We have had a hard time this year deciding when our lambing season was going to start. We have had an occasional lamb here and there. We are not sure if it is due to the fact that our ram had his very first season with ewes or if he was so fat to start with that he needed to lose some weight to be effective. We just know that the trickle of an occasional lamb is annoying. We opted to start counting our lambing season from November 1, 2019 for this reason. There is usually one day that defines the start of our our lambing season. We like to officially call this Lambaggedon, yesterday was the start of ours.
We had been having a steady stream of babies every 1-3 days for about 2 weeks. This led to us having 6 pens all over the barn as of yesterday. We were running out of panels and had ordered two more from Premier. They make an aluminum gate/panel that is modular. It is such an improvement over the old metal galvanized panels that used to be the only option. Now you can add sections together and make a 4’, 6’ or 8’ gate/panel. We had ordered two 6’ sections and a creep gate so we can start giving the babies an all you can eat buffet. The joy of the modular sections is they can be shipped UPS ground! The old heavy ones had to come via freight truck. I tried to put the gates together and discovered there is a left and a right and I was sent two lefts! I called the next morning and got a replacement sent and another right so we would have three panels not two. I also asked about our creep gate that had not arrived. Turns out someone left the creep gate on their truck and they brought it the next day. I had a ordered an ear notcher and a new ear tag applicator. We keep getting different brands of tags and I have three different applicators now. The new one is a universal applicator.
So Friday morning I took the one 6’ gate outside and finished assembling it. I needed a rubber hammer to nudge it into place. When I went out to the barn there were babies everywhere! I had a set of triplets by the door, one was stillborn and the other was flat like a pancake to the floor and could not stand, all four legs out away from its body. I got that ewe and her two babies in a small pen. I had three other babies and only one mother was claiming one baby. I got everyone out but two ewes and then went and got a bottle. I bottle fed three of the babies and they all drank even though two of them kept laying in weird positions.
I then worked on tagging and banding the lambs in the momma area (five of them), the triplets under the stairs and the single baby with the hairless mom. This lamb had a tag but the old applicator cracked the female portion of the ear tag which is why I got a replacement. Learning to use the new tag applicator took a few tries and I had to finally use a practice tag to figure out what I was doing wrong. It makes a clicking noise when you get it together right and the others do not.
The triplets are all girls and we will be keeping every one of them to use as replacement ewes. Once I figured out who belonged to who and tag and banded them I had to bottle feed the babies again. Sarah came out and bottle fed the lambs again while I fed the main herd and we let the tag and banded sheep back out into the main herd. We put the two new mommas into the momma area. The little splayed triplet would not take a bottle the last time and its belly was full, the only problem is that set of triplets is tiny! We then rearranged all the gates and panels, buckets, bungees and bucket straps. I spent over six hours out in the barn getting it all put back together then went inside, showered and went to work, two hours later I was back home as Sarah had to bring in those three babies. We had one die in the house and got the other two bummered off.
We went out this morning to check on the babies and found only one lamb with a first time ewe, nice big lamb. We got the pair under the stairs, moved the twins and ewe at the far end of the barn into the momma area and are now down to two areas for babies. We are discussing how to divide the herd into the haves and have nots (babies) and divide the barn also so we can track the babies being born better. We will probably do this on Sunday.
I have sat down with our new Airtable spreadsheet that Annmarie made and added up all of our lambs. I will update it as we go. It’s kind of depressing currently, we are looking at nutritional causes and the age of our herd. We have a lot of older ewes and are going to swap them out this spring.
- Total lambs born (dead or alive): 27
- # of singles: 4
- # of twins: 7
- # of triplets: 3
- Stillborn lambs: 1
- # died without a tag: 4
- # bummered: 3
- # ewes delivered: 14
- # lambs alive on property: 19
- Birth rate (alive & dead included): 193% (goal>150%)
- Ewe productivity after 1 week (live lambs on farm): 127% (goal >125%)
- Lamb success (live lambs on farm after 1 week): 70% (max 100%)
We put off taking the cows in to be slaughtered for a week due to the snow and ice on the road. I did not want to pull that horse trailer in that type of weather and the college was gracious enough to allow us to put it off. I needed to be at the college between 1630-1700 on Thursday so they could kill on Friday. There were to be no more delays, the wagon train must go on! So we planned out the week, so that the cows would be moved to the corral on Wednesday and I would come home early on Thursday and load them and go to college, this seems fairly easy.
