Waiting on the storm. That is what we are doing this evening. The weather reports threaten the coming of our first snowfall of the season and estimates are it will be significant. I like snow. I love the sound of snow falling, all other noises are muffled by the white blanket and there is a peace around the farm. Most of my animals enjoy the snow as well. The dogs love to romp and bounce and shovel up big gulps of snow in their mouths. They remind me of my daughters when they were younger, racing from the window to announce that snow had fallen. They remind me of myself, as a child, waiting in bed for the radio to include my school's name in the long list of closures. A snow day!
The horses roll in the snow and stand up cleaned and refreshed. The sheep rest in the field with a layer of white covering them, their insulating fleeces not allowing a single flake to melt.
And so we wait...will the reports be correct? Will I call in to work and tell them that I am taking a snow day? Will we lose power? Will my water sources freeze? So many unanswered questions. We must wait for the answers.
Breeding season is over for this year. All of my ewes are expecting, confirmed by blood tests and ultrasound. And so we wait...are my dates correct? Will all go smoothly? Will we have a ewe year or a ram year? So many unanswered questions. We must wait for another couple months.
This is such an exciting time, the little lambs growing inside their moms. Boys or girls, off-white or black? Only time will tell. It will be another month before the girls will be showing their growing bellies and udders, another month before I may be able to feel those little lambs kicking within their mothers' wombs. And so we wait.
This year I am the most prepared that I have been since beginning my shepherding adventure. We brought an ultrasound out to take a look at the ewes, an inside look. I wanted to know how many lambs each ewe was carrying. Charlotte has carried triplets the last two years and I was hoping that she would be given a break this year. She is carrying twins. This is good. My younger ewes are both carrying twins as well but my Annie girl looks to be carrying one extra. She has not had triplets before. This information will help me to plan diet and weight strategies. Last year my girls were a little more "plump" than I wanted.
I am fairly certain of the breeding dates and all of my girls are due within 6 days of each other. Two of them, Charlotte and Lilly share a lambing date. I will be needing more towels this spring.
We have some time to prepare, some time to imagine a field of eight or nine lambs frolicking and leaping, some time to spend with the girls as they wait patiently to be moms again.
And so we wait for the morning and the snow it may bring and the coming months and the new lives born to our farm.
To all my fellow shepherds, we wait together.
And sure enough even waiting will end...if you can just wait long enough.
Babydoll Southdowns are seasonal breeders. When the orange sun sets at suppertime and the brisk mornings require sweaters, our woolies are sorted into their breeding groups. The rams have been ready for a while, sensing a change in the air. The girls will take a little while longer but soon the courting will begin and seeds will be sown, hopefully producing beautiful, healthy lambs in the spring. There are signs that breeding season is coming near but my sheep tend to stay private with their affections. The ewes urinate often and the rams will test the scent, curling their upper lip in a flehmen response. This helps the pheromones travel to the vomeronasal organ to confirm to the ram that the ewe is in heat or to let him know that he must be patient. The ewe will reject the ram's attention and advances if she is not is heat but will seek out and stand for him when the time is right.
Because I like to plan and I prefer to be on the farm during lambing, my rams will wear marking harnesses that will lay a wonderful splash of color on the ewe's backside informing me that things have become serious between ram and ewe. There is nothing quite like going out to feed in the morning and seeing the telltale blue, green, orange or red of the ram's marking crayon on one of his ewes. This is when I get excited of the prospects of spring lambs and when the waiting begins.
My ewes cycle every seventeen days. Once I see the first marking on the ewe, I make a note on the calendar. After all the ewes that are with a particular ram have been marked, I change the crayon in the ram's harness to a different color. I wait for that seventeenth day and watch to see if the new color will appear on the ewe, indicating that the first mating did not result in pregnancy and the ewe has come back into heat. If this is the case we repeat the process until we go through a heat cycle with no evidence that the ewe has been bred. This year was easy, all my ewes were marked on their first heat cycle and no ewes came back into heat. If all goes well, then late February and early March will be the time when our barn comes alive with the bouncing of wee woolies.
Every season is wonderful on the farm but, as summer ends, autumn marks the beginning of a new chapter. The promise of new life in five months. Patience.
-Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.- Albert Camus
I have always enjoyed the outdoors, the quiet, the excitement, the colors, the varieties of landscapes and animals and vegetation. I finished college with plans of heading west and working with wildlife and research. Plans changed and I began to work in veterinary medicine. This became my passion and I spent 10 years working at a large animal hospital in the NICU and ICU. Our young family decided to move after that and I spent a couple years with my little ones. Feeling the need to get back into work, I found a home in small animal veterinary medicine. 11 years later I am a licensed veterinary technician and a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner. I work full-time in a pain and rehabilitation center and it is a career that I am extremely passionate about.