Clancy and I did some flock maintenance Sunday afternoon. We moved the ewes to the barn and reduced their electronet pen to one roll. The barn makes catching sheep a whole lot easier. We also moved the rams into the two sturdy round pens. Each one got his hooves trimmed and his condition evaluated. We still have to trim the girls. That will happen next time Clancy and I have some daylight to spare. This season is presenting some tough choices:
Mid October, on the advise of a consultant, I began force feeding a mineral mix to my flock. Forage tests have shown that my pastures contain less than half of the recommended mineral doses sheep are supposed to consume. Each lambing season was getting a bit more odd. And my first home-raised Shetland X Icelandic ewe actually had a weak lamb last spring at a different farm. (She was sold just a few months prior to lambing.) We suspect Selenium deficiency. I'm not a fan of force feeding any type of salt mixture. But I have noticed a large spike in water consumption. So I suspect my sheep were not eating much of their mineral free choice. So far I cannot see any negative affect from this change. Our vet also recommended giving a BoSe shot this fall and then again next spring just after lambing. The bottle says not to administer the shot during pregnancy, so we need to give those shots very soon. I'm leery of giving these shots too. However, I've reassured myself that the shots might buy me some time to get soils amended, to get a mineral mix designed just for my farm, and to avoid a nightmare next lambing season. I did not de-worm with commercial product this fall either. To make sure the sheep consume the salt I mix it with molasses, corn, and crushed alfalfa cubes. When I started this in October, I decided to add a portion of de as well, since the sheep had been without it all summer. One ewe expelled a few small worms. Everyone else looks good. Eyelids are pink. The flock was aggressively rotated on new pastures this summer. I will continue the de and keep my eyes open for any warning signs of worm load. I took a good hard look at my rams yesterday too. Unicorn (the white ram shown above) will be used for the first time this season. His place here is secure. I won't part with him until I see some of his grown lambs. Old Allister is quite bony. I've been feeding him supplements, he's been on good pasture all summer, and he is second in command to Uni. Because he was new to the farm this year, he was de-wormed not too long ago. For all that, and compared to the rest of the flock, he's not as stout as he should be. I am actually beginning to worry that this old boy is not going to have the easiest time of it over the winter. Then again, maybe he is one of those scrappy old gents that do better than one expects. Because I'm really wrestling with his condition issues, I have decided to use him on every ewe that he is not related to. That way, if I feel he needs to be put down when it gets cold, I will have captured his crimpy, dense, uniform fleece in my flock. Even if this is his last breeding season, he should be happy with so many girls in his pen. Kavan was thoroughly examined on his way to the new pen. He has iset in his fleece now. But it is very uniform iset, if that makes sense. He still has a gorgeous, even, dense, crimpy fleece. And he is still a burly framed boy. Even his horn has begun to grow back-as if we has simply cut it off at skull level. But Kavan threw a ram lamb last spring that has just a slight under bite. So I checked Kavan's mouth, and sure enough, he has a slight under bite as well. I've seen worse. But considering Allister (Kavan's sire) has a perfect bite and no iset fibers, and that the two have almost identical structure, I have decided to put Kavan in the freezer. A very hard choice. His temperament is so good that it just breaks my heart. But I have three of his daughters, and they did not inherit his fault. So his contribution will be preserved. Last, and Least, is little runty Tormey-the softest lamb I've ever produced. His fiber is just like a cloud. He's a darling little pest. He does have that slight under bite though, so I won't register him. We are hoping he will be worth butchering by next spring. This winter he can act as a companion to one of the big rams. Breeding groups didn't really solidify in my mind until I had that good look at the rams on Sunday. I'm certain now how I will sort the girls-mostly: Allister will have Anna Belle, Rachel, Dolce, and Northwind. Unicorn will have Sian and Delyth. Tormey and his twin sister, Rai Min, will spend a couple of weeks in two separate areas of the barn. When I throw breeding groups together is any body's guess. I'd like to wait until December 1 for May lambs. But I want to get my electronet out of the ground early this year, so I might put them together sooner. One more choice to make.