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 has been holding down the fort while I was off training all weekend. The sheep did not listen to instructions. I told them on Friday that they needed to have all their babies over the weekend so when Annmarie goes back to work they would be done birthing. They did not listen. We only had four ewes give birth over the weekend. It was enough to throw us past the 50% mark. So Annmarie chased all the pregnant ewes out of the barn and moved all the nursing ewes and babies over into the larger penned off area in the barn. Now the pregnant ewes have the smaller area. We had two more singles born, another triplet and a twin. She had to bring in the smallest triplet and feed it in the house. All the new lambs got dosed with Selenium paste and seem to be doing well. She tossed them in with the baby herd they are just missing tags and bands. We will wait till next weekend to tag and band again. Before anyone can go into the baby area they will need to be dosed with Selenium. This way we can track who has had medicine.
The babies have discovered that they can crawl into the wall feeders and it makes them 10″ taller than everyone else! This is a great dominance game so they are now jumping in and out of the feeders to establish a pecking order.
Tisha came and got the third bummer, he was a little boy and after selenium, food and some warmth he was able to walk around the house some. He will be in good hands.
You cannot count 19 ewes in this picture but it is almost all of the pregnant mothers. We have 2-3 favorite ewes in here. We would really like to keep the babies from our old lead ewe “#1”, our old solid brown ewe and the one in the bottom left corner of this picture. They are all hand tame and their babies are always super calm and grow up to be very calm ewes. Two of those ewes are old and skinny and may not survive another year. They are so skinny! We are feeding so much that the younger ewes are still very fat even after giving birth. So next year we may have to set up a special feed area just for them so we can give supplemental feed.
Our current numbers are as follows:
21 ewes birthed
19 pregnant ewes pending birth
30 lambs dosed, tagged and banded
6 lambs selenium dosed
I was called by the lovely wife the morning following the bull escape. I had made it to work and was playing catch up. She called to tell me that the alpaca were out in the lower barley field. Now the field is actually growing wheat but the “Lower Barley Field” is its name as it was a field her dad developed to prove to his father that he could, hence the name. Now how on earth could the alpaca get into that field? Well, when I went into the field to chase the bull I left the gate open just in case the bull would not turn around, he could go out into the house area of the farm then we could run him into the correct field.
The problem with this is after we put the Bull back in I proceeded to walk the fence line down toward the school house to make sure there were no holes. Unfortunately, on the way back to the house we walked on the road so my shoes and clothes would not get muddier and wetter. I also forgot about the open gate. I recognize this violates the cardinal rule of gate operation where livestock are present. The animals always figure out when a gate has been left in the incorrect location.
Annmarie used the dogs to move the alpaca. This is not the best technique as the alpaca will band together and run at the dogs. Luckily there are two dogs and they are sneaky. The alpaca get tired of one or the other sneaking behind them and biting them on the ankle. There was a large stare down contest going on as I pulled up to help. Annmarie had them all out of the field before I could get out of the car to assist.
In my defense, I came right away and did not complain or offer excuses for not shutting the gate.
Friday morning I went out to feed the animals. Normally, Annmarie does this but I was going into work late so I said I would. I bundled all up as it is getting cold again and was down to 18 F. I went out to feed the horses and the barn kitties. The sheep had spent the night in the barn but I had not locked them in. I went out and found a lamb curled up in the corner. I thought it was asleep at first then I thought it was dead. I touched it and it moved ever so slightly so it was still alive. I took it inside for Annmarie to warm up and feed and Tisha to come pick up. It was one of our #1 ewe’s twins. She is getting old and forgot to make sure it followed her out of the barn. Its 48 hours old so it should have been fine. We have now decided that all babies and moms need to be separated for a few days from the main herd. I asked Annmarie to talk with Tisha about a buy back program for all the bummers this year. No go she is going to use them to diversify her herd! It was worth a try.
