Looking Under the Hood

This post is going to be about meat and finances.  If you are mostly here for the cute lambs, that’s totally cool, of course, but this post doesn’t have any of those.  We will be back to our regularly-scheduled programming next post.

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We are excited to announce that we will be having lamb sausage made in mid June.  We will have Garlic Parmesan sausage available for sale at our farm and hopefully at a few select locations in the state.  Delivery is possible, for those that want it.  That said, my thoughts about how to sell this sausage and my lamb crop generally are a bit mixed at the moment.

Here’s the skinny: The most I can make selling a 45lb lamb is selling one to you, whole or half, at my current price, $10/lb.  Even thought I pay the butcher and often do the transport, that is my longest dollar.  While sausage is a food that anyone can cook and enjoy, your sausage yield from that same 45lb lamb might only be 25 lbs of ground meat, yielding 30lbs of sausage once some pork fat is added.  The price per pound has to go up, and that’s hard to do with a meat format that most people view as cheap.

I have several years’ experience marketing Vermont specialty foods.   Both products I sold were high-priced, specialty offerings so I am pretty familiar with the Vermont market for pantry staples with long shelf-lives.   Meat is different- it is perishable, and unless you’ve really spent your time branding, a lot of customers view it as interchangeable.  Both products I sold in the past were for special occasions and were giftable.  Meat is a staple for most people and would be a rather non-standard gift.  What then, in their minds, is the difference between one farm and another when the product in the clear plastic wrap looks the same?

The Vermont food market offers an unending array of specialty foods but has probably achieved saturation in some areas.  Non-diet-specialized baked goods and sugary foods are saturated sectors.  I’ve been told that specialty hot sauces and mustards  the truth is that many people who buy lamb have a friend or neighbor who can sell it at hobby-scale prices.  It is fine with me that farms do that, but I know that it reduces my ability to sell meat in Vermont at prices that will sustain our farm without us also working full-time off-farm jobs.

Some of the common mistakes and a few brilliant moves are known to me.  I am not as familiar with perishable meat sales and distribution, though, and I worry about making similar mistakes to the ones I have seen.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I shouldn’t do when I try to sell my lamb:

  • Under-price my product such that I wind up in a position where I lose customers when I correct the price later.   I knew a company that delivered their product for free and didn’t factor their debt into the price.  When they went back and recalculated, many purchasers reduced or eliminated the product from the shelves.  They simply could not bear the price increase and replaced the product with another that generated more turnover and revenue.  Pricing correctly requires a lot of calculations, sometimes with numbers that I don’t yet know.  It’s intimidating!
  • Put my eggs all in one basket.  Another company I heard about was lining up a large contract with a national retailer.  They halted marketing efforts because the retailer was going to purchase 75% of their product output and invested in specialized boxes that the vendor required.  The retailer only took about 1/3rd of what they projected, and the company had to scramble to move the rest of their product in a very short timeframe.   With a relatively small output of lamb this year but hopes for much more next year, I need to focus on sending lamb to growth areas and establishing relationships, but not running out of product!  Yikes!
  • Neglect my marketing.  One of the best efforts one of my prior companies made was to put lots of effort into reaching out to magazines and media.  They created their own niche by having a stronger media presence than some of the first-to-market competitors with smaller budgets.  It was really impressive to see the effects of that effort in sales effectiveness.  I haven’t focused enough on this because I don’t plan to market in my immediate vicinity.  Frankly, my immediate area is generally very low-income and might possibly find my prices and my Animal Welfare Approved certifications offensive or off-putting.
  • Fail to utilize my social media presence.   This farm has almost 500 Facebook followers and has over 1000 Instagram followers.  Woohoo!  It makes me incredibly happy to know that so many people care about the goings-on on this little farm.  But I think that I have more folks who love pictures of sheep than I have people looking to buy our yarn or our meat.  And the meat issue is especially touchy – I don’t post about meat because I don’t want to offend folks who would buy the yarn but not the meat, but the reality is that meat income makes this farm viable.  I started raising animals for meat because I wanted to eat meat raised to the very highest standards after 10 years of being vegetarian.  So I am not ashamed of it, but I am also unable to mobilize my social media effectively because I have a product that enough people just don’t want to see or think about.
  • Allocate my time and product incorrectly.  I want to build a presence mainly in the Boston and/or New York City markets, because I see that the Vermont market is pretty well saturated for lamb, generally.   But I also need to make the “longest dollar” for my efforts, which means capturing a maximum amount of retail sales.  The irony is that if I sell at a local farmer’s market, I will capture more retail dollars, but I will cut into my future salespower by not growing my market where growth can be achieved.   Does that make sense?  Let’s say I produce 30% more than I can sell at Vermont food co-ops and a farmer’s market, that 30% of my output might only last 3 or 4 weeks at a market in Boston.  Whereas if I sold my whole crop to one or two markets in Boston, that might ultimately result in no leftover lamb.  But then we are back to No-No #2, putting all of our eggs in one basket!
  • Making your sales work for you as money and media: I have a distributor in Boston that is interested in my meat, but I can’t afford to sell at the price they are currently offering.  When the sheep have reached a full population, perhaps I will be able to use them as an outlet.  The meat would also have their label, not mine, which doesn’t contribute to promoting my products effectively.

