It is now two weeks past when the girls were due to lamb, so we have to assume that they are not actually pregnant. With sheep it can be very difficult to tell if they are pregnant or not until very soon before they lamb. This time of year its normal for them to put on weight- pregnant or not- because we have so much lush pasture and they have been pigging out after a winter on dry hay and half dead pasture. Their fat bellies had our hopes up, but if I’m honest with myself the goat (whom we know isn’t pregnant) is looking just as fat! And none of the sheep have had milk come in or shown other signs, and its very unusual for them to be so late after their due date. So we’ve had to face the fact that we won’t be having lambs this year. We are very disappointed but thankfully, unlike real farmers, our livelihoods don’t depend on producing new lambs each year.
Why did this happen? We know that our three ewes are fertile- they have each had a lamb before with no trouble. We also know that the ram was fertile as he had been successfully used for breeding in the past. The problem had to do with timing. We had originally planned to use a ram from a different farm.Unfortunately, right before breeding season began in the fall the farmer had to pack up her farm and move out of state to care for ailing parents. Suddenly we were without a ram and with no time to spare. Thankfully we were able to find a replacement from the good people at All One Farms near Elizabethtown, KY. Lincoln is a fantastic ram and Allen and Luna were very accommodating and easy to work with, even though this was the first time any of us had dealt with leasing a ram. Unfortunately by the time I got all of this arranged it was already late in the breeding season. We didn’t get Lincoln on the farm until December 8th. Ideally we would have had a ram on the farm in October. Lincoln stayed with us for about a month- long enough to go through one full 17 day cycle but not enough for two cycles. I saw him cover (breed with) each ewe so I thought that that would be enough. I was wrong. We should have kept him for at least two if not three cycles.
Sometimes one cycle is enough. I knew that we were running a risk not keeping him for more than one cycle but I assumed that since all the animals were experienced and proven that as long as we knew they had all been covered that we would at least have one or two pregnant sheep. I thought that the risk was that we wouldn’t have all three, not that we wouldn’t have any at all.
There are a couple of reasons that may explain why none of them took. Lincoln was on the farm for about a week before the fist ewe went into heat. We don’t know what the stress of traveling from AllOneFarm to our farm and then being in a new environment might have done to Lincoln’s fertility.
Because he was only on the farm a short time before the girls went into heat, they may not have had enough time to really be stimulated by the presence of a ram. Often people will use a “teaser ram” in a adjacent pasture to get the girls stimulated before breeding season even begins. I’m not sure how much this effects fertility but clearly it plays a role.
Shetlands are seasonal breeders and can only be breed between October and January. December is fairly late in the breeding season and so the girls may not have been at peak fertility, especially without a teaser ram around earlier in the season.
We don’t know for sure the reason, but these are some of the factors that probably contributed to the lack of lambs.
Because Shetlands can only be breed in the winter, there is nothing we can do right now. We do have a plan in place for next breeding season, though. Lynn of RareFindFarm (where I purchased my girls a year ago) had offered us the use of one of her breeding rams. She is going to bring him to SAFF in late October where I will pick him up. We are going to be able to keep him as long as we want- at least until Christmas (the exact time probably depends on when we are planning a trip back to NC and can transport him).
We will also be breeding Ivy, our Nubian goat, for the first time this fall. Thankfully there is a small goat farm down the street where she will be able to go live for a month or two, so that will be much simpler!
So until next year we are just enjoying our small flock the way it is and busying ourselves with all of the other things going on around the farm!