functioning despite the lack of physical evidence}

The flock was so surreptitious about the whole thing that I never did see anyone breeding or suspect any of my girls were pregnant. 

Until late April when we sheared them and realized with a shock they were all imminently due

This year we were going to be a lot more intentional about the whole thing. 

Unfortunately, we don't own an Icelandic ram yet.  So finding one was the biggest challenge. 

Icelandic ewes checking out a new ram

I contacted all of the local Icelandic breeders that I could find and nobody was interested in leasing us a ram.  This struck me as odd, since in the alpaca world that I am much more familiar with, leasing a herdsire is a very easy task.  

I was about to give up in frustration when I located an Icelandic group on Facebook and less than a day after posting my request, Papa Bear and I were meeting some very nice folks in the parking lot of a hotel in DeForest, WI and moving Ty from their dog kennel to ours. 

On Sunday we put him in with our girls, after first removing all of the ewe lambs from the paddock. 

two sheep, one dog kennel

Our biggest two lambs went to market {if you're anywhere between Madison, WI and Minneapolis, WI, we will gladly deliver your order for a whole lamb! Contact us on our Facebook page} and two went into a temporary holding pen until all the breeding is done.  

Li'l Liza

These ewe lambs are so small we don't want them bred by the ram. I'm also hoping that by separating them and holding them in a smaller pen, I will be able to tame them up a bit.  

These lambs are wild, wild wild!  I can't even get near them to give them the treats that the older ewes enjoy.  In a smaller space, I can give them good things to eat and sit with them until they learn not to be so terribly skittish.  I can also give them extra hay that they won't have to compete for against the bigger animals. 

But back to Ty and the ewes. 

Since our ewes bred in secret last year, I was curious to see what this sheep dating business would entail.  

There was a lot of sniffing and licking (not licking each other, just a lot of tongue flicking out of the mouth), lots of tail wagging, and occasionally Ty would lift one stiff front leg up in front of his body at a ewe. 

He also displayed the upper lip curl, a behavior known as "flehmen response," which is one of his ways to check for a ewes receptivity. 

Ty displays the Flehmen response

I saw him attempt to breed a couple of times, but it seemed he was too short compared to the height of the ewe to, um, reach the goal...  

I've been assured by an experienced breeder that the ewes will assist him in "Tying one on" when they are ready. 

{snort}

So I left them to their little huddle and went on with my chores.  

Icelandic ewes huddle with a new ram

I've learned that in sheep their estrus cycle is approximately 17 days, and she will be receptive to the ram for only about 24-36 hours during the peak of her estrus cycle.  So she should come until heat every 16-17 days until she is bred.  British long wool breeds tend to be short-day, seasonal breeders, coming into heat in Oct./Nov.  

Unlike alpacas, which are induced ovulators and can become pregnant any time of the year (which is why you must run your males separately unless you are trying to have your females bred). 

alpacas are unconcerned with the sheepnanigans going on around them

The alpacas were not one wit concerned about what the sheep were doing, either.  

Which I find fascinating.  The ewes knew Ty was a sheep and was a ram and were extremely interested in him, whereas the alpacas knew he was not an alpaca and could not care less what he was doing.  How do they know?  Sight? Smell?  Sound?  Pheremones? 

I suppose I will never know.  

But what I do know is that next spring when we shear the ewes in late April, if we see filling udders and wide bellies, we will rejoice in the knowledge that they did indeed successfully "Ty" one on and soon we'll have Icelandic lambs bounding across the green pastures.

Cheers - 
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about sheepish dating routines

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