Saturday, March 9, 2019

Sheep Walking

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but after the holidays this year, I took up jogging. During January and February, I tried to jog 3 times a week, and I eventually worked up to 7-8 miles each week. I was feeling pretty good about getting a run in before work on weekdays and a longer run on one of the weekend days. Then lambing started on February 17.... No more time for jogging; lots of time for walking!

As I’ve written before, our pasture lambing system requires us to walk through the sheep at least three times a day. When we have stormy weather (of which we’ve had plenty this year), we walk through the flock more frequently to get the lambs up and make sure they’re nursing. My partner Roger and I split up these duties, but it still means a great deal of walking. And since my iPhone has a built-in pedometer, it’s been interesting to see just exactly how much walking I’ve been doing.

First the lambing statistics. As of this evening, we are exactly 21 days into our lambing season. So far, 81 percent of the ewes have given birth - at most, we only have 16 ewes left to lamb (assuming they’re all pregnant - I expect we have several “open” ewes). From a labor standpoint, the more condensed our lambing season is, the better - it concentrates our work. From a marketing standpoint, we like the lambs to arrive in a short timeframe - this helps ensure a more uniform group of lambs when we sell them. And the fact that 81 percent of the ewes were impregnated within a three week period certainly explains why the rams looked so tired back in late October!

Now for the exercise statistics! According to my iPhone pedometer, I’ve walked 122.5 miles in the last three weeks! Had I started walking west on February 17 when the first lamb arrived, I’d be at AT&T Park (or Oracle Park, now, I guess) - well before the Giants’ opening day! And my iPhone says I’ve climbed the equivalent of 665 flights of stairs in the last three weeks! No wonder my 51+ year old hips and knees are a bit tired!

In our system, there’s no substitute for walking. Riding - a horse or an ATV - doesn’t provide the same perspective. When we’re “marking” new lambs (which involves docking, castrating, ear-tagging, and paint marking), we have to be on foot to catch the lambs. When we come on a ewe in need of assistance, we have to be on foot in order to catch her and help her. I find that I use my senses of sight, smell, and hearing during lambing - watching for ewes in labor, smelling for rare signs of infection, and listening for ewes who may be missing a lamb. The quiet of walking allows me to do these things.

This morning, we moved the sheep into a new paddock. The dogs and I brought the main bunch up to the fence and let them through to fresh grass. Then we walked back and carried the newest lambs (with their mothers following) into the new pasture. As usual, the dogs walked (or ran, mostly) at least three times as far as I did - and they still had lots of energy when we were done. I can only imagine what their pedometers would show tonight!

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