Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Leaving the sheep

Whenever we leave the sheep alone, it is with a certain amount of trepidation. Bad things can happen. In 25 years of raising sheep, we’ve had dogs get into the barnyard and chase the sheep; we’ve had lambs try to jump feeders and tangle their legs and break them; we’ve had old ewes lie down and not be able to get back up to their feet. But these things rarely happen.

During most of the year we can leave the sheep for a weekend and feel pretty confident that as long as we’ve left them food and water, they’ll be fine. In the summer, we need to estimate how fast they will eat all the grass in a pasture so we will leave them in a big enough field, and we need to make sure that their waterer is working well. Lack of water can kill a sheep rapidly in the heat of summer.

In the winter, we have snow as backup if the waterer freezes, so we only have to make sure that the sheep have access to enough food. During October, November and December, we gradually increase their feed from four bales of hay a day to five, six, and finally seven. The nice thing about feeding hay is that we can set out enough bales for more than one day and the sheep will get to it, even if they have to dig through 8” of snow like they did this week.

By the first week in January, the pregnant ewes need more calories than they can get eating hay, so we supplement their feed with corn. The corn has to be fed daily or they’ll overeat and make themselves sick. So, beginning in January and continuing until the pastures are green in May, we can’t leave the farm unless we have someone to feed the sheep daily.

This week, at the cold end of 2009, we can set out 22 bales of hay and then slip away for three days with almost clear consciences. The sheep are young and healthy; they have enough food and water; and with Kalie the alpaca to guard them, they can take care of themselves.

1 comment: