The Nuptuals!

Well, you can see from the photo above that the weather was absolutely perfect for today’s nuptuals! Above you can see Romeo pursuing one of his harem. She looks totally unimpressed! Everything went fairly well. We did have one “runaway bride”, but I think she’s learned now to stand by her man and hopefully won’t stray again!

In the video below you’ll see us bringing the rams over to the “meet up” venue first. It’s only right that they be waiting for their ladies, and not the other way around.

We set up temporary fencing to help guide them across the driveway, then pushed them right up into the handling yards.

After getting them into the race, we marked them each with a homemade version of a raddle marker. This will serve to mark the ewe when she is served by the ram. That helps us when we can’t keep eyes on them all the time so that we can try to establish breeding dates. In the past I’ve made this by mixing powdered tempra paint with vegetable shortening, but this time the store didn’t have the paint, so I went with the next best thing – Koolaid! Just a note, though — Koolaid powder does not readily dissolve in Crisco, so I had to wet it first! At least this smells more interesting – cherry and raspberry!

We then put each ram in their own pen using the sorting gates as they come out of the chute. They really didn’t like being separated, but they soon won’t mind one bit!

Here come the brides!

Waiting patiently to meet Cyrano! Someone is looking at us, and she doesn’t look too sure about this! I think she was actually our “runaway bride!”

And, keeping it friendly for all audiences, here’s Romeo with his girls in their new pasture. There is so much lovely stockpiled pasture there for them to eat that he’s torn between chowing down and making himself better known to his brides!

And now we will watch and wait. Hopefully the girls will take a shine to the boys and all will be over quickly and without a hitch!

Cyrano and Romeo

Meet the newest members of our flock! Cyrano and Romeo will be dads to our crop of lambs in the spring! They are registered purebred Katahdins bred and raised in New York at Gibraltar Farm by Etienne and Isabel Richards. They are 100% grass fed, and we will be relying on their fine genetics to complement that of our 12 ewes.

They arrived in September and have not yet been introduced to the ewes. We have kept them near the barn, far away from the ewes. Our intent is to introduce them later this month. Each ram will have a harem of 6 ewes until early next year. Lambs should start arriving mid April.

Roy has been working on extending their paddock area, as they have been munching through the pasture since they arrived in September. In the picture below you can see them watching Roy as he is just about to finish the last stretch of fencing. The weather was gorgeous yesterday, in the low 60’s, but we knew that snow and an Arctic temperature plunge would come today. Roy had built them a little shelter that he had in this new paddock, and he wanted to get them moved to it yesterday so they would have access to the shelter in this snowstorm.

Well, the best laid plans of sheep and men…below you can see their pile of hay, covered with snow. They’d rather eat that nice green grass under the snow! And as for the shelter? We found them BEHIND it, huddled together as the snow and wind were coming at them earlier today!

Believing that sheep, like any animal, are hard wired to survive, by sheltering from the elements, we were amazed to see them NOT entering their shed to get away from the wind and driving snow. So how do you entice a ram to enter a shed and be more comfortable? We can’t use food, since they seem to ignore the hay, and have no idea what to do with any other foods. For example, the ewes don’t even acknowledge the presence of delectable things like apple peels or leftover squash from the garden. And if we caught them and put them in there, they would likely see it as a bad thing and never go near the shed again!

I guess we just have to leave them to discover it themselves. We do know that they have superior genetics. Hopefully some of those are devoted to creating sufficient brain cells to discover the entrance to the shelter before the weather gets seriously bad in February. In a few weeks thay join their respective harems. Perhaps their wives will be able to show them how to use that threatening opening in the shed. At least the girls seem to be able to understand how to keep warm. Or maybe these boys are just like any adolescent males, even human ones, who, it sometimes appears, seem unable to accept advice to make their lives easier, and have to work it out for themselves!

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!

Kicking the Hay Habit

As we’ve mentioned previously in our blog, our farm will be strictly forage fed (no grain), and we have a goal of stockpiling forage for feeding throughout the winter when conditions permit.

After a recent ice and snow storm, we were able to turn the ewes out on our stockpiled pasture to test all we’ve read about ruminants seeking out forage beneath the snow.  The ewes happily left their shelter pasture (where we had confined them during the storm) with available hay for feed, and sought out fresh grass and other forages beneath the snow.

A couple of days have passed, and there is still ample feed available for weeks to come.

Here they are, happily munching away at grasses, sedge grass, and weeds that are still available to them after ice and snow accumulation and subsequent melting.

They do have their favorites out there, but after observing them for a while, I was amazed at the variety of things they try as they move along – esp. the stemmy sedge grass!

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