Our Adopted Sheep

In December of 2011, Phyllis adopted a Coopworth ewe (# 236), a breed that was developed in the 1970s for New Zealand’s grass-fed sheep industry. Caroline and David Owens, the Pennsylvania family behind Owens Farm in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, purchased her from a breeder in West Virginia last year, and she apparently really stood out from the rest of the flock through her friendliness and curiosity. And she sheared a gorgeous fleece and ended up having triplets!! And she managed to feed them all so well that each is “chunky and vigorous” (which sounds good to a non-farmer) But, they were all rams, and the Owens are hoping she’ll have some ewes this upcoming year to perpetuate her characteristics.

In January of 2012, we had a Name-The-Sheep contest on Facebook. Caroline Owens explained to me that they bought her and a few other ewes from a well-respected West Virginia Coopworth farm when the breeder suddenly needed to downsize. It happened quickly and during a busy time for the Owens, so they never got around to naming their new acquisitions beyond “the West Virginia ewes.” But Caroline tells me that Coopworth # 236 has distinguished herself from the flock in terms of personality and performance and could really use a name. So, we had a contest on Facebook and invited everyone to give us their best name ideas. Lori in Washington State won a free copy of Phyllis’s 101 Crochet Tips Kindle book ($9.95 value) and some of the newly-named ewe’s fleece (priceless!) by coming up with “Princess Maple Leaf.”

And, just when Phyllis was about to announce the winner, she got an email from Caroline saying that Princess had almost been lost! Sheep, especially pregnant ones, sometimes get “cast”–stuck upside down — and it can kill them. When Caroline went to check the sheep, it seemed that the flock was doing just fine, all upright and moving about. But, as she was heading back to the barn through a woody section of the pasture, Hannah the Border Collie began bouncing around like she smelled sheep. And, sure enough, there was Princess, upside down in a ditch, thoroughly stuck. They were able to get her back up, and, once she got the feeling back in her legs, she was able to move around, and she ate well. Close call! Caroline also pointed out that this is another good reason to put blankets on the sheep: her beautiful wool was protected from being ground into the mud. So shearing went well!

Then, in February, a big box of sheep fleece showed up on Phyllis’ doorstep! Just as she was wondering why she got all this fleece in February, she got a letter from Caroline Owens explaining why their farm operation shears in January:

1. The wool is stronger now than in late pregnancy due to the nutritional demands of the growing lambs.
2. The wool is cleaner because the little lambs haven’t been trying to climb on mom.
3. It’s easier to tell when the sheep is near to lambing time if her wool is trimmed close.
4. The lamb can feed more easily when he can find the udder, not hidden by a bunch of wool.
5. A shorn ewe is more likely to seek shelter in the barn when she’s ready to lamb rather than stay out in bad weather.
6. Winter shearing does help the family spread out the work load and helps the sheep avoid suffering in an early heat wave.

In March, Phyllis awoke one morning to an email from Caroline Owens, letting her know that, despite another close call, Princess is doing fine and has a new lamb! A routine barn check revealed Princess trying to deliver a lamb, who was not only TWICE as big as average, but had one leg back (“shoulder-locked”). But the lamb was otherwise fine, and a bit of twisting and tugging brought her out. Princess instantly bonded to her and had her up and nursing in no time at all. Although the farm usually doesn’t keep singles, they have decided to keep this one — “This lamb has just the vigor we like to see in our breeding stock.” Phyllis also set about skirting and washing the fleece in anticipation of learning how to card and spin it. You can read about her washing process on her blog.

In June, Caroline writes that Princess and her lamb are doing just great. “Baby” is a whopping 60 lbs now (compared to the flock average of 40 lbs) because, as a single, she got all the milk and got off to a very good start. She went to “Sheep Camp” recently and is now halter-trained. In the mean time, Princess and the other ewes are out to pasture, regaining the weight they lost during lactation. This is their summer vacation — They won’t do much except graze, nap, and chew their cud until Fall breeding time.

