That Naked Sheep is Not a Goat! . . . Shearing Day

 Frequently, folks passing by mistake our horned sheep for goats. I guess the assumption is that only goats have horns. I am always quick to defend the honor of the ovine kind and correct the mistake when it is brought to my attention. We do not have any hairy, fence-smashing clothing-nibblers, only sheep. And most domesticated sheep need to be shorn each year. 

Frequently, folks passing by mistake our horned sheep for goats. I guess the assumption is that only goats have horns. I am always quick to defend the honor of the ovine kind and correct the mistake when it is brought to my attention. We do not have any hairy, fence-smashing clothing-nibblers, only sheep. And most domesticated sheep need to be shorn each year. 

 Contrary to urban legend, the shearer isn't "fleecing" the sheep the way one person may fleece another. They are unhappy with being held off feed overnight (helps the sheep and shearer be more comfortable during the yoga-like contortions of shearing), and always look a bit surprised to be suddenly naked. But the benefit of having less insulation in the summer is nothing to sneeze at. For the shepherd, it means being able to see how thin or fat each sheep really is, something challenging to figure out when they are covered in 3-5 inches of wool. 

Contrary to urban legend, the shearer isn't "fleecing" the sheep the way one person may fleece another. They are unhappy with being held off feed overnight (helps the sheep and shearer be more comfortable during the yoga-like contortions of shearing), and always look a bit surprised to be suddenly naked. But the benefit of having less insulation in the summer is nothing to sneeze at. For the shepherd, it means being able to see how thin or fat each sheep really is, something challenging to figure out when they are covered in 3-5 inches of wool. 

 Preperations start almost a week before, and planning starts as soon as we find out when our shearer is available. Each year we try to make our set up a little better to make the shearing go smoothly. 47 sheep take around 3-4 hours to shear, including short breaks in between groups of sheep. Lambs keep their fleeces until next year. Usually I spend some time earlier in the morning or the day before, ear tagging lambs, but I was too sick (morning sickness, nothing catchy) to get it done at shearing this year, so I will tag everyone later on. Bad shepherd! 

Preperations start almost a week before, and planning starts as soon as we find out when our shearer is available. Each year we try to make our set up a little better to make the shearing go smoothly. 47 sheep take around 3-4 hours to shear, including short breaks in between groups of sheep. Lambs keep their fleeces until next year. Usually I spend some time earlier in the morning or the day before, ear tagging lambs, but I was too sick (morning sickness, nothing catchy) to get it done at shearing this year, so I will tag everyone later on. Bad shepherd! 

 To be completely honest, after shearing the sheep do look a bit like goats. Just a bit. 

To be completely honest, after shearing the sheep do look a bit like goats. Just a bit. 

 Do the sheep end up the bloody, abused mess that PETA has advertized they do? Nope. They do ocasionally get nicks, as well you would with a full body shave done in record time, but a good shearer avoids it with all his effort. Everyone's goal is a slick-looking sheep ready to get back on pasture, and a clean fleece on the skirting table. 

Do the sheep end up the bloody, abused mess that PETA has advertized they do? Nope. They do ocasionally get nicks, as well you would with a full body shave done in record time, but a good shearer avoids it with all his effort. Everyone's goal is a slick-looking sheep ready to get back on pasture, and a clean fleece on the skirting table. 

 Skirting table? To skirt a fleece means to take all the poopy bits off, and make sure the fleece is ready to go to the mill. A special table that allows all the junk in the fleece to fall off is very handy. The initial skirting of the fleece must be done very quickly, before the next fleece is off the sheep, and it helps to have a good crew. We had an excellent crew this year!  After one skirting, most sheep operations will put the fleeces into large bales, where they are compacted down and then trucked out to wool warehouses to await purchase. Our set up is more direct, so most fleeces go into individual clear plastic bags to be sorted and skirted again later. Some of them will be purchased individually by hand spinners and crafters, and most will be checked over again for burrs and dung, and then shipped to a wool mill to come home as yarn. A few may end up in the county fair wool show. 

