Quick updates

  1. The King is dead.  Bucky went off to freezer camp in late April.  He’d gotten crankier in late middle age and was hassling everyone.  Clovis followed two weeks later.  I will get around to the pictures later this week hopefully.
  2. Life finds a way.  Zuko IV was castrated last fall, but somehow, against all odds, he regrew a testicle.  It’s small, has a bit of scarring, and is totally functional.  Oopsie.  Now he’s a possible candidate for the surprise lambs we thought we might have narrowly averted.
  3. Speaking of which, his dam, Brunhilde, dropped surprise twins Sunday evening while we were enjoying the nice weather.  The likely possibles include her own son and her half-brother.  It’s just a little Wagnerian.  They are a large black ram who is a little slow on the uptake and a vigorous but tiny little brown ewe who is simply adorable.  Pictures also to follow later this week just as hopefully.
  4. Faux Cow fell victim to predation.  Coyotes and black bears have been partying it up in our way way back.  We had gotten her back into good health and she was getting hearty and lanky like her dam, Dottie was in youth.  Oh well.
  5. We have a lot of yard work to do, the grass is going hog wild.  And we discovered the barn is too damp to store feed or pellets in sacks, so we’ll have to switch over to the garage for those.
  6. Icelandic rams are delicious at 4 years of age.  Tough, but flavorful without greasiness or bitterness.  Slow cooking them gives a really delightful repast. Honestly comparable to standard sheep breeds’ 18 month hoggetts. We had butchering help from a friendly local down the road and we sent him off with some mutton, which was turned into burger and was excellent, delicious, great in omelettes.  This made us relax about future slaughters of the older animals as they age.
  7. The kids are really taking to chores and starting to develop the general habit of tidying up before bedtime and after dinner.

That’s all for now.

 

The wetlands police, overstocking and husbandry issues

Not too far from us is a property on a major road we checked out but rejected due to the house being a structural mess and the five acres being true wetlands (one of the local rivers runs through the middle).

Anyway, in the last few months someone bought the property, which had turned into a mold palace and is currently overstocking illegally.  Due to the river issue, very few animals of any kind could be raised on the land.  But there are currently more than a dozen sheep, half a dozen alpacas, two dozen or more poultry, five calves, a dozen or so goats, and a few llamas, all on five acres of wetlands. There were some fencing issues, although the loose animals did not make it out to the street.  They did get hay for the animals, but it’s of poor quality and the sheep are wool breaking due to stress.  And the sheep are not a breed that sheds, so it’s pretty bad.  The calves are very skinny and so are the alpacas.

But they fixed the fencing and the animals have hay and water.  It’s not a situation where you can file a cruelty or neglect complaint.  They’re just bad at “having animals” and some might die, but the animals just might not.  Sometimes animals can get along for years on bad hay and generally poor forage.  And overstocking is a relative thing to most people.

The reason I’m finally writing this up even in passing is that the wetlands police are pretty ostentatiously not shutting them down or taking their stock away.  Even though with the overstocking literally in the flow path of a river, there is an actual case for wetlands policing.  Things are changing in this county, I guess.

I’m not sure what it means for the future.  And we’ll see in a few months if it’s just a delay in processing.

We have chickens

A friendly acquaintance needed to find their chickens a more rustic home, so we offered to take them since we were wanting to try chickens over ducks this year.  Pictures hopefully this weekend, my husband is working out the final roaming/run area for them.  Right now they are parked in our front yard and getting stirred up by a very silly little big girl.

Speaking of, I might call her Ram Tamer, since that is what she’s done.  Our rams now will stand still for petting due to her valiant and persistent efforts at feeding them by hand.  They are “right” kind of tame, not the kind of tame where you can get head butted (which usually is from roughhousing with lambs too often).

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Can you make hay while the sun shines?

We can’t.  No shame though, we only have 5 acres, and only 4 that can be used for the sheep.  My husband and I had a thrilling (to us) discussion about the process of haymaking.  I thought it was just like grass clippings, but it’s more complex than that.  You have to cut the grass a specific length and then stack it up and then turn the stacks so the cut grass dries evenly.  And only then can you make haystacks or bales.

