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Rams, pastures & fencing

Time is always such a hot commodity on a farm that I have a difficult time keeping this website up-to-date!

We had our vet come out a few weeks ago. She agreed with us about Link & Jacob’s legs. She said it looked to her like a defect from poor in utero nutrition or a genetic problem. Although they share one common great-grandsire, it is more likely to be nutritional. These are all things we had also independently surmised prior to speaking to the vet. No matter the reason, it is not only a reason to not breed them, but also a quality of life problem for them both. Emotionally difficult but straightforward decisions had to be made. We were never supposed to have to make this sort of decision about Link. We allowed ourselves to get pretty attached to him. More lessons learned. The hard-learned lessons are really piling up.

Enough about that. We found a ram! He is lovely, with gorgeous moorit spotted fleece! His personality is extremely friendly too! We hope his friendliness will win out over the less amicable natures of a few of the ewes. He is a purebred, registered Icelandic. We’ll be heading to Vermont in the next few weeks to bring him home! Of course, this means, despite the sadness the Finnsheep have brought us, we will be returning to our original vision of an all Icelandic flock.

With the new ram joining us soon, we are really trying to get our winter paddock ready. We’ve been busy putting in posts, driving to find more posts, planning, etc.

Rotational grazing is working beautifully! As a positive note from our vet visit, she checked FAMACHA scores (which helped me to know how accurate I was when I’d scored them) and reported that they were all very healthy! Yay!! She was pleased with all of our sheep and gave a thumbs up to our shepherding. That always helps so very much!

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The saga continues

Last week we took our beloved Zelda to her new farm. We traded her for an Icelandic ewe, named Skye. The farm and the farm owners are excellent. We couldn’t have hoped for a better place for Zelda or a better place from which to get a ewe. Still, it was heartbreaking to drive away from her! I learned a lesson with that experience. I think I allowed myself to consider Zelda a pet. There is no reason to not love and have affection for your farm animals but one must compartmentalize. To avoid such a difficult farewell in the future, I will try to do better with that. I consoled myself knowing we couldn’t keep Zelda because her brother would be our sire this year and we couldn’t risk an accidental breeding.

Fast forward to this week. Jacob, Parsley’s ram lamb, was falling behind the rest of the flock when running in and out to the pasture. He also was laying down to forage and had a bit of a limp. Eek. I wondered how this can be as I’m very diligent with their hooves. That evening I trimmed his hooves and thoroughly inspected them. They looked perfect. I stood him up and checked his legs over. It seemed his joints in his front legs were swollen and a little warm. Time for the vet. She is coming out on Monday. I’m pretty sure it is either arthritis or he is deformed, like his brother the vet had to put down hours after he was born. More pain from a breeding which shouldn’t have happened. Grrrrr. Their pedigree is a mess, with way too much inbreeding. Yes, another lesson we learned; always check the pedigrees. We were complacent with having only dealt with 2 excellent breeders before this one. At least Clover’s pedigree was wonderful! While inspecting Jacob, I decided to inspect Evie, his sister, as well. I didn’t see the same problems in her. She hasn’t thrived like everyone else and has her own problems, but her legs look ok. Then Link (Zelda’s brother, and our chosen sire for this year) came walking by. I noticed that with his recent increase in size, his front legs, which were slightly knock-kneed from the beginning were bending inward much more. Oh dear. I took a photo and sent it to our mentor. I asked her if this meant what I thought it did. The reply: yes, he isn’t breeding quality. Also, this will likely cause him considerable pain if we allow him to reach full size. Damn.

The vet will confirm or rebut all of our concerns on Monday. As of now, it seems we got one healthy ewe lamb out of all our effort since Feb with these Finnsheep. We’ve gotten a lot of joy too but man, what some heartache. And that is just taking us humans into consideration. Our poor Finnsheep have been through so much! This is what happens when someone cares more about mass producing animals than they care for the quality and welfare of their animals. When we brought Clover & Parsley home, then found out they were so unhealthy and near time to lamb,  we feared the worst, yet tried our best. We knew it might be a losing fight. At least Zelda is incredible and they were all worth our effort.

Now we’ll need to find a ram. We’re going back to our original plan. We never intended to raise anything except Icelandics, so that is what we are going to do. Our mentor is helping us locate a ram which meets our requirements. Expect a happier, healthier lambing season next year.

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I should update!

I finally faced the proverbial music and listed Clover, Jacob & Evie for sale. They are all so sweet that selling them is tough, as is putting a price on them! I wish others could know what we do about them. It is time to let them move on to their new farms though. We can’t keep them all, even if we’d like to do so. I can hardly believe how healthy Clover is now! I was sure she was a tough one and a fighter with all she faced in her body condition and hoof problems when we got her, on top of being very pregnant. I’ll admit, I thought for sure the cards were stacked against her. To anyone considering adding her to your flock, this ewe may have had some problems but she proved her worth in overcoming all of them WHILE lambing & nursing her twins. She managed to heal her hooves, produce decent sized lambs, nurse them so they grew very quickly, and recover much needed body condition points all at the same time.

Now she literally hops around, running with her lambs. Her presence is a joy. Her lambs are the absolute best. She and her babies convinced us, after years of dreaming of our Icelandic sheep farm, to keep her ram lamb as out sire. If the Icelandic/Finnsheep cross isn’t as incredible as she and her lambs, we’re switching to Finnsheep entirely after next season. Clover is that incredible. Please, someone who will value her, contact me about adding her to your farm, to breed or to retire as a fiber pet. 🙂

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The End of a Long Week

What a week! We had some of the best parts of being a sheep farmer, along with some of the worst.

