Sunday, October 24, 2010

gibson, lie down.

There's a quart jar in the fridge. It's packed tight with chicken stock and all the meat that melted off the bones while it cooked down in the pot. Today for lunch Taylor and I feasted on one of my spring chickens, a little four-pounder I raised right here on the farm and harvested in May. Following the advice of The River Cottage Meat Book, I gave it a thirty-minute 400 degree sizzle and then let it roast at a comfortable 350 degrees while we took care of work outside. We dispatched one of the big boys to take the place of the one we had removed from the freezer. I kid you not this chicken weighed in at fifteen pounds, possibly more. He is almost as big as my family's Thanksgiving Turkey. So I would just like to refute the rumors that all Cornish Rock's hearts explode or legs collapse at 15 weeks of age. All my meat birds who are still alive are pretty much Emus, and happy as clams.

Well, until I eat them.

The roasted chicken turned out to be perfect. We ate in celebration of a weekend spent working to get this farm a little closer to its goals. Gibson had a good herding lesson, and while still a pup out there in his training pens—he is starting to let the instinct shine through. I can see it in his eyes, in how he puts down his head and walks fast by keeping his back level and low to the ground and reaching as far as he can with each long arm to move around the sheep. When he gets tired I say "Lie Down" and hope he does. He doesn't. But he does stop, which is a start, so to speak. In that photo I walked up to him and set him into a lie down before walking back to the other side of the sheep to talk with Denise about lambing questions. He was too tired at this point to get up, but too interested in the sheep to stop watching them.

We kept busy this weekend. The sheep shed got a coat of paint, and picked up 15 bales of new hay. I unloaded 350-pounds of various feed and stored it for winter. This puts me at about 25 bales. I plan on 35-45 to get eight sheep through to spring. I have been warned so many times not to overfeed the bred ewes or every one of those lambs will be huge and need help being born. So I am following the breeder's advice to the letter. To. The. Letter. How much to feed, how often, and what to buy. I was told the ewes were experienced and my plan was okay. I worry all the time something will go wrong. Everyone tells me that first lambing season is the hardest. There are sheep care books in every room of the house. I don' expect things to go perfect. But I hope with the help of books, mentors, other shepherds and common sense: there's more sheep here in the spring than in the winter. The ram lambs will go to other farms or the freezer. The ewes lambs will stay.

Good news though: thanks to the great success of the CAF CSA: I was able to get most of my lambing supplies. Soon a box with everything from ear tags to elastic tail-docking bands will be in my closet, hibernating till late April when the first little Scotts will drop.

I'm going to head downstairs and eat some leftover potato cheese soup, watch Sweetgrass, and call it a night. No one has to tell me to lie down. When I get the chance, I savor it.

26 Comments:

OpenID Tami said...

Those sheep look a little short coated for this time of year don't they? I thought they were shorn in the spring and were pretty thick fleaced by this time.

October 24, 2010 at 6:25 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

They're Katahdin lambs. Probably around 5-8 months old. Hair sheep don't grow wool like that. They get a thicker matt of hair and it sheds off in the summer.

October 24, 2010 at 6:42 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

Wow! Give that dog a treat! He is learning fast.

October 24, 2010 at 7:34 PM  
Blogger Future Farmer said...

I just found your blog, and it's wonderful. I read your piece on Barnheart, and it really stuck with me.
Take a look at my blog, if you get a chance.
http://joyoffarming.blogspot.com/

Future Farmer.

October 24, 2010 at 8:23 PM  
OpenID breezyink said...

I can't wait for lambs!

October 24, 2010 at 8:50 PM  
Blogger E said...

How many ewes are you getting? Will you have a jug for each ewe & lambs?

It's important to be able to keep each ewe & her lambs separate from the rest of the flock for a few days to make sure all are ok. Its also so much easier to deal with any problems in a limited space.

October 25, 2010 at 1:22 AM  
Blogger Patsy said...

Good boy Gibson. He is a fine lookin' dog.

October 25, 2010 at 4:32 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Five ewes, and I am aware about jugs of course.

October 25, 2010 at 5:15 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

I don't know how to train a dog to herd however I have trained dogs for search and rescue. I have always taught the behavior such as down by itself and when it was solid brought it into the real world picture. I was taught by a great trainer that you never give a young dog a command you can enforce because you don't want them to learn there are options. It seems to me that telling Gibson to lie down when he is away from you allows him the opportunity to chose not to do as told. I know mature herding dogs do ignore a command because of the circumstance they are facing that the shepherd might not see. How early in their lives is the idea of a choice integrated?

October 25, 2010 at 7:49 AM  
Blogger Crystal said...

I am so excited for you Jenna! It is just amazing and wonderful to experience your farm though your words. It makes a gal think maybe she's not so far fetched.

