It seems like every year I end up digging up a leak. I keep hoping that we will be able to go one year without an issue, but so far I don’t think that has happened. After the electrician replaced the burned up pump controller the pressure would only go to 58#. It is supposed to go up to 60# and then stop the pump and not restart until the pressure drops to 40#. Well it could not get to the max pressure while the pump was running continuously. Both Annmarie and I suspected the wet/green patch we noticed last year down by the irrigation ditch but it had never surfaced. Well on Thursday my mother-in-law and nephew found water coming out of the bank and ground by the suspicious spot. I tried to take a shower Friday morning and had to give up as the pressure was down to spitting pressure. I went in to town to buy supplies. Since the pipe was above the water level in the ditch we decided that some form of conduit was needed to protect the pipe. We had flooding the previous year and it strained the pipe and caused it to have a slight bow across the water.
I decided that running a larger piece of pipe over the smaller pipe and then anchoring it at both ends with poured concrete blocks would work. I went around town and got all the parts needed to patch the pipe, create a conduit sleeve, create concrete forms and pour concrete. I got home by 1130, put on my chest waders (best thing ever to wear when digging up leaks) and went out to do battle with the leak. I decided to bring the tractor down and see if I could use it to at least dig up the weeds and organic matter. Luckily for me I was able to dig down almost two feet with the tractor because I ended up digging 16 foot trench! I needed to dig all the way to the ditch so I could slide the conduit over the pipe and build the concrete forms. It was still only about two hours of hand digging. I kept the pump on the entire time. This let me wash the loose dirt down into the irrigation ditch. Turns out the pipe just split. It is thin walled pipe and has been plaguing us since they put it in. It should of been thick walled schedule 80 pipe. At this rate we have resigned ourselves to redoing it eventually using rolled thick walled black ABS pipe and having a single continuous piece with no glued joints. It usually breaks at a joint but not this time, it just split. I cut out a 10 foot section and was able to slip a 7 foot piece of 3” black ABS plastic over the water pipe.
I built two concrete forms and then anchored them so they would not spread when I filled them with concrete. I just kept mixing the Sakcrete 60# at a time and put 240# in each form. They are dug into the hillside so only one side will be exposed to the running water. It was supposed to freeze so I covered each form with old rugs to allow them to retain some heat, freezing is bad for the concrete.
I left the hole unfilled as I wanted the dirt to dry out a little bit. I cannot get in close with the tractor as I kept sinking into the ground. It rained today so I am not sure how well my plan is going to work. I did throw a two inch layer of dirt over the entire pipe before leaving. I wanted some weight on the pipe and some freeze protection. I had the box blade on the tractor and could not get back across the ditch. Got stuck twice and eventually had to unhook the box blade, cross the ditch and then reach back over the ditch and yank the box blade across with a chain. I will have to put the dirt back with only the front blade. I did go back and verify that the fix did not leak and the pump does go to 60# now. I took the best shower I have had in 10 months this morning!
It was a beautiful day and my new glasses also noticed the sun was shining. I spent the next 36 hours sick after doing this repair. I caught the plague from the wife, she says I need to do Yoga more! I had night chills both nights so I am going with the plague as the cause of my headache, yuckiness and general miserable feeling, not the physical exertion of digging out a 16 foot ditch.
Well, we keep after it and it seems like another set of lambs pop out every other day. We have had two sets of twins and another single this week. We are getting so desperate for it to be over that we went out and counted every ewe we had. Annmarie made a database with all the ewes in it so we can mark them off after they have their babies. We needed to know when we are going to be done. We have 7 ewes left and as of this morning we still had seven ewes to deliver for a total of 38 ewes delivering.
We started to ask around about survival rate on the lambs. One old farmer told us anything over 75% was acceptable. I did an internet search and found a study out of Canada from their country agricultural department and they said anywhere from 10-30%. They wanted all farms to be <10% but in the study the average was 16% and as high as 33%. Since this is the first year we have tracked it we are just going to have to watch it from year to year and see how we do. They did say that if you have a single lamb then the survival rate is >90% and twins its >70%. So it varies dramatically by how many lambs your ewes are producing. The other interesting fact was the males die at a higher percentage than female lambs, males are the weaker gender. We have had 11 lambs die and one of the oddities we have started to notice is that >50% of them are brown and white in coloration. We have about five distinct colors among the new lambs but over half that have died are brown and white. The other thing we have noticed is that if the lambs are screamers, even if they nurse, they still have a tendency to die. We are not sure what that means other than males are the weaker gender. We have not been checking genders on the dead lambs, maybe next year.
