“I used the crook!”

My husband said that the other day after separating the ram lambs out.  There’s a trick to it that I can’t recall right now because I’m still enjoying postpartum sleep deprivation, but he figured out how to hook the legs so that the sheep stands still and lets itself be led to a new paddock.  This was fabulous news, as it means more flexibility in managing the flock.

We are going to Fiber Fusion this weekend.  I’d hoped to put up at least three fleeces for sale, but will probably just see if I get a bite for Shaft’s fall clip.  I don’t think I can have his and Bucky’s spring fleeces (which, being lamb fleeces, are still plenty spinnable and worth putting up for sale as whole raw fleeces) ready in time, but we’ll see.  There were some challenges with the drying, as the spring fleece was sheared and a bit dense with winter growth, so it was thicker than the tuftlike rooed wool I collected from them in winter.  Plus they have a bunch of straw stuck in them, large pieces and easy to remove, but more than I remembered being there when I shoved them in a mesh bag for long-term storage.

The fiber sales plan is to put out what I can at the festival, see if it sells, and for the rest process them for sale as raw locks/fleeces and possibly roving.  I am getting steadily better at combing into top (considered a form of roving, which is aligned wool fibers ready for spinning), but I have yet to comb out enough to make more than a few feet of yarn.  And roving is generally sold by the ounce, which is at least a yard of yarn for one piece of roving.  My efforts at combing top yield fractions of an ounce per bundle.

That’s all right now, I am too tired to type more today.

Wingus choked to death on electronet

I was able to bail him out a couple days ago, but today he snuck by and we just didn’t catch him in time.  He was tangled where there is a lot of bramble and it’s not easy to see if a sheep is actually tangled or not without stomping out there in the mud and thorns.

No more electronet for us.  This is the first (and hopefully only) death from it, but we’ve had so many close calls with our other sheep that we’re just going to have to put up something else that is higher-hassle to move around for our temporary fencing.

I know it’s our first year (from when we got our initial sheep), and my husband keeps saying that part of starting out even on a small scale is losing animals due to inexperience, but we were really hoping to eat Wingus, he was really massive.  And the punchline is that we don’t know enough about dead animals to know if the meat is salvageable, so he’s going straight in the ground as fertilizer.

I’m just feeling very overwhelmed right now.  My own child is gaining like crazy, if his current gains persist, I’d have a 90lb one year old.  So it’s hard to wait for the old energy levels to get back up.  But it’s good to have a healthy, comically large newborn.

Anyway, we have a lot to learn, and in the meantime our bellies will have to be filled with humble pie as we gain that wisdom from experience.

What we did today (Fall Shearing Day)

shaftfleeceSix pounds of Shaft’s unskirted Icelandic wool, fresh off the sheep.  We also got the other 12 sheared and hoof trimmed.  They have held up pretty well the last few weeks.

The shearer we used this time was a very professional guy from Concrete, Pierre Monnat.  He was careful with the sheep and did nice work.

I finished my own addition to the farm, a little boy who is growing ridiculously fast.

I’m still pretty tired, so that’s all for now.  But we do now have some raw fall fleeces.  They are softer than the spring clips and it will be interesting times preparing the best ones for sale.


Zuko’s death and general post-weaning and husbandry issues

Our little bottle lamb Zuko had to be put down a couple weekends ago.  We took him off milk almost a month earlier and didn’t do additional monitoring and so took too long to catch his ongoing lack of weight gain.  By the time we caught it, isolating and treating him for the accumulated parasite load and loss of muscle wasn’t enough for him to rebuild the lost muscle, so my husband gave him a painless death.  It’s been hard to write this because it was so painful to lose that little guy to such a mistake on our part.

Good genetics are a bit double-edged.  He took a long time to show signs of illness or poor health and he had an extremely strong will to live, something I had never seen in my experience of farm animals.  Up until the very end he was still trying to eat and drink when he couldn’t move.  We had a lot of household stuff going on around the time we took him off milk and by the time all that was dealt with, it had already been a couple weeks and when things became really obviously bad with him, it was instantaneous, which again I’d never seen with the livestock I was familiar with.  My experiences with farm animals had always been that they showed poor health steadily and gradually and also just kind of gave up on living relatively quickly as well.

The basic lesson for us was that even if non-animal things are hectic, it’s still necessary to find a few minutes every week to check all the animals over.  Also, I am pretty non-interventionist by nature, but with bottle lambs, you’ve already intervened, so you have to pay a little more attention to them anyway and not just treat them like the other lambs.

We’ve also had to reassess how bad our pasture is.  We knew it was pretty bad, but the lambs are such efficient grazers that they have to be treated as adults after weaning, which we didn’t originally plan on.  When we took Zuko off milk, the other lambs were also pretty weaned.  They still try to nurse, but it’s obvious those udders aren’t letting much of anything down.  So for us that means healthy, nursed lambs=adult sheep around 10-12 weeks.  Weaning is a big milestone and we were cavalier in not considering it such with the other lambs too.

