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Pregnancy Scanning

I was on the fence about having the vet come out to ultrasound the ewes to check for pregnancy.  It’s a significant expense, and I’m already needing to buy extra hay.  It also was tricky to schedule a time when I could be home, given that I just got a paycheck for 120 hours over two weeks!

But still, I knew I could manage some extra feed for ewes with twins while avoiding overfeeding ewes with singles, and I could make decisions about keeping or selling open ewes as appropriate.  So I kept the appointment, having warned the vet that I didn’t have a chute or other close-holding facility to make grabbing ewes easy.  They didn’t mind.

The thaw we had two days ago gave me a chance to loosen and move the outer paddock.  I was thus able to restrict the sheep to the barn only, saving us a lot of running around!

My first priority was to see if the Bluefaced Leicester ewe lambs were pregnant, and if so, how many lambs they might have.  A ewe lamb with a single needs less food than one with twins.  Overfeeding a ewe lamb with a single lamb in utero could potentially stimulate too much fetal growth, leading to a situation where you have a large lamb in a fat mother with little room to maneuver.

Then we checked Bobolink and Meadowlark.  Both had disappointed me with single lambs last year, and I’m keen to see better performance from them as I contemplate whether or not to keep the Cormo cross project going.

We checked Phoebe, my only CormoX ewe lamb, followed by her mom Peggy, and then we grabbed Tardis and Dalek, whom I was sure were pregnant but wanted to confirm.  We left Valentine well enough alone, as she would not have cooperated with being held still with a want on her flank.

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Checking Marianne.  She was the only ewe who wouldn’t stand for us, so she got to lie down.  The vet uses the ultrasound want on a wool-less area near her udder.
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The blackness is amniotic fluid, the white glob is a lamb, and the roundish-swirlish structures are the cotyledons connect the placenta to the uterus.

I bet you want to know what the results were!

Little Moose and Eleanor, the two white Bluefaced Leicester ewe lambs, each have at least twins, and possibly triplets.  The fetuses were too big to count with certainty, but it could have easily been triplets in each.

Marianne, the black Bluefaced Leicester ewe lamb, appears to have twins.

Bobolink and Meadowlark each have twins, which is a huge improvement over previous years where each has had a single lamb.

Sadly, Phoebe does not appear to be pregnant.  Disappointing.

Peggy is pregnant and “quite far along” in the words of the vet.  Could she have gotten pregnant before the rams left the flock in late July?  I’m glad that I now know that she could lamb in a matter of weeks!

Tardis and Dalek, the two adult Bluefaced ewes, are definitely pregnant with a minimum of twins.  Both have histories of triplets, so I’m guessing we’ll see at least a set of triplets there.

I’m very, very glad to have this information.  We can keep a close eye on Peggy, I can consider selling Phoebe, and I’m glad to know that almost everyone else is carrying lambs.

Most importantly, though, if I am going to have potential triplets, Matt and I will prepare intensely for bottle lambs.  I would certainly never plan on a first-time lambing mom raising triplets unassisted, so we will be ready to raise a few lambs on our own if Moose or Eleanor have triplets, or if Tardis or Dalek have triplets and reject one or more.  We are already considering where the pen for bottle lambs should go.

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Bobolink just had to see what her lambs look like in utero.
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Men in Search of Sheep

Last Saturday, I was handling the sheep when a sedan pulled up.  Two men came by looking for a sheep to slaughter according to halal practices.  I’ve been getting calls and texts for months from the Burlington area looking for sheep, but this was the first group that just plain showed up.  Yosef and Hamid came out to look at the flock, and I offered Meadowlark’s ewe lamb to them.   She has grown out with poor conformation, and with no record of good production from her mother, I was willing to part.  That, and considering the underwhelming pasture season this year, I need the spare hay.