Zeke has been doing the escape thing from the yard again. He thinks he is a cat and cannot be corralled. I tried stuffing some panel pieces alongside the creek to stop him from digging out on Thursday, by Friday he was out of the yard again. He had dug a new hole over by the bridge. So this time I blocked it off with yet another panel piece then rolled a 200# rock down next to the fence. He will not be moving it any time this century. I may have to get another rock for the other side once he tries that section of fence. He is so painful to keep in the yard.
As always something comes up, whether you want it to or not. I was reminded yesterday that the cows probably needed food as they had tipped over the feeder. Usually I can get 1-2 days after the feeder gets tipped over as they are just trying to get to the stuff below the solid panels. But with all the snow on the ground I felt sorry for them so I opted to feed them early. I had been charging my car battery in the hopes that it not starting was just a fluke. So I walked out to the machine shed to start up the tractor with the dogs in tow. The dogs are a necessity as the cows will bum rush the large hay bale as I attempt to push it into the field. I jumped onto the tractor, put my hearing protection ear muffs on and turned that key expecting it to start. I was disappointed. It did nothing but light up a couple of lights, no tick, no noise whatsoever. Luckily, we spent $2500 last year to get a single 110v outlet and light out to the machine shop!
So I grabbed the charger from the car and put it on the tractor. I then had to unload the propane tank and all season tires from Annmarie’s car out of the back of the pickup so I could use it to haul hay. We still have some 100# bales of alfalfa in the machine shop so I loaded up six bales and drove them out into the pasture and tossed them into the feeder. The nice thing about a moveable feeder is I move it every time I feed otherwise the cows create a mud pit. We are still feeding at the far end of the field away from the houses also. In the spring I want to drag a set of discs all around the field and spread out all the leftover hay and cow poop, maybe I can get it to mulch in.
The horse’s hooves needed cleaning out as it looked like they were walking on ice bubbles. It takes some effort to get those broken up enough to scrape them off the hooves.
My chickens are causing me grief again. I thought I was down six hens due to the raccoon and then this week number 19 magically appeared in the coop one night when I was counting them. I had been spotting this random hen out in the barn before the snow came down. Annmarie spotted it yesterday in the barn. We have no idea where it is roosting in the barn but it is not returning to the coop at night. It is just wandering the barn digging through the sheep and horse poop as content as can be. Tonight when we went out to do chores it was digging through horse poop and we caught it. It is now living with its comrades in the coop. This is chicken number 20! So the raccoon can only be credited with killing four hens now.
Annmarie called me today to say that when she went out to feed in the morning that the twin miniature babies were ice cold. They were totally limp and not very responsive. I asked if their new mom had abandoned them but she said they were curled up against mom. All we can figure is that she is not producing enough milk for the babies and they are unable to get enough calories to stay warm. She called to ask if I would come tube feed them. We have never had to do it before but you just insert a tube into their stomach and give the formula in with a syringe. I told her they were most likely not going to make it and just try her best. She put them by the gas stove and fed them every 5-10 minutes little dribbles until they got warm and strong. They were both sitting up and looking around 6 hours later! We gave them to the housekeeper. She now has 9 bummers from us! Its crazy how many problems we have had this year. Including the two that have died that’s 11 sheep we have lost out on for a cost of $770. We still have at least 10 ewes that need to give birth still. They are all our older more experienced ewes. We figure they avoided the ram the longest. My sister is visiting family this week and is coming out on Saturday. We will tag and band all the babies again to get caught up. To know if the baby has been tagged or banded you just look for the floppy lowered left ear. The ear tags weigh down their ears for the first couple of weeks. Its easier to spot the low ear than the actual tag from across the barn.
On the plus side, I did not have to go fishing for a retained placenta in one of the ewes tonight. She had passed it today on the second day. I have a pack of 100 shoulder length gloves that I have only used 5 out of in the last 5 years. I am hoping to continue the streak of infrequent utilization.
