Monday, January 25, 2010

The Farmer Answers - Part Five

Wet cold rain today. No school for Julia. It was too icy for the school to send the buses out. Good choice, I must concur. The Farmer has been to the barn and no new lambs were born today. Thank goodness. Wet cold rain is harder for lambs than 10 degrees and snow. Yesterday it was a beautiful sunny day. Here's some new arrivals with The Farmer and "The Farmer's Daughter" looking on.

Back to the Q & A with The Farmer today.

Question: If you were not a farmer, then what would you like to do?
The Farmer Says: If I weren’t a farmer, then I think I would enjoy being a forester. It would be fun and rewarding to work with small landowners to advise them on how to improve their forests or woodlots. And what better office than to be out in the trees and wildlife.

Question: My husband, his sister and I just moved to a small farm (28 acres). How much does it take to sustain a flock of sheep? We're talking about meat and for fleece. (I want the fleece, they want the meat!)
The Farmer Says: I will have to make a few assumptions since I don’t know where your farm is. Assuming that it is in a part of the country where there is adequate moisture and the soil has at least a moderate fertility level, you should be able to stock the farm at 3 to 5 sheep per acre. If you have very fertile land and you practice pasture rotation, you could probably raise that by a few sheep.
When determining your stocking rate, it is also important to realize that grass doesn’t grow at a steady rate. In New England, our pastures usually start growing in April. The pastures reach their peak growth rates around the beginning of June and then slow down dramatically during the summer months. There is another smaller growth spurt in early fall. On our farm, I will sometimes graze over 100 sheep per acre but only for a day or even less. It is important to remove the sheep when the grass is grazed down to around 2 inches in height. The pasture should be rested until the grass reaches 6 to 8 inches in height.


Question: I purchased some Leyden Farm Lamb and it was wonderfully tasty stuff (even though the husband wouldn't touch it) but I noticed the congealed fat was yellow! I'd never seen yellow fat before - is that because there were no hormones and it was all grass fed?
The Farmer Says: To answer the question about the yellow fat, I contacted a fellow grass farmer who also works in the Agriculture Department at UMASS/Amherst. Kyle says that it is absolutely because the animal was grass fed. The carotene in the grass gives the fat the yellow color.
Kristin Says: Thanks for purchasing our lamb. At the moment, our supply of lamb is very low but we're hoping to do a better job next year anticipating customer's wants and needs. It's all one big experiment! We knew starting a retail lamb business would be full of all kinds of learning and we weren't wrong.

Question: When/How do you separate the lambs from their SheepMamas ? Is it hard for them ? Do you think the Mamas still recognize their babies from afar ?
The Farmer Says: I’m never in an particular hurry to separate the lambs from their mothers. I guess generally they come off their mothers at around 90 days. The exception to this is lambs sold for the Easter market who come off earlier. I guess this is a pretty relaxed system when compared with dairy calves that are removed from their mothers the first day of life.

The photo below shows The Farmer bringing in a new lamb with the mama close behind. The new lambs are held in these temporary pens for a couple days to help them bond with their mamas and to keep an eye on them. Sometimes it is impossible to bring a new lamb in - the mama just won't participate. If they are that wild, we just leave them alone (they have a real will to live as does their baby most likely).


Question: You use the term sustainable for your method of farming. Could you please explain more about what sustainable farming entails?
The Farmer Says: Sustainable farming means different things to different farmers. To me, it is sort of a web in which you are sensitive to the fact that many things are interconnected. Much of our land is hill land and therefore susceptible to soil erosion. We keep this land in permanent pasture to hld the soil in place. By careful planning of grazing and resting periods, we are able to build up the fertility organic material, and soil organisms such as earth worms, microorganisms and beneficial soil bacteria. Over time the soil improves rather than degrades.
The livestock raised on the farm should be suitable to the soil conditions, topography, and climate. My role as a grass farmer is to use the sheep as a tool to harvest the grass which is a result of photosynthesis and water and produce a saleable product in the form of meat and wool. Finally, in our case, we market the lamb meat at a price where we can make a reasonable profit. This is what sustainable farming entails on our farm.

Question: Do you have hired help? If so, who, how many, how much?
The Farmer Says: For the most part, we operate the sheep farm without hired help. Last summer I hired a twenty year old kid to rake a field of hay while I did the baling. I remember thinking that it was pure heaven. You’ve got to love 20 year olds. They can stay up partying all night and still be productive on a tractor the next day. It’s been a long time since I could do that.

