Farming, like any business, requires planning the year ahead while tending to daily tasks. The harvest is over now and we have been busy preparing for winter as well as planting garlic and cut-flower tulip crops for spring and summer. It has been a mild autumn allowing us to spread out these tasks in between cutting back perennials, cleaning up annual cutting gardens and cleaning the barn and coops one last time before winter.
The last batch of meat chickens was processed mid-November here on the farm and now we will soon place our order of chicks for springtime meat birds. The last of the egg layer chicks are now about 12 weeks old and have been moved to their winter location in the smaller brown coop as they are still too small to join the main egg-layer flock for the winter.
On this beautiful Sunday afternoon I took my camera outside to capture one of the last blissful days of autumn before winter’s sharp winds begin to descend upon us.
I have been very busy with the sheep for the last month. We are breeding our ewes this year and we leased a beautiful Romney Ram named Alex earlier in the month.
There was a chance he was infertile but we took a chance with the promise that if he turned out unable to impregnate the ewes we could swap him out for his sire (‘dad’). So, I suppose this is a good time for Sheep Breeding 101 as almost everyone who has come to the farm has asked about the strange marks on the ewes’ backs. So, here we go.
Ewes come into heat (i.e. they ovulate) every 17 days. We put a harness on the ram’s chest with a wax crayon attached. The crayons come in different colors and for different temperature ranges (so the wax doesn’t melt or conversely not mark). When the ram is released into the field with the ewes he runs around sniffing their posteriors and he can tell by scent when they are in heat. It’s a funny sight when sheep or goats sniff as they curl back their top lip and you can sometimes see their bottom teeth (they don’t have top ones) so it’s like they are kind of smiling.
The ewes will only be able to be made pregnant for anywhere from a few hours to a day. So the ram has to court the ewe and mount her, in that small time frame, usually many times. When he mounts her the crayon will mark her backside.
Fun fact for the day: Only dolphins and humans have sex for fun!
So, if the ewe is not in heat the ram will not mount her. In 17 days from the date of the first ewe to be marked we change the color of the crayon. If the ram re-marks the ewe it means he did not make her pregnant the first time. Unfortunately for Alex, he remarked the girls so we swapped him out for Timmy the day before Thanksgiving. Timmy has been a reliable ram for 4 years so we don’t have any worries now.
In the meantime, I also purchased two more ewes, Maggie and Sciuto, from Alder Brook Romneys here in Connecticut. The girls are both 4 years old and Maggie is already bred and will lamb in March before the other ewes. These girls are an exciting addition to our flock as they are natural color Romneys (as is Timmy) and they bring genetics from Tawanda Farms in California.
We are expanding our sheep flock so that we can provide local meat and fiber. Maggie will lamb in March and the rest of the ewes should lamb in late April/early May. Romneys are a great dual purpose breed providing large carcasses for food as well as a lustrous, strong fiber that comes in a range of colors from a very dark brown, through grey, oatmeal and white. The rams that are destined for the freezer will be ready at the end of November. The natural color sheep will make wonderful un-dyed yarn but also provide a wonderful base for making soft, heathered colors with the botanical dyes I use.
And as the sun sets now on this day I am working on the materials for our winter workshops, beginning January 16 with ‘So you want a cutting flower garden’. There is never a dull moment here on the farm!