Well, I was worried. I have now discovered that Shepherds think about sex a lot. Is it happening enough? Enough to get the ewes pregnant in a timely manner. Is it good quality? Good enough quality to ensure the ewes and rams stay interested in the subject. Are the tools interfering? I cannot tell you how many times a week I check under the rams armpits during breeding season to ensure neither ram is chafing from wearing his breeding harness.
So, the worrying began... Having let the rams be close enough to view the ewes for a few weeks in October/November, but not close enough to snuggle, with great anticipation I led each ram into their turnout of chosen ewes in early November.
I thought after just hanging out with each other all summer, the rams would be looking forward to some female company. Their response? The young ram, Channing Tatum, did not seem overly thrilled about his 2016 "debut" with his ewes. The more experienced, Brad Pit, was happy to have female company to have dinner with however not overly enthusiastic about "that other love, not the brother love". What was going on?
Was it the colours of the marking crayons I chose for their 2016 ram harnesses?
Did the orange marking crayon clash with Brad Pitt's wool coat? Did Channing Tatum's blue marking crayon make him feel a bit of that colour? (If you are wondering what coloured crayons have to do with rams, I refer you to my November 2015 blog for the background.)
In my usual anal...ytical way, I reviewed my diary from previous years, looking for some reason why things had gone awry.
Was I too late introducing the rams to the ewes? Hmmm....The ewes had been happy to return from their summer vacation in Wiles Lake a week earlier than 2015. They had finished their grazing of the last section of grass which skirts my mate's chardonnay and seyval blanc grapes growing on the side of the Wiles Lake drumlin. That section of grass is on a steep hill containing lovely apple trees that produced some delicious afternoon snacks whenever the wind blew. It also included a lot of "buzzies". Come to find out when I spoke about "buzzies" with the tannery who will tan my sheep hides, I realize that word is a Wentzell family childhood term, not understood by most humans. "Oh, burdocks, you mean.", said Connie at the tannery , when I called to tell her that half the flock had a party in these thigh high plants that take every opportunity to continue their longevity by depositing tiny pods of seeds full of hooks that will stick to any material....particularly lovely white wool coats. It seems Connie is a brave soul and is willing to support me in trying to ensure as much of the animal I raise goes to a purposeful end. She told me to send along the hides when the lambs were completed even if they do have "buzzies" in the wool. The hides are a story for another day.
When the ewes had eaten all the apples and grass and finished wandering through the burdock plants at Wiles Lake, they were ready to leave the summer pasture and return to Petite Riviere.
Petite Riviere holds its own charms for the ewes, not the least of which is the fact that the lady that lives in the house right beside their turnout, brings them treats of toast, vegetable peelings and other tidbits everyday. I call the lady "mom"; the sheep refer to her as "that dear woman". Petite also has a barn. Now, mind you, the ewes certainly enjoy the summer pleasure of camping outside under the stars, but, when it starts getting dark early and you can hear coyotes calling in the distance, the ewes do like the security of being able to relax in the barn at night.
What else could be the delay in consummating the relationship...s? I checked feet, eyes, mouths. Everyone is healthy. What I did notice was that everyone was very, relaxed.
Yawning and snoozing in the fields. No sense of excitement that goes along with breeding season. What I have noticed in my brief history as a shepherd is that generally when it is time, the rams are pacing, the ladies are arguing among themselves, most often demonstrated by headbutting. Have you seen women headbutting in the local bar when a handsome gentleman walks in? Same reaction in a sheep flock. Alas, early November 2016 there is no pacing, no headbutting. The only interest shown by the flock is when the shepherd visits them.
So, what's going on? Ah-Ha. The weather is beautiful. Warm. Even at night. So, do you suppose the sheep are not aware of the date on the calendar?
Fast forward to the third week of November when, all of a sudden you might remember that when you went outdoors you said "darn it, I need a jacket, hat and mitts". And there was even a bit of snow.
The rams began to pay close attention to the ewes. Rams, like a good male, are quite perceptive about when a ewe is interested in him. The day before "prime time", a ram curls back his upper lip, exposing his front teeth. I guess he is hoping that when a ewe sees this little trick she will find him irresistible. Hey, every guy has a pick-up trick doesn't he? A ram's pick-up trick is called the Flehmen Response.
Rams with curled lips eventually led to ewes with coloured spots on their backs.
Channing Tatum got his work done in just a few days; mind you he had a fraction of the courting to do than the more senior, master mater, Brad Pitt, had to do.
Now, well into the Holiday season, thing are calm once again. The ladies couldn't care less whether the rams share the hayrack with them or not. The gentlemen have been looking up the world junior hockey schedules and asking about having their own bachelor stalls again.
I do not know if every ewe is "with child", I only know that all the ewes are sporting this year's fashion colours: blue or orange depending on their "team". Now we will wait for the stork to arrive 146 days from now.
On this last day of 2016 I think about the people who have purchased lamb meat from me and those that I have yet to connect with. You are an essential part of this peaceful way of producing meals. On this eve of a New Year it is important to me that you know you are as much a part of this adventure to raise local food in a happy, peaceful way as the shepherd. Thank you for your participation. I look forward to sharing 2017 with you. Happy New Year.