We led Chickadee out with little event.   Yosef recommended that the flock not watch, so Matt fed them some grain while the tractor hid the action.   The end was swift, and it took about an hour for our guests to skin, gut and butcher the sheep into roasts and stew-able chunks.  Matt and I helped when we could, but mostly our visitors were determined to do their work themselves.  I learned that Yosef and Hamid are from Saudi Arabia and live locally in Williston.  I haven’t gotten to know my neighbors as well here as I did in Brookfield, but this is progress!

When they were all done, they let me know they were planning to leave and we agreed that everything was cleaned up enough and in good shape.  As  turned to go to the house, Hamid called my attention.  He offered me a generous area of leg meat.

“Taste what you’ve raised,” he said.  I accepted the still-warm meat and roasted it all afternoon in broth with potatoes and onions.  Delicious.

 

 

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Useful Things

So I promise that this blog isn’t about to become a paid product placement vehicle.  I was just thinking about some of my favorite sheep care items, and I thought I’d talk about them and see what others think!

This Fantastic Pilling Gun: 

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“The Gripper” from Veterinary Concepts, www.veterinaryconcepts.com

Some of you may have tried to give a pill or bolus to a goat or a sheep in the past.  Did you succeed, or did you chase spat-out pills around the barn?

When I was responsible for COWP-pilling 50 goats back at Fat Toad Farm, we got really sick of crappy push-rod pill devices.  I don’t remember just how we discovered this gun (maybe our bolus supplier?) but we never looked back.  Veterinary Concepts won’t take internet orders from non-veterinarians, but if you call them you can order this item with no trouble.  They wear out after about 100 pillings because goats chomp them and break the inner parts, but even so it costs perhaps 15 cents per pill to not have your fingers seriously chewed by your goat or sheep’s back teeth.  I think that’s worth it.

 

A Good Crook from Premier1Supplies.com

 

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When I started, I caught sheep by running them down and grabbing lower legs.  That works in a tiny space, but when you have more sheep and more barn space, you just stress the sheep out and wind up empty handed.  Not to mention the potential for serious injury if you are diving after sheep – sheep can take a much sharper corner than us bipedal types.  So I got a crook, and I think you should, too.

 

High Quality Net Fence

 

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There are electric fences, and then there are Electric Fences.  The sins of the fence are low, saggy, cheap wires that don’t conduct well.  Paired with thin fiberglass posts that allow the middle of each section to short out on the ground, and you have a fence that won’t contain your animals for more than an hour or two.  I don’t care that I paid twice as much for my fencing, because it’s been a rare sheep indeed who hasn’t respected my high-quality net fences.  Even sheep who came to my farm as adults not knowing electric fence have tested this fence a few times only to conclude that the grass on the other side was not, in fact, green enough to be worthwhile.

 

Muck Boots

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Anyone who knows me knows my aversion to changing clothes for different purposes.  I hate the idea that I would have to go inside to change clothes in order to go into the barn.  I’ve been wearing Muck Boots since I started working at the goat farm back in 2011.   While cheap wellies are fine for wearing once in awhile, if you’re going to be working for hours you need shoes that support your feet more than a flat-bottomed rain boot.  Tread is always a plus, too!

The only downside of my muck boots is how terrible they smell.  There’s something about the combination of daily use, occasional manure and copious sweat that creates a reall persistent odor.  Uggh.

 

 

 

 

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We Went to the Festival

And I sold lots of yarn, batts and pelts.

Saturday started off with lots of visitors inspecting the goods, but few purchases.  I was anxious that no one would be in a buying mood!  But suddenly around 12:30, an unheard “buy-things-now” alarm went off and suddenly 4 pelts, a pile of yarn and half of my batts went to new homes.  Meanwhile, Matt was manning the sheep pen and chatting about Bluefaced Leicesters and Cormo with all comers.  The sheep who came this week weren’t as friendly as the 2014 crew, so they hung back while children reached for them.  Eleanor, Phoebe and Chickadee are happy to be home, but maybe a little braver than they were before their eye-opening experience.