On Wednesday it started raining in the morning and proceeded to rain all day. The barn lot is mostly dirt. I came home a little early so I could work the cows in the daylight. I decided that I would need some assistance which means letting the dogs help me. I went into the Alcatraz area and managed to sort off the three steers I wanted in 10 minutes alone. Once I got them out of the pen and the gates latched I needed help. I brought the border collies over to help me. This did not go as well as I wanted. The steers kept going into the corner of the field nearest the Alcatraz fence and would not leave. If I tried to get one dog to go in and root them out then I had to turn my back on the other dog. This seemed to be a signal for the second dog to do whatever they wanted, which equated to balling the steers up into a corner and not letting them get out. This meant that I started to holler and swear at the dogs. It took 75 minutes for us to get the steers into the corral. 68 minutes was spent trying to get them past the first gate. I was making the dogs lay down in the mud as they assumed that a crouching position meant they could move whenever they wanted. I could hardly talk when I was done. Luckily, for the dogs, it was 45 degrees outside. I washed all the mud off of them in the outside faucet. The pictures below are of the two of them just after we came inside. They don’t look very contrite. I could hardly talk the next day, everyone at work thought I was sick.
I came home at 1500 on Thursday to load up the cows. I felt so bad after getting the cows into the corral the night before that I did not hook up the horse trailer. I had plans to do it but I was cold, wet and muddy and was not going to do it. Why do it then when you can put it off until the next day?
Our housekeeper was just finishing up and offered to stay and help. Things never go smoothly when you are on a deadline so I accepted. I drove over and tried to hook up to the trailer and realized that I needed a smaller 2’ hitch ball. I found a triple one in the machine shed but it had a straight stinger and this was going to cause the trailer to be canted to the rear pretty severely. So I ran back to the old house to find a 2” ball already attached to a 2” drop stinger. We got that installed and after the trailer was hitched Tisha asked me if I wanted the bad news. I am on a deadline, there can be no bad news! I had a flat tire on the rear right side. Mind you a few months ago I had the other flat and the spare tire fixed! So we pulled the trailer up onto a wooden block, elevating the flat tire so it could be changed. I tried to put it on backwards in my rush, luckily Tisha caught it and told me so I could fix it. Once the trailer was officially hooked up and ready to go I jumped onto the tractor and pushed the calf table out from in front of the chute.
Tisha backed the trailer right up to the chute opening and we have an sliding half gate so the openings lined up perfectly. I just jumped in the corral, opened the chute gate and pushed them into the the chute. Their horns kept hanging up on the walls so they had to concentrate on moving forward so they did not fight the transition at all. Once they got into the trailer I chased them to the front half and closed our divider gate. These are really handy as it keeps the cows in the front half so they cannot move around as much.
I was headed to town when I noticed the junk in the passenger floorboard and seat. Annmarie was supposed to jump in and show me where to go when I got to the college. She thinks the pickup should always be cleaned out. I believe that it is a working vehicle and when stuff starts falling out when you open the doors then you need to clean it out. A small difference of opinion. As I was pulling up the college hill I messaged her. She said she would meet me just outside her office building. Well I had two cars behind me as I came even with her building so instead of just stopping in the road I kept going up and around the corner. She called to ask where I was going and then we had a long discussion about being a farmer and how when you are hauling a trailer it is acceptable practice to just stop in the middle of the road. She even argued that it was commonplace (hard to refute that) and I should have joined the club. I made sure to take the extra time it took her to walk to my stopping location to move trash and stuff from the seat and floorboards so that nothing would fall out when she opened the passenger door. Nothing fell out but she was insistent that I needed to clean out the pickup. We got the cows unloaded without incidence and went home. Once they give us the hanging weight I will send bills out to the three buyers.
