Tuesday, January 27, 2009

2009 Farm Goals

It is a good time to map out some goals for the year. Thank you, Garrett, for the inspiration.

Last night I jotted down a few plans on paper as I waited for supper to cook. I have a lot of work ahead of me!

Log off some aspen to open up more grazing.

Clear the brush with the flock.
Cut hay off new pasture by June 1.
Bale hay first week of June.
Move lambing barn to better location.
Put fence posts around sheep field.
Cultivate and reseed little field.
Retain best 09 Unicorn daughter if possible.
Retain 09 Bombarde daughters.
Retain 09 Bombarde son if polled.
Put Whitepine Arvada to Silvy, Nhu, and Lyneth.
Put ShelteringPines Bombarde to Sian, Rai Min, and Anna Belle again.
Go into 09 winter with 6 breeding ewes, 2-3 breeding rams, and 4 or less ewe lambs: Aim for 12 sheep overwintering.
Figure out what I'm going to do with the sheep that don't fit into my plan. (hard part)

ShelteringPines Dolce is the featured sheep for today. This snap was taken late fall 08, the day I put her in with Windswept Unicorn for April lambs.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Narrow Focus

Lyneth shows off her wide, straight hindquarters.
I wish I had ten ewes just like this one. Hopefully I will someday. As I've been pondering my goals and looking back at old sheep photos, some of my own priorities have become apparent. I guess I was vaguely aware of these tendencies, but I was surprised to realize how strongly I really felt about my flock. The following is a list of preferences I have developed over the past 4.5 years of raising Shetlands.
1. I don't like having a big flock. Right now I have 10 ewes and 4 rams. Only 5 ewes are bred for spring lambs, but still-the very thought of that many sheep makes me nervous. What if it's a dry summer? What if the hay gets rained on like it did last year? What if I see mineral deficiency again? The more sheep I have the more work it is. Electronet has to be moved every day. More water buckets to carry...more hooves to trim...more fleeces to skirt. This type of work is very satisfying. But I have minimal resources in the way of time, money, shelter, energy, strength, and attention span. A dozen sheep keep me plenty busy. When I started out I wanted to grow my flock to about 30. Now I know I would rather be closer to 10 animals than 20.
2. I'd rather eat my sheep than sell them. Sounds horrible, I'm sure. But I sold my beloved pony a few years ago and then I lost track of her. She's out there somewhere and I can only pray for her. It is a very hard thing for me to accept. If I eat a sheep, I know exactly what kind of life and death it had. I'm not haunted by "what ifs."
3. I'd rather have 4 white sheep with incredible fleece and conformation than a dozen colorful sheep with varying fleece type and conformation. Believe me, I'm not there yet. But every year I get more fanatical about this point. And it's getting a bit uncomfortable because I have some intermediate/double-coated girls that I'm now willing to let go of. I've had them for a long time, and they are dear to me. They are especially hardy and their lambs thrive here better than the rest. I don't really want to put them in the freezer. But refer back to point 2... It's a rock and a hard place.
4. I like pale fleeces more than dark fleeces. I like white sheep more than moorits. I like Katmogets more than Gulmogets. I like grey sheep best of all.
5. I used to have multiple goals: meat crosses, polled, horned, larger carcass for meat sales, wide product variety...this point goes back to the work issue. I thought I could juggle multiple goals. I can't. I just can't. I'm not wired that way. I only read one book at a time, I can't cook unless the kitchen is clean, the tiniest amount of talking during a good movie drives me crazy (even during one I've seen a dozen times), and it is too hard for me to have my flock diverge into two or more different things. This was the second year I used two good rams for two separate purposes. Unicorn is extra-large, horned, and throws a fast growing lamb with soft white crimpy fleece. Bombarde is half-polled, fine boned, and fine fleeced. If I intended to cross daughters to these two rams that might justify the keeping of both of them. But I have totally different plans for bringing forward the maximum potential of each ram's offspring. That makes two distinct directions and I'm finding that stressful. I want to have only one plan.
6. Polled is nice. But it may take me a while because I continue to place conformation and fleece at a higher value in my own mind. This is not commentary on the polled rams out in the marketplace. It is commentary on my own four rams. I thought I wanted to convert to polled quickly. But now I feel OK about it taking a while, because time and time again I favor conformation and fleece type above the polled. So I have accepted that it will take me a little longer to start seeing polled lambs consistently in my crop. I surprised myself a bit on this point.
Well, I think I'm done talking out loud. As ever, these are my thoughts relating to my sheep. They are not opinions on others' choices, values, goals, or flocks. Goodnight.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fleece Shots

