Trio

What is this trio of eaters eating? Something delectable and delicious?

Eaters

A hearty bowl of grain? Something sweetened with molasses? A savory bowl of fresh-picked dandelions or morning glory? Concentrated alfalfa pellets?

Nope.

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I’m finally getting around to analyzing my lamb yield from last spring, driven by my need to plan vaccine purchases for 2017 lambing, which is driven by my need to analyze what went wrong from last season!

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NecropsyOfTheLambsThe Country Living Expo was yesterday. It was fun, as usual. One class I attended was a demonstration of sheep necropsy, taught by Dr. Kerr. Donated was a near-two-year-old ewe from Eastern WA that had been unthrifty her entire life. Her owners had purchased her from out of state as a nice show sheep, but she failed to thrive. They tried all the usual things to treat her, and nothing seemed to help. Knowing that she would not be successful as a production ewe, and couldn’t even be shown in her current condition, they decided to donate her to this cause, and try to learn what was wrong with her. The ewe was quite thin, with a BCS of 1.5. But, she had normal stool and otherwise had no obvious outward symptoms. It was reported she came from a farm with good husbandry, and was being maintained in a barn/feedlot type setting with a lot of other sheep.

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We still have good green grass, but not for much longer with this string of no rain we’ve had. It’s unusual for it to get hot and sunny consistently before 4th of July here; but the entire month of June has felt like August! There is a possible thundershower in the forecast for next week, so crossing my fingers the pasture gets some watering. It sounds like our hay will be delivered next week, which will be a welcome backup: I can feed out of that store if I have to rest the pastures for a while. The pasture pictured above is mostly reed canarygrass. Though it is often an unmanageable pain in the butt, it is a great grower during dry times, since it has such deep roots. It will likely tap the water table no matter how long we go without rain, so it can continue to grow back after being grazed. It produces a huge volume of very nutritious grass, as well.

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USMARC EasyCare Ewe Flock on pastureI was tidying up some photo folders, and founds some shots from last summer, when I toured the US Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Nebraska. The tour was arranged as part of our annual Katahdin Hair Sheep International (KHSI) “Expo” conference. Our educational sessions were also held there, in the large auditorium they have. Timely, since last month, the New York Times published a very damning article about MARC. I’ll provide a link to that at the end, in case you haven’t seen it. But first, I’ll present my view and experience with MARC.

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Strange brown carpet that's "alive"!A while back, I started noticing this dust layer beginning to accumulate around my grain bags in the barn. I walked by it for days, half-consciously noticing it; then becoming more conscious that the pile seemed to be sort of… expanding. I made a mental note to look at some under the microscope. I was worried that it could be some kind of mold dust. I happened to stick my hand into the middle of one of the grain bags, and felt heat in the middle: not good.

Finally, I remembered to investigate. I scooped up a bit of this fuzzy tan stuff in my hand to take a closer peek. It looked like it was moving, but I thought surely this was just a trick of my eyes. I slipped some onto a microscope slide, topped it with a coverslip, and brought it into the house. I flopped into my office chair, flipped on the scope light, and took a gander. And, holy bejeezus, what I saw just about make me fall outta my chair! Hundreds, literally layers upon layers of mites- yes, those hideous, prehistoric, hairs-sticking-out-of-corpulent-body-and-too-many-legs critters; all crawling over each other, and other debris, in a zombie jumble. The whole mass was in a mosh pit of motion, trying to spill off the slide. So, my eyes hadn’t lied: this wasn’t dust or mold, this was a freaking living carpet of grain mites on my barn floor! Gaaah!

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I am really pleased with my progress in improving my flock genetics using National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) data. I don’t think there is any way I could have made such fast gains by just picking sheep based on visual appraisal, or trying to sort through hundreds of data points in past records. (And, in fact, there is plenty of scientific evidence to back this up.)

The things I’ve been focusing on the most are lamb growth and maternal milk (maternal weaning weight, or MWWT). My growth numbers are starting to chase the system average, which is pretty cool, because a lot of people in the system feed grain to their lambs in the first 120 days, and I don’t.

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