 

All of these thoughts seem to lead me in endless circles.  How to I launch in a place that I no longer know, with a level of sophistication that I no longer cultivate in myself, but do it in a way that I can continue to grow this business and sell more lamb in years to come?    Fundamentally, this is an issue of scaling up in a deliberate and planned way, which I understand is much easier to do with factories and widgets versus living beings.  Is it possible to make my longest-dollar by doing more retail in the short-term, while simultaneously selling to a distant market on a wholesale basis?

I would be interested in anyone’s thoughts and comments!

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Lamb sausages are really delicious.

Pasture and Fear

The grass ripened for grazing this week, and the sheep went on grass on Friday.  I have been watching them every moment since then.  I have been so anxious about putting the ewes and lambs out on pasture, which makes little since as we are a pasture-based farm focused on rotational grazing!

I worried that sheep will bloat during the transition from hay to pasture.  Ruminant digestion relies on beneficial bacteria populating the gut of the sheep.  They don’t adjust well to sudden dietary changes.  If indigestion takes place, the sheep will develop painful gas in the rumen that can cause death in an hour or two.  The rumen becomes so inflated that the sheep will suffocate!  So I watched the sheep on pasture like a hawk, even training a high-beam flashlight on them at night to check for illness.  So far, everyone has been fine.

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Pasture, Day 1

Another anxiety is whether the lambs will understand to avoid the fence.  Ideally, a lamb will touch the fence with his/her nose, get a shock, and jump back.  Usually, they run off with an offended “BAA” and learn that the fence is to be avoided.  But once in a while you get a special one who runs forward and entangles.  So I have also been watching the fence lines for stuck lambs.  Also, so far so good.

My final anxiety is about the season.  I am worried about whether I have correctly matched the numbers of sheep with the amount of land I have.  I am asking this land to support more than 70 sheep, but I am worried that I won’t have the fodder to support them.  In short, what if the grass won’t grow?  On this one, I am trying to just have a little faith that my instincts are good and the sheep will have feed enough.  The lambs will ship just as feed runs low in the fall, so I think I am in better shape than I feel like I am.

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Pasture, Day 3

Meanwhile, the sheep are filled with joy to be outside.  They graze in the bright sun and ruminate in the shade.  The lambs bounce and play a bit, but most are old enough that grazing is the focus of their day.  Each paddock at this time of year is approximately 164ft x 164ft, more than a half-acre.  The sheep move a little more than once a day, primarily because I am carefully watching the grazing rates.  It is crucial not to allow the sheep to graze below the growth point of the grass.

The following is from Beef Magazine, but is relevant to my project:

Research shows when up to 50% of a plant’s leaf volume is removed, root growth stoppage is about 2-4%. If 60% of the leaf volume is removed, root growth stoppage escalates to about 50%. At 80% removal, the roots have no regrowth.

I want to have strong regrowth, so monitoring is constant.  The sheep are really a full-time job right now.

In other news, we treated GWAR for a bit of footscald with a mediboot.  We caught her on pasture and put some nice treatment goop between her two toes and then stuck the embarrassing blue boot on her foot.  GWAR hopped away, bereft of dignity but will hopefully feel much better in a couple of days.

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Sue is still Sue – diving under the fence to get to the new pasture first.

 

Wool Culture

I am a frequenter of Ravelry, a knitters’ and crocheters’ forum with 7 million users worldwide.  I have a favorite group with a mostly social focus that I like to participate in, but I also read other discussions to keep tabs on what people want from their wool products.  I want to make sure I am providing the wool people want.

Recently, a poster asked a question about the modern wool market.  She noted that when she was a child, knitting was a functional skill more like being able to cook and drive than a fancy craft for leisure time.  Certainly, it was a space for self-expression in color and pattern, but knitting was undertaken for the simple fact that hats and sweaters and socks were not easily obtained in other ways!

