Farming


SleepingLambI’m finally getting around to totaling up my 2017 lamb crop numbers. Partly because I’m about to order vaccine for the 2018 crop already, and I need to know what to buy! Here’s how the season turned out, and what changes I’ll make this year to continue to try to knock out sources of loss.

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SydellAn acquaintance of mine retired from sheep, and I was so pleased to be able to buy her Sydell sorting system at a discount. I have wanted one of these systems for a while, but the price for a new one, plus shipping, is staggering. A used system is much more practical to afford. I was finally able to go pick up all  the pieces last spring, but procrastinated putting it together all summer, partly due to analysis paralysis of how I wanted to put it together. The system I got came with a sorting “tub”, a guillotine gate, a slider gate, two sections of straight chutes, a “Spin Doctor” turn table, a sorting gate, an anti-backup stop, and a scale that is not of Sydell’s design. There is some decision making needed on the order in which to place all the elements.

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MySplintThis year, I bought a used Sydell sheep sorter from a friend who retired from sheep. It holds promise of being able to do all sorts of chores- sorting, vaccinating, hoof trimming, weighing and the like, all in Temple Grandin gentle style… But it will take some fine-tuning and training before we achieve the desired level of graceful flow. I’ll write more about my lessons-learned on the overall design. But here is the short-term cost of the long-term benefit of this gorgeous and expensive system.

One component of the system is the “Spin Doctor”, which squeezes the sheep and allows “spinning” them on their sides to work on their feet or do other operations. The older version of the Spin Doctor has openings on the side. Ideally, if the exit of the Doctor is a narrow chute, this would not be an issue. But I had a too-wide chute there, leading to a sort gate, which the sheep found visually aversive. So, they would tend to turn around in that chute, attempting to return in the direction of the herd by jamming into the side of the Doctor.

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This has been a great growing year, more lambs than usual are hitting weight this fall and winter. Whereas usually I have more stragglers that wait til 9-12 months old to be ready to go. Now it’s looking like the last of the lambs may be going in December, January and February, and we’ll likely be out before Easter. If anyone was holding back on ordering, now is the time, before they are gone until fall 2018! I have a couple of spots left for the December butcher date, just in time for a Christmas lamb leg roast!

Lambs are $200 each live, and will be above 85 lbs live weight. This will render hanging weights in the forty-pound range, with final cuts in the high thirty pound range, depending on how many bone-in vs. boneless cuts you order. You also pay me $60 for the slaughter truck crew, I pay them in one check for each batch to simplify their lives. Then you pay Kelso’s, the custom butcher, directly for their cut & wrap services, which is typically $45+ tax. This pencils out to about $8/lb averaging over all the cuts, which is less expensive than grocery store retail, because there is no distributor in the mix taking his cut. You can find a deposit order form on our website here.

Our lambs have been raised naturally on pasture all summer, and they come into the barn to finish for their last 4-6 weeks on local grass hay, alfalfa, and a small bit of whole grain corn/barley for extra energy in the cold. These are very lean, healthy lambs with mild flavor. I’ve been told by some that lamb raised in this region is some of the best they’ve tasted in the world!

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.

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LastLambMaybe

I might like to think this was my last lamb of the season, born already atypically late, in July. But I still have four ewes that I’m pretty sure are bred, which means they likely lost pregnancies late in that crappy, stressful winter, and re-bred, in, like, late March. One is definitely developing an udder, so seems for-sure. The others ones, I can’t tell by looking. I’ve done a couple of blood tests on them, and they indicate positive results, but they are on the edge, and  seem so hard to believe. They are all yearlings or two-year-olds, so to breed so far out of season is really odd. But, it has been an odd year.

I have them in the barn, so if they surprise me, at least I’ll spot them right away. During the summer, I don’t check the pasture sheep at all in the mornings, and only do a cursory review in the evenings, because they are pretty self-sufficient this time of year. So it’s not super convenient to have ladies-in-waiting. Not to mention, their schedules will be totally off for breeding back in November. This waiting game has caused me to not even wrap up my lambing records and stats yet. This winter was sure a weird and inconvenient one!

HayTrucksOur hay was delivered a couple of weeks ago, it’s always nice to have that milestone checked off the list. 37 tons, which is just about what I used last year. This was four long flatbed trucks and a trailer’s worth.

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