There are a number of milestones that mark a shepherd's progress through the year - lambing and shearing come to mind. Oddly enough, during the next week, we'll mark a milestone that is really the start of our new "sheep" year.
Next week, we'll bring all 130+ ewes together and sort them according to their body condition. We'll give each ewe a numeric score, with 1 being extremely thin and 5 being extremely fat. We expect scores mostly between 2 and 3. All of the thinner ewes (2.5 or below) will go onto higher quality feed - not as high quality as the feed we're saving for our lambs, but green, irrigated feed nonetheless. The ewes that score 2.5 or higher will remain on dry feed for several more weeks.
This feeding process is known as "flushing." The theory behind it is that putting the ewes on a rising plane of nutrition will increase their ovulation, in turn increasing the percentage of twin lambs born next spring. Next week marks our initial preparations for next year's crop of lambs.
Following flushing, we'll turn our rams in with the ewes (in the third week of September). The rams will stay with the ewes for 3 estrus cycles (51 days). During our breeding season, we'll continue to keep all of the ewes on a rising plane of nutrition (more green grass). After we pull the rams, we'll enter a somewhat less hectic period (at least with the sheep) during the late fall and early winter. Shortly after New Year's Day, we'll bring all the ewes in to update their vaccinations, trim their feet, and prepare them for lambing. If our rams do their job, lambs will arrive during the third week of February (approximately 145 days after the rams are turned in with the ewes). Our success next year depends on our ability to manage our ewes effectively over the next 4 weeks!
One of the things I enjoy about farming is the changing routine - there are certain tasks that must be done during certain seasons. In many ways, August is my favorite summer month - there is always a morning that dawns with a hint of autumn (this morning, for example). The turning of the year keeps life interesting.
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