Back creek is running.

It is that time of year again. Our back creek is running.  It just started on Friday night.  It is composed entirely of snow melt and mountain water.  I hope it runs into July or later before it dries up.  It has started earlier in previous years, but here’s to hoping it runs at least six months.  The good news is we can still see snow on the mountains from our living room window so there is still a lot of snow up there.  It continues to snow and build up a good frozen reserve.  Surprisingly, this has not stopped the horses from crossing the stream.  Usually at the first miniscule amount of running water the horses stop crossing the streambed.  This year they are still willing to cross the moving water, it will be a good thing if they get over their fear of water.
Back creek running January 29, 2016

I had a few things to do on Saturday while I was outside and in my mud boots so I decided to clean out the barn lot stream of all vegetation.  It looks good and I am hoping the banks will green up and firm up.  I am trying to get the creek to stay in a narrow channel with swift water instead of a slow wide stream full of detritus.  I did plant the back hillside behind the barn with grass seed but between the chickens and the sheep I am not sure how well it is going to turn out this spring.  We have moved the sheep off of it, but I am about to move the new momma cows onto it so I don’t believe it is going to get the rest it needs.  Maybe I can move the new momma cows in with the horses and sheep and keep the back barn lot clear of any animals.  Its worth a shot.
Front creek back barn lot cleaned out

Saturday was cleanup day.  I had to haul the dead alpaca carcass and dead lamb carcasses up to the boneyard.  It is a slow and smelly project.  I managed to get it done without any gagging.  I am a nurse by trade so it has to be pretty awful before I gag (unlike some people I know).  I let mouse and zeke terrorize the farm and follow the tractor.  They had a hoot and wore themselves out running all over the farm.  Mouse has not gotten to go that far before off leash.  He did pretty good.  I stopped at the top of the rocky hillside and knocked rocks loose from the ground with the tractor for about 70 feet.  My goal is to create a smooth area, rock free for tractor and vehicle passage.  I have to knock the rocks out of the ground when the soil is wet otherwise I cannot get them out of the ground.  In the dead of summer when I actually pick up rocks the tractor cannot get them out of the ground.  Its a slow process but every year I move a few more rocks and cleanup the place a little more. 

The upper prime field is looking good!  I took a picture.  The greenest patches are the areas that had the most organic matter on the ground when I spread out the grass seeds.  This provided the seeds with added moisture and protection.  I am hoping the rest of the field will perk up when we get an actual Spring.  I will spray some broadleaf herbicide on the field when everything gets to about six inches tall.  This will help the grass establish itself. 

4 acre field I planted this fall by hand

Baby catchup

Annmarie and I intended to get all caught up on the sheep Sunday afternoon. We were going to tag and band everyone and finally get an accurate count on our babies. The sheep have been in the barn lot only so they are eating the grass to minimize the amount the horses get to eat. Also the sheep don’t need to be making those babies hike a mile each way. The barn lot is only 100 yds X 60 yds wide. Annmarie doesn’t want the horses to get a lot of green grass so they have health issues so the sheep are doing them a disservice and keeping the grass nice and short. 

We used both dogs, I had Mouse on s leash and then ran Zeke with verbal commands. We rounded the sheep up and pushed them into the barn except for the two little babies that did not want to go inside. We had to pin them into a corner and catch them to get them inside. Mouse kept looking over at Zeke whenever I made him sit and stay next to me. He is starting to catch on that staying and focusing on the sheep is part of his job. It’s not fun chase games all the time. 
I grabbed the tagging and banding tools and plopped down in the straw and waited for Annmarie to bring me a baby. We could just grab them randomly but we kinda wanted to get them assigned to the correct mother in our spreadsheet. We did this until I ran out of blue tags they only went to 110!  I had no idea I needed to order more tags. That means we have had over 200 sheep in the last few years. I obviously need to order more tags ASAP. We have had more babies and I tried to count them but it is so hard. The only way you can tell some babies are tagged is it weighs down their left ear and it droops. You cannot actually see the tag without getting in the right location. The weather has been so bizarre. In a few weeks we will probably open up the bottom pasture for the cows.  The grass is greening up everywhere. 
We did find the deceased alpaca. I will be making a trip to the boneyard for the baby lamb, alpaca and some chickens to rest in their new home. I am hoping to work in our yard fence next weekend and work on making it dog proof so the two collies don’t have to be on the overhead runs. They have started to dig and have holes all over the yard. 

