What happens in the paddock, stays in the paddock.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve learnt that our Federal politicians have been up to a fair bit of hanky panky behind closed doors. It had been widely reported that our now former Deputy PM, was busy so to speak, sowing his seeds in other fields. While he has been met with a lot of criticism for his recent conduct, from a Farmer’s point of view, if Barnaby Joyce was a Stud Ram, he’d be a bloody good one!
Around about the same time as Barnaby Joyce, was receiving his initials in a swish hotel in Armidale, I was playing match maker between our rams (male sheep) and our ewes (female sheep).
On our farm, we run a Poll Dorset Sheep Stud. Basically we breed rams to then sell to other farmers, who will then use our rams to have sexy time their ewes. The farmers that come and buy our rams typically own Merinos.
If I was to compare a Poll Dorset with a Merino, I would liken them both to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harry Styles. Like Arnie, the Poll Dorset is renowned for their muscles and impressive physique. They are a significantly bigger sheep than a Merino.
Merino’s on the other hand are very similar to Harry Styles. They are both an icon in their respective industries, they have a smaller frame but have a good head of hair. Merino’s produce very fine wool. You’ll find some of the most fashionable and expensive jumpers are probably made using wool from a Merino. A Poll Dorset on the other hand, does not have a fine fleece at all. Their wool is used mainly in insulation, we receive around $1/KG for our Poll Dorset wool. Compare that to a Merino Fleece, they can fetch around $18/KG of wool.
So why would a farmer want to take a Poll Dorset ram and breed it with a Merino? Well, if you combined Arnie with Harry Styles what would you get?
You’d get Sylvester Stallone, muscles and still a great head of hair! The first cross lambs, pack more size than a merino lamb and still have a fairly fine fleece. The net result, is that farmers still get a good price for the wool (the finer the wool, the higher the price) and they have a heavier lamb to sell to the livestock market for meat. Farmers are paid on cents/KG, so having heavier lambs means more money.
The main time of year farmers look to buy new rams is around September/October. To have our rams ready for sale by then, we need their mummies and daddies consummating around January/February of the previous year.
Through much of the year, we keep our daddy rams in a separate paddock to the ewes. Our farm, is very conservative in this area. It’s not some kind of sheep hippie commune with free love all year round. The daddy rams will only get access to the ewes for about 6 weeks of the year. You can imagine the build up after 11 months, when they are finally released to a paddock full of ewes to themselves.
Before putting the rams in with the ewes, we first go through a selection process. We join particular rams to certain groups of ewes. We need to keep track of which ram was sleeping with which ewe and have the full ancestry history of the new born lamb. There is no room for Jon Snows. It can be very traumatic for a young lamb long term, not to know who their father was. More so, it’s important for us to have this data, along with other data sets so we can make informed decisions and continually improve our sheep’s genetics.
To completely track the mother and fathers it requires a little bit of logistical coordination. Although some people might get kicks out of spying on the sheep doing their private adult business and enjoy gossiping over who’s sleeping with who, we actually have other things to do. So to keep track, we create groups of around 50-60 ewes. For each group of ewes, we then add one ram. Once the ram has been placed in with the ewes, we take that group and deploy them into a paddock of their own. That way, Gary the ram can only sleep with his allotted group of ewes and not go cutting Derrick’s grass.
For most of the rams, as soon as they are joined they are straight into it. No time for foreplay, it’s been a long 11 month wait. After one successful mount, they’re off to the next ewe. These rams I to refer to as “The Wilt Chamberlain Rams”. For those who don’t know who Wilt Chamberlain was, he was a pro-basketballer who played in the 1960s and is highly regarded as one the greatest players of all time. In one game he scored 100 points, a feat which has never been passed. However, perhaps his most noticeable record was off the court, when Chamberlain claimed he had slept with over 1000 different women.
The Wilt Chamberlain Rams are undoubtedly the superstar rams, they clock up many partners and don’t miss many shots.
Next you have the “George Clooney Rams”. These rams are more gentlemanly than the Wilt Chamberlains. They like to first talk, get to know the ewe, give her compliments about how nice she’s looking, enjoy a coffee together before making the mount. For a farmer, these rams are still good, as long as they play the gentleman over the entire flock of ewes.
Lastly, you have the “Brokeback Mountain Ram”. He’ll mount a few ewes to keep up appearances, but mostly enjoys the company of this ram pal Terry in the other paddock. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s good for diversity and we should be accepting but for many farmers this is not the ideal ram to have, as the Brokeback Mountain ram will not yield many lambs.
So at the present, we have 9 different breeding groups out in the paddocks. After 6 weeks of birds and bees business, we’ll pregnancy test the ewes using ultra sound technology. This will be able to give us some indication of which sheep are pregnant and how many lambs they are expecting. For the ewes who are not pregnant, we’ll then re-join them with another ram. From conception, it takes around 5 months for the ewe to have the lamb. So we should be expecting lots of little lambs from June onwards. For now, it’s time to leave the sheep to their own devices and do what comes naturally.