In the lambing seasons of 2010 and 2011, we had terrible cold weather, freezing drizzle and snow. We estimate that we lost at least 1000 lambs, beyond normal death loss, each year to the terrible conditions. This year, we determined to be ready for another hard spring, especially after November blew in with a lot of cold and snow.
We decided to build a shed on the private part of our lambing grounds, which also includes BLM allotments and a Wyoming state lease. Then we would at least have an alternative in case of bad weather. We have always “drop lambed”, which means that we start out with bands of 2000 ewes or so, then move then along morning and night, leaving the newly lambed ewes and their babies behind. This is known as “cutting the drop.” The sheep are constantly attended by our very competent Peruvian sheepherders, and Pat, Meghan, Eamon and I go back and forth with supplies, groceries, and whatever else is needed.
To make the best use of the shed, we decided, for the first time, to pregnancy test some of the ewes. The lambs who are most vulnerable are the white-faced twin lambs. They do not have the hybrid vigor (the result of breeding two different purebred lines) of our Hampshire/Rambouillet cross lambs. We tested, over the course of a week, about 3,400 ewes bred to Rambouillet rams, in order to determine the ones pregnant with twins. We can, this year, keep those ewes close to the shed, and give them shelter and extra care as needed.
Of course, as the saying goes, only fools and newcomers predict the weather. This past winter has been the mildest in recent memory, and spring is appearing ahead of schedule. Of course, that does not mean that May and June will be warm and dry, but it is certainly shaping up that way.
Geri Parsons, a certified veterinary technician and partner in Optimum Livestock Services LLC, is a master at ultra-sounding ewes. She and Dr. Cleon Kimberling, formed their livestock health company following Dr. Kimberling’s retirement as the long-time (and famous) sheep extension veterinarian at Colorado State University. Due to unplanned circumstances, Geri’s keys became locked in her pickup, along with all her gear, at the end of a long day, and a very long way from assistance. We were near the top of the aptly named Cyclone Rim. Luckily, the next day, a newly made key solved the problem, but not before our crew had exhausted their burglery skills.