Nursing her twins, with a cheat coming in the backHere’s the sad part of raising livestock, the losses. I lost a ewe last week, a good yearling that I had purchased. She came in a group of four half-sisters (same sire). The other three have thrived here, maintaining good weight, and generally doing well. Two have had good lambs, the third is due any day. This one was concerningly thin all through winter. I gave her an extra round of de-worming and a course of antibiotics, hoping to address whatever was dragging her down. She was in the barn for boost-feeding prior to breeding, and then again heading into late pregnancy.

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The second ewe who had prolapsed way early lambed late last week, and it was successful. This ewe had prolapsed last year as a yearling, and that lamb had apparently died, or had been born dead, or something. So I don’t think she’d had any mothering experience.

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One of my highly productive ewes lambed on Thursday. She was big, her udder was big, she handily raised triplets last year. So I was certain she’d at least have twins. Nope. A nice, big, strapping single ewelamb. Gah. At the same time, a purchased ewe who is kinda skinny was also giving birth, right near the same spot. I was there to witness, so I knew who was who; but they were getting confused. Skinny Girl was glomming onto the Singler’s baby before her own emerged from the womb. Singler was sniffing around the scent pool of the other lady’s recently-broken water, licking her lips, and nickering from the scent trigger. I double-checked the Singler to confirm no more were coming. I pulled the first one out of Skinny Girl so she’d focus on her own business and ignore the other lamb that didn’t belong to her. She did. A second one delivered. I checked, and a third one was on the way. I saw an opportunity.

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Two stanchioned ewesLuckily, most days during lambing just involve walking down to the field and checking on things every few hours. Maybe some lambs have been born that I need to weigh and tag. Maybe a ewe is giving birth and needs a little assistance. Before bedtime, I try to make sure each lamb is bedded down near its ewe, so they have access to the milk bar and protection during the dark hours. Plus, I am moving the sheep fencing daily onto fresh grass. Moving the fence is easy, but moving the sheep gets harder and harder, the more ewes and lambs there are. Ewes with newborns refuse to move, so then I have to lure them, one set at a time, by putting the lambs in slings and walking them into the new square, with the mother following in objection. This overhead effort consumes a good part of the day. But it’s “good” work, rewarding in that everything is going as planned.

But then I have days like last Sunday, where it’s just one. thing. after. another. And I get so tired! Then I forget to eat, and by the end of the day, I am crabby and a part of me thinks “I hate lambs!” By the time I’m doing the last chores of the day, like feeding dogs, I literally just hurt from tiredness, and have to push to get it all done.

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I am a week into lambing. It’s going just fine, the weather has (mostly) cooperated so far, and the crisis load has been manageable, though still a lot of work. I’ve learned not to plan to get a lot done during my lambing “vacation” besides lambing, because there are just so many interrupts and things to do. (more…)

We have been having such a battle with rats and mice this year! They have gotten into almost every one of our vehicles; and have figured out how to tunnel around our barn,and find spaces near the pole-building posts where there are gaps in the concrete that allow entry. We have been combating them with filling in the holes with rocks big enough that they can’t move them; and trapping, trapping, trapping. A little bit of poison, too. But I always worry about poison, both because we have pets, and we have so many raptors around. Hopefully soon we’ll get ahead of them again.

So, it was timely that our local Cattlemen’s Association hosted a rodent/pest expert at the March meeting. Dave Pehling, who many locals will know from the WSU Extension Office in Everett, is a veritable expert on rodent control. I thought I knew a lot about rodents; but I learned a lot of new things from his talk! Below are some random notes. He was such a fountain of information, I had trouble writing fast enough to keep up. I believe he could easily teach a 1/2 day class on this topic, an hour didn’t seem like nearly long enough. So, if you live nearby, and are ever looking for an engaging speaker on a heebie-jeebie, but important topic, keep him in mind!

· The best control of rodents is to remove food sources, but obviously this is sometimes impossible on a farm, e.g. where you have chicken feed out all the time for your birds, who need to be able to eat free-choice.

· Rats: at age of 3 months, they are fertile & ready to breed. They can have 1-12 litters per year (!)

· Norway rats are gray under tail, tail is shorter than the length of the body

· Roof rats are the other type we have here, becoming more common

· House mouse is the most common here

· Deer mouse has a bi-colored tail, they are the ones that carry Hantavirus (not any of the others). The photo he showed had a very wedge-shaped head, different from the cuter, classical face of the house mouse.

· Norway rats are good tunnelers; their poop has rounded ends, whereas roof rats have more pointed-end poop

· Norway rats will eat dog poop, so you have to keep it cleaned up if you want to eliminate them

· For mice, set traps every 5-10 feet, for rats, ever 15-20’. The home range of mice is typically 20’, rats 100’. Read: if you put traps on one side of a long building, you may be missing rodents that live on the other end!