We slept in horribly late this morning, till 0700. Annmarie thought it was decadent, I told her once every couple of months of not getting up at 0500 was not going to hurt us and most people would not consider 0700 sleeping in. I had big plans to go outside and work on the Christmas present but alas it was not so. I was thwarted by the ram one time too many. It happened again, another bummer lamb this morning! This is just not acceptable. As promised I switched my schedule around to accommodate the demise of said ram. After breakfast I had plans to put him down and a helper was coming out at 1130. I would have been at it for a while by then but there was a true emergency that took priority.
One of my mother-in-law’s cats was stuck on her roof and it needed to be brought down. Annmarie and I went down there, me with a large ladder. Annmarie crawled around on the roof top trying to catch the cat who did not want to be caught. There is a large tree next to the house that I am sure assisted the cat onto the roof. I hollered encouragement and comments while she was chasing the cat. It had been up there for 3 days. My reply was it was not hungry enough. Turns out that was true because someone had fed the cat on the roof so it would not get hungry. Annmarie finally managed to corner it on the outside edge of the roof and snagged it. The cat tried to pee on her out of fright. Everyone ended up coming down off the roof safely and my mother-in-law was happy, a job well done. I did actually put the ladder away where it belonged for the first time in six months.
It took both of us over ten minutes of searching to find the 10/22 rifle. I thought it was in the gun cabinet until Annmarie brought me the 243. I was never sure how she knew what rifle to bring as it was always a crap shoot as to what caliber I got when I asked for one. Turns out guessing was her main tool. She did not know that the caliber was written on the barrel and she could just look. We did not find the 22 rifle in the gun cabinet, or the coat closet or the laundry room or anywhere else we thought to look. I gave up and grabbed the ever trusty Walther P22 pistol. Annmarie questioned my choice as the pistol has a questionable kill ratio. We were discussing the merits of the pistol vs my proficiency with it when I spotted the 10/22 rifle leaning up in a corner behind the display case. I had moved it there when I was painting the stairwell wall and had forgotten it. I went with Killer, and put Laser Eyes back in the closet.
We had had multiple discussions about the best way to put down the ram. The general consensus was that a 22LR directly between the eyes would probably not kill him. They have an incredibly thick skull. I opted to test this theory and shot him in the barn near the door from about 15 feet away. He did not do anything but turn and run out the door. I had to wait for the sheep to mill around and get out of the line of sight so if I missed no one else got hurt. I did hit him in the head every time and he did finally go down. Luckily he fell with his head pointed down hill so I was able to cut one set of carotids with a knife and he bled out very well. This is important to keep the meat from tasting as gamey as it could be. By this time my helper had arrived, a slaughter virgin. He had never skinned out or cleaned an animal before.
I got the tractor and the virgin tossed him into the bucket. I tried to back down the hill to the little foot bridge but the hill was causing me to slide into the fence. Next thing I know the virgin was hollering at me because the tractor was on three tires and trying to tip over or slide through the fence. He stood on the upside of the box blade and I was able to pull right out. He didn’t realize that sliding around on three tires and almost tipping over are normal events for me. I lined up on the bridge and drove straight off the hill and over the little bridge and through the little gate. It was faster than going around. I then proceeded to clean out the animal giving instructions to the slaughter virgin. Once cleaned out we hooked onto it with spreading bar and lifted it up onto the skinning pole with the tractor. We then skinned it out and boned it out. The virgin only cut himself twice and managed to not do it so deep that he bled on the meat, extra bonus points for this. I had brought out five knives but no sharpener. We needed the sharpener. It is a lot harder to cut meat with a dull knife. We took it inside, washed it all up and proceeded to turn it into stew meat. I could not bring myself to turn the backstrap and tenderloin into stew meat. I cut it all up into steaks. The ram was incredibly fat! There were huge goblets of fat throughout his entire inner cavity and along the outside of his back and chest. Now that he is no more we are hoping we have to feed less.