My sheep are pretty lovey-dovey. Especially the lambs. I always assume it should be easy to click off a few photos of fleeces.
The camera, as object, is great cause for suspicion among the older ewes. Their lambs pick up on the cue and become a little skittish too. Then there is always at least one girl (Sian!) that wants to eat the camera. Nibble, nibble...tug, tug...heavy, moist breathing on the lens...
Thanks sooooo much, Siana.
After 90 snapshots I managed to obtain these four that show my two favorite lamb fleeces. They might need to be "biggified" to see the exciting crimp.
Photo 1 is Boston Lake Lyneth from above. She is a white lamb with very fine crimpy fleece. Photo 2 is a shot of the fleece parted behind her hip. It is still crimpy back there and still soft. Be assured Lyneth did not allow me to touch her back end until I had her restrained. Any other day she doesn't care what I do. But there was that camera, you know.
Photo 3 is twin sister Boston Lake Nhu from above. She is a black katmoget lamb. Her crimp is much more bold. And though I am very pleased with Lyneth's uniform fleece, Nhu is even more uniform. Photo 4 is Nhu's fleece parted. I love how dark she is at the skin level. I think kat fleeces spin up so beautifully.
Both of these girls are daughters of Sheltering Pines Bombarde. I put him to three girls this fall. I hope I get some more keeper lambs from him this spring.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Paying Attention

I mentioned yesterday that sheep are always communicating...Here is a photo that illustrates my point.
Whitepine Silverthorne is standing in the distance. She is a lamb I bought from Garrett this past summer. She is the only ewe in the pen that was not born here or has not lived here for more than one year. Ewes tend to find solidarity in family units. Often I will see Rachel and her offspring at one feeder, Dolce and her daughters at another, and Anna and her twins at a third. That leaves Silvy and Rai Min (orphaned at 9 months) to scurry between feeders as the families butt them out of the way. Luckily, Rai Min was born forward. She's always just shoved right back when knocked around. And she's so unpredictable, none of the other girls are quite sure what she might attempt. Rai Min likes to kick up her heels for apparently no reason. She's a very silly ewe.
It has taken Silvy longer to gain confidence. She is petite compared to my stock. She's a newcomer. She never had any family to stick up for her here. Silvy has learned to be a sweetie-pie, but she has to constantly watch her back. At any moment one of the other ewes might get jealous and knock Silvy out of the prime spot with me or at the feeder.
Can you see how alert Silvy is to the look on Delyth's face? Delyth has her ears flattened and she's looking right at Silverthorne. Only predators make that kind of direct eye contact...or grouchy sheep that are about to butt somebody. Even though there is quite a bit of distance between the two sheep, Silvy is prepared to scamper away if Delyth comes toward her. You'll notice the feeder is empty. Delyth, being higher up on the status ladder, is not about to let a lower creature stand closer to the feeder if it will soon be filled by the shepherd. So she's asserting her personal space. And Silvy is paying attention.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hello, Rachel

Doesn't she have a sweet face? With her "sugar lips" it always seems to me like Rachel is smiling. I love just looking at her. She has the perfect Shetland face. Those cute little Shetland ears!...
Rachy continues to hold the matriarch position in the flock. Anna Belle is the likely candidate-she certainly bosses most. But Anna seems perfectly content to allow Rachel to rule.
These sheep entertain me so much with their social interaction. I suppose it is all very subtle. Yet if one spends time with a flock, you begin to learn the body language and facial expressions. Sheep are constantly communicating with each other.

Rachel is the one sheep that always communicates with me. Perhaps because she is in charge of the flock, she feels it her duty to relay messages to the shepherd. She is always aware of me, even when I am in the house. She can see me through the windows. And when I cough, clear my throat, or speak to Clancy first thing in the morning as I'm crawling out of bed, she answers with a "Baa."
That "Baa" usually means, "Dear Shepherd, we have been patiently waiting for our breakfast. Please put on your coat and give us hay. I do think we may suffer if you leave your chores unattended much longer." Thank you for that constant reminder, Rachel.
When I step out the door in the morning, Rachel is right there waiting for me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Last Light

I had just enough time to snap a couple photos tonight before the sun dipped below the horizon. Clancy said this one looked like a real Minnesota winter. Desolate, perhaps. The temps were actually quite mild today: around 30 degrees. This is beautiful compared to what we endured last week: -30 degrees night after night. The weather forcast is for cold to press down on us again by the weekend. I plan to keep my spirits up by posting a few sheep photos. My sheepies always cheer me up.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

By Moonlight

The past few nights have been gloriously bright. This photo, though not so great, was taken well after sunset last night. The western sky was black as black. But the moon lit up the whole world. And Earth reflected all that light with sparkle, glitter, and diamonds of ice.
If it wasn't so beastly cold one could accomplish a lot out of doors during the full moons of winter. Temps will plunge to -27 degrees F tonight. Predictions often fall short of the cold we experience here on the lake. We can be 5 to 10 degrees colder up here than the town of Bemidji. Pile on the quilts.