Sunday, January 24, 2016

Blizzard of 2016

It's hard to tell how much snow we actually got, due to the drifting. Somewhere between 2 and 3 feet is my best estimate. It was certainly more snow than I've seen in my lifetime, at least in one falling. Several years ago, we had two back-to-back snowfalls that were fairly substantial.

The sheep and dogs made out fine. There's a lot of snow in the feed area of the hoop house, but other than that, everything's good. If I had replaced the roll-down door on the closed end of the hoop house, much less snow would have gotten in. I covered the opening the best I could. A lot of the snow came in when the people door blew open.

The walk to the barn was treacherous. The drifted snow was waist-high. I came to understand how people can get stuck out in the snow, even if they are very close to their destination. I used a shepherd's crook on the trek back to the house and it was much better (and safer). I fed the sheep extra last night, so I could wait to feed them today, after a path was cleared to the barn.

Day 2 (today): the sun is shining. It is a beautiful day. The snow is beautiful. The dig out has begun. A local farmer has plowed me out.  He plowed the driveway and a path down to the barn.  I still have to shovel out some paths and dig my car out.  I won't be using my deck for awhile. It is piled high with snow. Zak's backyard is also deep with snow. I dug a path for him, but it's not enough. I need to take him out for a walk, so he can choose where to do his business.

For city dwellers and suburbanites, I don't see how a big snow is much of a problem (unless power is lost). So, you have to stay inside for a few days. There's not much shoveling to do and there are no outside responsibilities. For a farm, it's a much bigger deal, especially if there are livestock.  You have to get to them. You have to get feed and water to them. Worse yet, sometimes, lambs, kids, and calves are being born in the middle of snowstorms. I'm glad I'm not lambing.

Fortunately, the snow slides down the sides of my hoop house.  My brother wasn't so lucky. One of his hoop houses got covered in snow and the frame bent like an M. No animals were inside, but equipment and vehicles were.

There was plenty of advanced notice for this big snow storm. Anyone that wasn't prepared has only themselves to blame. I made sure I had plenty of food and feed. Anyone who ventured out during the storm (other than those that had to) was foolish. 

Time to go out and do some more shoveling . . .

We will all survive the blizzard of 2016.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Expansion Plans

I'm getting closer to retirement, so I'm planning to expand the farm a bit.

Second feed bin
Even if I wasn't expanding, I would be having a second feed bin installed on my farm. I have to purchase all of my feed. Hay is very expensive. Much more expensive than grain. It seems as if every year is a bad year for growing hay. It's either too wet or too dry. This past year, it was both. I plan to replace some of the hay in the diet (of my sheep) with soyhull pellets.

I've done the calculations. Soyhulls are a more economical source of energy than hay, and bulk soyhulls are much cheaper than bagged hulls.  Soyhulls are easier to store and handle than hay. There is less waste. One pound of soyhull pellets is equal to approximately 1.4  lbs. of hay. The new bin will be used to store soyhulls.  If soyhulls become too expensive, I can store another type of feed in the bin, including more barley.

I use the current bin to store whole barley.

Second building

Last year, I used the back bay of my three bay garage to lamb my yearlings. I would like to use the garage to raise rabbits (eventually). The lot that connects to the back bay gets too wet.  I need to put in a 16 x 16 ft. concrete pad if I want to continue to use it for the yearlings. This year, I have 10 yearlings to lamb. It's probably not big enough for all of them.

So, I'm going to put in another building, in the pasture behind the house. I'm going to start with a carport and have wooden sides put on it. I don't plan to use it in the winter time, so it doesn't need to be completely enclosed. It will be approximately 20 x 30 ft. in size. The roof will extend down two feet.  I will have water and electricity installed. In addition, to lambing out the yearlings (and others), it can be used to feed lambs and/or kids.

Current facility for yearlings (garage).

Handling system

For years, I've needed a handling system. A handling system would make it much easier to vaccinate and sort my animals. I haven't weighed my lambs in a few years; a handling system would make me more likely to do so. I want to enroll my flock in NSIP. This requires that I weigh lambs at 60 and 120 days of age. I would also like to get a pre-breeding weight of my ewes, so I can calculate efficiency (lbs. lamb weaned/pre-breeding weight) of ewes.

I already have the components of a handling system. I  have a work platform and scale. All I need to do is design my system, decide where to place it, and order the additional pieces I need. I plan to put a cover over it, maybe another carport.

