Mo Bloggin'

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Archive for the tag “grass hay”

Still no rain, still hot, and still wonderful

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These crazy maples.

The summer is slowly waning and I am trying to soak up every moment that I can. The days are already over 2 hours shorter than they were in June, but we still have plenty of sunshine and heat during the days. I am in awe of the beauty, day after day. I look at the baked-dry hard ground and wonder how it will ever become wet again, just as I wonder in January if it will ever, ever become dry again.  I need to plant a couple things, but the ground is so rock hard and dry, I’m waiting.

 

The beasts are enjoying the weather as well. The sheep maybe not as much, since forage has been scarce for weeks now. They’ve eaten everything they can reach that’s edible (to their palates), and without rain, nothing’s growing back yet. After my leaky pipe escapade last spring, I’m reluctant to tap the well any more than I need to, so haven’t been watering as much as I’ve done in the past. Regardless, the well can’t keep up with that kind of volume (irrigation-levels) anyway. The grass is mostly brown and dry so I’ve been feeding them hay for months now, as I usually do (we’re done with grazing by July, most years – a two-month season at best). I bought a couple of tons of hay a month ago. It was a good price, but there is a prodigious amount of waste as it’s sneakily stemmy stuff.  A third-cutting orchard grass, it’s green and fairly soft, unlike the spiky handle of first cutting (which is a waste of money, with this crew).  They like this stuff and eat it well enough, but there are wheelbarrows-worth of what is essentially straw to haul out of the pen each week, after they’ve eaten all the green. It’s really nice not to have to run to the feed store every weekend, and that’s a plus, but the savings ratio to the increased waste (and extra work) ratio – it’s a wash, really.  And at least the straw is light and easy to load up/haul.

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One of these is not like the others.  And she doesn’t eat hay, either.  The sheep loved the delivery of hay.

The lambs are growing at a good pace, with a couple of them nearly as big as an adult (or so it seems – there’s a lot of fluff with the lambswool coats they’re wearing). I’ve placed a couple of ads on FB groups I belong to, but though there’s some interest, no one’s that interested. Craigslist is the next step, and I’ve girded my loins and placed an ad there. My goal is to get the flock down to winter numbers (10 or 11) by November 1. I have a couple favorites out of the new lambs who are definitely staying, and wish I had room for just a couple more. I really like Meg’s white wether.  He’s a confident little guy (stands up to Daisy!), with curlicue horns and great conformation, plus what looks to be a very nice fleece. I am wavering on him still. Part of what makes me hesitate is his friendliness. I am ridiculously swayed by this anymore. I am sorely tired of freak-out sheep and am slowly weeding out those that are too spooky. I was going to sell Rudy, but the little guy has just grown on me. I hopehopehope his fleece will be nice, so my sentimentality will be rewarded. At this point his lamb fleece is soft but fairly open, so it’s hard to say.

Right now the termites are hatching, providing the annual feast for spiders, bats, and all manner of insectivores, including dragonflies – I’ve seen them nab a termite in midflight and it is so cool! Sadly, my chickens aren’t here to enjoy the bounty. I remember how they’d stay up late this time of year, long past their bedtime, as the new termites flew out from the rotted stump near the coop, hopping up to catch the hapless termites, new to flying and clumsy with their long wings. I miss the chooks, but it’s getting less and less sharp. Knowing it was necessary for my health didn’t make it any easier but so far it seems like it made a difference. A lot of people have asked me about my health, how the ol’ lungs are doing, etc. I feel good – better than I have in, well, years (since 2014, at any rate). The lung thing slammed into my life in November of that year. For the first time in two years I’ve been meeting my Fitbit goal nearly every day, and my weekly reports from Fitbit are no longer something I’d rather delete. And I do this without even trying—just everyday activity. On work days, most of my steps are between 5 pm and midnight, and it’s so great to be able to do things without thinking, and even if I get out of breath, it’s only a moment and I’m okay, where before I would have to stand huffing and puffing for a long time before I caught my breath. I wear my respirator mask any time I am working a lot with the hay. I have to say that I’ve occasionally been less strict with it (because, frankly, it’s a pain in the arse in the heat) but every time I do this I kick myself.

