June 13, 2011

Friday was the day Ursula the ewe was supposed to have her lamb. But she wasn’t ready, so Mom and Dad were scratching their heads. “Is she pregnant—or just fat?” they asked.

See, it takes 138 to 159 days for a ewe to make lambs, but most are born around 147 days after the ewe is bred; Ursula’s lambs have always been born on day 147 or one or two days before or after that. But you can tell when a ewe is going to lamb (or a doe is going to kid or a mare is going to foal) by the way she looks and acts, and Ursula isn’t doing it this time.

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With sheep and goats, first-time mom’s udders begin to expand up to three weeks before lambing, but they won’t fully fill until a week or so before they lamb. The udders of veteran ewes, like Ursula, fill with milk anywhere from a few weeks to a short time prior to delivering their lambs. Most ewe’s develop firm, fully filled, strutted udders a day or so before lambing. A strutted udder is so engorged with milk that it’s shiny, and the teats are round and stick out a little to the sides.

The hairless area around a ewe’s or doe’s vulva bulges out a bit during the last month of pregnancy. About 24 hours before lambing or kidding, the bulge diminishes and the vulva becomes longer, puffier and very loose. If the ewe or doe has pink skin, her udder and vulva turn a much deeper pink.

Release of a hormone called relaxin causes structures in a ewe or doe’s hindquarters to soften as birthing approaches. Her rump becomes steeper, both from hips to tail and viewed from side to side. The area along the spine seems to sink and her tail head rises.

Ursula isn’t doing any of that. She’s very round, but Ursula is always fat. And her udder hangs down, but it’s still floppy. She’s had lots of lambs, so it could just be stretched out of shape.

But remember when I talked about our rumens? Our rumens are huge and take up most of the left side of our abdominal cavities, so when we lie down, we stick out to that side. When Ursula lies down, she sticks out on both sides, with a great, huge lump on the right. That should be her lamb. But is it?

I’ll post an update every day until next week’s column or she lambs, whichever comes first. In the meanwhile, look at the pictures below and see if you can tell. Is she pregnant or isn’t she? Post your comments. We want to know!

Pregnant ewe?
Photos by Sue Weaver
Compare how pregnant Ursula looked last year just hours before she lambed (left) to how she looks this morning (right). Do you think she’s pregnant or just fat?

P.S. Mopple the sheep-geep is blogging at MyFarm! He calls his blog Mopple’s Place. He says he’s going to blog about daily happenings at our farm. Maybe you’d like to check it out?

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