Tag Archives: sheep

Trudging Through

There’s my feet– literally – today.

Oops!  focused on my tattered 100% wool trench coat.  It wasn't tattered when i picked up for $2 at a second hand shop some 4 years ago.  Probably 60 plus years old, but still good.  Have been shopping for a 'new' one since it's practically ruint from snagging on brush I'm clearing.
Oops! focused on my tattered 100% wool trench coat. It wasn’t tattered when i picked up for $2 at a second hand shop some 4 years ago. Probably 60 plus years old, but still good. Have been shopping for a ‘new’ one since it’s practically ruint from snagging on brush I’m clearing.

Cold, blowing, gusting northerly wind making it feel like 12F (-11C) at best- deep snow bottomed out by 2 inches of mud – i trudged/hiked nearly 3 1/2 miles (round trip) to shift my cows to a paddock with fresh stockpile which they would need to fill their bellies in advance of the bitterly cold temps to come this week.  Glancing up occasionally to verify my position resulted in shards of blowing snow to my eyeballs.  Goggles would have been a good choice today! Too muddy and snowy to drive in any closer. Glad i had a trusty hickory shepherd’s crook to steady my steps whilst slipping around in rutted, muddy Cotton road. Took me 1 hr 20 minutes to make that hike back to the pickup. My hips were burning so badly, i could barely lift my feet above the snow for the next step – but step i must – there was no other option.  Total time from leaving the pickup to arriving back – 2 1/2 hours.   I certainly had my alone time for the day.

Morris Chapel Cemetery - 1 Feb 15
Morris Chapel Cemetery – 1 Feb 15
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One of the small creeks (cricks) along the way back.
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Sheep don’t even know it’s cold!
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The road ahead!
Queen of the Log!
Queen of the Log!

Preparing for a Cold Snap!

Cold temperatures have descended on north Missouri today and forecasted to hang around for at least the next 10 days! With the ground already frozen, these continued below freezing temps made

it tough to set up the sheep electric netting fence.  Thankfully, I put up netting around several large bales of hay and running water for the sheep to stay put until the weather breaks, though I may have to chop ice if we don’t get any snow.  Sheep really don’t need water if there is snow available.

No longer am I trying to graze the road banks with the sheep.  Moving them down the bank is like pushing water now and with the ground frozen, it’s far too difficult to install the Kencove sheep netting fence.  At this point, grazing the banks in the spring after green grass starts coming on will be the next time they are pushed out.  Sheep grazing the banks eliminates the need for me to mow the banks with the brush hog, but it is extra work.

Cattle are a different story in the water department.  If there is plenty of heavy, wet snow, they won’t drink much, but if that’s what we have, it destroys the stockpiled winter forage for them to graze much faster than just being frozen or a light snow.  However, with a light snow, they will need fresh flowing water available.  Therefore, in anticipation of freezing weather, I filled the water tank and opened the leak valve so that the water will fill the tank and then continue running over the top of the overflow pipe.  Flowing water will not freeze easily – especially if the cattle are drinking from it.  The drawback to overflow is that the water is draining the pond from which it originates, though in Missouri, this is usually refilled easily when spring rains come.

Winter grazing with the lack of grass regrowth allows us to strip graze whatever size breaks we want to give the cattle or sheep.  If I know I’ll be back up to the farm the next day, I’ll give the cows a very small break of forage so that they won’t walk all over it and ruin it before grazing.  However, if it will be several days or if it’s going to be extra cold, I’ll set up a bit larger break.  The breaks are fenced with one strand of Powerflex Fence electrified polybraid fence and step-in posts for easy set up and tear down.  I use two lines and leap frog them across the paddocks  – allowing enough quality forage to maintain a healthy condition on the animals.  Strip grazing versus free access will vastly increase utilisation resulting in, on average, about 60% more grazing days!  Additionally, manure is more evenly distributed across the paddock.  (my paddocks average about 20 acres each).  My cows and calves require about 6500 lbs of dry matter per day, so accurately estimating the amount of forage per acre is crucial, then I open up enough acres for the cows to graze however many number of days I want.

Happy Grazing!

