Monday, January 31, 2011

Winter Sheep Lessons

Well we are winding up lambing around here (14 lambs in the building and 2 in the house) and what can I say, I learned a few lessons. Lesson one: the ram does not get left with the herd for an extended period of time. Hence a long and intermittent lambing season. Lesson two: most of the Barbados ewes we purchased in the spring do not hold their body condition on hay alone, so they will be leaving. I will liquidate them in mid-June, when those that lost their lambs have had a chance to be rebred and they all have had pasture to raise up their body condition. Lesson three: lambing is likely best done (if done in winter) in March, not December and January. Lesson four: I have a better handle on how to take care of bottle lambs (feeding in the house for a week) and how to attach an orphan lamb to a ewe (headlock the ewe).

Lesson three, Janice and Hazel look after bottle lambs

This winter has highlighted several deficiencies around here. One being the lack of handling facilities and winter sheep lots. We had lots of trouble keeping sheep on our farm before we took electric net and layered it up against our high tensile exterior fence. The other problem we have been having is that the calves are not intimidated by the net in the winter. Frozen ground is not as good an electrical ground, so cattle on frozen ground do not receive much of a shock from the electric net. Hence the calves have been stepping over it and getting into the hay storage and the sheep area. 

I spy with my little eye: calves in the sheep shelter... darn you calves

In other news, we have continued to clear trees (you can catch a glimpse of it in the upper left corner of the above picture). We were selected to be part of the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Savings Incentive Program  (SIP) and so I have opened the special savings account to begin saving for this program. These funds will likely get put toward a larger sheep hoop building that can house the sheep in the winter and finish out feeder pigs while the sheep are out at pasture. Janice, Hazel, and I went to the Practical Farmers of Iowa Beginning Farmer Workshop this past weekend to work on our farm business plan, which is a requirement for SIP. We will be going to the Premier One Winter Sheep Day next weekend to look at their handling facilities and to examine their building layouts. To conclude this month on a somewhat humorous note: 
Do you see something wrong in this picture?

No? How about now?

Our young ram Aegis had his head stuck again in the hay feeder. This morning was the third day in a row he got stuck. The first time I just cut out a tine (I was running late to a meeting), the second time I cut out as many tines as I could before the cutting wheel died, and the third time I cut out the last of the times.  Now, every other tine has been removed from the old hog crate to make it easier for the the sheep to get to the hay and harder for the ram to get his head stuck. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Just Cold

Today is the coldest day of this winter so far. It was -8 F or -22 C when I went out to chore this morning. When temperatures are that low, we take certain precautions. I wear a heavy face mask. I forgot to remove my glasses before going out. With the face mask, you build up some condensation from your breath on them and then it freezes. When I am not using my fingers, they are balled up into fists in my heavy gloves. You actually try not to wear too many layers because when you do move, you sweat and then when you stop moving, it gets cold.

Thermometer reads -8 F

Managing the livestock when it is that cold takes a few extra bits of attentions. First, the cattle take their hay down in the cover of the timber. I drag it down there on tarps and dump it for them to eat. I was impressed that our Cobett cattle water had less then a half an inch of ice buildup on top. That is thin enough that the cattle can break through it, but I usually open it up for them. I also collect eggs twice per day to limit the number of eggs that will freeze and crack in the building.

Cattle eating hay in the cover of the timber

Cattle Cobett water 

We have been lambing for several weeks now. I am down to two ewes left to lamb. As the ewes have been lambing, I have been moving them inside. The last two ewes to lamb are inside right now. We currently have 11 lambs with their mothers inside. We have some lambing trouble with with our Barbados ewes. They have not maintained their body condition on winter hay like our Katahdin sheep and we have lost a few more lambing.

 Ewes with lambs at feeding time

 One nice thing about winter is it is time to think about the next year and do some planning. Janice and I have a beginning farmer planning workshop coming up, we have been reassessing our production levels, and trying to plan farm expansion and look for some efficiencies. We recently did some visioning exercises and my wife has placed mine in a place of "honor." She blogged about it. It is nice to think about the future and try to work out the many kinks in our little farm. Other then this planning, I have done some tree work with Jim, but for the most part, I have been inside with Hazel taking care of her and enjoying her company.

Hazel playing in her room

I will start working for the federal government at the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office in Newton part time. My skill sets are perfect for this work and are just not going to fit better anywhere that close to home. We used student loans to come up with the down payment on our land and this job represents a way out of that debt with in in two to two-and-a-half years. It will mean less time to farm so we are paying considerable attention to efficiencies on the farm and we will be thinning down our sheep herd to our best animals this year. I do not know if other changes will emerge, but for the time, these are the only changes we have currently planned. I will keep you posted on any changes that come up.