Monday, January 7, 2013

The Lamb Plan: 2013

Atlas the ram—who was raised here last year and then bartered to Brett in exchange for help building a pole barn—is outside right now with the flock. He'll stay here two months and in that time he should have performed all the duties a ram should. This means lambs on the ground in late May or early June. The reason for the later lambing is two fold:

1. To make sure there is plenty of grass available for the flock.
2. To make it easier on me, the shepherd.

A later lambing date means the sheep I currently have can be rotationally grazed on the current pasture that exists, as well as help clear land for new pasture in the woods. Since I do not have any specific market dates to meet, I can raise the sheep when I please. It'll be a lot easier on me and the mothers when the days are longer and the weather is comfortable. I know I'd rather give birth on green grass in a light wool sweater than in an ice storm in a full parka. So late spring lambing it is for 2013!

The downside is that means by the time the lambs are eating a diet of mostly grass we'll be well into fall. So it will cost more to feed and fatten them through the winter on hay, minerals, and grain. It's a trade off. I do hope by autumn to just have a handful of sturdy lambs, and to have sold or traded most of the others just after weaning. I find sheep to be worth many times their weight in firewood, lumber, farm services, chimney sweeping, etc. It's a prime currency in these parts. So I want to raise more than my seven ewes can offer...

So here's where it gets interesting! My lambs here are not the only sheep in the plan. In a few weeks I will drive Atlas a mile a half down the road to Bedlam Farm. He'll breed that flock, too. I approached Jon and Maria with the idea a week ago. I asked him if I could bring a ram to his flock and buy back the lambs from him when he wanted them off the grass. I would take care of the lambing work, giving the new babes their shots and take care of tail docking, and then I could buy them back them to sell, barter, or put in the freezer. His wife Maria has five ewes, all beautiful wool sheep. They'll throw a nice group of lambs. I think we have a few things to work out as far as responsibilities go on each our parts but I am fairly sure this will happen. I hope it does.

So the sheep plan this year expands! I will be lambing on two farms and raising a serious crop of meat futures. I may offer lambs and half-lambs as barter. Right now I need to see how the breeding/transport goes and get ready for one intense year of sheep. And before Lamb 1 even hits the grass I have two pregnant goats to get through kidding and back into a milking routine. This sheep stuff is easy, but being a goat midwife and lactation coach has be a bit rattled. More on them tomorrow!

This is going to be quite the summer...

CSA members (years 2 and 3):There were complications with the wool this year, a disaster really. It never got to the mill due to a mistake on my behalf. It meant a long, long wait for CSA members. So I have decided to shear the sheep this spring as usual and then mail the last two years of wool in one lump sum to be processed into yarn and felt. I will then mail out all of the shareholders their wool this summer and that will end the wool CSA experiment at Cold Antler. It costs too much to keep going, and while it is great to offer shares and make a few hundred dollars in one day, it ends up costing me around $250 a share to create and mail the wool, well over the cost I sell it for. It's just not sustainable on this scale. I will keep making and selling wool yarn at workshops, but not in this CSA fashion, simply because the wait for return is so long and folks get upset about that. It's poor customer service at this juncture and if the farm expands perhaps it will come back again some day. If you are a year 2 CSA member and you do not want to wait for the wool and want your money back, please email me. All members will either get wool or a refund if they do not want to wait.


Blogger PansWife said...

I hope people will support you by buying your northeast lamb, the lamb industry out west is behind the legalizing of wolf kills this past autumn. Hundreds of wolves were killed in the name of keeping lambs safe, although the evidence that wolves were a problem is slight at best. Our other lamb source is New Zealand and Australia, and it seems silly to waste all that transport fuel when we have excellent small scale producers in our own part of the world. Too bad you can't get a bank to literally accept mutton as a mortgage payment, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

January 7, 2013 at 8:52 AM  
Blogger Meagan said...