Mouse looks so peaceful here. He is all about working when he is outside. He wants to move animals all the time.
I have been working on getting the upstairs bathroom ready but caught the plague from Annmarie and have been out of the picture for 36 hours. I need to order the tongue and groove boards for the walls and ceiling this week. I have still not done that and keep saying I will.
This is what the floor looks like before it is all dry. The dark red is the dry area. It paints on pink. I tried to use foam brushes but discovered that they tear up and it takes me 3 brushes to get a single coat on the floor. I want to do one more coat and am hoping to do it this afternoon. After this last coat dries I will have a waterproof membrane down and it will be ready for tile. This needs to be done as spring is coming and I will be stuck outside for months on end trying to keep up with the spraying and haying. Our new battery for the buggy is here and I need to install it and the trickle charger, then mount the sprayer so it is ready to go this spring.
Friday morning we lost water. Now this happens at least annually and he had just had some power blips so I figured the pump had just kicked off. The controller resides in the basement of my mother-in-law’s house. I called a few times and realized she was out of the house. Around noon I called and she was home, she attempted to reset the pump without success. I went down to try and see if I could get it started. The pump controller is pretty complicated so I try not and mess with it too much. Annmarie has to reprogram it when I do just randomly push buttons and that takes some effort on her part. We could not find the instruction manual after I tried to turn it off and on (would not do it) then pulled the fuses and got the error code to change from “OC3” to “Er2”. I then attempted to search the internet for the control manual without success. I even called a pump distributor with no success. The longer I stared at the case the more the weird melted plastic section stood out. I could not ever remember that being there. I touched the plastic case and discovered that not only was the case melted but that section was hotter than anywhere else on the case. I called Pendleton Electric, as they do well pump controllers knowledge gained courtesy of Google. I was able to say I thought the pump controller had burned up and to read the tag on the size with the power ratings. They wanted the Hp of the well motor but we don’t know it.
We went out to the barn to start sorting sheep and got a call that the repair guys were here. It was less than two hours from the time I called! Annmarie went down to answer questions and oversee. This left the Child and I to sort all of the sheep. This sounds like a great combination unfortunately sorting out animals is rough on a good day. If you want to know how well you can work with someone then just try and sort animals with them. You will realize that everyone else are a bunch of idiots and if they would just do what you ask of them this entire process would go smoothly. Now when everyone thinks the same thing it tends to cause some problems. Now that we have more 6 foot panels I was able to create a sweep gate in the back of the barn. So as we push more sheep down the chute we can keep moving the sweep gate and shrinking their waiting area. This was Annmarie’s idea but we never had enough panels or lightweight panels to move making this possible. It worked great and will now be something that happens every time.
They were able to put in a new controller and yes the old one had burned up after 15 years. The new one has a pressure display in pounds and nothing else. It’s just a grey box. You turn off the pump now by pulling the fuses. Finally, a sensible design. Unfortunately, they could not get the pressure up to 60#. They maxed out at 57# which means we most likely have a leak. Annmarie walked the entire length of the pipe and could not find any water bubbling up. This does not mean we don’t have a leak as Annmarie reminded me there was an area down by Donna’s that was wetter than we thought it should be last year but it never bubbled but it was near the front spring. So we are going to look at that area hard this spring after all the rain stops or when we lose water totally.
The Child and I had to make some executive decisions as some of the lambs were marked for cull and keep. Their temperament in the chute decided their fate. The child doesn’t like sheep with “crazy eyes” and wanted to cull all bad behavior out of the herd. We saved around 6-8 female lambs to replace the old ewes. We had to save all the old ewes as they have babies. We have 6 no tag Barbados sheep. We had a brand of tag that the sheep could pull out by reaching through the woven wire fences and lost a lot of tags. We are probably going to have to retag them so we can track their babies. They all look alike and we would like to track their productivity. We are going to sort off the ten cull ewes before we put the ram back in with the main herd. They will spend most of the summer in the orchard so we know they are not pregnant when we sell them.
