Category Archives: Sheep

Blizzard

Well, here’s the official tally after the snowfall:

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15″ of snow today.

15″ of snow is great for snowmen, snowball fights, sledding, and getting days off of teaching school.  It is not so nice for keeping animals fed and watered.  Just walking through 15″ of snow to check on the animals is a serious workout.  I’ve decided I need snowshoes.  Shoe size is 10.5, if anyone would like to make a snowshoe donation.

Here’s things you can’t do in 15″ of snow on top of 1/4″ of ice:

  • Haul more water to the back pasture.
  • Carry round bales with the tractor.
  • Run the tractor, period – 2-wheel drive is no good.
  • Find all of the eggs.

Still, you’ve got to get hay to the animals somehow.  So Lindsey, her brother, and I made hay sleds by bundling 60-150 lbs of hay (depending on the person) up in tarps and pulling them along behind us for the 1/2 mile back to the cattle.  2 trips for me and 1 for each of them did the trick.  Not going to lie, that is a workout.  Got to do it again tomorrow.

I vow to have the hay shed for the animals built before next winter.  That way the hay and the animals are both in the same spot.

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You can have lambs born in a blizzard.  We had twin rams yesterday.  They are fine.  After they were born we forced the sheep into their shelter and locked them in.  They had been riding the blizzard out under some trees.  Sillies.

The worst news is that I think Fitbit has it out for me.  According to mine I took 14,000 steps, walked 6.5 miles in 15″ of snow pulling heavy sleds of hay and/or herding animals for portions of it, climbed 11 flights of stairs, and had almost 2.5 hours of high activity and yet I still did not hit my calorie burn for the day.

I may drop the Fitbit in the snow.  Accidently.

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Pasture Progress

Well, fall is falling and winter is coming.

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The pear trees are usually the last to change color and lose their leaves.

We have officially made it into December without feeding any hay this year.  Last year we only got to early October and most years we’ve had to start feeding hay in late October or early November.

We’ve been able to do this for 2 main reasons.  First, we’ve fenced in more pasture so that we have more grazing area available to rotate our ruminants onto.  Second, rotational grazing has really begun to positively impact the grass sward in our pastures.

The first reason is obvious.  More land available to graze equals more grass to rotate the animals onto and longer rest periods between grazing cycles.  Both factors extend the grazing season for the animals.

The second reason is more subtle.  Grasses and clovers respond much better to grazing than other plants, so their growth is favored over that of other plants during rotational grazing.

Non-rotational grazing, practiced by most producers, has a negative impact on the health of the soil and the pasture.  The animals are never or seldom moved so they keep coming back to their favored plants, eventually killing them and leaving in the pasture only the plants that they do not prefer.

In management-intensive rotational grazing like we practice, the cattle are tightly grazed and moved before damage to plants can occur.  They eat what they like, trample the rest, and then they are moved so that they area can recover.  Since grasses and clovers have evolved to be grazed, they respond faster than “weedy” plants.  The grasses and clover thicken vegetatively, sending up new growth and runners to improve the pasture sward.  This means that there is a constantly increasing volume of grass available, as long as the new growth is not grazed too soon.

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Sunset comes early in the winter.

It would be nice to be able to graze all the way through winter at some point.  Hay is the single largest expense to raising the cattle and sheep.

However, feeding hay does have some definite advantages.

First, it gets dark early in the winter.  Since we work at school as teachers, we often get home around 4 pm.  In the winter this does not leave very much daylight to move the cattle around in the winter.  It is a definite time-saver to put hay out instead of moving the cattle to new pasture.

Second, since we buy hay rather than cut it ourselves, we are basically importing fertility to our farm in the form of winter hay.  The hay is grown by our neighbors and eaten by our cattle.  Their manure from processing the hay is then deposited on our fields, increasing our fertility.  This is a great substitute for purchasing chemical fertilizer from a bag.  Yes, the hay costs money.  But it is scarcely more than it would take to make it ourselves in terms of fuel, time, equipment, and maintenance and has the added benefit of subtracting our need to purchase manure for fertilizing our fields.