Automatic milk feeder
Because I push my ewes, I'm always bound to have some orphan lambs. An automatic milk feeder would make it so much easier to feed orphan lambs. No more leaving work early or getting up late at night to spread out the feedings. The feeder would also mix the milk. I can easily justify the expensive when you consider the number of years and lambs that a feeder would feed. I am also interested in buying day-old lambs (or kids) to feed (as another farm enterprise).  Not sure yet which model of feeder I plan to buy.

Automatic milk feeder

Not sure when I will start my rabbit enterprise. For years, I've wanted to raise commercial meat rabbits. I'd like to use the style of cages that I saw in France a few years ago. I'm hoping that I can get them from a distributor in Ontario. With the new building for the sheep, I'll be able to use the back bay of the garage for my rabbit enterprise.

Besides liking rabbits, I am attracted to rabbit production because it is much easier to market rabbit meat, as compared to lamb (or goat). They are also easy to handle. I may use the hydroponic fodder system my dad created to replace some of their pelleted diet with sprouted barley. I've also read where soyhulls can replace approximately 25 percent of their diet.

Clerici rabbit cages in France

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Directions for 2016

For the past five years or so, I've focused on my crossbreeding program. First I introduced Hampshire and Suffolk genetics into my Katahdin flock.  My goal was to create a 75% Katahdin x 25% Blackface ewe, which I call a Katahdin Mule.

As commercial ewes, Katahdin Mules are hard to beat. They can be selected to shed as well as the purebred Katahdins. They keep the hooves black, which may aid in hoof care. There is no compromise in reproductive capacity. They add some size to the flock, which is advantageous in certain production environments. I like to sell bigger lambs (> 100 pounds), so the added size is bonus for me.

Katahdin Mule ewes

Next, I fused dairy genetics into my flock. My ideal Katahdin "dairy ewe" is 84% Katahdin x 16% Lacaune.  The Lacaune is a dairy sheep from France. As compared to the East Friesian, the other common dairy breed (in the US), they are hardier, less woolly, and produce milk with a higher percentage of fat. The research center in Spooner, Wisconsin, had crossed the Lacaune with the Katahdin, in hopes of creating a dairy hair sheep. This is where my original genetics came from.

Milk, especially milk fat, grows lambs. I consider milk production to be one of the most important traits in my flock, especially since I prefer triplet litters and twins from yearlings. The particular ram I started with also added some size and growth to my Katahdins. The crossbred Lacaunes make nice market lambs.

Dairy cross ewe and lambs

All of the crossbred rams have been sold and a significant portion of my flock now contains either blackface (Hampshire x Suffolk) or Lacaune (dairy genetics). In the foreseeable future, all matings will be with purebred Katahdin rams.

My next focus is going to be quantitative genetic improvement: EBVs (estimated breeding values).  The ram I bought last year was my first ram with EBVs. Unfortunately, he was killed 8 days into the breeding season (by another ram). Another ram  had to finish the breeding. Luckily, I was able to get two ewe lambs out of the dead ram (both crossbred).

At the 2015 KHSI Expo, I wanted to get another ram with EBVs, but the choices were limited. Instead I bought a ram with good on-farm production data.  The ram is out of one of the top show flocks in the country. His triplet brother was the Reserve National Champion at Louisville (NAILE). His triplet sister won the January ewe lamb class. "Eddie" will be the sire of most of my 2016 lamb crop. I'm not interested in showing my sheep, but this ram had the traits I was looking for.

New ram Eddie

I also bought a ewe out of the sale. She did have EBVs. In fact, she is out of the top-indexing Katahdin ewe in the country.  In 2016, I plan to get a ram from the same flock. I want to finally enroll my flock in NSIP.

With regards to NSIP (EBVs), I believe in balanced selection. I don't want to over-emphasize any single trait. At the same time, I will emphasize traits that are important to my production system and goals of my breeding program: NLB (number of lambs born), NLW (number of lambs born), and MWWT (maternal weaning weight). The production indexes are also important to me, because they offer the best means for balanced selection.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Goodbye George

George was euthanized on September 15, 2015.  He would have been 14 on his next birthday, March 2, 2016. His quality of life had deteriorated and I thought he was suffering. Getting up was hard for him. It was hard for him to lay comfortably. He wasn't eating enough. He was going to waste away. I had to do it. Others agreed. His time had come.

