Friday, May 30, 2008

It's the Pits

I picked more cherries yesterday---almost 7 quarts so far, and perhaps that many more on the parts of the tree that I can still reach (while standing on a small stepladder placed in the back of our pickup truck, that is!).

What I didn't realize was how long it would take to pit all those cherries! They are small, about the size of cranberries, so there are a lot of cherries---and a lot of pits---in 7 quarts. Lucky for me, Ken pitched in and helped. We spent several hours pitting cherries and watching tv last night. The results all went into the freezer.

I plan to pick the rest of the cherries that are in reach this afternoon, so I guess we'll have another evening of pitting tonight.

But for cherries that taste this good, it's worth it to preserve as many of them as possible.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to Make Cherry Cordial (Part 1)

The bird netting we put up on our cherry tree last week really shouldn't have done much good, because when we hung it, we could only reach the very lowest branches, leaving the majority of the tree exposed. But apparently the very presence of bird netting so offended the local crows and cardinals, that they promptly abandoned our tree and have left it untouched, despite the thousands of ripe cherries it now boasts.

There is something about a loaded fruit tree---especially if it's one that you didn't have to plant, prune, water, or spray with pesticide---that makes you feel rich, gifted with the treasure of free food in abundance, there for the taking. There's something profoundly joyful about accepting Nature's bounty, as if the earth herself has chosen that moment to try to make you feel welcome on the planet.

With such an abundance of cherries this year, it took me almost no time at all to pick enough to make a couple of jars of cordial. I don't know what variety these cherries are, but they are clearly the smaller, tarter pie cherries, not the big sweet eating cherries.

I've only made cherry cordial twice before. Once with sweet cherries, which turned out thin and insipid, and once with tiny wild black cherries, which had so much pectin in them that the cordial turned into a sort of alcoholic jelly in the bottles!

Let's hope this time we find a happy medium!

After I picked a big bowlful of cherries, I pitted them all by poking them with a kitchen skewer. Then I filled two clean mason jars about 1/2 full (approximately 2 cups of cherries in each one), and mashed the cherries thoroughly to release as much of the juice and flavor as possible. Then I dropped a 3" piece of stick cinnamon into each jar (breaking each one into several pieces for better flavor distribution), and filled the jars to the brim with brandy.

For cordial making, we use Christian Brothers Frost White Brandy, because it is colorless. For best presentation, we like our cordials to get all of their color from the natural ingredients inside, not from the alcohol base.

Once the jars were filled and sealed, I shook each one briefly to disperse the brandy all through the fruit. The brandy is what preserves the fruit from spoiling as it steeps, so you want to make sure it's well mixed.

Now I just put the jars away for a few weeks in a cool, dark place. I'll shake them once a day for a few days to keep the brandy well-dispersed.

Then, near the end of June, I'll do the next step. So stay tuned for Part 2!

Thirteen Years and Counting

Happy anniversary to us! Thirteen years ago today, Ken and I got married. It was on the 1-year anniversary of our first date, so we've been together for 14 years now.

We're living proof of how important it is to choose your partner based on COMPATIBILITY above all other things. Life is hard, and relationships can be too, sometimes. But being with someone truly compatible makes everything just a little bit easier and a little bit more fun.

Like any couple, we've had our ups and downs, but through it all, there's no one else I'd rather spend my life with.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Callista Loses Her Long Locks

Taking advantage of another hot, sunny day, I gave Callista a bath today so I could take some new sales photos of her.

She had the most beautiful, long mane that came down a good 6 inches past the bottom of her neck (as you can see in some of her previous photos), but living here on our windy hilltop, it was always horribly knotted and tangled. And Callista hates standing still to have her mane combed. For some reason, it really upsets her.

So, reluctantly, I decided to cut it all off in a short hunter horse style. (I know, technically, you're supposed to shorten a horse's mane by pulling it, but if Callista can't stand her mane being combed, I wasn't about to try pulling).

After her makeover, I took her to the round pen for the photo shoot. The lighting was a little too harsh, and the heat made Callista a little sluggish, so I didn't get the best selection of pictures. Still, at least she's clean!

But You Should See the Other Guy

Ken's black eye is developing nicely after his run-in with Mona on Saturday. He wanted me to commemorate it by taking a photo.

Good thing purple is his favorite color!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Photos of Penny

My yearling filly Penny is for sale, but none of the photos I had for advertising her were very good. So today I gave her a bath and did a photo shoot to try to get some photos that do her justice.

Now that she has shed her winter coat and started her yearling growth spurt, she looks quite nice. Here she is:

Worming Day Rocketsheep!

Yesterday, Ken and I rounded up all the sheep to give them their Bo-Se shots and to check which ones needed worming. I also mixed up a batch of my own personal vitamin/mineral drench to give them all, to get them off to a good start for the summer.

