You may consider the shortening day length a trigger to curl up with a book and hibernate. Not so for the girl sheep, called ewes. As the days get darker longer, the ewes begin to think about those wool wearing males who have been living in the back pasture since last season. The ladies start digging through their purses for the red lipstick and search in the back closet of their barn for their stilletos. The shortening days, in many breeds of sheep, stimulates the ewes to start to cycle. That is, not bicycling, but rather, getting their ovaries in order, preparing to make babies.
Shortening days for a shepherd means it is time for me to consider the suitable suitor for each of the almost 40 ewes that will be seeking male companionship this year.
Before making matchmaking decisions I had to do a bit of research about the maximum number of ewes that a ram can mate, or in sheep lingo, "join", with.
There seem to be so many factors to consider: enough, but not too much, healthy food, not being overweight, not being underweight, not being too young, not being too old. Sound familiar?
Research consensus seems to indicate that a mature healthy ram can easily look after the needs of 75 ewes. There are stories of rams in Australia being put with a flock of up to 150 ewes. I hear the North American males rolling their eyes now with the comment "Sure, sure, those Aussies are not only consider themselves bronzed and blond, they also think they are more virile than the rest of us."
Included in the research material I found is a recommendation that a ram be placed in a pasture just next to the ewes before the actual introduction is made. The ram can then parade up and down the outside of a pasture of ewes to help encourage the ladies to begin cycling. Consider it something like a flock of women heading to the local bar when they hear that male strippers are coming to town. The recommendations, however, also include a caution that the fence be strong enough to avoid any overzealous rams from starting work through the fence before the planned first day of employment. In January 2018 Brad the ram was not feeling well so I had put him just outside the barn in a turnout to enjoy the sunshiny winter day. When I arrived back at the farm at feeding time I found Brad lazing about inside the adjoining pasture. Yes, that pasture was full of young, attractive ewes. I guess he wasn't feeling so badly after all. The result of Brad's overly zealous behaviour was a gorgeous little ewe lamb born in June 2018.
Research complete, it is time to look at the genealogy, the health and the lambing history of each ewe as I prepare to sort ewes into those that will breed and who will be the best mate for which ewe this season. Once this is done, two large questions remain: Will Channing Tatum be able to take on the increased number of ewes I have to offer him since Brad's passing? Is Maurice Chevalier ready for his first job?