Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Archive for the tag “heat wave”

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.

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{Summa summa summa time*}

Two of 20 or 30 mature Big Leaf Maples; these are in the sheep pasture.

Two of 30 or so mature big leaf maples on the property; these are in the sheep pasture.

So those trees I was grumbling about back in April? Yeah, I’m full of gratitude for them right now. In a spring and summer of weird weather in North America, the Pacific Northwest has been unusually hot and dry since early May. We normally have a pretty soggy spring, with June usually being gray, if not wet, and June Gloom, or Juneuary being common descriptors for the wet, and often cold, weather. This year, though, summer arrived a full month early and has been setting records all the way. We’ve been roasting since June, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. And, yes, the shade from the trees has been welcome. My roast chicken fetish has suffered a bit (hard to muster the resolve to fire up the oven to 400 degrees for 90 minutes—the house is like a little hot box from about 4 p.m. on), but I’m still chowing on the watermelons.

Sheep at dusk.

Sheep at dusk.

The beasts are doing well in the heat, what with plenty of shade to hang out in. And even if I didn’t have too much shade (per my lament for grass growing back in April), the property is dried up and the grass has turned brown due to lack of moisture. I’ve been watering some, but it’s a battle lost long ago (the paradox being that within two weeks of no rain, the ground is dried up and rock hard) and I mostly do it to help cool the place in the evenings. I have to be careful with the watering so I don’t run the well tank dry. I accidentally do this a few times every year and it freaks me out every time. The first time I did it, the first summer I was here, I thought the well had run dry (or the pump had broken down) and was cobbling together a plan before I called the well repair guy to come take a look (it was late on a Sunday night). I turned off the faucet to the sprinkler I had going (mostly to cool things off rather than water the dead grass) and within 15 minutes the water was running in the house again. Lesson learned. I’ve done it a few times since, and it’s always a 3-second panic before I remember. Now I set a timer for watering; I time the watering AND the recharging period, so I’m not overtaxing the system.

Bees drinking from the pond. It's perfect for them; with all the slop and vege growing in it, they can drink safe from drowning.

Bees drinking from the pond. It’s perfect for them; with all the slop and vege growing in it, they can drink safe from drowning.

I keep the little slop pond filled; it’s the main source of water for my bees, and of course the dogs’ constant slopping in there to cool off. Pal will lie down and roll to his side to get good and wet, then go roll in ecstasy in the pile of hog fuel. Nice. I also keep a little kiddie pool scrubbed and filled for the dogs (basically a giant water bowl for them, 031the chickens, and the sheep—you’d think it was the only water around for miles, given its popularity as a trough). I stepped in when it was clean and full recently and yelped with the cold. It was obvious that this water was fresh from the subterranean Snoqualmie Valley.

A recent day trip took me to the San Juan Islands.  This is Mount Baker seen from the ferry on the way home.

A recent day trip took me to the San Juan Islands. This is Mount Baker seen from the ferry on the way home, and had me feeling blessed to live in such a paradise.

Not much is getting done in the way of chores – too hot for housework is one of my favorite excuses – but thankfully, being in a maritime climate, it does cool down at night. I open the doors and windows, and employ a fan, and by midnight or so, the house has cooled nicely. I’m leaving the back door open all night (with a baby gate to keep the dogs in—otherwise they would be out barking at snipes all night long), and do the same with the chicken coop, so the hens have a chance to cool down. But for the most part all the critters are doing well. The sheep stay in the shade, and drink plenty of water, and the chickens take dust baths in the hot sun and go through gallons of water. The dogs and cats lay around all day, for the most part. The Setter boys being a skootch more active than Daisy, who just lounges in one of her many dirt pits. Pal runs after birds, and Farley insists I throw his ball for him, though he paces himself with regards to returning it for another toss.

Eloise complaining about her captivity from my office (behind glass paneled door).

Eloise complaining about her captivity from my office (behind glass paneled door).

The only problem, honestly, has been the cats. The two youngsters, and especially Madeline, are quite the hunters, and keeping them inside once I open the doors to cool the house requires locking them in my office. For the entire night. That’s not really that big of a deal (Eloise would argue otherwise, and has shredded paperwork I’ve left on my desk), but it does require some management. Now that the birds are no longer singing (sniff – I miss my Swainson’s seranades in the evenings), and the nesting season winding up, I’ve relented and let them outside. Madeline is impossible to get back inside, as her feral nature takes over once she crosses the threshold. She stays out all night, and sometimes for a full 24 or 36 hours. I find dead mice scattered around in the morning (the chickens love these) and a dead bat recently, too. This saddened me even as it gave me the willies. It was a tiny little thing, no bigger than the tip of my thumb, with tiny needles for teeth. And this afternoon I found a dead towhee in the front yard, which upset me nearly to tears, and I cursed myself for not locking Madeleine up permanently. When it rains at night she’ll come in readily, but in that case it will be another month. I will hopefully get her inside tonight (we’re coming up on 36 hours out now) and am locking her up in a dog crate if I have to.

Happy hive.

Happy hive.

The bees are happy, and I’m pleased with the front-of-hive activity I’m seeing. I opened it up for an inspection a few weekends ago and was pleased to see plenty of brood in the few frames I looked at. The bees were very docile—unusually so—and I kept it very brief. As soon as I saw the brood, I pretty much stopped. I’m always so paranoid about squishing the queen by accident, and it was hot, so I just plopped on another hive box so they could build up, and will wait for a cooler day to do a more thorough inspection. I want to do a split – start a new hive by moving some frames of brood into a new hive, but am squeamish about it. I don’t trust that they’ll figure out how to make a queen, so will probably buy a queen to put in there. If I do it. I’ll have to feed all winter too, with it being so late in the season (and the drought taking its toll on flowering plants of all kinds). We shall see.

*Summertime

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy relaxing in one of her more elaborate dirt pits.  Happy dog.

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy relaxing in one of her more elaborate dirt pits, dug into the hillside. Happy dog. Heart her!

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