Sunday Homestead Update – Thanksgiving and Sheep Issues

I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving (those of you in the US that celebrate it, that is).  We had a wonderful, full, white and snowy week, cozily spending our time at home together.

Before the storm hit, we wanted to get the medicinal herb garden finished for winter.  Because it is a relatively new garden space that we just built 2 years ago, the soil is still settling a lot.  It sunk 6-12 inches across the front of the garden bed.  So we hauled a bunch of compost and filled it in.  Then we planted some of the herb seeds that need to go in and freeze before they can sprout well.

We had to go to the city on Monday, and then the big storm moved in and covered us in beautiful white.  We got almost 2 feet of snow!  And the temps dropped down to -10F.

It meant extra barn chores as we needed to shovel paths through the snow from the stalls to the water trough and the gates.

Anya was loving it.  She was bounding/bouncing through the deep snow that was higher than her belly and tearing around the yard through it.  It definitely got her all frisky and riled up.

Plus, once the temp dropped, we left the livestock in the barn, so we had to haul water to them in buckets because they don’t have water in the barn.  Then it stayed cold, so it didn’t melt, and yesterday the wind blew like crazy, causing drifts everywhere.  Yup, its been kind of a mess.  But everyone survived it well, and we all enjoyed the snow.  The kids did a lot of playing in it and sledding since they didn’t have school this week.  Once the temp dropped though, outdoor play wasn’t fun anymore, and then it was indoor fun time.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and the weekend after is what we refer to as “Holiday Fun Weekend.”  We spend the time decorating and preparing for Advent and Christmas.  We get our tree, decorate, make Christmas candies, play games, watch movies, and just enjoy time together preparing for the Christmas season.  Mountain Man and the older two kids, Young man and Sunshine, go and volunteer at the Denver processing center for Operation Christmas Child one day each year, they did that this week.

Going Through & Cleaning Out

Sunshine and I finished all of our going through and cleaning out that I talked about last week.  What an awesome feeling to have the entire house sorted and organized!

Goat

Pansy was supposed to come home from the breeder this week, pregnant.  But she went back into heat.  So she has been bred again and we will wait another 3 weeks to see if she settled before we go get her.  Little Miss is really missing her goat, but we all agree we need to be 100% sure she is pregnant before she comes home, because a not-pregnant milk-goat is just a goat pet, and we don’t keep goats as pets.

Sheep

We are thinking that maybe our little farm is not big enough to manage 2 rams.  We have had two breeding seasons with just Fergus, and no issues.  This is Fergus’ 3rd breeding season, and the first time that we have had a second ram (Remi, who was born this last spring).  We are having so much trouble with Fergus now.  First of all, he has been a lot more interested in ramming us.  He backs off as long as we give him back-off body language, but it seems to be getting excessive.  Secondly, he has been doing a bunch of damage to the fence between him and Remi.  First he bent the wire all along the fence line.  It is hard to take a photo of bent wire, but where you now see the extra new piece of wood was a series of ram-head-size dents in the wire.  Some of it was broken.  So we put that wood there as a temporary fix.

After that, we got 20 inches of snow, so Remi was keeping his ewes up in the stall where Fergus can’t really see them well.  This caused Fergus to ram the gate (that is the closest he can get to the stall they were in).  Again, ram-head-size dents and breaks in the wire.  Again, Mtn Man patched  over it with wood.

But the worst part is that he is being aggressive with his ewes.  Having only three, and having two on the other side of the fence that he can’t get to, seems to be causing him a lot of frustration.  He gets very upset with them if they go anywhere near the fence line, which is a problem because the water is there.  The water trough goes under the fence and is shared by both sides.  He bites them and paws at them and grunts at them and chases them away when they want to go that direction.  Most of his aggression was focused on Daisy, though we don’t know why.  It seems like maybe he is frustrated that she is close to mature, but not fully mature and thus not in full standing heat yet.  So we had started discussion options of what to do, and then yesterday when we went for evening barn chores Daisy was limping, really badly, and he was continuing to bully her around, maybe even worse because of her gait.  So we brought her in and separated him out from everyone.  It looks to be her shoulder, there is no heat or swelling in the leg.  It could have been the deep snow, or Fergus, or most likely, a combination of both.  if he was constantly bullying her through the snow she could have easily slipped or twisted it or something.

