The Adventures of Sokka, the latest flock fence fool

Sokka, in the eternal quest for that leaf on the other side of the fence, got his horns stuck overnight and couldn’t move for hours.  Ironically, if he’d had scurs, there is a good chance they would have just snapped off.  But he has true horns. I was not certain until this incident, but I sure found out right away.  Anyway because it was just his horns, his only problem was dehydration and fatigue.

I found him because I always make sure there are 14 sheep in the field when I give hay or pellets and go looking if they aren’t all there.  And there were only 13.  So I go up the mountain and find him stuck and breathing hard.  I got him some water and massaged his legs, which had gone to sleep when the rest of him hadn’t.  He had a lot of trouble standing upright, but still had an appetite and took the water, so we were optimistic.  He was scared, but willing to try standing once he had some water in him.

I stayed with him for a while, letting him try to stand and keeping him from rolling onto his back.  By the time my husband could be home to help, he was limp-walking on his own for a few feet.  We got some Nutri-Drench in him and he rallied after that, walking all the way down the mountain to join the flock.  They were solicitous and welcomed him back.

So far he is eating and drinking pretty normally, and spending a lot of time sitting around.  If he makes it through today, he is probably fine.  And as is always the case with the sheep, once he was walking normally, he moved away from the two-legs who saved his life as fast as his little lamb legs could take him.

 

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Vaccinating little lambs and not-so-temporary fencing

We managed to get all the lambs vaccinated with their initial shots today.  As is the case with many folks who do not farm full-time, we have been trying to change our electronet over to other types of fencing, but we aren’t done yet, so it’s still up.  Our solution to the entanglement issue is boosting the charge with a plug-in charger instead of a solar one. And it’s only on one side instead of two, so that’s a sort of progress.

We also got the shearing for spring done, I may offer some of that in July, it looks much nicer than I thought it would.  I hope to have some more pictures up Monday of the sheared sheep. In the meantime, here is a picture of some ferns.

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Pretty cute ferns!

Breeding by halves

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We’re breeding Shaft to the four adult ewes.  This is him trying to persuade Goldie that now is the time for all good ewes to get bred and bear a pair of wonderfully fleecy twins next spring.

She’s not a fan.

Badgerface is in there too, those were the two ewes we managed to move over to the breeding pen.  We are going to get our two largest ewes, Black N Tan and Grey, moved over sometime this week, as weather and ability permit.

Finally sexed the lambs

We had to dip the cords in iodine, so that meant actually catching both lambs.  We have two little mostly-white rams, they look quite a bit like their sire.

Found out having two sexually mature rams in with the ewes equals one hassled new mother.  So we will separate the rams when the flock returns to the barn once it gets dark.  Live and learn.  The other ewes figured out what we wanted to do and have been separating the almost-adult rams themselves most of the evening, but we’ll make it official before bed.

It’s been a challenging day.  And another ewe looks like she might lamb tomorrow.  We’ll see.  And we’ll see how the newest little ram lambs do overnight.  Hopefully very well, they can run like the wind already.

 

Sick goat blues

Little Taco, the prettiest and tamest of our three goats marked for death was immensely foolish and ate rhododendron on Friday.  It was pretty awkward seeing a sick, soggy goat vomiting green and red.  We totally thought he would die at first glance.  Then after looking up poisoning, I gave Taco oil and warm tea with some goat minerals mixed in, which was essentially what was listed as “antidotes” when I googled about it.  Even the veterinary recommendation was basically oil+mineral salts+water.

So when it comes to rhododendron poisoning, it appears that you let the animal purge as much as they can, replenish electrolytes and coat their stomachs and then go to bed and hope they survive long enough to get some high-calorie treats the next day.  Taco totally survived that long and in the morning we locked him in the barn with the hay and a few alfalfa pellets and a bucket of clean water so he could get some food without being hassled by the other goats.