I went out this morning to do chores in the barn and discovered a two new lambs. The only real problem with this is I spotted another ewe with her water sack hanging out. I tried to get everyone else out of the barn and keep the new momma and her in the barn. She panicked and leaped past me and out with the main herd. I tried to corral the new momma and babies under the stairs by grabbing both babies and sticking them under the stairs, but every time I turned to leave one of the lambs kept following me out. The other lamb could hardly stand so I wanted her in a confined space so it could have a chance to nurse. I finally managed to get her confined and then set a timer for two hours to come back out and check on the twins and see if I could spot the water ewe. I was wondering if the weak twin was really the water ewe’s baby, but the other ewe took both babies so I was unsure. Most of our sheep will not take a stranger’s baby, except for #1 ewe, she will nurse anything. I went inside to start doing more planning on the upstairs bathroom.
I went upstairs to draw on the wall. Annmarie and I looked at it last night and decided that at a bare minimum I was going to have to move the light location above the mirror, maybe a power outlet also. So I figured I better draw it all out on the wall so I could see where everything goes and make sure it would all fit. I do need to move the light over the mirror. Luckily, its not very far so I won’t have to run new wire.
When Annmarie, got back from church we went out to the barn to check on the sheep. I was pleasantly surprised when we looked under the stairs. Annmarie said there were triplets!! I had to look as I didn’t believe her. I had pictures to prove that there was only two when I left two hours earlier.
I went back upstairs to do more planning. I hate planning but at this point I need to get it all down on paper and cemented in my brain so I can get a seamless install. I moved the light box and started to look at how to alter the dresser to accommodate plumbing and a new granite top. Annmarie helped me trace out the top of the dresser design onto plastic and then we went downstairs and ordered the sink, drain and picked out our single hole faucet. We had to email an inquiry about the faucet as it is not in stock in most stores we found. We want to get the sink and the faucet here and I want to get the countertop ordered so they have time to finish it as the front and sides are scalloped gently.
I am going to have to alter the top drawer so the we can use half of the drawer and move out and in easily. I am going to have to buy a few pieces of finish wood to get the drawer redone. I will be gluing, screwing and using finish nails to get the pieces in nice and tight.
When we fed the sheep and locked them in at night we did not have any new babies and there were still only triplets under the stairs. All three triplets are girls and they are all doing well and nursing. We will keep all three as replacements for our herd. We also just ordered an ear not her so we can start marking ewes to cull. We are going to start swapping out some of the older ewes.
It has been a long day, we had another snow day so Annmarie went out to check on the sheep this morning and discovered a couple of things. Our isolated ewe and her baby were cold, the ewe has no hair, for what reason we are not sure but the ewe is not weak or sick, just missing about 60% of its hair. She also noticed that a bunch of the sheep had milky eyes. The hay is full of cheat grass, Our fields got flooded last spring and we did not get our mower for the hay until too late. By the time we got it I knew I needed to practice bailing hay as a learning event. Once I had it all bailed I did not want to throw it out. The sheep have been eating it but they are shoving their heads in the feeders and getting stickers in their eyelids. So we ran everyone through the chute and I dug stickers out of eyes. Some have cataracts from the irritation, we have two that are blind. They get in and out of the barn with the rest of the herd. So next weekend we are going to run them through the chute again and this time I will check them again and use a couple of gallons of warm water to wash all their faces really well. We have also altered our feeding routine. No more using the feeders. We are going to toss the bales out on the ground so the sheep will be reaching down and stand less chance of getting a sticker. This will waste more feed but its safer for the sheep.
Annmarie has vowed to help me watch the grass in the spring so I know when to cut it to prevent this again. We have replanted 14 acres of fields and are hoping to not get any cheat grass. I have fields with grass that is already a couple of inches tall. Annmarie pays better attention to this stuff than I do. I can check on them, feed them, water them, grain them no problem, but I tend not to notice stuff. We have had the sheep for over ten years and I am still learning and realizing that her passion will always supersede mine. It took us about three hours to get everything done in the barn this morning. The feeders will only be used for the nightly protein supplement.
