Category Archives: Sheep

Night Shearing

The shepherd who sold us our five border cheviots was so kind as to hook us up with her sheep shearing guy.  He was coming out on Saturday to work her flock, so we tacked onto his agenda since he would be in the area anyway.  A bit like the cable guy, there was no real time frame given, just a “sometime in the afternoon” and “I’ll call you when he’s on the way” and so Alston and I spent Saturday hanging around the farm while Will attended a seminar on growing produce.

Will caught the sheep in the shed on Friday morning, so the girls had been sequestered for quite a long time.

The good news is that Big Bertha appears to have her sight back.  Otherwise, everyone seemed restless to get back to the pasture and its just starting to grow grass.

By the time Shearer was finished with the shepherd’s flock, it was already six o’clock.  Add in a bit of getting lost on the way here (this is where not having cell service in the area truly sucks) and he arrived around seven.  That being said, we couldn’t possibly be annoyed with the guy – he was as nice as could be and endured Alston’s chants of “sheep get haircut!” and my curious on looking.

My original plan was to play paparazzi during the shearing, but it was so dark Will ended up holding two flashlights so there was light enough for the Shearer to work.  Here’s the only shot I took, so I apologize for the low quality.

It probably took him around 8 minutes per sheep, if even.  It was amazing to watch how easily he could catch an ewe, lift her into a squatting position so she sat on her rump and get right to shaving her underside (careful not to injury her udders), then work down her legs and tail, and move onto the prime wool of her back and sides.  It was clear it took a lot of strength to hold the girls still, but he did so without any flailing or cries for help on their part.  I was completely in awe.  As he worked, he talked about how teams of shearers will shear the large flocks in New Zealand, shaving up to 250 sheep in a single day.

Based on their udders, the Shearer thinks two ewes may be pregnant.  Will had a keen eye on all of their bellies and thinks it may be as many as three.  The Shearer did warn that it’s especially hard to tell with young ewes until much closer to their due dates, so we’ll have to wait and see.

The next day, I took some shots of our newly pruned ewes.  To me they look like lambs, although Will remarked that they remind him of deer.

The wool filled five tall kitchen trash bags to the brim.  Now it’s off to the mill to be turned into yarn.


Due Dates

Our rent-a-ram Zeus first “serviced” the ewes on December 14, which means if any of them got knocked up that first day, we’re looking at a due date of May 10, with a “be on the lookout” range of May 1 through May 22.  If any of them got pregnant on his last day at the farm, the due date is July 5.  Meaning our window for lambing is May 1 through July 17.  That sounds like a really long time to be at the ready.

Given Barney the Boar’s recent exploits, we could have piglets on June 20.

Big Bertha Update

The good news is that Big Bertha appears to be doing quite well.  Her limp is almost healed and she’s able to keep up with the rest of the herd.  Unfortunately, she still appears to be blind. So I guess I have a Special Needs Sheep now.  Hmmm.

We never did need those antibiotics, in case anyone was keeping tabs.  It may have been an unnecessary risk we took by skipping them initially, but we got a pass this time.

Big Bertha used to be the alpha sheep, but now the one we’ve taken to calling Mangy seems to have assumed the leadership position (her wool is all patchy, likely from excessive rubbing up against trees to scratch).  She’s the first to the feed bucket, the first to venture out of the woods, the first to walk up to the watering tub near the house.  I’m just glad they are looking out for their differently-abled sister.

Lady is a tramp

Up until this weekend, Lady (our surrogate puppy) pretty much left the sheep alone.  I’m not sure if she just finally noticed them, or if it’s some sort of developmental milestone for dogs, but something clicked in her brain and she started chasing the animals.

Yesterday morning, Will found the pasture in disarray.  The electric fencing for the pigs was off and the wires were pulled from their posts in places.  The sheep were hiding in the woods and Big Bertha (our largest ewe) had blood on the wool of her chest and her face looked damaged.  Lady had been chasing them in the dark of night and in their flight, the sheep plowed through the fencing and Bertha must have plowed into a tree.

We had the vet come out and check on things and she discovered that Big Bertha is now blind.  She has a bit of a limp but otherwise seems to be doing okay – she’s walking around a bit and even found food at one point.  The vet gave her an anti-inflammatory and some vitamin B to potentially help her vision.  Depending on how she’s doing tomorrow, she may come back to give her an antibiotic.  The other sheep, who up until this point were silent members of the farm, now baah to help their sister find her way.  If we’re lucky, we’ll still have some lambs come spring.  This kind of stress can lead to miscarriage.

