Sleepy Time

Normal chore time is a frenzy of activity in the barn. The sheep hear me coming down the path and start yelling at me before I even open the door. Getting in the barn is sometimes a challenge because the girls are crowded around the door to greet me. They want to go out. NOW! So I have to work my way through the swarm as they simultaneously beg for scratches, yell at me to hurry up, and block my path to the pasture door. Right now as I am fighting my way through, greeting the scratch-beggars, I am also checking for new lambs and ewes in labor.

When it’s time to let them back in it is another tumult. I can’t even get the door completely open before they rush in en mass. They want their grain. NOW! Mass confusion as they run frantically from tub to tub, just in case somebody else has something tastier to eat. Then it is a mad rush to the water tub when it is hot out, or to the mangers when the temperature is comfortable. The bottomless pits stuffing, stuffing, stuffing their bellies. In the mean time I am trying to herd the lambs that got left outside in the frantic rush. Their mamas get so worked up at the idea of eating they leave their lambs outside and the lambs can’t figure out what to do. They run around the barnyard bleating for their mamas and evading my attempts to get them inside. (The little buggers are QUICK!) Once everyone is inside and the door is shut the mass confusion continues are the lambs bleat and rush around in search of their mamas. The ewes are busy chowing down occasionally answering their lambs with mouths full of food. It’s a real hubbub.

Tonight I had to go out to the barn to check on a first time mama who needed a little persuasion to allow her lamb to suckle. I have frozen my digits off many times doing night checks. Tonight was a lovely, mild night. Peaceful. The sheep knew it wasn’t chore time so they were quietly chewing their cud. I could see well enough by the night light so I didn’t turn on the main lights. The ewes were calm, the lambs were calm. And I got to observe some of the drowsy time scenes that always make me smile. Ebony was snoozing on her mama’s back until her twin sister, Ivory, decided it was time to play “king of the mountain”. Mumu just kept chewing her cud through it all.

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.