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Pal, looking like a Saluki mix.  The dog can run, and he does!  It’s hard to keep weight on him this time of year.  I wish I were half as fit as he is.

Another beautiful evening is winding down. It’s shortly after 8 p.m. as I write this and dark is coming on fast. The sun set at 7:43 tonight, and we’re down to a little over 13 hours of daylight now, compared with nearly 16 daylight hours in June. I need to put the sheep in their pen for the night, but am stretching out the quiet, the twilight magic, for as long as I can.

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Gratuitous cuteness: The old guy, Farley, with his new toy.  Heart this dog to bits!

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What the hay?

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It may look gentle and green, but it’s a SCORCHER out there.

After a cool and very wet spring (that followed an especially wet and waterlogged winter), summer hit us this weekend with a blast of tropical heat. My phone’s weather app is schizophrenic – 99 one minute and 97 the next. Next time I looked it was 102, and then updated to 94. ?! Suffice it to say it’s hot out there. I feel especially bad for the half dozen sheep I haven’t sheared yet. I started one last weekend and she was just too fractious – for her safety and mine. I haven’t had time since and it was way too hot this morning to try, but they are all doing okay by staying quiet and in the shade most of the day. I move them to the pen at night and fill the hay feeder – they ate a LOT of hay last night in the cool of darkness. And about that hay…

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You can’t see the nice, if warm, breeze blowing.  They are keeping cool as they graze down to the nubbins. (My King Conservation District agent would admonish me for this.)

I’ve lamented here before about my many trees and shade (grateful for them right now, of course) and the shade being in opposition with my pasture grass growth. My pasture grass could use a lot of other help too (still need to do a soil test, but I’m 100% sure it could use a paycheck’s worth of liming), but I also have too many sheep grazing on it, especially given its overall weakness. Ideally I wouldn’t have more than 4 Shetlands on it in its current conditions of too much shade, lime deficiency, etc., for it to keep up and provide fodder for more than a month or so. My goal is to keep the flock number to 10 or below, and I’ve not always been completely successful at this. With the lambs this year, I’m currently at 22 (!!) sheep. While I love the sound of that – I would love to keep 22 sheep full time – and 12 of them only weigh 30- 40 pounds each right now, it’s just not feasible here. So even with 10 sheep, I feed hay roughly 10 or 11 months a year. They graze and browse a LOT during May through June, but hay is the primary food source once the May/June jungle growth stops at solstice.

So I buy the best hay I can find, on a weekly quest to find the greenest, leafiest second cutting orchard grass that I can. Every weekend two hay bales go into the back of my long-suffering old CRV. I’ve tried to buy a ton at a time and have it delivered, but that’s not worked out well. One year I bought a locally grown second cutting which looked great when I bought a couple sample bales, but when it was delivered, only about 10% was that nice. The rest was stemmy crap that the sheep wasted with abandon. That was $750 well spent – NOT. Another time I got some “nice” green stuff grown in eastern Oregon…that was loaded with mold and dust/dirt, and, frankly, was probably one of the triggers for my lung thing. So now I range out every weekend, finding a consistently good product at a feed store about 15 miles and a 30-minute drive away. Not the one 5 minutes away (generally a good product, but for a lot more money), or the one 20 minutes away (not consistently good). But any way you slice it, hay from eastern Washington is pretty much the gold standard here for quality/value. And it’s grown in an area with soils notably deficient in the trace mineral selenium. And that, I believe, is at the crux of the problems I had lambing this year.

