Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Picky eaters

The sheep don’t have a chance to be picky eaters. They graze on grass in the summer, on alfalfa hay in the winter and are supplemented with a little bit of corn the six weeks before lambing. Not much variety in their diet.

Newton the dog has even less variety. He gets one particular type of dog food. If we change the food, he gets diarrhea. So we try never to change his food. Interestingly, he never gets diarrhea from snacks.

Simon my youngest grandson, at 9 months, eats everything that comes within reach, including that one particular type of dog food. He is always hungry and squawks if we slow down while spoon feeding him. He’s a lot like his older cousin Jasper who also eats voraciously, but would just as soon not eat tomatoes or cucumbers and some other vegetable type foods. My oldest grandson, Kieran, is the original picky eater. He doesn’t like much of anything except fish, snacks and dessert, certainly not vegetables. In fact, he knows before you even tell him what we’re having for dinner that he won’t like it. Presumably they’ll all grow out of these phases.

The chickens are also picky eaters, but for them, it comes naturally. They wander through the barn and barnyard, pecking at the bedding, picking up bugs, grains and bits of sheep poop. In comparison to the chickens, I don’t mind my oldest picky eater so much; at least we don’t have to supply him with sheep poop.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

soft cluck in the dark
chickens in the barn again
fresh eggs for breakfast

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Winthrop the second

Winthrop our ram loves people. When we walk up to his pasture, he leans his head against the fence so we can scratch behind his ears. He’s always glad to see us, whether for the scratches or for the corn we bring.

Winthrop is a huge sheep but we can usually lead him anywhere he wants to go. He was trained as a 4H lamb, so we lead him with a leash or with an arm around his neck

During breeding, Winthrop has a personality transplant. He’s just as glad to see us, but he is also just as apt to knock us over as to snuggle up for a scratch. If we catch his harness, stand beside him and scratch, he’s perfectly happy. But if we try to walk away, he lowers his head and charges.

Monday, I heard Dave calling me. “Bring some corn.” He was standing in the middle of the pasture tugging on Winthrop’s harness, completely unable to move Winthrop or to escape himself. I picked up a bucket and rattled it. Winthrop trotted up to the gate and the corn, allowing Dave to escape. Yesterday Dave cleared a four foot high gate in a single bound and I picked up a 2” X 4” for self-defense.

During breeding we walk the pastures with one eye on Winthrop because we’re never sure if the ram approaching us is Winthrop or his alter ego, Winthrop the second.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Coating the sheep

I tell myself it’s like dressing a child. Head goes here, legs into the leg holes. But my self knows better. Dressing a sheep is nothing like dressing a child, not even a 150 pound child. Coating is enough of a challenge that if we didn’t earn a lot more money selling clean fleeces, I wouldn’t bother. But a clean fleece is worth $10 per pound. A fleece full of veggies, whether hay bits or weeds is worth around a dollar a pound. The extra work is definitely worth it. If I sold my fleeces to the shearer, he would sell it to a commercial woolen mill where they acid wash the fleeces to get rid of the veggies. But I sell my fleeces to individual spinners, felters and knitters and they would rather work with wool in its natural state – no acids, no bleaches, no veggies, nothing but wool and lanolin. So my sheep are coated from October through February when we shear them and my fleeces are wonderfully clean.

On the day we coat the sheep, we first put them into the barn. Lately, that’s been difficult as Winthrop doesn’t want us anywhere near his ladies. Once the sheep are corralled, we grab Winthrop’s harness, hold a bucket of corn in front of his nose and lead him back out of the barn, shutting him out. Only then can we work with the ewes.

Dave grabs the closest sheep and holds her against his legs. We inject her with a wormer and note in the barn log whether or not she has an orange crayon marking on her rump, evidence that she’s been bred. I pick out the most likely sized sheep coat and slip it over her head. That part is easy. Then we pull it down along her back. To fit well, the coat must hang down over her bottom by a couple of inches. If it fits, we wrestle her hind legs through the straps on the rear end of the coat. If we’re lucky, the coat fits perfectly. If we’re unlucky, the ewe backs over me, or runs Dave into the fence or we both end up on the ground.

Most coatings are somewhere in between the extremes. More often than not, when we release the sheep, it becomes obvious that her coat is too small (she has trouble walking) or too large (it hangs past her knees and she can easily step out of the straps) and we have to try a different size. Some sheep require two or three trials. The coats are various shades of beige, made in several different styles and embellished with denim patches where holes have worn in the fabric. Fortunately, we don’t have a mirror in the barn, so the ewes don’t complain about how their coats look. Coating would be really difficult if the sheep could tell us which patches suited their personalities or which coat style made them look fat. If we finish coating the sheep in a single day, we consider it a good day. And if they keep their coats on until shearing we know that we’ll have beautiful fleeces.