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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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Thoughts While Mowing

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.

Some thoughts:

  • 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.

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