Like all shepherds, I give my sheep free choice minerals (loose minerals are best for sheep, not a block to lick). This includes salt, of course, but also other trace minerals, including selenium but NOT including a lot of copper (some is important, but not at the rates of other livestock like goats and cattle, as too much copper is toxic to sheep). The sheep have a mineral feeder that is kept full at all times. About 18 months ago I needed more and purchased a bag of a well-known brand that I hadn’t used before. I poured it in the feeder and they nibbled at it. It’s red in color, and more than once I had a fright going out to check on the flock and had a sheep turn to look at me with “bloody” lips. They nibbled at it, but never seemed to nibble much. That’s all right, you don’t want them chowing down on it, but it wasn’t until I had these issues that I realized that that bag I purchased 18 months ago lasted much, much longer than it should have (and I still have some!). So they weren’t eating it as much as they should have, or needed to, and with their selenium-free hay, probably weren’t getting nearly enough of this important trace mineral. When I worked with the vet (and got the recommendation from other, more experienced Shetland shepherds) the first thing mentioned was that a selenium injection be given to my weak babies. And when I saw the dramatic results, it was a face palm moment. While it wasn’t outright White Muscle disease (at least not the acute symptoms) I believe the overall weakness I saw in several of the lambs, and even the birthing issues (C-Kerry’s weak, premature lambs, Pebbles’ very weak ewe lamb, and even the almost 4-hour delay between Duna’s twins’ birth, and her ultimate rejection of the second one), are likely due to this deficiency.

Once I figured this out, I purchased a new bag—and a different brand—of sheep mineral mix. Right away I knew it was a better product. It had the texture and odor I was used to, and, more important, the sheep love it. I cleaned out what was left of the red stuff from their feeder, and poured in about 3 or 4 cups of the new stuff. And had to replace the EMPTY feeder within a couple days!  They were on it like white on rice, as the saying goes. After that first week the consumption has decreased to a normal level, but they love it and are actually using it as it is intended. More telling, the lambs are in it (before they were at weaning stage), and the one I see most frequently in it is C-Kerry’s ewe lamb, who was so weak for her first week that I was afraid I would lose her. She loves it more than any of the other lambs, but the other ones I see most frequently eating it are also the ones I was most worried about as newborns. Go figure and Nature knows best. And, of course, lesson learned.

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Growing fast.  N-Kerry and her white ewe lamb, and C-Kerry’s black ram lamb being obnoxious.  (Need to get the boys all banded soon!)  And Rudy in the back.  He’s adorable.

As a Shetland shepherd, I know my sheep are thrifty, easy keepers. They are hardy and tough, and can survive and produce good wool without being coddled with daily grain or a fancy barn. My sturdy little flock is no exception, and survived even my ignorance in this vital nutrient. I had a lot of firsts with this lambing season – first premies, first time tube feeding, first full-on rejection (likely also due to the mineral deficiency) and first bottle baby. I knew they weren’t eating a lot of their minerals, but didn’t know that could be such an issue. I didn’t know any better. But now I do. They say shepherds never stop learning, and after 7 years of shepherding these amazing little woolies, I can say that’s definitely true. Thankfully, my resilient wee beasts survived my ignorance.

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Despite the heat, Trixie was all cuddles and snuggles today, all but climbing into my lap. We posed for a selfie.

Hay Woes 2012, Part 2

So, aside from the quest for a decent feeder for the sheep (see previous post), one that will reduce their propensity to waste hay as well as curb or eliminate the issue of vm, there’s also the quest to find a decently priced, good quality product to feed them, which dovetails into the feeder quest.  Right now I’m using the hay nets I got from Equinets last year, which can work with the waste issue but can also be a nightmare with the vm issue, as it was last year with the brittle, choppy hay that made such a mess of their fleeces.  It was good hay, but the feeding method wasn’t ideal due to its dry quality.  This year’s hay isn’t quite the same problem, but of course there are others.  I feel like I’ll never get it right.

I purchased a little over a ton of hay last year.  With five sheep – three medium size, two small (though the two small ones were both pregnant) – a ton should have lasted me through the winter.  Alas, it did not, due to the breakage issue and subsequent waste (not entirely the fault of the sheep), and I was buying bales by March. 

