Could have played that classic Smithfield Fair song yesterday when i received the call from the highway department guys that the highway is full of sheep! Sheep In the Road. Thankfully, Dallas and I were already up at my farm tending to the cattle when the call came through. Frustratingly, however, just 20 minutes earlier we had been with the sheep cutting down scrub trees and brush in the timber for them to eat. Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. Nevertheless, all but about 20 head were strung out about a 1/4 of a mile along Hwy Y. Usually, I’m absolutely and totally ticked that the sheep are out. This time was way worse, because they had never been out of the perimeter fence, only before out of the confines I had set for them. Although, I kept the sheep netting ‘hot’ (very well electrified), there was always something knocking it over, sometimes deer, sometimes the guard dogs, sometimes a lamb that decides it’s invincible gets tangled in it and through its struggles wads up and takes down a good section. So, even though the tangled lamb didn’t get out – all the rest do. Untangling a struggling lamb from electric netting can be a challenge, but they sure are happy to get free! The sheep have just become FAR TOO burdensome. I’ve tried for three years to make them work in my system, but they are just too much work. They can certainly be used for pasture management, but the constant threat to their lives (predators, mud, water, heat, getting lost) is more than I’m willing to take on anymore. Add to the fact that sheep are worth far less than cattle right now and the economics and quality of life for keeping sheep are simply not there. So, with this escape, the sheep selling off has been fastracked to hopefully within the next 30 days, although some of the lambs may be too young to sell. However, the vast majority of them should be gone soon. At my age, I’m going to to cut back on work load and the sheep will go. The marketing starts next Thursday, with sorting off all fat ewes (those who have lost lambs, so aren’t suckled down) and the older winter born feeder lambs and they’ll go to Midwest Exchange Regional Stockyards in Mexico, MO. Once those are off, then the feeder lambs’ moms will fatten quickly and then they’ll go to market. After that, I’ll see how the nursing ewes and spring lambs look and make a decision as to when to market them. I’m really disappointed that the sheep won’t work out – I had such high hopes of them being part of my grazing management plan, but they are just too much work and worry Perhaps if they were located closer to our home, it would be better, but driving 35 minutes to check them nearly everyday is more than what i want to spend, plus too many times i’d have to round them up and too much death loss to predation. CHeers! tauna
Yesterday, I found two ewes and a young lamb stuck in the muddy ditch. Of course, I had not worn my mud boots, so my short work shoes would suffice, though I was up to my shins in sticky clay. They were a bit of a challenge to remove leg by leg out of the muck, but with their cooperation and effort, I made fairly short work of it.
Today, I drove up with the specific purpose of walking the ditches in case more had found themselves engulfed in mud, but none were thankfully. However, the storm moved in and i was completely soaked from the thunderstorm. Additionally, I counted seven live newborn lambs as well as two ewes were beginning to go into labor.
We have missed the worst of these passing storms, however, and for that we are grateful.
After morning chores at home, including feeding and penning the dogs, letting out and feeding the chooks, feeding all five orphan lambs and feeding and watering the two ewe with lambs which are in the barn, Dallas and i drove up to the farm to see what was happening. Right off, I noticed a ewe having lambing difficulty, or so it seemed. We gave her a bit more time before bothering her by enticing the mob of sheep into the corral.
The weather finally gave us a decent time to sort off the rams, so we did that, which went well. Then we coaxed the 5 ewes with lambs out of the pasture (the ones Dallas had shut in a small area the night before) and gently and patiently walked them 1/4 mile down the road and across a wooden bridge to the corral, where all the other ewes and lambs had been gathered. They hesitated at the bridge and of course, with baby lambs, it’s a slow process as the mommas struggle to keep track of their babies. But all in all, it went very smoothly.
Then I headed over to check on that lambing ewe and the news was tragic. As I reached inside, a really nasty smell eminated – yeah, the lambs were dead and had been for quite some time since all I could pull out was hooves, skin and body parts. She had never dilated, so there was no way these could be delivered. Hoping I could at least save the ewe, I continued trying to pull the dead lambs out, however, she shortly went into shock and died.
Now to head home to hook onto the little trailer, muster the yearling ewes from the Lamme farm, load and haul them out to the older sheep. Gathering them out of the pasture and loading also went very smoothly. We unloaded them, let all the other ewes and lambs out of the corral and into the pasture. By this time, I’d decided to take the unloving ewe home, along with her lambs figuring I could work with them better. So we loaded her and the two lambs in the front section and the three rams behind and off we went.
Since my hands and clothes were completely nasty, Dallas dropped me off to shower before I fixed lunch while he unloaded the rams at the Lamme Farm. He brought the ewe and lambs back and parked the trailer in the shade. I’ll deal with them later.
- After lunch, it was time to feed the orphaned lambs again before heading to the seed plant to mix grass seed for my spring broadcast seeding projects. Allen showed Dallas and me how to weigh out, mix, bag, and sew up. Dallas had already attached the seeder onto one of the four wheelers, so after mixing up six bags of seed, we cleaned up and called it done for the day.