We knew this task would be something of an ordeal. That's the trouble with raising an unusually intelligent breed of sheep. They can tell the difference between when you're just calling them in from pasture to feed them and when you're trying to lure them into a catch pen to do something unpleasant to them.

We managed to lure most of the sheep into a moderate-sized catch pen by pouring dishes of grain in there and then shutting the gate after them once they were inside. That left about half the lambs outside. We made a little catch pen next to where all the adult sheep were caught, and gradually herded the lambs into there, where I caught them one by one and handed them over the fence to Ken.

When all the sheep were in the one catch pen, we got ready for the main part of the task. One by one, we caught each sheep, and one of us held it while the other gave it the Bo-Se shot, the vitamin drench, and checked to see if it needed worming.

You do this by using your thumb to press the sheep's lower eyelid down and open, and checking the color of the inside tissues. If they are red or dark pink, the sheep is healthy. If they are pale, the sheep is getting anemic, most likely from an infestation of barberpole worm (Haemonchus contortus), which is the most troublesome and deadly sheep parasite in this area.

Because parasites eventually build up immunities to chemical wormers, I am trying to breed my sheep to improve their natural resistance to parasites. I have a few sheep that are very parasite resistant, and others that are not. With careful selective breeding, I hope to have my whole flock showing good resistance within a few generations.

While checking the lambs yesterday, I was pleased to see that the lambs whose parents were both resistant seem to have inherited that resistance. The rest of the flock had varying degrees of light-to-moderate infestation, and only one sheep had a severe infestation. After yesterday's treatment, they should all be feeling better in the next few days.

Last summer, I developed my own vitamin/mineral drench recipe for my sheep. Several other breeders of Icelandics tried it and reported excellent results---almost immediate improvements in sheep suffering from heat/parasite related stress and bottlejaw. So I'm posting the recipe here in case it might help some other shepherd.

Ingleside Farm Sheep Vitamin & Mineral Drench Recipe

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup blackstrap molasses
1 cup Red Cell
1/4 cup Vitamin E Liquid
1/4 cup concentrated liquid garlic

Stir thoroughly.

I dose at the rate of 30-60 ml per adult sheep and 10-30 ml per lamb, depending on size and condition.

Vinegar aids the sheep's overall health and improves wool quality. It contains small amounts of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous. Molasses improves taste and is a good source of iron, calcium, manganese, potassium, and magnesium. Red Cell is mainly an iron supplement that includes a wide range of other minerals and vitamins as well. Vitamin E helps the sheep absorb selenium, which is crucial to withstanding summer stress. And the concentrated liquid garlic is a natural wormer.

NOTE: Red Cell contains copper. While Icelandic sheep have proved to need a small amount of copper in their diets, other breeds of sheep are usually much more copper-sensitive. Do your research and choose your copper dosages wisely to make sure you don't poison your sheep!

Anyway, things were going along pretty well for the first part of the task. When the catch pen is full, it's easy to catch the sheep because they are too crowded to run around. But as we dosed each sheep, we let her out the gate into the yard, so we wouldn't accidentally dose anyone twice. Even though I keep records of each sheep's dosage and condition on my clipboard, mistakes could happen. And besides, it's easier to catch the sheep you haven't dosed yet when they're not all mingled in with the ones you have.

As the crowed in catch pen gradually thinned, the sheep had more room to try to avoid being caught. And of course, the ones that remained were all the ones who were more skilled at avoiding being caught in the first place, since we obviously caught all the easy ones first!

So, we were about halfway through and were trying to catch the next sheep. Ken was bending over trying to grab Mona as she swerved past him, when all of a sudden she rocketed straight up in the air---and straight into Ken's face! I heard the CRACK when her hard skull crashed into Ken's face at full speed. Thank goodness Mona is one of the polled sheep (although Ken pointed out that if she'd had horns, we would have been able to catch her more easily).

Poor Ken staggered out of the catch pen, and we rushed him up to the house to put ice on his face. I had my nose broken by a horse running into me when I was a teenager, so I knew just how he was feeling. His nose wasn't bleeding, and it wasn't crooked, so I knew it wasn't broken. But his cheekbone was swelling, his teeth were numb, and by nightfall, he'd developed a black eye.

He rested with an ice bag on his face for a few hours, but the rest of the sheep needed to be done, so before nightfall, he bravely came back out and we finished catching and dosing the rest of the flock.

Now it's time to start thinking about ways to improve our catch pen system to be more effective. Less stress on the sheep means less stress on the humans as well!

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Umbrella Game

Training is progressing for my two Art Deco fillies, Grace and Glory.