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Sheep bale grazing near a small patch of timber.
Sheep bale grazing near a small patch of timber.
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Going for the green!
Cattle grazing through snow  - strip grazing stockpiles forage
Cattle grazing through snow – strip grazing stockpiles forage

Sheep Shearing

May 8, 2014

I helped my mother with her sheep not too long ago. I worked alongside Christian, Mom’s hired hand. Jim Schaefer, the sheep shearer, and mom herself. Before we could start shearing of we needed to get them in the prepared place. Mom had long since mustered the sheep into the corral when Dad, Nathan, and I arrived, so we helped herd them across the road into the hay barn that was open to the south, for which were thankful later during shearing because it let in a nice cool breeze the whole two days we sheared.Shearing Merinos - 5-7-2014 (10)

Before we got the sheep lined up, Jim had to set up his equipment and Mom had set up a sort of makeshift corral in order to separate the white sheep from the black because we put the respective colored fleeces in their own bags for sale. I would arrive later with the back up generator and a barrel to throw the poopy wool into and by the time I had arrived, Jim had sheared half bags worth of sheep’s wool. Christian’s job had been to stuff the fleeces into the bag, but I took over his job and he bounced back and forth to help Mom and me. (Mom was sorting and keeping the sheep lined up in the race for shearing.) what my job entailed was waiting for Jim to shear off the belly wool and I’d throw it onto a special pile for the belly wool (the black belly wool wasn’t sorted as such; it sells along with the good colored wool). The second step involved taking the wool with poopy clumps tangled up in it and throwing it into the rubbish barrel I had brought up for that very purpose, although, when Christian wasn’t sorting sheep, he’d throw them in for me because he had gloves on. Shearing Merinos - 5-7-2014 (3) - Copy

When Jim was almost done shearing a sheep, I’d start rolling the fleece up under itself so when I held it up so it  wouldn’t fall apart on me. When Jim finally sheared the sheep clean, I’d gather it up and go toss it in a bag.

Let me tell you about how this bag business is set up. The bag itself is nearly eight feet tall and narrow with a width of a foot. Jim brought along a structure to hold the bag that consisted of a ladder connected to a hopper that the bag goes on which, in turn, is connected to a panel that is wired onto a hastily-built corral panel of dubious integrity. You climb up the ladder and shove the fleece into it and then you jump into the bag and start stomping on it so we could get as many fleeces as we could in the bag because Jim had only brought six bags with him. Although I would suggest only jumping in there when it is four fleeces full, because it’s hard enough as it is getting out of there as it is nearly impossible without once fleece in there. I also suggest using a stick of something to press the first three down because when I land down into the bag to shove it, the ladder slid away and I became trapped with the upper half of my body in the bag with the hoop pinning me against the panel. Thankfully, they were able to hear my cries for help over the radio and got me out of there. Jim got a good laugh out that!

There were times when jumping down into the bag that I’d forget to raise my arms high enough and I knocked them against the hoop going down and let me tell you, getting out of a narrow, eight-foot bag, while only using your arms that were hurting like heck wasn’t half as funny as it sounds. Needless to say, I didn’t forget but one or thrice.Shearing Merinos - 5-7-2014 (9) - Copy

Pizza for lunch was a welcoming break to say the least. Cutting the sheep’s tails short proved interesting because Jim kept forgetting to hold onto every other sheep that needed its tail snipped; it was funny the first few times, but the novelty wore off rather quickly. After all of the shearing and snipping had been done, we moved the sheep and their lambs back across the road, leaving only the wethers slated for butcher and the rams behind to take up to the old homestead. We then began the arduous task of rolling the five and a half bags (one filled up halfway) to Jim’s pickup. It took two of us to stack all of the bags up on there and after that we loaded up Jim’s equipment and wished him on his merry way.

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Two days of handling sheep fleece had made my hands all soft and ‘lotionally’ that weeks afterwards they were still like a babe’s bum and relieved that we were done with the sheep.

Stories by Dallas – May 2014

Moving across the Road!

Yesterday started early since my ewe lambs needed loading from our corral to the paddocks they will stay in for grazing.  I’d never loaded sheep out here before, so hadn’t a clue how it would go.  Incredibly, it went very smoothly!  They hopped right into the trailer and off we went.  They were hungry to be sure since they went straight to grazing once out of the trailer.

Then Dallas and I loaded a bit of hay in my little trailer pulled by the Gator, loaded necessary supplies, and fueled up.  Arriving at Tannachton Farm 35 minutes later, we unloaded the hay and checked on the ewe that had been entangled in the fence.  She is still alive and we cared for her best we could, but time will tell if she’ll ever get up again.  At least it was warm yesterday, but snow today!.

We set up a bit over a quarter of a mile of single strand polywire on the Bowyer Place and hung a Parmak energizer to fire it up, all the while calling the cows, so they would be up waiting and ready to move.  We then set up the crossing for the move across Cord Drive.  Amazingly, the cows and calves poured across the road to fresh grass.  I was short some Stafix step-in posts for the polywire, so once the cows were moved across and in the lot, we drove back to where some stored posts.  As we were collecting those, I noticed a black cow north of the timber, so once done, we circled ’round to check.  What a wonderful surprise!  Not just one cow having calved, but THREE right there together.  They had wisely selected a south-facing, gentle slope with good drainage.  Of course, we left them alone – I’ll move them later when their calves are older and well-bonded to their mommas.

