Thursday, May 02, 2013

Thursday Dose of Cute: Heading Out to Breakfast (and Another Farm Life Tale)

Sheep heading out to eat breakfast (1) - FarmgirlFare.com

I was planning to post this series of photos with just a sentence or two about why the sheep were still spending each night in the barn, but then I realized some of you might look at the pictures and wonder where all the lambs are.

I haven't been up to writing about that just yet. I've been telling myself that the story wouldn't really be complete until we picked up our mail and got the check, but that was just an excuse. So I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you what's been happening.

More photos and story below (hover over each image for a description). . .

Sheep heading out to eat breakfast (2) - Great Pyrenees Daisy keeps an eye on the flock - FarmgirlFare.com

Sheep heading out to eat breakfast (3) -  Wait, we forgot Marta - FarmgirlFare.com

Sheep heading out to eat breakfast (4) and not waiting for Marta - FarmgirlFare.com

Sheep heading out to eat breakfast (5) - two livestock guard dogs are better than one - FarmgirlFare.com

Sheep heading out to eat breakfast (6) - All the good grass is on the other side of the creek - FarmgirlFare.com

Sheep heading out to eat breakfast (7) - Nothing to do but splash on through - FarmgirlFare.com

Sheep heading out to eat breakfast (8) - Big Teddy stops to scratch an itch on the old tractor - FarmgirlFare.com

Sheep heading out to eat breakfast (9) - A really big itch FarmgirlFare.com

As I mentioned the other day in this post about raising chickens and eggs, we've been working really hard to simplify things around here. And because sheep farming is, for us, a lot of work that, despite how hard we try, simply doesn't pay, last week we had the guy who hauled most of our 2012 lambs plus a bunch of other sheep off to the livestock sale barn last May bring his big trailer back and do it again.

This time we sold a total of 28 sheep, including 11 ewes (some of whom were my favorites, all of them really good mothers), along with one of our two rams and 16 of this year's 19 lambs. (We only bred half the ewes we'd planned to last fall because I had been under the weather all summer and we were trying lessen my workload come spring).

I'm still sort of in shock that they're gone. And sheep prices are so low I don't even want to think about how little they brought.

But taking good care of the flock will now be easier, and we won't need as much grazing pasture or hay. This is good, because although we've thankfully been getting some rain (the creek is running and it's raining as I type!), the grass in the fields still hasn't grown as much as it should have by now.

A better business person would have simply sold all of their sheep a year ago, when it was clear that there wasn't enough grass and the drought was only going to get worse, rather than spend more than the entire flock was worth at the time buying hay (because we wouldn't be putting up any of our own) to feed them through the winter. But I couldn't do it.

A cattle farmer friend who buys and sells livestock all the time and couldn't understand why I wasn't just selling all my sheep said, "You can always go out and replace them next spring."

Yes and no.

We don't consider ourselves hobby farmers, although our small flock is miniscule compared to the ranchers who run hundreds or thousands of sheep. We're actually trying to make a living raising livestock (before I moved in with my sheep, Joe raised hogs and cattle but was put out of business by Big Ag and drought), but that doesn't mean I don't get attached to my animals.

For us, living on this beautiful 240-acre piece of land in the middle of nowhere is a way of life we've chosen. It's not only about the money.

So now we're down to just 15 breeding ewes, one ram, and five pets (including Baby Cary, who turns seven next week!), plus two wethers headed for the freezer next month, and another three butcher lambs we'll raise up for next year.

I haven't had this few sheep in at least 10 years (I had cut my flock way back before moving in with Joe 13 years ago), and this is the first time I haven't kept a single ewe lamb to raise up for breeding stock. There were some really good looking ones too.

After 18 years, I still don't consider myself a sheep farming expert, but I know that I have gotten pretty good at this job. Last year we had 34 lambs and didn't lose a single one. This year nine ewes had 20 lambs, and 19 of them survived. Many people have told us that our naturally raised, grass-fed lamb is the best they've ever tasted.

I know cutting back the flock even more was the right thing to do, and I know that we can always build it back up if we want to. But that doesn't mean my heart doesn't ache. It isn't just all the rocks I've found that make me call this place Heart Farm.

As for why the sheep are still being locked in the barn each night, it's because three of the mamas don't have lambs on them anymore (the other three each have one lamb still nursing), and they need to have their feed reduced so they stop producing milk.

Usually we would pen them up and just give them hay, but the only hay we have left are a few bales of the really rich alfalfa that we bought last summer. So instead, everybody is grazing on medium quality forage up by the house and along the creek bed for a limited amount of time each day. This also gives the front field a chance to grow up some more before we let anybody out on it.

It's not the best solution, but we're keeping a close eye on the moms (especially Frenchie, who was nursing triplets plus two bottle lamb milk thieves), and so far it's working out okay. The sheep aren't exactly thrilled, especially since they have to splash through the water hazard to get to and from the good stuff, but they're not complaining too loudly.

I think they're just happy to still be here. I know I am.

