Is it spring yet?

Not quite, but we know it won’t be long, because our Soay rams are calming down and everyone’s horns — ewes and rams alike — have started growing again.

We put our breeding groups together later this year so we are just now thinking about returning the rams to the Bull Pen. I must say it’s not a chore I look forward to because the “reunion” between the breeding rams and their celibate brethren is always unpleasant to watch, what with all the bashing and general ill humor. But I’m hoping the overall air of tranquility out in the breeding areas, and even in the Bull Pen where the unlucky bachelors have been duking it out for two months, means that by waiting to breed later in the year, we will have less chaos when we break down the breeding groups next week.

Ordinarily, I would use the occasion to write about this chore, but not this year. It seems Steve has taken a notion to writing his own stuff, and darned if he didn’t take my “Ram Class Reunion” post idea right out from under my nose and put it on our farm website. You can read what he has to say about safely reuniting rams by clicking here.

Another sure sign that spring is on the way is the spurt in horn growth, a subject I managed to write about last year before you-know-who could trump me. It almost hurts to look at new horn growth on a Soay sheep exhibiting white spotting on the head. Because the absence of pigment extends up into the horns, the active new red blood vessels feeding the new horn growth fairly gleam through the translucent white horn. It’s a time of year when we are relieved to observe the winding down of aggressive behavior, what with the soft new horn growth right next to the animals’ heads. Although a broken horn usually is merely an aesthetic nuisance rather than a genuine health issue, the Soay sheep’s graceful horns, and the fact that Soay ewes have horns, is one of the hallmarks of the breed and it always seem a shame when a horn breaks off.

One way I know spring is almost here is that Steve shuts himself in his office and goes into a frenzy of updating our websites, hoping against hope to get it all done before lambing starts. This winter his efforts have focused, at least so far, on a series of short essays he has wanted to write for a long time, each having to do with one of the discrete aspects of lambing: managing ewes in late gestation, assembling the right supplies to have on hand before the lambs arrive, and actually working the new lambs.  When we first started raising heritage sheep, reading other more experienced breeders’ websites and talking with them about how they manage their flocks was invaluable. We hope our experiences also will help newcomers to Soay sheep. Equally important, we hope putting our experiences out there for everyone else to use and/or take shots at will contribute to the ongoing robust dialogue among Soay breeders that benefits all of us, no matter how long we’ve been at it.

Grandma's egg basket, Priscilla's first egg of the year

Grandma’s egg basket, Priscilla’s first egg of the year

And finally, the annual egg update. Last year we got our first oval harbinger of spring on January 5. As you can imagine, I have been watching the nests in the henhouse like a hawk (oh, sorry) for the last two weeks.  And sure enough, the first little bitty egg arrived this morning. Better two weeks later than never.At least until I decide what to do with just one precious homegrown egg, it will occupy the place of honor in my grandmother’s egg basket.

Time to go load up the tractor with a pallet of hay for the Bull Pen and count the weeks until the boys can live on new grass.

For now …