I fed the cows another giant bale. The alpaca mobbed the machine shed hay room when I opened it to get hay for the cows. Now that there is snow on the ground its harder for them to find something to eat. I left the gate open tonight for them, tomorrow I will start tossing them hay from the barn.
We moved the ewe and baby down to the other end of the barn hoping to get her away from the wind. Annmarie went in to the house and stole one of my T-shirts’. It is now a sheep covering, the neck hole is for the head, the two front legs go through the arm holes and she cut a small hole at the bottom of the shirt and pushed it over the sheep’s tail to prevent it from creeping up the neck. We moved panels around, deciding we need about four more panels, a creep feeder for the lambs and about 8 more wall eyelets. I may just use eyebolts instead of buying the special ones from Premier fencing. We have had approximately 9 lambs so far and while moving panels around today we discovered a dead baby lamb. We never saw it. I usually find one or two every season buried in the bedding. I also found another dead baby chicken. It will be time to make another trip out to the boneyard after a hard freeze or snow melts off some. This slick top mud is not conducive to getting up the back hillside.
Zeke keeps getting out of the yard. We thought that he was going over by the tensioner but it looks like he may be crawling between the wires again. I really need to add a wire that goes through all the 4×4 boards so he cannot crawl past. It is so infuriating to find him outside the fence. He hates the wind and has been panicking in his kennel so he has gotten to sleep outside of it several times in the last two weeks. Last night after about 10 minutes he tries to dig to China through his kennel in an attempt to get let out. I told him he was full of shit and to settle down cause he was not getting out of that kennel as there was no wind! He settled down and slept on the breeze porch in his kennel all night long.
I did have to order a new tile border for the upstairs bathroom. We waited over a year to order the tile and our old choice would be delayed by 3 months. So we ordered one similar and should have it in a couple of weeks. My new eye glasses are coming in another week hopefully. I waited too long in between sets and I keep having to take my current ones off and shove the screen up under my nose to see.
Annmarie tells me that it is time to start working inside again. I went to the tile store and had to get some input on what color of grout to order for our backsplash. Annmarie and I chose the brown color. I am using sandless grout for the backsplash as all those little squares will get some grout around them. Luckily, I only have to do a 4’x4’ section for the backsplash. We have some fancy edge tiles and a chair rail to go across the top to install also. The chair rail will hold the mirror that I will be mounting on the wall. They had to verify the tile was still being made as we had picked it out a year ago. I was going to epoxy a table top for our bathroom vanity but instead I am going to trace out the top pattern and order a small piece of granite to sit on top, it will be less than 4 square feet. I will use the backsplash tile to pick the granite color and have them drill a hole for the drain and the faucet. I will glue the granite to the top of the vanity.
I purchased all the mastic and hardiboard needed for the floor and now I just need to patch the walls and start laying in the hardiboard. I am going to use Redgard as my water proofing membrane. I just need to roll on a few coats and then I can tile over the entire floor. So I will be working on that this week.
I spent most of the day on Saturday outside working on the tractor. I was supposed to be inside working on the upstairs bathroom but had to go outside to feed the sheep and cows. Annmarie and had gone out first thing in the morning to check for babies and one of our old Baker girls pushed her way into the momma/baby area. It was our old and infirm ewe so we let her. She went outside and fell over, and could not get up. We decided she was just too old and weak. I came out later and put her down with a bullet to the brain. She went up onto the bone yard at the far end of the property. When we decided that we also sealed the fate of our other ewe with the lost hair. She is losing more hair and has failed to turn around. Her baby looks great so we are going to cull the momma at 3 months age on the lamb. That will be two culls for the year already. We think we have at least 4 more this year. We will be saving ten female lambs to use as replacements this year. Most of the ewes will come from the July 2019 bunch of lambs. We are saving the old brown ewe’s baby as it is a little girl and if our old #1 ewe has another female we will save her also. Choosing for temperament and mothering ability has benefited us and created a great herd to be around.