Want a bigger look at farm life?

© FarmgirlFare.com, the way too woolly foodie farm blog where the good news is that I think we may have found somebody to come out next month and shear the sheep. I've been semi freaking out since I learned back in January that our longtime shearer was retiring. Keep your hooves and fingers crossed!

13 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry for you. I just this morning gave away the last of my hens and guineas and I miss them dreadfully. Thankfully I found them a good home and I know they will be well cared for (and not eaten).
    You have my empathy.

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  2. I'm amazed that the prices are so low for fresh, American lamb raised so thoughtfully and carefully by you and other sheep farmers. It's my #1 choice for meat, and I do buy at our farmer's markets, directly from the farmers. Sorry to hear, Susan.

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  3. Susan, I can 'hear' the pain between the words of this blog post. Farming is heartbreak. Joy, too, but lots of heartbreak. Especially when done on a small scale. I would never pretend to tell you what to do, but I would simply say that dreams have a way of morphing into new dreams, and often they are more amazing than you could have envisioned originally. I hope you can keep an open heart. Life may surprise you yet!

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  4. I am sorry that life is being difficult for you right now. The farming life can be hard. Hope that the weather will cooperate, and you'll be able to expand your flock back up.

    Hay prices here have skyrocketed in the past few years, and my flock is smaller than it has been in the past, but at least I haven't had to make any hard decisions (and fingers crossed that things stay like that!)

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  5. Amidst the heart-shaped rocks and sincere love for the animals and each other, there exists reality and often that's what calls the shots for us. You have made good decisions and I hold Heart Farm up to the Universe and fly the flag of hope & thought that it will be ok.

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  6. The life of the American farmer is not an easy one. Growing up in Wisconsin, I have seen the lives of family dairy farms change so drastically over the last few decades. Many are gone, but many have endured, too. Hope remains.

    Perhaps lessening your workload this year will give you and Farmguy Joe extra time to bolster up your health and dream dreams for the coming years.

    Sue

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  7. Oh Susan, what a bummer! Tracy is right, you can "hear" the sorrow you feel reading this post. I hope things work out, prices rebound and you can rebuild your flock. We have started buying all of our meat from the vendors at the Farmer's Market, locally raised beef, pork and lamb, and we love it! If only more people would do that it would help the small farmers like you guys.

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  8. You'll be in my thoughts today, Susan. I admire you so much for what you do, how incredibly hard you work, and the love you give to your animals. You deserve to eat a whole batch of your wonderful chocolate chip cookies today!
    xo, Andrea

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  9. So sorry to hear about your having to reduce your flock. We raise Boer goats in Virginia and this past winter made us rethink some of our plans. Due to the cold and drought, the goats ate down our pastures to practically nothing and we went through all of our hay and even had to buy some from a friend. We're now selling all of our kids and have capped our herd size. I too get attached to my animals, even though it is also a business for us. I think that's one of the things separates us from Big Ag - we actually care.

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  10. Hi Everybody,
    Thanks so much for all your kind comments. Sometimes it's difficult to know what to write about here, how much of myself and my feelings and the (not always so upbeat) realities of our life on the farm to share. Your supportive words and feedback really mean a lot. :)

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  11. A final comment, if I may. One of the incredible gifts of the digital age is the ability to reach far, far outside of one's local community to a larger, virtual, but very real expanded universe of like minds. The amount of support and even real, tangible help available is staggering. The only price for this genuine support is the courage to ask for it, to bare one's soul just a bit.

    Certainly, many bloggers keep hard boundaries around their personal lives, or maybe just the less polished aspects of their lives, and I don't judge them for it. But I have seen too many examples of individuals who have thrown open the doors to their lives --some out of pure desperation, some out of sheer naivite-- and who have received such an uplift to their existence for me to believe that this blog post will be unheard.

    I hope your courage and love of the country life overcomes your reticence to appear to be complaining or not succeeding. This life thing-- it's a journey, with hills and valleys. Kindness, truth and an open heart always, always, always win in the end. And you have all three in spades. Just keep walking, Susan. We're here for you, cheering your every step, and if you'll let us, we'll even carry a bit of your backpack for a mile or two. If you'll let us.

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  12. I'm sorry to hear that you sold some of your lambs. All of your reasons are sound and I think you did right. That doesn't make it easy. Of course you are attached to them. I would be too. I just got 3 chickens that are now about two months old. My husband was very against it with a valid point. He told me to think about what would happen when a predator got my chickens and what my reaction would be...he said I would cry like a baby. And I think he pretty much nailed it. But I still have them and I worry about each of their "milestones" mostly because I"m not completely sure what I"m doing. Hope you're feeling better after last summer/fall.

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  13. Great blog! I'm sorry to hear about the decrease of flock. We raise sheep too however we both have other jobs that support our love for local food production. We call this our exercise and de-stressing hobby. Some people play golf...we raise sheep and put up hay. I hope you're able to bring things back around and increase your flock again. It can be a lot of work and hope this will give you a much needed break. Hang in there!

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