Monday, May 02, 2011

Ask The Farmer 2011 Part 2

Here is the conclusion to this year's Ask The Farmer. Thanks to all who sent questions. You guys are great! I hope we have opened your eyes to just some of the things that makes a sheep farm chug along. 
Checking on the sheep on the hill
 Michelle asked: My question for the farmer is about raising replacement ewe lambs. I am having a hard time finding information about what type of nutrition they should be getting and for how long. Obviously with ram lambs I have an end point to shoot for but I am confused about the girls. How long should I keep them on grain etc to keep them growing nicely to be the future of my flock. 
The Farmer Answers: Ewe lamb replacements should do just fine on good quality hay and a little grain. Once your pasture starts to grow, good leafy grass should be adequate. You could feed a little grain but don't overfeed. If you have the luxury, it would be great to graze the lambs on pasture that hasn't had sheep on it in the last 12 months. If you are like the rest of us, and don't have this luxury, you will probably have to worm them occasionally.   

Kristi asked:  Up until now, my 2 sheep and 2 goats are pets, but I am interested in a small flock of BFL crosses. I am in MD and wanted your opinion on BFL/Cormo crosses as dual purpose. Small meaning starting with about 3-4. 
The Farmer Answers: I don't feel qualified to offer an opinion on BFL/cormo crosses. 
Kristin says: That's My Farmer... no BS. I would start at the upcoming Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival - ask lots of questions and meet people there!

MN Bird (aka Robin) asked:  I am curious about - - What is an example of a really good day as a sheep farmer and what is an example of a really hard day?
The Farmer Answers: Really good days tend to involve successful births and sunshine. Really bad days tend to involve death and seemingly endless days of cloudiness, snow, or rain. 

Shell asked: ~ Dear Farmer: Once upon a time, I would love to have a small farm. If I were to have several alpacas, maybe four and a few goats,two, how many sheep would also be practical ? (sounds a little like a silly grade school math problem ! If they had been worded like that I would have done WELL in math !) Anyway, would they all get along pretty well in a field together ? goats too ? thank you, Shell ~
The Farmer Answers: Your small farm with the alpacas, goats and sheep should work just fine. Multi-species grazing works great. I would go with at least two sheep. You might want to consider a few chickens as well.

Loading lambs to move to their winter quarters
Jenny asked: Do you shear before lambing? (It doesn't appear so, since you lamb early...brrrrr!) Do you think feeding grain makes the fiber coarser? What's your worming schedule? 
The Farmer Answers: We don't shear before lambing. However, I think it is a good practice to do so. 
Grain Feeding probably produces a larger diameter fiber. The only time that I can think of where this would be of any significance would be in Australian Merinos. This superfine fiber dictates a somewhat low plain of nutrition. 
My worming schedule for mature ewes is to worm as little as possible. Lambs are far more susceptible to poor growth or death due to parasites because they haven't developed any resistance. I usually start worming in mid to late June and worm about four times until cold weather. Some people worm more often and I used to as well. But over reliance on worming medicine has created super worms that are resistant to the medicines. Resistance is a huge problem in both animal and human medicine. 

Anonymous asked: How much hay do you have to "put up" for the winter for your flock? Do you have enough hay from just one field? And the burning question I have is.... how does the hay get so nicely packaged like a giant marshmallow?
The Farmer Answers: I put up around 400 round bales of hay for winter feed. After baling, we wrap the hay with a machine that spins the bale around and covers it with a thin layer of plastic. This eventually acts like a mason jar and allows the high moisture hay to pickle or preserve.
Kristin Adds: Lots of expensive equipment that breaks down just when you really need it!

Nessie with the new lambs after weaning
Julia asked: I know that sheep and llamas are instinctively wary of dogs, but I've also see photos of guard dogs being fairly affectionate towards lambs (at least I think that's what I am seeing!) and it didn't look as if the lamb was in a state of terror. Are lambs born with a natural fear of canines, or do they learn it? What sort of dynamic have your observed?
The Farmer Answers: Guard dogs are introduced to sheep as pups. They essentially think they are a sheep. This may be a little oversimplified but there is definitely a strong bond between the sheep and the dog. 
Kristin Adds: We don't have any guard dogs but we do have two Border Collies. We would be nowhere without our collies. They are the only way we can move more than three hundred sheep around. When lambs are born, they do not know that they are supposed to move when they see the collies. After a few weeks on the fields with the dogs pushing them around, they learn to flock together when they see the collie enter the field. It is just one of those special things about farming sheep.

Charlotte asked: Do you breed for twins or are they a natural occurring outcome? Are some breeds of sheep more likely to produce twins? 
The Farmer Answers: Twinning in sheep is a combination of genetics and environment. If the ewe is on a fairly high plane of nutrition at breeding, she will tend to shed two eggs to be fertilized. Some breeds are naturally more prolific. Finnish Landrace (Finnsheep) and Romanovs can often have triplets or quads. I think the record is seven lambs! 

The Farmer with a Healthy Set of Triplets
Anonymous asked: Do you sell your meat to local restaurants or stores or just Farmer's Markets? How long is the turnover time form having a lamb born to the meat being packaged for sale? Being a supermarket shopper, my meat is always on the shelf and I've not really thought about how long it took to get there!
The Farmer Answers: We occassionally sell meat to a couple of local restaurants and the local food coop. The first lambs are ready at about five months. Most of my pasture raised lambs take considerably longer (7 to 9 months) to reach slaughter weight (about 100 pounds). 

Anonymous asked: Would The Farmer ever consider doing day (or two) on a farm tours? Where someone came to learn about raising sheep by doing for a little while. Not so much a breaking up of your lives, but a mentoring kind of thing where people learned by helping out and any class fees would go back into the farm itself.
The Farmer Answers: Kristin does knitting classes here at the farm. I participate by doing a farm tour for the students and eat meals with everyone and answer questions. I'm not much of a talker and prefer to work on my own. We did have a couple of interns during lambing this winter who helped a few times a week with our lambing chores which was very helpful.

Robin asked: Do lambs really forget all about their mamas after they've been separated? Do mamas forget about their lambs? I assume they eventually begin to graze together, so do they recognize each other and hang out together in the fields?
The Farmer Answers: Lambs forget who their mamas are and mamas forget who their lambs are in a few days. They don't get the chance to see each other until shearing and by then all rememberances of smells and voice have been forgotten.


bookagent said...

While I am a city girl and can never think of good questions I just love these Ask The Farmer posts. Thanks so much!

fracksmom said...

thank you for your awesome education of us city girls

Francie said...

I really enjoy your blog and learning about knitting and farm life. I have especially enjoyed the "Ask the Farmer" posts.

Thanks for sharing!

Jenny said...

I love the Farmer's insight...thanks soooo much for taking the time to share!