Thursday, June 1, 2017

Day 25: Hrútar

Today was a relatively slow day, there is no more power washing, it continues to rain so we can not do fence work and none of the pregnant ewes feel like lambing. I just don't know what to do with myself! After the morning feeding, I did a lot of sweeping, general cleaning around the barn trying to fill my time. I also spent some time with the orphans. No longer motherless lamb, Stevonnie seems to have settled into the lamb life and has accepted her mother. 

Stevonnie and mom being cute

The three remaining orphans have been very good about following me, so we went for a little field trip around the barn where they could jump and get some enrichment. When the rain passes they will be put outside in a smaller area with grass, next to the barn. They will be with some of the special case ewes and their lambs that need monitoring. But until then they will stay in their own pen inside getting lots of attention.

Our three remaining orphans

One of the things I noticed about the orphan's horns is how they are developing. All three are horned and there is one ewe lamb and two ram lambs, having only worked with polled sheep it has been interesting watching the horns grow. On the ewe lamb (pictured below), she did not have pronounced horn buds when she was born and if you look closely at the top of her horn you can see wool. This is the "cap" that was covering the horn buds when she was born. I am sure as she gets older the wool on the tips of her horns will be worn off or fall off. 

As for our outgoing ram lamb, you can see there is a difference in the top of the horn and the developing horn (pictured below). The tips are pinched off from the rest of the horn, these are the horn buds that he was born with. When they are born their horn buds and hooves are covered in a waxy, chalky substance that protects the mom as the lamb passes through the birth canal. This substance comes off almost immediately after to expose the darker, much sharper horn buds and hooves. The horns grow from the base and like mentioned in an earlier post can be trimmed down to right before the blood supply, like hooves, fingernails, etc.

Myla (the puppy) also got to spend some time with the orphans. She was adopted in the hopes to herd the sheep, but Myla is very scared of the sheep. It is difficult to herd sheep when you are too afraid to look in their general direction. Snædis sat in the pen with Myla and the orphans, the orphans were hesitant at first but recognizing Snædis as one of the people that scratch them and feeds them they powered through their fear to be near her. Myla, on the other hand, tried to escape and when an orphan would look at her she would turn around. She did, however, find their grain and ate some of that. She is a work in progress! 
Helgi and Snædis were able to set up a nice little surveillance camera on the remaining pregnant ewes from an old iPhone, stick, and tape. Snædis checked the ewes periodically through the night without having to get out of bed. So far, the app is working well, I will be checking the camera tonight periodically so hopefully, it continues to work. 

Sweet camera set-up

Last of the pregnant ewes

With all of the down time I had, I found some reading material in the breakroom. It was the AI (Artifical Insemination) catalog for last season. Hrútar is Icelandic for rams, so Hrútaskrá roughly translates to Ram Catalog.

There are two AI stations in Iceland where they supply straws of semen. Hestur has had a number of rams used by the AI stations which is quite an honor and comes with a nice paycheck. They only use individual rams so long until they are retired because they want to keep the genetic pool diverse regardless of how excellent the ram is. The way the catalog is set up is it is split into the two stations and which rams they have to offer are split into: with horns, polled, leader rams, rams for wool, and four-horned rams. Here the sheep are mostly for meat, they do sell the wool but it is not a quality most farmers breed for. In the catalog, there is only one ram that is used for wool. Snædis told me there are very few farms (maybe only two now?) that concentrate on quality wool in Iceland. To try to breed that into a new flock would take many generations before you see a change in the fleece. 
At Hestur they are conducting research on developing the best quality meat animal. Studies going on are an offspring study, a study on growth associated with certain grass mixtures and fertilizer mixtures and trying to improve the fat content of the lambs. When they took over Snædis and Helgi were not impressed by the very lean animals and have been doing specific breeding to fatten the lambs up.
 Each ram in the catalog has a nice picture, a profile, and a family tree. The ram is rated on fitness, musculature, leanness, fertility, milkiness (milk production in mom, grandma, etc.), and just overall quality of the ram. If the ram is being used for a second, or third year they have information on their registered offspring. In their profile, they talk about wool coloring, appearance (they described one ram as having a pretty face), and temperament (VERY important). Snædis said one ram was taken from Hestur a few years back (before they took over) and it had a nasty attitude. He was very hard to handle, would not hesitate to attack anyone and not cooperative. She said that they have some of his offspring because this ram had excellent qualities but his temperament reflected in the ewes and they also had nasty attitudes and impossible to handle but produced excellent lambs. The leader rams are judged by their ability to protect and lead their flock, as well as, help herd them back to their barn in the fall. As for the four-horned ram... I don't know why you would want something like that (please google for a picture), the way the horns are shaped on the ram in the catalog it doesn't look like it can even graze without two of the horns going into the ground. I was told it was very rare and some farmers are trying to maintain the four-horn gene, so I guess some people like it. The general rule is to use AI on 15%-20% of your ewes but at Hestur because of the offspring studies, they only bred 90 (out of ~800) ewes with AI last fall. It comes with a lot of work, going out to do heat checks into the night. Helgi said that hormone treatments tend to lower the percentage of ewes that take to the AI, so they continue to do it the old fashioned way by just checking with a teaser ram periodically. The remainder of the ewes spent some time with a chosen ram that resides at the farm, like the handsome Batman (video of him in a previous post). 
With that, it is time to head down and give the orphans their last bottle of the night.
Until tomorrow!

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