Friday, October 8, 2010


Last week we put the last two loads of hay in the barn. It wasn’t great hay – mostly grass with a little bit of mold. We had placed an ad for hay in the newspaper, but nobody responded. So when Dave ran into a friend of a friend at the elevator who had some extra hay – we bought it.
We feed small (50#) square bales of hay to our sheep. It’s easier to keep their fleeces clean when they have to reach down to eat rather than burrow into a big round bale. But baling and feeding small square bales is labor intensive and hard work, so most farmers use the big round bales. That means if we don’t bale enough ourselves, we have a hard time finding hay to buy.
This year, we didn’t bale enough and we haven’t found enough to feed the sheep over the winter. We’re lucky this year that our pastures are still lush and green in October; we’ll probably be able to put off feeding hay until November. But even with that saving, we only have 1100 bales in the barn. One ewe will eat an average of a bale of hay every ten days. That’s 18 bales per sheep until we can put them out onto fresh pasture in May. Eighteen bales times fifty sheep is 1300 bales to get us through the winter. We’re 200 bales shy. Doesn’t seem like many, but that means shorting the sheep about 22% off a really strict diet for anyone, much less a pregnant ewe. The only option we see right now is to sell some of our ewes.
Logically, I would sell the older ewes who are more apt to have problems lambing or feeding their lambs. But those ewes are my friends. I know their names. They know me. When they lamb, their lambs aren’t afraid of us. We have two wethers, both friends, but they produce no lambs and their fleeces aren’t great. They will go to the butcher this fall. The one and two year old ewes are the ones I should be saving, but they aren’t friends yet and they still have their original ear tags, so I still know exactly what their breeding is. They will be the easiest to sell.
My spread sheet listing all the ewes, their ages, fleece characteristics, lambing records and breeding lies on the kitchen table. Every day I look at it, trying to settle on ten ewes to sell. I can’t make up my mind. Saturday, we turned the rams in with the ewes. It won’t make my decision any easier, but it might make the decision easier for a buyer.
While I debate with myself, I hope for a late, late frost so that we can keep feeding the ewes on growing pastures and fields and put off beginning on our hay for as long as possible. With enough procrastination on my part and a late enough frost, I might not have to sell any sheep at all.

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