So that left us with a problem.  We have an injured ewe.  We have a ram that is not dealing well with the situation, we still have ewes that haven’t been bred (we are not ready to be done with breeding season yet), and we have only two pens and two rams (we do have panels to potentially create another pen).

So last night Sunshine, Mtn Man, and I talked through all the many options that we have.  The dairy sheep are Sunshine’s project, that is why she was involved in the decision making too.  We first came up with some “facts” we are not wanting to bend on.  #1, Fergus has SUCH an amazing fleece that we are not willing to get rid of him yet, and we do not want to whether him either.  #2 Daisy must be isolated in a jug and stay out of the snow and away from all males until her leg heals, BUT we really don’t want her to have to be completely alone in the barn either because that causes a lot of stress to sheep.  #3 Our priority purpose with the dairy sheep is for them to be in milk, not necessarily what babies they produce.  And we really want to see how each of the 4 ewes performs as far as lambing, mothering, and standing to be milked this spring so we can reduce the flock size to the best ones.  Therefore, we really want all the ewes to get pregnant this year.  #4 After #3, the next priority with the dairy ewes is to see how well they cross with Fergus, the wool ram.  And lastly, #5 We aren’t quite ready to get rid of Remi either, because he is a really nice looking dairy ram, he has great personality, and we aren’t totally clear on our dairy breeding plans yet because we are new to this, but keeping him around for at least another breeding season would be good.

It seems like Fergus’ issues are developing from not having enough ewes, ewes being split into two pens, and another ram having some ewes next to him.  It seems like maybe he would be nicer and do better if he had all the ewes, or couldn’t see Remi, or didn’t have any ewes at all and Remi had them all (although he would be frustrated, he couldn’t take it out on the ewes).

Considering all the above things, and talking it over for quite awhile, we came tot he following plan.  First, Daisy will be in one jug, with Remi in the jug next to her.  This will accomplish several things.  First, Daisy will get her healing and not be alone, but Remi can’t bug her because there is a wire wall between them.  Second, Remi will be out of Fergus’ sight.  And third, we wont be “wasting” one of the ewes putting her with Daisy to keep her company, thus Fergus has more ewes to juggle and theoretically wont single out one for bullying.  Then we put all the ewes, including the ones that were previously Remi’s, in the big pen with Fergus.

It has only been a day, so we aren’t sure if this is really going to work, and if not, we will likely give all the girls to Remi and make Fergus be on his own.

Autumn is already pregnant to Remi (she did not come back into heat this week, proving he settled her).  The main reason we gave Remi ewes to breed this year is we wanted to prove him as a breeding ram.  Plus, those will be full-bred dairy lambs, which should be pretty easy to sell.  So we accomplished that.  And then if this plan works the rest of them will be pregnant with Fergus’ babies, giving half wool/half dairy lambs, so we can see how those lambs turn out and then potentially breed back to Remi next year to see if we can get dairy ewes that have nicer, more use-able wool.  And, most importantly, everyone will get bred so we can see how the dairy ewes lamb, mother, and milk.

Time will tell, and I will keep you posted.  This is always a huge part of the homesteading adventure – learning through trial and error.  It is part of what we enjoy with all this.  Trying out new things and learning.

Jerry and Hazel

Our newly-retired-indoors barn-cat, Jerry, is getting quite friendly with our indoor dog, Hazel.  It is so cute, and I can’t resist taking photos of them.  They are constantly cuddling with each other, either by the fire, or in the sun puddles.

This warms our hearts because Jerry grew up with our previous LGD, Tundra.  Jerry joined the farm with his brother Ben when they were 8-week-old kittens.  Tundra was only a year old at the time.  After Ben disappeared at a year old, Tundra and Jerry became very good friends and stayed that way over all the many (12) years together.  They would cuddle together through the long cold winters in the barn.  And even though Jerry had other cats to cuddle with, he often chose Tundra instead.  Tundra died a couple years ago, and last winter was very hard on Jerry without him.  So it is special to see Jerry not only enjoying a winter indoors, but also making a new doggy friend and cuddling with her.  Hazel seems to like it too.

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