NecropsyOfTheLambsThe Country Living Expo was yesterday. It was fun, as usual. One class I attended was a demonstration of sheep necropsy, taught by Dr. Kerr. Donated was a near-two-year-old ewe from Eastern WA that had been unthrifty her entire life. Her owners had purchased her from out of state as a nice show sheep, but she failed to thrive. They tried all the usual things to treat her, and nothing seemed to help. Knowing that she would not be successful as a production ewe, and couldn’t even be shown in her current condition, they decided to donate her to this cause, and try to learn what was wrong with her. The ewe was quite thin, with a BCS of 1.5. But, she had normal stool and otherwise had no obvious outward symptoms. It was reported she came from a farm with good husbandry, and was being maintained in a barn/feedlot type setting with a lot of other sheep.


Every year I waffle on how I want to do my ear tags. Custom tags are expensive, so it’s right that I waffle. The eventual size I  prefer on my adult sheep is Premier’s size 5, because it’s readable from afar. But those tags are too huge to put on lamb ears, necessitating the use of smaller tags at birth; then replacing them with bigger tags at 60 days of age, using the healed-up hole created by the first tags. This scheme is most practical for readability; and also identifiability (if a lamb loses one tag, I still have the other to ID him until I get a replacement tag in). But it is least practical in cost, and labor; as re-tagging both ears in all the lambs is some effort. I’m about to order tags for this years’ lambs, so am revisiting the self-debate all over again.


FishingI often run into parallels between what I do in my day job, and what happens on the farm. The topics of sustaining, capacity and slack time, have been on my mind lately.

In the software world, sustaining work is effort applied to keep existing customers happy, or to maintain the existing code base in general. This may mean fixing bugs in released product, adding features to keep an existing product competitive and selling, or making changes to infrastructure to either keep a product line alive, or improve it so that more sellable features can be added to it. Sustaining work doesn’t generate revenue or increase market share. But, it often helps maintain a revenue stream, or prevent losing existing customers to competitors, in hopes they may eventually upgrade or buy new product in the future. In software, many companies dedicate about 30% of their labor spend to sustaining work; and this is always considered a very painful budgetary reality, since there is no direct ROI on sustaining work.


I’m cleaning off some things on my desk, and one is the slide deck & notes from a presentation by Dr. Robert Van Saun at the KHSI Expo last August. This was a fantastic presentation titled “Meeting the Nutritional Needs of Sheep to Promote Health and Performance.” He focused on pregnancy feeding. Those of you who know me well will recognize that this topic was right up my alley, especially on the subject of macro and micro element supplementation; and its health consequences.



I bred my ewes starting November 7th. After three weeks, I re-grouped all the ewes, and left them with one ram, with a new crayon color. He serves as a clean-up ram and hopefully the blue crayon will clue me in on any ewes which cycled, or re-cycled, in that second round (three, so far). And, I can register those lambs, since I’ll know who the sire is.

After the second three weeks, I’ll put my other two rams in with the ewe group for the winter, for easier management. If any ewe breed later in the season, I just won’t know when or by whom. This is generally ok, I usually get one or two of thee “mystery” lambs in late spring or early summer. If they’re boys, they’ll go into the slaughter channel. If they are girls, I sell them at a slight discount as 50% recorded ewes. I like managing one group of sheep over the winter, and I have an ample market for butcher lambs and recorded ewes, so this management tradeoff works out for me.


I spotted an interesting bit of data on two sibling rams that made me pause for a moment. Usually, when rams are born, they simply inherit an average of the NSIP maternal traits coming from their parents. So their scores will be identical here, and won’t typically change until those rams have female progeny, which are subsequently bred, feeding data back up the pedigree to their sires. Where the rams will differ distinctly is on weight data, once it’s collected on them, and averaged with the scores coming out of their pedigree history. But a quick glance at these twins highlights something notable in their data at four months of age:

























Above is a snapshot of my ram group, still grazing grass. I’m also haying them too, though, as grass usually declines in nutrition in the fall. This last week has been really rainy. We were on a flood watch, but fortunately it topped out at just flooding in the usual fields near town, but didn’t get close to overtopping the dike. But it did cause ponding of water in our middle pasture. I have two breeding groups in that field, separated by a section of hotwire, which was becoming submerged. Last year, we had dug a small ditch to drain this low spot. But over the summer, the sheep and dogs enjoyed lolling around in that raw dirt area whenever it was hot, and the ditch had filled in a lot.



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