I went back up to check ewes one more time before dark and, unfortunately had to bring in three more abandoned lambs. What is going on!?
Wow, it is amazing how warm weather can energise a person into working and really enjoying it!
Monday morning started off a bit rough though since it had been quite cold the night before and my early morning check of the lambing situation found 5 dead (cold) but 7 thriving. At this point, I’m beginning to think there is a vast difference in mothering ability of these ewes. However, all get a pass until the weather stays warm. With warmer weather this afternoon, the ground is thawing on top, so it’s very slick to have a pickup out in the pasture, so after nearly getting stuck in an area I had pulled into to load some gates, I decided to drop them off at their new location just inside the gate and later I would drag them down to the water tank with my Gator. Additionally, in the afternoon, Dallas and I moved the cows and calves a half mile to fresh pasture. A little bit of green showing, but mostly they are picking at old stockpile which will serve them fine as long as the weather is not stressful.
Apparently, through the excitement of moving the cows, the guard dogs flattened the electrified netting that held in the sheep and unfortunately, once we returned, all but 5 nursing ewes had escaped. That’s the way it goes, of course, since I was planning to move them down the road the next day up to the corral. However, too late for that, so we spent the next two hours pushing the ewes more than quarter mile through two paddocks and across a ditch with deep running water. I was so proud of them actually ploughing through that water! Sheep can really be stubborn about getting their feet wet. I was calling the sheep to follow and Dallas was pushing and so the little lambs that couldn’t cross, he grabbed and threw them across to their mums.
Once over the ditch and through the gate, the key was to give them access to the hay pile so they would be occupied while iIset up seven nettings quickly before they escaped the area. Meanwhile, Dallas went back around to shut the gates behind the cattle (two had come back because they forgot to take their calves with them!!! aaargh!), so all were together, then he continued on through to Cord Road to drive all the way around the square mile by gravel road. I then sent him down to gather the 5 ewes plus lambs into the corner by Morris Chapel cemetery and install a netting around behind them. That way they would be safe until we could move them next morning to be with the rest of the flock. It was pretty much dark by this time.
We had noticed hours earlier a ewe having difficulty with giving birth, so when Dallas came back, we walked through the flock with the torch and found her. I walked her over to the hay bales, grabbed her hind leg while she was distracted by eating and flipped her over. The first lamb was fairly easy to pull out, so it was a mystery why she was having trouble. So, i reached inside her and way, deep inside was another lamb. It came out easily, too, so not sure why she was having trouble. Nevertheless, I laid them around to her head, but she would have nothing to do with them; not a good sign. I let her up and she just walked away, lambs baaing and wet. Stupid ewe. Dallas and I tried to push her back towards the lambs, but she would have nothing of it, so we caught her and walked/dragged her to the corral. I packed the two lambs up to her and we tried for half an hour to get those lambs to nurse, but the ewe didn’t want them and they didn’t want her.
Both Dallas and I were tired and hungry by now (about 9:30pm), so we headed home and 35 minutes later we were back and fixing a light supper. While it was warming, I went out and fed my five bottle lambs, back in for supper, then, taking a big box, I drove back up to see if a miraculous love fest was happening. Nope, not at all. I left her shut in the corral, grabbed the lambs and brought them home for feeding. At midnight I finally got a shower and headed to bed.
They were very unhappy lambs and cried nearly all night in the basement. But by morning after multiple feedings, they were strong.
Cold and windy, but the rams needed to be out with the ewes this week and today was the best opportunity. Dallas took my pickup to the seed plant and hooked on to the little trailer, then back down home for lunch, after which we drove to the Lamme farm to walk in then load the three rams – 1 horned Merino and 2 Dorsets. They loaded without hesitation, then off to Tannachton Farm north and west of Purdin. We unloaded the rams into the corral, then walked out to muster then ewes.
As we crossed the ditch and saw fence down we knew something was amiss and truly it was. For whatever reason one of the older ewes was caught up in the electrified sheep netting and couldn’t move – really bad deal. Dallas hurried back to turn off the electricity, then unwrapped her. Thankfully, she is still alive and I hope she makes it.
The ewes and lambs would NOT cross the ditch to get to the corral and after 45 minutes or so of using our best ‘Bud Williams‘ techniques, I walked back to gather another sheep netting. We set it up behind and around the sheep and kept moving it forward until they finally relented and joyfully bound down the slope and up towards the corral. Oh, they can be SO frustratingly stubborn if it suits them. Once across, they dutifully walked up to and into the corral – especially excited by the three rams inside!
Now to sort – well it mostly went okay for not having suitable sheep sorting facilities. The reason for sorting is that there were several ewe lambs which i did not want to get bred (pregnant), so I wanted to sort them off and haul them home. They can’t stay anywhere near the rams or absolutely everyone of them will breed. Sheep are very fertile. Pretty sure all the rams need to do is look at a ewe and she’ll get bred!
