Monday, October 20, 2008

A Visit to See Senter

Yesterday we delivered a sheep down to North Carlina, and made time to stop by my horse trainer's farm on the way back to visit my stallion Senter Stage and my filly Torchsong who are in training there.

Torchsong was out in the huge pasture with the other horses, but she still came right over and followed us around the whole time we were out there. She does love her people!

I also got to see Maggie and Libby, a mare and a filly that I traded to the trainer in exchange for some of her training services. Libby was as sociable and friendly as ever, poking her nose into everything we were doing. And Maggie---always the excellent mom---was proud to show off her colt from this spring, Phoenix.

Both Libby and Phoenix are offspring of my stallion Senter, who is also there for training. I had not been down there to see Senter's progress in person since May, when he was first starting to be ridden. So it was great to see how much more relaxed and balanced he looked under saddle. He's doing really well, I think. He's very happy there, and he really loves to work!

Getting a "Jump" on Breeding Season

Sheep breeding season starts here at the end of October. I've already planned out all of my breeding groups of which rams are going to go with which ewes (click here if you want to see).

The rams have been getting "in the mood" for weeks now as their testosterone levels rise, jostling and shoving each other out in their pasture, and staring lustily through the fence whenever a ewe walks by. But most of the ewes are still happily ignoring their masculine antics, and will not be interested until November.

However, a few days ago I did notice that one of my new ewes, Rowena, was standing over by the ram pen, flirting with a crowd of delighted rams, who were making flirtatious little nickering sounds and licking her face through the mesh fence.

Early lambs usually grow and thrive better than late-born lambs, so I don't mind if a ewe is bred early---as long as I know exactly when she is bred. I try to be present for all my lamb births, and usually sleep in the barn during the main part of lambing season. I DON'T want to end up sleeping in the unheated barn all through the chilly month of March just on the off chance that some ewe MIGHT be lambing sometime.

But if I know exactly when a ewe is bred, I can predict much more closely when she is likely to lamb, and can just make a note in my calendar to check her frequently on those few particular days.

So, I decided to let Rowena breed early. With some difficulty, Ken and I extracted the right ram (Tut) from the group of eager suitors, and put the two lovers in together, where they proceeded to do the deed several times in quick succession.

Our new boss ram, Midas, was deeply offended that he was not the chosen one, and vented his frustration by repeatedly banging his head on the gatepost. An 8-inch thick wooden post, driven at least 2 feet into the ground, and it still shook when the 200-lb. ram hit it!

I shooed Midas away, letting him know that such tantrums were impolite and unwelcome, and that he would get his chance later.

After Tut and Rowena had exhausted themselves, we separated them and let them go back to their former pastures.

If the breeding took, we can expect our first lambs to be born around March 4-6. That's a whole month earlier than last year!

Flying Blind

A few days ago, I heard a commotion in the kitchen, and went to investigate. As expected, one of our cats had caught something and brought it in through the cat door to play with it in the house. There was a wild bird trembling on the windowsill, and one of my cats poised to jump up after it.

I shooed the cat away and reached gently for the bird. To my surprise, it did not even duck away as my hand approached. I picked the poor thing up and examined it more closely.

Although it didn't appear badly injured, its beak was clogged with mud and blood. Its left eye was covered in a droplet of blood, and its right eye was plastered shut with a mat of mud and feathers. Presumably, when the cat had pounced on it, the bird's face had been driven into the mud, leaving it completely blinded and helpless.

I scraped the mud off the beak so the bird could breath properly again. Then I tried to wipe the eyes clean with a damp paper towel, with not very much luck. I tried gently rinsing the eyes with water. Still no avail.

At this point, I was starting to wonder whether the eyes were glued shut because the eyeballs beneath the muck had been punctured. Not a pretty thought to imagine!

But I figured that a blind bird was doomed for sure, so I couldn't make matters worse by at least attempting to help. I finally got the blood cleaned out of the left eye, and was happy to see that the only injury there was a tiny rip in the lower eyelid. Nothing serious.

So then I started working on the right eye. It was absolutely glued shut and plastered over with something that I hoped wasn't goo from a pierced eyeball. One tiny piece at a time, I picked off the bits of feather/mud/hay that had formed a solid layer over the bird's eye, hoping I was not going to be looking into an empty, oozing socket when I was done.

