Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Archive for the tag “sheep shearing”

Highs and lows…

 

20170602_165417It’s a fine July morning as I write this, in the glory of another Pacific Northwest summer. The house is cool from the overnight chill (temps drop 20 degrees or more at night) and I’m sitting in the morning sun, anticipating a hot day (maybe as high as 80s) but trying to warm up in the sun’s rays.  Glorious seems like an over the top word, but it really, really is.

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The Swainson’s thrushes are winding down for the season, sadly.  I’ve heard a few this morning, but nothing like the intensity of just a few weeks ago. I’ve written of my Swainson’s serenades before, and the two months of their song is never enough.  Though I knew they were around for a couple weeks at least, I didn’t hear my first song until May 27 or 28.  It reached a crescendo in early July, with the morning and evening punctuated by seeming near-constant competition between birds and their territories, and reaching a fervor that brings wonder and even worry.  These birds are small – about half the size of a robin, and fit in your hand easily (one flew into my window in May – I picked it up and moved it to a safe, quiet spot while it recovered from the momentary stun).  I am glad I have lots of berries and cherries here for them to feed on as they sing, and hopefully don’t lose any to what has to be exhaustion by the end of the season.  I hope to hear them for a few more evenings yet – they are magical at sunset – but I know it’s almost over.  As I write this I see a young robin, breast still baby-speckled with immature feathering but obviously on her own, dining on the red huckleberries on my old growth stump.  It’s so nice to see.

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Native red elderberry; a favorite of the Swainson’s, but also Robins, Western Tanagers, Cedar Waxwing and more.

I took a few days off around the July 4th holiday this year and it was wonderful.  It seemed to last longer than normal (total time away from work was 5 days) and I got a lot done in that time.  Shearing is almost done, I got the ram lambs banded (except one who turned out to be cryptorchid – the vet will be doing surgery to retrieve the undescended testicle in 3 weeks) and all of them vaccinated except Ginger, Cinnamon’s lamb who is just as skittish as her mama and learning well. Sigh.  I haven’t been able to catch her OR her mama, who is the holdout for shearing.  I’ve sheared all of them myself this year, with a blade (i.e., hand scissors versus electric clippers).  I started off pretty rough and am getting better, and even faster, but I’m not sure I’ll do this again next year.  For one, even though I’m getting better, I can’t do more than two sheep a day, and the mini-rodeo to catch the each one is creating some wiley sheep.  Thus, it’s gotten late in the year, and doing them in June or July is WAY too late – part of the reason the more recent ones look better is because of the “rise” – the old fleece has basically lifted away and I’m just snipping it away from the new wool’s growth.  For another it’s back-breaking, hot work.  And yet another reason, even though I’m going slow, I’ve made way too many slices (cuts) to their skin.  It was harder in the beginning with the wool tight to the skin, you think you’re scissoring a thick patch of wool when you’ve actually got a snippet of skin in there.  Nothing too dramatic (if I had electric shearers I’m sure I would have had some ‘call the vet’ moments – it happens so fast!), but makes me jumpy for the process.  Practice, I guess, but it’s still a lot of work.  We’ll see.

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Meg, after I finally caught her and sheared her.  She obviously felt better without all that wool. 

Now it’s time to start deciding who stays and who goes after lambing.  I’ve gotten about halfway through the list and still have some tough decisions to make, as I need to get the flock back to about 10 sheep before the winter months.  They’ve pretty much devoured most of the greenery in the pasture, and much of the property as well, and are going through hay at a good clip too – the lambs may only be 40 pounds each, but they are growing youngsters and they eat!

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TJ in the pasture. He is huge!

I have one less to place this week, because unfortunately I lost a lamb recently to an accident with my feeding set up.  It was a freak accident, but also preventable, as most accidents are.  I feed with slow-feeder hay nets inside my big hay feeder.  The lambs have been jumping inside the hay feeder to get at the hay nets and I’m just waiting until they are too big to get in (we’re getting close now!).  The mesh on the nets is 1 ½ – 2 inches, but one of the nets had a hole where a couple of the strands had broken or worn through.  And one of the ram lambs (the polled one) stuck his head in the hole… You can guess the rest.  He struggled to get out and it twisted the net and made it worse.  When I found him he was still warm.  The hardest part of the loss is the knowing if I gone out there to check on them a half hour—or even 15 minutes—earlier I could have saved him.  I’ve been using that net for almost 7 years and I think the hole has been there for at least 3 or 4 years.  Obviously I will fix it now, but it was a tough day, and though I’m getting over the guilt I will always feel responsible.  I shared the incident with folks on one of my sheep forums on Facebook and it helped immensely to do so.  Not only are people kind and sympathetic, but so many shared similar stories – even nearly identical stories – of freak losses, which was enormously helpful to hear.  Stories about something that had been in the farm environment for years and the one intrepid or inquisitive sheep (or other critter) found the danger in a seemingly benign object or setup – it happens.  I buried the 20170713_181911little guy out back, and covered him with his mother’s fleece (she’s the scurf queen on a good year and especially with the late shearing this year; the fleece was basically destined for the compost so I was very glad to have it for this use) before covering him with soil.  It helped a lot, and brought some closure to the incident.  The other, farmer-practical part of me realizes I really need to learn to butcher.  He was small, but I could have salvaged something for the dogs at least.  Farm life.

