This is a complain-ey post. Sorry. This has been the toughest winter ever. For starters, record rainfall, facilitating mud. Our sacrifice pasture had only partially recovered from the ditch dredging exercise in summer, so likely the grass plants had less water uptake ability, rendering more mud. The engine blew out in our ATV in November, and it spent two months in the shop getting repaired. The tractor had to be used to feed animals instead. It’s heavier, so tears up the ground more; and I have to drive it in a longer path to get to the sheep, tearing up more pasture still. More mud. One time, it popped a tire from struggling through mud, so I had to jack up the tractor and change the wheel, in the mud.
We’ve had really bad drainage problems. Several times, our ditches have overtopped and backed up water into our fields. This is puzzling, since we anticipated better drainage from the freshly-dredged ditches, not worse! Around Thanksgiving, it was learned that a downstream neighbor had added some new culvert to the system, without working with the drainage district. He didn’t put an intake screen on a pipe. It clogged. He later found a dead animal plugging it, a deer, he theorized. That got cleared, and we thought it would get better, but the ditches overtopped again in February. The district manager found another culvert entry that was partially blocked. It was also theorized that the old culvert infrastructure was just maxed-out with these record rains, and couldn’t move the water faster than it did. Progress is slow on troubleshooting and fixing these things. In the meantime, our sacrifice area has a big lake in the middle, and a lot of mud.
Mud is always a thing in the PNW in winter, for sure. But not like this. Normally I can just regularly put straw down in the high-traffic areas near the feed and water and keep it under control. Normally there are several high spots in the pasture that still have a little grass, making a clean bedding area for the sheep. This year, I had to open up more of the sacrifice area to get them a mud-free zone (which means I’ll have less grass later). But it’s a walk to get there, you guessed it, through some mud. They don’t always use it. I’ve created a bedded area with straw near their feeders, where they can at least lay down out of the mud. Exasperatingly, I don’t think the sheep care as much about being muddy as I care about seeing them muddy. They often don’t bother to use the least muddy paths, or even the bedded area; sometimes they just lay down in the mud.So, most of the flock is just a mud-brown color these days.
They have nice, clean water troughs. I intentionally place them away from the feeders to encourage the pregnant ewes to walk. Some of them do.
Some of them just drink out of the mud.
I hate this, because we have so many many migratory birds coming through, swimming and pooping in any and all standing water, that I imagine the sheep ingest all sorts of bacteria and infectious things from the world’s worst disease vector-waterfowl. I vaccinate for vibrio, but there are other abortifacients birds can carry for which we have no vaccines.
Some might wonder, why not move them to one of those lovely green pastures next door? It’s a great question, and it’s so tempting. But, the grass is still very short, just coming out of dormancy and starting to grow. They would eat it all in a few days, stressing the plants and sacrificing growth productivity all summer. They would also turn those pastures into mud in short order, because the water table is just very high right now. Plus, if I move them away from the hay feeders and they still need a full ration of hay, it costs a lot more in waste to feed them on the ground. They eat some, lie and pee on the rest, then refuse to eat it. Then, they don’t eat as well, since they can’t have feed in front of them all day like when there is hay available in feed troughs.
So, here they stay, in the sacrifice area, mudding and pugging and trashing the place, so-named because its quality is being sacrificed to save the rest of the pastures for summer. I think there are some things we can do to improve the drainage in the field, but of course, things we can’t do now. We can’t get equipment in there or it would get stuck, and it would just create even more mud. I’ll continue to explore with the drainage district, too, how we can keep those ditches from overtopping like this in future winters.
Last year, I had the ewes on green grass on March 5th. This year, I think it’s going to be more like March 25th. But, it’s close now. Just another week or two and it may finally feel like spring. Won’t this be something, back in the stage where we can hardly keep up with all the grass growth!?! I can’t wait!