Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I didn't realize sheep were so flexible...

Farming requires a great deal of flexibility as I have mentioned before. A farmer can't get too attached to a place, way of doing things or a particular outcome because inevitably something uncontrollable will change everything and adjustments have to be made, sometimes very quickly.

Sheep scientists
I saw this illustrated again this weekend when I met up with Dan. We drove to Highland Farm, a tree farm in Colfax. Dan, along with Allen, the owner of the farm and Roger, the UC Davis livestock extension agent, assessed the property and vegetation to see if it would support 300 ewes through breeding season.

Dan had planned to have these ewes much closer to his home farm on an irrigated pasture. He discovered however, that the pasture was not going to be able to support his ewes, much less enable them to gain weight through breeding, so he had to find an alternative pretty quickly.

I wouldn't mind having my meals here
Highland Farm it was; Dan is friends with the owners and had previously been interested in grazing their property. After a bumpy tour up and down the ridge and about ten million 'begger's lice' later the three men decided there was enough vegetation and variety to support the ewes at least for a couple months though maybe not through the entire breeding season. I could see being forced to be flexible is not so bad if you have good friends who are willing to feed your sheep! Actually it works out well for Highland Farm as well. Instead of having to manually remove brush that is a fire hazard, the sheep will clean it up.

As I mentioned, we are preparing for breeding season. When breeding ewes, most producers want the animals to be on a rising plane of nutrition (gaining weight) because this increases the likelihood of twins. This management technique is called "flushing" and is the reason Dan keeps his ewes on rough feed (like star thistle) most of the summer. It is desirable for the ewes lose some weight during the summer because they are not producing milk for lambs and they are not breeding or pregnant. But in preparation for breeding, which will begin October 1st, they need to be on feed that will allow them to start putting weight back on (but not too much weight, a fat ewe doesn't breed well).

Lambs hip deep in pasture
The management of the ewes is opposed to the lambs, who have been on lush pasture since they were weaned in May/June. For the lambs going to market, the idea is to get them gaining as much weight as possible as fast a possible, so they can be finished and sold at the market as they are a Dan's main source of income. It turns out to be a constant test of flexibility, keeping all the sheep on the right kind of feed during different times of the year, a difficult task for someone with nearly 500 sheep who only owns 3 acres of land!

My ewe lamb (posing with her best side I guess)
And a final note, Matt's market lamb is doing well, he weighed 76 lbs at last weigh in and is gaining about a 1/4 lb per day!  And my ewe lamb has been separated from the market lambs, she gets to stick around and probably bred next year.

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