Question: What breed(s) of sheep do you raise and why? If starting with a small flock, how many acres would be needed?
The Farmer Says: My flock is based on Romney sheep. Romneys are calm, reasonably productive and do well in a grass based operation. As I said in a previous question, you should easily be able to stock at 3 sheep per acre.

Question: Do you have any "milk" sheep - why or why not?
The Farmer Says: I don’t have any milk sheep. The idea of having to milk a flock of sheep twice a day gives me the hives. I would however consider introducing some milk sheep genetics into the flock toimprove the ewes milk production for their lambs. This can be a tricky proposition though. Too much milk sheep influence will give a poor lamb carcass. Too little milk sheep influence and you didn’t get the increased milk benefit that you were trying for.

Question:You said you started with Romneys; are all your sheep Romneys? Why this breed?
The Farmer Says: My flock is based on Romney sheep. Romneys are calm, reasonably productive and do well in a grass based operation. When we were beginning we had heard that they do well on New England hill farms.
Kristin Says: Our flock used to be only purebred Romneys but a few years into it, we learned that if we crossed our Romneys with other breeds the lambs would be hardier and have more will to live. Over the years we have experimented with different breeds by purchasing rams. Right now, we are using a Cheviot ram, a Border Leicester, a Shetland/Romney cross and a Romney ram. It is fun to see what the different babies look like and to watch how they do on our grass based pasture management system. This little guy who is so cute is probably mostly Romney. He does have brown ears and legs.


Question: I was wondering if you ever thought about making sheep's milk cheese. Too much trouble? No interest? wrong breed? I know little about sheep, but as I had always heard that they were not very friendly I wondered if sheep who were milked regularly become more easy to handle.
The Farmer Says: I don’t have any milk sheep. The idea of having to milk a flock of sheep twice a day gives me the hives. I would however consider introducing some milk sheep genetics into the flock toimprove the ewes milk production for their lambs. This can be a tricky proposition though. Too much milk sheep influence will give a poor lamb carcass. Too little milk sheep influence and you didn’t get the increased milk benefit that you were trying for.
Kristin Says: I just finished reading a great book called Goat Song. It is about a writer (Brad Kessler) and he and his wife's first year of goat farming and making cheese. I suggest it if you are interested in this kind of literature. A bit of it was a little too precious for me. Raising 4 goats as opposed to 200 plus sheep is a totally different thing.

We're not done yet - hope to be able to post some more of The Farmer's Answers tomorrow if time permits.

10 comments:

Virginia said...

These posts are so awesome! I hope that you make them a yearly (or thereabouts) tradition.

Lyn said...

The past posts have been really interesting, I love that last photo of the beautiful lamb.
Love
Lyn
xxx

Sara said...

Love these posts! Thank you for doing them! We have a goat farm locally. They have a huge operation and provide tours. It's pretty amazing to see. I'd like to visit a local sheep farm, but the closest I've found is in Indiana. We have several alpaca farms locally and the goat farm, but not sheep. So these posts have been very informative for me.

maureen said...

Love these posts - can't wait til it is up each day!!! Thanks so much for sharing you daily life with us - it is soooo interesting!!!

Julie said...

Thank you for the farming posts. My brother is a forester in Iowa and will be deployed to Afganistan this summer. He will be helping the local farmers there. He is excited to help, and willing to make the sacrifices to help.

Deborah said...

I'm enjoying the questions and answers! My father was a forester-turned-surveyor. I learned so much about the land from him.
The little lamb in the last photo is just adorable!

Carol said...

Just had your lamb chops last night! So delicious. I quickly pan fried them to get a coating then finished in a hot oven with garlic cloves & rosemary. Deglazed the pan with red wine and poured over the lamb. They were perfect in 15 min. Yum!

Leslie said...

I bet you never thought you'd be getting so many good questions!

And I think we all understand that the farmer doesn't want milk sheep - the very thought gives him hives! (giggle)

Missouri Gal Nicole said...

I need some sheep to play with! And so does my Corgi!

bruce weinstein said...

the sheep are very special. a farm where they are raised for wool instead if food is a very happy place indeed. as a chef and a knitter, i am often torn between the two and appreciate the animals for everything they give us. thank you for sharing it all kristin.