I know it is only November, but for us, it feels like the year is drawing to a close. We are wrapping up our fences and water hoses to store for winter. The garden is harvested, the barn is ready to house animals, and our schedule is full of butchering and putting away instead of pasture management and growing lambs. The year was a good one, full of progress, with improvements in sheep management, pasture management, and our own schedule.
It was also a year of breakage. Our car blew a head gasket, the truck had a number of problems, our well pump kept shutting off, our washing machine quit, our dryer had an internal gas leak, our roof sprung some leaks, the bush hog wheel broke off, the finish mower repeatedly threw its belt, the PTO clutch on the tractor stopped working, and I’m sure there were more. Most breakages were fixed, patched, or replaced, and we are hoping next year isn’t quite as full of that kind of learning!
We bought an old metro bus via auction to use as a livestock transport(much cheaper than a trailer) as we were considering grazing the flock remotely. Then we sold the bus, after realizing it wasn’t going to happen this year and we needed the money to replace our car. A few months later Dan got talking with the craigslist seller we bought our replacement dryer from, and ended up leasing 30+ acres of pasture! It is comprised of some recently seeded fields on a hillside about 20 minutes away. We paid someone to haul our market lambs out there as a trial run this fall before putting all our sheep out there next year, and have been rotating them through the fields since September. They have grown fat and healthy out there on the diverse, decent quality forages. We go check on them every 2 or 3 days and move them to a new paddock. We built a box for the back of the pickup that can carry about 10 lambs, and it works just fine for moving them ourselves, though it is more tedious than a trailer.
If all goes according to plan, we will have only our breeding stock and 6 lambs reserved for next July on the property by the end of November. We have struggled to move market animals and culls in a timely manner, but have been attempting to improve on that this year. It is costly to keep animals around longer than necessary – since they need to eat every day!
The most difficult part of the year for us was the last month and a half; my dog, Horatio, fell ill, and after fighting for a number of weeks, succumbed to what we think was Leukemia or another cancer. He had lived a full 12 years, and loved his life on the farm here. He was the best dog ever – gentle with children, fierce with varmints, suspicious of strangers, devoted to me, respectful of our farm animals and rules(usually), and my friend for the last 11 years. He was my buddy before I met my husband and had my children, and had been with me through so many transitions. He is buried in the back yard, and his grave overlooks the main part of our property. We miss him sorely, but are thankful he is no longer fighting a miserable illness. On top of that, our cat, Charlie, did not return from his rambles last week. It really sucks.
Our year wraps up with breeding the sheep in October, and that went better than ever this year. The ewes were healthier than in previous years, and were ready for the ram when we put them together. Our lambing season in March promises to be intense, but short, if the activity of the ram with the ewes is any indication! We put 19 ewes in with our Texel ram, Sebastian, and 7 registered Finn ewes divided between two different Finn rams. The demographics of our flock will be swinging heavily towards white meat crosses, as opposed to colorful Finns. We have been very pleased with the Texel crosses, both in the pasture with parasite resistance and ease of gaining weight, and at the butcher, with meaty carcasses.
Towards the end of October we sheared the ewes, trying out a change in shearing schedule to both ease congestion in the barn by removing the large amounts of moisture-holding, dirt attracting wool, and to get the highest quality fleeces, as fall shearing harvests the wool after being out on clean grass and washed by the rain all summer. I had a small crew helping the day we sheared them – my cousin trimmed hooves and wrangled sheep, a friend learned to skirt fleeces and did most of them, and another friend brought lunch, helped with skirting, and learned what to do(and not do) with her own new flock of sheep. I was able to shear a record number in one day, 21! They also had very few nicks, and were pretty smooth. I unfortunately hurt one when she twisted out of my grip, but I learned from my mistake, and will do better next time. She is healing, thankfully!
Today it is snowing and cold, so the green grass won’t be around for much longer. The flies are gone though, and that is always nice! I don’t like the cold, but am looking forward to the wintertime change in pace. Maybe I’ll post more here – who knows!