We were torn about the injections.  We want to be as organic as possible, but we also want to be humane.  Just like our decision to de-worm the sheep, we decided it was best to try to save our ewe if possible.  Sure, it would be a shame to lose her in terms of an investment, but more so here was an animal that got injured on our watch.  And while it is a slippery slope, there is a difference between giving a potentially pregnant ewe a single course of antibiotics and therefore having non-organic lambs, and having antibiotics used prophylactically in their feed on a daily basis like commercial producers.

If she looks better tomorrow, we may get a pass on antibiotics.  If she looks much worse, we’ll probably put her down and eat her.  Anything in between involves antibiotics.  Farm life really does have a way of putting things into perspective, especially compared to my days spent as a desk jockey.

As for Lady, she is officially banished from the pasture.  If she was our dog, we could try to train her, but she’s not our dog.  Even Watson wasn’t allowed in the pasture because he chased the sheep.  We thought Scout had Lady under control, but that was our mistake. Will lined the cattle gate with hogwire so she can’t get in anymore.  I’m sure she’ll still hang around the property, but she and Scout will have to place chase on opposite sides of the fence.

Scout appears heartbroken to lose her companion.

Back to Mount Olympus

On Monday, Will took Zeus, our rent-a-ram, back to his farm.  First, he had to trap him in the run in shed, and in the process he also caught Big Bertha (our largest ewe).

Next he had to catch Zeus, pick him up and put him in the goat carrier on the back of the pick up.  This turned out to be a much easier process than I anticipated, but I don’t know that Zeus would agree.

Since his departure, the girls seem a bit more confident while simultaneous leaderless, if that makes any sense.  Regardless, I just hope they’re pregnant.

A visit from the Extension Agent

My husband did an incredibly responsible thing – he scheduled a visit with our local extension agent to make sure everything looked okay around the farm.  Here’s a brief run down.

The good news is everyone looks healthy.  The not so good news is that we may not have enough pasture to support 5 ewes and their lambs.  The d’uh news is that the reason the sheep haven’t been eating much hay is that the stuff we bought turns out to be loaded with something called foxtail, which they don’t like.  Also, it’s invasive.  Awesome.  The bad news is that it turns out that our pasture has the “wrong kind of grass” so it looks like we’ll be attempting to pull up wire grass (we were told to RoundUp and put the sheep somewhere else, but we don’t have a somewhere else, nor am I excited about the prospects of using RoundUp) and seed for things like clover.  We also need to get our pH checked, so we are now equipped with soil samples.

The pigs look great.  The aggression we were worried about is really considered playfulness (think dogs).  Also a plus, we’ve probably been feeding them too much so we can cut back a bit, which will help expenses.  The pasture over winter, woods by summer plans was met with approval as well.

The birds look healthy.  She was a bit skeptical about our plans to breed without an incubator.  Also, mid conversation, while hanging out with our New Hampshire Red rooster in the yard, a loud cock-a-doodle-do  came from inside the coop.  Turns out our mystery chick is a dude, which probably means he’ll be dinner sometime soon so as not to have two fighting cocks.  If they can keep it civil until we move the New Hampshires down to the lower coop for baby-making this April, he may get a stay of execution.  That being said, his penchant for crowing at 3 AM and waking up the toddler doesn’t bode well for his longevity.

She’d never heard of ducks that don’t swim.  The fact that my most common search phrase for this blog is “ducks won’t swim” begs to differ.

Overall, it was a good visit.  It’s comforting to hear that all your animals looks healthy from someone who actually knows what she’s talking about.

Rent a Ram

In order to have lambs come spring, we needed to find our gals a boyfriend.

Our hope was to find a Border Cheviot ram lamb we could purchase who would spend 45 glorious days with five young ewes and then have his big finale come in the form of grilled leg of lamb and a freezer full of chops.

Unfortunately, it seems there aren’t many Border Cheviot shepherds in Central Virginia.  So instead, we’re borrowing a fellow from the shepherd who sold us our mini flock – they are all probably 3rd cousins, but that should be distant enough for the purposes of breeding dinner vs.building the flock.

His name is Zeus, and he is fully living up to it.  Within five minutes of arriving here, he’d managed to services all the gals and was already working on second helpings.