Progress is being made.

New Pastures are Nice

Over the past 5 years we have been slowly fencing in pastures to keep our livestock safe and secure and to help protect our erosion prone areas like steep hillsides, ponds, and streambanks.  We started off with nothing fenced in, just a half mile of decorative white vinyl fencing that the previous owners installed.  The livestock laugh at that fence as a barrier.  They go right through it.  

Our first grazing animals were the goats, and we made do with electric netting with them for a year while we fenced in our first pasture that fronts the road.  The electric netting works really well for rotational grazing, but it’s not good for the sole barrier between the animals and danger.  Sometimes it shorts out and it’s no barrier at all when it’s not electrified.  Sometimes it blows down in heavy winds.  It’s just not good to have only electric fence.

We finished that first pasture in mid-2011 before we got our first few cattle, and then we fenced in another smaller pasture the next year.

Those were the easy ones.  The final 2 pastures were much more difficult to complete because we had to go over the ridge, through the woods, to grandma’s house we go.  Those 2 pastures were finally finished in very late 2014, so this has been our first full year with 4 pastures that we can rotate our animals around on.  It’s still less than 40 acres, but it’s the only grazeable land we have right now.

The final pasture, all the way on the north side of the property, was utilized by our Amish neighbor for the last few years as cropland so there was no pasture there.  This spring I seeded it with a mixture of grass and clover.  Those are the only  seeds we’ve put in any pasture.  The other pastures have been rejuvenated through grazing alone.

But seeding that pasture was definitely worth it.  All year it has been lush and green and growing faster than any other pasture we’ve got.  The cattle and sheep race me to get into that field every time we rotate them back to it.  It makes me think about drilling some seeds through the sod in our other pastures next year. 

Sheep and cattle enjoying lush November pasture

Another Growing Season in the Books

It’s been a ridiculous amount of time since I’ve blogged.  I probably should apologize, but I’m not sure if anyone reads this anyway.  But with a 160-acre farm, a full-time teaching job, a wife, and a young son (oh yeah, that is new, too) I feel like blogging definitely falls on the low end of my priority scale.  You understand.

Good Life Ranch has grown and changed a great deal since December 2012, which is the next blog post down the page.

I’ll try to go through the most exciting (for me) changes and improvements we’ve made, in no particular order.

#1 – We traded our goat herd for hair sheep.

 

St. Croix sheep at sunset

 

Not everyone made it into the picture, but you get the idea.

The goats were great, and did their job of clearing brush well.  So well, in fact, that they ate themselves out of a job.  We were actually able to sell the entire herd to one farm so they all got to stay together as a unit and keep their herd structure intact.

Now that our pastures have been improved a bit through our management-intensive rotational grazing, we decided that hair sheep would be a good choice.  They don’t compete much with cattle in terms of the species of plants they graze, they don’t share parasites with cattle so each becomes a dead-end host for the other species’ worms, and the meat is a lot easier to market than goat.   They are also a dream to shepherd around the property, unlike the goats.  They also stay where you put them, unlike goats.   Want to test a maximum security prison?  Put a herd of goats in there and they will find the potential escape routes for you.

 

Our sheep are a bit friendly, as a bonus.

 

#2 – We chose a breed of hog to stick with.

Back in 2012, we were trying out all manner of heritage hog breeds and crosses – we had Gloucester Old Spots, Red Wattles, Mulefoots, Durocs, Tamworths, Hampshires, Berkshires, Herefords…. all have their strengths and weaknesses.

We settled on Large Black hogs.  I trust I don’t need to describes their physical appearance.

Large blacks are good grazers, docile, fertile, good mothers, and very intelligent.  They also have delicious marbled meat that can only be described as “phenomenal.”

They have thrived here for us.  We had a new litter just the other day and the piglets are already roaming all over the pasture following mom on her quest for falling nuts.

 

Piglets! Not large yet, but definitely black.

 

#3 – Our cow herd is growing and thriving.