First, I need to reacquaint them with the idea of getting their halters put on and taken off frequently without jerking away and making a fuss. Grace has reason to need work in this area, because she has had a couple of minor injuries and one fairly serious scare, but Glory is difficult about it for no other reason than that she's difficult about everything.

Because both fillies are so extremely jumpy, I'm using my no-pressure technique for haltering. I put their ration of grain in a bucket and hold the open halter just above it, so that if the filly wants her grain, she has to choose to shove her nose into the halter. At that point, I wrap the strap around the back of her head. If she jumps away, that's fine, she can go, I let her pull free and don't try to hold her.

Each time she comes back, I put the strap across. Eventually, she gets tired of jumping and I buckle the halter. Then she can eat her grain while I wiggle the halter all around, tap on the buckle, stroke her ears, etc. Everything to get her used to being calm about the situation. If she doesn't fuss, then I stop and let her eat her grain in peace. When she's done eating, I come back and take the halter off.

My goal is to ingrain in her mind that the halter is the required uniform for eating her grain. When it gets to be no big deal to put the halter on with the grain bucket there, then I'll progress to putting it on BEFORE I get the grain bucket. Then I'll progress to putting it on and then leading her someplace nice to graze on fresh grass. Over and over, I'll make the halter be the prelude to something pleasant, until she forgets that she was ever upset about it.

Today was the third day of this training for both fillies. They are still so jumpy---none of my other youngsters were like this, but I've been told that the Art Deco bloodline is very hot and unpredictable---but they're making progress, so after the halter lesson was over, I decided to add another lesson: The Umbrella Game.

Here's how it goes: I bring an umbrella into the paddock and open it up. The horse reacts (in this case, by bugging out her eyes and careening around the paddock as if I had just released a herd of wild tigers). I stand still, quietly holding the umbrella until the horse stops and looks at me. Then the game begins.

If the horse stands still, looking at me, I stand still and keep the umbrella motionless. If she looks away or gets distracted, I wiggle the umbrella until she looks at me again. If the horse moves away, I move closer, bringing the umbrella with me. If the horse comes closer to me, I yield and take a step backwards.

The idea is to encourage the horse to react calmly to scary objects by making the correct responses have less stressful consequences than the wrong responses.

Grace snorted and flew around the paddock when she first saw the umbrella, but once the game began, she picked it up very quickly. After seeing my positive response to her stepping forward a couple of times, she gathered up her nerve and walked straight over and started nibbling on the edge of the umbrella. What a good girl! She is SO much easier to work with now that I've separated her from the unruly influence of her sister.

Then it was Glory's turn. I stood in the center of her large paddock (far away from her) and opened the umbrella. She shied so hard she crashed into the fence, bolted around me in a circle and crashed into the fence a couple more times before regaining control enough to simply race around without crashing. She may be a total flake, but WOW does she have nice gaits. The suspension on that extended trot is breathtaking!

As expected, she took much longer to stop running. Even with me standing perfectly still, she was hair-trigger, ready to fly right out of there at the slightest twitch. I let her stand and bug her eyes out at me for a long time, and then I started gently twisting the umbrella and swaying it back and forth. Another explosion!

Each time she ran, I'd just ignore her and keep doing what I was doing. Each time she stopped, I'd stop. After a while, I could see that she was no longer genuinely terrified, she was just reactionary because it was habit. But at least her attention was fully, 110% engaged with the lesson for the first time. She's typically so evasive about not wanting to focus on anything you ask her to do, but this time she was fully present.

This went on for at least an hour before she took her first step towards me, that allowed me to give her the "right answer" reward of backing up. She's extremely smart, and I could see her watching me and testing me dozens of times to check my responses. She'd step one foot forward, then move it back. She's stomp it in place. She'd shuffle it back and forth. She'd try moving a back foot instead.

After examining every possible scenario, she finally figured out what the rules were and realized that we were playing a game where it was actually possible for her to have some power over what happened. That gave her a little more confidence, but she still had no desire to actually approach the umbrella.

So then I closed the umbrella to make it small, and gradually approached her with it. Eventually, after many tries and some more nervous galloping, she stretched her nose out and touched it. I immediately praised her and backed way off, turning my back on her to release all pressure.

She's smart. She got it. After a few more tries, she was willing to take a step towards me and touch the closed umbrella each time.

Then we had to start all over with the open umbrella. She's not a horse who will take for granted that just because the closed umbrella is safe, the open one must be as well. So we went through the whole thing again. At last, she was okay about touching the open umbrella too.

There was just one last step to go. I backed way up far away from her, made sure she was looking directly at me so she would have a chance to brace herself, and then I held the umbrella up over my head... and OPENED it.

WHOA!!!! That set her off galloping again, but just for a second. She stopped, and I let her touch the open umbrella with her nose. Then I backed up away from her, closed the umbrella, waited for her to look at me, then held it over my head and opened it. Off she went again!