My photo is misleading – we do not have grass that green right now and the cows were actually moving the other direction!  However, I didn’t have any time to take photos so this one is stolen from last spring.

Got done and headed back home arriving about 1pm.  Just in time to finish the meal for our departure at 4pm to Mexico, Missouri and Refuge Ministries.  Despite having some cooking disasters, I managed to show up with enough edible tucker to serve about 70 people!  Chicken-Rice-Vegetable casserole with cherry cobbler and pumpkin bread.  And, of course, sliced cucumbers with home-made ranch dressing.

Sheep go a’courtin’!

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.

Ewe caught in electric sheep netting.  We went back after sorting and helped her sit up again and I gave her a pep talk.  Hope she comes 'round!
Ewe caught in electric sheep netting. We went back after sorting and helped her sit up again and I gave her a pep talk. Hope she comes ’round!

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!

Shetland Islands 60 degrees North

The Shetland Islands  are a subarctic archipelago comprised of some 100 islands, of which only 16 are inhabited.  Sumburgh, at the very south tip has the main airport, and Lerwick, with the safe harbour and is the seat of Shetland Constituency of the Scottish Parliament, are both located on what is known as the Mainland.  The Mainland is 373 square miles, whilst the entire Shetland Islands is 567 square miles.  Animals associated with the Shetland Islands are the Shetland pony, Shetland sheep (for which I have a fondness since Jessica raised Shetland sheep for about six years before going off to uni), Shetland Sheep Dog, as well as pigs, geese, ducks, and chickens all having been naturally or purposefully selected for thousands of years to thrive in this rugged environment.  Norse and Scottish heritage blend seamlessly here and evidences of both are found in music, prose, and signage.  Fiddle playing is most associated with traditional Shetland music.  The average high in winter will be 45 and lows around 34F, whilst summers may top out about 62F and lows around 50.  Summer days are almost perpetual day, while the winter days are short indeed.  The wind blows about 12 miles per hour everyday with usually a bit of showers.  Average annual precipitation is 39 inches.

St, Ninian’s Isle is connected to the main Shetland Island by a tombolo, which is a narrow sand or gravel bar connecting two islands.  St. Ninian’s is named after a small chapel which was discovered on the island, but more famously, the location at which a 16-year-old schoolboy discovered treasure which professional archaelogists had overlooked for years!  A local farmer grazes his Shetland sheep on the island.  Sadly, the peace is disturbed by a couple of four wheelers racing up and down the tombolo.

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Driving a stick shift on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, on the ‘wrong’ side of the car on these lovely 2 lane paved roads (think oil money) wasn’t quite as daunting as expected, although driving in the city would be another thing altogether.  Although most of the roads are single paved tracks, there are several passing points alongside to allow approaching traffic to press by.  Keep to the left!

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Our first full day (Sunday) started with a quick trip to one of the finest, albeit small, beaches in the Shetland Islands and it’s right here in Levenwick!  Too cold for a dip and of course we were the only ones walking the sandy beach, but no doubt in warmer weather, this would be a popular spot to play in the quiet water.

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As we made our way up from the beach, I spotted a family gathered about some sheep in a holding yard.  I pulled over quickly and went to meet them.  They kindly answered my questions about sheep production in Shetland Islands.  We really had a good chat for about an hour!  They were expecting the truck soon to load the lambs to ship to Aberdeen for finishing.  Farming is fraught with the same obstacles as American farmers.  I tried asking a few sheep farmers what grazing land sold for but they didn’t know!  It simply is not for sale.  A small lot for building a home is about  £17,000 or $27,780.  Not really out of line for a lot with stunning views of the North Sea!

Later. in the early afternoon, we made our way to Sandsayre Pier at Sandwick to meet our Mousa Boat ride to Mousa Island at which we hiked around enjoying the scenery and wildlife, as well as the highlight, the Broch of Mousa.  This is the best preserved broch in all the world.  Brochs are unique to Scotland and it is still unclear as to the purpose.  It’s only about a mile across from the main island, but today it was cloudy, hazy, windy, and quite cool.  However, we all had layered up well, so we were not uncomfortable.  We enjoyed a chat with a few people in a group of Aussies from Sydney who were our boat mates.

Later tonight, I watched Downton Abbey, months before my American friends are able.  Unfortunately, I’ll only see 3 or 4 episodes before we head back to the States which means waiting until late January – early February before watching the last of the season!