Luckily, the bird stayed still, and I got all the gross stuff off its face. And there, underneath, was an uninjured eye!

Nothing else seemed to be wrong with the bird, except for a mild case of shock. So I put it outside (in a place where the cats could not possibly get to it) to recover in private. When I went back a little while later, it was gone, so I guess it recovered and flew away!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mystery Lameness---Solved!

Not too long ago, I learned a painful-but-funny lesson about the importance of observing ALL the clues and symptoms and not jumping to conclusions when a sheep is sick.

Soon after the 9 new ewes arrived from Monica's farm, one of them developed a severe sudden-onset lameness in one front leg. There was no obvious sign of injury, only a small amount of swelling just above the hoof. The sheep limped badly for a few days and then the symptoms gradually abated.

A few days later, another sheep had the same symptoms, then another and another. Over the space of a couple of weeks, 5 of the new sheep showed this sudden lameness.

What could it be? We've had trouble with black widow spiders here before, but I couldn't imagine an army of black widows out in the pasture only attacking our new sheep.

Selenium deficiency can lead to lameness, but the symptoms don't look like what I was seeing, and besides I know Monica has done a great job of keeping her flock's selenium levels up, so the new sheep wouldn't be on the brink of deficiency so quickly no matter what.

Why was this affecting the new sheep and not my existing flock? I tried to think of some change in food or environment, some toxic weed in the pasture, that could cause the symptoms I was seeing.

Soon after, one of my previous sheep (Phoebe) showed the symptoms too. I was getting really worried. It was an epidemic, and I couldn't figure out what was causing it!

Then, a few days later, I was out picking up fallen pears under the pear tree and throwing them over the fence so the sheep on the other side could eat them---something I do about every other day this time of year.

As I was doing this, I reached for a pear and got stung on the finger by a yellowjacket. Not surprisingly, sudden severe pain and swelling ensued.

It was then that I finally realized that the exact same thing had been happening to my sheep!

All the sheep I got from Monica loved to eat pears, while my other sheep were indifferent to them---all except for Phoebe, the ONE sheep of mine that also got lame, who would stand and eat pears all day long if you let her.

So, to my (somewhat painful) relief, it wasn't an epidemic after all, not a mysterious sickness... just a particular group of sheep who like pears enough that they are willing to risk getting stung to eat them!

Here you can see a slightly comical video clip of Phoebe eating a pear. Because sheep don't have any top teeth in the front of their mouth, they have a hard time just biting off pieces of pear to eat the way we do. Phoebe solves that by shoving the entire pear into her mouth so she can chomp on it with her molars.

You can tell by her expression that she is thoroughly enjoying the challenge!

The Ram Who Would Be King

Ever since we've had our sheep flock, our senior ram Nicholai has been the benevolent King of the Flock.
He briefly trounces any newcomers to let them know who's boss, and then afterwards he diligently works as a peacekeeper to break up any other fighting that happens in the ram flock. So up until now, all the rams have been pretty good buddies.

But this year, we acquired a new ram, Midas. I had been planning for the past year to buy him, because he is the father of all the best fleece sheep in my flock, and all of his offspring that I own have excellent heat and parasite resistance. I wanted to bring in more of those qualities into my flock.

Luckily for me, his owner, Bonny at Donnybrook Farm had kept enough of his daughters in her flock that she was willing to trade Midas for one of my best ram lambs from this spring. So, Midas came to live here.

He's a large, 6-year old ram with absolutely splendid fleece quality. His tog (outer wool) is extremely soft for a senior ram, and his thel (inner wool) is so fine and dense, it feels like he's coated with a springy layer of foam rubber. No wonder all his lambs get such gorgeous fleeces!

Icelandic sheep are seasonal breeders, who will only breed in the late fall and winter. During breeding season, rams produce lots of hormones that give them a distinctive, masculine smell that helps attract ewes.

As soon as we loaded Midas in the car to bring him home, I could tell by his "ram-y" smell that he was already hormonally charged for rutting season, even though it was still 2 months early. He spent his time in his quarantine pen butting the fence and the bushes in his pen.

Then, when it was time to release him from quarantine and put him in with the other rams, he decided it was time to prove that he was the new king of the flock.

