Scottie’s summer slaughter

…was messy but went decently (no contamination of anything we wanted to keep).  66lbs of meat plus offal was the approximate final tally, which means a live weight of about 200lbs.  He did have a full belly though, because we weren’t planning to slaughter this weekend for sure, so we didn’t restrict his food to reduce that.

More on Monday, including pictures!

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.

Pasture improvement is slow and steady

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This used to be a massive blackberry thicket.

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Grey and Ripley love hanging out up here in the shade. I wouldn’t enjoy sticks under me, but I’m no sheep.

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You can really see the slope and how they tore into the blackberry here.

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This was much more brownish-yellow before the sheep got to it.

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Now that’s the start of some soil fertility.

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Not a golf course yet, but maybe someday? Hehe.

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Miracle or mundane?

The sheep are doing a pretty decent job.  As much as we fret about how terrible and sparse our pasture is, right now the sheep cannot eat as fast as new growth comes in, and that’s from all their stompyfoot and grazing and pooping.  So it is getting better, but the process is years-long no matter how hungry the little sheeps are.  (The older kids call them “sheeps”).

 

Quick year end notes

We’ve decided to pursue fiber sales, but not meat ones.  Pursuing meat sales is something we’ll worry about once we’ve made it through enough breeding seasons to have extra lambs at all.  And the economics of a fiber flock work out better for the current life circumstances we have going on.  With a fiber flock, you can always skip a breeding season and focus on only breeding the ewes that will give great fiber and good-enough lambs for slaughter.  Then they eat way less, but still pay their hay bills.

Selling fiber is ok, it just tends to be more of a slow trickle than a burst.  And we have to be open to the entire country to get reliable sales.  I don’t mind shipping though, and we’ll certainly explore sending fleeces to the mill once we get into 20 or more fleeces regularly. Fiber milling is an interesting field, given that as infrastructure goes, nobody is really taking it up, so there will be lots of machinery available as the mill owners, who are generally like 70+, retire or pass on.  Something to think about in a few years, maybe.

Preparing fleece is a lot of work.  There are ways to cut down the workload, but sheep grow that stuff pretty long because they need it, so it’s always going to be a bit of work, even if we ultimately send everything to a local mill and focus exclusively on high-value yarns, roving and felting batts.

And next year, since I won’t be growing any babies myself, we’ll go ahead and put in a real garden, finally go back to having poultry (going to go all-in and get ducks, chickens and geese) because the eggs really are Just Better and hopefully have a successful second lambing season.

I hope to post more to this blog and get more pictures up in the new year.  It does help to take little snapshots of how things go.

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.

Fast Fleecy update

It looks like I haven’t been posting much to this blog, but that’s because I’ve been updating the fleece sale page.  I am running out of whole fleeces, and will soon be posting raw fiber for sale by the ounce, probably by this weekend.  I am learning a lot about shipping costs, paypal fees and preparation of fleeces to send out to customers.

So anyway, that’s where the latest updates are.  The flock is fine, we still haven’t done breeding yet, but it doesn’t look like we had any accidental breeding either, so we’ll probably take care of that this week.  We have to delay eating the ram lambs until after Christmas unless we get an opportunity to slaughter after Thanksgiving, which is unlikely right now.

Fiber Fusion Fiasco

This was a pretty crazy weekend.  I took Shaft’s fleece to Fiber Fusion for sale, and we took a peek around.  Compared to last year, Fiber Fusion had more vendors and appeared to be busier.  A lot of the people appeared pretty interested in buying and there was a shift in vendor makeup towards vendors that supplied equipment and finished/processed goods rather than “raw” fiber.

Having said that, there was also a massive increase in people offering raw fleeces for sale.  The increase was so great they set aside another building just for raw fleeces.

But then they didn’t really let anyone know how to get to it, or where it was, or how to submit a fleece for sale or judging (two separate desks).  So I and a bunch of other people put our raw fleeces out excitedly and hoped for a sale, but nobody knew our beautiful fleeces were there, so almost nothing sold.  The same fleeces I saw when I put mine out were still there at the end of the day on Sunday when I went to claim my unsold fleece. Alas.  Here’s hoping they’ll get the hang of things next year, this is still a new festival and working all the kinks out takes time.

As for the rest of the fleece, we broke down and got a dehumidifier so air drying would not take days on end.  It’s been quite effective and we are delighted with the results.  We set up in the garage, it is easiest to dry fleece there.

The sheep hacked the barn and ran amok when I lay all the fall fleeces out to air dry in the barn after shearing day.  So my project for the next few months is to shake all the hay out of the fleeces.  It looks pretty bad, as these pictures suggest, but it’s not really.  However, I’m not eager to do it again, so next  year all the fleeces go straight into mesh bags on shearing day.

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Fleeces waiting to be air dried.

 

 

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Air drying. This is a drying rack meant for “herb”, but we find it works great for wool instead.

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The VM situation looks terrible, but most of that stuff comes out quickly when the locks are totally dry rather than slightly damp.

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This drying rack holds a full mesh bag of fleece, which is about 2 fleeces’ worth of wool.

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Bucky’s fleece survived the onslaught and is drying on a metal rack that is good for individual fleeces, but not as awesome as the “herbal” drying rack.

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It hangs from a rafter. Very easy to set up and take down, just a wonderful find.

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One last look at Bucky’s fall clip. It is soft and looks pretty good. Should wash up nicely for sale.

As you can see, we’re finally starting to formalize our processing so I can develop a routine and just always be preparing wool for sale or home use.  Also, I’m taking up knitting.  It’s a great way to use up the bulky, lumpy yarn I am likely to produce with my current newbie level of wool combing experience.

The actual sheep are doing ok and already have plenty of wool grown in for the winter.