The Mud is Gone and Spring is Blooming

In my last post, everything was mud. Not long after, we were able to get the animals out on grass, moving them through the pasture. There were a few more encounters with mud, since that is how the spring weather tends to go, but now we are dry and warm!

We have been moving the paddocks daily, prioritizing both the health of the flock and that of the grasses. As a result, the lambs are growing fast, the ewes are maintaining condition, and the pastures are looking fantastic. Each year we learn more, and this year we have made some crucial changes in how we manage for parasite control and forage access. We will keep you updated as we see the effects of our decisions on our flock. We have hopes for fast-growing lambs and healthy, resilient ewes on vibrant, diverse pastures.

So far our lambs have been growing fast, and have had no health problems! The Texel cross lambs are living up to the expectation of being meat hunks. Not all of them are the biggest, but they are all the roundest!

This is a Texel cross out of a BFL/Finnsheep ewe. She is our biggest lamb, a twin out of a yearling mom!
‘Bitsy’, a gray Finn/Shetland ewe and her two two-month-old Texel cross lambs(there is a random black lamb with her, but don’t pay attention to him). As you can see, her lambs are huge compared to her!

Our children enjoy helping with the sheep. Feeding lambs is their favorite task! We had a few lambs that needed bottles this year, and the Scrap Attack, pictured below, is the last one to be weaned. Scrappy, as we call her, got her leg broken at about a week old, and subsequently lived in the house for a couple weeks as she healed. Her leg is fully healed now, and she is a spunky critter who earned her name. She was less than 3 pounds at birth, thus ‘Scrap’, and a feisty little thing who enthusiastically goes after what she wants; thus ‘Attack’.

Bluebell’s single ewe from this year is a pretty thing with a gentle, mild personality.

One of Aina’s twin girls, curious and shy.

#1115, our highest producing ewe. The three years we have had her she has had litters of 4, 5, and 6 lambs. Unfortunately the quints and sextuplets did not all survive due to birthing complications, but the lambs that did live were raised well, since she has plenty of milk!

Clementine, the Guernsey cow, is due with her first calf, so we are keeping her near the house to better keep an eye on her!

Since cows don’t like to be alone, Cleo, the Jersey we are currently milking, is staying with her for company. It also makes it easier at milking time! When the cows are in the back pasture it sure takes a while to bring them back and forth for milking!

Until next time….

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Lamb TIme

We had a successful lambing this year. There is a grand total of 50 lambs running about on the farm now. We lost some to various causes, known and unknown, but all the ewes are doing well and the remaining lambs are thriving. They are so much fun to watch at their games, and subsequently our barn chores take much longer than they should!

The Texel cross lambs are looking very promising as fast-growing meat lambs. At birth they were markedly more vigorous than the pure Finnsheep or the BFL/Finnsheep lambs, and now, at a month old, they are distinctively meatier.

We got everyone out of the barn once the weather got warm, but as the pasture wasn’t ready for grazing yet, we kept them in a small area that rapidly turned to mud when it rained. So anyway, please excuse the mud!

In this photo the lambs are munching on their morning ration of grain. Both the ewes and the lambs get some grain as a supplement to the baleage that is their diet. Soon they will be grazing fresh grass, and the need for grain will diminish.

This lamb is a BFL/Finnsheep cross.
This is one of our smaller Texel/Finnsheep lambs.

We are taking reservations on lambs, which you can choose to butcher yourself, or we have a reservation at a custom butcher in late November. We will also have feeder lambs available for you to raise once they are weaned in July. Contact us for more information!

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Lambing Season Has Begun

In the past week we have welcomed the first seven lambs of 2021 into our barn. Three sets of twins and a single, divided as evenly as you can divide an odd number, into boys and girls.

Everyone has done well, with minimal intervention needed. Some of the lambs had their legs turned back, and needed to be helped in their exit from the womb, but all have taken to this next part of life very well.

Since we have no human babies right now, we set up our baby monitor in the barn this year, to help keep an eye and ear on what’s going on in the sheep pen. It has been very helpful! It is striking how new baby lambs sound similar to newborn humans.

Our first to lamb, Aina, had beautiful twin girls last Friday; a black one with a white spot on the top of her head and her chin, and a totally white one.

