Sunday, May 27, 2018

Summer Routine

For most folks, I suppose, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Astronomical summer begins on the solstice on June 21; meteorological summer begins on June 1. For our family, summer begins when we wean the lambs (this year, we'll wean on June 2) - but we're already easing into our summer routine.

On most mornings, I find myself waking in the gray light of dawn. This time of year, that means I'm usually awake by 5 a.m. After a couple of cups of coffee and some breakfast, I head out to move water (which usually takes about 30-40 minutes). I like to move water before it gets too hot once summer begins. From irrigating, I go into work (unless I've had an irrigation mishap that soaks my clothes).

Once we wean the lambs, we'll have three groups of sheep to check each day. The lambs (those we keep - replacement ewe lambs, ram lambs we'll sell later in the summer, and feeder lambs we're keeping for our own use) will stay on our irrigated pasture. The ewes will move back to annual rangeland - their nutritional demand drops significantly once they're no longer lactating. And the rams are also on annual rangeland - we keep them well away from the ewes until just prior to breeding to help synchronize the estrus cycles of the ewes. Since I do most of the irrigating, I typically take care of the lambs. My partner Roger checks the ewes; one or the other of us checks the rams.

As I get older, I find routine relaxing (for the most part). After the excitement of lambing and the hard work of moving the sheep home for shearing, changing water once a day and moving sheep every 3-4 days seems easy! We'll typically find a few days to get to the mountains or the coast - Roger will take care of irrigation while we're gone. When Roger leaves town for a couple of days, I'll fill in with the ewes. Our routine lasts until the ewes come back to irrigated pasture in early September (the beginning of our "autumn") in preparation for breeding.

The periods of intense work in our sheep year - flushing, lambing, shearing - require careful thought and planning. I enjoy the mental stimulation! But I also enjoy the routine - which takes a different kind of thoughtfulness. Rather than creativity, routine requires focus (at least for me). Doing routine things well means we'll have green grass and fat lambs in the fall. It means we'll have a higher proportion of twin lambs in the following spring. I haven't always done the routine things well; focus is a learned behavior for me, I guess!

I know there'll be a morning in mid July when it already feels too hot to be outside when I'm moving water at 7 a.m. I also know there'll be a morning in August that feels like fall - and I'll look forward to that day in mid-October when the irrigation water shuts off! But for now, I'm enjoying settling into my summer routine!

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