Every time I see those sheep, I covet that long wool on your blackfaces! Atlas is glorious. I'm a felter, and I work in the grease with long wool breeds. Do you imagine you'll ever sell whole raw fleeces- not CSA, of course?

January 7, 2013 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger Matt_Middleton said...

Thanks for the update on the CSA - as far as I'm concerned, it arrives when it does :)

January 7, 2013 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger kwdiving said...

We live and learn. Sorry to hear the CSA isn't working out the way you envisioned.

January 7, 2013 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger Melanie J. said...

Kudos for the well-worded CSA info. I wasn't a member, but I applaud the way you handled that.

January 7, 2013 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger chesapeake said...

In my opinion, you'd be better off... just kidding!

Sounds great to me! As a knitter, I just love seeing photos of your sheep. And I agree with what Melanie J. said above. Handled with class!

January 7, 2013 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger seagrrlz said...

A mutton (or lamb) mortgage! What a great idea.

January 7, 2013 at 11:29 AM  
Blogger JoAnne Schnyder said...

Sounds like you are going to be very busy. Good luck!

January 7, 2013 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger E said...

Why do you dock the lambs tails?

January 7, 2013 at 11:51 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

That's a good question, E!

Tails are docked because those long woolly tails get covered in waste - if a sheep gets the runs, or it slowly gathers feces on the wool it becomes a target for flies. The same flies that create "flystrike" which is when eggs are laid in the fly- eaten flesh of the lambs or young sheep. So it's for sanitation.

January 7, 2013 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Always feel free to ask questions!

January 7, 2013 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

thanks for the CSA update! I'm sorry to hear that the price/cost balance didn't work out so well.... It'll be a happy day when I get to knit up some of Maude and her homies.

January 7, 2013 at 12:44 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

thanks for the CSA update! I'm sorry to hear that the price/cost balance didn't work out so well.... It'll be a happy day when I get to knit up some of Maude and her homies.

January 7, 2013 at 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know my husband would love to have some lamb in the freezer. Put us on the list.

January 7, 2013 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

Atlas looks wonderful! Bet he will have a great two months. I am looking forward to my CAF goats and then later in the summer my CAF lambs:)
And I am glad you are the one docking tails!

January 7, 2013 at 1:05 PM  
Blogger Eileen Hileman said...

Jenna have you read "More Sheep, More Grass, More Money" by Peter Schroedter? I just finished it. Great book. I think I got it through either Mother Earth or Storey.

January 7, 2013 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I would love to read that book, this is the first I heard of it! thanks!

January 7, 2013 at 2:13 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Does anyone have any other good grass fed meat books they suggest? Has anyone read a benign extravagance?

January 7, 2013 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Holly you'll love 'em!

January 7, 2013 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

And that isn't Atlas! that's one of the ewes, but I can go get a photo of him today or soon!

January 7, 2013 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Jenny said...

If you aren't doing the CSA anymore would you consider just selling the fiber? I mean so spinners and knitters can buy whatever amount they would want? I'm probably not wording this right...

January 7, 2013 at 3:04 PM  
Blogger Eileen Hileman said...

Jenna - I know you aren't doing the CSA thing anymore but I'd buy roving from you if you have it available. I will be so glad when this darn move is over and I'm closer - nothing more frustrating than the waiting. Until then, I would pay the postage if you decide to do it.


January 7, 2013 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger Framing Fowl said...

For grassfed books, I recommend Tender Grass Fed Meat by Stanley Fishman. It's not about raising the meat which is probably what you were asking about, but it is about how to cook it properly.

Great stuff! There's a huge difference between cooking grassfed and grocery meat.

January 7, 2013 at 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As one of your original year and subsequet subscribers,I'm sorry to hear the fibre csa didn't work out - I will miss the mailings of goodies from you. Are you going to offer the yarn from time to time for people who cannot travel the distance to your workshops - I would be sorry to no longer have the opportunity to acquire some of your animals' output. Good luck with the expanded meat lamb production.