Sheep out of control.

I went outside Sunday morning and there are sheep every where!  I have lost track. I think there are 22 babies but not certain. I found another dead one. So we are up to four bummers and three dead. I started looking at the weathers to see how they look. I figured if they were skinny then maybe it really is a nutrition problem. Unfortunately, they are all still pretty fat so I think it is poor genetics. 
In the interest of solving our baby problem I reaaranged the feeders in the barn. The feeders were in the middle of the barn and evenly spread out to maximize access for the sheep.  This created two lanes that all 50+ sheep would run and jump down therefore trampling babies in their haste get away. I moved all the feeders to one side and along the back wall to create more open space so the babies don’t get trampled. It’s pretty amazing to watch a day old baby get rolled and stomped on and then just pop up and continue on like nothing happened. 
Zeke has decided to war with his hated nemesis. I am sure it is the ewe that used to stomp on him when he was a puppy.  Neither one of them wants to behave, both Annmarie and I have had issues with him. I had to call him off today and then roll him on his back and do a dominant throat hold till he relented and was submissive. He is so annoying unfortunately the ewe is just as annoying. I had to smack her to get her to not bum rush him!  At least the animosity is mutual.  Mouse ignores most of this as he thinks the barn is one big dinner plate. He digs around in the straw for placentas. They are long, skinny and chewy.  He swallows and chews on them likes it’s a chewy piece of pasta. When you holler at him he tries to slurp it down like a piece of long spaghetti noodle!  I usually catch him in the act and toss them out the window onto the ground for the cats or magpies. 
On the plus, side we finally figured out how to tie both dogs together. We got Zeke a chest harness and a 2 foot lead with clips on both ends. It was pretty awkward for both dogs the first few times but now they can tear around without any troubles. 

Our master bedroom closet is getting ready for its facelift.  All the dressers are lining our bedroom walls. We managed to help sarah get her bedroom closet emptied and our back wall hanging items placed into her closet.  She is living out of boxes. The contractor came out Monday to talk about the plan with Annmarie. I got a hold of the heating guy and he will be out this week or the beginning of next week to install the downdraft vent fan ductwork. It’s all starting to come together. 

Sheep everywhere

Another Bummer

It has been an odd lambing year for us.  Actually our worst so far.  We have had 25 babies to date, 2 have died and four have had to be bummered  This is a 24% rejection rate!  Of those 6, 3 have died so far for a 50% mortality rate.  So obviously they weren’t super healthy, but why?  Bad genetics?  A virus? (no one has been sick), Mothers too young? or Poor feed quality? (our hay this year is straw like, yet our winter has been very mild and the sheep have grazed a lot, there is green grass all over the farm even in January!!).  We do not have a good answer. 

To solve this problem we are getting a new ram (had already decided this in the fall and killed our ram, which is good cause he would be dead any ways after seeing the quality of the babies).  I will be watching the hay closer this year so it can be harvested while it still has some green color to it.  We are going to run two sheep herds. We will keep the ram with the alpaca.  He will get 6 weeks of access every 8 months.  When he is with the herd a second herd will be made up of young ewes under 1 year old so he does not impregnate any of them.  They can become pregnant at 6 months of age so they only need to be coddled for another 6 months.  Hopefully, this will help us overall.  Looking at a Katahdin/Dorper cross for our new ram. 

I will need to put up a couple more fences to make some more divided areas.  Lots to do, we still have a bunch of ewes still to deliver.  Luckily, it looks like the ones left are our older very solid mothers. 