We expected Midas and Nicholai to tussle a bit when they first met, but we expected Nicholai to put an end to the fight quickly so they could all be friends afterward. Unfortunately for Nicholai, Midas is a little bigger, a year older, and way more hyped up on testosterone at the time, so even though Nicholai went into the encounter with confidence, by the time the dust cleared he was limping and Midas was the new king.

Poor Nicholai is a bit dejected at being dethroned, but he's taking it like a gentleman. His limp has healed itself, and we reassure him frequently that he's still king of our hearts!

Here's a short video clip of part of the battle. Hear that CRACK! as their heads come together?

That force of impact is why---no matter how gentle you think your rams are---you must always be careful when walking among them, especially during breeding season when they're full of hormones and not thinking rationally.

A 200-lb. animal striking a human with that kind of force could easily put you in the hospital or even kill you. So be cautious!

Farm Lambs

In addition to buying the 9 new ewes from Monica, I also kept 10 of my own farm ewe lambs, and 3 ram lambs from this spring.

You may remember seeing photos of them from when they were first born here back in April. Here's what they look like now!

The girls:

Unity: Nice stout girl, and who can resist the pretty moorit mouflon color?

Ulrica. Very tame and friendly, and an excellent broad build, very wide in the chest.

Utopia: A large, well-built lamb. Her sister had twins as a one-winter ewe, and the twins grew more than a pound per day. That's excellent for a yearling mother! So I expect Utopia will be a very milky mom as well.

Ulyssia: She's a full sister to my ram Titan. Both her parents have excellent parasite and heat resistance, so I have high hopes for her.

Urbana: Very nice build, superb fleece, and an extremely tame and friendly personality.

Ultra: She had pneumonia as a lamb, so she's a little smaller than other lambs her age. But WOW, what a smart, friendly, extremely interactive personality! This one is definitely showing her Leadersheep bloodlines.

Udela: Just plain cute.

Undra: A stout little butterball with a pretty moorit fleece.

Ulanova: Another cutie in that most popular of fleece colors, moorit.

Urelia: Quiet personality so I don't tend to notice her much, but she's grown pretty big this fall.

The boys:

Umber: The biggest of this year's lambs, he is now almost as big as the yearling rams. He showed extremely good heat and parasite resistance this summer (which is probably why he managed to grow faster than the other lambs). He'll have a chance to produce lambs of his own this breeding season.

Ukraine: I'm not using him to breed this year, but because of his bloodlines (my best parasite resistant ram crossed with my best meat-conformation ewe), he was too valuable to send to slaughter. I'm keeping him for another year to see how he grows up.

Urban: I have so many rams this year, I really didn't need another one, but this boy (twin to Urbana, shown above), was just too nice to send to the butcher with the other "extra" ram lambs this fall. I'm keeping him through the winter. He will stay on my sales list, and if no one buys him before next fall, I'll decide then whether to use him myself or send him off to the butcher then.

New Sheep!

While I've been steadily dispersing my horse herd for the past year, I've been increasing my sheep flock.

When I heard that my friend Monica a Small Meadow farm had decided to disperse her Icelandic sheep flock, I jumped at the chance to buy her top 9 ewes. That's a big investment for a farm where finances are as tight as ours have been, but luckily for me, Monica is a friend and is willing to take payments.

That gave her the ability to be finished with her flock dispersal quickly, and gave me the chance to get some really great sheep that have already been proven to be heat and parasite resistant on Monica's farm in Georgia.

I'm EXTREMELY happy with the quality of the sheep I got. There are some real beauties here and I think they are going to produce some fabulous lambs for us in the spring!


Stella. Doesn't she have the most beautiful face ever? She's a large, well-built ewe with a superb horn set. Her mother carries the Thoka gene for extra-prolificacy in lambing, so we're hoping that Stella carries it too.

Tara. She's Stella's half sister, so she also has a good chance of carrying the Thoka gene. Tara is extremely tame and friendly, and has followed me up onto the back porch and right into the kitchen on more than one occasion!

Sapphire. Just and big and beautiful as Stella, but in black!



Tessa. She had a very late (July!) lamb this year, which in the Georgia heat stressed her system enough to give her wool break, so her wool doesn't look that great right now. But underneath, her wool and her build are both really nice, so as soon as she's sheared, she's going to be looking mighty fine.

Rowena. Half sister to my best fleece ewe Rhonwen. Her fleece is not quite as soft as Rhonwen's but she has a much better meat build. Excellent ewe!

