A year in the life of our sheep...
Icelandic ewes are seasonal breeders (the rams are happy to breed any time of year!). Their breeding cycles typically start in late October or early November. Their cycle is approximately 17 days, of which they are in heat and receptive to the ram for 24-36 hours. They will continue to come into heat every 17 days until either they are pregnant or until spring, at which time they stop cycling.
Around December 1st - after much thought and record keeping, we separate our sheep into breeding groups. Each group includes one ram and a selection of ewes. We usually keep our breeding groups together for 35-40 days. This ensures that the rams have 2 full cycles to get lucky and the ewes to get pregnant! The gestation period for our ewes is typically between 142 and 144 days, which is 3-5 days shorter than average of all breeds.
Early April – Prior to lambing in early May, we have all of our sheep sheared. There are many benefits to shearing before lambing. Of particular note, it is much easier for a newborn lamb to find her/his mom’s milk if it doesn’t have to dig through 6 to 8 inches of wool and poop tags to find it! Getting the lamb to nurse as quickly as possible is critical to ensuring its survival. It is also much easier to see what’s going on during the lambing process and to ensure there are no birthing problems.
Summer – All of our sheep spend the summer on fresh pasture. We practice rotational grazing, which means we regularly move the sheep onto a new section of grass. The purpose of this is twofold: 1) It ensures that the pasture is not overgrazed. This would weaken the root system of the grass and allow less desirable weeds to grow. By moving them regularly, it ensures that we promote healthy pasture growth and that we have plenty of fresh grass to last the sheep through the season. 2) Rotating our sheep through different pastures is also an important parasite management practice. By rotating our sheep regularly, we disrupt the lifecycle of the parasites and therefore reduce their impact on our flock.
Early October – All of the sheep are sheared again. Typically, this clip is very clean as the sheep have been on fresh pasture all summer and therefore have very little vegetable matter in their wool. Their fleece is typically about 6" to 8" long and it amazing for spinning, or using for fibre art projects. This is the lambs first shearing and the wool is extremely soft! The fleece will start growing again quickly and the sheep will have plenty of wool to keep them warm before the cold winter nights come.
Now the planning starts for the next breeding season and we do it all over again!