Post-Zuko, we went out and looked over the remaining 13 animals to see if there were any others lagging and it turns out Bart and Lisa, the two lambs from our second-biggest ewe Black and Tan, are starting to fall behind.  And while Wingus, our grey ewe’s aggressive nurser is already slaughter-weight at 4 months, his runt brother Dingus could use a little help.  Dingus was ahead of the younger lambs due to being born earlier, then stunted out, then started to recover, but since the pasture’s been decimated and we’ve had to really step up the hay, he’ll need some extra monitoring too.

What we have cleared cannot support 13 adult Icelandic sheep, and even if the rest were cleared, we couldn’t support that many ewes and their lambs.  So we’ll have to break up the sheep into grazing groups and talk to some of the neighbors with overgrown acreage next spring.  It’s too late this year to do so.  On the other hand, if we continue to see such vigorous lambs in later breeding seasons, we’ll have slaughter-ready lambs at 4-6mos as a norm.  So hopefully we see that next spring.

Lisa is not in any major trouble, she favors wool production and that accounts for a fair amount of her fall-back, as her fleece is in excellent shape and noticeably better and longer than the other ewelambs’ fleeces.  But she is a little smaller than she ought to be.  Bart, though, doesn’t have a glossy long coat to explain his fall-back, and neither does Dingus, so those two we will definitely keep an eye on between now and slaughter time in the fall.

The adults are basically fine, the ewes have regained their conditioning and recovered from lambing and nursing, and the two rams are in good shape with good fleeces coming in.  We are a few weeks behind on hoof trims, and should be caught up this week, and will probably do some vitamins in the next few days for the three lagging lambs, but they are lagging only a little and if they are parasite-heavy, we’ve caught it a lot sooner than with poor Zuko.

The general 2-3 month age range where the lambs naturally would be getting weaned is a time to really keep an eye out, with special attention to bottle lambs.  Because all the lambs transition to living on grass/hay and the occasional pellet snack differently and some will need a little helping hand of vitamins or wormer (or herbal equivalents).

We really didn’t understand that if you’re new to the animal, you almost have to put in time like they are pets until you really get to know the little signs that each kind of livestock has.  We did buy well-bred animals from decent breeders, but that just means they take longer to show total collapse and have subtler signs of poor health.

This is pretty rambly, but in short, we need to keep better records and have scheduled checks of major life milestones for the flock(s) so we don’t face another Zuko situation again.

Sheep genetics are tricky

Our rams are both yearlings now and it’s interesting to see how different they look.  Shaft is a giant brown puffball who will produce a long, soft, really nice fleece for the fall shearing.  Bucky is a big hunk of ivory colored muscle and density, who will provide an excellent dressing percentage when his breeding days are over.

Even though both rams were “bred for good fleeces and solid meat conformation”, they each clearly favor one trait over the other.  Wool and meatiness as traits are sadly not all that complementary.  A lot of breeders spend years on end and multiple breeding groups trying to thread the needle and get a Bucky-level of meatiness with a Shaft-like soft, high-value fleece.  Sometimes they get there, but just seeing the starkness of the difference was valuable.

The two traits work against each other to some extent because growing lots of wool takes away from building up muscle, as both require protein.  Milkiness or milkability (not the same, the latter is a group of traits really) are more complementary, as we have some serious milkiness in our ewes despite fleece quality ranging from felt to possibly fall-level ok in a spring fleece.  And temperament is much the same– Bucky is a very gentle ram and we will totally work to keep that going in the flock, as a jerkish ram is a lot more trouble than a jerkish ewe.

So while we have breeding goals, we aren’t expecting to get exactly what we want with a specific trait just because we picked stock with “good genetics”.  It’s also been instructive to see Bucky’s offspring and the range there between his genetics and those of the mothers.

Tricky stuff, genetics.

The sheep are happy.

We put the rams in with the ewes for a little while since everyone is out of season and this is a strongly seasonal breed, so winter birth is low risk.  They are going back to their own pen this weekend though.  It gave the grass in the ram pen a chance to recover.

The ewes did start weaning, but the lambs still have a pull now and again.  It’s very gentle compared with how the local deer wean (chasing the fawns until they stop coming up).  The ewes mainly just walk away at shorter and shorter intervals.

It’s colder than we thought it would be a lot of days this summer, but this is the easy time of year with sheep.  They don’t have anything to do except grow their fleece out and get bigger in the case of the lambs.  And in the case of our sheep, take out massive amounts of bramble.  They are covered in blackberry switches, but it’s totally worth it, they are demolishing the Himalayan and native brambles that we opened up for them.  I had heard Icelandics were great with bramble, but I didn’t think they would make so much progress in such a short time.  So that’s a nice bonus.

Scenes from my first week combing out raw Icelandic fleece


What I started with, some rooed locks that have been washed and picked of most of the VM, but there was still a little left.

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Closeups of what I finished with.  Not sure if this is what I am supposed to end up with, but that’s why it’s a learning process.


This is the fluff left behind that is too short to do anything with but use as stuffing or kill mulch.  It looks like a higher loss rate than it is.