Secret: Although I've been trying to sell off all my polled sheep so that I can concentrate just on the horned variety, I made and exception and agreed to buy Secret because (1) she had exceptional heat and parasite resistance, (2) she's from a bloodline that I particularly like, and (3) according to Monica, when Secret is bred to a horned ram, she produces fully horned lambs, not ones with the stubby, ugly scurs that often happen when you cross the horned and polled bloodlines. That's good enough for me!

Uleda. Rowena's lamb from this year. Tons of fleece and a real cutie!

A big welcome to all the new sheep!

The Great Un-Trade

Remember back in February when I was so heartbroken because I was trading my two favorite pregnant mares, Char and Scylla, to a farm in northern Wisconsin in exchange for some sheep? Well, the mares and their colts (by my stallion, Senter Stage) have now been relocated to my sister's farm in Maine.

After a few months, Char and Scylla's new owner decided that owning a pair of large draft mares was not for him after all. I had put a right of first refusal into my sales contract for them, so when he decided he didn't want them any more, I had to scramble around to figure out what to do. We re-negotiated another trade: some sheep and money going back to Wisconsin, and the two mares and their colts going to Donna's farm in Maine.

The mares Donna will keep for me, and use them and breed them however she likes. One of the colts will stay with Donna as a stud at least for a few years. The other colt will be for sale. It took a lot of planning, negotiating, and luck to get the whole deal to work out in the necessary time frame, but finally it's done, my girls and their colts are safe and happy, and I can breathe at least a little sigh of relief.

Here's what the mares and their colts look like now.

Charybdis ("Char"), Senter Fielder ("Willie"), and Storm Senter ("Storm"):

Scylla and Willie:



Friday, October 17, 2008

Horse Update

So, a lot has happened with the horses over the summer. Here's a summary:


After trying to sell my filly Penny, and getting almost no inquiries on her for a year, all of a sudden, four different buyers wanted her all at the same time. It got a little confusing for a while, but finally I decided to sell her to a very nice woman from British Columbia. So Penny's first trailer ride was a LOOOOONNNGG one!


Libby went to live with her new owner, my trainer. I traded Libby in exchange for future training on my two Art Deco fillies. I really wanted Libby to go to someone who would truly appreciate her quality, and I know the trainer will do that, as she already owns Libby's full brother from this year.


At the same time that Libby left here, the trainer also took Torchsong to start her training. I put up some "for sale" ads for her, and after a dry spell in serious horse inquiries through most of September, suddenly I have a flurry of potential buyers interested in Torchsong. I've lowered her price to only $3,500 in hopes of selling her soon.

After all those horses leaving the farm, we only have the two Art Deco fillies left here. I thought that was going to be enough of a herd reduction. But unfortunately, finances are still way too tight, and we're just tired of the constant worrying, so we reluctantly decided that we're going to sell the last two fillies as well, and get out of breeding horses altogether. I spent a couple of days giving the girls baths and taking new photos, but I haven't had a chance to put "for sale" ads up yet. That'll be next on the agenda. Meanwhile, here's a peek at what the girls look like now:

Glory: (click here to see more photos and video)

Grace: (click here to see more photos and video)

Their attitudes have improved a lot over the summer. Now, although they are still spirited, they are also very friendly towards me. They are easy to catch now, and not nearly so spooky about things. So, even though I haven't had as much time as I would have liked to work with them regularly, they still have made a ton of progress.

They will be going to the trainer's soon as well, to get the training that we agreed on, and then they'll be sold. So soon I'll have no horses here on the farm at all. It will be weird, but it will make everything---finances, chores, farm upkeep, etc.---much easier when we can just concentrate all our efforts on the sheep side of the business.

Did You Miss Me?

Hi everybody! Is anyone out there still reading this? I can't believe it's been more than 2 months since I last posted. I imagine most of my faithful readers have give up on me by now!

But, despite it being a busy, busy summer, I'm still here, the farm's still here. Our finances still aren't much improved, but we're still struggling along, so I have hopes we'll get to a less anxiety-producing state eventually. If we can just hang in there for another year or two, I have hopes that thing will get better.

Anyway, I've been saving up lots of news and happenings to post about, but rather than trying to write one big long post with everything crammed in, I think I'll try to break them up into a bunch of smaller posts, divided by topic.

See you in the next post!