We have grown from our initial 2 cow-calf pairs into a herd of 17.  We have had a few more animals go through our farm.  Some have graced plates and some have gone to join other herds.

Red poll beef is just awesome.  We raise them for 30 months on nothing but grass of course, and the meat is flavorful and so tender that you really don’t even need a knife on the steaks if you cook them right.  I’ve never had such tender beef before.  I was very nervous before trying it.  Our other meats were very good, but beef on grass only really reflects the character of the grass that the animals are raised on, and I was worried that our still-too-acidic soil would produce off-flavors in the meat.  Not the case at all with our beef.  I’m either lucky or good.  Probably door #1 on that one. 

 

Our herd of cattle and flock of sheep. Our “flerd.”

 

 

A bottle calf. That was a learning curve for everyone.

 

 

Red Poll bull Shuter’s Last Chance aka “Russell”

 

#4 – Back to dogs as livestock guardians.

Even though there is the added chore of feeding them because they don’t eat the same things as the stock they are guarding like llamas and donkeys do, dogs have the advantages of mobility, intelligence, and aggressiveness.  Our new dog, Bubba, is a rescue from a colleague at work, and you don’t mess with his charges.  The first time I picked up a newborn goat kid with Bubba around, he tried to kill my ass.  In front of my grandmother, no less.  Had me down on the ground, big holes in my best jeans.  So now Bubba gets tied to a fence post or tree whenever I have to work with an animal.  But if he’ll do that to me, I now a coyote or a livestock rustler (yes, those exist and strike often around here) doesn’t stand a chance.  Our neighbors have lost animals to both and so far we have not. Bubba did chase a utility company lineman out of the field and the lineman was yelling to his buddies to “shoot the polar bear!”  Bubba is 140 pounds, but still a bit shy of polar bear status.

 

Bubba

 

 

The bane of Bubba’s existence.

 

#5 – Our infrastructure is improving.

We have 4 fields fenced in now, and water access in all 4 with no lugging of 5-gallon buckets for hundreds of yards, which is good becaause I’m getting old.  All told we have around 45-acres of grazeable land now where even if an electric fence is knocked over by wind or a rogue animal the herd still can’t wander off.  

We’ve installed a water tower to gravity feed water to 2 pastures, a solar pump to supply water to the 3rd, and a couple of ponds to collect water for the animals’ use.

 

2 ponds collect water on the hillside

 

I’ve built Eggmobile 2.0 so that the laying chickens can follow the sheep and cattle around the pasture, filling their ecological niche as nature’s sanitation crew.  This version is much sturdier and more maneuverable than its predecessor.  I’ve also built the pigs a Love Shack to keep them warm in the winter and give them a place to make a nest for their litters.  It can be pulled around the farm as needed to keep the pigs moving around the pastures and woodlots as well.

 

Eggmobile 2.0

 

 

The Love Shack for the large black hogs.

 

#6 – I took a Permaculture Design Course and am now a certified permaculture designer and consultant.

This was one of the best courses I have ever taken, and I have been to a LOT of school!  I took the course from a man named Geoff Lawton, who is well-known in the permaculture world, and I can’t say enough about his teaching ability.

If you are unfamiliar with it, permaculture is a discipline that uses ecological principles to benefit humanity and the environment.  Basically learning how to accentuate and accelerate natural processes in order to create security and an abundance of food, energy, and health.  I highly recommend looking into permaculture.  If you’re reading this blog and not a blood relative of mine, you’ll be interested in it.  If you are a blood relative, you may still be interested.  Because it is interesting.  🙂

I am now able to use my knowledge to create and design properties for people who would like to create a little slice of food-producing, energy-producing, waste-reducing, health-increasing, happiness-inducing oasis on their property.  If you are interested in doing something like that, get in contact with me.  I’d love to help you make your dream come true!  

Geoff Lawton doing his thing.

 

#7 – Lifestyles Lane is ready.

Thanks to the help of our intrepid interns, we now have quite the impressive array of structures back in the village.  I believe I have posted about Haiti, Cambodia, and the urban slum.  We also have India, China, a refugee camp, Moldova, and a Maasai round house.

