We did pregnancy testing for our ‘ewe lambs’, those who were born May, 2012. Among the approximately 1400 lambs born last spring, we chose the 300 best females to be put to the rams in December.
However, we know not all of them have been bred. We want to keep only those females who are pregnant, and to sell the others in time for Greek Orthodox Easter, May 5th. It costs us too much to keep non-productive animals – it doesn’t pay to be coy when the rams arrive.
Our goal is always to produce great quality lamb.
Also it is important for us to cull any lambs that are not bred at one year of age, as those are the genetics we seek. After 38 years of selective culling, we are much closer to achieving the ideal Topsy ewe.
The pregnancy testing process is pretty interesting. We use an ultrasound machine which will emit a different sound when sound waves bounce off amniotic fluid in the uterus. (We have to make sure the lambs have empty bladders so as not to confuse the machine.)
Our shepherd Christopher needs good wand contact on the lamb’s belly so he squirts it with cooking oil. When contact is good he hears a regular beep. The machine emits a continuous note if the amniotic fluid is detected.
Ideally the pregnancy testing is done before 90 days of pregnancy, when the fetus is not yet too large.
Of course there are no guarantees, and we want to keep all who are carrying, so all the lambs which did not show pregnant were retested after two weeks, in hopes of catching others.
The first test showed 225 out of 300 appear to be bred. It took three people 6 hours to complete the first process.
The second pregnancy testing, 2 weeks later found an additional 22, probably bred later.
Just before shipping, all the lambs apparently not pregnant were tipped up on their bottoms to check udders, a third test, which may indicate a few more carrying fetuses that the machine did not detect. We found 3 pretty definite and a couple of other maybe’s.
So they will stay too, and hopefully will contribute their share to the frolic of lambs we anticipate very soon.
(Sorry, barn photos of this process didn’t work well so here are frolic photos by Don Tubb instead.)
Breeding sheep can be complicated. Four months, three weeks and four days, or 142 – 148 days: that is the gestation period of a lamb. Our shepherd, Christopher, uses that calculation to determine when to put the rams into the flock. We want our ewes to start to birth their lambs the second week of May, when the pastures should have sufficient green growth to support the ewes. It is much warmer and dryer for the newborns to plop onto grass in the fields, rather than in muddy barnyards.
In the late fall, Chris works to ensure a ‘rising plane of well-being’ for the ewes, calculating the quality and quantity of the food they receive so that their bodies are confident that all is well. This increases the probability of more ova being made available for fertilization; thus multiple births. We aim for an average of two lambs per mature ewe and one lamb per first year mama (known as “ewe lambs”). There are of course many additional factors in fertility, including genetics.
Our goal is always to create great-tasting lamb.
We now use mainly North Country Cheviot and Suffolk purebred rams to breed the ewes. They are put to 5 groupings of females: 2 larger groups of mature ewes totaling close to 800 (with 21 rams); 2 much smaller groups of purebred Suffolks, mature and young ones, to be bred by 2 Suffolks; then the Border Cheviot (a much smaller breed) rams will join the 300 ewe lambs. The latter produce a smaller, feisty lamb with a high drive for survival (which helps their inexperienced moms).
The two Teaser Rams (those with vasectomies) have finished their work to get the ewes in the mood by December 17th this year, the date the 25 intact rams head eagerly into the fields.
The 5 groupings of sheep are protected carefully by our 9 Maremma and Akbash guardian dogs. We hope to keep stress to a minimum, from predators and from weather – the latter of which of course we can’t control at all.
Healthy, happy lambs make great sheep and wool.
Our cycle begins again.
Topsy Farms produces beautiful washable wool products including sheepskins, six point wool blankets, wool for knitting and felting, and some of the finest local lamb in Ontario.