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.

So today we re-dug it. We have a little “mini” excavator that attaches to our tractor PTO. It’s small, but effective; digging this kind of trench by hand in that wet, muck soil would have taken hours of back breaking work. The backhoe job is about 20 minutes, thirty-five if you count the tedium of connecting it to the tractor.

In past years, it hasn’t always worked for me to separate breeding groups with a single panel of hotwire. Not even a double panel. This time, though, I have two very hotwire-trained ram lambs who have been calibrated on the 4,000+ volt AC hotwire I’ve been running on the hillside. This year, they have larger groups to breed (20+ each), so there should be enough ewes to keep each one busy, so he doesn’t get curious about the group next door. And, ram lambs are a little less savvy about this drill in general, where hopefully it won’t occur to them to seek out more ewes than their assigned lot. I put Iowa, the mature ram, with his group in another pasture, separated from these groups by three gates. So far so good.

My mature ewes are breeding at a normal clip, twenty-some done, and thirty-some to go, with a week under my belt, 1.5 weeks to go. Only one ewelamb has bred so far though, so I dunno if it’s going to be a bad year for ewelamb conception, due to the less-than-ideal grass we’ve had. Crossing my fingers more will breed in the next two weeks.

More local flooding is predicted for this week. Below is a snapshot of the Snohomish River Gauge, which is the closest gauge to us that has a NOAA gauge. I watch this gauge first to see when the ramp-up of river height is predicted, as well as when it’s predicted to crest. The blue line shows the crest that happened yesterday, and shows it peaking again on Wed morning. When it hits 25’, it floods the low-lying pastures just south of town, but usually only a few feet deep.

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Simultaneously to keeping an eye on this graph, I watch the French Creek Gauge. This one is closer to us, and it’s the one that’s of interest in indicating when the dike is getting close to overtopping (at about 30’). But this gauge has no prediction model. So, we have to watch both gauges. Unfortunately, they don’t have the same height reference (you can see that the Snohomish River Gauge crested at 28’, where the French Creek Gauge crested at 22’), so I don’t really know how they correlate.

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What’s important to watch is when it’s on the steep incline, since we can never be sure whether the model is correct in predicting when the crest will happen, and how high it’ll be. (Though I will say, the model is very, very good, it is most often spot-on.) Some of our neighbors wait until French Creek is at 29’ before evacuating; but I don’t like to wait quite so long before moving animals. If the dike “just” overtops, there’s plenty of warning, and there is plenty of time to move animals even once it has started to spill. I really only need an hour or two to move all the sheep up the hill, and pick up the few things out in the field, like water troughs. But my biggest fear is a dike breach. If that were to happen, the water would come much faster, with much more force and volume. It could take everyone by surprise. So I tend to move the animals quite a bit ahead of the 30’ mark. But at 22’, like it reached on Saturday, is of minor concern. I was glad to be able to do other chores that day, and not have to spend part of the day moving four groups around, and trying to keep those breeding groups separate! Here’s hoping the rest of the week will be the same!

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