This year, with nine sheep (no breeding plans this year, and four of the nine are barely 50 pounds), I purchased two tons of hay.  I looked around in August and September, pricing hay as well as buying test bales from several sources.  The local grass hays are usually about half the price of the eastern Washington bales, and I looked into them more thoroughly than I have in the past.  The price is obviously attractive, but so is the “buy local” aspect of it.  It just feels better to buy a local product, without all the shipping/hauling, as well as theoretically better and more natural health-wise.  The local bales tend to be smaller than the monster eastern Washington bales (50-60 pounds compared to 80-100 pounds) so that’s appealing too (easier to handle).  I purchased a local bale from a guy the next town over, and it looked green and leafy, but turned out to be quite stemmy.  The sheep ate it up, but there was a fair amount of waste, with long, resilient stems like straw left in the feeder.  Oh well.  Another bale purchased locally was brown on the outside, but I held hope it was just bleached by the sun.  But it was just as brown on the inside.  It looked like what happens when you wait too long to mow your lawn, then cut it and don’t bag the cut grass, and it sits out there in blobs and turns brown.  The sheep weren’t all that interested in it, and I ended up using most of it for bedding in the chicken coop (nest boxes and on the floor).  Of course once it was in the chicken coop the sheep thought it a delicacy, and I found them out there eating it like it was a long sought, rare treat.  Go figure!

I purchased a bale from a guy who hauls from eastern Washington.  It wasn’t bad hay, with some brown spots in the bale (overbleached looking), constituting about 5 percent of the bale.  His product (and price) was topping my list.  The local feed store sells the best product I’ve seen, with consistently green, leafy bales of large size.  The price is steep, but I’m coming to realize it’s not too overpriced.  They’re a small feed store, and prices tend to be a little more there for all the products they sell, but their hay is an impeccable product.  I had one bale last year that was bad – the farmer must have been growing in a river delta, and the bale was loaded with a sandy dusty dirt.  I would pick up a flake of hay and the dirt would stream off of it.  I took it back to the feed store and they replaced it without question.  I like that kind of integrity, and also like supporting them.  Because I’ve learned, too, that giving hay sellers feedback on their product generally goes over like a lead balloon.  I found that out last year as well as this year, with the 5 percent brown bales.  I don’t complain or accuse, but phrase it more as a question like “has anyone else noticed this  —– with the hay?”

When I went up to get my hay feeder in September, I decided to try a bale of grass hay from a farmer/grower a few miles from where the slow feeder was made.  It was third cutting grass hay, and green and leafy.  A little softer than the brittle eastern Washington hay and about half the price.  Sold!  I negotiated with the farmer for a couple of weeks.  He wasn’t keen on delivering less than 100 bales (I’d figured on about 75 to get me through to spring), and I had to wait until there was another delivery near to me.  Finally, in mid-October, I had a garage full of hay.  I moved the sheep to the pen full time a week or two later, and, sigh, they’ve been going through the hay at about twice the rate I’d anticipated, with waste out the wazzoo.

The hay I bought in September seemed much greener than what was delivered, and the waste is prodigious.  The hay is stemmy and strawlike, and though some bales are greener than others,  I’m going through an average of five bales a week, and hauling five or six wheelbarrows of “bedding” out of there every weekend.  It’s so deep by mid-week that I can barely push open the gate to the pen, and it looks like a bale of straw was opened in there.  I want to call the farmer and ask if maybe they accidentally delivered first cutting to me (they were out of second cutting hay by September) and the perhaps the other delivery that day got my third cutting(?), but I know that won’t go over well, however non-accusatory my questioning might be.  So I’m chalking it up to lesson learned. The damage to the fleeces is less than last year, mainly due to the stemmy hay (though there is a lot of grass seed head too, I’m sweeping up dustpans full of it in the garage, which doesn’t bode well).  But feeding with the hay nets it will always be an issue.  I have my fingers crossed that this almost two tons of hay, which I’d planned to get me through to April, will last until February, when I’ll need to buy another ton, effectively making this a very expensive year for hay.  There are no bargains, I guess.  It’s supremely frustrating on all counts, and I’ve been trying to “let it go” and just take the lesson from it all (feeder and hay).  It’s not like this is unique to me.  As Sally said when we were discussing our mutual ongoing quests (and she has about 8 years on me, with regard to keeping sheep), ‘I don’t know why I should expect find the answer to the perfect feeder when shepherds have been trying to find the same answer for forever.’

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