I ended up feeding both groups of cows. I tossed my large hay hooks and have had to use a strap to try and drag out the large bales from the machine shed. It takes longer to get the strap in place. Now that I say that I may be able to use small all metal hay hooks and a chunk of chain. I may try that next week.
When I went up to the boneyard I ended up dragging the upper fence line again to clear any rocks. I did this last summer but I had a few rocks still in the path. I now have a rock and debris free zone about 5’ wide next to the upper fence. This means I can run the pull behind mower along the fence and not hit anything. I like to do this to create a fire break alongside the fence line in the spring and early summer. I ended up dragging the new fence line I cleared last summer also. I also smoothed out a section for a gate and cut into the hillside so I can install a large rock crib for a gate and fence ending point. All the moisture and moderate temperatures made it very easy to move the dirt and rocks around.
I even drug some dirt around in Alcatraz to clear the dirt away from the concrete footings of the old granary. The cows were trying to bury it on one end and dig a hole under the other end. So I just moved the dirt from one corner to the other. At some future point I would like to work on this footing and build a floor and some walls. This may end up being a retirement project but I would like to do it at some point. I will also need to build about 120’ of stiff fence to keep the bull and ram out of my work area. This is a project for another day, maybe another decade.
Annmarie and I have moved several of the old ewes into the momma area so we can feed them a supplement. One of those ewes, old brown Lead ewe, had a single girl lamb whose is super mellow. We will be flagging that lamb to keep as a replacement ewe. We are looking at flagging and keeping another 8 ewes to replace all our old ones. We will let the old gals hang out till they drop or get super sick. We like them and they have been with us since the beginning.
We also have one old ewe who lost a bunch of hair. She also has a lamb. It’s weird and we have her in her own confined area and are feeding her a protein supplement. We have been using some fungal spray on her but it is not changing anything and no one else has it so we think its nutritional as she is one of the old Baker girls. Her lamb looks great and is doing well so we will keep her isolated for a while and see if we can change her condition. We are surprised by how late the babies are, the ram must have taken a couple of months to figure out what he was supposed to do once we put him back in with the herd last time. I suspect he needed to run around and lose some weight so he could do his job! He was very fat last time. He is almost as wide as he is long now! Super fat!
We knew we were going to work cows on Saturday so Friday I went up and worked on one of the short sections of fence I am allowed to complete this year. I managed to get the two railroad ties set in gravel, the H braces installed and strung up the woven wire. It’s enough to be able to let the cows into the orchard and not worry about them getting down into the ditch. I will need to hang a gate on the end and I am going to have to drive T posts horizontally into the bank for 4’ so I can run a cable across the bottom of the ditch and attach the panels with clips. This stops the cows from just lifting the panels with their horns. This needs to be done soon as the cows are working the panels already.
I also managed to spend some quality time with the mistress dragging the driveway. She had it all smoothed out in under two hours. It is a lot better. In the next year or so we are going to have to have some gravel brought in on a belly dump and let out over the entire length of the driveway. It’s about $225 a load now and it takes three loads to do the entire driveway. I even managed to find time to wire in more light panels in the machine shed. I have an outlet for the “Buggy” in place and two light switches and boxes wired. I ran out of boxes and need to get more so I can finish wiring the shop. I have two more outlets and two more light boxes to install. I am looking at high output LED lights that I have wired to be on one at a time. This will cut down my power usage and demand as I only have 20 amps available. I just need lights and a enough power to run one plugged in item.
Saturday we worked the cows, the Child came out to help and a work friend the Gimp came out. The Gimp is on light duty so their vote was for us to use the calf table instead of wrestling each calf down to the ground wrestling style. We thought we had three calves to tag and band. Once we had them all into the corral we discovered that one of the three had already been tagged but the tag was buried in her ear. I had to buy new tags and I got large tags that cannot hide in the ear. This has been an ongoing problem for us. It took me about 25 minutes of messing with the calf table to get it to work. Lifting it with the tractor does not help it and I had to use wire brush and lots of WD40 to get the neck piece to move up and down. I really need to think about putting it on wheels and pouring two concrete channels for the table to move 10 feet to either side of the corral chute. Then you could just push it to the side when it is not needed.
