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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.

 

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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.