Merry Christmas and all that.
Merry Christmas and all that.
One of today’s project was to move 24 of Bill’s lambs from his farm to mine. He raised feeder lambs — weaned lambs he bought from another farm — this year, with the plan to graze them on pasture until December and then sell them for meat. About half the lambs didn’t grow as well as he’d hoped, so that when the pasture ran out, they were still too small to sell. Bill asked if I could take them on and feed them baleage for a couple of months to see if they’d continue growing, and I was happy to do it.
Bill had the lambs penned by the road at the edge of his farm when I arrived with the livestock trailer.
He applied his considerably powers of persuasion to get them into the trailer.
Once back at my farm, he and his dog Fern walked them up to the back pasture to join my lambs
I was surprised how easily the two groups seemed to mix, though there was considerable excitement at first meeting. My guys are the ones with red ear tags, and his tend to have darker faces.
I don’t want to invite divine smiting, but I admit to being pretty happy that my mentor asked me to care for some of his sheep. I understand that logistics drove the transfer — I have the infrastructure to easily feed large round bales while Bill doesn’t — but it nevertheless felt like a small validation of my battle against cluelessness over the last year.
At some point in the past year — I don’t remember the exact circumstances — I tried to get Cass to move some sheep for me after dark. She struggled, and I realized that of course she can’t work if she can’t see the flock. I’ve tried to refrain from putting her in similarly impossible situations since then, but I was in a bit of a jam tonight. When I checked the flock this morning, I saw that the biggest breeding group had eaten most of the way through their feed. I had an early meeting in Boston this morning, so I convinced myself that there was enough baleage to get them through the day. I got home this evening just as the last daylight was fading, and when I checked the hay situation, I saw that the sheep were down to twigs and icicles; I’d have to bring out another bale before morning.
If I didn’t have sheep, bringing out round bales would be pretty simple (though less useful): pick up a bale with the tractor, drive it out to the field, set it down and close the bale feeder around it, and drive back. The process is more complicated, and dangerous, with 27 ravenous sheep pushing their way onto and under the tractor, out of the fenced enclosure where I opened it for the tractor, and battering me as I try to assemble the bale feeder. I brought Cass in to move the sheep and hold them away from me as I worked, but I wasn’t optimistic given the dark and the food-crazed sheep.* But it seems that her past difficulties were more about lack of experience than paucity of photons. Tonight, with minimal illumination from my headlamp, she gathered the flock, including the uncooperative ram, pushed them up to the top of the enclosure, and held them as long as I needed to set up the bale and feeder.
She even checked in with me. Good girl!
*Sheep (like me) become much less reasonable and cooperative when they’re really hungry. Willingness to tolerate a bossy border collie is one of the first things to go.
Five days ago I wrote about my skepticism of raddle powder as a means for marking breeding. I managed to apply more raddle to the young North Country Cheviot ram that day, and the results may turn me into a believer.
The ram seemed pleased with his handiwork.
My new conclusion is that raddle creates very clear marks, thank you very much, if you get enough of the damn stuff smeared on the ram. And my concern that the ram lamb might not have been up to the job of breeding his group of 18 ewes seems premature as well. Since the reapplication of raddle, he’s leaving a sea of red butts in his wake.
It’s easy to complain about the limited daylight at this time of year, and I do my share, but there’s something magical about watching night turn into day while I’m taking care of the sheep.
Of course I could do the same thing in the summer, but I’d have to be out at 4am. The northern seasons grade virtue on a curve.
And today I started feeding round bales to the main flock as well.
By evening, they had made a significant dent.
I’m not sure if sheep appreciate sunsets the way Bill claims they appreciate views, but their shepherd does.
Until the chaos of breeding season arrives in 10 days, my sheep-related workload will be much smaller now that we’ve exhausted the farm’s grass. I’ll still bring food to the big dogs and water for everyone, but the twice-daily rituals of fence wrestling are over for now. That should mean that I can now devote more time to cutting and splitting firewood, organizing the barn, preparing wool for sale, marketing next year’s lambs, and a couple dozen other things, but I might just be a little unproductive for a few days.
In a more perfect world, if I were a more perfect shepherd, I’d move the sheep to new grass the instant they had sufficiently grazed their previous paddock. In the real world, I’m grateful to have a stockpile of hay.
The sheep had eaten through the lower pasture on a Friday night when I got home late from Boston. I figured I needed at least 2 hours to set up their new grazing area and move them across the farm, and I had about 45 minutes of daylight left. Cass can do many things, but precisely moving sheep that she can’t see exceeds her current abilities; thankfully the tractor has headlights, and I was able to bring over one of last year’s round bales and get the bale feeder set up well after dark. The hay bought me 24 hours of grace, and I got everyone moved to real grass this evening.
I was also excited to try out a new style of bale feeder, one that will hopefully be a little more sheep-friendly than the one I was using last year. The Premier feeder I was using last year was configured so that some of the sheep rubbed their necks raw reaching in for baleage.
So far, no problems. I’m hoping that the feeders won’t get deployed in earnest — at the end of the grazing season, either when I run out of grass or it’s too buried in snow — for a month or more.
On the morning of the storm last week, I put out a round bale for the sheep in the field without setting up the feeder enclosure around it as I usually do. This was motivated entirely by expediency rather than any lofty management goals. Folks use bale feeders to keep their livestock from scattering and wasting the grass in the bale, but I noticed that the sheep were eating the unenclosed bale rather neatly, and with considerably less effort than when the feeder panels were in place. The feeder panels are awkward to wrestle into place and set up, so I decided to try the experiment with a second bale. No conclusions yet on efficiency of feed use, but the unenclosed bale is providing new opportunities for the more athletic ewes in the flock.
I really promise I’ll stop with the cute lamb photos, at least for a while. But one more for the road.
It looks like the little guy is going to stick around. Now that I’ve gotten some milk replacer, getting him enough to eat is no longer a function of my skill in milking an uncooperative sheep. And the photo above notwithstanding (you can tell any story you want if you choose the right moment to make the exposure…), she’s still not showing any signs of interest in her lamb. The good news is that I now have absolute first-hand evidence that he’s getting at least some milk from her when she stands up.
And in other news, there is still a world outside the barn, though I’ve been paying less attention than I should.
About a week ago Bill responded to one of my emailed inquiries with “You have some very unusual problems.” I don’t think he was complimenting me for creative thinking. In that case, I had sent him some photos of a sheep which had rubbed all the wool off its neck as it was eating at the bale feeder.
This morning, I called him before most people are awake to ask about the red grapefruit hanging off the back of one of the ewes in the barn. After a couple of follow-up questions, he thought is was very likely she had suffered a vaginal prolapse overnight and would need immediate attention to prevent more serious problems. A bit of hurried Googling gave me some understanding of what had happened, and revealed that this is a 1% problem, keeping my streak intact.
Bill assured me that this was relatively easy to address, but that there was no way he could talk me through it over the phone. After he arrived at the farm, he guided me through manually correcting the prolapse (if every there was a euphemism…), and then we fitted her with a prolapse truss meant to keep the problem from recurring.
I apologize for missing some of the more descriptive photos, but my hands were otherwise occupied. And Bill was right — easy procedure, impossible to describe adequately at a distance.