The other goats avoided him on Friday as he kept crawling off to a thicket of juniper branches to be miserable (he also thought he was going to die, thus the running off to somewhere hard to get at).  Then on Saturday when he was feeling better, they bullied him because he is now officially “the weak one” and goats are not real nice about that kind of thing in a herd.  So we locked him up for his own safety and health.  Now as I write this it’s Tuesday and he is back with the herd, not getting shoved around too much and looking like his old delicious self again.

We talk much less loudly now in front of the goats about how good it will be to eat them.  Don’t want the others getting ideas.

 

Changing the language– new terms for animal husbandry

One thing I think sustainability advocates need to move away from is the false dichotomy of CAFO vs., say, “free-range”.  In terms of sustainable farming, the focus should be on husbandry, and whether a given practice is good or bad.  We need farming operations covering hundreds of acres (like, you know, beloved Joel Salatin’s operation) to actually feed everyone without resort to 100k acre industrial farms.  And we also need to accept that confining animals is not necessarily harmful or unhealthy for them, *in the proper context*.  For various reasons, many breeds of livestock are pulled from pasture into stalls in a barn to birth.  This is not actually bad if done with an eye to good husbandry.  There are good ways and bad ways to provide a birthing-place for an animal, and sometimes an operation with hundreds or thousands of animals can have excellent husbandry practices and an operation with a dozen animals can have absolutely awful husbandry practices.

But resorting to the term “CAFO” to mean “large farm operation, probably with bad husbandary” doesn’t allow customers and would-be farmers the opportunity to understand that you can have lots of animals and still treat them well.  It instead paints the false picture that you have to have a micro-farm to offer good husbandry to your livestock.  That’s not real and is a big obstacle to helping would-be farmers gain the tools they need to sort out good practice from poor practice.  I am sticking with good and bad husbandry, and moving away from a reliance on terms like “CAFO” to represent farms with bad husbandry practices.  I can only hope others will do the same.

 

The Pasture Dichotomy– What can live only on pasture?

Contrary to what anyone tells you or advertises, chickens and pigs simply cannot live entirely on pasture and foraging.  Heritage chickens can get about half their nutrition from eating bugs and nibbling grass, with pork it varies by the breed, a couple of the obscure heritage breeds can do half or so, but 30% is a more typical scenario, if that.  This means that when you see “free range chicken” or “pasture fed pork”, it means 50-80% of their calories and nutrition are NOT from pasture/foraging.

It doesn’t mean pork and poultry don’t do pretty well on pasture much of the year, just that if you are selling for meat, you have to find a bunch of calories in the form of (typically) grain for chickens and various combos of milk/produce/grain for pigs.

Conversely, if you manage your pastures well, sheep and goats of most breeds can pretty much go all pasture and hay allatime.  For dairying, some supplementing is often needed, but can make up a much smaller share of the feed overall, as little as 10-20%.  Obviously you can step that up for goats/sheep, but it isn’t necessarily essential to hitting market weights in a good timeframe.  So you can have some confidence that a ‘pastured’ sheep or goat hunk of meat was like 75% pasture calorically and nutritionally.

Cows are of course in between.  A lot depends on the breed you pick and there are so many different ways to manage cows because they are just gigantic ruminants.  But overall they hew closer to sheep/goat pasturing than pig/chicken pasturing.  Most people don’t know that even feedlot cows do their fair share of time on pasture.

A lot of people romanticize pasture and have a beautiful fantasy that meat animals can frolick upon the soft grass nibbling a bit here and there and end up plump and delicious for some locavore to sustainably, locally devour later.  This only works with what are now considered ‘ethnic’ or ‘seasonal’ meat animals– goats and sheep/lambs.  Colin the free ranging chicken who lived a happy life gets a bunch of grain, too.  And Betty the jolly pasture-fed sow got probably an actual (half) ton of grain.

Anyway this is a bagatelle, but also just informational to have an idea of what ‘pasture-raised’ means for the usual meat in stores and something to keep in mind with animals raised for home consumption.  Less pressure to make market weight, so more opportunities to experiment and see how low you can go on supplementing the pasture.