Monday, October 5, 2009

Short tempers

Saturday was full of the sound of laughing and talking, the smell of wood smoke and wet wool, and the sight of twenty - eight people in knit sweaters, carrying felted bags, working at knitting, dyeing, felting, crocheting and weaving. Every autumn, we open our farm to friends who take a day outside of time – a day to play with fibers, walk in the pastures, learn new techniques, and talk with friends. Alice, Dave’s mom, was the oldest person here, at 84. A couple of sisters came who weren’t ten yet, so the range of ages was about as wide as it could possibly be. So was the range of interests. Some people come to dye wool over an open fire, others to visit our sheep. Some people like to renew friendships, other’s, like myself this year, need advice on projects.

The girls wanted to go visit the sheep. “Why are the big ones in a separate place?” one asked.

“Those are the rams,” I explained. “At this time of year they have short tempers.”

”The big ones have low temperatures,” I heard her explain to her sister. Their grandmother and I grinned at each other.

The rams are ready for breeding. They have been stalking the fence line for days, anxious to mingle with the ewes. We watch the fence line warily, hoping it will withstand their 200 – 300 pound bodies leaning longingly. Our guests watched the rams from a safe distance.

Today, we brought the rams into the home pasture and squeezed them into a tiny pen. Then we strapped marking harnesses onto each of them. The Lone Ranger, our brown ram got an orange marking crayon strapped to his chest. Big Boy, our first Ramboulliet ram got a yellow crayon and Backup, our second Ramboulliet got a red crayon. When the rams mount a ewe, the crayons rub off on the ewe’s rump, marking her, so we know who is bred to whom.

The rams stood patiently as we put on their harnesses, almost as if they remembered what was going to happen next. Dave opened the barn door and the rams rushed out and across the pasture toward the ewes. Backup and the Lone Ranger hassled each other, tried to shoulder each other aside, snorted at each other, wrinkled their noses and stuck out their tongues (all perfectly rammy behaviors) as they trotted across the pasture. Meanwhile Big Boy had raced ahead to his first ewe. He sniffed her butt, she didn’t move away, so he mounted her.

When the Lone Ranger and Backup realized that they were missing out, they stopped bugging each other and sprinted for the flock. If a ewe is in estrus, she’ll stand still when a ram approaches. If she’s not quite ready yet, she’ll keep walking or running just ahead of the ram. Big Boy had already marked his first ewe by the time the Lone Ranger found a receptive one. Breeding was off to a good start.

The rams are probably still short tempered, but their temperatures are definitely high.

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