We ran them through the chute system and had 22 to sell written down and 23 in the pen. We tried to recount several times and discover who I had not written down. We finally gave up and ran them back through the chute backwards. All the keep animals were on the inside of the barn so the far end was empty and isolated from the main herd. Before we got halfway through them we found the one I had missed. I had set it up so those sell animals would stay in the milking area of the barn and the corral area. This way when our buyer shows up we can load them and be done in under 15 minutes.
I had to feed the bull and his two charges and the ram next. The bull had gotten tired of the four panels surrounding the large bale of alfalfa and had hooked and thrown it off with his horns. This is one of his talents that he knows and performs on a regular basis. I pulled a large bale of alfalfa out of the machine shed and pushed it down to Alcatraz. I had to open the gate to push the bale inside but this let the bull, 2 steer and the ram out. I thought, foolishly, that they would follow the bale of alfalfa back into their pen. Nope! The bull ran over to the far gate and started hollering for female cows. I got the bale situated and the panels around the new bales. Both horses were in Alcatraz happily munching on alfalfa when I went out with the tractor to chase the animals back. No one wanted to back to isolation. It took me about 30 minutes of tractor wrangling to get everyone back into the pen. I considered going and getting the dogs but last time I lost my voice convincing them that I was boss. The tractor worked eventually. The dogs do best in wide open spaces. I was unable to get either horse away from the all you can eat alfalfa buffet so I just locked them in with the cows and ram. Annmarie got them by just walking over to the pen later that evening. They just walked over to see her, I am not their favorite or their leader.
Removing 23 teenagers, age 6 months or older really opened up the space in the barn. I was surprised. It was enough of a difference that we might end up with a teenage herd running around in the barn lot next winter. We can open up the old lamb shed for shelter and just feed them out of the back of the barn. I will need to think up a feeder type for the outside of the building. The real problem are the horses. What do we do with them? They need some shelter, they will share with the sheep but an all you can eat buffet is not healthy for them despite what they think of the idea.
We keep thinking that lambing season is going to be over, but it has not happened. I went out one night and had five lambs running around and could not find all the mothers. Annmarie had to come out when she got home and discovered that one of the lambs from the momma/baby area had gotten out. She claims it was from me going through door, I attempted to deflect that to squeezing through the wooden slats but that has never happened before so it was probably me. I had been focusing on moving two others who were laying by the door a third one could have snuck by. They are sneaky little creatures. They are still coming in waves, I went out this morning and found two sets of twins. It took me a while to find the first mother and while I did that one of the lambs disappeared into the crowd. By the time I found that one I discovered its twin and found another mother with twins. Luckily, she had self isolated in a back corner so it was easy to to push everyone else outside. I put both new sets of twins under the stairs.
Yesterday we had one twin that was hollering so Annmarie brought it inside the house for me to feed before work while she finished up feeding and watering everyone in the barn. I sat on the hallway floor and convinced the lamb to drink a few ounces. It was not the best bottle drinker. It got better with practice. When Annmarie came back in she wanted to make sure it was topped off as she was going to take it back outside and put it in with its momma and twin. She took it out as the ewe had been head butting the lamb. They do this to knock them away when they think they are not their lamb.
When Annmarie came back from work after noon, she went out and checked on the lamb and it was hollering and cold. She set up a pen in front of our propane stove using the dog pen. Once the lamb was fed she just put the lamb in the pen until we could get the lamb to its forever home. We are going to leave the pen up for a couple more weeks until the lambing is complete. It works way better than a cardboard box or laundry basket.
The baby chickens have finally decided to start laying eggs. The mini eggs are coming a few every day now. I feel guilty about adding them into our selling rotation but everyone has learned that the chicks start small and get bigger. We have the same few customers so they are used to it. If it starts getting out of control I will switch to 18 packs and charge the dozen price. We have done that before.
