Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tagging and Flushing, it's a sheep thing!

This month for Wovember we're focusing on wool, right?  Well for those of us lucky enough to be in the business or hobby of raising wooly creatures (and we do mean sheep here!) focusing on wool includes focusing on the care and management of our flock.  We breed our Corriedale sheep and so part of the flock care is doing our best to ensure breeding success.  While the sheep do most of the work, lol, its our job to give them good care.

Lambs enjoying sunshine and green grass

Since my husbands disability and with our children grown and moved away on their own, I do a the majority of the sheep work myself.  This makes us look at how we do things around the farm differently, especially with the sheep.  Now, you might be surprised to learn that I've never cared much for lambing time and there might even come a day where I just keep a few fiber and pasture grazing animals without lambing - we'll see.  But for now we do have a breeding flock and one thing that makes my life easier is to schedule breeding time so lambs are born later in the coming year.  We don't need show lambs and we don't have to be quite so concerned about having lambs big enough for butchering at a certain time.  So we plan to have lambs born late April or early May, when spring grass is coming on well (hopefully) and the weather is milder...partly for the newborn lambs but mostly for the shepherd who may have to go to the barn in the middle of the night!

It's an established practice, about 2 to 3 weeks before turning the rams (breeding males) in with the ewes (breeding females) to "flush" the ewes.  In a shepherds world, "flushing" ewes means to start increasing their nutrition.  That may mean supplementing their diet with grain, but it's better if you can do this with good pasture.  It's ideal to have them "on the gain" for approximately 30 days, with the ram going in towards the end of that time.

Turning ewes into fall pasture for flushing.  The shaggy ewe in the foreground of the photo is my oldest sheep, who will not be bred this year but I do want to give her the extra feed for a few weeks.  Then she'll go in with the ewe lambs and get more special care over the winter.
Tagging, in the sheep breeding world, is not a childhood game but a yucky job of cleaning up the back end of a sheep if they need it.  By the time breeding season rolls around our girls have grown quite a bit of wool and often times when we put them on the fresh grass for flushing, as described above, they may have loose manure for a few days and well - you can picture what this might look like!  This year we had a few like this so I get the fun job of pulling on my gloves and getting out the sharp scissors to cut away the "tags" of manure around the girlie parts of the sheep ;)  You can also imagine this is a rather ticklish thing for those girls but luckily I have an expert sheep handler with my daughter helping me out by holding them steady.

So now we have healthy, cleaned up ewes...the days are shorter and the nights are cold...I've moved the rams to a pen where they can see and smell the ewes but aren't in with them...yet.  That day should come some time this week.

Henry wonders "is it time yet?"


Jody said...

Hi Cary, We just put our breeding groups together this past weekend. I was going to wait another week but the weather was so good that I thought now is the time. Our lambs will be due mid to late April, which is actually later than usual for us but I cannot handle the freezing cold March weather in the barn!

Tipper said...

Just fascinating! And they are so cute too LOL!