More Goodbyes

Many of you who follow this blog know that Caseous Lymphadenitis has been an issue in the flock in the past.  After an aggressive eradication campaign, the whole flock tested negative in March.  However, my last CormoX ewe, Meadowlark, developed a very large and very concerning abscess on her cheek last week.  Even though she tested negative for CL three times, I know that false negatives are not impossible and I didn’t feel I could risk having her cyst bursting, spreading illness around.

We separated Lark from the flock, but realized that we couldn’t just have her in the barn all alone.  We had been on the fence about keeping Dalek after she had a premature single, failed to come into milk, and showed no signs of regaining any weight.  We decided that it would be okay to let her go at this time also.  So we transported both sheep back to the barn for a day.  We had an on-farm slaughterer come and the deed was swift and stressless for both sheep.  We got our answer about Dalek- massive lung damage from a bout with pneumonia.  We had noticed her wheezing a bit, but our previous vet hadn’t heard anything in the lungs then.  I assume that she had pneumonia at some point earlier in her life and was treated, but had sustained serious damage.  If we hadn’t intervened, she would have died a slow and agonizing death.

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That lump under her ear is bad news bears.  There is no recommended treatment for CL

I feel sad to lose such good ewes.  Both were devoted mothers and herd leaders.   I am so frustrated that this disease issue continues to worry the flock.  I am committed to eliminating it, though, for the long-term wellbeing of the sheep in my care.  I have to assume that any disease that packs the lymph nodes with nasty puss has to be painful as well as economically damaging.  I will really miss them both.

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The rest of the flock seems very happy out on pasture.   The grass is rich and the ewes are gaining a bit of weight to counter the pounds they’ve milked off in the last few months.  We also have our first new lamb in a while!  Sheppenwolf had a single ram lamb this morning.

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What a cutie!

 

 

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.

 

Pork and Soybeans

Talk of trade wars in the news gave me some thoughts.  I’m not going to wade into politics, but I will wade into farming.

Given their intelligent, social nature, I feel comfortable saying that pigs are some of the most abused animals in factory farming.  According to a recent article in Civil Eats, 75% of breeding sows in the US live in tiny crates without room to move or socialize

 

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So my first thought about the trade war and possible damage to the conventional pork industry was “Good!  Maybe this will decrease the amount of factory farm pork and improve the prospects of pastured pork, where pigs can engage in natural behaviors.  As I read more, though, I realized there was a problem.  China isn’t buying whole pigs at low-cost.  Most of the US pork headed for China consists of offal and parts that most Americans don’t seek out like tails and ears.   I considered that even though many cultural groups within the US may seek these parts, would they go to waste without China buying them, downgraded into pet food.  That’s part of why pastured pork goes hand in hand with eating nose to tail.  Could we convince more Americans to eat ears, tails and offal?   I am still enamored of the liver pate that I made last year.

Soybeans offer a similar conundrum.  On the Chinese market, they are human food and feed for animals.  In the US, most soybeans are fed to animals in confinement.  If soybean prices crash, will we increase the amount of meat grown in confinement, fed soy?   The answer, according to the recent Planet Money podcast I listened to, is that Europe will buy it to feed their farm animals.  Thus, we move carbon and other nutrients around the world using more carbon.

It isn’t lost on anyone that China can read an electoral map and chose to target economic sanctions in areas that voted for the current administration.  How will people affected by price changes view this change and how will they respond?

 

 

 

 

Getting Through Lambing

Twenty of our thirty-three ewes have lambed so far at Cloverworks Farm.  Thirty eight lambs have been born, with thirty six surviving.  One loss was a little BFL ewe lamb who failed to nurse overnight with her mother.  Another was 1627’s lamb, whom we had indoors and who just faded away, likely from pneumonia.  Though some amount of loss is usual, I am still disappointed with my failure to keep these lambs alive.  I’ve been intervening more since the first loss, feeling that I could have done more to warm and feed the lost lambs.

But the sad part aside, we have 34 healthy little lambs in the barn and two bouncy lambs in the house. Due to weather and mis-mothering, we have one lamb each from the recently-born triplets in our custody.  With Steven Jr. weaned and on his own, we can deal with lambs in the house again.   The lambs in the barn are happy and bouncy.  Since the oldest lamb is now four months old,  we have quite a range of sizes.   Some of the youngest lambs still haven’t figured out how to home in on their mother, so I’ve been helping 123 find her mom, 264, often.  All of the adults are struggling to tolerate the shear number of lambs who want to climb on their backs.

We are still waiting for the snow to melt and the pasture to start to green.  Not much by way of spring weather yet, other than a few days with highs in the 40’s F.

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Starting to look crowded in the barn!  
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The lamb with the bright yellow tag is three and a half months younger than the lamb in the foreground facing us.  That fella is about 2/3 the size of his mother right now.
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Some of the newest arrivals
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The bleakness of early spring.

 

Mismothering

First, I will start with the good news:

A year ago, we had a fiasco where several sheep tested as positive or as exposed to CL: Caseous Lymphadenitis.  We were never able to determine the source of the disease, but several good sheep went for meat in our effort to eradicate CL in our flock.

