We are knee-deep in what should be the heart of lambing season. Instead we are in one of the longest dry spells I have ever had since we started raising sheep. I really don’t have any explanation for the dry spell other than it must have been really hot around the first of September. I don’t remember it, but this dry spell is across all five rams and two different locations.
We started off with a bang, almost a third of our ewes lambed in the first three weeks and I thought we were in for the fastest lambing season ever. They were coming at a rate of three to four ewes a day and life was good. I guess that is what I get for thinking, I should have known it rarely does me any good. In any case, it went from the fast lane to a screeching halt in a day.
It hasn’t been a total dry spell, we did have a three-day stretch that we had three ewes lamb. However, other than that it has been a total bust. It’s not that the ewes aren’t bred, the two pens we keep the ewes we suspect are the closest are full. There have been several times that I thought one of the ewes was acting suspicious and hurried out the next check to find her eating hay. We have seen cold fronts come and go, still no lambs. It is frustrating to say the least.
Last weekend it was relatively nice, and we thought this would be the time. Nope, the weekend and the nice weather came and went without any additions. I have even resorted to having pep talks. One day while I was filling water tanks, I explained that it would be a good idea for them to have their lambs in the next three days. I read the weather report to them and encouraged them to do the right thing. All I got in return was a bunch of dull sheep eyes staring back at me and the sound of cud chewing.
The next day I tried a different approach. I told them that the pens were way too muddy, and the weather was entirely too warm. I went on to explain that this was not a good combination and that I would just as soon they waited on colder weather and frozen ground. It didn’t work. The next day we got absolutely no more lambs. That morning Jennifer walked out, surveyed the situation and expressed her dismay to the ewes. I was sure that approach would work, after all anytime that happens to me, I immediately come around to what Jennifer wants and do it post haste.
You guessed it, nothing, nada, zippo, no new lambs, the ewes were even harder headed than I am and that is not a good thing. Desperate times call for desperate measures and I decided to play hard ball with them. I called a meeting of all the sheep and explained to them, in no uncertain terms, what happens to ewes who do not lamb by a certain date. To drive my point home, I also read a few recipes out of my favorite lamb cookbook. If that didn’t bring some lambs, I didn’t know what would. Again, I guess that is what I get for thinking because the next morning added to our growing streak of no lambs.
Since then we have seen another cold front come and go with no movement on the lambing front. I must admit that I am growing ever more desperate. Desperate to the point that I am now considering washing my coveralls and scheduling more things on my calendar. The consequences of both of those actions might be dire but again we are in uncharted, desperate times.
The ewes, for their part, seem rather unmoved and not very worried. They seem content to eat their grain, munch on hay and lay around like beached whales in their pens. The fact that I have a schedule and life that does not include lambing into the spring does not seem to matter a bit to them. In fact, it would seem that they have their own agenda and timeframe. My guess is that it will center on the next blizzard and polar vortex.
I know that I should be careful what I ask for. The next time you see me and I am wild-eyed from a lack of rest, you can remind me of this. The drought will break and along with it will come a tidal wave of lambing like I have never seen before. At that time, I will be whining about how busy I am and wishing for a break. I guess I will never learn that nothing comes on my schedule and I should know better. To bring a new twist to an old saying, “What is time to a sheep?”
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.