Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Turning Another Corner

Last weekend, we started the process of weaning the lambs from their mothers.  The oldest lambs are now about 100 days old - and weighing 70 pounds or more.  By separating them from the ewes, we can put the lambs on our highest quality irrigated pasture.  The ewes can spend 45-60 days on rougher feed - yellow starthistle and other invasive weeds, for example.  When we wean the lambs, we give them a permanent (hopefully) ear tag, vaccinate them for the most common diseases in our area, and deworm them.

The sheep year begins with breeding season.  About 45 days prior to turning the rams in with the ewes (mid August), we'll evaluate the ewes for health and body condition.  Those that are a bit thin will be separated out and fed higher quality feed (irrigated pasture or supplemental hay).  On September 1, we'll put all the ewes on higher quality feed and turn in our "teaser" rams - vasectomized rams that help synchronize the estrous cycles of the ewes.  On October 1, we turn in the rams.

The next milepost comes in December - we ultrasound the ewes to determine whether they are bred and trim their feet.  After this work, we relax until lambing starts in the third week of February.  When lambing is completed, we shear the ewes.  Weaning is the next "corner" to our year - it represents a shift in focus from the ewe flock to the growing lambs - this year's profit.

Over the coming weeks, we'll carefully monitor the health of our lambs.  We'll check for foot problems - a common issue on irrigated pasture.  We'll monitor the incidence of internal parasites, too.  In July, we'll shear most of the lambs, too - by this time, their wool will be long enough to have some value.  Beginning in late August, the largest lambs will weigh 90-100 pounds.  During the fall, we make almost weekly trips to our processor to harvest our lambs and provide meat to our customers.

I enjoy the rhythms of the ranching year - the work follows a seasonal cycle.  I also enjoy the variability that comes with each year.  This year, the dry mid-winter months, followed by wet weather in March and early April, made for challenging feed conditions - all of our annual grasses matured in a 10-day period.  We also purchased another flock that had been bred later than our own ewes - meaning our weaning process will be stretched out over 30-45 days this year.

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