All day Tuesday Parsley was off by herself, unable to lie down, and generally acting uncomfortable. We knew she was likely to lamb that evening. About the time we were going to have dinner, I could tell hard labor was about to begin. She had a slightly rougher L&D than Clover but it was still uncomplicated. Her first lamb was an 8.08lb ram lamb, second was a 6.06 lb ewe lamb, and third was a tiny ram lamb, just over 4 lbs. I began to become concerned about the last lamb within the first 30 minutes. He started to nurse finally so I went to bed.

First thing Wednesday morning I bundled up lamb #3 and made the one hour journey to our vet’s office (Dr. Z). There I was told what I already knew, the best thing for him was a humane end of life. Therefore, sweet, tiny lamb #3, who I called Buddy as I talked to him on our road trip together, became our first sheep loss. It was tough but I was prepared for it and haven’t questioned my decision for a moment. At least little Buddy spent his last hour listening to the Grateful Dead while snuggled up against me in my vehicle. Then at Dr. Z’s office, he got some love from Dr. Z’s dog before I said goodbye.

During this time, I was very concerned about Clover. I thought her hooves were not healing. Her front left one looked terrible and her right one, which I thought was healed, began bothering her again. She was back on her knees a lot and rarely put weight on both front legs at the same time. Also, having shorn her, I could see how thin she was. We thought for sure we were going to have to make a tough decision about her too. Since we’ve been closely caring for her for 5 weeks now and it would orphan her twins, this would be pretty hard on us. We made an appointment for Dr. Z to come re-evaluate her on Friday around noon.

Friday we also had to shuttle our youngest daughter (I’ll call her S on here) back and forth for dress rehearsal and 2 showings of her first play. Which, by the way, I managed to attend both showings. While she was getting ready to leave for dress rehearsal, the hens were making a lot of noise outside. Amelia, our “leader chicken” (if there is such a thing), hopped up on the deck railing right outside our kitchen windows and started making a fuss. I guess I was preoccupied and it didn’t register to me as something alarming.

Once S was off to dress rehearsal, I went to doing morning farm chores. When I was heading back up to the house from the barn, I saw one of our Easter Egger hens fly up from the path to the coop, hitting the roof of our house. She was making a great deal of noise as she went. I looked over and saw a red fox heading from her direction to the chicken coop. I ran after it yelling, which scared it off. I’ll make this long part shorter by saying, I thought we’d lost all but 3 chickens, then I found 2 more, then another one here and another there. I was up to 9 survivors but Amelia wasn’t one of them. :'(  It was nearly time for the vet to arrive when I heard a chicken. I ran out to find Amelia running around the driveway. Some of her feathers were askew but she was ok! I like to imagine her fighting off the fox. I’m sure that isn’t what happened but I still like to think it. 😀 I got her safely back in the coop. In the end, we lost 2 hens.

At that point, it was time to rearrange the sheep for the Dr. Z’s arrival. Once she got here, Dr. Z and her assistant took off Clover’s boot to examine things. Much to my surprise, she was amazed at the progress! This just goes to show how much it helps to know what you are looking at. We had no way of knowing how healing a severely infected hoof should go or what it should look like as it heals. We never planned to deal with this! Apparently it is supposed to look really, really nasty before it starts to look better. Good to know. Clover’s other hoof needed a little more healing too. The vet said it was just a reoccurrence which will happen over the next few months until it fully heals. Given her nice, dry environment now, it should heal nicely. The vet treated her hooves with some pads of medicine to dry them up and speed healing. We gave her a BoSe shot (Vitamin E & Selenium) to give her a little boost to heal up. Dr. Z then fully inspected Clover. She reported to me she was in good overall health! She had even recovered 1/2 a condition point* in the 5 weeks we’ve had her. According to her, that is a pretty awesome feat to get her to improve in late gestation and early lactation. Aside from that, Zelda & Link are in perfect condition. Dr. Z couldn’t believe how much weight they’d gained in just 3 weeks of life. That speaks volumes about Clover’s mothering. We received a lot of needed praise for our shepherding through some tough situations. Unless something changes, Clover is going to be just fine. That is something Dr. Z nor I thought 5 weeks ago!

I said goodbye to Dr. Z just in time to run, hop in my vehicle and get to S’s first showing. As I sat there, waiting for the show to begin, I realized my jacket smelled like sheep. lol Thankfully, no one sat around me. S hadn’t told me what the play was about, wanting it to be a surprise. I just knew it was a take on the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Turns out, their take was all about the shepherd, the sheep, sheep milk and weavers. There was a part where some bullies were picking on the shepherd and saying he smelled like sheep. Oh, the irony.

The other incredible thing to happen this week, aside from finding out Clover is going to be ok, is of course, the birth of 2 new lambs! Meet Evie & Jacob! Dr. Z checked them out and declared them perfectly formed and healthy!

Jacob:

 Evie:

* More info on sheep condition scores. Right click, “view image” to see the diagram larger. Dr. Z said Clover was 1.5 when we got her and is now a 2:

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A quick video to share…

I shot this video last week, when the lambs, Zelda and Link, were a day and a half old. I’d just opened up the lambing jug to let them out into the larger “mothering pen.” This was the first time Zelda met Parsley, our other pregnant Finnsheep ewe. The video starts with Zelda imitating her mom, by pawing at the hay and licking it.

https://youtu.be/CtAVL4j6ET0

Note: Clover, Zelda and Link’s mom has an ongoing hoof problem she had when we got her. We hope she finishes healing up soon!