Sheep Breeding Times

IMG_20191230_164039763(2)It feels so… good to have the girls home. I missed them terribly. Caroline’s little ma…s as she quietly talks to me and the view of the goats trailing off to pasture after Virginia makes my world right again. So just how long should you have to leave your ram in with your ewes? It’s not forever if they are away from home but it feels like it.

34 days is the recommended time to put your rams in with your ewes though some go 52. Virginia, the coming 2 year old ewe, bred right after we unloaded her out of the trailer at her old home. We had no way of knowing if her daughters cycled before, or after, or at all. They have a free-range hands off operation.

The plan in the future once I get my tiny flock going is to follow the recommendations to keep the ewes that breed within the first 17 – 19 days of being with the ram. I need my own ram. I can’t see them breed nor see the discharge that comes afterwards for part of the day. I can’t tell the signs they are coming into heat if we are not here.

[This is our harness that can be used for buck goats or rams. I bought it to temporarily attached a plastic apron to when Bravo was small and I did not have a separate pen for him at the time. I did not want the does bred yet.]

The harness fits snug on the ram with a pocket on their chest that holds colored chalk which marks the ewe’s back when the ram mounts. Then I can look to see who bred each day. I will then select from the ewe lambs born in the first seventeen days which to keep. The ewes bred and settled with lamb the first cycle will most likely have offspring which will do the same.

All of us small flock owners get anxious and want to know when is each animal’s due date. Even if I’m not needed I want to be sure and be there even if it is to only hold a hoof. A friend’s sow, Blue, wanted to hold her head in your lap and she’d moan while you stroked her and she pushed out her piglets. I farrowed for them once when they were gone. It was a hoot!

But how do you figure when they are due? A ewes gestation is 144 to 152 days with the average being 147. The estrus cycle is 13 to 19 days of which there are four phases: proestrus, estrus, metestrus, and diestrus. It’s during the estrus phase that the ewe is receptive to the ram and will stand for mating. The estrus phase lasts 24 to 36 hours. It’s a short window of time. Most ewes will lamb each year with the same number of gestational days.

Estrous periods that occur in the autumn are longer and more intense, and maiden ewes have a shorter and less intense estrus than mature ewes.

Some breeds are seasonal breeders and some all year. Dorpers are all year. Our sheep’s previous owner first left the ram in with the ewes all year and had lambs all year. Since then she has gone to just putting the ram in, in November. Genetics and weather determine strength of cycles.  We’ve had rare years our seasonal breeders bred out of season but the cycle has never been strong enough to settle and produce offspring.

If you are thinking of having a ram, keep in mind they can be dangerous. The ram our ewes just came home from a visit with, you couldn’t turn your back on him. He’d ram you. Disrespect probably started as a lamb with his previous owner. They are really hard to break at this stage. I don’t know how. We once had a less than an hour old ram lamb come wobble over, lower his head and tap me. Believe me, I had something to say about that, and he was castrated within a few days even though it was cute. i just kept thinking what he’d be like at over 200 pounds.

Body language is the most predominant voice of animals. You want to talk to them and understand them, then observe each move they make and speak in kind. The smaller the operation, the more closely you will be in contact with these high testosterone males. Our buck goat is over 300 pounds and not fully mature. That’s more than an American football line-backer in a compact package coming at you, or throwing you around on the end of a leash so if you know a very knowledgeable person who speaks body language —-learn before buying! Our daughter had four surgeries one year because she miss-read body cues from her show steer. He took out his displeasure about a hair cut for the show ring, as she was leading him in the horse trailer to the front to tie him. The ram we raise will average around 230 pounds, now that’s a line-backer and they can hit HARD and low.

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We have 8 grandkids close by so all our stock has to be reasonably tame and mellow. The kids are rarely in with the intact males but I want them well mannered for my safety and theirs because the kids who shouldn’t, sometimes do get in and I not know it. All year intact males will naturally look for body cues and be sending them. It can escalate over months or in a few seconds in their bid for dominance.

Females have their own dominance ladder. The larger the animal, the more hormones to deal with behind the muscle.

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My husband is super sweet and I adore him but he’s at the bottom of the ladder in the animal’s pens. It’s why I must be Alpha because they pretty much ignore him when he asks them to do something. I’m not strong enough and big enough to man-handle them. I don’t want to. As Alpha, I can trim the bucks feet and worm him while he placidly stands there. Yes, the wormer tastes terrible but MOM says do it and you don’t want MOM’s evil eye. As the grandkids say, “Don’t mess with grandma, we’ve seen her stand down an angry cow !” I’m not that tough for I knew the cow well and my limits but don’t tell them. LOL The eleven year old prefers grandma’s house to do home-school. I’m fun!, and though I’m mild mannered, I’m firm. Clear boundaries make your animals and children feel secure, loved, and safe.

Saturday, Bravo was great but there will be moves coming in the future. He’s not happy in the number two spot and don’t be fooled by how sweet and loving he is. It’s in the hormones. I can’t wait until I have two, a ram also. Hear the sarcasm? Then again there is just more to love.

As you know, I will NOT have a biddy on my place or a bad behaved male. Probably due to such an awesome husband. Though with a twinkle in his eye and a peck on the cheek, he tells me that I’m ‘entertainingly crazy’ and an ‘acquired taste’. I’ll keep him anyway!!

 

 

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