In early October, Caroline drops a bombshell — It’s breeding season on the farm, and Princess has found her Prince! Actually, his name is King, and he’s the new white Coopworth ram on the farm. Quite handsome, isn’t he? They are hoping for a nice set of chunky white twins from this pair.

And Princess looks quite regal herself does she not?!

November of 2012 brought a letter from Caroline Owens with some interesting news — turns out King did not living up to his name! She explained how a breeding harness is put on the rams and different colored crayons are fastened on the harnesses to monitor breeding activity. A ewe will not return to heat once she is pregnant, so as Caroline says “the worst thing you can observe in the breeding pasture is double colors on your ewes.” So, King was installed with a red crayon and sent out to work with a select group of ewes. Every ewe had a red mark within 16 days. Great! So, they changed King’s crayon to green. Well, one ewe marked green the very next day, and over the next two weeks, all the ewes had marked green. Thankfully, an unrelated ram named Baritone came to the rescue as did a ram lamb who was saved from market day. Caroline was also able to purchase a new white Coopworth ram named Zeus, and he was turned loose on the three remaining un-bred ewes.

Phyllis also got word that “Roly-Poly Princess” is up to her old tricks again — she has been stuck upside down several times in the last week of November. When a member of the Owens family checks the flock, she is one of the three “repeat offenders” someone ends up looking for.

But she made it through the January 2013 shearing, so Phyllis should have some beautiful yarn (yup, this year she asked Caroline to send it to the processing mill, to be made into some chunky weight yarn):

At the beginning of April, Phyllis got word that Princess had triplets this year! A boy, a boy, and a girl. But, it did not go smoothly. Princess had one baby, then for some reason got stuck upside down. Fortunately, Caroline was checking the barn just then and was able to flip her over so she could lick off her lamb. Then, too much time passed without a second lamb. Turns out two more lambs were trying to come out at the same time. But, once they got sorted out, everything was ok.

At the end of April came the sad news that Princess had gone missing and upside down one too many times… Caroline called Phyllis to tell her personally, which was much appreciated. By a stroke of luck, Caroline had gotten pictures of Princess and her babies the day before:

But, in May of 2013, we got a new sheep! Coopworth # 217 is a two year old ewe who is carrying on the line of Coopworths originally from a well-known breeder in West Virginia. Her grandmother, Honeysuckle, came to the Owens Farm when they first moved to Pennsylvania. Honeysuckle was known for her exceptional fleece and had a ewe (# 140) who also had beautiful white fleece. In the fall of 2011, # 140 was bred with their natural-colored ram Baritone and had twins: a ram lamb and my # 217.

Number 217 spent her first year as part of the Owens’ Sheep Camp. She was haltered, led around, given treats, entered into Lamb Races and Hide and Go Sheep, and got to play with lots of children. As a result, she’s really quite friendly and curious about people.

After that cushy first year, she spent the winter with a group of other yearling ewes and rejoined the flock this spring. Right now, she is out to pasture and will be getting her first blanket next week to protect that beautiful fleece.

In July of 2013, Phyllis was out on her balcony and, inspired by her garden, decided to name # 217 “Petunia.” Although petunias are seemingly delicate flowers, they are actually quite hardy and able to withstand the heat while growing strong and beautiful, hopefully just like Petunia!

September 2013 brings word of preparations for breeding season! In order to have babies in February and March, the rams and ewes get together in late September. To get ready, the Owens family trims each ewe’s feet, de-worms her, and checks on blanket fit. The rams also get trimmed and de-wormed as well as fertility tested by the vet. Not sure yet if Petunia is going to be part of the dating pool this year, but hopefully, we’ll hear the pitter patter of lamb hooves in winter!

February 2014 brought both good and bad news. Petunia had her first lambs, but it was a terribly hard delivery, with both lambs having to be pulled. The first one didn’t make it, but here she is with her lovely surviving lamb, which she mothered beautifully. The vet says Petunia’s pelvis is fine for future lambing, so next year should go better.

And, speaking of getting ready for next year, here’s Mitchell, Petunia’s been spending some time with him in October of 2014.

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