Monday, April 25, 2011

Ask The Farmer 2011 - Day 1

We interrupt this month of Giveaways for some real content.... Thanks so much to all of you who sent questions about sheep farming to The Farmer. He spent a couple evenings scrawling out his answers and now it is my job to transpose it into something readable......  I didn't realize The Farmer had a "secretary" but I guess he does. If you had to wait for him to type it all, it might be next year for the answers!

I know that many of you who read this blog actually have agricultural lives but there are many more that reside far from any farm. Sharing our farming life has become the most rewarding and important part of this blog for my family and me. It's sometimes hard for me to determine exactly what to write about because I am in so deep and most of the things we do are part of a routine. This Q + A format works perfect. So here goes - Part 1 of 2011 Ask The Farmer.....

A new set of twin bottle lambs arriving in the kitchen
Natalie asked: I just have to it ever 'too late' or can a person learn to be a farmer? Lambs, llamas...does it take a lifetime to know about this? Must you be born to it? 
The Farmer answered: Some of the best farmers come from non-farm backgrounds. They tend to be more open minded about things and they are farming because they want to.
Kristin adds: Natalie - you should read the story about my Aunt Addie who purchased her first two lambs when she was in her 70's. Here's the link. If Addie can do it, so can you!

mlacouture asked:  Like Natalie I want to know is it too late?! For a 60-something grandmother to rescue a couple of (Shetland) sheep? What is the best way to fence them and to protect them from predators? I have two dogs but sometimes they're off-duty. I do have shelter for them. What about their hooves -- do they need attention? Can they live on grass only in the summer? What is their normal life-span (no lambing)?
The Farmer Answers: 60 sounds like a perfect age for rescuing a couple of Shetland sheep. For fencing you could put up a woven wire fence. I personally like electrified portable netting because you can move it around for pasture rotation. Ocassional trimming of hooves should be adequate for healthy feet. Sheep shearers often trim feet. Shetlands are a hardy breed and will do just fine on grass. In fact giving them grain would probably make them too fat. They should easily live to be 10 or 12. I recently sold some ewe lambs to a woman whose pet sheep Beatrice had just died at 22 years of age!

Kathy asked:  I'm curious about the black lambs, do they turn white or do they grow up to be the black sheeps of the family? 
The Farmer answered: Black lambs stay black. The sun bleaches them every year so they look brown and as they age, many of them turn grey, just like humans.

Anonymous asked: I know it is part of the cycle of life, but do the hand fed lambs still get sent to the market? Also, do you just sell the rams for market and keep the ewes? The mothers that die, do you shave the wool and bury the ewe?
The Farmer answers: Bottle fed ram lambs go to slaughter. Bottle fed ram lambs have no fear of people and can grow up to be quite dangerous. We usually keep the bottle fed ewe lambs for breeding ewe replacements. The mothers that die get dumped far out into the woods just as they are. No shaving or shearing. In a day, they are usually gone - eaten by the coyotes.

The Farmer with Olympia, a bottle lamb
Anonymous asked: In your blog you have mentioned that the sheep sometimes graze on other people's land. That's great, but how do you find people who want sheep to graze on their land, and what is the benefit to the landowner? 
The Farmer Answers: I rely heavily on using other people's land for grazing our sheep. As far as finding people who want sheep to graze their land, I have several landlords and they all have different reasons. I guess the common thread is that until the past 30-40 years raising livestock (mostly dairy cows) in this part of Massachusetts was just what you did. Most of the landowners or their parents were farmers before it became so difficult. The landowners either have the choice of letting their fields grow up into woodland or keeping it open and green. A field has to be mowed at least once of year to keep it a field. Our sheep actually keep the pastures clipped and neat and they organically fertilize the land at the same time. The landowners don't have to pay for someone to mow it. 
    I don't want to get too philosophical but there is something about seeing a field of sheep and a bunch of frolicking lambs on a green side hill pasture that makes Kristin and I and the landowners feel that all is well with at least this little part of the world.

Siri said: The questions I could ask... How I would have loved to have had the two of you standing by our sides during our own first lambing these past few weeks! I don't know how many times I thought to my self, WWKD? "What would Kristin do?!" Also, HOW ON EARTH DO THEY DO THIS WITH HUNDREDS OF LAMBS? Oy. We're just beginning to recover now a little from the exhaustion of only 4 ewes/6 lambs, the being on through-the-night watch for lambing and then feeding the one bottle lamb. My respect for you and your livelihood has grown ten fold in this past month!
Kristin answers: There was no question so I will babble on...... Siri - lambing gets easier every year but just know that even 30 years in, we are still learning. I think the most amazing part of raising sheep is that your natural instincts kick in and you learn so much about human nature, animal nature, life and death and yourself. Raising sheep has taught me so much about the cycle of life. I have become rather philosophical about life and death - both human and animal - and I feel more connected to the earth. 
     The other evening The Farmer and I were talking over the farming day at dinner. There was a lamb that wasn't doing good and we were discussing what we should do, and what kind of illness she might have. Sometimes there is just nothing you can do about a sick lamb and you have to let it go. Julia chimed in to the conversation and asked the most profound question of the week..... "Well Daddy, is it dead yet?" We looked at each other and both broke into smiles. "No, the lamb isn't dead yet." She then said, "Well then there is always hope." 
    And just when I think she isn't listening or observing any of what goes on around here and then she stuns us both with some great common sense.

This series will continue in a few days. If you have thought of a question and want to "Ask The Farmer", leave it in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Really informative post. My husband and I hope to get some lambs when we purchase more land. I'm glad to know it's never to late.

fracksmom said...

Wow so love the farmer's answers. glad you didn't find my questions too strange to answer. happy to know everything is just part of the circle of life.


Lu said...

I love your blog. I am a city girl with no farm skill but I see how this bringsbyou to a different connection with the natural life. I do not think your life is easy by any stretch but it sure seems rewarding for you and your family.

Caffeine Girl said...

I don't have a question at the moment, but I love this feature!

Norma from Misty Haven Alpacas said...

I enjoyed this interesting blog entry.

Cindy said...

Wonderful post! Please thank the farmer. My daughter and her husband only live on three acres but they raised a lamb this year and slaughtered it before Easter. I don't yet want to know too much about the killing but I admire them for their, shall we call it, guts? My daughter cut off and saved some of the best wool for me. Though short staple, it is lovely stuff.

D said...

This is a really great post, thank you for sharing your knowledge!

Laura said...

"Ask the Farmer" is a fun learning experience for me! I was at the Umass "farm day" a few weekends ago.(They have sheep, alpaca, llama etc) I mentioned the movie "Sweetgrass" to someone there. She was very happy to know about it and said she will make this a mandatory for her class to watch this film. I thought you'd like to know that.


Unknown said...

Awesome post, thanks to farmer and "all". I can only dream of country life, it is where I go when I sleep, to the farm. That didn't sound right but you know what I mean! :) Those little lambbabies are the sweetest things EVER!

Loretta said...

Kristin, I just love this feature with your blog. I also love the photo of Olympia with the farmer as well. You really should think of putting together a calendar of all the lamb/sheep/Farmer photos. I would be first in line to buy it and I think others would too!!

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