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

Scarlet

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.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Getting bigger

The lambs are getting bigger. I've started the process of weaning the lambs born in February. To do this, I reduce protein in the the ewe's grain ration, then I reduce and eventually eliminate grain from their ration. I put the ewes in the hoop house and feed them a low quality grass hay. After eating the grass hay for a week or two, they'll be pastured at my dad's place.

Katahdin Mules born in February
There is still one more yearling ewe left to lamb (Belle).  I suspect she will have her lamb(s) sometime in May. For now, she is still co-habitating with the Katahdin yearling ram (Phelps). The yearlings that have lambed are doing well with their lambs. Today, their lambs will finally get access to creep feed and other lambs (to play with).

This chunky Katahdin ram lamb gets
more than his fair share of creep feed.
I've been doing some more re-arranging.  More ewes were brought in the barn for the weaning process. A group of four ewes with triplets will be put out in the front pasture. I am making an area in the front of the hoop house where they can come in for shelter and where the lambs can access creep feed.  I'm still waiting to have the plastic shelter that was twisted by the hurricane fixed.

This 2 year old Mule has a Lacaune-X ram lamb.
I have lots of vaccinating to do. My goal is to vaccinate the lambs when they approximately 6-8 and 10-12 weeks of age. Their dams were vaccinated during late pregnancy; passive immunity shouldn't start to wane until the lambs are 6 to 8 weeks of age.

I vaccinate orphan lambs at 4 weeks age, since they may not have consumed sufficient quantities of their dam's colostrum. Today, I vaccinated the three orphans. It was a challenge. While I was trying to inject, the other lambs would poke their faces into where I was injecting. 

The orphans are growing very well.
The orphans have been reduced to two feedings per day, 16 oz per feeding. They are also drinking milk from a bucket. They are about four weeks old now. I will wean them when they are approximately six weeks old. It is such a challenge to get them to eat creep feed, else I'd wean them earlier, as they are growing quite well. They'd better! Milk replacer is expensive and they are drinking it like gangbusters.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Make money with triplets

The way to make money raising sheep is to have ewes that give birth to and raise triplets and to select replacement females from these litters.

The best ewes have triplets by the time they are two to three years old. They have triplets multiple times. Their lambs are equal in size, other than gender differences.

5 year old Katahdin ewe (Bridget) with triplet Mules
Reba's first set of triplets

Triplets two years in a row for #984
Miss Piggy's RR triplet lambs
Triplets two years in a row for my woolly Katahdin, #884

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Muttley had a baby

Muttley gave birth to a big ram lamb today. She has a big udder to feed him. So far, she's an attentive mother.

Muttley was born last year on my mother's birthday, March 16. She was delivered, along with her brother, via c-section. The dam, a ewe I called Dumpling, had to be euthanized immediately after the delivery. She had developed severe problems in all four of her feet. I diagnosed it as septic pedal arthritis. She had infections in the feet that had not responded to treatments. Just prior to the c-section, she had finally gone down, after standing for weeks. She had also stopped eating much. Dumpling had a story of her own.

Muttley and her newborn
Muttley and her brother were bottle-fed from  the beginning. Both got sick when they were 48 hours old, but responded to antibiotic treatments. I wondered if the infection in their mother's feet had somehow transferred to them. For the next five weeks, Muttley and her brother nursed aggressively from their bottles and played with vigor. When they were five weeks old, they got sick again, especially Muttley. I treated both lambs, but focused on Muttley because she seemed to be the sickest.  Her brother died.

I saved Muttley. One of her problems was constipation. It took a fleet's enema and castor oil to get her to finally turn the corner. For several days, I fed her pedialyte in a bottle. It took a long time before she returned to her vigorous self.  But eventually she did. She has grown into a nice yearling.

As a Lacaune cross, I decided to keep Muttley for breeding.  I hope it turns out to be a good decision. Muttley's breeding is Katahdin x Dorper x Lacaune x Hampshire x Suffolk (hence her name). She is more than 50 percent wool sheep, so will likely need shearing. Her tailed was docked.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Farm update

Another yearling lambed. #214, one of the quads from last year, gave birth to a single lamb last night.  A ewe lamb. RR. Three more yearlings to go, including the two Lacaune crosses. Can't wait to see how they do. One of the crosses, "Muttley" has a big udder for a yearling. Another of the "yearlings," the only Mule I kept from last year, won't be a year old until next month.

This dam and daughter always lay close together.
The grass is gradually starting to grow and the sheep are eating less hay.  Thank God. Hay is so expensive and I can't figure out how to keep them from wasting so much. Today, I bought some soybean hulls to feed to the rams and the "free loaders" in the front yard. I may substitute hulls for hay for some of the other sheep. Not only are the pelleted hulls cheaper than hay, but they are easier to feed and there shouldn't be any waste.

A cool spring has delayed grazing
All the lambs seem to be doing well. The older lambs in the back pasture are eating a little over a pound of creep feed per day. The "inside" lambs are probably averaging about 0.5 lbs. of creep per day. Outside, they are getting more barley and pellets. Inside they are getting more cracked corn and  soybean meal.

The three orphan lambs are doing well. They are drinking from both bottles and the bucket. Two of the lambs are from a ewe that had mastitis. They are Lacaune crosses. The other lamb (brown) is the smallest of a set of triplets that a yearling had. She was raising all three, but I decided to take the smallest one for artificial rearing.

Orphan pen
Next week, I will need to re-arrange again, so I can start the weaning process on the ewes that lambed in the first round.  Hopefully, the three yearlings will lamb soon, so I can stop the 11 p.m. check.