bring May lambs
This is the time of year when we decide who stays and who goes. The rams are evaluated, intimately, by Geri Parsons and her crew (this year her one-woman crew) at Optimal Livestock Services for fertility, age, potential disease or injury, and condition. The ewes are evaluated by our crew for many of the same traits which indicate whether they will be productive for another year. We check their teeth, which affects their ability to eat the hard winter grasses on the desert. We check their udders, and their overall condition. The rams are basically judged to stay or go. The ewes are judged as keepers, good old ewes who are sold to someone who can give them an easier lifestyle, and “killers” who are culled due to age, condition, and injury to their udders.
Our employee, Timeteo, had a lot of experience working with horses in Peru. He is starting to train one of our young horses, whom he named “Speedy Gonzolez”.
December 1st is the on date for our winter sheep grazing allotments on the Red Desert, north of I80 and Wamsutter, Wyoming. The sheep walk a five-day trail from our late fall pasture, Badwater, to the checkerboard Chain Lakes allotment, with the private owned by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. It also serves as critical winter habitat for antelope. We maintain the water and the fences, and provide “boots on the ground.” One band of sheep winters in Chain Lakes and two move on to the aptly named Cyclone Rim allotment. A few weeks ago, this blog showed photos of our search for water holes on Cyclone Rim.
We are still thirsty for snow and watering spots. For almost the first time ever, the sheep had dry days on the trail, although not back-to-back. Normally by this time of year, we have enough snow for the sheep to eat for water. They are very hardy, and most years go much of the winter surviving on snow and without access to fresh water. The sheepherders are asking us for snow, as if we could bring it like firewood and dog food. We tell them, “Do what we do, pray!”
The bucks will be turned in with the ewes in a few days, in order to bring those spring lambs. To make sure the ewes are in optimal condition, we decided to worm them in advance of bucking. On this day, it was coldish and windyish, but certainly a relatively pleasant day.
Most of the sheep were sheared last May. Since we didn’t receive any bids on it, we stored it in our new hoop shed, north of Dixon. Our friendly wool broker, Mike Corn of Roswell Wool, advised us that the market should be active come fall, so we waited for that time. Sure enough, we sold the wool to a buyer who will ship it to China for further processing. Here are photos of the wool being loaded onto a truck for California. Due to California’s Byzantine regulations, this truck will take it to Bakersfield, where it will be reloaded for transport to the port, where it will be loaded again onto a ship.
Most of the year, we think about the ewes–are they eating enough? are they pregnant? did they lamb? did they have twins? did they elude the coyotes and bears?
Of course, in order to have those little lambs hit the ground in May and June, we need to have dads. In the livestock world, dads (be they bucks, bulls, or stallions) count too, and we want them to be the best most productive sires we can find. And, since it costs money and opportunity to support them for most of the year (well, actually, for all of the year, but they only work for a couple of months), we want to make sure they are the optimal sort of dad.
Who you gonna call? Optimal Livestock Services of course! Each fall, retired Colorado State University vet Dr. Cleon Kimberling, and his partner and sidekick Vet Tech Geri Parsons travel throughout the Rockies to test rams. They check rams for fertility, disease, and other factors, such as age and condition, that can influence their ability to breed ewes.
Dr. Kimberling mans a traveling lab, where he examines sperm samples from rams. Geri, with help from our crew, collects the samples in test tubes, records information about each individual, and gives all the info to Cleon, who studies and collates it. At the end of the process, we growers are given a computer printout that rates each ram according to fertility, health, age, and other variables.
We then mark the rams who fail to make the grade. They get a truck ride which ends in a vacation in Mexico. I’ve never asked Dr. Kimberling what happened to his vet students who failed to make the grade.
Once the lambs are on the ground, it is time to think about docking them. This means that each bunch is gathered into a large pen. The lambs are dropped into a smaller pen, then are passed along an assembly line, where they are earmarked, the males are castrated and they are placed into the Dinkum Docker, a sort of slide. There they are vaccinated, their tails are removed with a hot knife (which cauterizes the wound), daubed with pine tar (which disinfects and keeps the flys away) and daubed with a paint brand. Soon they are looking for Mom, who is also looking for them.