Soay sheep breed in the Fall when the weather starts getting colder. Last year we paired up our ewes with rams on November 1st . Our plan was to keep them in breeding groups until the end of December. However on December 9th, a major snow storm dumped 2 feet of snow on the ground and temperatures went down to -27 windchill.
We decided the health of the animals was the priority so we cut the breeding season short and brought them all into the barn. Despite the short breeding period, we had two pregnant ewes with lambs expected in April!
This Fall (2010) we put our breeding groups together on November 1st again. We decided to try setting up the breeding groups inside this time to avoid all the snow. There are pros and cons to breeding inside or outside - each person needs to decide whats best for their sheep.
Justin in his breeding groups with Isabella and Pavolov. This is Justin's first year breeding. Let's hope he accomplished the task with the five ewes he was grouped with!
Glenda and Fermi were also in Justin's breeding group. Glenda is already looking like she's pregnant!
Ignatius is in a breeding group with Ouxy and Ariel. This is Ariel's first year breeding. Last year when the lambs were born, she was jealous of the other ewes having lambs so this year it's her turn! In the photo, Ouxy is laying down in the background. Ouxy is my third oldest ewe and this is her first Wisconsin winter. So she's getting extra beet pulp along with her sheep feed an d grain. Ignatius is a very nice ram and has taken good care of the two ewes he was grouped with.
Imhah was put in a breeding group with Esrii, Linden and HP. Esrii and HP are my oldest ewes and this is their first winter in Wisconsin (coming from Oregon). I've been feeding them beet pulp in addition to their sheep feed and grain to make sure they're able to handle the cold. They seem to be doing just fine. The barn is insolated but isn't heated. There were a few days when the wind chill was greater than -20. HP just snuggled down into the bedding hay to keep warm.
I think Imhah has finished breeding because now he spends his time bashing the walls, hay rack and water bowl. The feed dish has usually been tossed about as well. Time to put him back with his ram friends!
After breeding is finished, there is a precaution that needs to be taken when we re-introduced the rams to each other . To prevent any serious injury to the rams from them 'ramming' each other, they are put in a ' ram box' that has only enough room necessary for eating and drinking. That way, all their smells get mixed up together and after 2 days in the box, they don't see each other as rivals any more.
The gestation for Soay Sheep is approximately 142 to 152 days, with 148 -150 days being the average. Last yearr our 'lambing window' was March 29th to May 6th, meaning that the lambs would be born sometime within that time period. Since we will be breeding during the same time period, we will be using that same 'lamb window'.
As the ewes get closer and closer to lambing, their tummies get bigger and bigger. It was pretty obvious to us last year that one of our ewes was carrying twins, and sure enough on April 18th last year, she delivered two gorgeous little rams.
Larger or mature Soay ewes are more likely to have twins than smaller, younger ewes. We will have a number of mature ewes we will be breeding this year, so I hope to have several sets of twins.
Soay ewes are excellent mothers. They keep a very close eye on their lambs and nurse them up until they are 3 months old. As the lambs start exploring their world more and more, the mothers follow close behind.
Soay sheep are very hearty animals. Minimal care is required to maintain their good health. We vaccinate our sheep annually and worm them typicaly in the Spring and again in the Fall. Lambs require a booster vaccination about a month after their first vaccine.
Soay sheep hooves sometimes need trimming annually.
In addition to hay and pasture grass, we suppliment our sheep's diet with a medicated Lamb supplement mixed with a small amount of whole oats and rolled barley. We also provide a container of sheep mineral which is offered free choice. Sheep feed must be free of copper and made for sheep - not other animals. Copper is toxic to sheep - all sheep - not just Soays.
Sheep behavior speaks louder than words! Once you get to know your sheep and their individual personalities, it becomes easy to tell when something isn't right. Sheep need to eat to keep their rumen active. A sheep that is not eating is a sign that something isn't right. Occasionally, sheep will eat something that upsets their tummy. Probios is a paste that can be found at most farm/feed stores and squirting 3cc of it in their mouth will help keep their rumen in good working order.
Sheep temperatures can range from 100-103. Temperatures over that may need further investiation. Stress can also cause a slight fever, if there has been recent dramatic changes to their environment, it might just take them a few days to settle down. Upper respiratory symptoms may require antibiotics. If in doubt, I always phone my vet.
Scrapies Eradication Program
Scrapie is a horrible, debilitating and fatal disease found in sheep. It is transferred to lambs via the birthing fluids from the ewe. It can take symptoms of Scrapie years to show up, while in the meantime infected lambs are born and sold - spreading the disease. This is why it is so important for all sheep breeders to be enrolled in the Voluntary Scrapies Eradication Program to ensure that their flock stays healthy and all sheep leaving their farm are healthy.
Soay sheep are a primitive breed of sheep and therefore could be susceptible to Scrapie. However there has never been a documented case of Scrapie in Soay sheep either in the UK or in North America. Farms enrolling in the Voluntary Scrapies Eradication Program are issued a premise number and each sheep born at that farm is tagged with the premise number and a sheep identification number. This can be used to trace all movement of the sheep.
At Narnia Farm, we are enrolled in the Voluntary Scrapies Eradication Program. A state veterinarian visits our farm annually and documents all sheep and inspects them for any symptoms of Scrapie. None of our sheep have any signs of Scrapie. All sheep that we have purchased came from farms that are in the Voluntary Scrapies Eradication Program and none of them has ever had Scrapie at their farm.
Although Scrapie has never been documented in Soay sheep, tagging is a precaution to prevent any spread of the disease. With so few British Soay sheep, it would be a shame to loose any from this disease. We must take precautionary measures when we move sheep from one farm to another.
Shelter and Fencing
We have three sided lean-tos in the pasture areas for our sheep. We used 'treated' posts for the lean-tos. I've only recently found out that treated wood is treated with a copper product. Copper is deadly to sheep and if they chewed on the posts they could potentially get a lethal dose. We covered all exposed posts so that they could not chew on them.
I typically bring the ewes and lambs into the barn at night. The rams have their own special paddock where they live. Since we live in Wisconsin, our winters can get a bit harse, so the rams and ewes both come into the barn at night and only go outside during the day if temperatures are above 0 degrees.
We have 5 rail electric fencing surrounding the pasture area and dividing each paddock. When it was first installed I had my doubts that it would keep the sheep in their intended areas. However, Soay sheep do not have wool on their face and legs, so the electric fence has worked well to train them where the boundaries are. Typically sheep aren't going to try to 'escape'. They are prey animals and once Soay have a place they feel safe, it is unlikely that they will run off, unless they are threatened.
The reason we decided to use electric fencing was to keep deer and predators out of the sheep pasture. Deer carry diseases we didn't want our sheep exposed to and we didn't want our sheep becoming dinner for some nearby coyotes. So far so good. We have not had any problems with deer or coyotes. We also have some 'cattle fence panels' around the rams pen. The panels are metal with approx 4" squares. The rams have caught their horns in the panels 3 or 4 times and its taken us to unpry them from the fence to free them. We plan to replace the fence panels with electric fencing - which hasn't given us any problems.