P.S.  I haven’t heard a Swainson’s thrush song since Saturday night.  I guess we’re done for the season. Sigh.

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Pebbles’ ewe lamb.  I am smitten with her.  A keeper, for sure.

 

 

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Mud and stuff

I suppose it’s just the time of year, but I’m reaching my limit for wet, cold, and mud.  That last item being the one that’s tipping me over the edge.  We’ve had oodles of rain in the past week or two, complete with localized flooding (creating commute havoc – 45 minutes to travel the last 2 ½ miles home as the entire north end of the valley is trying to use one road) and soggy animals.  And mud.  Lots of mud.  This porous little hillside I live on, with its many sinkholes and underground streams (both are more than a little creepy at times) and seasonal water flows, is literally oozing water where it’s not flowing outright.  Some of the underground streams are “repurposed” critter holes (mountain beaver and moles/voles, etc.) but I think most of it is just the water finding the path of least resistance, as water will.  It emerges out of nowhere to surface for an above-ground stretch, then goes underground, only  to bubble up like a spring dozens of yards down the hill.  And then there are the weird spongy spots, where the ground feels like it wants to give way, bouncing a little, sort of like a bog.  Except this is on a hillside.  I’m going to do some digging when the weather dries up a bit, to see if I can figure out these spots. 

Of course with all of this wet slop, the dogs are tracking in epic amounts of mud, and I’ve given up trying to keep the floors clean.  I have plenty of throw rugs, and wipe down paws as needed, but even then I have to follow behind with a towel on the floors, toweling up the worst of it.  Pal is often in need of a total hosedown, as he looks like a bi-colored dog after running the entire width and breadth of the property – the upper part of his body is mostly white, but his underside is black with mud, sometimes up to his mid-side.  He looks like he’s been dipped in a mud bath.  It requires a hosing, and I feel awful as I spray his small body with the cold hose water.  I mostly just do his legs and feet, and a little of the ‘undercarriage’ area.  When he’s not too filthy I’ll do him in the tub with warm water from the shower sprayer, but even then he leaves a layer of grit in the tub.  Daisy and Farley don’t run like Pal does, so they tend to only get muddy paws.  

The chicken run is a half inch of slop when the water isn’t running outright across it, so the eggs I’m getting (averaging 8 a day now; I got 11 today!) are covered with mud, as each hen steps on the previously laid eggs to add hers to the collection.  The last one or two eggs laid in each nest box are clean, but the rest require scrubbing.  During two of the worst rain days I found a new underground watercourse along the outside of their pen.  Probably one of those repurposed critter holes – moles or rats – but it was a pretty fierce flow, much stronger than what my hose produces on a fully open spigot.  The hens of course are miserable.  They tolerate the rain, but aren’t ducks and prefer dryer weather, where they can at least find some dry dirt under the eaves to enjoy a dust bath here and there.  There is zero dry dirt to be found right now as everything is saturated.  

On a positive note, I found a great home for one of the roosters today.  It was the extra-large boy, Junior – handsome and with a great crow, but too large for many of my hens.  And with two roosters it created too much stress in the coop (Junior was always after the other, who had his own little cadre of admirer hens), and my egg production was compromised.  I moved Junior out to the chicken tractor, which immediately removed the coop stress (and my egg production doubled in 24 hours!) but left Junior essentially in solitary confinement. Not good for a flock animal.  I considered butchering him but realized I have zero knowledge on the how to’s beyone the initial act of lopping his head off.  And no decent (sharp) knives.  I didn’t want to learn on him (will source this knowledge with area farmers) so a Craigslist ad was born.  Response was minimal.  Then I was checking my spam folder (looking for a note from my sheep shearer) and found a response from 4 days ago, right after the ad went live.  It included a photo of the sender’s chicken house (a palace!), with a few of the 19 hens in the chicken yard.  And, the people were just one town over!  Woohoo! I wrote back quickly, praying that the person didn’t go elsewhere in the ensuing four days, since I hadn’t responded.  Thankfully they were still interested and came by this evening.  It was great to meet them and fun to talk with like minded people.  And I nearly yelped with excitement when they told me they had two yaks!  I love yaks and have looked into them as an animal I’d like to raise.  They are a fiber animal, of course (my justification), but do I have room?  I’m going to go over to visit Junior sometime in the next month or so, and meet the yaks.  I can hardly wait.  