Like my previous post about the globalization of meat, fabric and textile changed massively in the age of petroleum and globalization.  Synthetic fabrics have replaced wool in many applications, even though wool often performs better and is more sustainable.  The effort of properly caring for wool has turned many people away while others have been scared away from wool by misinformation about sheep and agriculture in general in our culture of increased fearmongering.

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At the same time that people were using free time in different ways or having less free time to knit, cheap, imported, mass-produced wool and non-wool items began to appear in stores.  It soon became equally or more expensive to knit a wool sweater than to buy one.  How is this possible?  Economies of scale, lack of environmental regulations where the clothing is made, cheap labor, mechanization, and commodity bulk wool.   When the time wool subsidies ended in the 1980s, growers of mid-grade work-wear type wool from Down breeds and Medium breeds couldn’t find as many outlets to sell to.   Farmers that used to raise Down breeds have turned to hair breeds, as the cost of removing the wool from the sheep is greater than the value of the wool on the bulk market.  More than half of the US wool clip is finewool today, where once there was a greater diversity of breed types.   Sheepraising on the whole, for wool and for meat, has declined precipitously since WWII, effectively pushed out in the modern era of industrial farming.   Sheep simply don’t industrialize well.  They need to graze on extensive lands and are susceptible to disease in confinement.  Even though there are confinement lamb finishing operations in the US, these operations are declining and struggling to compete with cheaper grass-fed lamb from New Zealand and Australia.  Only the direct-to-consumer and direct-to-store markets in the South and Northeast are growing for lamb in the US.

With respect to yarn: as the generation that knit for need disappears, knitting is much more of a leisure craft activity that consumes extra money and is fed by some degree of nostalgia, plus the satisfactory feelings of accomplishment when a garment is created.  As a wool seller, I know that the stories I share on this blog become part of the wool I sell and the crafts and garments you create from it.

This is the finale of what I wrote responding to the question:

The hard truth is that even though we’ve chosen to join this community of makers here on Ravelry, the number of people who cook, sew, knit or quilt by necessity has shrunk significantly in the last 50 years. All of the people who didn’t enjoy those activities but needed to do them to save money have been bailed out by fast food, by cheap clothing, by synthetic fabrics, by cheap bedding. The people who are left often will spend more money for quality, hence the “boutique-ification” of the yarn, fabric and food markets.

The hard thing for me to acknowledge as a farmer is how much I depend on the small number of people who care more about how their food and clothing was produced than about the price at the register.  Small producers are waging an uphill battle against globalized pork, corn subsidies that secondarily subsidize factory-farmed chicken and pork, petroleum clothing and the petroleum that brought that clothing across the ocean to our stores, and the devaluation of the art of making.

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Some handiwork – find more in our store!

What are your thoughts about current trends in knitting, spinning, crocheting, cooking and making?

 

 

A Sick Sheep

I did chores as usual this morning- I fed hay to the rams, bottle fed the two lambs, checked and changed everyone’s water…

But then I noticed that everything was too quiet.  Our older bottle lamb,Steven was not baaing for the “cookie” he gets each morning . Usually, he would be insisting on my attention.  The cookie has oats, cornmeal, molasses, salt and vegetable oil, so just a bit of extra energy so he won’t have to bad a setback from being weaned off milk.

Today, I found him lying down next to another lamb, looking poorly.  When I got him up, he was lethargic and sad, with drooping ears and a sad posture.  I’m thinking he has pneumonia and a touch of anemia – just too much stress from weaning.

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Sad Steven!

I brought him in to the house, where he drearily half-followed me.  Time for some penicillin, some Nutri-Drench, and a little TLC.  I admit that I gave him a bit of milk, hoping that the hit of nutrients and hydration would offset the potential for an upset tummy.  And he did perk up with the milk, but he certainly isn’t out of the woods.

So if you have a moment, please spare a thought for Steven.  I think he will recover, but nothing is guaranteed.  We are watching Great British Bake-Off and petting him on the couch.

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Perking up, eating some hay.

 

 

Border Leicester ID

We have 10 lambs on the ground and we’re waiting for more.  With all of the girls pregnant and rather waddly, I took the opportunity to tackle a long overdue project: Identify my Border Leicesters and put names to faces.

