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Late Winter Surprise

Garth Brown |

I fail constantly as a farmer.

We got sheep a bit over a year ago. Last June when the lambs came Garth read about a supposedly common practice among shepherds. Rather than fully castrate their lambs some people apparently just band the scrotum so the testicles can't properly descend. With too much body heat all sperm are supposed to be non-viable. The advantage is that testosterone is a growth promoting hormone so ram lambs grow faster and bigger than their eunuch brothers (wether is the official term) and their sisters. The downside is that if it doesn't work lambs come at the wrong time of year.

We separated our intact, mature ram from the ewes for most of the summer and all of the fall to save the hassle of dealing with frail little lambs being born in the snow. But in mid-autumn I saw a few of the little rams looking very intent on breeding. I trusted that they'd fail to impregnate the ewes if they managed to pull off the act at all. Sheep gestate for 5 months, so we put Sparky the ram back in with the ladies around Christmas, aiming for May/June lambs.

It seems my faith was misguided because this morning I found momma sheep with a new baby. It went down to 0 degrees last night. This lamb is lucky her momma got her dried off and gave her a belly full of milk right away. I'm pleasantly surprised that my failure last fall didn't result in a disaster. Now that I know they bred at the wrong time of year I looked more closely at the flock and there are several more ewes that will most likely give birth soon.

I planned to keep the sheep out on the pasture all year, but with lambs coming I cleared a spot in the end of one small barn so they can be in a dry, sheltered spot when the new lambs arrive. Luckily with only 12 ewes I have the space to give them the end of a building. With a bigger flock I'd be scrambling to figure out a plan. In the future when I have more sheep I will fully castrate all the ram lambs... This year's lesson guides next year's accepted best practice

Edmund Brown

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