I intend to keep growing my sheep flock. There were three things I needed to do this year to be able to accommodate a larger group. One was to get an ATV trailer so I can haul more hay in one trip. That part is done. I also need to build a few more hay feeders, and that is not yet done; but I’m hoping I’ll get to it before November when I have to start feeding hay! The third thing was to get a portable hotwire system that could make bigger grazing squares than my Electronet fencing can.

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My Electronet is three years old and already starting to fail. I’ve confirmed that the pulser is working fine, with nearly 10,000 volts coming out. But once connected to four sections of fence, I’m lucky to get 1,200 volts. 4,000 volts is an adequate shock to really convince animals not to test it, 2,000 is marginal. A thousand volts is more like a tickle.

I believe this reduction in performance is just caused by wear and tear: the metal filaments woven into the fence strands are small and fragile. Over time, with lambs occasionally trying to ram their way through in some panic, snags on blackberry vines, repairs from dog chewing, and the sliding through plastic guides that happens when you tension the fencing, have all taken their toll; increasing the resistivity of the fence.

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I use one variation on the “management intensive grazing” or MIG method, where I fence the sheep into small, frequently moved paddocks. This requires the sheep to eat everything in the paddock, not pick and choose the best plants and let the less palatable species grow unchecked. The method allows graze areas to rest, for best recovery of the sward. It also cuts down on parasite loads, since the sheep are gone by the time worm eggs have hatched.

MIG allows a rancher to harvest more total volume of forage than “set-stocking” or leaving animals in a large pasture for months at a time. And, it develops the quality of the pasture over time, rather than diminishes it. But there is some overhead in moving the animals every few days. I have gotten really fast at rotating their pasture. Here’s the method I’ve learned to use to maximize efficiency of my movements.

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I’ve been building sheep pens in the barn the last couple of weekends. These were my goals:

  1. “Hospital” stalls to house sick sheep that are too ill to be treated in the pasture, or that need to be quarantined
  2. A place for bummer lambs so they don’t need to be in the kitchen Smile
  3. A few jugs in case I wanted to pen up ewes and lambs that are having trouble (though my intention is not to jug as a standard practice)
  4. A place I could stick the whole herd if we had some really insane weather (but believe me, they won’t be getting this luxury on ordinary days)
  5. A chute system where I can weigh, treat, and sort sheep into two groups; all indoors, for my comfort, as well as to protect electronic equipment and other gear
  6. A place where sold sheep can hang out waiting to be picked up, so that it’s easy for people to pull up and load them
  7. Not fixed, so I can take the whole thing down and stack it when it’s not in use, or take panels outside to make temporary pens there

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PoultryYardWe decided to do a major switcheroo in how we are housing our poultry. Thus far, I had been letting them run loose during the day. At night they’d naturally roost in their A-frame houses, and I’d just close the doors and open them back up in the morning. They had about four acres on which to range, and they made full use of it.

One advantage to this system is that there are fewer equipment costs. Just some night structures, and one set of community food and water dispensers. Not having food and water in their night houses keeps the mess down in there, requiring less bedding expenses. Letting them free range all day tends to lead them away from the food bin, so they harvest m ore of their own food and consume less purchased feed. And it spreads their manure out all over the place.

But the biggest downside is also: it spreads their manure out all over the place!

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Mortality is always a part of owning animals. Some small percentage of them will die from disease, freak accidents, old age, and the like. When you only keep a handful of animals, you only get reminded of the “M” word every few years. But when you start keeping more critters, you see mortality more often. Our animals number around eighty, so our odds of witnessing death increase to several per year. And the fact that we keep some dumb animals makes that factor a bit worse! :-{ Here is one from yesterday.

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imageYesterday when Bronte got in with the sheep, I made a mental note to  turn the hotwire back on. You see, I’ve had it off for a month or so, to relieve myself of the hassle of keeping the battery charged during the winter months when the solar charger isn’t very effective. It was working fine having it off. The sheep had no reason or desire to get out and mingle with Bronte in the dead grass field, and Bronte has been pretty religiously wary of the hotwire. She is very pain-sensitive for such a gigantic dog.

I forgot to turn the hotwire back on yesterday though. And this morning when I went to feed the sheep, though Bronte was on the “legal” side of the fence, I could tell she’d been in with the sheep earlier.

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