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.

Friday, November 29, 2013

I want a dairy farm

Over the past several years, I have visited  many small ruminant dairies. In Brazil, China, France, and the United States. I have visited the Spooner Research Station in Wisconsin on a couple of occasions.  Spooner is the only dairy sheep research facility in the United States. A couple of years ago, I bought a Lacaune x Katahdin ram. I have been infusing dairy genetics into my Katahdin flock.

My first dairy cross ewe: 
31% Lacaune x 69% Katahdin
My initial interest in dairy sheep is to improve the milk production of my Katahdins. It's not that Katahdins are bad milkers. In fact, the opposite is true. I think they are very good milk producers.  But my goal is for a good percentage of my mature ewes to give birth to and raise triplets. Hence, more milk is advisable. More milk will also make twins grow faster. I measure a ewe's performance by the collective weaning weight of her offspring. I can make good money on sheep if a ewe weans three 80 to 90 lb. lambs at 90 days. Two 90-lb. lambs isn't bad either.

I really like the Lacaune breed.  In the part of France I visited, all of the dairy sheep were Lacaune. All of their milk was made into the world famous Roquefort cheese. In fact, Roquefort cheese can only be made from milk that comes from Lacaune ewes. At the AI stud we visited, there were Lacaune rams that excelled in milk production, meat production, and reproduction (high reproductive rate). I would love to get my hands on some of their semen.

Lacaune ewes in France
Lacaunes produce milk with more butterfat than the East Friesian, the only other dairy sheep in the United States. They also have less wool covering. Who wants a lot of wool on a dairy sheep?  Or a meat sheep, for that matter? Unfortunately, there aren't many Lacuanes in the United States and we are unable to import new genetics from Europe. Maybe, by the time I retire, we will be able to import Lacaune semen from France.

I also like dairy goats. They produce more milk than sheep, but their milk is not as rich. Dairy goat milk is ideal for drinking, whereas sheep milk is better for making cheese. In the minimum, I'd like to have a dairy goat to produce milk for me to drink. If government regulations weren't so burdensome, I'd like to have a small ruminant dairy, with both sheep and goats. I'd prefer to sell milk, as a supplement to raising sheep and goats for meat. Cheese-making is a possibility, but I'd have a lot to learn and even more regulations to deal with. I could make soap. Then, I'd only have to register with the ATF.

Dairy goats in China.
Not sure whether I'd raise Nigerian Dwarfs or full-size dairy goats. I've always liked Alpines (and Saanens are growing on me) and I could cross big dairy does with meat goat bucks to get more marketable kids. Don't know what I'd be able to do with the male kids from Nigerian Dwarfs. I don't want to sell pet goats.

I am also intrigued by the way most small ruminant dairy animals are raised. In most countries, they are raised mostly in confinement, especially goats. This appeals to me because I do not have a lot of land for grazing. I like intensive methods of animal production. It makes more sense to me to use the land to produce feed. On good quality land, livestock are very inefficient at harvesting forage. Animal production is more successful when everything is controlled, especially the diet. Plus, I like the health, welfare, and behavior of housed animals.

Dairy goat facility in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Many people don't understand why I want a dairy farm. Seems that dairy farms have developed a bad image, having to milk twice a day, year-round. Too much work. What they don't understand is that there are different options for managing dairy animals. Milking doesn't have to be year-round. It can be seasonal. With sheep, it is common to leave the lambs on for 30 days, after which time the ewes are milked. It's not necessary to milk twice a day or at ungodly hours. I'd be more interested in milking ewes to supplement the meat enterprise. As for goats, I just want some milk for my own consumption. In fact, I'd probably leave the kids on the doe.

Sannen does in Brazil.
Another reason for a small ruminant dairy is simply because I love working with animals. Dairy animals are the easiest to work with because they are use to frequent handling. Dairying also offers an additional opportunity to produce an income. Meat production doesn't have a lot of profit margin.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

A Producer's Pride

I have many objectives for my sheep farm and flock. Obviously, I would like to make a profit from their production. In most years, I do. With increasing costs, especially feed costs, it is getting more difficult to make a profit, but I think I can continue to do so, as sheep (especially  Katahdins) respond well to good management.