Patterns were a huge seller. The Climbing Trellis Mittens and the Vermont Sheepscape Sweater were standout performers.  Unlike our festival experience in 2014, though, the pattern purchases didn’t seem to inspire yarn purchases – the yarn was bought generally after the customer made a few observations like”Wow, soft” and “Amazing quality.”  The yarn, made at Hampton’s Fiber Mill, was as good as anything at the show.  I did get to brag a bit about my mother’s pattern-design and knitting skill, as the samples she had knitted me were greatly admired.

With respect to our booth display, it was hard not to feel inadequate compared to other vendors.  My cobbled-together booth with materials lent to me by Mom and a coworker reflected our relative inexperience.  The fact that we arrived at 8:30 on Saturday morning and were still frantically searching for a screwdriver ten minutes before showtime probably reinforced that.  However, once people started milling more, the slightly disjointed character of my display seemed to matter less, and the presence of adorable sheep mattered more.

Saturday was devoted to sales, but Sunday offered lulls in the booth traffic that allowed Phoebe to shop and permitted me to cruise other booths and vendors to make and renew some contacts.   Shepherds don’t meet up often, so this was one of my few opportunities to meet friends from farms a few hours away.

Some familiar faces included Wing and a Prayer Farm, whose proprietor Tammy I admire tremendously for her fiber skills and her ability to share and expand fibercraft to new audiences with her activities and workshops.  We’ve got a pending phone date.  I caught up with Peggy at Savage Hart Farm, too.  She had sausage for sale, so we compared notes about having sausage made.  She’s been my go-to recommendation when people have contacted me about breeding stock, since I didn’t have any spare lambs this year or last year.  I also had a brief chat with Cindy at Ewe and I Farm.  We met years ago doing Holistic Management.  Perhaps most critically, I had a meeting with Hilary Chapin of Smiling Sheep Farm, which allowed us to conspire more about bringing more Bluefaced Leicesters to the Northeast from the Mid-West and West.  Hilary has an outlook on husbandry and  an understanding of sheepraising that I largely share – sheep must express both form and function, and we can’t excuse low quality, even in a rare or unusual breed.

The main takeaway may be that I finally feel a little like Sheep and Pickle Farm is on the right track.  People remember the farm, people have read articles in Vermont’s Local Banquet that I’ve written, and Matt is engaged in shepherding with me.  He is developing his own areas of expertise in haying and tractorwork while he also learns more about the science of sheep.  Phoebe has learned a great deal in her year-or-so of sheep education, and her help was invaluable as we hastily packed up at the end of Sunday, completely exhausted from smiling and chatting so much.

 

 

 

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More Sheep and Wool Festival Preparation

Just a taste of what I’m bringing to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival this year.  I have about 100 skeins of yarn, hot off the mill(?), soft, huggable pelts from lambs and adults, hand-carded batts, some natural and some hand-dyed, and patterns.  My mom wrote a nifty new cowl pattern that we are excited to share with you!

Some Sheep Updates, because I like doing them:

  • With all of the maintenance mowing we’ve been able to do with the new tractor, I can finally say that the sheep are really thriving.  It’s hard to find a spine or ribs on the Bluefaced Leicesters, and the Cormos are looking better, brighter and healthier than ever.
  • Peggy, who is probably about ten years old, is still going strong.  I thought I should cull her, but she has teeth enough and is keeping up with the herd very comfortably.
  • Tardis and Dalek are getting ever friendlier.  Eleanor is a ham, and is fat enough to be made into a ham.  She is the size of my adult Cormos at the age of six months.  Little Moose is taller but leaner, and Marianne is lagging in growth a little.  She gets extra grain at feeding time.
  • The rams deeply resent being separated from the ewes, but have nevertheless been great ram-bassadors in my front yard, greeting passers-by.
  • Eleanor, Chickadee and Phoebe (sheep) will be at the Sheep and Wool Festival, along with me, Matt and Phoebe (person).  I earnestly can’t wait to see you there.