I repeated this dozens of times. Each time, she clearly knew what was going to happen, but couldn't help herself from flinching and running. But each time she stopped and asked to come touch the umbrella again to reassure herself.

After many, many, MANY more times, I could see her finally decide that her fear reaction was pointless. I opened the umbrella a couple more times, with her just standing there looking at me cheerfully with her ears up. Then I let her touch the umbrella one more time, closed it, and left her paddock.

As she watched me walk away, I opened the umbrella one last time, and she didn't even flinch.

That's the nice thing about natural-horsemanship-style games. If you do them right, you BOTH can win.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Defending Our Cherries

One of the nice surprises we discovered after we bought this farm is the cherry tree in the back yard. I'd never seen a cherry tree before, so I didn't identify it for the longest time. It's clumped in amongst the lilac bushes, so at first I just assumed it was some kind of ornamental shrub. Even after it formed fruit the first year, I ignored it, thinking it was some kind of crabapple, and not worth harvesting.

The following year, on a whim, I tasted one of the "crabapples" and figured out what we had. Yummy delicious cherries, free in our back yard! But things were busy and I was going out of town, so I didn't harvest any.

Last year, I had good intentions to harvest some. I checked the tree regularly, waiting for the day when they would be ripe. The day I thought they would be just about perfect, our neighborhood crows got up several hours earlier than I did, and stripped the tree bare before I could get a single one!

This year, we have a bumper crop, just starting to turn red. The crows and other birds have already been checking them, but they're not quite ripe yet. We don't have much time left to stake our claim to our share of the treasure.

So Ken went to the local farm store and got some bird netting. The tree is large and the majority of the cherries will be well out of our reach, so the birds are welcome to them. But we draped the netting all around on the part of the tree that we can reach, hoping that will protect at least a little of the crop for us.

I tasted one of the not-quite-ripe fruits today. It's still very tart, but wow, what a flavor. I'll have to decide what to do with the cherries I pick. Eat them fresh? Make a pie? Freeze them? Dry them? Make a cherry cordial? I'm a whiz at making home-made cordials---I've taught workshops on it, and have developed dozens of recipes.

I guess what I do with them will depend on how many we get. I'm just looking forward to getting SOME, for a change.

Heavenly Honeysuckle

Is there anything so wonderful as the smell of honeysuckle? With its heady scent hinting of coconut and gardenia, it makes every spring breeze a luscious, sensual delight.

Our farm used to be overrun with honeysuckle vines (everywhere, that is, that wasn't already overrun with poison ivy vines!), but the sheep find it so tasty that it is now all gone except for several healthy vines that tangled themselves in our enormous boxwoods, out of the reach of sheep.

Even the few plants that are left are making our whole yard smell delicious right now. The flowers make a wonderful herbal tea, very healthy, and it makes you feel good just because it tastes as wonderful as it smells.

Honeysuckle doesn't dry well for use as tea. Even after a VERY long time in a high-quality food dehydrator, I've found that the flowers have a tendency to mold if stored over the winter. So this year I collected a ziplock bag of flowers, which I'm going to try freezing, to see if that preserves them better.

Since I'm prone to long bouts of bronchitis every time I get the smallest cold or flu, I've done a lot of research on herbs and natural remedies that can help. Honeysuckle-Hyssop tea, sweetened with honey is one of my favorites. It tastes SO good!

Here's part of what the Peterson Guide to Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, has to say about honeysuckle:

Leaves and flowers a beverage tea (Japan). Flowers traditionally used (in e. Asia) in tea for bacterial dysentery, enteritis, laryngitis, colds, fevers, flu; externally as a wash for rheumatism, sores, tumors (especially breast cancer), infected boils, scabies, swelling. Stem tea is weaker. Experimentally, flower extracts lower cholesterol; also antiviral, antibacterial, tuberculostatic. Widely used in prescriptions and patent medicines in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat colds and flu. Pills are made from floral concentrates. Both authors have used such preparations for bronchitis, colds, and flu. When Echinacea or Garlic have failed against flu, Jim Duke has used the plant as a last resort. Flowers contain at least a dozen antiviral compounds. With the rapid evolution of viruses, synergistic combinations of phytochemicals, such as those found in Japanese Honeysuckle, are less liable to lead to resistant strains than solitary chemical compounds. This serious weed might be managed by using it for proven medicinal purposes.
Such a wonderful gift from the land: something so beautiful to see and smell that makes good sheep feed and helps cure you when you're sick!

More of Senter Under Saddle

Here are some more photos that my trainer Stephanie sent of one of Senter's training session when he was doing even better work than the day I was there.

