The breeding groups will disband on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. It's all over but the tiny baaing of their newborn lambs in 5 month's time. The rams will go back with their fellows and the ewes will gestate as a group winter-grazing a 20 acre hay field for a month or two. The rams and the ewes have been together for two 18 day ovulation cycles but most of the breeding happened early on in the first cycle.
Before breeding we quartered the ewes next to the rams, separated by two electric net fences, to get them yearning and yearn they did. The double fencing, each fence was about 40" apart from the other, discouraged jumping as the sheep knew that if they jumped the first (only 34" high) they would land on the second. They stayed put exchanging longing looks over the fences but what a party they had when together; I blush like Saint Valentine to think of it.
Pre-breeding is a busy time on the farm. We trim all the ram's and ewe's feet which takes 2 people 2 days; then on following days we marshall the sheep with Poem, a Kelpie herding dog, through a chute with 14 feet of a 5 inch deep footbath trough filled with wet wool (to keep the sheep from splashing as they dash along) and an antiseptic solution.
Depending on the availability of help, and after we've determined where the breeding groups will go we fence the areas with Electronet, put out water tubs with automatic fill valves and minerals feeders which have in them a mix of salt, calcium and trace minerals, adjusted to the forage that the sheep eat. Depending on the weather, i.e. the rainfall, the temperature (meaning the growth of the grass) over the next several weeks we will alter the mineral composition, when the sheep have eaten the grass available as it stops growing, and are eating a different forage, i.e. round bales of hay and whole oats (to supplement the protein required for a gestating ewe raising healthy lambs). The seasons are more predictable than the daily forecasts hence this will happen about half way through the 36 day breeding period (two 18 day ovulation cycles).
But first we must determine who gets bred by whom. All the ewes on the property are purebred Saxon Merinos. This week, in the chute, I selected the best wooled Saxon Merino ewes to breed to selected purebred Saxon Merino rams of the finest wool quality. We record the ewe eartag numbers and spray mark their heads with a scourable maker. On Tuesday the 23rd we will sort the spray marked Saxon Merino ewes at a head gate and put in the Saxon Merino rams. Breeding begins. The Saxon Merino ewes not selected will be bred to Corriedale rams; their vigorous, large and fast growing offspring will be for lamb.
We keep track of the eartags at shearing so the purebred Saxons and their wool are kept together for the fine yarn I will spin and to separate the coarser, crossbred wool that will be sold to another yarn maker.
Jeff called and said there were some big Corriedales for sale at the Big E in Springfield. Monday before last I drove up listening to The Counterlife by Phillip Roth on Audible. Roth rivets you with his characters in continual conflict with others or with themselves. I may re-read his Sabbath's Theater soon to remind myself of his mix of high and low registers as pointed out by James Wood in his How Fiction Works. I wasn't sure where I was driving until I saw a big ferris wheel arc from the trees to come down and disappear into the low buildings. These must be the grounds; I must be there. I parked and found the the sheep barn that smelled of sheep on alfalfa.
The corriedales were big, very big. They were still lambs, spring lambs, not yet a year old, and they weighed almost 200 pounds, they weighed what my mature merino rams weigh, and they stood taller at the withers by close to 6", very big boys indeed. Jeff said that when fully mature they would weigh 300 lbs.
I needed carcass size in my lambs and Corriedales seemed to have the genetics of what I was looking for.
The Corriedale is an in-bred half-breed with Merino on the dam's side and the English Lincoln longwool on the sire's side. The name Corriedale was chosen to be the proper name for the breed in 1902. The New Zealand Sheep Breeders Association began publishing Corriedale pedigrees in 1911; however, it was 1924 before a flock book was published by the Corriedale Sheep Society of New Zealand.
The Corriedale was developed in an effort to establish a true dual purpose breed, combining the best traits of the wool breeds and the meat breeds. The result is a sheep that excels in total commercial returns, yielding a heavy valuable fleece and a high quality carcass. Additionally, Corriedales are known for their mothering ability and their ability to forage under a variety of climatic conditions.
In 1914 the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture appointed Professor F.R. Marshall, head sheepman of the Bureau of Animal Husbandry, and Frank S. King, of Laramie, Wyoming (representing the National Wool Growers Association), to begin a search for a new dual purpose sheep. They traveled to New Zealand, where they selected and imported 65 ewes and 10 rams to the government experiment station in Wyoming.
From the website of the American Corriedale Association.
I bought three rams. Putting big Corriedales on my little superfine Merino ewes should give me larger market lambs and give me wool I could keep and spin a new more durable line of yarn, or so I hope. The lambs I will have bred with the Corriedales will be Cormos, another cross breed using Merino mother stock: 1/4 Medium Merino, 1/4 Lincoln Long Wool, 1/2 Superfine Merino. As far as the carcass characteristics go, we will see what lambs sired by the Corriedales look like next spring, examining their sizes, their weights and their growth rates, etc.; and more importantly, we will class the lamb's wool, looking at its fineness, its color and its yield, etc. to see how much wool quality we had to give up to get bodysize; that should determine if we want to grow out some of the offspring and continue this breeding experiment.
The rams go in with the ewes on the 12th of this month.
Note: this year the majority of my Saxon Merino ewes will be bred by Saxon Merino rams. I am, and will always be, a Saxon Merino breeder.