We are going to work the sheep today. We need to touch and catalog every single sheep on the property today. We have a buyer for our butcher weight lambs and we don’t know how many there are. Annmarie has been working diligently on a free database and we are starting to use it faithfully. Today we ensure we have every single animal in the database and then we will be able to track and give accurate predictions. We looked at upgrading the database this week to allowing us to do calculations and reports but they wanted $250 annually per person! We would have done the $250 but not $500-$750 if we add Sarah. It’s not worth that. So Annmarie helped me with an Apple spreadsheet to do some of the calculations. We probably need to create an all encompassing report for the entire year next.
I stayed out in the barn after sorting off the two sets of twins under the stairs. I moved the other two mothers and babies into the momma/baby area. This allowed me to tear down all the pens inside the barn making sorting much easier. I moved the feeders out of the way of the sorting chute. I dug out a couple of paths in the straw covered floor to allow me to move the panels and operate a couple of doors in the chute system. The straw/compost/excrement can get 12-18” deep in the barn and the chute is mounted at barn floor height so accommodations have to be made the later into winter we use the system.
These were the two sets of twins I found out in the barn this morning. There really are four lambs in there. There are two brown ones up against that wall on the left side of the picture. Both of these ewes are older, their tags are so worn that there are no more visible writing on them so we use the tag color to guess their age. I change the tag color every couple of years on the females. Red was the very first color we used to start tagging the female sheep. I have used the same blue tag color since inception since the boys all get sold off.
My wife made spreadsheet. I scrolled over to just show the last entry and totals. I am going to mockup the annual one based on quarterly reporting from items we need for taxes and our annual USDA report we file every January. The USDA is very diligent about getting a hold of us and going through the report. They send a couple of paper requests then start calling us until we complete the report over the phone. I have yet to fill out the paper and get it in on time.
Annmarie goes out in the mornings to do the chores and she is a much better kitty whisperer than am I. This is a picture of our “barn kitty”. We have 2-3 barn kitties but this one is the most elusive. It is very hard to spot and runs at the sight of people. It will now come out when she feeds it and lets her see it! The fat orange barn kitty lets her pet it and I can even touch it now. It looks like Garfield and kind of behaves that way also.
We have switched to feeding out of the other side of the barn. The hay is of a better quality and we are using the lousy hay for bedding and filler. We are using around 10 bales a day now. I hope we can compost most of the lousy hay this spring and kill the weed seed that way.
I ordered a new battery for the side by side (buggy) and next week will be installing the new battery and trickle charger so the buggy will be ready for weed spraying this spring. I may have to steal one of the barn portable lights so I can see to work on wiring the machine shed after my paying job is over in the evenings. If I spend 1.5 hours a night I should be done in a week.
We are still lambing. It has been ten days since I posted the last updated birth statistics. Since that time we have had 8 more ewes deliver, for 14 more lambs of which 13 are still alive and 12 of those babies are sets of twins.
Umatilla County has had record setting runoff in the Umatilla River causing water levels to be the highest ever recorded in history. Large chunks of towns are under water and at least 6 bridges have been damaged and closed. We have it better than last year. None of our fields have flooded and our back runoff creek is already lower than usual for this time of year after we had the flash runoff on Wednesday. I wish those people luck and the perseverance to hang on and build back up. This is really going to strain the ability of our county to get projects completed due to the sudden demand for contractors to fix all of this water damage.
- Total lambs born (dead or alive): 42
- # of singles: 7
- # of twins: 13
- # of triplets: 3
- Stillborn lambs: 1
- # died without a tag: 5
- # bummered: 3
- # ewes delivered: 23
- # lambs alive on property: 33
- Birth rate (alive & dead included): 183% (goal>150%)
- Ewe productivity after 1 week (live lambs on farm): 143% (goal >125%)
- Lamb success (live lambs on farm after 1 week): 79% (max 100%)
We have had 23 ewes deliver their babies but it looks like at least 10 more need to have babies. We really need to to run everyone through our chutes and do an individual count of all involved parties so we know exactly how many animals there are out in the barn.
Our three cow carcass weights were 386#, 338#, 325#, we shoot for 330# so they were right there. We are going to hold our price to $2.50 lb/hanging weight for all of 2020 again.
The chickens are making me crazy, we have 32 now and the babies keep trying to decide whether to lay or not. We were getting 7 eggs a day and are now down to 2/day. I keep hoping that as soon as the weather warms up the chicks will take off laying and we will be buried in eggs.