We also have three new alpacas!  These new boys showed up yesterday.  They were some leftovers and we agreed to take them in and give them a home. There was much fighting and posturing to figure out the new pecking order.  The three new boys had not been sheared, hoof or teeth trimmed last year so they will have to be done this year.  I am always surprised how much larger they look with all their hair!  We might shear every other year and just do teeth and hooves annually.  This allows the fiber to get longer and me to make some mistakes shearing and still have a decent length fiber to work.  Its a possible option.  The lady dropping them off noticed her black animal could hang out with ours.  I said no, we have two black alpaca.  NOPE!  He was no where in the pasture.  He was our professional victim who refused to stay in his own pen, protected from everyone else.  He is dead I am sure, now I gotta walk the entire field and see if I can find him.  Not sure if that makes us good or bad animal caregivers.  We are keeping track of over 120 animals of four different varieties a few do go missed for a while.  We eventually figure it out.  Its a learning curve, this is probably the single biggest thing I have learned about raising different animals.  They all have different quirks and the animals have to learn your peculiarities.  I can tell now when the cows and sheep need something.  The chickens are just stupid and trying to die all the time. The alpaca I have not figured out yet.  They are not into complaining to us.  If they would come up to the feeder I would know they are hungry, but they don’t.  
Our walk in closet work should start soon!  Annmarie is super excited. 

Three new alpaca, two hiding behind tree and far brown one on the left. 

Sheep are like rabbits

I am on vacation this week.  Its supposed to be relaxing except Annmarie is out of town all week and the sheep have decided to have babies, lots of babies.  I went out this morning to let them out of the barn and it was crazy.  Every time I looked in another corner I found more babies.  I counted 6-7 born last night.  The real problem was only one had an attentive mother.  I could not tell who belonged to whom.  I opened the barn door and they all ran outside leaving babies everywhere.  Zeke, mouse and I had to go out onto the back hillside and chase them back in.  Mouse does not like being on a leash.  He especially does not like walking politely on the leash.  I have been trying the firm snap/tug for the last week.  It was not working.  I tried a backwards flying correction.  Mouse seemed to grasp that it was a bad thing.  He lightened up on the leash.  I locked everyone up in the back barn lot and figured I would sort it out tonight. 

So tonight I went out with Sarah and we tagged the babies in the momma area and scooted them outside.  Then we tagged the triplets and moved them into the baby area.  We were only able to get one mother to come with the baby lure.  She went into the momma area.  We then waded out into the heard and attempted to locate mothers for the loose babies.  We tagged a total of 12 babies.  There were two that we just could not figure out who owned them.  I figured I would give them another night to sort it out.  Now Sarah and I did find a dead lamb in the momma area.  So it was one we sorted out a twin I believe.  Annmarie called to check up on us.  

I had to go back out and watch the two babies to see if anyone would claim them.  I saw one nurse until it was full and then curl up in the straw.  The other just could not find its mother.  The second time it tried to nurse from one of the wethers I knew it was destined for bummerville.  I called Tisha after bringing it inside and she is on her way now to give it a new home.  I did try and bottle feed it and had no success.  I don’t usually have much success at it.  It is currently in a box over by the propane stove, curled up on some towels waiting patiently for its new owner.  I have Zeke over guarding the box from Mouse. But he keeps letting Mouse in to lick on the baby.  It just dawned on me that I had forgotten to let those mothers back into the barn.  I am headed out now to let them into the barn.  Truly, it is amazing to me how easy it is to forget something.  I do know why Annmarie pesters me all the time to make sure I have done certain things for the animals.  You cannot let anything else in your life distract you.  The animals have to take precedence regardless of how many other things are attempting to weigh down your brain.  I suspect this is why I enjoy it so much.  It reminds me of how basic life is and no matter what you must keep moving forward.

My Turn

I guess it’s my turn for all the….challenges during lambing time.  I found the first set of twins of the year, and called Tisha to pick up that bummer.  A couple of days later, I went out and found another set of twins.  Again, it the mother was a stupid first time mother, and I couldn’t get them into the baby area.  It was morning, and I needed to get to work, so I hoped for the best, and told the mama to stay in the barn.  Of course, she didn’t listen.  That night when Steven & I went out to feed and get them set up.  No babies.  The only thing we could figure was that the stupid mama went too far out on the hillside and the lambs couldn’t keep up.  But no one was upset and looking for babies, so now I’m not sure.  Particularly since the sheep had access to the entire barnlot as well as the back hillside that day.  And I didn’t notice the tag number on the ewe.  Just that she was wild as a march hare, and had two small brown babies.  I’m particularly wondering, given what I found when I went out tonight.

