Sheared Sheep

It is that time of year again, to shear sheep. It is, in fact, past time to shear sheep. Because the weather has not been cooperative, we did not shear as planned in October and are just now getting the task completed. In theory, sheep should be sheared about two to four weeks prior to lambing. I say ‘in theory’ because if lambing happens when it’s still cold then you kill the sheep. Some farmers here in Uruguay (not many) put on coats (not what Megan considers real sheep coats, rather feed bags with ties on for the neck and back legs) so that they can shear when cold. Farmers with barn put on coats but also the sheep get to stay warm and cozy in a barn and not out on pasture. But for those of us without barns, real coats would be useful but feed bag coats only work if it’s not exceedingly windy or going to rain. This year we lambed in September, as we have in the past. Which was very stormy. So not good shearing weather, even with make-shift coats. As usual. What wasn’t usual is that it then went cold rather than warm and we didn’t get to shear a few weeks after lambing as we have in the past. Hence the late shearing.

Last year we bought shears and hired a man to come shear using our equipment. This year, one of our guys, Ruben, knows how to shear, so we did not need to go with someone else’s schedule.  We have been shearing in groups, a few sheep each day instead of a marathon day of shearing.  It has worked out well for us.  Ruben has also been able to teach Oscar how to shear, and the two have been taking turns  Alejandro supervises it all and keeps it happening smoothly. Jon has even stepped in to help.

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shearing sheep 2

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Megan hasn’t skirted any of the fleece yet so we don’t know how many second cuts we are dealing with, the quality of the shearing, or the state of the wool. One of the only drawbacks to having Ruben shear – he’s not a professional. But second cuts aren’t necessarily avoided with professionals either. Prior to shearing the wool was evaluated ‘on the hoof’ for breaks, fever, etc. which helped a bit for how many wool bags we needed. And which sheep Oscar could learn to shear on.

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The mamas have been sheared, but the babies still have their coats.  Can you see the difference?

Spring babies

A discussion that was on-going all winter long was if our “mamas” would have difficulty delivering their babies and if both mama and baby would survive due to the lack of green pasture.  We were fortunate enough to be able to purchase supplemental feed (which turned into daily feed, nothing supplemental about it), and we have access to water for the animals,  Between our well, pump, and water holding tanks, plus our newly finished ponds that are spring fed in the front and the back of the property, we did not have to worry about getting water to the animals. Some of our neighbors had difficulty with both water and feed for their animals.

We heard horror stories about cows abandoning their babies due to no milk, of birthing difficulties and mamas and babies dying.  One neighbor had sheep lambing and vultures attacked moms and babies because they were so weak they could not defend themselves. One farmer expected 125 lambs and only had 25 born. It has been a tough year for people with animals.

BUT… we were most fortunate that we had minimal issues with our mamas and babies.  The sheep started  lambing at the end of August.  We have about 50 babies with just less than half males.  Most are black with a few white markings here and there.  Megan is breeding for color rather than white.  We have managed to dock tails, castrate , and ear tag our new lambs.  They are adorable to watch jump and play and run about in a group. Here are a few playing king of the hill.

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Our lecharas were really huge and for almost a month we kept saying they would burst any day. When they finally began calving in September, it was not the ones we expected to calve first  who calved first.  We had one born, then a few days later another, then one in the morning and one in the evening, then a few days later another was born.  The two largest cows who waddled because they were also the biggest around, we the last of the group to calve.  We have eight babies frolicking in the field with 4 more to arrive in a few months according to the vet.  We have six females and two males so far.

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The Normandy calves are up and running about within moments of being born.  Our mother lecharas are very attentive and keep close to their babies.

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Here is Jon walking around touching all the babies to get them use to being handles.

While we have rabbits and chickens being born and being sent to freezer camp on schedule, I have no photos to share.

But we have been keeping our eye on our geese and ducks.  They began nesting almost a month ago.

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Just today, we had our first set of gosling hatch!

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This mama took her little group on a walk about and another goose stepped up and is sitting on the rest of the eggs in the nest.  We have seven geese and one duck sitting nests full of eggs.  It will be interesting to see if the duck stays sitting after all the geese hatch because the duck eggs take longer to hatch.  Another learning experience.

Hazy days of summer

We’ve been dealing with hot, humid summer days. Typical for January here in Uruguay. I’m going to skip over all the negative things I can say about the heat. And I could go on, and on, and on. Instead I’ll just say that the hot, humid summer days make for gorgeous scenery with soft colors, hazy vistas, and a symphony of insect noise.

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I’m working hard to take a few moments while working to just appreciate the beauty of the farm, the region, and how lucky we are.

