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.
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.
It’s been four days since Beechtree’s Outlander (whom we’re calling the 4th Doctor after his long, dark, shaggy locks), Pitchfork 926 (Fred) and Pitchfork 882 (Little Moose) moved into the barn. The grade Cormos are out in the fields, grazing.
The process of bringing home new sheep is like meeting new friends. Right off the bat, it’s clear that The Doctor is a relaxed and confident guy. He boldly approached and sniffed Matt and I as we sat with the flock the second evening after he arrived. I’ve noticed that he likes to quietly walk behind me as I distribute hay, but he has not yet shown even a tidbit of aggression towards humans.
Lambs, on the other hand….he certainly doesn’t like those guys that much (until we led them away for halter-training, that is – then he missed them terribly!). The Doctor butts the lambs away from the hay at almost every opportunity and makes it nearly impossible to feed them grain. I keep finding solutions that work for one day, but then he figures out my trick the second time and gets more than his share.
Fred and Little Moose haven’t relaxed and shown their true colors yet. I am confident, though, that a little grain and some TLC will help them calm down and relax.
I hate to admit it, but the difference in physical quality between these sheep and my Cormo X sheep is really astounding. When Mom and I picked out the ewe, we were impressed with how hard it actually was to tell the ewes in the pen apart. They were almost completely uniform in size and appearance. Uniformity makes flock improvement much easier. In my Cormo cross flock, I have long sheep, short-bodied sheep, tall sheep, stout sheep, lean sheep…it is impossible to choose a ram who can improve a trait in the offspring of one sheep without compromising a trait in the lambs of another. The BFLs won’t have that problem.
I also already adore them. Their gentle, deer-like looks and compliant natures already provide plenty of delight!
The BFLs will get their own website to focus on them and to market the flock. They will be known as the Dorward Flock, after my grandpa, and will have marketing to fit their own, special niche at Sheep and Pickle Farm.
We were up at 6:30 for a second day in a row (well, I get up at 5:45 almost every day, but still). We were out of the hotel before the continental breakfast was out, so we made do with IHOP. The traffic reached the festival before we did, but excellent parking management got us on the grounds and in the door rapidly. After orienting to the space and buying our teeshirts and totebags, we headed barn-ward to find our BFL farm contacts.
What we found were our sheep-sellers hastily clipping and tidying their charges. The Bluefaced Leicester National Show was scheduled from 9am-12pm, but Karakuls were still in the showring and no one had been called in yet. I introduced myself to Cindy and Margaret from Pitchfork Ranch, and then settled in to watch the show before Mom and I were able to find Brenda from Beechtree Farm. My sister, her husband and my little niece Cora were there with us, and we alternated between watching the show and looking at other exhibits. At the tender age of 11 months, Cora is skilled at making a “baa” sound and at joining in a round of applause. We sat in the stands as she moved from person to person, giving hugs and coo-ing and pulling the glasses off our faces.
In the stands, we encountered the grandmother of the gal whose ewes we are bringing home in two weeks! She raises her own sheep for wool and is also from New Hampshire, so there was plenty to chat about. We watched as the Chapin Family picked up several show ring victories in coveted categories, like Champion Ewe. Way to go!
Finally, with the show over, the sellers and I finally had a chance to talk. We met with Cindy and Margaret from Pitchfork and discussed their sheepraising program at length. I realized that I have anxiety about being perceived as uncommitted or likely to abandon my sheep-raising program. I may have overcompensated for that fear by talking about dairy goat genetics longer than anyone cares to hear about that topic. We noticed that they were selling an extra ewe. Reading her pedigree, I could see that she had just enough distance from most of my flock to be a good brood ewe and a possible source of a ram to keep my flock going without input for a while. I think I knew we were buying her when I felt along her back and could not palpate a spine. She had so much strong, hard meat and muscle there that her spine and her ribs were completely obscured. That is just not the case for my Cormo flock, even in their best condition. Selling Tim and Swift gave me just enough money to make the purchase possible.