Considering how completely green Senter was just a month ago, I think he's coming along really well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Separation Anxiety

I finally got around to splitting up the horse herd today. The two older fillies and the two yearlings by my stallion all have their basic manners learned, but the two Art Deco yearlings are still not even what I would consider fully halter-trained.

In part, that's because I knew I wasn't going to sell them, so I worked with all the sales horses first. But in part, it's just because they have much more challenging temperaments.

Even with patience and persistence, they have not been making progress while living loose with the rest of the herd. So today I lured them into separate paddocks, where they will be in a more confined and manageable space---apart from the influence of the herd---so that I can work with them properly.

It was like weaning day all over again. Once they realized that they were alone, both Grace and Glory, started hollering, and all the other horses were running around in the field calling back. Lots of neighing and galloping for much of the afternoon. A little separation anxiety can be a useful tool to adjust a horse's attitude.

Deliberately choosing a non-confrontational task that would put me in their vicinity for a good stretch of time, I spent a couple of hours out there, scrubbing all the water troughs and rearranging them so that they were in the right places for all the newly rearranged animals. While I was in their paddocks, both Grace and Glory immediately began acting much more anxious to be near me, now that their other companions were gone.

This is the change of attitude I was hoping for, the start of a willingness to acknowledge ME as their "boss mare" instead of constantly flaunting away, saying "I don't have to. You're not the boss of me! I go where the herd goes, not where you go."

I spent a lot of time petting them, scratching their itchy spots, and generally being their buddy. Tomorrow will be time enough to start the actual lessons. Today I just wanted them to think about how nice it is to have me around.

Meanwhile, the sheep are still enjoying their new pasture. Because the grass is tall, higher than the sheep's heads, the two big manure piles left over from last summer are prime real estate for standing on to get a better view of the pasture. Most of the time, they are occupied by hordes of lambs playing King of the Hill, but today the grownup rams were doing the same thing.

I saw Preston butt Taj right off the side of the hill, so that he rolled right over as he tumbled down to the ground and landed on top of a very surprised lamb. Proud of himself for his obvious victory, Preston then gave Nicholai a little nudge. Nicholai whacked him in the ribs with the pointy end of one of his horns and chased him off the pile. Doesn't matter how big you are, you don't mess with the King!

Nicholai is such a wonderful ram. He insists on being the boss, but as soon as the other rams acknowledge his dominance, he is kind and friendly. If any of the other rams get in a squabble with each other, Nicholai gets between them and puts a stop to it. He's definitely a benevolent king.

As I was standing out there in the tall grass, checking out the sheep, my cat Oliver was prowling around making a pest of himself, as usual, so I indulged in a little entertaining kitty torture. Whenever he wasn't looking, I would toss a pebble to land next to him. He would jump sky-high, but couldn't see what made that noise. Then I would toss a pebble on the other side, and he would jump again. I think I almost got him convinced that the pasture is haunted! :-)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Senter Under Saddle

Yesterday, we drove down to the trainer's farm to visit my stallion, Senter Stage, and get a demo of how his training is going.

He has only been in serious under-saddle training for about a month, but he's already doing walk, trot, canter, a bit of extended trot, a little leg-yielding, and he's jumping 2'6". Not bad for such a short amount of time!

Everyone at the stable loves him, and he obviously loves having a job. It's so good for him to have challenges to exercise both his mind and his body. He's not complaining at all that he's getting to breed quite a few mares, either!

Here's my boy:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Catching up

Okay, when it gets to the point where friends and family are actually PHONING me to ask what's wrong, because I haven't posted to my blog in several days, I guess it's time to catch up.

I was going to wait and write full-fledged accounts of everything that's been going on, but at this point, I think I'll just do a summary that will bring us back up to the present.

Here's what's been going on here in the past week:

1. Ken and I fenced a brand new pasture, using Premier's PermaNet fencing. The sheep have only been out there for 1 day so far, in grass so tall they have to wade through it like a jungle, so I have no comments so far on how durable the fence will be or how well it will keep in a determined sheep. But so far I give it an A+ for ease of setup and visibility.

2. One of my best lambs abruptly got a severe case of pneumonia, for no known reason, and---with a fever of over 107---seemed on the brink of death until I rushed to the vet to get a prescription for the antibiotic Naxcel, which I had heard was very good against pneumonia. It certainly was! Five days later, the lamb is back to perfect health and is out in the pasture with the rest of the flock.

3. We had a lovely Saturday off the farm, and visited with several friends that we had not seen in years.

4. I suffered a brief but unpleasant bout of E coli food poisoning. It put me out of commission for a couple of days, but I'm fine now.

5. I finished making my choices about which sheep and lambs to sell and which to keep. Then I updated my sheep website with new lamb photos and a complete sales list.