Too dark to unload the ewe lambs where I wanted them, so we offloaded into the corral at our house. Early in the morning, I’ll make the necessary chores to move them where they need to be. All told, Dallas and I spent five hours on this project and still not done!
Dallas fed his grandpa’s pup and collected eggs. SIX tonight. Quite the improvement from getting 2 every other day just a few days ago. We had picked up some alfalfa pellets and sunflowers to see if the higher protein would help with production. Guess so! Hooray!
Once inside, I had time to finish a couple loads of laundry, prepare and cook four cherry cobblers, make ranch dressing, 40 cups of rice, and ramped up the ingredient amounts for the chicken-rice casserole recipe so that it will serve 60 people at Refuge Ministries tomorrow evening. The chicken has already been cooked and cubed and is sitting out to thaw along with cooked pumpkin. Nathan says he’ll make the Pumpkin bread loaves for me tomorrow since my chores may run me close on getting the chicken-rice-vegetable casserole done before we leave. Allen and Nathan vacuumed the main floor and upstairs for me tonight! That was really a huge help!
We arrived just before dark into Scrabster. It felt like we had dragged our luggage a half a mile from the ship to the terminal – it honestly would be pretty close to that! We called a cab and he took us to the Station Hotel located quite near the train station in Thurso. Our young driver was very anxious to get out of such a small town and off to uni at Inverness to study to become a minister.
Other than the Castle of Mey and Dunnet Head, we found little else to do in this area. Since no cars were available to hire, we struck out for the info store and museum. The girl there was very helpful and gave us a bus timetable and told us how to navigate our way to the above mentioned venues. Since we had gotten up late and a slow start – time was precious. But with taking the bus, this meant a LOT of walking and quickly, too.
Our first stop out of Thurso was the Castle of Mey – our driver drove right on past the drop off, but as soon as he did, i asked him if that was where we needed off. He apologised profusely for forgetting – no worries, he let us off and we walked back only maybe 100 ft to the entrance to the castle.
However, we still had a half mile to go to the castle. We only had time for the castle tour, then we had to jog back to the end of the driveway and hopefully flag down the bus. Hooray, he stopped to pick us up, then another half hour to the Brough bus stop. This was as close as the bus gets to Dunnet Head. Just before arrival at Brough, we had to shut down the bus and wait for a herd of cows to move down and across the road.
Now we hoof it uphill for the next three miles on asphalt road. We only had two hours before the next bus back to town, so we did hurry; even took a ‘shortcut’ through the heather and grass. Good experience in learning why that sort of land is unproductive – wow! it is incredibly boggy with deep washouts under the native grasses. At least where the heather is, it will support your weight. Even a short distance (albeit a steep hill) through the bog and I was severely short of wind.
After that, we met a shepherd training both sheep and dog, moving them in a serpentine pattern down the hill. Finally, at the top, the views were fabulous. Making the trek to Dunnet Head is well worth the effort, but i do not recommend walking unless you can do so at a more leisurely rate. Better yet, get a car!
The return was easier since we were going downhill but we were still glad to reach the bus stop to sit and rest. After a bit, the bus went flying by! Thankfully, my frantic waving and running after it, the driver finally stopped and we jogged a bit down the road to board. Whew! Another two hours before the next bus! We chatted all the way back to Thurso with this driver. He’d been driving this route for ten years and NEVER had anyone been waiting at that stop for pickup! He thought, at first, that we were just being friendly with waving! Our driver had moved to this area to drive a bus and build a farm ten years ago. He was only going to drive for four months; he was a former lecturer of mechanical engineering at a University, then he tried teaching high school and it was too stressful. Currently, he is planting 24,000 trees on his 100 acres and all the cattle and sheep are sold. Once his trees are fenced, he plans to raise deer.
After drop off in Thurso, we stopped for local ice cream, then walked back to our hotel. Dallas and I went to find the train station in preparation for tomorrow’s departure, then we walked to the Co-op and bought enough food for supper.
Next morning, we enjoy another lovely breakfast at the hotel – well Dallas didn’t, he had a headache and not feeling well. He drank a lot of water, then went to rest a bit whilst Nathan and i finished brecky. He was already feeling better when we returned – probably dehydrated. Went to catch our train at the appointed time, albeit without boarding passes because the station doesn’t open for two hours after our departure and there are no self-ticketing kiosks. About 20 of us waiting and the train never shows. A girl called the Scotrail customer service and come to find out, the train driver just didn’t show up for work! Scotrail sent a bus to pick us all up. RIding a bus on a train route is quite scenic and tests the skills of the driver to be sure. We arrived about 30 minutes late to the train depot in Inverness. Picked up our car, a Toyoto Aygo from Focus Rental and I promptly tried to kill ourselves by going up a highway exit ramp. Okay, got out of that, move on, don’t screw up again! Staying at Open Views guest house.