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!
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.
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!)
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:
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.
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.
I talk a lot about moving sheep from one pasture to another, but not much about what’s actually in those pastures. While we may picture sheep just munching huge mouthfuls of grass, their actual eating habits are very much the opposite. Sheep move around the pasture selecting the tenderest, freshest morsels while completely ignoring old foliage and tough stems. They also have plants that they prefer over others. I’ve gotten my sheep to eat bedstraw mainly by having plenty of it available after the clover, vetch and soft grasses are gone.
Clover is the mainstay protein source in the pasture. Like all legumes, clover fixes nitrogen from the air and adds it to the soil. It’s a nutritious plant, and it’s easy to tell when the sheep have eaten it all because a field that once was full of clover flowers suddenly has none at all!
Vetch is another mainstay legume in my pasture that the sheep love. I happen to think that it’s very beautiful, as well. I wish I knew more about the nutrition that Vetch provides other than protein, or if the dominance of Vetch in some areas indicates something about the soil nutrients or structure.
Dairy folks know what this is: This photo is actually the first alfalfa I’d ever noticed in the wild. It is certainly the only one that was in this field, so some lucky sheep got to eat this plant. Alfalfa is the highest-protein legume and is a staple of dairy cow rations. I’ve heard through anecdata that sheep are picky about it in hay, but they don’t mind eating alfalfa pellets!
I haven’t even touched the myriad of grasses that grow in the pastures where the sheep live, but suffice it to say that the legumes have long since vanished by the time the sheep are eating grass.
I spent about 6 hours mowing the fields this weekend. It was past time to cut down the woody overgrowth and encourage new, more palatable growth for the flock. Jim and I attached the bush hog to his little 18hp tractor and off I went…like a herd of turtles. 18hp is just enough to power the mower, but I couldn’t go too fast without bogging down the engine. It gave me some time to think.
Crows are definitely bird-sona non grata no matter where they land. I watched Eastern Kingbirds and Redwing Blackbirds mob crows anywhere they’d land.
When you start the engine of your tractor, herring gulls will arrive within a half hour hoping to see you run over something tasty. The gull tailing me was out of luck, as best I could tell. I never saw it land.
Usually, my thoughts regarding the sheep involve phrases like “I really need to _____ “, “I should have finished ________ last week” and “I’d better _________ before ______ happens” and other behind-the-eightball feelings. This year, I actually feel on top of things! The lambs were weaned on time. I have a plausible timeframe for getting the rams away from the ewes, and an intriguing idea for this year’s meat processing. Once the rams are out, I can increase the grain for the ewe lambs and ewes, and hopefully get some more growth going.
I am also pleased with how the sheep look. Everyone seems bright and healthy. The 4th Doctor is almost fat, the ewes all in good flesh and the BFL lambs are growing well. The only lamb lagging behind in either group is Mr. Peanutbutter. He was lean from the start, and an earlyish weaning probably did him no favors. He’s growing, nevertheless. I’ve noticed that “Failure to Thrive” is typical in an lamb or two from every crop in the Cormo flock, so I’m not as concerned as I could be. I’ll just file that under Cormos: Genetic Issues.
The main pasture looks much better this year than it did last year. I mowed in time to head off the thistle bloom, so hopefully I can suppress the thistles (which sheep won’t eat). I also caught the bedstraw before seeds set, so hopefully that’s killed, too. The donkey pasture is as marginal as before. I’m not sure I can squeeze much performance out of that patch.
I noticed two Bobolink nests with chicks near fledging in the field I mowed. I managed to avoid hitting any bobolinks, and also left patches of unmowed grass where the nests seemed to be. I’m hoping that’s enough to keep them safe and fed. I really couldn’t avoid mowing because I’d have no fodder in a week or two otherwise.
After an escape and a few other instances of naughtiness, primarily instigated by The Doctor, I gave in. Knowing a bit about sheep psychology, I made a guess: if I put the BFLs with the larger flock, they would be more inclined to stay put because the larger flock doesn’t pressure the fence. After a few hours of intensive bum-sniffing and then a few days of not associating with each other, team Bluefaced and team more-or-less-Cormo have concluded that they can play nicely. The Doctor has become something of a leader, though Peggy is still skeptical that this young upstart could have anything valuable to contribute to *her* flock.
While the Doctor has learned that being fenced in is okay, Little Moose and Fred have gleaned from their fellow sheep that Matt and I are not as vicious and horrible as they initially feared. Little Moose doesn’t flee anymore, and Fred will even approach for a hand-sniff. Petting is still forbidden at the moment, but time and some grain should help that.
Here are some pictures of our pasture paradise:
We had a little rain over the past week, and the Bluefaced Leicesters are showing off their amazing wool.