As you can see in the picture below, Annmarie is incredibly sad that her nemesis and torturer is gone.
When she went out to feed the sheep tonight there was another set of twins born in the barn. They were both with their mother and bonded and doing well! If this continues it will be worth it. Even if we had just removed him for our safety it was worth it.
It has snowed 2 inches since it got dark tonight. Another reason that will cause the sheep to want to stay in the barn. It is now safe to just walk through and feed or play with babies without worrying about getting injured.
Here we are again doing that thing that never ends, fencing. Annmarie called me this morning to tell me that two more lambs were getting rejected and I missed a ewe when I put the sheep in last night. I did put them in during the day time and I did look around the barn lot and did not see any strays. She would like to put the sheep into the ram pasture but I have not fixed the upper fence since I cut it this summer to let the cows out. Annmarie thought I would get to it, I never did and now we need it. It sounds like a broken record concept that I seem to never catch onto. One would think that eventually it would occur to me to stay ahead of it. But there always seems to be some other pressing emergency that takes up my time. At least that’s my perception, I suspect my other half might differ on this view!So I came home early and spent four hours outside working on the fence. I had to make a few crucial decisions to speed up the process. I really needed to add four strands of smooth wire but running all that out is going to take a while to do alone. I have not gotten my hitch mounted wire dispenser yet. Its a $100 I have just not spent. I have researched it and know where I can obtain one via the mail as no one sells it locally. This does not currently help me today. So I opted to install woven wire across the top. This solves multiple problems as I only have to tighten the one woven wire and I can roll it out. I threw out 38 wooden stays and rolled out four rolls of wire. I had to cut a little fence out of the way but managed to only get the uphill side tightened and wooden stays in place. I am hopeful that two more four hour sessions will see me get the fence up and tightened. The real time drag is nailing all the wooden stays up and in place. I am just going to wire in the gate in an attempt to get the fence up and in place. I need to replace one of the wooden posts in the spring as I cannot get the hole dug.
Annmarie ended up with two more bummer lambs. They got to come inside, get warm and get a belly full of formula. Tisha came and picked them up this afternoon. We have moved panels around inside the barn to make more room for the mommas but still leave a passage for the rest of the sheep.
I started painting the upper stairway wall to match the lower half. It is really bringing the whole thing together. I still have one more coat to put on the wall. I have a 12 foot roller extension which lets me paint from the ground. It is so much faster than getting up on a ladder.
This year we are going light on Christmas decorations so that we can move right into the floor remodel this January. I am getting excited about getting the hallway, living room and dining room tiled.
It happens every year, we have our first bummer. The weird part is it’s almost always caused by humans. When we first started having sheep they would go down near the front spring and have babies and the babies would get wet and cold or drown. Annmarie convinced me to start locking them up at night in the barn by making me get up at 0300 many times in the dead of winter to search for a mewling baby lamb. This is not fun and became good incentive to get the barn redone. Every year the sheep find a way to become bummers that we had not anticipated. Today is a prime example. We had two more sets of twins born in the barn last night. I was sent out to the barn early as Mrs Hawk Ears (aka Annmarie) could hear a new baby that was in distress. Now she heard this through a barely opened bedroom window on the second story of our house through the great big tree and through the walls of the barn which is 60 yards away. Her students wonder how she can hear them whispering in the back of the classroom, the woman has better hearing than anyone I have ever encountered!
When I got to the barn I could hear the baby also and it was in distress, so I did not feed the meowing kitten or the whining horses and instead opted to go right into the barn. Going into the barn is still a risky business as I am not using the dogs. The ram and I have come to a mutual hate agreement. I carry a big stick and he stays away from me. Neither one of us trusts the other to keep his word. So I was searching for the baby and trying to keep the ram in sight. I spotted one momma and one baby but could not see the complainer. I could hear it loud and clear. I moved the sheep away from the newly installed wall feeders and saw four little feet under the feeder. The little bugger must have laid down close to the feeder and rolled under then stood up. Once upright she could not figure out how to get out. The real problem is this normally happens during the birth process so the mother doesn’t bond with the newborn lamb. There was no sorting off the momma and baby with everyone in the barn so I went and opened the outer door to let them out of the barn.
