How odd

The mystery of why sheep get horny in the winter might have been solved, according to new research.

Melatonin blah blah, light differences etc.

But winter? We talk of spring lamb, don’t we? And with a 150 day gestation in sheep that means they’re horny in autumn, doesn’t it?

28 comments on “How odd

  1. Compare and contrast:

    The Guardian:

    Mysteries remain, however, not least the question of why the breeding season of horses, for example, falls during the spring and summer when the production of melatonin is at its lowest.

    Wikipedia:

    Gestation lasts approximately 340 days, with an average range 320–370 days

    The ignorance of city people – especially the well educated – or rural life is truly unbelievable. This is why fox hunting ought to be encouraged. It would get the f**kers out of NW1 and into the countryside.

  2. “his is why fox hunting ought to be encouraged. It would get the f**kers out of NW1 and into the countryside.”

    So we can hunt them?

  3. Grauniadista: “Why would horses need to give birth in the spring? Surely they give birth in a stable!”

  4. Bloke in North Dorset – “So we can hunt them?”

    If my dog bit a Guardian-reader, I am not sure there is anything modern medical science could do for him. I might have to have him put down.

  5. The Scott Trust could surely be doing more socially useful things with its hundreds of millions of pounds than fund the Guardian.

  6. Strictly speaking, as spring and winter encompass 6 months, it is possible for ovine rumpy pumpy to take place in early winter for the results to occur in late spring.

  7. Do they specify the woollybacks are getting the hots with other sheep? Maybe they’re being shown ovine pr0n with Welsh subtitles, those long dark winter nights in the valleys.
    I’d read the article but I’m not at me best this morning.

  8. Finished lamb prices peak in the spring and fall off rapidly by July, so if you’re on land that can support it, there’s a huge value in pushing lambing earlier (some breeds are noted for coming into oestrus earlier in Autumn, and some will cycle all year round which can allow you to run year-round, with maybe 5 lambings in each 3 years).

    Fell sheep will be lambing in April and May, to catch better weather and the grass starting to grow, whereas with mules at 50m asl in North Lancashire we’re 80% lambed.

    You can buffer feed the sheep before the grass starts growing, so that as the lambs get to 6-8 weeks and are eating a lot of grass, the full flush of Spring grass is beneath them – which is more efficiently used directly by the lamb than via the ewe’s milk.

  9. Is there a law equivalent to Godwin’s law, say Glendower’s law, that states: in any post that mentions sheep, a commentator will eventually refer to the Welsh or Kiwis? I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it myself.

  10. Dr Cromarty – I would pay good money to see George Monbiot attempting to teach veganism to Transvaal lions.

  11. in any post that mentions sheep, a commentator will eventually refer to the Welsh or Kiwis?

    That’s not so much a Godwin’s law equivalent – it’s more like mentioning Hitler in a post about Nazi leaders.

  12. As The Inimitable Steve – displaying worryingly-high levels of knowledge on sheep – says, rams are horny all the time. So when you want your ewes impregnated you send in 2-4 rams into their field and sit back and wait. Then you take the rams out again and keep them well separated.

  13. Off topic, but how sublimely delicious is the Aussie collapse in the second test against India? And Aussie captain Steve Smith is caught out cheating. I’m going to be so obnoxious tomorrow.

  14. @DocBud/Tim N

    Oooh! I’m in Oslo at the moment, and news of the Aussies coming a major cropper would provide a welcome distraction from the cold and astronomical expense of daily life here.

    If this is a socialist paradise, I’m a Frenchman

  15. The Guardian article is just a badly-worded presentation of a decent scientific study. The question asked by the researchers wasn’t “why” sheep get horny at a specific time of year (to which the only answer is “duh”), but “how?” In other words, what seasonal mechanism triggers their horniness at the right time? Even in communal grazing and wild systems with no farmer control of lecherous males, birthing usually shows a seasonal spike at the time of peak digestible forage availability. The lambs/calves/fawns grow in more-or-less sync with increasing forage production and declining digestibility. Some natural mechanism obviously triggers that spike in ovulation, and they may have found it. (Most herbivorous mammals also have a peak rutting or lekking time for males, so it’s not just ovulation). Their solution doesn’t hold so well for mammals in lower latitudes though, especially in the tropics, where there is little to no difference in solar radiation and where the seasons are marked by rainfall variation (and mating occurs before the rains).

    Unfortunately, the Guardian did a terrible job of reporting the study, thereby contributing to the narrative of the ivory-tower scientists cut off from reality.

  16. Its . . . its not a mystery. Pretty much all animals go into rut at such a time so that their offspring drop come the next spring.

    Animals that didn’t do so didn’t reproduce as successfully as those who did.

    ‘Its melatonin’ doesn’t really explain anything anyway.

  17. I find it curious that in the idyllic green field scene of sheep with their spring lambkins there always seem to be the same number of lambs per mother. I’m guessing that someone scans the number of foetuses and separates the one-ers and the two-ers into different fields as easier to manage their feed supply. This is south Shropshire, so could be different in other places.

  18. I’m guessing that someone scans the number of foetuses and separates the one-ers and the two-ers into different fields as easier to manage their feed supply.

    Not quite. Three is the maximum most ewes will support so they tend to suffocate the fourth by lying on top of them. If a ewe has two or three and she is negelecting one of them in the first few hours, you take it away from her. If another ewe has just given birth to one you can take the afterbirth and wrap it around the ‘spare’ lamb and try to trick her into thinking it’s hers and taking care of it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If not, you have an ‘orphaned’ lamb that you keep in a pen under a heat lamp with others like it and you have to feed them by hand. You’d typically get about 10 of these in a flock of 100 sheep, all of which have given birth to 2-4 lambs each.

  19. Tim Newman – “You’d typically get about 10 of these in a flock of 100 sheep, all of which have given birth to 2-4 lambs each.”

    The march of progress. This must be a recent thing because when I was a lad, ewes usually gave birth to one lamb. More was unusual. A breed like the Faroe islands sheep was thought to be important because it regularly gave birth to twins.

    Agammamon – “‘Its melatonin’ doesn’t really explain anything anyway.”

    It does but they have their cause and effect mixed up. All animals keep track of time and the seasons to varying extents. Even people. They need to give birth in spring, usually, but they don’t have diaries or planners. So the ones that have evolved to respond to some biological trigger – like melatonin levels – will produce offspring at the right time of year. Those that don’t will become extinct.

    Humans evolved in more tropical climes so we probably don’t have a need for this. But it might be worth checking if jet lag affects the wife’s interest in sex. You know, apart from the tiredness off-set by the stimulating effect of all that Duty Free. Could be an interesting experiment.

  20. The march of progress. This must be a recent thing because when I was a lad, ewes usually gave birth to one lamb. More was unusual.

    The numbers might be wrong: we used to have 5-10 orphaned lambs per season but I don’t remember how big the flock size was. Perhaps it was 50 rather than 100.

    But I am 100% sure that multiple births are normal: usually it’s two, quite often three, sometimes four, I’ve even seen five. Singles are common too, but slightly disappointing from the farmer’s point of view. Incidentally, even back in the mid-90s they were using ultrasound on sheep to see how many lambs they were carrying, with high-accuracy.

  21. Pingback: Lambing | White Sun of the Desert

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