My usual pattern is to write a little lamb story, and then maybe a post about shearing.
I’ve done that before, so I’ll give you a brief synopsis of each:
The sheep were shorn on February 21st, which is about a month and a half early relative to normal shearing times. We’ve had mostly good weather for naked sheep since then, with a couple nights were I felt very guilty for leaving them wool-less. Joe St. Marie did a great job, as always. The wool clip was decent, but with a few problems. The sheep need to be cleaner. Not massively cleaner- very little fleece was ruined by the presence of VM, but a lot wasn’t hand-spinner-worthy due to VM. Cinder, especially, attracts dirt like a magnet. I plan to coat Meadowlark and Bobolink, at least, and perhaps Chimney Swift as well. Swift made a splendid fleece with beautiful crimp. I am pretty set on keeping another Cinder daughter this year…that is, if I have one.
The lambs. There have been four single rams and one single ewe this year. Non-pregnant sheep would be a disaster, but all singles qualifies as a setback all the same. I had requests for a total of NINE ewe lambs this year, and I won’t be able to supply any, at all. Meadowlark looks pregnant but fairly trim. She may lamb late. Swift is bred to her own sire (she doesn’t mind) so her lamb will meet a freezer in the fall no matter what.
I will admit that I feel some panic about the financial implications of a second poor lambing in two years. Most shepherding books agree that a healthy single lamb is a break-even proposition at best. With all of the labor and capital I’ve put into the sheep, I’d really like to do a little better than breaking even and going unpaid.
My first thought was genetics- had I messed up my flock by using too much Cormo input? Cormos are known for producing fine fleece, and secondarily, for twinning a little more than half the time. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get much information about two of my rams, so I don’t know their twinning backgrounds. I blamed myself and my focus on fine wool. Should I get a Finnsheep (A breed of sheep known for having numerous lambs and for increasing lambing percentages in its offspring) to mix into the flock? Finnsheep have a very different kind of wool and are generally smaller than mine, so adding Finn genetics would bring big changes to the flock.
Picture now the ubiquitous “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme from WWII Britain. Substitute “Call UVM Extension Agent Joe Emenheiser” for “Carry On” and you’ve got my calmer response to the issue. I really admire Joe’s dedication to profitable shepherding, and his extensive knowledge can only impress. Joe pointed out that Vermont is very selenium deficient. Not only could selenium deficiency be to blame for the tough amniotic sacs that have caused a few stillbirths in my flock in past years, but it might also have diminished the fertility of my later generations. Perhaps my original sheep were well able to cope with low selenium, but offspring of the Cormos and Corriedales I’ve since added might have increased need for selenium that I’m not meeting. So I haven’t destroyed my gene pool. I simply need to better meet their needs.
With relief that the problem is fixable. I began supplementing selenium last fall, and intend to continue adding selenium as much as is safe to do so.