It's that time of year again...Lambing Time! So far there are three sets of triplets, four sets of twins, and a couple singles. Lambing started on Saturday morning. With about 35 ewes still to lamb it's busy around here. This is a great time to lamb, it isn't too cold and spring is just around the corner. When the lambs are ready to graze the pasture will be lush again. Next week the pastures will be frost seeded, six weeks after that they'll be ready for grazing.
We've heard from many people concerned over the drought in Iowa. The Drought Monitor determined that 59% of the state is in severe drought. We are concerned and are trying to prepare for the worst. We're implementing a drought plan we've had in place for a few years, just in case. Because we rotationally graze, the ground has additional recovery time between foraging. During drought conditions overgrazing certain areas by increasing the stocker rate (number of cattle in a paddock) and allowing them more time in each paddock, gives larger areas of pasture more time to recover. This allows deep rooted legumes, weeds, and less palatable plants to hold the ground, keeping the soil in place when rain returns. If the weeds or cover crop were killed off, soil erosion would be accelerated. Soil erosion would leave very poor conditions for plant recovery.
As unpleasant as the subject is, culling older herd animals is necessary. A few favorite cows are going to be sold, two horses were sold, and a third is being advertised for sale. There isn't enough hay for the profitable animals so the older animals and recreational pets have to go. It's tough. These are difficult decisions but necessary to sustain the herd and the land.
The sheep who are prone to overgraze deep rooted forages while ignoring grasses have been brought closer to the barn for management. If confined to smaller areas, the sheep will eat weeds and clean up grasses and dry pasture matter. The saying, "Beggars can't be choosers", applies. Another drought management option is early weaning. The calves and lambs are offered better grazing areas and the cows and ewes reduce their required feed intake by up to 40% when not lactating.
The dairy cows and calves haven't been separated, yet. Their yield is high and milk for the pigs keeps grain costs to a minimum. Sows, boars, and feeder pigs are grazing in smaller pasture areas, keeping rooting behavior to a minimum.
Hay prices and the rising cost of grain has us looking at changing our production model. This year we'll be selling off most of the feeder pigs. Carrying them through the winter months when grain prices will be at their highest would drive prices too high. We'll hold onto our sows and boars and breed for late spring rather than late winter farrowing.
With all of these practices in place we're optimistic about the coming year. As our friend says, "Every dry day that passes gets us one day closer to rain". He's right. Eventually it will rain. That's inevitable. The question is... when. Until that day our drought plan is in full force.
This would be the time to buy larger quantities of meat. The price is only going higher, at least until the next harvest season. Planning ahead can make a big difference in your budget.
We Raise Texel and Ramboulet cross sheep. They produce quality meat and have thick fleece. Shearing is usually done six weeks before lambing but this year we had a ram get out with the ewes early, oops. This surprise caught us off guard and the shearing was delayed until after lambing season.
Spring planting also added to the delay. We saved a fleece for a customer's spinners group. She sent us lovely photos of the wool in process of becoming yarn, and the final skeins or hanks, I am not sure the proper term. Anyway, the wool is beautiful and we appreciate her sharing them with us.
Here's how shearing day works...
1. Gather the sheep.
2. Separate the lambs from the ewes
3. Hold your ears or wear ear protection, there's loud complaining amongst the sheep, mostly the lambs. The ewes seem to enjoy the break.
4. Set up the wool sack, which holds around 300 ponds of fleece. (we filled nearly 2 sacks from 34 ewes and 1 ram). The wool sack hangs from a steel frame. Someone in the crew, in our case it was Garrett, has to climb into the bag and pack the fleece.
5. A clean tarp or canvas is laid on the ground to keep the area clean.
5. The sheep are caught. Held loosely while being shorn. Released, naked and clean, to go and eat. When all the sheep are finished they rejoin their lambs. There's peace again, it's so quiet.
6.The wool is weighed, we pay for the shearing, and the wool buyer pays for the fleece. We came out $67.00 dollars ahead this year. On large scale sheep operations, when wool prices are low, the USDA assists with the shearing costs. The current price for wool is high so there isn't any assistance program this year. The shearer is also a wool buyer, representing a wool or fur company. He's paid for his time shearing and also makes a profit from selling the wool.
7. The area is cleaned, shearing items are packed and the day's complete. Happily, one more item is crossed off the "to do" list. The ewe lambs will be shorn this fall.
With all the new lambs born recently we’re feeding the richest hay in the mow. The more coarse hay is fed first. As winter progresses the hay supply is dwindling. The highest quality hay is held back until the end of winter. It’s reserved for cows, who are nursing calves, and ewes nursing lambs. Keith brought down a bale and showed me a flake that was still bright, soft, and green. It was a blend of orchard grass, alfalfa, and clover. The heart shaped leaves of green clover, topped with brown flower heads, looked as if they’d been pressed in a book. This was third cutting hay. It smelled sweet and the stems and leaves were still tender. The plants weren’t tall, not on the last cutting of the season, but the pliant green blades were perfectly cured. Soft palatable hay, after a couple months of eating dryer hay, is a reward for livestock eager for spring grass.