Last week, we received our test results back for CL, Ovine Progressive Pneumonia and Johnes (which is kind of like Tuberculosis in humans but not zoonotic).  We are clear of all diseases!  We have one ewe who came up as “suspect” for CL, (neither negative nor positive) so we are watching her with a gimlet eye.  That said, I think we are in the clear, so I am now willing to consider selling rams for crossing purposes.  So let me know if you would like one!

So, mismothering:  On 3/31, ewe 1627 went into labor.  Many ewes chase existing lambs thinking they’ve given birth, but 1627 somehow managed to convince one of 1606’s lambs that he was in fact hers.  So when her real lamb was born, she had milk for one but a huge, hungry single to feed.   1627’s real lamb was hypothermic on Monday morning, and we’ve been trying to energize him ever since.  He seems to brighten, only to stop eating and weaken again.  I admit I am finding him rather frustrating!   So we will end up raising him, even though his mother was willing to try, because she won’t give up her stolen lamb and there is only milk for one in her udder.

 

 

Fiber and More Lambs

I thought you all might appreciate some bonus photos of the lambs in the barn.  Every time I got to do some chores, they are up to something silly:

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Lambs pestering…
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More lambs pestering…
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You can’t blame a ewe for retaliating!

 

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Ewe friendships warm my heart.
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Lambs cuddle up for warmth.
Ewe and her twin lambs, cuddling
Family time!

But sheep-raising as a living is more than just cute critters.  I’ve been working through pounds and pounds of wool from shearing.  We sent 40 pounds of raw wool to two different mills, hoping to see which will make the yarn we like the best.   Most will be white Border Leicester yarn, with some natural colored Border yarn and some CormoX, too!

My usual approach is to categorize wool into four piles: the cleanest wool goes for raw Handspinning fleece.   Acceptable but not ultra-clean wool goes to the mill.  Wool that is too dirty for the mill will be hand-picked and hand-combed by me until it will make a good batt or roving.  And finally, if I can’t clean it or if it is britch or belly wool, it goes to compost.  I’m pretty picky, so we also have 30 pounds of wool in the compost category.

I’ve been madly cleaning and carding, resulting in lots of lovely batts.  YouTube has given me a few tips, so stand by for some roving!  I am especially excited to try the techniques.  So far, the Bluefaced Leicester is clearly much softer than the Border Leicester, but both are lovely and will be a joy to spin.  The Border Leicester has finally showed me its beautiful luster!  My picture of the natural Bluefaced Leicester Batts isn’t completely true-to-color – the wool is a rich coffee-bean brown with gray highlights.

I hope you will take a moment to check out the shop to see our array of wool products!

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Wool drying by the fiber- it’s getting crowded in here!

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:

 

 

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.

 

Taking a Walk Through the Fields

From our vantagepoint, we can clearly see the expanse of all of our fields.  I noticed that we have many tracks going across the fields, so I thought I’d have a look.

After the thaw last week, the snow as a perfect weight-bearing crust.  We can walk with ease across all of our land.  Atop the crust is the lightest dusting of snow, the perfect medium for tracks.    Even better, our land never lacks for a slight breeze, so it is very evident which tracks are one or two days old.  After that, they are fully obscured.

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The tracks I followed, with a size medium glove for scale.

Yesterday, I noted some tracks coming from the northwest of the property.  Two canid tracks, heading southwest.  I followed them, intent to determine if the tracks were dog or coy-wolf.  I would much rather they were coy-wolf tracks than loose dogs, as we’ve already dealt with enough dogs for a lifetime.   Coy-wolves are possibly more dangerous to the sheep, but are predictable in their behavior.  The tracks beelined to a brushy area and then sniffed around there.  A urine mark was evident beside a tall clump of grass and then the tracks proceeded south-southeast.

Following along, I could see that the dog/coywolf tracks took an interest in some deer tracks.  I took an interest in the deer tracks, too.  Following their trails, I came upon two deer beds.  Notice the perfect leg-prints.  The deer have kept to the field edges, wandering around where stray, ancient apple trees drop a few fruit.  Seeing them, I thought I’d give some of our apple trees a shake to let down some of the remaining hanging apples.

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A deer bed.

Rejoining the canine tracks, I continued to observe their straight trajectory.  More and more suggestive of coywolf-tracks.   Finally, a scat and a urine spot told me that this was a female, subsisting on fuzzy animals based on the grey fur evident in the scat.  Some internet friends were already thinking coywolf.  The couple left the property at the middle of the south boundary.  I’m glad we were able to identify the species.  I know to have an eye out for trouble now.

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Friends, I give you: A Coyote or Coy-wolf Butt-print with a tail drag.

Other tracks observed on the property include turkey, rabbit, various little scurriers, and the small wingbeats of a bluejay near the chicken coop.   I’m looking forward to taking more walks and learning more about the animal activities happening on our land.

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Turkey, two ways.

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A wee little hopping bird on our deck.