Sue Johnson sold me 14 lovely prime-age Borders- 5 black and 9 white.  One of the white ones succumbed to an irreparable leg injury, leaving 8 white ewes.   The ewes have small flock-tags with four numbers, and round, white USDA Scrapie tags.  The issue is that the flock tags are small and the scrapie tags are grubby.  Some ewes are missing their flock tags altogether.  This flock is pedigreed and registered, so I wanted to figure out which sheep needed replacement flock tags and how I might keep track of the new tags.

Sheep move quickly and though the flock has calmed down considerably since the week when we tried to get them into the barn, most still won’t let me get within 4 feet of their ears so I can read dirty tags.   Nevertheless, I was able to determine that I had 7/8 white Border Leicesters that I should have.  But I also had a mystery.  I had a ewe on hand tagged as 1620, but she wasn’t on the purchase list.  I also had no sign of ewe 2507, even after matching the scrapie tags all up.  I let Sue know, and we soon realized that she had accidentally sent me the wrong sheep.  She was embarrassed to have mis-loaded a ewe, and I was embarrassed to have not known for six months, so we called it even and had a good laugh.

Here are some photos from my ewe-ID adventures:

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A perfect illustration of the challenges of photographing sheep’s ears- This photo is blurry, there is wool blocking the tag, and the camera has washed out the tag completely trying to capture the brownness of the brown!
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This picture is a successful one, believe it or not!  This is ewe VT13-256, if you can’t tell.  She has no 4-digit flock tag, but she is ewe 1411, age 3, and as big as an aircraft carrier.
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And here is the the mystery ewe!  1620, whom I photographed as she lay by her lambs.
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Lots of photos like this from friendlier ewes.  This is no help to naming this gal!

 

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Here is the sales slip to match names, registrations and numbers.  Registered ewes have a faint “R” and black ones a faint “B”

I have a bit more to say about Sue Johnson’s flock:  She has many more sheep to sell as she downsizes to a more manageable flock size.   These sheep are really fine animals and are perfect for flocks managed as an enterprise.  They have desirable wool and grow out large (Sue had some ram lambs dress out at 70 lbs!).   Too many Vermont sheep farms lose money because they raise breeds that finish too small, making it challenging to recoup the cost of slaughter with just 35 lbs of meat.   These Border Leicesters are productive and very easy to care for.  They have sweet personalities and jolly little faces.

We would like to find someone who would like 10 or more and who would keep them purebred for both meat and wool traits.  Sue has provided me with helpful mentorship.    With another nearby farm with similar goals, it would be much easier to justify bringing expensive but high-quality rams from flocks across the country.

Could you be the shepherd for this flock?  Get in touch:

 

 

In the Middle of the Night

I woke up a 3:30 this morning.  I think I was having a bad dream that woke me.  My immediate intuition was to check the lamb-cam, just to be sure all was well.  I scanned the barn and saw a weird black smudge on the hay.  Blearily, I realized that the immobile black form on the camera had to be a lamb, so I threw on some clothes and went out.

It was a lamb!  Dalek had birthed a single ram and cleaned him off completely, but all was not right.  The lamb wouldn’t stand up and seemed to lack control of his limbs.  Dalek had no milk to speak of, and to make matters more complicated, Ohio-65, a Border Leicester ewe, was also beginning labor and was CERTAIN the lamb was hers.

I penned Dalek and brought the lamb inside for warming and evaluation.  He just flopped on the floor- he had poor control of his front legs and no control of his hind legs.  We got him some colostrum-replacer, and I snoozed while he slept.  I woke up and checked Ohio-65.  She had a ewe out and was licking her with gusto.  Good.

Eventually, Ohio-65 had a ewe and ram.  Though she is not an experienced mother, she knew what to do and her babies were up and at-’em.

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Cute, but not walking.

But Dalek’s little ram showed few signs of improvement through the morning.  He and I snoozed until 7:30, when friends of mine visiting from Massachusetts came downstairs to see what the commotion was.   I think I was sleeping face down on the floor in front of the stove, with the lamb curled beside me at that point.  When I explained the lamb’s condition to Dani and Sarah, they started working to help him learn to stand and walk.  The lamb made rapid progress – with assistance, he began to stand stable-ly and then figured out a tentative walk.  He also figured out how to sit up a bit without assistance, so he wouldn’t just lie on his side.

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Sarah helping the ram learn to walk.
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Dani helping the ram learn to walk.