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Next day, after a good rest, we headed south towards Sumburgh Head.  The drive down the main road was stunning as usual and, as we kept hearing, the weather is unusually nice for this time of year.  Shortly before arriving at Jarlshof, part of our drive included passing across the end of the Sumburgh Airport runway.  Definitely a first for me!

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‘Jarlshof; is a made up word for Facebook 01an area near the southern coast of the main Shetland Island which has been excavated to reveal several thousands of years of generations.  Very interesting for us history buffs.

Next stop was beyond the airport and to the very end of the island at Sumburgh Lighthouse and Hotel at Sumburgh Head.

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After a good climb up to Sumburgh Head and back down, we discovered Spiggie’s Bar restaurant located inside the Spiggie Hotel and Lodges at which, we not only had a scrumptious late lunch, but discovered that the young lady who rang up our bill had spent three months in RIchmond, Missouri as an exchange student way back in 1988!  What a small world we live in!  We had a fun visit and I think she enjoyed reminiscing about her time spent in the US.  The Spiggie restaurant uses fresh caught fish and hand cut fries along with local sourced veggies for the salads.  Beef and lamb are also from locally raised sources.

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A great place to walk off some of that huge meal was at the Shetland Crofthouse Museum in Dunrossness.  This venue is another must do if you are ever in the Shetland Islands.  Free admission, though donations are accepted, this well maintained croft house, byre, shed, and water mill complete with stack of peat blocks stacked outside will make you truly appreciate our level of creature comforts.

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Except for stopping in at a local supermarket for evening snacks on the drive back to Melstadr in Levenwick, the croft house was our final venue for the day.

Tuesday is our last full day and a special stop for me was to find something lovely for Jessica which i would find at Shetland Jewellery in Weisdale.  However, first we drove up and over to Scalloway to tour the Scalloway castle and Scalloway Museum located next to one another with easy access and carpark.  Incredibly!  these venues didn’t open until 11am, so we walked down the main street and found the ‘places of interest,’ then with another half hour before opening, we opted to go sightseeing.  We headed up and around to the islands of East and West Burra which are accessed via Trondra and all connected by single lane bridges which we could drive over and wound our way to nearly the end of the islands.  Along the way, we pulled over for this picturesque landscape begging to be photographed.  Still photos sure don’t capture the breeze with bite, the warm sunshine, or the sound of crashing waves.

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As we came back towards Scalloway, we pulled in at a sign which advertised a working farm – Burland Croft Trail.  However, once we arrived, the lady landowner came over and said they really weren’t taking visitors anymore, the season was over.  Once i told her we were sheep and cattle farmers from Missouri and completely understood when she explained that they were busy with farm chores, she wouldn’t have it any other way than for us to take their tour on our own.  So we did, they have a lovely farm touching the Burland Sea Shore and across from the foundation of an ancient broch.  Afterwards, even her husband came over and we had a great chat about farming and all the challenges.  She apologised again for not being very good hosts as they were in the midst of sorting through and selecting replacement ewe lambs.  I assured her there was no reason for apology except from us for interrupting their work, but that we were mighty appreciative of the visit.  I think they enjoyed the exchange of ideas and the encouragement we received from one another.  Farming is often a thankless job and one with continual challenges.  We all agreed that if we wanted to be financially rich, we wouldn’t be farming.  But as she pointed out, there are many other ways to be rich – and so right she is!  We were meant to stop in here and meet Tommy and Mary Isbister.  This is a pasture walk – so wear appropriate footwear and enjoy Burland Croft Trail  – but it would be better for all to stop in during their regular tourist season!

Wednesday is our final day in Shetland.  Dallas and I walked to the local convenience store in Levenwick and I had only enough pounds to buy a couple Mars bars.  We ate a bit of one and saved some for Nathan who was cleaning up the room a bit.  Now with dishes done, towels piled up in the bathroom, luggage loaded, we headed out, only to get to the end of the drive and find road work being done.  However, the workmen finished in about 10 minutes.  We arrived plenty early in Lerwick to drop off the rental car, pick up our Northlink Ferry boarding passes, store our luggage, then off to town to find somewhere to get some cash which I would need to pay the taxi driver who would take us to our hotel in Orkney at 10:30 pm!  We did exchange some at the Lerwick Post Office on Commercial Street, then we spent an hour in the Shetland Museum.  It was time to head back to the docks and board.  Our ferry left spot on time at 5:30 pm with an early arrival time expected into Kirkwall, Orkney Islands of 10:30 rather than the 11:00 pm  stated time.  By the time our ship was moving past Sumbrough Head, it was dark enough that the lighthouse was already announcing the danger of its location.  Soon the Shetland Islands slipped out of sight and into our memories.