I’m been spending my winter months spinning, knitting and trying to catch up on some house chores. I’ve started planning our gardens, ordering seeds and getting ready to start some cabbage seeds in the basement as spring is actually approaching.
Best of all, lambing time is almost here! We may have lambs by this coming weekend based on when I put out our ram.
Although most of our sheep should lamb in April, it looks like a couple of our mixed bred ewes and the two purebred Jacob ewes may start lambing as early as February. We put out a yearling Icelandic ram, Ralph, in September, hoping he might breed the crossbreds earlier than the usually Icelandic breeding time. We also sent Jade’s Tunis yearling, Mini, to another farm nearby who has a purebred Tunis ram, probably for early March, but she is starting to get an udder!
All the mature ewes who might lamb early have had their CD and T vaccinations and are looking large and starting to bag up – the udder grows larger in preparation for lambs. Black Tunis, a half Jacob/almost half Tunis ewe, is very bagged up as is Chocolate, our 3/4Texel, ¼ Dorper. The two Jacob ewes, Cotton and Lavender, also look to be ready to lamb at least within the month. Kelly and Fergie are lagging a little behind in udder development, but they are also harder to check. Kelly is a Texel/Finn and Fergie is a natural colored Lincoln/Blue Face Leicester so they are both very tall but not as trusting about being handled as some of the others. My husband, Kelly, thinks Kelly the sheep is very huge – hoping for twins (or more) this time! He named her after himself, and she’s definitely one of his favorites.
The mature Icelandic ewes are starting to get wider, but I don’t expect lambs from them until late March and I haven’t noticed any real udder development yet. We retained 5 purebred ewe lambs, but at least two of them are probably too small to be pregnant this year. With the drought last year, they didn’t grow as well as I would have liked, but they are being fed separately so they get added nutrition and don’t have to compete with the pushy older ladies.
We also kept back 4 of our crossbred ewe lambs, sired by Tucker, our previous Icelandic ram. Two are out of our “Black Tunis”, one is Fergie’s daughter and one is Kelly’s daughter. All but Kelly’s are a pretty gray pattern, maybe English Blue? Two of them have light tear-drop markings on their faces and all are silver across their backs with darker bellies, heads and legs. Kelly’s daughter, Friday, is white with a dark nose. Although she’s only around 38% Texel, she looks more like a Texel than her mother and has a sweeter temperament too. Her wool is fairly kempy, but she’s built like a little tank and we are hoping she is bred since she’s definitely are largest of the young ewes. Fergie’s daughter, Fern, is the smallest of the 4 and is polled and has nice silky double coated fleece. Mamasita, one of Black Tunis’ lambs, looks almost exactly like her, even down to fleece texture despite their different backgrounds. Mamasita’s sister, Grizelda, has much courser and shorter fleece and is horned. Black Tunis’ past daughters have rarely lambed their first year, so we hope these two are actually pregnant this year. We probably won’t don’t keep them in our flock if they don’t, but I do have a breeding date for Mamasita so we are hopeful.
Although it was originally Kelly’s idea to get them in the first place, I enjoy the crossbreds for various reasons. First, it’s nice to have some larger lambs to sell for meat, either directly to customers or by sending them to auction. Second, they are, on average, more resistant to parasites than my purebred Icelandics and they often, but not always, have nice or at least interesting fleeces. Third, it’s fun to see the variety of traits that result from the different crosses.
This fall, for 2014 lambing, we are considering using a different type of ram over our ewes to focus more on producing meat lambs instead of breeding stock for a year. If Jade’s Tunis ewe has a nice ram lamb, we may keep him or we may buy or borrow a Suffolk from a neighboring farm. I would love to use either a purebred Texel or a Leicester Longwool ram, but Kelly would prefer to stick with something local and simple. I’m hoping we can keep our current Icelandic ram too, to individually breed some of my more special Icelandic ewes, but we don’t really want to be tempted to keep any more sheep for a while as we are already overstocked for our small farm.