We met with Brenda from Beechtree, as well. We didn’t find her until a little later, and didn’t have as much time to meet and greet. It was now nearing 2pm, two hours later than our ideal departure, and it was past time to plan the sheep loading. Mom and I had recognized a serious problem a few days before the festival. Due to crowds and rules at MSWF, you can’t just drive up to the sheep barns and load sheep. We would need to move them across open country. So we agreed that Brenda would bring the adult ram from her pen, and Margaret and I would meet her leading the ewe lamb, while Cindy fetched the littler ram lamb from their trailer nearby. Our silly sheep-moving group provided plenty of entertainment to the crowd as we passed. Like a ninja, Mom snuck the truck through a gate. It was great to see it waiting as we rounded the corner with the sheep in tow and Brenda joined us with Outlander, the adult ram!
Getting the ewe in the truck was a simple lift job. I got in the truck to hold her in, and I was handed Outlander’s lead rope while Brenda and Margaret each lifted a side. We made a really tricky task look easy. The last lamb was small and no trouble. I really owe a lot to Margaret, Cindy and Brenda for shlepping those sheep across the fairgrounds.
Again, the strong degree of organization at MSWF helped, as we were able to get the sheep cooling off on the road quickly. Mom drove the first half of the trip up I95. To cope with the crazy traffic that is far beyond what we’re used to, Mom and I began an index of reckless driving behaviors. We counted 25 incidents between the start of our drive in Friendship, Maryland and the New Jersey/New York border. We were well over 10 after Maryland and through Delaware, but the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway made solid contributions of scary incidents, near misses, and the crossing of multiple lanes through constantly shifting traffic. This incident happened just a short time before we reached Brunswick, and that earned a point for scary driving! I could not have withstood the kind of hair-raising driving that my mom handles. Crowded roads make me very anxious. I would have lost my mind handling the DC metro area. Thanks, Mom! The Adirondack Northway only amassed 7 points, but the speeders were really cruising on that road. The truck shook every time the sheep stood up and shuffled around, so we didn’t even try to keep up with the left lane traffic.
People give weird looks at rest stops when the back of your truck is bouncing and baa-ing. We never left the sheep completely unattended, so it was one coffee-break at a time.
We reached the Vermont border at 10pm, and I focused on staying alert all the way home to Williston at 11:30. There was no feeling like lying down after we unloaded the sheep in the barn and went to bed.
I am buying four ewes from Smiling Sheep Farm in New Hampshire on May 22nd. I purchased two adult ewes aged 3 and 4, and my mother invested in two lambs. Technically, I’m buying these sheep from a 12 year old girl who has them as a project alongside her parents’ Romneys. For financial matters, I’ve been talking to her mom. I’ve really enjoyed corresponding with Hilary (Mom), and I hope that we can be resources to each other raising Bluefaced Leicesters in the Northeast.
More pressingly, Mom and I are now planning our May 6-7th trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. This festival owns sheepandwool.com, so you can tell they’re a big deal. We’ll be meeting two Bluefaced Leicester farmers from Michigan there. Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival hosts the Bluefaced Leicester National Show every other year, so we’ll get some great information about how to evaluate our sheep and which flocks have the features we want most. As a bonus, we’ll get to spend some time with my sister and niece!
We are buying a ram lamb from Pitchfork Ranch . He will be white. We are also buying an adult ram lamb from Beechtree Farm, also in Michigan. It took me a really, really long time to pick the right ram with the right pedigree configuration, but I finally settled on two year old “Outlander”. Look through these shamelessly-pilfered pictures with me, and let me know what you think!
Nice, nice wool, and perfectly in line with the breed standard.
He doesn’t want to be on the stand. Lucky for him, I don’t own one of those (yet).
This is the business end of a ram. Not for the obvious reason, but because that width and nice, meaty leg is what makes money in the meat business. As much fun as wool is, the meat business pays the bills.
I had taken the ewes out for a romp on the Wedding Meadow. They aren’t allowed there after May, so I thought I’d let them have a few nibbles of it while their own pastures grow a little taller and greener.