The ram followed me to the door and got within four feet of me but never tried to ram me. I had the pitchfork handle in my hand the whole time. I keep trying to use the old pitchfork heads I find laying around and they fall out of the new handles all the time so now I have a $15 club. I got about 2/3 of the herd out when I decided I had better shut the outer momma pasture gate until I had checked in the barn. I didn’t want the new momma getting out because then I have to go get the dogs and run everyone in again and sort them all over, a process that would add an hour to my outside chores. This endeavor would not disappoint either border collie as they would get to move the sheep.
I headed back into the barn and lo and behold there were two mommas and four babies! The little buggers can really hide amongst the sheep. Normally, we would just keep walking through the herd until we spotted them all but the ram is preventing us from our usual routine. Luckily with no pressure most of the mommas will hang back with their babies. So I shut up the barn and watched them, the little complainer got pushed away by both ewes. This is not a good sign but I figured if I could stick all four babies and both mommas into the smaller momma area maybe the one would change her mind. I went down to the spring and got a large bucket of water as I was going to trap them in the barn instead of allowing them free access to the spring. I had the baby area all ready and had to lure the mommas in by catching the babies and holding them out and walking to the baby area. It works even better when the lambs cry out loud for mom. I even rubbed the twin to the complainer all over the complainer hoping the scent would rub off. No go, Annmarie came out to check on me while I was watching the complainer and we just opted to call it a bummer. So she carried it to the house in her church clothes holding it out away from her body to keep her clean. I finished the morning chores and came inside. Annmarie feeds the babies way better than I do, so she offered to stay home. I sent her on her way and mixed up a bottle. We keep formula mix in the freezer for just this occasion. The lamb hollered loudly and continuously until I fed it. I then went upstairs and got our small dog kennel and turned on the gas stove so the baby could get warm. She fell asleep after the first feeding. One more time she woke up hollering and slurped down another few ounces of formula. She is a good eater, actually head butted my shoulder until she got more milk and had her fill. We have a wonderful lady who comes and takes all of our bummer lambs. We give them to her free of charge so that they can have a good chance. She has about a 50% survival rate over the years. Sometimes they are just too small. Although with this new ram that has not been a problem. His babies are gorgeous and healthy which is only reason we are putting up with him for another 3 months. I want him to impregnate all the ewes so we can have another set of his offspring. Once that is done he will be sausage. It’s just not safe to go out into the barn with him. We also don’t believe in selling our problems to other people. It’s not fair to them and most people won’t believe you when you say he is mean. Because he was tame first he has no fear of humans which makes him even more dangerous than normal as he is not skittish or unpredictable, just mean.
Here is a prime example of his behavior. Today, once I shut the gate and trapped in the last 1/3 of the ewes to check on the baby he hung around the gate waiting for them to come out. I leaned my pole up against the fence right next to the gate. I opened the gate to let the last of the ewes out and our super friendly brown ewe slipped back inside and the ram followed her. I switched sides of the gate I was standing on so I had the gate between us. All the ewes ran out and he saunters over to the gate and spots my handle leaning up against the fence. He stopped and head butted the handle multiple times until he had knocked it down on the ground and then tried to prance through the gate opening. I smacked him a good one with the gate! He is not afraid of me only of the stick. He did run off after getting blindsided by the gate.
He is not safe to be around and we have people who would like to come out and see the babies. So we will have to let them into the baby area from the outside so they can avoid him. Ideally, they would be able to just wander through the herd in the barn as everyone mills around but that won’t happen this winter.