The sheep pen is holding up okay with the mud issue.  There are a few mucky spots just as it transitions from cover to the pen, but it’s not too bad.  I mucked the shed out a couple of weeks ago and it’s in pretty good shape overall.  I’ve been trying to let them out as much as possible, for a little bit of fresh forage and to stretch their legs a bit.  The ewes especially need to be moving more to stay fit so that when the lambs come they’ll have an easier birthing process.  The shearer is supposed to be here on Sunday, and it’s none too soon.  Ideally they would have been sheared a month ago – the fleeces are a mess on all but one, and basically a salvage job on little Pebbles (my favorite wool, of course).  She began pulling at her back a couple of months ago.  At first I thought it was a type of rooing, though rooing usually starts at the shoulders (where her wool is well rooted and not coming out at all), but then I realized it was mostly irritation from where the ram, ahem, serviced her and she’s been pulling at it so much she now has a reverse Mohawk along her back, from about mid-spine to her tail.  Of course with this there’s the secondary worry of her ingesting too much wool and getting a hairball impaction.  The shearer comes from Wales every year (his wife’s family is in the area and raise Black Welsh Mountain Sheep) and shears area flocks while he’s here.  He’s fast and efficient.  I was going to email him today to get a time frame, then realized he was probably en route, flying out today or tomorrow.  I’m sure I’ll hear from him by Friday and will get them all ready for their date with the clippers.  Even with the chilly weather we’ve had lately (snow showers!) I’m sure they’ll be much happier without all the itchy wool.  And I’ll probably do a mid-year shearing in early October, to hopefully keep them a little more comfortable during the winter months (a year’s worth of wool growth seems to be about two months too much).  I’m still learning!

March musings

It rained hard all day today, with only a few breaks in the downpour.  I woke up late due to the time change (Spring forward) and the hour lost, so it was officially 9:45 before the dogs ate breakfast. Crawling back into bed for a lazy Sunday morning read with tea seemed to be the best start to the dreary day. I’m again thankful for the giant skylight I had installed last year with my roof replacement; even on this cloudy, grey day my bedroom is bathed in light. I’m finishing a great book by a woman named Lynn Reardon about the rescue and rehab she created for ex-racehorses in Texas. It’s called Beyond the Homestretch and was one of those books at the library that was pulled out for highlighting in their shelf-end “interesting picks.” (Librarys ROCK!) It’s an enjoyable read, with the highs and lows associated with rescue work of any kind but without preachiness or crusading-speak (a turn off), and damned funny in places too. An ex-accountant, Ms. Reardon is a terrific writer as well as horse rescuer.

I looked at my chore list, deciding what I should do first. Much of it is the ongoing stuff, with a lot of seasonal additions as well. I picked up my (bee)hive boxes yesterday, and stopped off and got a quart of paint for painting them. The paint color is called Shocking Green, and it’s sort of a neon green with a hint of chartreuse mixed in. I hope it won’t be too garish, sitting out by the garden (I plan to embellish with some stenciled or hand-painted vines and flowers – for my stylin beehive), and even more important, I hope my bees like it. They’re due to arrive in mid-April. I ordered four pounds, which is the queen and several thousand of her workers. It was only $10 more for four pounds versus three pounds, and though I know most of the experienced beekeepers say the extra pound of workers doesn’t make that much of a difference, I figured the more workers the better, to start with. I mean, they’re already handicapped with me as a new beekeeper, so the more advantages I can give them, the better chances they’ll have. I’ll have to bone up on my YouTube vids of how to transfer them from their traveling cage into their new home. I purchased my bee veil and gloves, too. I got a veil that’s part of a half-suit, rather than the full suit (where you look like you’re going out to battle haz-mat or infectious disease), with the most important component being the veil itself. A body sting is doable, but a face sting, and especially an eye-sting, could be very bad. I can’t remember the last time I was stung by a honeybee, and even my last yellowjacket sting has probably been more than a decade ago. Hopefully my Carniolan bees will do well for me and be easy to work with.

