Thursday, February 7, 2019

Second Guessing Never Helps - But I Do It Anyway!

Our ewes are coming down to the final days of their gestation. On September 27, 2018 (133 days ago), the rams were turned in with the ewes. Sometime in the next 12-14 days, the first ewe of 2019 will deliver a lamb (or two, we hope). The vast majority of our sheep income for 2019 will be based on how many lambs are born between February 19 and April 1. The number of lambs we get this year will be based on breeding decisions and nutritional management decisions made last summer and fall. In other words, the number of lambs we get in the coming weeks has already been established - and yet I can't help but worry about the outcome!

My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I believe this spring marks our 22nd or 23rd lambing (and the 14th since we went "commercial" in the sheep business). I always look forward to the 6 weeks of lambing, but I also ALWAYS second guess myself in the weeks leading up to the first lamb. As I make my rounds through the ewes each morning, I look at them and speculate as to whether they are carrying a single or multiple lambs. I wonder whether our nutritional management in the month leading up to breeding was sufficient. In some ways, I suppose I'm guilty of trying to count my eggs (or lambs) before they hatch!

I used to let this get to me. Every time a ewe delivered a single - or worse, failed to have a lamb - I'd kick myself. Maybe it's a sign of maturity (which, according to my wife, I've not yet truly achieved), but I now I laugh at myself when I start speculating about how many lambs a particular ewe is carrying.

This morning, I had a text conversation with my fellow California Wool Growers Association officers. Our vice president, Ed Anchordoguy, who raises sheep near Petaluma, said, "I have many non-ag friends who will ask me how I can get excited about sheep. A flock on a green hillside, pregnant ewes, a group of ewe lambs - my favorite." In these weeks leading up to lambing, I find myself wanting to walk through the ewes just to enjoy how they look at this stage.

Another friend, Deneane Glazier Ashcraft, who has raised goats, talks about our flocks (or herds) as being similar to an artist's "body of work." The past choices we've made about which animals to keep, which rams to buy, can be seen in the way our current sheep fit our landscape. And their fit to our landscape has a direct relationship to their productivity. While there is a scientific component to this work, there's also a great deal of art - the eye of the shepherd still matters. The coming weeks will provide us with feedback on these past decisions - the ewes will tell us how we've done. Rather than second guess myself in these next two weeks, my energy will be better spent in preparing to care for the lambs that DO arrive!

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