Skirting table? To skirt a fleece means to take all the poopy bits off, and make sure the fleece is ready to go to the mill. A special table that allows all the junk in the fleece to fall off is very handy. The initial skirting of the fleece must be done very quickly, before the next fleece is off the sheep, and it helps to have a good crew. We had an excellent crew this year!

After one skirting, most sheep operations will put the fleeces into large bales, where they are compacted down and then trucked out to wool warehouses to await purchase. Our set up is more direct, so most fleeces go into individual clear plastic bags to be sorted and skirted again later. Some of them will be purchased individually by hand spinners and crafters, and most will be checked over again for burrs and dung, and then shipped to a wool mill to come home as yarn. A few may end up in the county fair wool show. 

 The bagged wool also makes a handy fort, until the pile gets too big. (Note--if you put your fleece in a plastic bag, keep it in the shade, otherwise condensation will make it damp). 

The bagged wool also makes a handy fort, until the pile gets too big. (Note--if you put your fleece in a plastic bag, keep it in the shade, otherwise condensation will make it damp). 

 The sheep will grow some fleece through the summer, but I feel like more growth will happen as the days shorten. For now they are enjoying being able to reach all those itchy spots, and I am enjoying the pile of beautiful wool they've given us. In a couple months it will come home as yarn, and by next spring, some of it will be a blanket for a new little human. Life--what a thing!

The sheep will grow some fleece through the summer, but I feel like more growth will happen as the days shorten. For now they are enjoying being able to reach all those itchy spots, and I am enjoying the pile of beautiful wool they've given us. In a couple months it will come home as yarn, and by next spring, some of it will be a blanket for a new little human. Life--what a thing!

P.S. A big thanks to Mike M. for taking these pics!!

Lambs and Land!

Lambing is over, and the sun is out again. Now we are managing for grass growth and optimum nutrition for our nursing moms. The warm temperatures mean that the annual grasses will go to seed soon, and our ewes need to bite or trample them to keep them leafy and growing a little longer. It's kind of a race against time, but we wont be rushing anybody in reality, just moving sheep and cows often.

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Lambs are looking healthy and strong, and we are enjoying their antics as they get braver and more active.

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This season is one of our favorites around the farm. Watching the results of last year's grazing management sprouting and growing in the fields is fascinating, and deciding where we should stick to our grazing plan and where we need to change it keeps us pretty busy. 

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Mid March we were able to put in a transect for monitoring how our grazing is impacting the land using empirical data, through the Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) program. Our data will be recorded and used to decide whether our land is becoming more fertile, diverse, and healthy over time or if we need to change practices to get better outcomes. It will go into a database that we and other producers will be able to access. Every 5 years a third-party monitor will come out to check on the transect and collect data, and in between we will do yearly monitoring as well. Ideally, we will add in two or three more transects as well, allowing us to verify through monitoring and third party verification that we are making positive change in all our pastures. It was awesome to geek out on soil, dung beetles and plants for several hours, and we look forward to doing more work with EOV and the Land to Market program!

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This week is Easter break for the girls, so we are trying to make time to do something fun every day for part of the day with them. Today we are off to have a picnic by one of the seasonal creeks. They wont flow long this year, but we sure do enjoy them while they are here, and it's pretty enevitable that someone is going to end up falling in and getting soaked :-) When you work somewhere so beautiful, sometimes it's nice to just stop and enjoy what you might be taking for granted during all that hustle and bustle. 

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Happy Spring, Happy Easter, and Happy Grass-growing-flower-blooming-bee-buzzing time from all of us!

Winter snow, spring lambs

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February 23rd it had snowed overnight. The farm looked lovely dressed in white. No lambs on the ground yet, and the newest calf was warm in his little red jacket with mom's rich milk to fill his belly.

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By February 28th, we had no snow, and 4 new lambs on the ground, with a cold storm moving in for the weekend. Perfect time to leave the farm! But we were excited to complete the course work we had started in December, learning about planning for a healthy farm. It would be our final course, 4 days overnight away from home and all the sheep looking ready to pop. 

