Sheep Shape Shire: A Journey of Sorts #3


Loving the herd life
Jan 10, 2022
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The Sheep Shape Shire has been a busy place of late! New lambs, bottle babies, sadness, the meat rabbit startup, bee hive setup, high winds (again) and the chickens get a summer cottage! Whew! If it gets any busier I will have to give up sleep entirely! Though most of these things happen every year, we have made the decision to grow our farm into a self-sustaining multiple revenue stream operation (Though I think that sounds a bit more lofty of a plan than it actually is!). We added 5 new acres of newly reseeded pasture for the growing sheep flock!
Two of our ewes (so far) have lambed. Marigold, a five year old ewe who had two lambs - Bocephus and Delilah - and Veronica, our Matronly nine year old ewe who gave her annual offering of three lambs - Dorothy (Dot), Jughead and the other ewe sister… Marigold is a fiercely protective mother who let the others know right away that she would bear no nonsense from the other ewes with kidnapping proclivities who may think they have some claim to her little ram, Bocephus! He is growing with great enthusiasm, jumping and running and already tasting of the grass of the field while sticking close to mom for his needed milk supply. Delilah…ever the independent little ewe…was born and then immediately jumped up and ran into the ram’s cage through a tiny ‘leak’ in the fence and began to snuggle with her daddy! And by the time I found her she had the smell of the father Ram on her and mom was not willing to take her back. She got a little colostrum and then mamma began nuzzling her gently away….and so, reluctantly, I took over. So to date Marigold (AKA ‘mamma’) and Bocephus are kings of the pasture and no one should think that they can interfere in this little family without consequences! Delilah, however, is in the ‘orphan jug’ and consuming 16 oz. of milk replacer 3x per day! Both lambs have doubled in weight in the week they have graced this earth and are quite healthy and active. Veronica, our nine year old ewe is where we had our first tragedy of the year. After a difficult 24 hours of labor, getting electrolytes in the pasture to help her keep her strength up, she lumbered up the ramp into the barn and to our surprise proceeded, with only a little help on the first lamb, to spend the next 40 minutes popping out three lambs, one right after the other! All seemed healthy and strong and interested in nursing. I stripped out the nipples and began watching to see ‘who’ would latch on the best and who would get ‘left behind’. Veronica had such a difficult labor that she was exhausted and had trouble keeping to her feet so that the lambs could get to the desperately needed colostrum. Against her better judgement I mixed up some Colostrum Replacer and made sure that all the lambs got their minimum 24 oz. within the first 24 hours. It became clear that she couldn’t support all three and we took the one that she seemed least interested in (and who had cooled significantly) into the house and warmed her in the radiant heat floored orphan jug set up for this purpose. She responded, ate well, grew fast and jumped over the sides and I decided she should rejoin mom…sadly, by this time the other two were looking like they could not get enough milk and needed to come into the warming jug so it became a swap…healthy lamb for two weak ones. I should say here that against my ‘gut’ feeling…which was to take all three lambs and let Veronica work on her own slow going recovery…and allowed sentiment, pity, to inform my decision to listen to her desperate motherly bleating and let her keep the one lively lamb (her first born and the strongest). I brought the two in and focused on them while hoping that the one lamb left would not overwhelm the weak ewe. But nature has no pity and it was not to be..even with a heat lamp in the pen, mamma couldn’t keep up with the eagerly needy new lamb and within 6 hours at first morning recheck the healthy little lamb had all but succumbed to the cold. I rushed her into the house to the loud protestations of the ewe, warmed her slowly in the radiant pen, pushed calcium glucose solution 20ml warmed to re-activate the rumen by feeding tube and waited. This process has never yet failed me with a weak hypothermic lamb…until now. She struggled 3 hours and went from raising her head and trying to stand to simply slipping away in my tender hearted wife’s arms. The lesson, I decided, was that I SHOULD follow my ‘gut’ when I am worried that a lamb might be in trouble. Had I kept all three lambs in together and ignored the cries of the ewe there would have been no loss. But that, and a solemn Viking pyre funereal immediately behind me, I immediately focused on the two weak lambs and their mother (who was crazed from the grief of losing all her lambs in the first 24 hours of motherhood. Veronica needed rest in the rest pen (double sized lambing jug) electrolyte solution pushed orally every 4 hours, Pencillin and CDT vaccine. A cold snap came and we nearly lost her but she has pulled through and is now her grumpy self, matron of the pasture, helping watch the other lambs without interfering. I