Isn't it about time I dove head-first into the mating life of the sheep of Northern England? Of course that question is rhetorical because there is no answer other than yes! My aunt and uncle live in Guisborough, a small town in Northern England, that has some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine. It's where my dad grew up and one of the places we visit whenever we return "home." Their house backs up to some fields that lead to miles of breath-taking moors just like you've seen in the movies. But this post isn't about the gorgeous scenery from Wuthering Heights or An American Werewolf in London, it's about sheep reproduction. I shouldn't allow myself to stray from such an important topic.
Every Autumn, my aunt and uncle look out of their back window at the fields and see herds of sheep grazing on the grass. And this time of year many of these sheep have bright blue bums. The casual observer might think that the farmer has merely marked these sheep to show they belong to him, but we can only hope the farmer had nothing personally to do with this. If he did, that'd be a whole different post.
In order to see which sheep have gotten personal with the rams and will be pregnant with Spring lambs, the farmers attach a marking harness to the rams. This harness is called a ram raddle and holds a crayon or dye pouch that is strapped to the ram's chest right between his front legs. When the ram buys a ewe dinner and romances her in the way that only a ram can, he leaves his blue calling card on her bum. This marks her as a taken-sheep so the farmer knows how many lambs to expect in the Spring. This is good for the farmer because apparently sheep only visibly show signs of pregnancy about six weeks before the lambs are born - lucky sheep - so this marking technique benefits the farmer since he can safely assume that any lucky lady with a blue bum in the Autumn will be using her wool to knit some lamb baby booties about five months later.
I've posted a couple of photos that my uncle sent me below. See that ewe third from the left? Apparently she is one of those unfortunate ewes who merely has a "good personality."
As the cool Autumn days go on, my aunt and uncle wake up to more and more blue-bummed sheep grazing in the fields. There are only a couple of rams to leave their mark and an entire field of sheep, so they're quite busy.
Today I got an email from my uncle telling me that today a third ram was added to the group with his blue harness on. Not long after his arrival my uncle noticed that the other two rams now have blue bums as well. My uncle said that maybe this new ram doesn't "know his arse from his elbow" or maybe there are so few un-marked ewes left that this final ram just got desperate and jumped on the first unmarked sheep bums he could find. It's like closing time at a bar - last call desperation at its finest.
Blue bums. It's what everyone's talking about this Autumn.