The lambs decided to have a goodly romp, and they raced from ewe to ewe until they were all openly gasping for breath. At 60 degrees, it’s warmer than they’ve ever experienced before. The ewes ate and ate, and eventually the lambs settled down, too.
It was time to go in, so I put out some grain for everyone to lure them in. I did not consider that one of the hay mangers was empty of hay, while the other had plenty. When the lambs and adults came in, the ewes went straight to the hay-less manger to have an easier time getting grain. That allowed the lambs free access to the grain in the other manger.
Shortly after the end of the dining session, Chickadee began coughing and staggering. Her breathing was harsh and rapid, and I noticed goop coming out her mouth. Her mother was baahing at her while the other sheep backed away. I grabbed her and started knocking her sides, trying to loosen the goo. Her coughing worsened and she fought me, hard. A big wad of goop flew out of her mouth.
She stopped fighting, but began panting hard in great distress. I called the vet. The same vet I called for Agnes. Thankfully, one of their field vets was just driving by, so she was examining Chickadee only 20 minutes after the call. The vet confirmed that Chickadee’s lungs are raspy and probably at risk of infection. She’ll get some antibiotics for a week to help her heal.
My usual pattern is to write a little lamb story, and then maybe a post about shearing.
I’ve done that before, so I’ll give you a brief synopsis of each:
The sheep were shorn on February 21st, which is about a month and a half early relative to normal shearing times. We’ve had mostly good weather for naked sheep since then, with a couple nights were I felt very guilty for leaving them wool-less. Joe St. Marie did a great job, as always. The wool clip was decent, but with a few problems. The sheep need to be cleaner. Not massively cleaner- very little fleece was ruined by the presence of VM, but a lot wasn’t hand-spinner-worthy due to VM. Cinder, especially, attracts dirt like a magnet. I plan to coat Meadowlark and Bobolink, at least, and perhaps Chimney Swift as well. Swift made a splendid fleece with beautiful crimp. I am pretty set on keeping another Cinder daughter this year…that is, if I have one.
The lambs. There have been four single rams and one single ewe this year. Non-pregnant sheep would be a disaster, but all singles qualifies as a setback all the same. I had requests for a total of NINE ewe lambs this year, and I won’t be able to supply any, at all. Meadowlark looks pregnant but fairly trim. She may lamb late. Swift is bred to her own sire (she doesn’t mind) so her lamb will meet a freezer in the fall no matter what.
I will admit that I feel some panic about the financial implications of a second poor lambing in two years. Most shepherding books agree that a healthy single lamb is a break-even proposition at best. With all of the labor and capital I’ve put into the sheep, I’d really like to do a little better than breaking even and going unpaid.
My first thought was genetics- had I messed up my flock by using too much Cormo input? Cormos are known for producing fine fleece, and secondarily, for twinning a little more than half the time. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get much information about two of my rams, so I don’t know their twinning backgrounds. I blamed myself and my focus on fine wool. Should I get a Finnsheep (A breed of sheep known for having numerous lambs and for increasing lambing percentages in its offspring) to mix into the flock? Finnsheep have a very different kind of wool and are generally smaller than mine, so adding Finn genetics would bring big changes to the flock.
Picture now the ubiquitous “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme from WWII Britain. Substitute “Call UVM Extension Agent Joe Emenheiser” for “Carry On” and you’ve got my calmer response to the issue. I really admire Joe’s dedication to profitable shepherding, and his extensive knowledge can only impress. Joe pointed out that Vermont is very selenium deficient. Not only could selenium deficiency be to blame for the tough amniotic sacs that have caused a few stillbirths in my flock in past years, but it might also have diminished the fertility of my later generations. Perhaps my original sheep were well able to cope with low selenium, but offspring of the Cormos and Corriedales I’ve since added might have increased need for selenium that I’m not meeting. So I haven’t destroyed my gene pool. I simply need to better meet their needs.
With relief that the problem is fixable. I began supplementing selenium last fall, and intend to continue adding selenium as much as is safe to do so.