think, as wonderfully productive as her life has been, she deserves her last year in retirement…no more lambs. Meanwhile the other two lambs had taken to the calcium glucose oral push and, since they seemed to not grasp the whole sucking thing, two oral feedings of 1/2oz and then 1oz of warm Colostrum replacer and they were up and around and bleating and sucking form bottles. The temptation to try and give mamma a chance to take them back was tempered by the recent loss of the eldest of the triplets. I listened to my ‘gut’ and kept them in. It’s been a week now and they are strong, active and almost ready to face the cold. Their development has been quite slow and their weight gain behind the normal curve so they will not face the cold barn for at least another few days…or until they start hopping out of the ’orphan jug’ (the absolute reliable test of health for graduation to the barn!) These last two lambs HAVE demonstrated one odd proclivity! They discovered a tiny loose edge of drywall board near a door frame just within reach from inside the ‘orphan jug’ and have both begun taking turns chewing on it! As soon as I realized they were coming back to it and not just ‘experimenting’ I put up barriers….for my wall as much as the lambs! But it’s a perfect time to introduce some crushed alfalfa and crushed high protein grain feed to see if it is texture they are looking for!
The meat rabbit startup has begun in earnest! I’ve ordered 10 New Zealand Red does and 2 bucks and have started building a 20 cage ‘Rabbitry’ With heated watering system, automated manure collection system and food distribution chutes. We’ll put the fit and finish slaughter and processing equipment in the ’clean room’ built for honey processing and lamb processing…probably won’t need the 3 ton hoist to get them up on the hooks for processing unless we develop a radiation leak somewhere! So in one month the Rabbitry will fire into action on all cylinders taking yet another corner of one of the four barns around the farm! Just for local supply this will provide a revenue stream for the farm to help pay for the rare sheep breeding program which constantly runs in deficit…a labor of love! (The meat flock of mules is the profit center to keep it viable)
The BEES are coming! The cold weather has delayed the arrival of the bee colonies but the hives are set and ready, food patties at the ready, sugar syrup supplement until the pollen flow all mixed and all we need are the Nucs to arrive! (I can almost taste the honey from here!)
As usual the Spring went from 65F days and pleasant nights with gentle Spring rains back to arctic cold fronts, freezing temps round the clock and high winds! We got a reprieve this Spring and only had two days of 60-70mph sustained winds. There was roof damage to one of the new animal sheds and a pasture shelter roof but overall our usual measures for ‘battening down the hatches’ kept the flying debris and building supplies at a minimum. The wind quite literally blew over one of the ewes who, in the middle of a howling blow with sideways rain stinging the face and hands, had to be righted and assisted back into the barn. Everyone else had the sense to stay inside and wait out the storm! Every Spring and Fall we get high winds for 2-6 days. The routine is that we close everything, tie down window shutters, barn doors and anything that can flap wildly and be torn off the hinges. The fire barrels and trash cans are all lashed securely to the fence, the generator is primed and battery checked for the inevitable 30 hour power outage and animals large and small are encouraged to take shelter. The rule of thumb, since these winds very regularly breech 100mph in gusts as well as sustained blows is that anything less than 200lb is tied down, tied up or lashed to a building. The clean up takes a week to find the shrapnel of our lives that makes it’s way into the fields from every direction and the roof tops and siding all checked for damage. This year an 40 foot by 8 inch thick section of tree blew off into the yard…thankfully hitting nothing on the way down and breaking into four large sections…so no fences, walls, windows or new house roof (which entirely blew off in the last 106mph storm) to fix this year!
Finally, we have been planning to build a mobile chicken building of 3-400 Sq. Ft. So that we can put out chickens out on the sheep manure pile that get spread across 1/4 of the garden surface. This way 1/4 of the garden rests and get rejuvenated as we move the building to cover the whole area every year and the rest of the acre boasts lush growth of weeds and vegetables…some of which feed the goats, sheep and rabbits and some of which feed us and go into root cellar storage for the Winter to come. This year I went to price out the materials for the metal frame, 12g. Hardware wire mesh and fasteners etc. to make the mobile shed and realized that it would be $300 CHEAPER to buy a remade one delivered into place! We are in the rare point of the inflationary cycle where it becomes more cost effective to buy a pre-made building than to buy the materials and build it myself! (shoutout to Brandon for making that possible….and 370% more expensive than last Fall’s materials quote!)
