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Friday, June 15, 2012

Gracie plays hard to get.

Gracie is my favourite sheep. Since the day she was born a couple years ago, she has always been calm and agreeable and she loves to be petted like a dog. Her pleasant nature has earned her preferential treatment at times, I must admit. Along with the occasional handful of smuggled sweetfeed.

When all of the fat ewes were shuffled into the lambing area in early April, Gracie went too. She was among the most plump of the ladies-in-waiting, after all. But when she failed to grow an udder, we put her outside to make room for the new mothers with lambs.

She never did grow an udder. Gracie just kept waddling around the barnyard until I began to think maybe she was just fat because of all the sweetfeed I have been giving her. Even a shearing didn’t diminish her girth by much. “This is one fat sheep,” the Farmer reported, bewildered. Gracie just got up and strutted away, not at all offended by his remark. In her world, fat is beautiful.

Soon all of the new lambs were outside with their moms, and some of them were close to eight weeks old. Still no lamb for Gracie.

Then that thunderstorm / mini-twister thing happened. Scared the lamb right outta Gracie. The Farmer was out in the barnyard surveying the wreckage of twisted branches and snapped tree trunks and there he discovered a very large single male lamb, curled up beside a very protective mama Gracie. The lamb was pure white, making him one of Rambo the Rideau ram’s offspring, as opposed to the black-faced lambs that Philip the Suffolk throws. (I like that I got to use that odd expression here. ;) I went out to see mother and child as soon as I got home from work.

“Gracie!” I exclaimed, and she turned to look at me, then back at her lamb, then back at me. She baaed proudly, and the lamb echoed her call. “Yes, I see you have a nice fat lamb there. Good work, Gracie girl.” And I put a handful of sweetfeed under her soft snout.

Later that evening the Farmer and I sat on our porch swing, a glass of wine in my hand and a cigar in his, and we tried to figure out why Gracie was at least six weeks behind the other sheep in her gestation. “It is a really big lamb. Maybe she just kept him in longer,” I said, without thinking. I do this a lot—especially on the farm. Bless the Farmer for not making me feel stupid. He just smiled and said, “No, 147 days. That’s it. So I guess she just ran faster than the rams for a little while longer than most.” I thought about that for a moment. “I knew it would be Rambo’s lamb, and not Philip’s.” The Farmer looked at me. “Gracie likes older men.”

We just assume that everything is going to run according to plan on the farm and most of the time it does. Breeding sheep pretty much takes care of itself if your ram is healthy.

It wasn’t so easy with our horse. When Misty lost her sister Ashley, we thought we could distract her from her loss by sending her to be bred. The breeder reported that for the first little while when the stud whinnied suggestively at Misty from his pen next door, she would squeal at him threateningly and kick the wall with her massive hooves. Then one day she stopped swearing at him. That’s when they knew she was in heat and it was safe to attempt the breeding. Misty came home and we watched for signs that she had caught. After a few months we had to admit Operation Belgian Breeding was a failure.

Thinking about the Misty episode, I realized something. Maybe Gracie was slightly out of sync with the rest of the sheep because I tend to feed her better than the rest, and I go out of my way to make sure she is comfortable and gets plenty of attention. She might have gone into season a bit later than the rest.

Then again, it is entirely possible that she was just playing hard to get. That’s my Gracie.

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