Raising animals, sheep in particular, is also a hobby that I enjoy. Sometimes, I enjoy just watching the sheep, especially young lambs. In the winter time, I love listening to the ewes "crunch" on hay. I love watching the lambs play. I think that each sheep has a unique personality. I especially enjoy the evolving personalities (and behavior) of ram lambs.

Keeper Katahdin ewe lamb
I love the science of raising sheep. Everything I do with my sheep is research-based.  I don't believe in fads and testimonials. But hey, that's my job (as an Extension Sheep & Goat Specialist) -- to disseminate research-based information to the public. Breeding is the aspect of sheep production that I like the best. I enjoy seeing the results of my selection decisions and cross breeding programs. If an animal gets sick or dies, I want to know why.

It's important to me that I raise my sheep in the most humane way possible. I have no problem putting a sheep or lamb in my freezer (I love lamb and mutton) or selling them for slaughter, but it's important that their often short lives and harvest be humane.

I'm avoiding the word "natural" because it means different things to different people. Today's sheep are not the animals that were domesticated so many thousands of years ago. I think it's perfectly natural to raise sheep in a barn or dry lot (hoop house, in my case) and to feed them grain and other supplements. How can part of the grass plant not be natural!

Twin ewe lambs - Katahdin Dairy Mules
I'm certainly not opposed to pasture and grass-feeding, but I don't have enough land to graze all of my ewes and lambs at all times of the year.  Primarily, I use the pasture for the ewe flock. I also prefer the health, behavior, and performance of fed-lambs, not to mention the taste of their meat. When I feed lambs, they are fed a combination of forage and grain (more forage than grain usually).

I dislike organic standards of animal production because they prevent you from properly treating sick animals and preventing disease outbreaks. I deworm my sheep if they need it (usually not often), but not prophylactically.  I consider antibiotics to be an important part of my animal health program. I use all animal health products prudently and observe proper withdrawal periods. My lamb is as wholesome as lamb that is certified organic, and my animals are better cared for because my hands are not tied by arbitrary rules.

Katahdin Mule ram lambs
I have a lot of pride in the lambs that I produce. I sell my ewe lambs and some of my best ram lambs for breeding. I expect them to be productive and healthy for their new owners. When lambs leave my farm, I want them to be well-grown for their age, but not fat, although it's hard to keep some of them from getting a little chunky.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


A single tear rolled down my face, as Scarlet slumped to the bed of my truck. The drug that the vet injected into her jugular vein worked fast. Her death was peaceful.  She died in my arms.

A month or so ago, Scarlet had begun breathing very heavily. In fact, you could hear her breathing from across the barn. Her nostrils were also very clean, like a horse's. I treated her with two different antibiotics, but to no avail. Then one day, a growth appeared outside her right nostril. The growth, a probable tumor explained her labored breathing. It would have to be dealt with.

Scarlet raised twin rams in 2012.
A vet removed the growth, but the stem was still inside her nose. Removal of the growth did not have any effect on her breathing. There was minimal bleeding. I don't think the removal caused much pain.

If the tumor was cancerous, Scarlet would have to be euthanized. If the growth was benign, she would require surgery. The surgery would be extensive, expensive, and not necessarily successful. Without surgery, Scarlet's breathing would remain strained and the growth would likely expand to her other nostril. The vet said there was already some inflammation in her nasal passages.

Scarlet's first lamb.
Scarlet was six years old. She had raised eleven lambs, including one set of triplets and a single ram lamb this year. I decided it was best to have her euthanized.

Baby Scarlet
I'll always remember Scarlet as one of my favorite ewes. My niece had named her. From the day Scarlet was born, she was sweet and friendly. She was never afraid of me. She was a good producer, who raised many good lambs that I sold for breeding.