Mrs. C's question a few days ago regarding the blue mark on Frosti's back made me realize that not everyone is familiar with the ins and outs (sorry, couldn't resist) of sheep breeding. I was shocked that I had failed to explain something in mind-numbing detail, but I suppose everyone is allowed an oversight now and then. So here, for your edification, is how a ram marking harness works.
Meet our ram, Gideon.
Most of the year he lives the life of Riley, loafing around with his buddy Clifford and not really required to do much of anything apart from the odd sheep show. That all changes in the fall. At that time, this lucky boy gets turned in with the breeding ewes to do the job we keep him around for. (Every male I have ever met thinks that Gideon has a pretty good job description.)
Like most employers, we are anxious to make sure he is actually DOING his job. Sheep are very secretive and shy about their mating, and if it was up to casual observation, we would never really know one way or the other. The only way to know for sure is to look for lambs approximately five months later, but the waiting and not knowing when for sure parts can be tough to take, especially when it is your week in February to do the 2 a.m. barn check.
So this year, we started to use the simple but effective technology of a marking harness. This is a contraption of nylon strapping and buckles, with a block of colored crayon attached. It's a little difficult to explain, so here's Gideon to model it for you.
The crayon is in between his front legs. We are still not sure if we are putting it on correctly. He has managed to get out of it twice so far.
Every morning, we see who was marked the night before, then check our handy sheep gestation calendar to figure out the due date. The crayon color is switched every 17 days or so, to make sure he has catches everyone and nothing has gone wrong with the pregnancy. The girls will not let him near them again if they are, indeed, pregnant. Smart girls. This poor ewe suffered an excess of attention when Gideon was wearing the orange crayon.
Later this weekend, I will answer Jessica's question about sheep coats. Try to contain your excitement and get some sleep in the meantime!