 

 

 

 

 

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Chorizo!

The much-anticipated Chorizo is here!

It’s not like the Merguez we made in June.  Without the benefit of added pork fat that we put in the Merguez, this sausage is, frankly, more like ground meat in a tube than sausage.  Cooking it is a delicate affair, since fat creates juiciness and crispness.  On the upside, this sausage is leaner and healthier than regular sausage.  Even better?  This sausage has fabulous lamb flavor with the rich garlic, pepper and oregano of traditional pork Chorizo.

Still, it’s tasty and flavorful meat that just begs to be part of soups and stews.  Use it to make rich, creamy soup or Cuban beans and rice.  The off-grill possibilities are endless and perfect for fall and winter.

We don’t fault brisket for not being prime rib, and neither need we fault this sausage for being intended for flavoring soups and stews rather than frying.  That said, I’m charging less than I intended to for this sausage because it is less versatile than other sausages.

Please send me an email or give me a call if you’d like to try some tasty sausage!   I am offering 10% off ten or more packages.  Sheepandpickle at gmail is the email you’ll be looking for.

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Preparing for the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival

Somehow, getting ready for my second Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival seems like it will be more challenging than the first.

First, I am not currently certain whether I will have yarn or not for the show.  With three weeks to go, it would be helpful to know if yarn is happening or not.   The issue is that the owner of my mill recently had surgery, and I know from experience that recovery is pretty variable, so we don’t know if he will have time to process my order or not.   I am hoping to bring the fleece to sell raw if spinning can’t take place, but it’s all up in the air at present.  This is not a complaint or an indictment of anyone- it’s just the way that cookies crumble when you’re dealing with small businesses owned by real people, and I know that.

Second, I am hoping to have sausages back soon from the lambs I dropped off a few weeks ago.  The slaughterhouse told me that they had run low on casings, so I await them awaiting their casing order.  I will not have sausage for sale at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.  The logistics of bringing it and the insurance and licensing implications thereof are too much to deal with.  If you want some sausage (and you do, based on the deliciousness of the last batch!), contact me now.

Third, with uncertainty about yarn hanging over my head, I’ve been madly processing all of the non-yarn fleece into batts for sale.  I now have a cellar full of beautiful natural-colored and hand-dyed batts.  I will confess that I am scared because I’m a newbie dyer and I have a persistent nightmare about getting mountains of phone calls about dye washing out of finished knits!   Here’s hoping I didn’t mess it all up too badly.  Does anyone know of a way to test a dye-job that doesn’t chew up too much of the dyed material?

And Fourth, I learned recently through helpful Facebook crowdsourcing that brochures are hopelessly old-fashioned and that post-cards are the way to go.  It’s likely that friends of the farm saved me a fair $100 on printing costs while also updating my tastes.  Thanks, friends!  I designed what I hope will be a very attractive card with some charming sheep photos on it and a list of available products.

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A combination of Eleanor and Little Moose’s fleece

 

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End of the Summer

 

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The ram lambs left on the 12th of the month, so the flock is down to the girls all dining in the Donkey Pasture, and the boys, banished to mow the lawn and subsist on shrubs in the periphery of the fields.   The guys were quite large when they left, and I’m looking forward to a goodly amount of Chorizo sausage in the near future.  You should be, too – let me know if you’d like some!

We sheared Fred and the ewe lambs on the 21st.  I am gradually getting better at shearing, though I’ve only done it assisted by some sheep-holder-downers.  With Phoebe, Matt and my parents involved, we were still not actually overstaffed for the project.  The first two sheep looked a little gnawed-on, but the second two looked great.  Now that I feel comfortable with the blade, I’ll work my way up to doing it mostly on my own!

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We had a good scare from little Fred.  We FAMACHA’ed all of the lambs, and his lower eyelids were WHITE.  I’m not sure if the recent rains gave him an extra large dose of worms or if he has lower innate resistance, but some giant doses of dewormer and some NutriDrench seem to have straightened him out.  I was pretty worried for the first day or so until he really brightened up.