I am indebted to all of our interns who gave so generously of their time and energy to help us build all of this, so I feel the need to credit their effort by listing them here.  They are:  Cameron Day, Alexa Zanikos, Grayson Middleton, Catherine Alvarez-McCurdy, Katie Black, Annalise Carington, Julian Cross, Dana Eardley, Meredith Prentice, Sam Abney, Jacob Klein, Riley Francis, Allison Vigil, Rachel Seidner, Trevor Antrim (twice!), Bianca Lopez, Mariana Vazquez-Walter, Alex Cohen, Sarah Elizabeth McLaughlin, Emma (King) Fife, Tyler Swank, Hannah Kavy, Laura Prentice, Gabriela Castanon, Jake Weeth, Joy Rathman (twice!), Mackenzie Despain (twice!), Judah Oechsle, Grace Herndon, Abigail Land, Brianna Vitt, Sarah Gonzalez (twice!), Savannah Gonzalez, Liam Day, Caitee Nigro, Nicholas Ochoa, Avery Riester, and Isabella de la Rosa.  Muchas gracias a todos!

It’s been a great couple years.  I will put more effort into keeping this blog more active.  Please ask questions and give feedback in the comments section.

2011 Stockin’ and Sellin’

The hillside woods all covered in the latest round of snow.

One nice part about winter planning is that there’s no rule that says it has to all be done indoors.  Today the dogs and I took advantage of the nice day with the beautiful new-fallen snow to do some thinkin’ walkin’ all around the hillsides.  While thinking about things we can add and do differently this year, we also found two new (but really old and decrepit) fencelines.  We discovered where the wild turkey flock on our land roosted the night before, and found lots of fresh coyote poo that Bailey and Scooter promptly rolled in.

We are planning on adding both some new Good Life Ranch products in 2011 as well as new market outlets.  Our CSA program so far is generating a little interest, but very no one has actually submitted the application yet so I’m not sure that a CSA is going to be viable for us right now.  In talking with our neighbors and other farmers in the area I’ve found that many of them have tried CSAs in the area before without success.  It seems like right now the members of our community aren’t willing to pay in advance for their food, so we’ve got some work to do to change the local food culture.  We will be selling at the Campbellsville Farmers’ Market this year.  Additionally, we are excited about one new development.  We have been approached by our neighbors Joshua and Melina about opening a community farm stand on our property that we and the several surrounding families could use to market and sell our meats and produce.  Lindsey and I are excited about that and are looking forward to the farm stand opening this spring!

We’ve also chosen some of our new offerings for 2011.  We will continue to offer rabbits and eggs as well as Bourbon Red, Black Spanish, and Chocolate turkeys and a full range of produce.  Here’s what we want to add in 2011:

Turkeys
In keeping with the heritage breed mindset we have at the Ranch, of course we are not adding Broad-breasted whites to our turkey family.  This year Royal Palms and Narragansetts will be added to the menu!  Royal Palms are small (potentially suitable for people with only 3-4 people to feed for Thanksgiving), but they are beautiful and superb foragers.  Once they have passed the brooder stage they may be able to pretty much feed themselves on insects, seeds, and grasses.

Royal Palm turkeys

The Narragansett is a larger breed than the Royal Palm and is roughly the same size as the Black, Bourbon Reds, and Chocolate turkeys that we are already raising.  They are nice calm birds with the same heritage breed foraging ability and superior taste as the other breeds, but it’s an opportunity for us to help protect and conserve another heritage breed of American livestock that is endangered by the industrial food chain.

