Meanwhile, back on the farm, the calendar pages are rolling along. It’s that season when the ram makes it known he’s ready for some action. As his mood dictates, he tests the bounds of courtesy by banging his headgear on fence posts, or makes soft commentary directed to the ladies.
in the paddock. This is fair Dorothy, one of the ewes soon to be courted.
Our Jacob sheep differ from modern breeds in a number of ways. One of them is the manner of their sex lives. In some breeds, the ewes are fertile year round. Primitive sheep like Jacobs are known as short-day breeders. The ewes (and the ram to a certain extent) are sensitive to the ratio of daylight hours to dark. The shortened daylight period triggers the release of hormones that give the ewe an estrus cycle, or heat.
So… as dusk is falling earlier and earlier each day, and the ram is communicating his desires, the ewes are readying themselves, too, for a romantic encounter with him. I needed to get to work, and undertake some sheepy housekeeping.
Note: it’s hard to get a good picture of yourself doing this job. But there is probably no flattering view of the matter anyway. What accumulates through the summer must be moved out in the fall.
Once their house is neatened up, the ewes can be run in for an afternoon of shots, drenches and clips. Shots, you probably know about. Like school children and pet dogs, livestock get their shots. The sheep will get their CD&T shots today (just think of CD&T as like a tetanus shot; there is more in it than that, but that will do for the short explanation). Drench is not as damp as it sounds. It means a liquid medication given to an animal. Although sometimes the shepherd can come away a little drenched herself, that’s not really the intent of the term. The sheep are fairly easy to manage with a drench. You tip their chins up, push a big measured syringe into their mouths, and push the plunger. With their heads up, they don’t have much choice but to swallow. And the clip: We want the ram to have as clear a target as we can give him. The girls all get a tail end haircut. It’s called crutching among sheep people. There is nothing very appealing about the back end of a sheep. They get fairly nasty with dags of stained wool and rattling castanets of dried feces, so we trim it off with shears. Let’s not dwell on it.
Eldon, our new ram, is still “unproven.” A ram proves himself by performance. In about five months time, he’ll have the results of his test. He doesn’t seem nervous about it.
In fact, there is little instruction required. Good sheep know what to do, when to do it, and how to behave in the course of courtship. An animal that will cheerfully knock you down if you’re not watching him will be completely charming to his women. He trots behind them, sniffing their delightful parts, curling his lips up in pleasure, and asking by way of tender bumps if he might join with them in the creation of a new generation. When they at last reach an agreement about it, the event is so quickly consummated it’s easy to miss. The first year we had sheep, I hid in the woods and tried to catch them in the act, and never did succeed. Five months later, however, ample evidence appeared that everyone had performed as needed.
A ram’s physical attributes are impressive. Relative to his body weight, his testicles are larger than the baggage of any other farm species. A mature ram can breed better than 50 ewes in a season. Poor Eldon. He has a harem of 6 on whom he can bestow his treasure. Still, it seems they are lovely enough to please him, and he is valiant enough for their admiration.
Catch that glint in his eye?
Oh, handsome fellow.