George, age 13

George died in my arms. It was a peaceful end. The vet helped me get him into the truck. I took him to Valley Pet for cremation. His ashes were returned to me in a nice wooden box. The box was in a green velvet bag. I have a cremation certificate. George's box is on the coffee table. I talk to him.

I have so many memories of George. He is (was) symbolic of my farm. He is (was) the mascot for the Sheep 101 web site. People used to send him e-mail when they had questions or wanted to greet him. I talked about him. People knew who he was. My farm sitters liked him.

I never meant to keep him. When he was born, no ewe would claim him (I never knew who his mother was), so I bottle-fed him. Someone wanted to buy him, but he had a hurt leg when it was time to go. So, I ended up keeping him. His first job was to serve as a companion to my ram; Tarheel, at the time.

This was an important job, as no sheep likes to live alone, and rams can be especially problematic when they are kept by themselves. For several years, George lived with the rams. When he got older, he stayed with the ewes, as I was concerned the rams might be too aggressive with him. Plus, I had multiple rams, so they didn't need a wether companion.

Baby George:  the lamb no one wanted

For several years, I displayed my Katahdin sheep in the breeds display barn at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. Though George wasn't 100 percent Katahdin, he went along. For a few years, Samantha led him in the Parade of Breeds. He walked well on a halter, but preferred just to follow me.  When I walked him around the Festival, people wondered why he followed me; I had no bucket of feed.

Of course, George did like buckets of feed. He was notorious for sticking his head in the bucket and causing me to spill grain. George had a huge appetite. He liked grain, but his favorite food was tree leaves. I fed him leaves up until the day he died. Towards the end, I picked leaves for George daily.

George was very fat in his prime, age 4

George was 5/8 Katahdin x 3/8 Dorper. He weighed 206 lbs. in his prime. He was definitely fat. I didn't want to keep him separate, so he always got fed whatever the ewes or rams were getting. During the summer, it was just pasture. But during the winter, they'd get some grain, so he'd get some grain. They needed the extra nutrition for their babies; he did not. But, he was too smart to be separated for feeding.

George was the mascot for my Sheep 101 web site.  Sheep 101 is a web site to teach students, teachers, 4-Hers, and the general public about sheep. It was originally set up in a question-answer format. George answered the questions. George's picture appeared (still appears) on every page.

George was born in the first lamb crop to be born in Western Maryland. Like the rest of the lambs, he was born in the garage. He grazed around the house, until the pastures had been planted and fenced in.

George still in his prime, age 8

George never required much care. He never got sick. He got an annual CDT injection like the rest of the sheep. He might have been dewormed as a lamb, but wasn't dewormed again until a month or so before he died (I was concerned that he was grazing in the same small area). His worst attribute was his feet. Many of my sheep don't ever need their hooves trimmed. George's hooves needed trimming every year, sometimes more often. He never cooperated when I trimmed his hooves, though once he fell asleep in the tilt table.

George's official name was George W.  He was named after President George W. Bush.  One year at the Festival I could tell who people were going to vote for based on their reaction to George's name. Sadly, George's namesake lost the next election.

Me, George, and Samantha at the Festival

I'm going to miss George. I already miss George. I always looked for him. I called his name and he answered me. In the last year or so, I made a point of making sure he was okay.George had a good life. He got to be a pet on a sheep farm. He got to live like a sheep.  He lived past his life expectancy.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Proud of my yearlings

This year's yearling ewes have done an exceptional job. It think it's the best year yet for yearlings. My six yearling ewes gave birth to 13 lambs. I removed a triplet lamb for hand rearing. They are all raising twins:  11 ewe lambs and 1 ram lamb. The sire of the lambs is a "left over" ram lamb I call  Wilson.  He is a big (tall) ram, but his shedding is suspect. Time will tell.

406's twin ewe lambs:  92% Katahdin x 8% Lacaune

My two black ewes are purebred registered Katahdin. They are sisters to each other. They gave birth to three colored lambs (two black, one red) and one white lamb. Two of the yearling ewes are 31% Lacaune (dairy). One ewe is 16% Lacaune and the sixth ewe is about 85% Katahdin. The other 15% is Hampshire, Suffolk, and Dorper.

#442's twin ewe lambs:  100% registered Katahdin

It will soon be time to wean the yearlings' lambs though one set of lambs is several weeks younger than the rest. I may put her with the ewe that had lambs in June. I have maintained the yearling ewes as a separate production unit all along. This further ensures their success in the flock.