Everything was going fine.  Steve had left the sheep locked in just the back lot, right behind the barn.  They have access to water, and the feed is in the barn.  There really isn’t any feed out on the hillside right now anyway, so it’s not a big deal to keep them close, and it made us feel better given the lost twins.  It was cold, so the sheep had put themselves inside already.  Zeke, Mouse and I feed the sheep, and I went out to feed the horses.  I stepped over to put hay in the first feeder, looked down, and saw something I did not expect to see.  There was a ewe, with two little babies curled up next to the horse feeder.  I stared for a minute, re-evaluated my plan, and fed the horses on the ground outside the barn.  Then I closed a gate to keep the horses from messing with the sheep, and to keep the ewe where she was.  I went inside and called Steve to consider my plan.  I was, of course, home alone and no one was expected until well after 7:00pm.

Sheep in horse stall.  Not where they are supposed to be!

Just yesterday, I had asked Steve to get me a cow panel to hang in the barn to use for sheep control when I was alone with a wildling.  I thought about it and decided that with the two panels I had in the barn and one closed gate, I could make a fairly straight shot from the horse stalls to the temporary baby area we had set up in that end of the barn.  I waited until Sarah got home, so I had backup handy in case I needed it, and headed out with Zeke.  I made him lay down and wait while I muscled the panels into place (OK – I actually did more dragging than lifting, but still…) and secured them with a couple of handy dandy rubber strap bungie cords.  I stood back and figured as long as she didn’t hit it too hard it should hold.

I laid Zeke down outside her area so she wouldn’t try those panels and hurt herself or a baby, then I went in and decided to try the lamb lure.  I wasn’t expecting much success, because I figured this was another stupid first time mother, but to my surprise, she was actually pretty strongly bonded to those babies.  She was still pretty flighty, and pretty much ran circles around me, but she stayed in the general area of the babies, even with me holding them.  We got inside, and I watched to make sure everyone would get sorted out again.  All looks good.  But dang the year is starting out strangely.

Puppy wounded

Its cold outside

It’s really cold outside!!  Sarah got me this woven ski mask thinking I would not wear it.  Oh how wrong she was!  I wear it all the time, it has been consistently under 20 degrees F, it is definitely ski mask weather.  Annmarie had let the sheep out onto the back hillside but I was afraid one of them would have a baby while out on the back hill. So Zeke, mouse and I went out to chase them back into the barn lot.  There is a definite learning curve associated with working two dogs.  Even though I had mouse on a retractable leash he kept trying to get out and chase the sheep.  Zeke was a terror.  I had to resort to much swearing and yelling to get him to do what I wanted.  Half the time mouse thought I was yelling at him.  It took some practice to say “Zeke” before every epitaph but I caught on quickly!!

I noticed blood on the snow and thought one of the ewes was in labor.  It wasn’t until I saw Mouse leaving bloody footprints that I realized it was him.  He was off the leash and running the sheep all over the ram pasture.  You could not tell his foot was injured by the way he moved.  Once we had the sheep all settled into the barn he started to limp.  So I took him inside, he had cut one of his pads on his back foot.  Once it was all dressed Zeke and I went back outside to feed the alpaca and cows.   

Barn during day, I was loading the feeders.  I could even sleep out here with a blanket. 

injured puppy

ready to go

I broke out the hooks to move the large bales after trying to push some bales off the top.  The bale I was using as leverage kept moving.  So I found the two hooks I got from the scrap yard, slammed them into the side of a low bale and hooked a chain up then ran a long chain out to the tractor so when I pulled the 800 lb bales would not crush my tractor.  It worked perfectly.  I then pushed the bale way out away from the machine shop.  The cows were happy. We spent 3 hours out in the bitter cold. 

The mule deer think it is cold and snowy also.  We have 30+ living on the back hillside.  We have started looking out for the elk now.  They can be very destructive on the young wheat plants.