6. I had a near-disastrous training session with my Art Deco filly, Grace. Don't ask! Suffice to say, despite Grace's best efforts to the contrary, no permanent injuries were incurred by either horse or human.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mona's (REALLY) Bad Hair Day

Icelandic sheep are a primitive breed that still have the ancient trait of shedding their wool in the spring. But there's another time when a sheep sheds her wool, and that's right after she's been sick or had a fever.

Right now, our ewe Mona is in the middle of both types at the same time.

Remember a few weeks ago, when Mona gave birth to a stillborn lamb that had been dead inside her for quite a while before it was born? I gave her a shot of penicillin at the time, but I did it in the dim light of the barn, late at night, and it wasn't until I needed to give another sheep some penicillin just recently that I noticed that my penicillin had all settled to the bottom of the bottle and needed significant amounts of shaking to mix it together properly again.

Well, I didn't notice that at the time when I gave Mona her shot, so apparently she didn't get the full benefit of the penicillin. She didn't feel well for a few days afterwards, and now she's going through a serious wool break. She would be shedding her wool for the spring anyway, but a wool break from fever is a lot more thorough---it takes off all the wool right down to the skin.

I'm due to shear the sheep for spring anyhow, but I've been delayed because it keeps raining every couple of days and you can't shear when the wool is damp. So for now, poor Mona has to walk around looking like a Muppet someone shoved halfway through a paper shredder:

How embarrassing!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


My cats are skilled, enthusiastic hunters. Ken's Pomeranian, Leeloo, loves to chase, wrestle, and play rough with cats and other animals that are about her size.

So I was a little nervous about how our littlest lambs would hold up to any unwanted attention they might get, now that I've let the sheep out to graze in the yard. Leeloo is no longer let out unsupervised, and I always keep my ears open for any cries from distressed lambs.

But it turns out I've got the whole thing backwards. The lambs have made a great game out of cat chasing. Even the tiniest ones will go out of their way to gleefully attack the cats and chase them all over the yard. When the whole stampeding herd of lambs gets chasing a cat, you can hear the thundering hooves from the other side of the yard.

Leeloo, being about the same size as a large cat, holds about as much intimidation for the lambs. She would dearly love to play chase-and-wrestle with them, but only on her terms. When they come after her she gets scared and runs with her tail tucked under.

And rightly so, because while the grown ewes humor the lambs in the cat chasing, they get quite angry at Leeloo being near their lambs. They surround her and make every effort to beat the crap out of her.

The poor dog can't even go out to go potty in peace anymore. Someone has to go with her, partially as a chaperon so she doesn't chase the lambs, and partially as a body guard, so the ewes don't stomp her into a pancake.

After seeing all this, somehow, I'm not so worried about foxes coming into the pasture and stealing young lambs anymore. I get the impression that any fox that tried would end up being sorry.

Of course, the sheep still couldn't stand up to a large dog or a coyote, but I like it that they're fierce, self-sufficient Viking sheep, who---within reason---are able to look out for themselves.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Let Them Eat Weeds

Our pastures were never great to start with, and last year's drought, coupled with the fact that for part of the summer and fall we didn't have enough money to buy as much hay for the horses as we needed, and so ended up grazing the pastures down to nothing for several months, has left them looking even worse this year.

If sheep sales go well this year, we hope to have enough money to reseed and fertilize all the pastures this fall, which will mean better, more nutritious grazing for the sheep and lower hay bills for us.

But until then, we have to make do with what we have.

The ewes have already grazed down the sparse, weedy back pasture, so I turned them out to mow the lawn for us. But today I had a look into the 1/3 acre we have fenced for our dogs. It is overgrown and full of lush green weeds and grass: vetch, poison ivy, cleavers, chickweed, blackberry, who knows what else.

So I put the dogs in one of the other pastures, and led the sheep into the dog pasture. It's fun to watch the new sheep and the young lambs as they learn to come when I call. I yell, "SHEEEEEEEP!!!" and all the sheep who have been here a while know that means something good, and they all come galloping. The others follow, and pretty soon, all the sheep have learned to come when I call.

They eagerly ran into the green jungle of the dog pasture. The ewes were so greedy for the delicious weeds that they disappeared into the thickets, leaving most of the bewildered lambs behind. Later, they emerged, fat and satiated, from the greenery to find and feed their babies.

The lambs are getting better at finding their mothers when they are lost, and at settling down and waiting in some central area when they can't find them. A few of them are still young and stupid and wander around screaming in panic when they lose their moms, but they're getting better, and soon will be grown up enough that I won't ever have to go out and help reunite them anymore.

At that point, they'll be ready to go out into the big pasture, and I'll be able to trust that they won't get lost down at the far end while their mother is wandering up at the top of the hill. It's too hot here in the summer for me to have to spend my days hiking all over creation looking for lost lambs!