· One idea is to affix bait to a trap with hot glue, so it’s hard/impossible for them to get it off. You can also screw traps to the sides of roof rafters, etc to catch them running on their overhead paths.

· Set the traps perpendicular to the direction of the apparent runway of the rodents- this is a bit counterintuitive. It works well to put several traps in a row, offset at random intervals. Then, when they are running, they won’t be able to adjust their cadence well enough to avoid tripping all of the traps- one will get them.

· Concerns over pets getting bait: one idea for a safe homemade bait station is to fashion a 4” x 18” long PVC pipe. Drill a hole in the center, use this to fish a wire through, which holds the bait in the center of the tube. Wrap the wire around the outside of the tube a few times to secure it. Then the rodents can easily go in the tube and dine, but even if your dog picks up the tube, he won’t be able to get the bait out of the inside.

· Legally, you must only use bait within 100’ of a building, and it must always be secured, so that wildlife etc. can’t get to it.

· Basic metal scouring pads work well for plugging holes- rodents don’t like to chew through metal

· If you have to make a barrier around a building, you can bury a “curtain wall”- an “L” shaped piece of metal that angles away from the building, so if they dig down below the wall, all they find is metal. Use sheet metal, not aluminum, as they can sometimes get through aluminum.

· Types of poison, these are the current three least hazardous:

o Warfarin- this is the anticoagulant one. The modern versions are persistent, so if your dog eats it, he may need vitamin K treatment for a full month to recover. It often takes 5-10 days to start exhibiting symptoms after ingesting.

o Bromethalin- a nerve poison (but don’t confuse this w/ the other “B-names” which sound similar). There is no antidote for this one, e.g. for pets, only supportive treatment, so be especially careful with this one.

o Cholecalciferol- excess of vitamin D3, this one is ok to use in organic environments. “Agrid3” brand.

o Second generation poisons are technically only legal for AG use- thus is why they are common on the shelves at farm supply stores; but theoretically, you can’t just use them in a residential/home situation, only for farms

Onto moles, which are not rodents, but a related control topic…

· Moles we have here: Pacific, Townsend’s, and the shrew.

· A single mole can make 200-400 mole hills/mounds.

· Voles are the culprits that eat root crops, they are vegetarians. We often call these little brown, stubby-nosed fatties “field mice”. Moles are insectivores and eat mostly bugs & worms, so are not to blame for killing plants/crops (other than the potential disruption they cause from digging and burying grass w/ mounds).

· Usually one mole has a territory of 0.5 – 6 acres. They guard their territory from other moles. They move around, “rotating” their own crops. So this is why people so often believe in wives’ tales on how to get rid of them. They try something ridiculous, and the mole seems to have gone away, so they assume it worked. But, really, he probably had just moved onto his next section all on his own!

· You can almost always find a mole tunnel following a fenceline- they like that area because it never gets trampled/collapsed by livestock or vehicle traffic. So, if you probe there, usually you will find a tunnel.

· If you collapse their mounds, they’ll just keep making new ones. But rather, if you gently rake the mound flat, preserving the tunnel below, the mole will eventually stop making so many new mounds.

· Trapping is the only effective method of eliminating moles. It is very difficult to get them to eat a poison. In our state, body-gripping traps are illegal to use (perfectly legal to sell, however); though the law is not really enforced anywhere.

· If you were to theoretically set a trap: probe near a mound to figure out where the tunnel runs. Dig a “skylight” in the top of the tunnel and wait a day or two, if it’s an active run, they’ll plug the skylight again. They you know they are using that run, and you can set a trap in it.

We are going to try the compost trial again this year. Last year, we didn’t see a noticeable difference in the performance of pasture grass where the compost was applied. It might have been because we got it on late, and didn’t have much rainfall all summer after that. It might have also been that the application layer was too thin. Or, it’s also possible we just won’t see a dramatic affect, if our soil quality is already really high.

But, since the material is free, it’s worth trying again, to see if we can elicit any positive affect. Some of the other folks in the trial have seen very good results. When used on pastures that were neglected, the response was apparently very rapid. One Christmas tree farmer reported that his tree crop was ahead a full year in growth in the compost area. So, there is definitely reason to believe it’s a good practice, at least in some applications.

This year, we hope to get it spread earlier, counting on the spreader not being broken at the time we need to borrow it. And, we’re going to apply the same amount to the same spot, but half the area size, to see if it makes a more noticeable affect. So, maybe if we can get it down before the last of the spring rains, it’ll settle in to the soil better and provide more benefit. I also wonder if last year’s application won’t start to show improvement in this year’s spring grass growth?

Lambing starts for me next week, looking forward to the big event! Everything is set to go, lambing gear bag is packed, equipment is stocked, and the ewes are looking good.

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