It is hard to make a call about trying to save a lamb in the condition that this young ram.  Lambs are always cute and it’s easy to go to extreme measures.  We’ve agreed that we will continue to help him along provided he is making progress, and provided he is in a state where he can survive.  Currently, we are worried that if he fell on his back, he would be unable to roll over and could be asphyxiate on his rumen.  As of now, he is developing the ability to right himself and to stand up from a lying down position.  So we will see how things go with our little lamb.

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Walking and shouting.

A Thaw

Yesterday, our high temperature was 45F.  Today, we hit 63F with bright sunshine.    That’s pretty toasty-warm for February!

Predictably, this shrank our snowpack from about a foot to mere inches with large bare spots.  We’ve lost snow in all of the locations where the sun shines directly and where the wind doesn’t bank the snow.   The road also thawed, so the sound of dripping and flowing water was punctuated with the sound of the grader and dumptrucks struggling to keep Creek Road passable.

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I took the opportunity to walk around the land as much as I could.  I am interested in seeing what areas thaw and dry first.  I also need to familiarize myself with the wettest areas so I can plan to exclude the sheep from those areas as long as necessary.  I noted that water flows from the uphill side of the road, under the culvert, and across our land.  It was rushing down the swale area and bouncing down the hill into the wooded area that we’d most like to clear for additional pasture.  Good to know.

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We also have a gentle stream that flows from our spring down to the little kettle where one of the sheep got trapped last year.  The water here is flowing more slowly- I’m guessing this will stay wet longer than any other area.

As the day went on, the sunshine turned to a drizzly rain.  I have been walking up and down the road trying to increase the numbers of steps I take each day to help prepare my foot for the busy season.   I noticed areas of deep, squelching mud.   Trucks coming by me weren’t outpacing my walking by much and struggled not to lose momentum on the extra-deep parts.

So it was no surprise when we noticed stationery headlights on the road.  Matt took the Ford tractor out to have a look.  He came back saying that some travelers from Massachusetts in a 4wd CR-V were stuck in the road.  Matt was able to help them move their car back to pavement.  We expect that the spring will furnish more such experiences as it comes.

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Animal Welfare Approved

Cloverworks Farm is pleased to announce that our farm is now Animal Welfare Approved!  We are excited to join the program and proud that we’ve been able to meet their requirements.  We were granted a derogation to continue long-docking tails for breeding ewes.  It feels good to have recognition of our humane efforts in not castrating or docking rams or non-breeding stock ewes.

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Some local farmers are a little nervous about “Claim Proliferation” on labels.  Claims like “Gluten Free” on fresh celery and “Farm Grown” on Lay’s Potato Chips (as opposed to wild caught?) are rankling some consumers.  But the more I talk to people outside of our farming community, the more I realize how much we do need to communicate these facts that feel obvious to us.  When I am not talking to the consumer directly, labels like Animal Welfare Approved convey the information I need to share.  I want buyers in New York or Boston to know that my lambs were raised to the highest standards of welfare.

Learn more about AWA’s standards for sheep welfare.

 

The “Shovel” Problem

Are Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) sheep hardy enough?

I’ve been talking to Lisa, a long time Bluefaced Leicester breeder.  We both agree that we are tired of some of the misconceptions about Bluefaced Leicesters – that they are just for small-scale hobbyists, that they don’t have a sustainable genetic presence in the US, and that “Every ram is sold with a shovel.”

It’s the last point that I was considering tonight.  We are having a blizzard at the moment.  A foot of snow has fallen, and it looks like more is yet to come.   Temperatures have fallen to -25F some nights in the last month, and we know we aren’t done with cold temperatures.

We knew that the Border Leicesters would be fine.  They have thick wool that protects them from virtually everything and are a popular breed in this climate.  But come to find out, the BFLs are no less game for the weather.  While I was out doing chores, they were out in the snow.  Inside, others had snowfall piled on their backs, unmelted by body heat; a sure sign that they are fully weather-insulated.  They seem happy and healthy.

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This ewe is black, in case you can’t tell.

I have noted in the past that it is a challenge to keep some of my Bluefaced Leicester ewes in top body condition.  I’ve recently learned that there are some bloodlines in the breed that carry this trait, but that it is possible to avoid those lines.  Some of my sheep who are leanest carry those lines.  Now I know!  Fortunately, Fred the ram is a the easiest of easy keeper, so we can select our way away from this tendency.  We also have more than 50% of the flock without those lines.  One might think that the fleece fancy has caused this issue, but I believe that it was an honest mistake.  It is possible that the ram was just well-fed and appeared more adequate than his genotype turned out.  The solution to this problem is improved, standardized recordkeeping, not the blame game.