Chickens
Our Black Australorp and old-style Rhode Island Red hens will continue to produce Good Life Ranch eggs in 2011.  But we want to find a breed that we can raise and utilize both genders of right here on the ranch.  We don’t like having to order the birds from distant hatcheries for several reasons.  It’s not local, it’s not sustainable, but more importantly the birds are often treated inhumanely.  Hatcheries grind the male chicks from laying breeds and the female chicks from broiler breeds into chicken meal.  We don’t want to support that system, hence we are looking for a breed that we can hatch out here on the farm and use the males as broilers and the females as layers.  So far we have two candidate breeds:

Naked Neck rooster

The handsome gentleman in the above photo is a Naked Neck chicken, also called a Turken because initially people thought they were a cross between a chicken and a turkey.  But it’s all chicken because chickens and turkeys can’t create viable offspring.  I personally don’t mind the featherless neck, but some people find it very off-putting.  What’s interesting is that the gene that causes a featherless neck also creates a mild increase in breast meat.  This makes the Naked Neck a candidate for growing broiler chickens.  It also creates a marketing opportunity.  Our co-conspirators Tim and Liz over at Nature’s Harmony Farm in Georgia grow these and call them Georgia Redneck Chickens.  I think a similar marketing strategy could work in rural Kentucky.  The experimental part of this will be if the broilers have a feed conversion rate that is profitable and if the hens lay well enough to make that end of the chicken business work.  Reports vary on the egg-laying ability of the Naked Neck, with some people finding that they lay very well and other people reporting that they laying rate is pretty low.  We will see.  They are very popular in France, Spain, and Germany as meat chickens, but not they are very rare here in the US.

Delaware hen and rooster

The Delaware is the other breed we will be evaluating this spring and summer for a dual-purpose meat-and-eggs breed.  They were developed in their namesake state during WWII for use a broiler chicken.  Delawares did dominate their local markets for a couple years, but their reign was short-lived with the arrival of the Cornish x White Rock corss in the 1950s.  Like the Naked Necks, we are going to have to evaluate both the meat and egg ends of the Delaware breed to see if they’ll work for us.

If either of these breeds can be profitable for both meat and eggs, then we can stop ordering chicks from hatcheries and start sustainably producing our own chicks right here on the farm.  Then we can wean our customers off of the expectation of Cornish x Rock body conformation and teach them what a “normal” chicken is supposed to look and taste like.  That’s the goal.

New Poultry
Chickens and turkeys won’t be the only poultry gracing the ranch this year.  We are also (hopefully – they are very hard to find) going to add heritage breeds of ducks and geese in 2011.

Magpie ducks

The duck breed we are hoping to add is the Magpie duck.  They are originally from Wales are are a good dual-purpose duck.  They dress out around 4 pounds and their (mostly) white feathers pick cleanly.  They also lay 150-200 eggs each per year.  They are critically rare and we look forward to protecting and promoting the breed.  Now we just have to convince the processor to take them…

Cotton Patch geese

Finally, the Cotton Patch goose will now call Good Life Ranch home.  They are extraordinarily rare with less than 100 breeding birds in the country.  They used to be all over the place on virtually every homestead in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama weeding the gardens and the cotton fields.  They are good flyers, their white feather pick cleanly, you can tell the gender by looking at them, and they are extremely non-aggressive for a goose.  We’ve got some feeler out looking for goslings or breeding pairs, and it looks like we might be able to add these lovely geese this year.

St. Croix Sheep

St. Croix sheep

Finally, we want to add sheep to the Ranch to take advantage of the grass, reduce mowing, improve the pastures, and produce meat for us.  This will likely be a late summer or early fall acquisition because we’ll have to erect the fences first and then save up more money, but hopefully it will get done this year because we really need some more grazing animals to make use of all the grass we are growing.  St. Croix sheep are heritage-breed hair sheep, so they don’t require shearing.  They are a medium-sized breed.  What’s really attractive is that the flock we are considering buying from has remained vibrant and healthy despite not having been wormed in over 20 years!  They are definitely the most parasite-resistant breed of sheep.

 

That’s the weekend update, thanks for reading!

Livestocking Plans – Sheep and Goats

Lounging Goat

Well, we’ve made it to the ruminants!  These are the animals that will best convert solar energy into marketable product.  Ruminants take the solar energy collected by the grasses and other plants in the pastures and turn them into meat, milk, wool, and other products.  They are uniquely endowed by evolution with an organ that allows them to gain nutrition where other animals cannot – the rumen.