Lizzie then had twin girls on Sunday, two tiny black lambs with a little white on their heads. This was Lizzie’s first lambing, and she is a natural!

Ruby then had a big single ram. He didn’t want to come out, so I had to encourage him a bit. They are both doing well now! Ruby is a devoted, hovering mother. This picture was taken a couple hours after he was born as he slept off the tiring birth.

Last night Bernadette had her twin Bluefaced Leicester cross ram lambs. They are big and energetic; barely phased by birth! They were starting to jump and play a few hours after being born! Usually it takes about 24 hrs before the lambs really start to play.

The rest of the ewes are very uncomfortable, waiting for the day their lambs are ready for eviction.

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Why Do We Shear in the Deepest Dark of Winter?

I’ve received a few questions lately regarding our reasoning for removing the cozy blanket of wool from our ewes while the seasons are at their coldest. Our biggest reason is preparation for the coming lambs. If the ewes have long wool during lambing, the lambs can have a harder time finding the teat and therefore take longer to get that essential first drink of colostrum. They also can easily confuse a dirty lock of wool for a teat, and get themselves sick sucking on it. Since long wool makes a thick insulation, it is more likely that the wooly ewe may lie down on a lamb accidentally, smothering it. In addition, a sheared ewe is more likely to choose a warm, sheltered location to give birth, which improves the chances of tiny wet lambs staying warm on a cold night. From the shepherd’s point of view, it is much easier and more effective to monitor ewe health and condition without the fluffy wool that easily disguises thin ewes as fat.

Ruby with her wool.

There is some stress caused by shearing, but that stress is outweighed by the many benefits listed above. There are some steps we take to reduce shearing day stresses even further. We choose to shear 4 to 6 weeks before the first expected lambs, so the ewes are not hugely pregnant yet. We also fast the sheep for 24 hrs before shearing. Since the rumen(the main stomach) of the sheep holds 5 – 10 gallons of liquid when full, it is very uncomfortable for them to be moved into the various positions for shearing after having eaten. Fasting for a day is mildly inconvenient for them, but hugely helpful for their comfort levels(and safety of the shearer!) during the shearing.

Ruby without her wool.
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A glimpse of our farm in Winter

We had a beautiful snowfall earlier this week, and Dan took the opportunity to take a video of our backyard and the newly renovated barn. We have installed raised beds for the cows and a manger for the sheep. Our goals with these improvements are cleanliness and waste reduction. So far, so good!

The sheep are much cleaner than they were when the hay was fed in racks above them. That caused the wool on their backs to be filled with hay. Shearing is starting, and I am loving the clean wool!!

The cows are also much cleaner and it is easier to manage all the manure this way. We scrape it out twice a day, dump in a pile, and re-bed the cows so they are dry and clean. In the video you can hear me scraping the barn out in preparation for re-bedding.

http://ashfamilyfarm.com/vid_20210118_0749185851/
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Making Fry Cheese

One easy way to utilize extra milk is by making ‘Fry Cheese’. Similar to Paneer, it is a non-melting fresh cheese, delicious seasoned and fried up as a snack, or added to savory dishes.

Heat the milk above 190 degrees Fahrenheit, then add your acid of choice. You can use any acid – vinegar, lemon juice, citric acid, or you could warm and culture the milk and allow it to acidify for a few hours before heating. Each different acid will contribute a different flavor profile to the final cheese. Add the acid slowly while stirring the scalded milk. You will start to see and feel the curd forming. Once the whey is clearish and pale yellow, you can stop adding the acid and stop stirring. Allow the pot to rest for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil your cheesecloth to sanitize it and prepare a draining space for your cheese. A colander over a pot works well. Line the colander with the cheesecloth.

Gently scoop the curds out of the whey and place in your prepared cheesecloth.

Allow to drain for 15 min.

Wrap the cheesecloth around the cheese, twisting the top smoothly.

Cover with a board or plate, then press lightly for 2 hours.

This is my lever action cheese press with no extra weigh added. You could use some clean bricks, or a gallon jug half filled with water as weight. Get creative! There are innumerable options for weights! Be sure it is clean and balanced. If your weight is off to one side, your cheese will end up crooked.

After the allotted time has transpired, remove the cheesecloth carefully, wrap the cheese in plastic, butcher paper, or some other air excluding container, and chill.

