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This summer has been busy, rotating two groups of sheep through grass, taking advantage of the long daylight hours to get things repaired and improved, and taking a few breaks to go camping.

Sheep have been selling like hotcakes. I’ve had buyers clamoring to make deposits on seed stock before I could even get all my “for sale” decisions made and posted on my website. I just started “officially” advertising on craigslist last week, but already, half my sheep are sold! Butcher lambs are in the same boat: I anticipate them all being sold by the end of the summer.

I always get a range of buyers with different goals, which makes it great for selling sheep, as there is something for everyone. Some buyers have money to spend, and want top-dollar sheep, the cream of the crop. Other people just want to breed a few ewes to have lamb for themselves and a couple to sell, and they often ask for “the cheapest” ones. I also have quite a few pet buyers, who never intend to breed their sheep, and are happy with the “runt of the litter” types of lambs- bottle lambs, slow growers, etc. Everything else lands on the butcher lamb list.

I’m going to try to bump up to sixty ewes this winter, to try to produce more to meet the demand. I’ve been checking around with the few people left in our region who are in the SFCP, from whom I can buy. I tell ya, some breeders make it hard to buy from. Belated callbacks and/or email responses, disorganized records, or inability to send records and photos, makes it hard to be able to choose sheep, or rely on an arrangement to buy them. I’m not a big fan of just arriving to pick from a pen full of sheep; but it’s hard to find anyone who can just provide all the important data up-front to make selection easy!

I am really pleased with my progress in improving my flock genetics using National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) data. I don’t think there is any way I could have made such fast gains by just picking sheep based on visual appraisal, or trying to sort through hundreds of data points in past records. (And, in fact, there is plenty of scientific evidence to back this up.)

The things I’ve been focusing on the most are lamb growth and maternal milk (maternal weaning weight, or MWWT). My growth numbers are starting to chase the system average, which is pretty cool, because a lot of people in the system feed grain to their lambs in the first 120 days, and I don’t.

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A friend of mine recruited me to run for a board position in the Katahdin registry. Her wish was that the board remain balanced between the people who mostly breed sheep with the goal of winning in shows and exhibitions, and the people who breed sheep for meat, productivity and profitability. I have to admit, I had some reluctance. This comes from my years of service on the board of a national dog registry parent club, including being president of that club for four years. And my service to some other local organizations which you would think would be pretty casual, but turn out to be insanely political, like world-peace-is-at-risk kind of drama.

Here was, roughly, my top ten list of questions about this candidacy:

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I have written many times before about my affection for Pat Coleby’s book, Natural Sheep Care. This book is really just about mineral supplementation; but it has a strange mix of other topics sprinkled in. (Who knows why, they don’t really belong, but maybe a publisher thought the book needed to be rounded-out). I first read it several years ago, and my copy is worn from constant referencing.

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I am participating in a WSU compost trial this year. I received 40 yards of donated compost, which happened to come from Cedar Grove (though there are other participating compost companies as well). The idea is to apply it to about an acre of pasture grass, adjacent to an untreated section, and compare the results. The overall goal of the project is to facilitate the pairing of farms and municipal-waste compost product (read: this is kitchen and yard waste from the City People); and to investigate and overcome barriers to these pairings happening more frequently.

Our compost was delivered several weeks ago. They wanted to send a large truck which can deliver 50 yards of compost; but decided they couldn’t get it into our field driveway, because it slopes quite a bit from the road. (This is apparently one of several reasons why compost and farmers don’t pair more often).

 

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I wanted to write a bit about handling rams, but realized it was becoming a really long post, and that this topic deserves its own post first.

A long time ago, I took a seminar from an unusual kind of dog trainer who was invited as a guest at my dog training club. Not somebody who competes in precision obedience, agility or herding, but somebody who mostly works on remedying problem pet dogs, especially neurotic and fearful or pushy, out-of-control dogs. She was into the TTouch methodology (a book I’ve always meant to read, and someday I will!). Admittedly, I attended kind of thinking who is this lady, she seems like a nobody, a wannabe dog trainer, she doesn’t compete and win, and what is all this hippie TTouch jazz? But, she was actually really gifted, and I learned something amazing from her which changed the way I handle animals forever. This is what she shared (in my simple language, because I’m not well-versed in the science behind it).

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In Katahdins, there is generally a preference for breeding ewes which have twinning genetics. We know that ewes ovulating more than one egg per cycle is heritable; and that when we select for it, we shift the bell curve toward the right: toward multiple births. So, some consider this a by-product of twinning selection, that we often get triplets or quads. This phenomenon, in itself, is a bell curve; with most ewes in a given season offering twins, and a smaller percentage having singles or triplets (and rarely, four or more). A 200% crop is fairly standard in our breed.

Because of this focus, it is considered a best practice when selecting breeding stock, to take into consideration whether the animal has twinning genetics, or not. For most people, the tendency is to ask about a particular animal “is she a twin?” This is a good start, but I’d like to illustrate why this “is a” descriptor is not as good as knowing the entire history of the dam’s twinning record. Or, better yet, her family’s entire history of twinning.

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