The only ram lamb: 100% RR Katahdin

All of the yearlings has shed well, though one of the 31% Lacaune still retains some wool on her rump. I'll probably have to shear it off. My original crossbred Lacaune ram was woolier than I preferred.

If your yearling ewes are not the best ewes in your flock, you are doing something wrong. They should represent the best genetics in your flock. When you compare the adjusted weaning weights of their lambs to those of your mature ewes, they should be near the top, exceeded only by good-growing triplet lambs.

The youngest lambs:  84% Katahdin x 16% Lacaune (ewe lambs)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Almost Finished

Lambing is almost finished. All that's left to lamb is two yearling ewes. The ewe that lambed in December may also have re-bred for early June lambs. I've got my fingers crossed. Her single ram lamb is doing well. Unfortunately, both of them have to be penned and fed alone.

It's been a good lambing season, except for the loss of two ewes. The first ewe had a partially dilated cervix. I ordered a c-section. The first lamb was dead. The second one was alive. According to the vet, the ewe's uterus was not salvageable. Not sure what happened. She was put down and I am raising her lamb.

My favorite ewe (Ms. Piggy) had triplets, all red in color.

The second ewe retained her placenta for a few days. I gave her oxytocin and put her on antibiotics. I was able to remove the placenta with a light tug, on day 3. After that, she went off feed and was very lethargic. She died, rather unexpectedly, when her lambs were 5 days old. I am now raising them. It was hard to get one of the lambs on the bottle, but now both lambs nurse vigorously and are growing well.

They were two good ewes, 8 and 7 years old, respectively. In hindsight, I wonder if the second ewe still had a lamb inside of her. She didn't give an indication that that was the case, but why did she die?  I don't know what I could have done differently with the first ewe. I didn't feel all that great about the vet who did the c-section. He seemed to be indecisive. Oh well, it's necessary to put both deaths behind me.

Two of the yearling ewes with their twin ewe lambs

Four of the yearling ewes have lambed so far. They are doing exceptionally well with their lambs, 8 ewe lambs among them. One of the yearlings had triplets, but I took the smallest lamb for artificial rearing. There is one black lamb in the group. The sire of all the yearlings' lambs is a ram I named Wilson. Wilson is a triplet-born ram, RR.

The rest of the ewes and lambs are doing fine. I introduced creep feed several days ago. I'll put a creep area in with the yearling ewes in a few days. Their lambs are a little younger.  I also plan to put a group of ewes on pasture with an outdoor creep.  I'll choose the ewes with the older, bigger twin and single lambs.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ready for Lambing

It's been a long while since my last posting. I completely skipped 2014. In actuality, 2014 wasn't my favorite year, though the farm made record profits, thanks to really strong lamb prices.

As for the 2015 lamb crop, the first ewe lamb yesterday. One of my dairy cross ewes, a 2 year old, gave birth to twin ewe lambs.  In December, I had a surprise lamb born. A single ram lamb. "Christopher" is now over three months old and full of "piss and vinegar."  He's a good looking boy, but he's not happy about being in a pen by himself -- but he kept harassing the ewes and George.

First born

Yesterday was the annual barn cleaning. There wasn't enough manure to be spread on the fields. Guess I need to get some more sheep. I cut the flock back to 32 to better match the size of the hoop house.  If I increase the flock again, I'd like to do it with a group of fall-lambing ewes.

I fear this will be George's last winter. He's now 13 years old. He has problems with his feet. Though he continues to maintain his hearty appetite, he has difficulty getting around.

I'm looking forward to all the lambs yet to come. Most of the Katahdin lambs will be sired by a ram I borrowed, after my new ram (Lucas) was killed 8 days into the breeding season. "Ted" was a ram I sold a couple of years ago.  I'll be looking for a new Katahdin ram this year.

Christopher (L) and George (R, front)

The yearlings were bred to "Wilson" a triplet RR ram lamb. Yesterday, I moved the yearlings to the "garage" pen. I'm hoping to create an outside lot to go along with their 12' x 24' pen.  Having the yearlings lamb in the back bay of the garage worked well last year.  I like being able to feed and manage them as a unit, all the way through to weaning.

The ewe that lambed in December was re-bred in January. If she conceived (I hope so), she should have another set of lambs in early June.