Keeping them a little bit hungry

My sister has been on my case for a long time, telling me the sheep are too fat. They get very little grain, but we also give them bread and cull vegetables, apples, corn husks, whatever is available seasonally. They do like their treats. And they yell at me when they don’t think they have had enough treats. I don’t want them to be obese, but it is hard for me to say no to them. I don’t want them to feel deprived. Karen calls it “spoiling them”. OK, so I am guilty. And, until recently, unrepentant.

However, the past two years, approximately 1/3 of the flock did not breed. The same 10 sheep two years in a row. The vet cannot find anything wrong. These girls did not even come into heat, although they are all healthy. The only other possibility we can think of is their weight. And Karen is talking about culling them. A perfectly logical response when animals are unproductive. We aren’t making money at this, but the girls at least have to pay for themselves. Without lambs to sell we are losing money, buying food for them with no return. (At $.09 per pound for wool, it really isn’t worth shearing them except to make them more comfortable in the heat.)

Well, some of these 10 non-producers are my favorites. So, I have been on a major campaign to make them lose weight. I have put them on a strict diet these past few months. Less grain, less bread, less veggies, less treats, even less hay. They look to me like they are slimmer. I did it gradually so they wouldn’t feel deprived. To my eyes they are being fed very little. They have gotten used to it and don’t make too much of a fuss.

But, when they go out to graze they try to compensate for what they don’t get in the barn. They STUFF themselves. And they eat the tougher grasses and weeds they would have ignored in previous years. When they knew they would get plenty in the barn they were much more persnickety, only eating the young, tender grasses. That is what they would prefer, still, whenever it is available. However, they are doing a much better job of cleaning up their pastures. This is a good thing!

Much as I hate to admit it, Sissy was right. Feeding them less has been better all around. And they still love me. We won’t know for a while if this diet will bring them into heat when we introduce a ram, but I am hopeful. It won’t be long now.

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