The first calf went well but the second one was another one nutter. I could not find the second testicle. I was digging around for 5 minutes with no luck. We tried moving his leg and still no luck. So we will try him again in another month. This time he will need to be caught old school so we can roll him around on the ground as I look for that second testicle. We sorted off the Bull and put him in Alcatraz with the other five steer. He hollered and screamed for only a few hours and has been very quite and content today. It’s kind of weird.
I drove up to the other side of the old chicken coop to look at the spring head, front spring runoff and our fall planted grass field. They all looked great! I am hoping to get 2.5 tons/acre of hay in the spring time off of our newly planted fields. I just need to get the Buggy battery adaptor and trickle charger installed and then install the upgraded spray pump. The Buggy needs to be ready to spray this spring.
Well it’s a New Year! One of the things I have noticed the most about doing the blog is I seem to repeat myself. There is always a variety but we are a farm and do have the same type of animals and jobs that need to be done. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. There is always a daily variety, the weather, the moon cycle, the sound of the birds or running creek, the leaves on the trees, something new every day to make it different. I write this blog for me, consider it my therapy. As I am out working on something I always wonder if it has been done before and what were the previous generations thinking? We don’t have that so I wanted to create a record of what it is like to actually run a small farm and what it takes to keep it up and the problems that come up. I have done the blog since March 2010. I wish now that I had started three years earlier but I did not and at that time it was not as easy to create and run a blog. I am not the most computer literate individual as my wife and daughter will attest. Ten years is a long time to stick with this and I plan on doing it until I cannot. I want to be able to pass on that day to day thought process and the highs and lows associated with farm life. I truly do enjoy all the hard work, time and effort that goes into creating and maintaining a farm. As I get older, I will need to learn how to work smarter, not harder and I hope someone can learn those lessons earlier than I did. This has been my New Years revelation for 2020. I hope the reader, you, can enjoy the small moments and laugh at the absurdity along with me.
I want out and took a picture of my new flood lights on the tractor after it was full dark. Realize that I took these pictures with my IPhone that hates low light and I did it with no flash. It was amazingly bright! I have a front and rear view. I will have no trouble working in the dark now. I just need the weather to warm up and I will be ready to go!
On January 1, 2020 I made the perfect breakfast. I made fried ham and potatoes with onions and garlic with a perfect eggs over easy. The yolks did not get broke in the flip and they were from our chickens. The ham was from a trade of lambs for a pig this year and the potato was a baked leftover one from dinner a few nights before. I have learned to drop the chopped garlic in for the last couple of minutes of cooking to get its full aroma and flavor. I used to toss it in early and burn it and to top it all off I use “Slap Ya Mama” Cajun seasoning as my only spice. Perfection.
We have one ewe that has finally figured out the game. She just hangs out alongside the wall when we come in and feed and work in the barn. She just stays sitting and we leave her alone. She doesn’t bum rush the new hay when we put it out and when everyone else comes back in she gets up and joins the herd. She is one of our original Baker Girls so she was in our second batch of sheep we ever bought. So we have had for almost a decade. As you look at our herd you can tell who the old original ewes are, they just look tired. We have opted to allow them to just keep on keeping on. They are now getting some supplemental food away from the main herd. This has been helping them gain some weight and not constantly lose. We may end up having to confine them in the orchard during the summer to limit their roaming. As long as they can keep up with the herd we will let them.
My baby chickens still want to be stupid and not go in at night. Unfortunately, they are not consistent. Most nights they are all in the coop, one night I had seven chickens sitting outside the door. On the first night of the year I had to go and put a black chick into the coop, I believe she is copper maran. It is hard to catch a black chicken in the dark and when I scooped her up she smacked me in the face with her wing and caterwauled about being handled. You would have thought she was going in the stew pot any second with the raucous she was creating.