In the interests of finding more forage for the sheep, we've also ordered some Permanet electric net fencing for the side field, the one we have not been able to afford to put real fencing around. Since it isn't fenced yet, it didn't get grazed at all last year, which means it's the lushest of all our fields (which isn't saying much). So, when the net fencing arrives, we'll be able to add a few more acres of clean grazing for the sheep.

It's been an odd spring, sheep-wise. Although all of our lambs averaged about 1 lb. heavier than the previous year, all of the ewes came out of lambing season looking a lot thinner than they did last year. So I'm particularly eager to get their nutrition levels up, so they can produce lots of milk and let those lambs grow as much as possible before the worst of the summer heat hits.

I've been giving them grain to supplement our poor quality grass. Perhaps if we get all of the pastures reseeded this fall, next year I won't need to feed them grain at all.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Now I've Seen Everything

What's wrong with this picture?

A happy, fat lamb, nursing from its mom... what could be wrong?

Nothing. Except that in this case, "Mom" is our ram Tut!

Forage in the back pasture is running low, so until we're able to get some Electronet fencing up around our side pasture, I decided to let the ewes and lambs out to mow our yard with the rams.

This is a first for the babies, so in the crowd and confusion, it's not surprising that the lamb got confused and tried to nurse on the nearest sheep that was approximately the same color as his mom.

What was surprising was that the ram not only didn't butt the youngster away, he actually hunched down just like a nursing ewe, and stood there for several minutes with a distinctly placid and maternal look on his face, while the baby repeatedly butted him, looking for an udder down there.

I know that Tut is a mellow, mild-mannered ram, but I think that's going a little beyond the call of duty!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Last Lamb!

I'm free! I'm free!

The last lamb of the year was born this afternoon. I no longer have to keep watch night and day. No more slimy placentas to carry down to the compost/bone pile by the woods. I can sleep in my own bed for the first time in more than a month. I can possibly start to pay attention to some of the other areas of the farm that need my attention, like the horses, the yard, the housework, etc.

Tomorrow I can even (gasp!) LEAVE THE FARM!

Okay, so my wild, celebratory day on the town tomorrow will probably involve browsing in a bookstore and possibly eating out, then coming home again, but I haven't left the property for more than a month, so it's still pretty exciting for me.

I went out to check on Sedona at about 3:30 this afternoon, and there she was, in labor, with nose-and-toes showing behind. The lamb was 5 days past due, and when it was finally born, it looked like a week-old lamb. It was the biggest lamb of the year, at 9 lb. 13 oz. (Average for Icelandic sheep is typically around 5-7 lbs.)

So, unless those 4 yearlings decide that they're pregnant after all, and start growing udders and bellies all of a sudden in the next few weeks, that's my full lamb crop for the year. Over all, I think we did quite well.

Here's a roundup of our lamb stats:

Total lambs born: 36
Deaths: 2 (1 stillborn and it's breech birth twin who died at 3 days old)

Ram lambs: 13
Ewe lambs: 23

Polled lambs: 9
Horned lambs: 27

White: 19
Black solid: 3
Moorit solid: 5
Black gray: 2
Moorit gray: 2
Black badgerface: 1
Moorit mouflon: 1
Black solid spotted: 1
Moorit solid spotted: 1
Black mouflon spotted: 1

First: Una, born April 9 at 7:15 a.m.
Last: Umeka, born May 3 at 3:30 p.m.
Length of lambing season: 24 days, 8 hours, 15 minutes
Number of nights I slept in the barn: 30

Smallest lamb (at birth): Ulla, at 4 lb. 5 oz.
Largest lamb (at birth): Umeka, at 9 lb. 13 oz.

Largest lamb load carried by a ewe: Paris, with twins weighing 9 lb. 1 oz. and 8 lb. 14 oz. for a total of 17 lb. 15 oz. of lambs. No wonder she was so cranky!

Cutest lamb: Ulla
Friendliest lamb: Ultra

Highest % of AI bloodlines: Udela & Udena, at 75%
Lowest % of AI bloodlines: Ulani, at 18.8%

Most different AI bloodlines in one lamb: Udara, with 10 (Aski, Bassi, Dalur, Dropi, Eir, Flekkur, Flotti, Heli, Hnykill, Skreppur)

Birth Times:

midnight - 1:00 a.m......3
1:00 - 2:00 a.m.
2:00 - 3:00 a.m......0
3:00 - 4:00 a.m......2
4:00 - 5:00 a.m......3
5:00 - 6:00 a.m......0
6:00 - 7:00 a.m......3
7:00 - 8:00 a.m......2
8:00 - 9:00 a.m......0
9:00 - 10:00 a.m......3
10:00 - 11:00 a.m......1
11:00 - noon.....1
noon - 1:00 p.m......1
1:00 - 2:00 p.m......2
2:00 - 3:00 p.m......3
3:00 - 4:00 p.m......4
4:00 - 5:00 p.m......0
5:00 - 6:00 p.m......0
6:00 - 7:00 p.m......0
7:00 - 8:00 p.m......1
8:00 - 9:00 p.m......1
9:00 - 10:00 p.m......2
10:00 - 11:00 p.m......0
11:00 - midnight.....4

Friday, May 2, 2008

Who Will Stay and Who Will Go?

