EweLineFall is definitely here, with cool nights, and finally, some rain, after a long drought. In August, I weaned all the lambs, and put the ewes in drylot on hay for the short term. This saves the green grass for the lambs, giving the fields a rest until fall rains refresh them. It also gives me a good opportunity to walk the line and look at the condition of all the ewes, survey their udders, and spot any problems that need addressing before breeding season in November.

We have set a few weather records this year. This has been the driest summer since 1910, according to the National Weather Service:

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It’s possible we’ll get some small government payout to compensate for the drought. It’s unfortunately not reflective of how much forage you really lose when there is a long stretch of no rain. Though they calculate generously how much sheep eat, because they are using Midwest models of very large-frame, inefficient breeds; they tend to under-calculate by a long shot how many sheep per acre we can feed in the PNW when the grass is well-watered. Every little bit helps, however. People often wonder to me why the government subsidizes aspects of farming like this, paying out when environmental conditions are challenging. The reason is, the Farm Bill is an attempt to keep food prices stable and affordable by sharing risk with farmers. If farmers had to shoulder all the burden of risk, in such a risky business, they would pass this cost onto the consumer, and groceries would be very expensive. Food costs as a percentage of household income are very low in our country, and one main reason is these subsidies which risk-share with farmers.

Despite the lack of rain, our lambs have had green grass the whole summer. This is due, in part, to our great soils, and the species of forage we have are deep-rooted and drought tolerant. Plus, even when we don’t have rain, we have heavy fog, which provides some moisture to the plants. What also helps is rotational grazing, which gives the stands periods of rest in which to regenerate.

The lambs are out on our far pasture, and about ready to turn the corner and start grazing the hillside near our house. In the below picture, the gray sky is really noticeable. We’ve had a lot of smoke from wildfires this summer. Much more smoke, and more days of it, than I can ever remember. One day, the ash was floating around like snow, and visibly covering cars. It’s definitely irritating to the eyes, nose and lungs to work out in the smoke. But we can hardly complain, since this is the only consequence of the fires we’re experiencing here. The devastation in the actual fire zones is horrifying.

Grazing

The lambs are growing great. Every year, I’m doing better at having lambs hit butcher weight earlier, and I have fewer “dinks” that require a whole year to grow out. I still have a couple of locker lambs available in October or November, if anyone is needing a freezer re-fill. Info and order forms can be found on our website here.

I’ve done some mowing this summer and fall to knock back the reed canarygrass stems. The sheep don’t like the stemmy parts when it gets tall, so they only eat the leaves. This is fine, except that it causes the plants to get rather bamboo-like in shape when they re-grow: all stem, with clusters of tiny, stunted leaves. This is caused by apical dominance, a concept I first understood in learning how to prune trees. Some grasses have more apical dominance than others, but RCG definitely has a strong tendency here. So, once there are tall stems left, it’s necessary to clip them all down, to get the grass to re-grow in its more productive, bushy, leafy fashion.

There was also a section of 8-foot tall RCG that hadn’t been grazed or cultivated all spring and summer, due to it being under water for months after our record-breaking spring rains. I was finally able to get in there and cut it all down. Hopefully I’ll have some window to graze it in fall before the rains.

Mowing

Our neighbor’s pumpkin and squash crops didn’t fare so well. He plants about 11 acres on our property,and more on neighboring fields. The crops were put in late due to the spring rains, nobody could get equipment into the fields before July. Then the dustbowl summer was hard on the plants. On top of it, we had First Frost last week, which pretty much knocked ‘em dead. So, Jack ‘Ol Lantern carvers of the region, you may have to live with smaller pumpkins this year.

Squash

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