Wednesday 29 October 2014

Choosing Ewes

Mayo-Liz's lovely hill.
Off on a mission on Tuesday (28th Oct) to look at some ewes with an eye to buying some 'keepers' from which we can produce our own lambs. This will mean leaving behind the simple, calm waters of "store lamb" rearing, and venturing forth into year round sheep, a whole new ball game. Store lambs you plan to get in already healthy, dosed up for liver fluke, trimmed of foot and dagged and your job is to keep them healthy for the 4-5 months while they grow up to slaughter weight. You hope to incur no vet bills or any need to do anything serious in the way of husbandry. Year-round sheep keeping, on the other hand, brings you round each year to the need to do that dosing, get them sheared and foot-trimmed, lambing them and so on. I was definitely going to need some help and advice.

"Our" two potential mums, the Jacob x Hampshire Down
on the left, HD x Suffolk Down on the right.
Step forward, then, Mayo-Liz, good friend of Carolyn of the Mini Horses who farms around 20 ewes on a beautiful hill in Mayo, near Kiltimagh (pronounce it Kill-cheh-mah, you have to pick up on the 'Kilti' bit actually being the Irish for forestry (coillte)). She had mentored Carolyn when they had their sheep and happily agreed to help me through my early stages as well as being a possible good source of some 'in-lamb' ewes and help when it came to lambing time, shearing and all the rest. She is only about half an hour from here, so it will be easy enough to load up and nip our animals over there at all the various stages.

Same again.
Mayo-Liz turned out, as we'd hoped and expected, to be a lovely lady, expert, knowledge-able and generous with her advice, as well as no-nonsense, practical and serious and passionate about her sheep. She was not going to let me anywhere near her girls till she'd checked me out, but I think I 'passed' and I hope this will be the start of a good and productive co-operation

Little cutie - a pure bred Hampshire Down ewe lamb, born
this year. Our optional third choice.
Mayo Liz has had sheep of various breeds and up till recently had two rams, one a Jacob but more recently she has bought a whole gang of pure-bred Hampshire Down ewes and a pure bred ram. Hampshire Downs are quite rare these days and she had to drive all the way down to Cork to find these, and they still cause surprise and amazement when ever she takes them to shows; the locals have never seen such a sheep! So the ewes I could see and choose from that day were mainly Hampshire Downs and crosses plus one last Jacob cross. After a good deal of advice taking and weighing-up, I chose the (5 year old) Jacob x Hampshire and a three year old Hampshire x Suffolk Down. Charlotte also nudged me in the direction of a little cutie, a pure bred Hampshire Down looking more like a teddy-bear x alpaca. I was only meant to be buying the two, but I could see the sense in getting the third to companion my two Mums and to watch and learn ready for her turn in the spring of 2016. I penciled her in as an option but needed to get 'sign-off' from my own Liz. That's now done. so we will be collecting all three.

3 year old Hampshire Down x Suffolk
Down ewe. 
The two intended in-lamb ewes now get separated from any clingy 2014 lambs, so they can dry off (finish their lactations) and come back into heat. They will be put with the HD ram who should be able to do what's intended by early December. Mayo-Liz uses strap-on chalk-block tell-tales to check that the ewes have been mounted by the ram, so we want nice big chalky blotches of colour on the rumps of these ewes, Mr Hampshire. The plan is that we collect them, 'with child', in early December. They are then pregnant for 5 months, round till April-ish where upon we start with the fun and games of lambing. We hope this all runs smoothly and to plan but it is good to know we have Mayo-Liz at the end of a phone or a half hour drive. It's going to be an interesting project.

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