While I’m going to start flushing the ewes (feeding increased nutrition to help stimulate large lambing rates), I am also starting my preparation for the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.  Because Michael is having knee surgery, it seems uncertain as to whether I’ll have raw wool or yarn to sell from the Cormos, but I’ll have some gorgeous, cuddle-able BFL on offer at the show in any case (unless it vanishes first- I sold a pound of it today!)

Even though having only three ram lambs for meat sales means that this year will be a wash financially, I’m still really thrilled to be poised for good lambing and a better showing next year.

 

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A Goaty Interlude

Last weekend, intern Phoebe and I trekked up to Westfield, Vermont to work with the goats of Lazy Lady Farm.

I always know I’m close to my destination when my phone receives the “Welcome to Canadian Cellular Networks – Texts and Calls will now cost a Small Fortune” message.  Lazy Lady Farm is situated up on Buck Hill, where Laini lives off-grid using only solar and wind power.

We have come to do two tasks – the goats have some parasites, so we will be giving Copper Wire Oxide Particle (COWP) boluses.  The boluses travel down the throat to the rumen, where the outer layer dissolves and tiny wire particles lodge in the stomach wall.  Ugghgh.  While they probably cause a minor tummyache, the dissolution of the copper makes the stomach toxic to parasites, so a die-off of internal parasites happens rapidly.  Unlike with regular wormers, the copper doesn’t introduce medication to the whole goat, and the milk is still pure and fit for consumption.

The biggest obstacle to using COWP, then, is convincing goats to take pills!  That’s where I come in.  Convincing a goat to do what you want is 50/50 muscles and psychology.  It helps to be strong enough to hold the goat’s head so that it can’t escape, and more meaningfully, to hold it so firmly but calmly so that it forgets how much it wants to leave.  You have to hold the goat without alarming it.  Not an easy task, and definitely more straightforward with the first twenty-five goats then with the last few, when you’re tired and they’re alarmed.  Nevertheless, we got pills into every goat with only a few dropped pills.

The second task was the fun one.  The Lazy Lady Farm website needs some updating, with better pictures of the new, young goats who’ve joined the herd and more complete information.  Taking standard pictures of each goat helps potential purchasers compare animals and choose well.  We want to show the structure of the goat, the quality of the udder, and the conformation overall.

Some of Laini’s beautiful gals:

We topped off the day with a trip to Cajun’s snack bar, where goat-wrasslin’ put me in the mood for a corned beef sandwich.  Yum!

I will be showing off the new Lazy Lady Farm website as soon as it is completed.

 

 

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The Tractor

Matt and I bought a tractor last weekend.  Here it is, sitting at home!  (Weird pyramid in the background?  Our ingenious method for storing 800 lb square bales!)jr1u8omw6nfiongvzopk

Owning a tractor will make a huge difference in my ability to manage the summer feed for the sheep.  Mowing suppresses parasite populations and encourages tender regrowth.   Being able to clean out my own barn, move large objects and potentially make my own hay is well beyond the point I hoped to be at this stage of my business.  I’m really excited, as you can see:

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Moving the tractor from Bakersfield to Williston took all day.  Matt’s brother’s sweetie’s dad generously lent us his F350 and trailer, allowing us to move the tractor and all of its accompanying implements in one go.  The best way to learn to drive a tractor is to drive up and down a narrow ramp a few times with heavy items attached to the hydraulics.  I got skillful, quickly.rwfvlfy8ve7qbzm4iirg

Back at home, Matt has commenced rewiring and refurbishing.  The tractor has low hours and is in fabulous shape, but it shows the typical signs of being 20 years old.  Wiring is loose or deteriorated, rubber seals and gaskets need replacing, and a little paint wouldn’t hurt the thing either.  I’m gunning for sparkles, but we’ll see what Matt has to say.