If all works out we'll be getting Gulf Coast lambs in August.

October 25, 2010 at 7:50 AM  
Blogger Jennifer King said...

Hi Jenna, I'm wondering if you would share with me any information, or favorite source of information, on feeding sheep? I have 7 sheep and this will be our first winter together. According to the book I'm following the closest, I've calculated a much larger amount of hay for my 7 than you did for your 5. Like you, I don't want to make a mistake on their behalf and want them happy and healthy. If you have a favorite sheep book or website I'd love to hear about it. Thanks, Jen

October 25, 2010 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Gibson already knows lie down, here, and other pre-herding commands. Most of that goes out the window when he's on sheep the first three times.

October 25, 2010 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger Marcia said...

Loved the film Sweetgrass - beautiful Montana country

October 25, 2010 at 8:46 AM  
Blogger treehuggers kitchen said...

So jealous of your contented weekend. You are a lucky girl, Jenna. :)

October 25, 2010 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

sounds like you're ready to go! how exciting.

don't forget to add a trustworthy livestock vet with extensive experience in lambing to your list of helpful resources. a good vet is invaluable.

October 25, 2010 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Birthing will go more easily than you think. Breathe deeply - you'll do great!

October 25, 2010 at 11:44 AM  
Blogger Chai Chai said...

Jenna, Are you using round bales or square? I have 8 sheep and and planning on using a lot more hay than you are - using square bales. We live in Northern MN so have a bit longer winter than Northern NY.

October 25, 2010 at 6:55 PM  
OpenID Sarahrachel said...

I grew up with a border collie named Lyn. My father was born at home on a sheep farm in rural Alabama in the late 1940s. We visited a sheep trial in Anniston, Alabama when I was about 9 and brought Lyn home with us. She LIVED to work. Dad trained her to come by, walk up, by me and proudly wore a dog whistle around his neck with a leather lanyard. Lyn worshipped Dad--but then again, we all did.

When he died in 2003, Lyn paced restlessly through the empty house, searching for him. She spent hours in our bathtub, mourning and grieving. She passed away a few years ago, a shadow of the dog she once was.

I had a dream two weeks ago that I came across a field in rural Alabama. My dad was throwing a tennis ball, and Lyn was running to catch it, fearless, free. I stood there and watched the two play-- a man, his dog--and then walked on through a thicket. I'm not sure what heaven looks like, but I hope, for my father's sake and for Lyn's, that it's something similar.

October 25, 2010 at 7:36 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Chai Chai: I will only have eight sheep for four months of no grass, and the other four only eat two flakes a day (that's all four) but that's because I use really high quality second-cut bales that are bright green and full of nutrients. My sheep score around 4 (overweight) from it!

I am more worried that 35 bales is too much!

but I am lucky that I can run up the road and get more all winter if need be.

October 25, 2010 at 7:57 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Sarah R, that was beautiful.

October 25, 2010 at 7:58 PM  
Blogger Chai Chai said...

Jenna, I am new to sheep this year and am afraid of not having enough hay to make it through the year. You seem very confident in what you have, I'm not sure what a "flake" is.

I found this article to be quite helpful.

http://priscilla.saltmarshranch.com/2007/02/15/got-hay/#comments

Chai Chai

October 25, 2010 at 8:08 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Chai, a "flake" is what naturally flakes off the bale when you untie it. You'll notice it flop into sections, about 4-8 inches thick, like a stack of books tied together and let go into seperate volumes. I feed two of these (about a 1/6th a bale) a day to four hoofstock.

If you are really worried, find a shepherd with a simliar sized flock in your area and ask what they put aside. I have a feeling your winter is longer and with more animals. But the warmer they are, the less they need (within reason) and the easier this will be on you.

October 25, 2010 at 8:11 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

and congrats on the flock!

October 25, 2010 at 8:11 PM  
Blogger Chai Chai said...

Jenna, Thanks to you I have now improved my farming vocabulary!

btw Sararachel's comment post brought tears to my eyes - just wonderful.

October 25, 2010 at 8:17 PM  
Blogger Wiste said...

My envy grows with every posting. I'm so thankful to share in your adventure. I have a question for you, though. If these are fiber lambs, why get rid of the bucks instead of just turning them in to more wethers? They all make fiber, right?

October 26, 2010 at 1:43 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Good question!

Right now it comes down to what the farm can support over the winter. I think I'll max out right now with the pasture I have at 10-12 sheep. Keeping all the boys as wethers would be more wool, but I'd need more land over summer and feed over winter. I am opting to enjoy them as lambchops and burgers instead, and share them with my friends and community here.

October 26, 2010 at 8:11 AM  

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