Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sheep Chores at Leyden Glen Farm

Every two weeks, on Mondays, The Farmer takes lambs to the slaughterhouse in Athol for our local meat business Leyden Glen Lamb. Sometimes he catches the lambs by himself and sometimes they are in a pasture far away from the house where it is really difficult to load them into the borrowed trailer. A couple weeks ago, it was a rainy weekend with heavy mist falling all day Sunday. He wasn't feeling very energetic. The sheep were very far away - in the middle of our neighbor's field. Julia and I were called in to assist. The Farmer had built a temporary pen of hog panels way out in the field. Julia and I walked gingerly through the pasture, trying to miss the burdock, and hoping not to slip and fall into sheep manure.

The dogs and The Farmer had already herded all of the sheep into the pen..... except for one - "The Jumper" - who had of course already jumped the four foot fence.

The pen was full of over 200 sheep. From amongst this group, we had to quickly decide which lambs we were going to "ship" to the slaughterhouse. It goes kind of like this....

The Farmer: So, what do you think?
Kristin: That one, right over there... it looks pretty big.
The Farmer: No, it's a ewe lamb.
Kristin: Okay, how bout that one, right next to the brown and white spotted sheep.
The Farmer: Okay, I'll try.

And then he does his best to catch the lamb that we think is the biggest and ready for processing into meat for our lamb business. Most of our ewe lambs have had their tails docked (removed). It makes it easier to distinguish the ewe lambs from the ram lambs. We keep most of the ewe lambs for replacement breeding stock.

He puts the nylon braided halter onto the lamb and then gently moves it towards me. I open the gate carefully, just wide enough to let The Farmer and the lamb out and taking care not to let anyone else escape. The sheep is loaded into the trailer and we shut the door.

We repeat the process 6 or 7 more times, depending on how many lambs are at finished weight. We don't have a livestock scale and it is something we are hoping to buy next year if we can find the money. Knowing the weight of the live animal would make it easier to determine the finished weight of the lamb carcass. But for now, we use our eyes and intuition.

Julia is used to all our sheep chores now and doesn't mind standing around or helping if she is able. The other day, she just watched in the rain. While we were standing there, me working the gate and Julia watching and offering moral support, who do you think appeared?

You're right? That's Cora. She had worked her way over to Julia. It really was quite amazing. Cora has been wild amongst all the ewes since last spring, grazing all the time. But she hasn't forgotten Julia evidently. She stood next to her the entire time we were there. Julia talked to her and I just watched amazed. Cora's lamb Jackson was one of the first lambs to go into our meat business last summer. He was huge - no surprise since she is such a good mom. Maybe this coming year, Cora will have a ewe lamb that we will keep. I'll hope so. It would be nice to have offspring from her - kind and gentle and easy-going.

After we loaded all the lambs, it was time to get the flock back to the pasture that they would graze for the next couple days. We had to be extra careful not to let anyone escape - considering how wet we were and how bad we wanted to get back to our cosy house. Eeyore was waiting for his pals.

Down they walked towards Julia and me. We were standing guard at a gap in the fence, flapping our arms so the sheep would not escape. If they did, it would an extra hour to our chore and none of us wanted to do that!

They kept coming, all 200 plus of them.

Just below where we were standing, there was a deep gulley caused by erosion. The sheep were spooked and none of them wanted to go down into the gulley.

Finally, there was such a huge pile-up of animals that they had no choice but to climb down and up the other side.

The flock kept on coming - going down the gulley and quickly up the other side.

And then they were all through and Julia and I pulled up the rear, bringing the fence with us. We enclosed them in the electronet and let them graze quietly for the night.

Monday morning early, The Farmer drove the trailer over to Athol and unloaded the lambs at Adams Farm. In about 10 days, we will pick the meat up and bring it back to our freezers, ready to sell to our customers. This is just one of the many chores we do to produce the meat we sell at our lamb shack, at farmer's markets, and to local restaurants. And you were there!


Mary said...

Very interesting! Do you get your lamb back in wholesale or retail cuts?

Shell said...

~A wonderful Good Morning post~

I enjoy reading about the real workings of a farm - wish I were closer for buying lamb.
How dear Julia is to Cora, animals feel straight to the heart. The photos are wonderful. I worked on the former Helen & Scott Nearing Farm in Harborside, Maine, years ago, gardening & making flower wreaths. The ocean was beautiful.
At the moment I have a "herd of one" a plump cat who I'm dressing up as a sheep for halloween.
Perhaps in the future, I'll have a few wooly animals.
~soon I'll order your new book & can't wait to share it with my knitting students~

Sara said...

What a great blog post! I remember lamb meat from my 4-H days. My husband and I will someday have a farm and I've talked to him extensively about raising sheep. He isn't too keen on the idea.

mascanlon said...

Your life is so very different than mine, I go off to work in an office and am on the phone and computer all day. But like you I find satisfaction in a job well done and then hurry off to my passion, fabric and yarn! Thank you for reminding how hard the American farmer works to make ends meet these days. I'd buy lamb if you shipped!

Myriam said...

Ces moutons! J'adore!

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