Big IS better!

This fall has been a series of experiments in how to feed the flock during the fall/winter/spring period when the grass is not growing.  Our preference is to use “stockpiled” pasture, which is uncut/ugrazed pasture, and requires no machinery to harvest, therefore consumes no diesel or gasoline, and takes no space to store.  Our main concern was – could the sheep eat through snow or ice to get at the stockpiled feed?  We were pleasantly surprised that indeed, even with six inches of snow, the sheep happily searched out the plants below, and apparently also supplied themselves with water from the snow.  But we have been also giving the sheep  some baled hay, since in very cold weather, especially when it is snowing, the sheep seek  shelter and don’t spend time grazing.  We were carrying small square bales of hay from the barn to the sheep daily to ensure that nutrition is maintained for these young, still growing ewes.

In an earlier blog, you may remember that we harvested both small square bales as well as some large round bales off the front pastures.  Small square bales only weigh about 30-40 lbs, are easy to store, but require a lot of handling and space to store under cover to prevent spoilage.  They also need to be carried out to the sheep on a daily basis.  The large round bales, on the other hand, weigh about 800-1000 lb and can be stored outside under a tarp.  Moving them can be a challenge, of course, and we covered that in an earlier blog.  But once moved out to the sheep, the question was:   Would the sheep eat from them, and how would we prevent spoilage for the 3-4 weeks they would be exposed to moisture/snow?

One thing we did was to position the bale onto a small tarp to prevent wicking up of moisture into the hay.  Once we moved the bale into position and unwrapped the mesh that was around it, we pulled off the outer 3 inches of hay that was rotted and mouldy.  This was a bit concerning because we were uncertain about how deep that bad layer was, since these bales had been left out in the field for about 2 months before we moved and covered them.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that the underlying hay was sweet and dry!  No hay went to waste, either.  The rotted hay was used to mulch the garlic bed!  Then the next issue was that snow was likely to pile up on top of the bale, dribbling down through the entire bale when the sun melted it.  We therefore devised a small “shower cap” of a tarp wrapped tightly around the top tied with baling twine (what would we do without that!).

And finally we introduced the sheep to it.  It was a bit worrying for a while since the sheep initially regarded this new “monster” in their field with grave suspicion, and we saw no activity near the bale for two days.  In fact, the first night they hunkered down in a small wary clot as far as they could from the blue headed beast.  But soon, curiosity got the better of them, and after a few tentative nibbles, they were chowing down!

We hope this will be the feeding method for the future, because after we have bred up to a flock of 100 ewes, dealing with 60 large bales will be logistically challenging, but nowhere near as big of an issue as stacking and storing the equivalent of over 3,000 small square bales!

If you give a farmer a book…

If you give a farmer a book to read on a pleasant fall day, she’s probably going to want to go outside and sit in the sun to read it, in hopes of having an afternoon of quiet nothingness.

And if she goes outside in the sunshine to enjoy that book, glancing up from time to time to admire the farm, seemingy at rest as we approach winter, she’s probably going to remember those carrots that she wanted to dig up on a day such as this.

And when she goes to dig up those lovely carrots…

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She’s going to see that the garlic has finally started to sprout and make a mental note that they will soon need mulched for the winter.

When she goes over to the well pump to wash the carrots, she will glance over at the big garden and remember the nice kale that has been growing over the past few weeks of nasty weather and think how nice it would be to pick some.

She will leave the carrots soaking, and go into the garden for the kale.

She will see some small kohlrabi that a critter has been chewing on and throw them to the dog, then commence picking lovely kale.

While she is picking the kale in her arms, because she doesn’t have a container (because she never planned to pick kale until she started reading that book), she will hear a strange noise coming from the distance, and realize it is one of the normally very quiet sheep and know that something is not right.

She will call out to her hubby inside for reinforcement and drop the kale and head off to find out what’s wrong with the sheep, quickly learning that Bessie has crossed over the fence, thinking the grass was greener on the other side, and now misses her flock and is calling for help.

As she goes to open a gate to bring Bessie back in with the flock, her husband will call out to say that she just squeezed through the fence on her own.

Knowing she did this with relative ease, we will both realize that the electricity must not be charging the wire.

Realizing this, hubby heads to the barn to check the problem, and also realizing that the grass IS actually greener on the other side, we both decide it is time to move the sheep to where Bessie wanted to go earlier, so the trip to the barn becomes a trip for supplies, and 30 minutes later, with fences and gate all in place, we move the sheep.

Now back to the top of the hill near the kale garden, the farmer previously involved in kale picking goes back to the garden to resume picking, albeit now 45 minutes later.

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Kale in her arms, she returns to the soaking carrots (Ha!  Thought I forgot them, didn’t you?) to finish cleaning them to bring them in.

AND on the way in she realizes that the garage door has been open this entire time and her crazy lab has been chewing up papers he found there and gathers them in her arms full of kale and carrots.

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Bringing these all into the kitchen, she sees her book – the book that was to bring her a relaxing afternoon of  nothingness – and realizes that on the farm, there is no such thing at all, but she is happy nonetheless!