We’ll definitely have sheep, and we’ll probably have some goats.  I’m a little concerned with the fencing for goats in terms of keeping them on our property and out of the gardens, food forests, etc.  But I’ll put them in the post anyways because we are certainly considering them.

Goats can be used for meat, milk, hides/fleece, and for clearing land.  The meat and clearing are the products in which we have the most interest.  We don’t want dairy goats for several reasons, including the need to milk them every 12-24 hours and the fact that there is a dairy less than a mile away from us where we can get fresh milk cheaply and very locally.  I really enjoy goat meat (called chevon by some and cabrito in San Antonio where we’ve been living) and it’s really low in fat and cholesterol compared to other red meats.  We also have more than half our property in woods and may need the land-clearing services that a few goats can provide.  In short, I don’t think goats will be a major undertaking for us, but a small part of our diversified ranching operation.

Sheep may be the first ruminant animal that we acquire.  They are smaller and less expensive than cattle, and expense is definitely a concern with us right now.  But we’ll need some ruminants to graze the pastures for us and leave behind their fertilizer to help build the organic matter in the soil.  We eliminated wool sheep from consideration due to the heat and high humidity of the mid-south in the summertime and really looked only at the hair breeds of sheep.  This eliminates potential profits from the wool, but also eliminates shearing.  Hair sheep also tend to be more resistant to parasites than wool sheep.  We also looked at high lambing rates and year-round breeding potential in each breed.

Without further ado, here are the breeds of goats and sheep that we are still considering.

Goats

Myotonic or Tennessee Fainting – These goats can be heavily muscled because their muscles are constantly flexing and relaxing due to a genetic mutation.  If startled, they’ll sometimes even fall over momentarily.  It doesn’t hurt the goats at all.  These goats are good for producing meat and for clearing brush.  They also have the benefit of not being as escape-prone as other goats, because the relative stiffness of their muscles prevents them from a portion of the jumping and climbing that other goat breeds are capable of.  Myotonic goats come in pretty much every coat color and eye color combination you can envision in a goat, and they are really prolific goats – kidding every 6 months in many does.  They have a very high meat:bone ratio, mild flavored meat, and appear on the Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste. Additionally, the breed is in need of conservation.  The American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC) places them on the Watch list.

Boer – A goat breed developed in southern Africa.  The premier meat goat today by many standards.  It is a double-muscled breed, very climatically adaptable, and has true-breeding genetics.  These goats spend more time grazing than other goats, but are obviously still goats and prefer to browse for their food when given the choice.  Much larger than most other breeds of goat.  I’d like to try some of these in the pastures, but I am a little worried about escape attempts.

Sheep

Katahdin – A hair sheep breed developed in Maine from Caribbean stock.  They are efficient meat producing sheep in a wide range of climates.  Many other farms around Good Life Ranch raise Katahdin sheep, so they may be the best sheep choice for our area and climate.  Katahdins are very parasite resistant for a sheep and have a good lambing rate.  They are listed as Recovering by the ALBC.

St. Croix – Another Caribbean hair sheep breed that was developed further in the United States.  The St. Croix has similar characteristics to the Katahdin, but it is much smaller.  The upside is that the St. Croix produces more lambs more often than the Katahdin under most circumstances.  They share a similar ability to resist parasites.  However, although the Katahdin is a Recovering breed, the St. Croix is still listed as Threatened by the ALBC.  It also appears of the Ark of Taste.

Barbados Blackbelly – A very different-looking sheep!  Very beautiful animals.  This is another hair sheep that thrives in the hot and humid conditions of the mid-south that give wooled sheep trouble.  They are very parasite and disease resistant.  They are also prolific, often producing twins and triplets.  Blackbellies lamb year-round, even in the heat of summer, and are good mothers.  They are usually polled and are intermediate in size between the Katahdin and the St. Croix.  It is another species listed by the ALBC, this time as Recovering.

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