So the chickens will spend the Spring, Summer and Fall working 10 tons of manure into the soil, aerating it and making it break down quickly into the top soil so that the Corn/Bean/Squash Patch will grow like crazy without need for fertilizer or tilling next year! Each year we rotate crops into the area that best suits the intensity of the available nitrogen until the whole virtuous cycle repeats and the chicken’s ’free’ labor (and egg contribution) keep them off the dining room table for yet another year! Life is good when we all work together!
I’m looking forward to have a regular supply of rabbit meat to mix into the one large supply of lamb that gets put up each Fall. While we only eat meat a couple times per week it still is nice to have variety!
So that’s OUR crazy! Please comment and share some of yours! I’m always interested in intense or vertical use of land to produce maximum profit and livelihood from small acreage farms. The most common experience is for new homesteaders to hyper focus on one single source of income or to plan only to have one year of losses before becoming profitable (generally it takes 5 years for sustainable profitability after four SOLID years of losses) and if they have one bad year it is all over…either someone needs to take on a second job or pray for a rich uncle to pass into the great beyond…simultaneously remembering you in their will! And if wishes were fishes….we’d all be fishermen/women! But 10 acres can sustain a family of 4 and provide an income if it is managed with at least 6 separate revenue sources. And within that each revenue source must have it’s own sub-category of revenue source…for example. Rabbits are great for meat. But the washed organs and offal from rabbits is perfect for raw dog food! Many work dog trainers will pay $1.85l-$3.20lb or more for a fresh source of ground offal meeting their specifications! Rabbits provide skins/furs/feet! Each of these resources going to different found sources and reducing your need to pay for waste disposal or create a remote compost site where foul smells don’t bother the neighbors! Everything can be sold to someone…right down to the ears off the rabbit…(though I have never asked what they do with them). You can raise angora rabbits for meat and wool! A highly desirable source of wool for spinners and felters. Though wool is a labor intensive gathering process and offers more work to do. Your sheep produce meat too! But they give wool, lambs, extremely nutritious milk once the lambs are weaned and the skins also can be processed. The hooves can be cured in salt and dried and sold to 4H students just learning how to trim hooves on their own animals. They can make a mistake on a $4.00 hoof and no animal has to suffer! The skins can be sourced to individuals or companies who process them and though the revenue is not high, it is one less thing for you to have to get rid of! Again, the cleaned organs and intestines can be ground into a protein rich dog food for dog trainers and work dog handlers who will pay well for this product….and relieve you from finding a way to dispose of it! Check recipes for sheep’s ‘head cheese’, ‘haggis’ and others…there is so much revenue in every animal you just have to be creative to see where it all is. You have to be organized and have several freezers and contracts with other professional animal handlers.
So I thought I would throw in my ideas for self-suffiency….AND self-prosperity in this time of financial stress….and am willing to answer any questions that come along. Let me know YOUR ideas! The one thing that makes this site work is when we all share our knowledge. If America finally outsources EVERY task, every repair, every food source we will be at the mercy of an ‘oppressive government’ that influences and controls every part of our lives. This may sound hysterical…but the American Revolution occurred on just such a premise. And while I do not in any way promote that as any kind of solution (just call me ‘Peaceful Pacifist and Weary’) I think it is healthy to understand where our food comes from an how we can provide for ourselves and those we love while enjoying a fair wage, good life, healthy diet, hard work and wholesome family relationships. After all…you didn’t buy a farm to bury your money and hope for the best did you!?…well?
D968873C-01E9-4BC3-8B89-7210FAECEA8D.jpeg 46EEBF23-BF4D-4309-9616-7EFECCA2F1F8.jpeg Marigold and Bocephus.
1E10ABE0-55A8-4DF8-8AA2-3E8BB6FAFD50.jpegDelilah (currently residing in the orphan lamb pen.
E624E917-5CC6-41C6-95DC-311D362A11C0.jpeg ‘Lady’ the interloper who contributed by saving my life, waking me when our last home was burning down. She gets a permanent pass from having to work on the farm.
The other lambs will be posted after they graduate to the barn!