Sheep shearing was last week and though it got done it was a bit of a rodeo. We did Cinnamon first, since she’s the wildest, and it set off a chain reaction of panic with all the rest.  Thankfully Eifion, an experienced shearer who comes all the way from Wales each year, has done this a time or two, and was able to catch and wrassle each one of them in turn.  It was a good lesson though, and I do plan to build at least one stall in the confinement area (right now it’s just an open shed) so I can enclose them for this and other reasons, as needed.   

After shearing, they all look nekkid and a bit chilly, in Cinnamon’s case (for some reason she’s the only one I’ve noticed shivering).  She was so glorious with her full fleece, and now she looks gangly and awkward.  And little Pebbles is even tinier than I thought.  I managed to catch her and pick her up the other day (she was up on the porch chasing the gimpy hen, which she loves to do); she’s maybe 50 pounds, 60 pounds max.  Of all of them Cinnamon had the nicest fleece – clean and nice and crimpy, rather than the tangled and burr-filled fleece of Pebbles (whose fleece is definitely the softest), or the choppy, broken fleeces of the boys.  All three of the boys have been itching for two months and rubbing against everything.  Bo and especially Curly were using their horns to dig at itchy spots on their backs, and completely ruined the integrity of the fleece (normally it should roll out as a single unit after it’s been sheared off, but theirs is broken and filled with vegetable matter (VM) to boot.  I still need to process the fleece before the dampness in the garage ruins them entirely.  It’s been so miserably wet and chilly recently that I’ve been reluctant to go out and skirt them, never mind get them washed and ready for further processing.  From there, I’ll be felting slippers for Christmas presents (tee hee).  And working on making sure next year’s fleeces are in tip top shape.  

My other sheepy news is the hay feeding solution I recently discovered.  Ever since they’ve been in their confinement area (to keep them off the pasture during the winter months, so the pasture has a chance to recover) I’ve been feeding grass hay.  I do let them out to run around on nice weekend days (and it doesn’t look like today will be one of them).  They look longingly into the pasture, but roam around and browse the grass and vegetation around the house and property with obvious enjoyment.  The rest of the time, though, it’s hay.  I knew I’d be feeding hay, and knew of the price per bale (anywhere from $13 to $22, depending on feed store and the hay shipment itself – where it’s from, how heavy the bale, etc.), but had no idea I’d be going through a bale a week.  That’s more than I spend on dog and cat food each week!  

I was feeding them on the ground, as I hadn’t found a feeder that fit all my criteria: easy to install, low waste, reduced chance of VM in fleece, and minimal “real estate” used in my small set up.  Of course feeding them on the ground meant that roughly one third of each bale was ending up as bedding as they walked through it and dragged it around.  I purchased a wall mount hay feeder at the feed store and realized as soon as I got it home that it wasn’t going to work (it wasn’t cheap, either), so returned it the next week.  I had an old hay net feeder I purchased years ago as a prop in a holiday-themed cubicle decoration contest at work (I won), so tried that.  The mesh was so large they emptied it overnight, much of it ending up on the ground.  I checked Craigslist regularly and scoured the Internet for suitable feeders, coming up with slow feeders for horses (too big and too expensive) and a fellow in Virginia who was no longer making his perfectly designed sheep/goat hay feeder.  Then one day on a visit to Craigslist I found an ad placed by Equinets.  I contacted the proprietor via the website, explaining my need.  She lives close to where I work and we discussed what might work.  I picked up a small and a medium net a couple of weeks ago, and installed them the following weekend.  It’s like a miracle.  Within one day I knew I’d found the solution.  

Not only is the waste next to zero, it’s also provided them with hay 24/7, as is natural, rather than the loud baaing for food every time they saw me or heard the front door open, and the attendant feeding frenzy of me coming out with several flakes of hay three times a day.  They are quiet and content, and everybody gets to eat when they want to eat (the girls were sometimes bullied away from the hay when I fed it on the ground, which meant I had to put down multiple piles, which increased the waste ratio).  I rarely hear them baaing now (though they are still trying to train me to give them grain on demand) and are often all lying down, quietly chewing cud when I go out there to check on them.  I fill the two nets once a day – the smaller one is usually nearly empty, and the larger one still about half full – and right now am still going through hay at about the same rate, but the good thing is it’s not as bedding!  In fact, I’m considering buying some straw for bedding now, to absorb manure and urine and they still have some cushion after I’ve cleaned up their waste. Filling them once a day eliminates that chore in the mornings, too, when I’m often already rushed to make it to work.  Now I can just replenish the nets in the evening, make sure their water bucket is full, and in the morning just check to make sure they’re all content and well before I leave for work.

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