History of a Vermont Sheep Farm
Getting Started: You Can Farm Too!
A Flock of Your Own Icelandic Sheep
A Flock of Your Own Chickens
Growing Your Farm: How the Numbers Work
Dreaming Vermont: Relocating and Living in Vermont

The Breeding Season

It occurred to me this afternoon, standing near a moderately sized pile of hardwood logs that represent next winter’s firewood, having just culled the third coyote of the year for showing an inordinate amount of interest in our livestock, and surrounded by five wonderful dogs, that life is pretty good. This despite the fact that my truck was full of scrap wood of little value salvaged by my bride for some yet undefined construction project. This despite the fact that the lawn is covered with fallen leaves all brown and curled so it is nearly impossible to distinguish them from the landmines left by the dogs. This despite the fact that our most recent crop of broiler chickens needs to be butchered soon an it will most likely happen on an evening after a horribly busy day at work since the birds will not be considerate enough to run out of food on the weekend…and we’re too darned cheap to buy another bag of feed. This despite the fact that four of our dogs were rolling in tidy piles of sheep shit and the fifth was cheerfully eating it.
Life is good.
Finnigan, the best man at our wedding, and his steady throb JoAnn (the woman formerly known as The Delicate One) showed up this year just in time for what they thought was foliage season. And while the foliage did in fact peak during their visit, they actually arrived just in time to help with the pre-winter chores. I was reminded of stories about dude ranches where folks pay big bucks to do somebody else’s chores, and enjoy it! I tried to talk them into staying longer, there were still lines on the To Do List, but they mumbled something about their regular jobs and left after less than a week. Bummer!
Finnigan, being somewhat younger than us, does not yet require reading glasses. So while directions come into focus at three feet for me, the fine print is a bit difficult to read at that distance. So when it came time to assemble our latest portable garage, we gave him the instructions. He glanced at them, grunted, and proceeded to direct the assembly of the structure.
About fifteen minutes later, when it was obvious parts were going together in a way that didn’t remotely resemble the picture on the carton, JoAnn took the directions away from him. JoAnn is a research librarian. Like others of her kind, she Believes that if something was important enough to put in writing, it is important enough to read. So she read the directions with her keen eye, noting that the parts in the instructions had letters that corresponded to letters on the actual parts. Very cool!
JoAnn is no longer as delicate as she once was. After years of being dragged around on primitive vacations (think Gunga Din) during which she sometimes remained damp so long she began molding, she appears to have toughened up. That, and her willingness to read instructions, have given Tamara and me reason to believe that labor costs for future projects might not be as hefty as once thought. Perhaps for their next visit we should plan a barn raising!
We sold one of the ’57 Dodge trucks this summer after realizing we had differing views of the old truck hobby thing. When my bride first made the comment, “Oh, this is something we could do together!” I mistakenly envisioned us restoring the old beast together. Hard, greasy work is almost enjoyable if you do it with someone you love! But Tamara’s idea of this new hobby of ours consisted of me spending all my non-existent time in the garage covered with rust and grease…with her driving around town looking cool when the work was all done. So the rusty red truck is gone, and the rusty green truck is still in the garage getting tinkered on as time allows. Last weekend my friend, Bill, and I combined two Stromberg carburetors into one working version, so we now have a choke that does not involve popping the hood and leaning over the engine. Oh, and we also have an accelerator pump, so something actually happens when you step on the gas! Very exciting!
Since getting that truck a year ago I’ve been regularly checking the garage floor for leaks. There were none. Absolutely none! I was ecstatic! But after getting it running there was a pretty good sized oil spot on the concrete. It seems the lack of leakage was related to the fact the beast hadn’t been started for months. I wonder if JoAnn could read the shop manual for us next year when she and Finnigan come up again? Those little hands of hers could reach into tight spots.
She’s not so delicate anymore, you know.
The other great season occasion had to do with the livestock. Being essentially lazy and averse to chores in the middle of blizzards or minus thirty conditions, and not quite sure what to do if a newborn lamb hits the icy ground and freezes to it, we had separated our rams and ewes a couple months back before the ewes went into season. One fenced in enclosure with primitive accommodations for the ram lambs. And the sheep version of the Holiday Inn for the ewe lambs. The idea was to prevent barnyard sex long enough so the end of the gestation period would fall in t-shirt weather, say thirty degrees or so.
It worked well. Even when the girls (Guinness, Fudge Baa, Bunny, Marmalade, Espresso and Hettle) were in the shameless hussy phase of their season, the boys (Weasley, Hamish McBean, and Kiva Han) could do little but gaze longingly from their side of the fence. But all that changed this weekend…
The ewes, were they all to be impregnated this day, would not give birth till early to mid March – just past the brutal cold of our winters. So using the various compartments inside the ewes Holiday Inn, we managed to shuffle sheep around till smaller groups of ewes were confined with the appropriate ram. Expert breeders say the sheep should be confined in very small spaces for three weeks, but it’s so dark and cramped back there we decided to confine only the smallest of the lot, letting the larger sheep outside in two segregated groups. Weasley, the biggest ram with a most impressive rack of curved horns, is in with Bunny and Guinness. Bunny because we think her genetics and his will result in a very nice lamb. Guinness because she’s such an absolute bitch Weasley is the only ram she can’t beat up! Hamish McBean, the middle ram with okay horns and a wonderful personality, went in with sweet little Marmalade and big old Fudge Baa. And little bitty Kiva Han, remained indoors with the micro-ewes Hettle and Espresso.
We have been told that ewes in season are easy. Ours are obviously somewhere in the middle of their seventeen day cycle, and not at all appreciative of the rams’ interest in them. Or maybe it’s got something to do with the sheep version of foreplay. Weasley chases his girls all over the place with his tongue stuck out; if he gets close enough to them he kicks out with a front leg. Guinness and Bunny do not find any charm in that approach. Hamish McBean, who previously had been the most mild-mannered ramlet in the world, ran right up to Marmalade and stuck his protruding tongue in her nether regions. He then backed up, peeled his lips back and scrunched up his face like Groucho Marx! He has not stopped chasing Fudge Baa and Marmalade since, though as the days wear on the pursuit has slowed down significantly. It began as a frenetic run-over-any-chicken-in-the-way-of-satisfaction sort of thing. It progressed to the steady pace of a marathoner. This morning it looks more like a dying man dragging himself through the desert in pursuit of the mirage of a refreshing well. But he’s still trying!
Kiva Han is having a rough time of it. Part of the problem is he is so small he needs to be uphill of the ewes in order to have any chance of success. Part of the problem is the three of them are so small we did not shear them this year in the hope that the extra insulation would help them through the cold of winter…and all that wool sort of conceals the target. Poor Kiva Han senses all those pheromones, but all he can see are two fluffy brown balls with a nose on one end. He has taken to backing up and hurling himself onto one or the other of those fluffy brown balls in the hope of finding joy, but so far has succeeded only in exhausting himself.
We’re not sure how to help. Perhaps a how-to video for sheep?
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Stories From a Vermont Life:

Camilla Blue
Frozen Gifts
Making Wreaths
The Fourth of July

The Farm at Morrison Corner raises Icelandic Sheep on the last hill farm in Mansfield, VT.  Learn about Raising Icelandic Sheep, Raising Chickens, Moving to Vermont and Living in Vermont on this and our other sites.

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