No time for a lengthy post tonight. In addition to the normal round of chores and lamb watch, I spent the day deciding which sheep will stay with our flock and which ones will go on the sales list. Then I updated my sheep website with the list.

It's a difficult but interesting task, looking at week-old lambs and deciding which ones will do the most to further improve my breeding program, while still leaving a decent selection on the sales list for my buyers.

In the end, I decided to keep a lot of the white ewe lambs for their bloodlines and conformation, and add a few colored adult ewes to the sales list so that my buyers will have a little more variety in their possible choices.

I decided to sell ALL the polled sheep that I got in trade for my two mares in February. They are really nice, well-built sheep, but I just have such a strong preference for the horned sheep, and it's easier to specialize in just the one type instead of trying to plan out a bunch of extra breeding paddocks in the fall for the polled ones.

It's a great opportunity for someone who loves the polled type to get a great starter flock, so I hope I'll find some good buyers for them.

Only two more ewes left to lamb, then my task turns to all the things I need to do to make sure all the sheep stay healthy and comfortable for the rest of the summer.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

More Lambs Born

There was lots going on yesterday, and by evening I had a headache, so I skipped writing a post and went straight to my barn bed instead.

Yesterday afternoon, two ewes gave birth within an hour of each other. First, Sarah had her lamb by Taj. She's a first time mom, so I was there ready to help if necessary. The lamb was positioned right so I thought maybe she could do the birth unassisted. But she lay down in such a way that every time she had a contraction, the lambs legs were getting rubbed hard against the edge of a concrete block that is in the back of the pen, holding up the temporary wall panel.

I didn't want the lambs legs to be scraped raw before the poor thing even had a chance to be born, so I got in the pen to help. It was then I realized how big those lamb legs were, and how tightly stuck the lamb was.

I got my trusty lamb puller, which is a hollow plastic handle with a smooth cable snare running out of it. You place the "Y" of the handle under the protruding lamb legs, then use your fingers to push the snare up inside the ewe until it loops over the back of the lamb's head. Then you pull the snare loop tight and pull the lamb out without yanking his legs or choking his throat.

I love my lamb puller, it's the best tool I have. Because it works by exerting pressure on the actual part of the lamb that is stuck, it is far more effective than if I just pulled on the lamb's legs by hand.

Anyway, I pushed the lamb snare inside Sarah---where, oh where, is the back of the lamb's head? Did I get it? Nope, the snare slid back out. Try again, push it further until...

HOLY CRAP! This lamb has horn buds the size of a month-old lamb's! They have to be an inch and a half long already. Poor Sarah, no wonder she was having a hard time.

On the bright side, once I got the snare over those gigantic horn buds, there was no way it was sliding back off again until that lamb was out. So Sarah pushed and I pulled, and pretty soon out came a BIG white ram lamb.

After that, Sarah took over just fine and is turning out to be a very caring, attentive mother.

Even before that birth was done, I could see Persia over in her pen starting to look like she might be getting ready to go into labor too. That's the birth I've been waiting and waiting for, because it's a cross between Persia who has a phenomenal meat build and Nicholai who has superb parasite resistance. Those are the two qualities I'm trying hardest to select for in my flock, so I had high, high hopes for these lambs.

Last year, this same cross gave me a lovely, large spotted gray ewe lamb, but we were really hurting for money and I had more lamb buyers than lambs, so I reluctantly decided to sell her. I figured it would be just my luck if Persia didn't have any ewe lambs this year.

As she went into labor, I thought, "Oh please, oh please, have a moorit solid ewe lamb." I've been trying for 3 years to get a moorit solid daughter of Nicholai, and this year nearly all of his daughters have been white.

Sure enough, the first lamb to be born was a moorit solid ewe lamb, followed by a moorit solid ram lamb, both born as easy as could be. The ewe lamb will definitely be a keeper this time, and I'm thinking about maybe keeping the ram lamb as well.

Now I have 3 more ewes left to lamb, plus 4 yearling ewes who were supposedly bred, but aren't really showing much udder development, so I'm starting to guess they're not pregnant after all.

Hard to believe that lambing season will be winding down soon. It's been the day-and-night focus of my life all month!