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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I am late working on my taxes and 2017 financial summary. But getting ‘er done. Today I calculated my Lamb Check-off fee and wrote my check. This is the remittance I’m legally obligated to send to the American Lamb Board to cover my slice of the pie of industry promotion. Fortunately for me, my slice of the pie is pretty small.

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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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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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