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.

1 comment:

Rhea said...

I love the image I picture when you call "sheeeeep" and they all come running. That's awesome! I bet they LOVED the dog pasture weeds and such. It's funny to think the lambs get lost from their mommies (well, not funny, but you know what I mean?).

I really love your detailed descriptions of what goes on on your farm. You do a great job of sharing your adventures. Thanks.