Admittedly, some Bluefaced Leicesters are kept mainly for fleece.   Their fleeces are light, though, and while some sheep are kept as pets, the cost and challenge of finding rams means that most flocks that are larger breeding operations have a meat operation, too.  The difference is that when you are catering to fiber lovers, it can be awkward to co-market your meat.  So many farms that do both separate the marketing in a way that farmers with sheep raised purely for meat don’t need to.  The goal is the same, but the conversation looks different.

In Britain, they are fond of the saying that “every Bluehead Ram is sold with a shovel” so you can bury him when he dies.  British sheep management is much different than ours, and it’s not really a surprise that more sheep die when there is no shelter, and when a ram is put in with 60 or 80 ewes to breed.  Are Blues reasonably hardy?  Yes, absolutely.  Are they as hardy as Scottish Blackfaces?  Perhaps not quite, but they have more lambs, more meat and nicer wool than a Blackface.  A little shelter and basic care isn’t too much to pay for that.  So I don’t take British grousing about BFLs too seriously.

I am raising Bluefaced Leicesters because I think they have one of the strongest suits of genetic and economic potential among breeds that have desirable wool.  I still feel this way, and I hope I can help others see it too.

 

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What Do Sheep Do All Day?

Learn about what sheep do throughout the day.

Have you ever wondered what, exactly, sheep do all day?

Maybe not, but I’ll tell you anyway.

Sheep are ruminants, meaning their primary feed is grass and small leafy plants.   Each sheep has a rumen that holds a couple of gallons, and they need to fill the equivalent of a 5-gallon bucket with feed each day.  Much of their time is absorbed with this effort.  When the feed is good, they can fill their faces with large mouthfuls, gobbling hay down.  When their preferred feed is mixed with stems and tough hay, they gradually nibble their way through it, carefully selecting only the tenderest bits of hay.   While casual observers may think that all grass is created equal, there are actually tremendous differences in the nutritional profiles and digestibility of different species of grass at different times.  Haymaking is its own science – we are just beginning to dip our toes into it.

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The lambs start nibbling hay from a young age- it helps them develop the gut flora they will need when they are full-time grass nibblers.

Not only do the sheep need to eat a five gallon bucket of hay, they then need to re-chew all of that hay.  After they eat the first time, the hay ferments in the rumen and the fiber begins to break down.  The sheep then regurgitates small mouthfuls of grass for additional chewing with their powerful molars.  Only once or twice have I accidentally caught a finger in the back of a sheep or a goats’ mouth while administering pills, but those occasions were memorably painful!  The sheep chews each cud bolus for a few minutes, swallows, and regurgitates another.  The cud smells vaguely like an old ash-tray.

As sheep are somewhat crepuscular, in my observation, they tend to eat in the morning, chew cud in the afternoon, and then eat again as evening falls.  Unlike humans, sheep doze in small amounts throughout the day and night but don’t engage in a lot of deep, long sleep.  If you thought wolves might be out there ready to eat you, you wouldn’t, either!  Our lamb-cam bears this out- we see a lot of quiet time at mid-day and through the night, with lots of active eating in the morning and evening.

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A mid-day lamb-cam shot.  One eater, and 30 snoozers.

While adult sheep aren’t often playful, lambs and even yearlings and two year olds can get a little riled up now and then.  A lot of sheep play seems to be centered on exuberant bouncing and joyful movement.  I even saw our ram take a solid leap a few days ago, on a very sunny day.  We have recently purchased a toy for the sheep to enjoy.  Hopefully, they’ll enjoy bopping their ball around.  In winter, the sheep love sunshine and appreciate the southward orientation of their loafing area.  In summer, they can’t get enough cool shade.

Sheep social order is complex.  Families stay together, as do members of small groups who are oriented into larger groups.  Often, our bottle lambs are a bit “socially awkward” when they have to live in the main barn full time as sheep.  It’s clear that mama sheep do a lot of social training of their youngsters that farmer-raised sheep miss!  Larger sheep usually dominate smaller ones, so we have to plan to offer enough feeding space that our biggest gals can’t “own” it.

Rams have their own rules.  Ram society is very “winner take all” but yet it is cruel to house a flock creature alone.  So we make a big effort to make sure that both of our rams out in the ram house have an opportunity to eat and can share their shelter.  So far, so good, though Bob Loblaw definitely dominates Oliver at the feeder.

Sheep really love the stimulation of grazing.  I know we are only halfway through winter, but we are all looking forward to the days and weeks of spring and summer ahead.20180129_170311