Sheep


Magnolia

Happy Spring. It’s the start of lambing season here. I’m disappointed in the poor grass growth, it’s been a cold season and the fields are barely ready to graze. Some years, I’ve had sheep in rotation by early March. But not this year. The sheep felt lucky, anyway, bursting out onto fresh grass on March 31st. I’m cringing at a forecast of ten days of rain, which could make for a muddy mess for lamb births. But, thus is the gamble of spring pasture lambing; and lucky I have a hardy breed of sheep.

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imageI’ve been stressing for a couple of years about a succession plan for our two remaining border collies, Maggie and Gene. They just turned thirteen and fourteen. Though they can still help with farm chores, their endurance is short, they aren’t fast enough to catch renegade sheep anymore, and they pay for it later- sore joints for a day or so. They love it and will want to do it til the day they die. But obviously that’s not practical. Yet, facing getting a replacement dog is also facing that they are getting old and we’ll someday lose them. That’s hard too.

I’d mentally waffled between replacement options. Getting a  young pup has the advantage that they usually bond best and make the best pets and companions. You can train them exactly how you want. Plus, you get the longest useful life out of them. But housebreaking a pup when working full time has its challenges. I didn’t think I’d have the time to put into that, plus also training the pup on sheep. Some border collies aren’t ready to even start working sheep until they are yearlings. I thought about whether I could send it out for training, but sending a housepet to a kennel situation for a month is a little cringe-worthy. Bottom line, a pup would be a big investment.

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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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