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This would be our first overnight together away from the farm, and the longest the feral farm kids have stayed in town at their grandparents. We were anxious, but we had so much learning to do it didn't leave much time to worry. 9am-5pm for the next 4 days we would be learning how to monitor the land to make sure the mineral and water cycles were healthy and the ecosystem diversity was increasing on our farms. 

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Getting away was amazing. We learned so much our heads hurt. The company and food were excellent (everybody brought their home-raised meat and eggs, and we provided the milk and cream), and we learned a lot just from the conversations, let alone the intense 9-5 course work. We got our hands dirty (and our boots, and for the people that slipped on the hill, pants too), and everybody left with a brainful of new things to think about and plan for. 

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We returned to beautiful spring weather, 12 new lambs, and 1 new bull calf. Everyone is healthy and well, and the folks keeping the farm going did an excellent job (especially in the middle of the miserable weather). 

Now we are busy stacking wood (our landlord had arborists out this week, and we asked to keep some of the branches). The sun on your back and the cords piling up gives you a pleasant feeling, like having money in the bank, but more solid (and more regular--if you are a farmer!).

House cleaning and catching up on emails will keep me busy until the next round of lambs starts hitting the ground. 

No doubt they are waiting for a change of weather ;-)

Why does pasture matter?

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For raw milk drinkers the benefits of having a delicious, easy to consume food that is rich in amino acids, immunoglobulins, probiotics, as well as fat, protien and energy, may seem like enough.

But if you are already budgeting for a high quality product, it's totally worth it to maximize the nutrients you are getting in your food. And that's where pasture comes in.

There are three main benefits to drinking milk from cows eating pasture vs. conventional high-grain diets.

Benefit 1: Increased vitamin content in the milk. 

In general, the more grain a dairy cow is fed, the more milk she will produce--but the vitamin content doesn't increase in the same way. That means when you get milk from a cow that gets more grain and makes tons of milk, you are getting less of the vitamins and more water in your milk. Milk from cows fed mostly pasture may be more expensive for this reason (the farmer has a higher cost per gallon), but the consumer is getting a lot more vitamins per glass In particular, you will get more vitamins A, C, E, and both forms of K (K1 and K2). [1] [2]

Benefit 2: WAY more beneficial fats.

Grassfed cows produce milk with a lot more CLA in it than cows on pasture part time or not at all. According to one study, "Cows grazing pasture and receiving no supplemental feed had 500% more conjugated linoleic acid in milk fat than cows fed typical dairy diets [high in grains]." [3] CLA is thought to reduce body fat, decrease cardiovascular diseases and cancer, improve bone mass, increase immune system health, and decrease autoimmune reactions. Pretty cool!

Benefit 3: Planned grazing = Healthy soil and healthy plants = more nutrients!

 Planned grazing with ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, etc.) can have amazing beneficial effects on soil, plant, and animal biodiversity [4][5][6]. Over time, this increase in soil and plant health means that animals eating the plants are healthier, and produce more nutrient-rich foods. The soil is healthy and crops grown in it will also have more nutrients. All without relying on chemical fertilizers. To me, that's true food security! 

 

[1] Jensen, S. K., A. K. Johannsen, et al. (1999). "Quantitative secretion and maximal secretion capacity of retinol, beta-carotene and alpha-tocopherol into cows' milk." J Dairy Res 66(4): 511-22

[2] Fu, X., Harshman, S. G., Shen, X., Haytowitz, D. B., Karl, J. P., Wolfe, B. E., & Booth S. L. (June 2017). Multiple vitamin K forms exist in dairy foods. Current Developments in Nutrition. doi.org/10.3945/cdn.117.000638

[3] Dhiman, T. R., G. R. Anand, et al. (1999). "Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed different diets." J Dairy Sci 82(10): 2146-56

[4] https://3lm.network/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Cartier-Kleppel-NeNa-reprint.pdf

[5] https://3lm.network/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Cassidy-Kleppel-Reprint-NeNa.pdf

[6]http://www.jswconline.org/content/71/2/156.refs