Don’t throw your whey away! Feed it to pigs, chickens, or pour on your yard or garden.

Once the cheese is chilled, it will be firm and slice-able. You can cube it or slice it, and fry it until browned. It is delicious just salted, but adding some seasoning is good too!

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Sunshine in February

I got everyone out for some exercise today, since it was gorgeous, sunny, and not too muddy. The pregnant ewes need exercise, and everyone enjoys fresh air and sunshine! The bellies are getting large, and we are looking forward to lambs in less than a month!

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Barn Life

Most of the winter is spent languishing in the barn, for the animals, at least. The sheep have a cozy pen with as much hay as they can eat, plus minerals and water they can partake in whenever they desire. The cows are tied in stalls to reduce their tendency to lie in their warm, squishy manure pats, and they also get piles of hay, plenty of water, and a mineral block. We get everyone outside regularly for exercise and fresh air, but they still spend most of their time in the barn where it is warm and dry.

Barley, hoping I’m going to give her something delicious.
Everyone wondering when I’m going to get busy and fill up their hay racks.
Pretty Ruby, ready to run if I give the slightest indication of moving towards her. She’s our craziest ewe, but has nice wool and is a good momma.
This is why the wool gets so much hay in it!!
One of last spring’s lambs ‘Button’, belly swelling with lambs for this spring.
Fuzzy sheep butt!
Bessie, enjoying her hay.
Nom, nom.
Cleo whispering something to Clementine. Probably commenting on the quality of this particular bale of hay.
Beatrice, looking like a nut.

Wintertime is a quieter time of year, with a lot of peaceful resting for everyone. I enjoy spending time in the barn, listening to the contented munching and rustling, smelling the hay and the animals, and savoring the simplicity and honesty of sheep and cow life.

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Time of Expectation

Mid-winter. The sheep are (hopefully) pregnant, and their wool has had nearly a year of growth. They are looking fluffy and round.

In a few weeks we will be shearing, and despite our struggles to keep hay out of the wool, I am very exited about the fleeces. Most of them look nice, despite the extra bits of hay. One ewe in particular has the potential for an utterly gorgeous fleece….Amelia. She is an odd-ball member of our flock – a Cormo/Teeswater. Since she is kind of special, I kept her coated all year, so her fleece has no hay or dirt in it at all! Oh, the anticipation!!

Early March is when the ewes are due to lamb, and we are starting to see bellies swell already. The babies, though they add stress and remove sleep, are so much fun! We are looking forward to that time with both nervousness and excitement!

The day I took these pictures was a warm sunny day, so we took a walk through our woods and pastures with our girls, the dog – and a sheep. Last year’s bottle lamb still thinks herself more human than sheep, and will enthusiastically follow the children wherever they go. In the picture below, she is hurrying over to the fence where we are standing. ‘Buttercup’ or ‘The Runt’ are what she is called. She is small, and her fleece is short, so I really don’t know if she will ever be productive, but she is cute, and the children love her, so that is enough.

Wandering in the woods with our Runt…

Running back home!

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Bessie

When we first got her; she was so thin and pathetic looking.

Meet Bessie, our Jersey cow. She came from a herd dispersal auction, where the cows were being sold from a dairy farm that came on rough times. Dan thought it would be a good place to find a quality cow inexpensively. They ended up looking a lot rougher than we expected. They were almost all under-conditioned(too skinny), and many had various other issues(mastitis, hoof problems). I was very skeptical of the idea, and when Dan bid on, and won a small, scrawny cow with uncertain milking status, I was unimpressed, to say the least. She was calm and cooperative when she arrived home, and very hungry. She was also in milk, so we started milking her once a day, to allow her body to put most of her food into regaining weight. We had the vet out to take a look and determine if there were any underlying sicknesses exacerbating her emaciation, and she got a clean bill of health! Now we just needed to focus on getting lots of good quality food into her.

Still wearing the big auction tag in her ear.
She was caked with manure, and her hair was scruffy from malnutrition.

A year later, and she is now my favorite cow. She is sweet and cooperative, and filled out nicely. Her size is perfect for a family cow – small and tidy.
She is bred, and due in April 2020. I am very excited for her calf! Dan turned out to be right about getting this little cow; I guess I should have more faith!

Looking all sleek after a summer of rotational grazing.

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