January 7, 2013 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Eileen Hileman said...

Jenna, I know your budget's tight. I'll be glad to loan you the "More Sheep, More Grass, More Money" book if you like. Just email me and let me know.


January 7, 2013 at 5:37 PM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

Hi, Jenna! I would also be interested in buying a fleece, if you ever decide to sell them. I'm a novice spinner. I love to knit with un-dyed wool from sheep whose names I know. I have a Mimi scarf and will soon start a George sweater. By the way, have you read the book "Sheepish?" It's about two women and a sheep farm in Minnesota. True and funny.
Best wishes,

January 7, 2013 at 6:21 PM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

Hi, Jenna! I would also be interested in buying a fleece, if you ever decide to sell them. I'm a novice spinner. I love to knit with un-dyed wool from sheep whose names I know. I have a Mimi scarf and will soon start a George sweater. By the way, have you read the book "Sheepish?" It's about two women and a sheep farm in Minnesota. True and funny.
Best wishes,

January 7, 2013 at 6:21 PM  
Blogger MollyKnits said...

Thanks for the CSA update. So long as you keep me posted, I am fine with waiting.

January 7, 2013 at 6:50 PM  
Blogger English sheep gal said...

I'm excited to read of the plans for your expanded flock. My neighbors Shetlands will be lambing in late April.

My favorite sheep book is one I brought with me from England, by Tim Tyne who writes many sheep articles for the UK Smallholder magazines, and runs on farm courses on all aspects of raising sheep. (I think a Smallholder would be referred to as a Hobby Farmer here?) The book is called 'The Sheep Book for Smallholders' and has great step by step photo guides throughout. A really good chapter on land management, fencing, grazing requirements, sheepdog training. Although it's based on his life farming in Wales, and some info such as rules and regulations for moving sheep may not be relevant for the USA - info such as handling systems, hoof maintenance, lambing, shearing, slaughter and butchery, wool processing etc could be helpful.

Another great book is 'Beautiful Sheep' no grass fed specifics in there - but it's a book of fantastic portraits of champion sheep breeds, brief history of the breed, weights, origin etc.

I know you love Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, of 'River Cottage' - the most famous English farmer/cook - and have previously mentioned his 'meat' book for recipes etc. Some of his earlier books (when he moved into the original River Cottage to try to live a sustainable lifestyle)detail his first attempts at raising animals, grazing, fencing etc. I only wish they would reproduce his brilliant DVD's in a USA format, we got a multiregion player so luckily we can still watch our PAL format River Cottage box set. I'm sure you can watch it on the internet somewhere though.

I'm sure if you get a good list of book recommendations from comments, that you read, and want to share details of, many of us would also want to read them, and would prefer to support Battenkill Books than Amazon. Could this be a chance for a new promotion at Battenkill Books for CAF?

January 7, 2013 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger E said...

Do you have local knowledge about fly strike and docking?
Have you considered tail length?

How useable is Scottish Blackface wool for hand spinning and knitting? Most info says it's a carpet wool.

January 8, 2013 at 3:29 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

E - I am aware of local docking lengths. My sheep keep about 1/3 of the tail. I was taught to leave enough to cover their swimsuit places. But the extra is rubber banded at 24-hours old. It has worked well for me so far.

January 8, 2013 at 6:52 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

And it is rubbish for hand-spining! you need to blend it, or use it for felting or weaving instead. It is the wool of the original kilts and tartans.

But these will be eatin' lambs. Not wool lambs. The CSA members do not get wool yarn from the blackface, they get felt from them.

January 8, 2013 at 6:55 AM  
Blogger Dahlia ChanTang said...

Don't mind the wait at all, just looking forward to knitting that wool! Too bad the CSA wasn,t a good deal for you.

January 8, 2013 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger Fernleaf said...

Is it silly that one of my repressed dreams is to drive cross-country with a stock trailer and get blackface lambs from CAF?

January 10, 2013 at 1:04 AM  

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