On Monday we turned bulls in with cows and on Tuesday rams with ewes.
Now that the boys have work to do, card-playing in the fraternity house is over for the next two months. We expect fruits of their diligent labor to yield lambs in May and calves in September.
We are trying several new approaches to breeding this year. The first is to select 18 of the most fertile cows and breed them to our most genetically valuable bull. The intent is to select for "fertility" in both male and female offspring, as that is the most important genetic trait in a herd of brood cows. We are looking for cows that will breed every year and calve during a 45-day window in the fall.
Bulls provide half the genetics of a herd, so they represent a critical component in the reproductive equation. We have tried raising our own bulls, and have learned it is not as easy as it looks. They should be superior animals, which is hard to come by. It takes a lot of sorting through the mediocre to find the superior. Just because a cow and bull are good performers, it does not mean their offspring will be the same. We certainly witness this in humans. So, we have stopped raising our own bulls for the time being, and are buying them from a proven breeder.
The second new approach is to tighten the lambing window in the sheep flock from one month to two weeks and to record when each ewe is bred. We have put a marking-harness on each ram, which leaves colored grease on the back of the ewe after being mounted. Every day we remove newly marked ewes from the breeding flock, taking note of day of breeding. We should thereby be able to predict exactly when each ewe will give birth in May.
This will enable us to isolate the ewe just before lambing in a small pen, where she can bond with her new lamb(s) for several days before going back to pasture. This should reduce the loss of newborns witnessed in the previous, pasture-based, laissez-faire system, who would become separated from their mother in the first day after birth, never to reconnect again. We will observe the trade-off between increased survival of lambs and increased labor and management.
Please recall we will not be at the Farmers Market this Sunday the 13th, but will on 12/20. We will be in Georgia at the farm of White Oaks Pasture, one of the largest grass-based direct marketers in the country.
Below are: lamb shanks, polenta, baked apples, and chard... such that it makes one want to christen the mating season oneself. If so, remember you are in time-honored company and the song is now being sung in the pastures of Pike County.
Drausin & Susan