Grit Blogs > Transitional Traditions

The End of Winter Sheep

It's been a while since we last updated on the sheep but I assure you all they are doing fine.

Dorper Sheep in winter

As a refresher, we currently are raising about 50 Dorper ewes and rams. Over the course of the summer we spent a great deal of time updating our fencing and learning (sometimes the hard way) the intricacies of these delicate and demure animals.

As the leaves began to redden and the sky to darken we began discussions about what to do with our new woolly friends once the snow began to fall. Our plans took on many iterations and in the end we were able to agree on an idea that fully met all of our needs.

We decided cut a hole in the back of the "back barn" which is a large barn that is furthest from the house in an easterly direction. We would then be able to leave the sheep with a direct route out to the pasture. Although the promise of delicious greenery has been long forgotten the sheep still thoroughly enjoy being able to run free and play in the snow.

On the inside of the barn we sectioned off a large area that we were using for square bale storage. We combined this with a small paddock that we normally reserved for special cattle functions (cocktail parties and inter-breed mixers). Ok that last part isn't true but you get the idea ...

Building the tombstone feeder for the sheep

I spent a large part of the time securing our previous indoor fencing as well as building this feeding area. This type of system is called a "tombstone" setup and is designed so that the sheep are able to squeeze their heads in and slide them down to reach the feed on the outside. We have to do it this way as some of the yearling ewes (female sheep that are about a year old and probably not yet bred) have very narrow shoulders and with some sheep yoga could most like be able to wiggle through some traditionally designed mangers.

Finished tombstone manger for feeding the sheep

Once this was finished we bedded the area with some freshly shelled corn cobs and topped that with wheat straw. We ran a couple more lines of electric fencing and let the girls in. It took a bit of persuasion with some super-tasty hay but they were eventually safe and sound. And, not a moment too soon as we got a taste of Old Man Winter's fury 4 days later with about a foot of snow.

Dorper ewes curious about the goings on in the barn and also about the rams

When we returned from our trip to Colorado we had the last task before us. It was time to make some of the happiest rams in the world. Normally this happens several weeks earlier but we have been behind all summer due to our slightly, shall we say, ambitious activities. We put up a couple hundred feet of temporary poultry net fencing and coaxed two of the rams over to the waiting ewes. When the rams were safely moved over I called the ladies, and what ensued were several tender, though slightly PG-13 exchanges.

When the ewes ran in, the dominant alpha ram began to scent the ewes (smelling their hindquarters) in order to determine who was cycling (ready to be bred). I had seen this many times with cattle but the ram did something that I did not anticipate, and I scared a few of the ewes with my very audible guffaw. After "inspecting" a few of the ewes, the ram found one that was ready to mate. Once he had scented her, he lifted his head up abruptly, looked back at me and turned his upper lip upward and almost inside out, baring his gums. It looked positively ridiculous. What happened next is pretty easy to guess.

I left the men to their duties with a proud heart. The animals were happy and well taken care of. There is nothing like the feeling after a doing a job to the best of your abilities. I rest well knowing that our little sheepies are safe, warm and happy. I check on them daily to pitch feed and give them water, but for the most part we have seen the End of Winter Sheep.

Now if only I could say the same about the chickens!

Andy


Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on .

jennifer nemec
12/17/2008 11:59:51 AM

I'm sure that you'll get "the chicken problem" under control as well with a little bit more of that special Sell Ingenuity. It was wonderful to meet you and to get a chance to spend some time with the two of you and Elly. We are so proud of all our bloggers and email with them often, but I look forward to phone calls and other ways to build a more personal connection. We're so glad you got to stop by!