We still have good green grass, but not for much longer with this string of no rain we’ve had. It’s unusual for it to get hot and sunny consistently before 4th of July here; but the entire month of June has felt like August! There is a possible thundershower in the forecast for next week, so crossing my fingers the pasture gets some watering. It sounds like our hay will be delivered next week, which will be a welcome backup: I can feed out of that store if I have to rest the pastures for a while. The pasture pictured above is mostly reed canarygrass. Though it is often an unmanageable pain in the butt, it is a great grower during dry times, since it has such deep roots. It will likely tap the water table no matter how long we go without rain, so it can continue to grow back after being grazed. It produces a huge volume of very nutritious grass, as well.

I think I’m finding, also, that practicing management-intensive grazing improves the output of the land every year. Each fall I increase the herd size, and worry that it’s going to overtax the pastures the following year. But every summer, the pastures seem to show more capacity. There are about 170 sheep on our graze right now. This pasture is in its third rotation already. We grow some good grass in the Northwest!

I feel pretty caught up with my sheep chores, but preparing breeding stock for sale is a lot of work. I got ahead of the game this year by earmarking all the sheep I thought I might sell, and getting a file of photos of them all before I did my sixty day weights. Then I started making their individual web pages, knowing that a few of them wont’ be used if I’ve decided to keep or butcher those lambs. But, this did help: by the time I got EBVs back mid-June, I was able to quickly sort in my spreadsheet which ones to sell, and price them. I swept back through their pages to copy/paste their EBV tables and update prices,and viola, I had all the for-sale stuff up and ready for people to “shop.”

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I have a LOT of pre-buyers this year. It’s almost too much, it makes me nervous when so many sheep sell before they’re even born, it just feels like it’s tempting fate. So, now I’m in the stage of notifying each buyer it’s their turn to choose. Since we are getting low on grass, I’m motivated to get these pre-sold sheep outta here as early as possible.

Every year, I learn something new which causes me to update my procedures and written policies in order to make sales go smoothly. This year, I realize that with so many pre-sales happening, I need to be clearer about expectations for how quickly people make their choices. When many people are in line, I can’t have one person take weeks to decide, while everyone else waits in limbo and I continue to feed everyone’s sheep. A lot of my buyers are getting very comfortable with EBVs, to where they are satisfied choosing sheep solely based on the data, and the snapshot photo I take. This is awesome! There are still some people who want to visit and do visual appraisal, and that’s fine. But with some folks buying who live far away, and me having a day job, I’m finding it’s a challenge for them to get here quickly to pick out their sheep.

I’m also starting to reflect that this isn’t a good setup for visual appraisal fans. There are one hundred seventy sheep in the pasture! They walk around! So if someone just shows up here hoping to walk around and point out sheep that catch their eye and say “what about that one?” it’s going to take hours to create their pick list! This is especially true if they also want a ram, because then we have to choose an unrelated set of sheep that can bred together. I find that we go in circles, where the buyer says “ok, that one” and I point out “that wont’ work, that’s the sister of the ram you chose” or “nope, that one I’m keeping” or “that’ one’s already sold” or “remember, that’s the one you pointed out three minutes ago, that we already decided won’t work for you?” All while I’m silently rolling my eyes when the buyer can’t see, and thinking “hurry up!” Winking smile 

I’ve considered, with the growing number of sheep, if there is a better way to present them to the visual appraisers. But I can’t think of one. If I use a dog to pack the sheep in the corner, it’s worse. Then we have a tightly-packed mob of 170 sheep all trying to crawl over and under each other, they are hot, stressed, and it’s certainly no way to evaluate their stance, gait, expression or type. It’s on my to-do list to build a handling chute, but that also wouldn’t give a buyer much of a solid view of an animal ambling in his own comfortable way. I suppose I could erect a series of forty-some pens,and spend an hour loading them, so that the sheep could be standing in small groups for viewing. But who knows when I’d get to that!?! So, observing them loose in the pasture, quietly and casually, is the best way I know to really assess their physical qualities. But it can be quite a wanderfest if the buyer doesn’t really know what they are looking for.

Sooooo, I’m really,  really trying to encourage the visual pickers to at least do their homework before they come. Go through all the pedigrees and photos (and hopefully the data!) and make their short list. Then they can come, look for those particular sheep, and drop a few off their list to finalize their selection. Then, I still have more work to do, to sort and move those sheep up to the barn to be ready for loading. I usually trim their feet, and de-worm them if it hasn’t been done recently, so they leave here pretty clean. Plus, I must prepare all of the registration paperwork, transfer orders, and a detailed receipt for the buyer, and file their tax-exempt  form if they have one. Selling registered stock is certainly more profitable than the butcher lambs. But, by fall, I’ll be so thrilled to drop off batches of anonymous lambs at the butcher, with only a short email sent to the buyers notifying them to pay their balances and go pick up their products!

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