There is no point to doing all this by hand unless you want a very special exercise program for the summer.  But for small holdings (under 20 acres), or acreage on a mountain/hill/etc., there are walk-behind tractors and balers that have lovely videos on youtube and produce some nice bales with not much physical effort.  And before walk-behind equipment and conventional tractors, there were horse-drawn options, which one could still use I guess, if you already have the horses.

The whole point of the discussion was to figure out if it was possible to hay a little to cut down the hay bill, since we are only going to keep a small fiber flock anyhow.  But as it turns out, the best way to reduce the hay bill is to continue the soil improvement quest so that we can cut down how much hay has to be available each year.  Right now we need about nine months’ worth with the number of animals we have.  Getting that down to the seven we originally figured on would save about what magically haying an acre would.

While this was in draft, I found out that while haying our own land is probably not worth it, it might be worth it in the long term to help out some of the neighbors by haying their 5-20 acres where those neighbors are not able to stay on top of the mowing year to year (such is life in the country!)  We would get a break on our hay bill, some much-desired exercise and the neighbors would get cleared yards without the hassle of running animals as lawnmowers.  So it’s something to mull over and think about in a couple of years.

Slaughter success and breeding victory

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Skinning Bart. He was very bony.

 

With the help of some relatives, one of the ram lambs, Bart, was finally slaughtered, skinned and broken down over the holiday weekend.  It didn’t take very long and we now have some Icelandic lamb in the freezer.  We should have Scottie and Dingus taken care of in the next week or so.

As for breeding, all the adult ewes are finally in with Shaft and hopefully everyone gets pregnant.  Due to the ewes’ cycling not being synchronized, they’ll be in there until January, or when they show conclusive signs of pregnancy, whichever comes first.  So we are going to have May lambs, which means April spring shearing.

Bart was a light yield, about 15lbs of finished cuts including the organs we kept.  That is a hanging weight somewhere past 20lbs, but not much past.  He weighed more before the weather got colder, but he was in fact weaker than Scottie and Dingus and lost some weight the last month.  Dingus has inherited excellent parasite resistance, as he was stunted but has a well formed, meaty frame.  He is smaller physically than Bart’s rangier, lankier frame, but will give more meat.  So that’s good.

My husband feels pretty good about his ability to slaughter sheep going forward.  Bart was stunned unconscious and then had his throat slit.  It all went very quickly.  The cold weather has helped a lot.

Now that Thanksgiving festivities are over (we celebrated with friends and family and it went pretty well and was delicious), I have to get back to the fiber prep.  Speaking of weight gain, we have a baby that went from 16 to 17lbs over the course of Thanksgiving week.  And still waiting to hit three months old.  I guess he’s taking lessons from the lambs.

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.

 

The lambs’ first maintenance weekend

This past weekend we did maintenance for all the sheep, with some much-needed assistance from a local acquaintance. It was the first time for the lambs. They all got their very first vaccines and hoof trims and dose of wormer.  From the look of things, we will need to do some soil testing, as the lambs grazed in a pretty different area to the ewes and the FAMACHA checks were quite different in both groups.  We also found out Bucky has better parasite resistance than Shaft, though Shaft has clearly better fleece.  Something to keep in mind for the future.

We had a couple cases of lamb hoof scald from the lambs grazing in the running seasonal stream.  Scald is a precursor to hoof rot, but is not necessarily a sign that there is rot in the field.  We foot bathed and are doing very clean straw, even out in the muddy entrance.  We weren’t skipping straw before, we’re just doing the recommended extremely dry bedding level for scald/rot in the flock.

Anyway, since there was no limping (the scald was mild enough that it could have been missed in a larger hoof trim group), we didn’t bust out the antibiotics.  We’re really trying to keep use down to a minimum where that makes sense.

There was a plan to do more fencing, but hitting a water line derailed that and the time was instead spent fixing that problem.

The lambs had some odd growths from walking and skipping on uneven terrain, nothing bad, very likely just the normal course of things when there aren’t enough scraping rocks around.  We are working on putting some out in the field to help reduce having to trim by hand.

Nobody looked nutrient deficient, so that was nice.