It’s spring time and we are still trying to clean up from last year. This is the field I tried to burn last fall and just could not get the fire to drive through the weeds. It got mowed down and I wanted to plant right through the weeds but there is too much biomass on the ground. So we ended up pushing up piles of weeds by skimming the ground with the tractor bucket. Once those piles were made they were so dry you could light them with a lighter and nothing else. Two days of burning has cleared off a lot of weeds. The wind has been kind enough to blow and making the fire spread as needed.
I bought spring barley on Friday and want to get it in the ground this week. It is supposed to rain on Wednesday and I would like to have the seed in the ground by then. I have a small 1/2 acre plot that we saved for peas. We sprayed every field but that one so that the 2-4-D won’t affect the peas.
I have another set of helpers out and set them to hardening the spring bank. I only finished one side last fall. Now both sides are blocked in and it should stop the dirt bank from falling into the spring. We also lined the bottom of the spring with gravel in that area. The sheep would know this if they would quit trying to jump over the water. This did require the teenage helper to redo the wall three times to get it where it needed to be.
I have been working on my sheep calling abilities. I have managed to post a couple of successful videos to Instagram. The key to success is in choosing the right time to call them. They are used to coming in at night for food and to be locked up in the barn area. I have had zero luck trying to call them down off the hillside midday. But if they can hear me in the evening they will come running.
We sold three more lambs off this weekend to someone who is going to raise them all summer long. We sent our old brown ewe and her 3 month baby over with the lambs so they could try and hand tame the lambs. Our old ewe will come to anyone who she thinks has food. We also do not want her getting bred when we release the ram into the main herd. I spent last night on the tractor for 4 hours driving around in circles pulling a disc trying to get the flooded out field from last year ready for spring barley crop. The ground was full of ruts from the back creek flooding the field and making rivulets. I hope I got most of them smoothed out. We are hoping to get the seed in the ground tonight as it is supposed to rain 0.1-0.25” tomorrow and the hope is the seed will all be in the ground by then. One must have goals in life.
Well one would think that spring was in the wind, but winter is not quite ready to let go. Two weeks ago we had snow on the ground! It snowed three days ago at our house but did not stick. We have now started the constant daily rain. This is going to make the weeds and hopefully the grass we planted grow.
Unfortunately, the Coronavirus is slowing us down. I am working way too much at the hospital getting ready for our Surge. This has left very little time for me to work around the farm. This is going to cause us problems if I cannot figure out how to balance a work/life ratio. I realize it is probably necessary for my health but I continue to work and worry and plan for something that I hope never comes. This is causing me to not have the time or energy for the blog. I will keep at it but there will be a noticeable dip in the quantity of posts I make. As I use this medium for my official farm history to pass on to the next few generations I felt it necessary to add this in here.
The thing about Spring Winter is you get used to warmer weather so when the Mother Winter snaps back and reminds you she is still in charge it just feels colder! Annmarie still persists in her belief that we cannot sleep at night without two windows open in the bedroom. This is in blatant defiance of the outside temperature. Our master bed looks like a blanket display at a market, dominated by Pendleton Wool Blankets. We have decided that we don’t need a weighted anti anxiety blanket as we sleep under multiple wool blankets.
Our sheep continue to have babies!! Just when we think it is all over someone else pops out another lamb. So the ram is still stuck in with the bull and a couple of steers. There is hope that in a few more weeks they will all be done, as a five month lambing season is brutal. We want two months only for lambing season. We need to give him two months to get at everyone. There are too many ewes for him to service everyone in one estrus cycle. He is fat and needs to go on a diet anyways. This will make him work off some of that extra lard.
The sheep are not really any smarter than normal. I had to let this lamb out of the feeder. It managed to get into it but spent the day inside as it could not get out. We have noticed that the brown and white lambs are probably the cutest we have but definitely the weakest. We had another one die this week. I had to put it down. This has caused us to rethink the lambs that we will be saving when we cull this spring. We are going to have to avoid the brown and white ones. The weirdest part of this is that the color is what is separating them out. It makes it easy to pick and choose but it is kinda weird that the most deaths this year have been those sheep with those color markings. We were going to cull out the older ewes anyways and have lots of lambs to choose from so picking won’t be a problem.
We were supposed to be done with lambing, it’s just that not everyone got the message. Sarah went out this week and discovered a set of twins. They got put into the momma area under the stairs. The babies did well and today we went out and banded and tagged all the sheep in the momma/baby area, kicked them out with the main herd and moved the twins and their momma into the baby area. Now we no longer have to carry water to any sheep! This is one of our main goals in life. We could not get the three untagged lambs running with the main herd as they were still out on the back hillside running around with everyone else.
When you walk through the barn lot it looks like the testicle fairy has been busy. There are little fur bags with double bright orange rubber bands all over the barn lot.
Three days ago Annmarie opened up the back hillside to the sheep. Within 3 hours they had figured out how to get under the fence at the creek crossing. We just gave up and went out and opened up the hillside gate. I cannot lower the fence over the runoff creek as there is a ton of snow up in the mountains and it was 64 degrees F today. Once the runoff creek picks up the sheep will have a harder time crossing it. So far its just a skinny little thing that has been running for a couple of months now.
I finally took all the cardboard items I had been stashing in the dining room and burned the twig pile I had been creating in the orchard. We needed it burnt as this area is going to become our Lavender grow area. It still needs a new fence and an animal lane to get to the side gate so we can still move sheep and cows around the garden.
It has been an incredibly long lambing season, over three months of trickle babies the entire time. The ram was totally slacking this last time around and us not having everyone synced did not help matters. We have one last go around to do out in the barn. We still have about 8 babies in the momma/baby area that need to be tagged and banded. Once that is done we are absolutely done. I will go out and lock the cows out of the orchard this week and let it start growing back again so in 2-3 weeks we can sort off all the old ewes we are culling and all the female babies that we don’t want pregnant and they can live in the orchard away from the ram. He better be too busy to worry about those ewes once we turn him in with the main herd. Our last set of twins was incredibly tiny and they have spent a week in their own pen growing. They are now in with the momma/baby pen because we got tired of carrying water every day to them. Now we just open the gate and they go get their own water.
I was headed to work last week and spotted mouse down by the creek avidly staring at something. When he pays that much attention to something it is usually bad for the other thing. It turned out to be a little lamb that stuck its head through the fence to get to the green grass and then when the dog scared it, it stood and could not get its head out of the fence. Once all the dogs figured out the lamb was stuck, they all wanted to go over and lick its head which just freaked the lamb out more. Once I forced its butt down it slid right out of the hole.
We have one brown and white speckled baby that keeps making these weird sounds. I didn’t notice it (I never notice anything weird in the barn) but Annmarie said it was making these grunting sounds and trying to poop. So I was out in the barn getting ready to feed and while chasing everyone out heard this weird noise. I started looking around and spotted that baby ewe trying to poop. I could not get a hold of it before it ran outside. I have been paying attention to it ever since. It is a little girl and it has a sweet tooth! It keeps eating at the molasses licks in the barn and getting constipated from them. That is some dedication to your passion.
These are are final numbers for winter 2019. We actually did pretty good compared to the big farms. We only had a 16% lamb mortality. We almost had 150% productivity when you counted live lambs at a week and when you just counted births it was almost 180%! We are super stoked about those numbers and hope to keep up the average on the next go around. The best part was I did not have to pull a single lamb this lambing season.
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.