Lamb shearing 2015

Since it took me nearly forever to actually bring everyone up to date on Shearing 2014 I thought perhaps I should be a bit more prompt when mentioning shearing lambs. Two year’s experience shearing has taught me I know less than I thought I did – and that I have a lot to learn. This year we are trying something new – shearing the lambs mid-summer. Our Criolla sheep – the cute little brown wooly balls with legs – have a medium to fine fleece with high grease. And despite being less fine the Cormo, Merino, Polwarth, etc., Criolla wool felts if you look at it sideways. It also felts very easily while still on the hoof. Two years’ wool clip has illustrated this fact quite a few times over. The yearling fleeces tend to have more felting problems. After much discussion this year we are shearing the 2014 lambs in mid-summer (i.e. yesterday) to trim off the brief 3-4 months growth of wool, which is mostly lamb tips. Supposedly the fleece grows quite quickly; enough so that the staple length should be full length in time for the full year shearing. Hopefully the staple will be indeed full length, without the brittle lamb tips, and, most importantly, not felted. A secondary issue this year is that we desperately need to do the full-immersion sheep bath to combat the sheep/wool lice. Which is best done with minimal wool.

Regretfully, I failed to take any pictures DURING the shearing. And since we sheared on a drippy, misty day, it would have been a good photo opp. And yes, for all those of you that just cringed or gasped in horror, we sheared wet wool, wet sheep, and on wet ground. The wet ground didn’t prove to be an issue. The wet wool? It means that the lamb fleece are being opened, first evaluation made, general skirting done, and laid out to dry. See:

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No harm should come to the wool. And some of the fleece are WONDERFUL. Shorter staple lengths, but oh so soft.

Others? Let’s just say I’ve lined another garden path.

And, as a side note, I had lots of company while processing wool.

lamb shearing Resi

lamb shearing Virkha

lamb shearing kitty

So, we sheared, right?!

Typically, shearing is exciting. Really exciting. After all, it takes a whole year to get one sheared fleece per sheep. And as a devout connoisseur of natural fibers (particularly wool) I LOVE the product of the annual sharing. Bags and bags of wool. It’s typically hot, dusty, long days and then over. And I have LOTS of wool to show for it. And I love wool.

And we did mention it. Once. Way back when. See here.

And then I’ve been dragging my feet to follow up and share.  I did a much better job in 2012 and 2013.

So what’s up, right?

We did shear. And we do have some absolutely WONDERFUL fleece. I even managed to get some of the best skirted, sold, and mailed already. And yet I’ve been dragging my feet on sharing anything about it here on the blog.

And before I forget, here’s proof:

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And that’s because for every wonderful, scrumptious, oh-my-wow fleece we sheared this year there was at least one, if not two, that were mediocre or outright rubbish. In fact, 30 fleece were trashed at time of shearing. I told the shearer not to worry about how he sheared those fleece, we wouldn’t be keeping them.

Some were really fun – they are speckled 🙂

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(Why yes, I’m celebrating every happy moment we’ve got. Because man, shearing was depressing this year.)

Typically a few fleece every year aren’t worth the effort to skirt, wash, and process. The sheep was overly adventurous and rolled in stickers (thankfully not common); the ewe had a rough year and had breaks in her wool; the ram likes to scratch on the fence posts and felts most of his fleece; the lamb tips decide to felt on the sheep instead of just being a bit brittle. Normal issues. And usually only a few.

This year has been a very, very rough year for sheep. We’ve had nearly double the amount of rain normally received in a year – and we got half of that during February last year. Excessively damp, warm conditions caused endless foot problems. And not just for us – one of our neighbors lost 2/3 of his flock to hoof rot. Another had fly strike, not just with his sheep, but his cattle too! Then the winter was warm and damp. And the sheep louse issue that we’ve had under control exploded in early spring. An unexpected, and truly unusual, dip in temperature and late storms just after shearing led to further losses. All told this year we’ve lost about 1/4 of our flock of sheep. And we’ve been some of the lucky ones.

But all this took a toll on our wool this year. Some sheep (and their fleece) came through as if the weather was normal, average, and what bugs?! These are the great fleeces this year. And they are gorgeous. Other sheep are in good health, even if their fleece was a disaster, which gives us some hope for those fleece next year. Other sheep haven’t fared as well, and those we will be looking to sell to farmers with different conditions than we have. Because other farmers have harder ground, less pockets of humidity, and less wind than we have.

Shearing this year was the end of a very long, very rough year for our sheep – and by extension – for us. I’m working on getting the fleece skirted. I get a little more excited this year at the great ones, which, after much bureaucracy, I have permission to sell raw. I make notes about the good ones, which will be processed on farm into washed wool, flicked locks, possibly roving, and handspun yarn. The not-so-good ones will be carefully examined, notes will be made, and an eye kept on those sheep next year. The truly awful ones never made it off the shearing floor. Numbers were taken and we’ll see how many of those sheep are still here for shearing next year. This year has taught us that not all sheep do well here on our farm – not even those who do well on our neighbor’s land do well on ours. And that is never as apparent as it is at shearing.

We SHEARED! !

More detailed info will come later, but just so you all know, we did get the sheep sheared.

shearing

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All 128 adult sheep are now a few pounds of wool lighter.

Lamb update

Our sheep have (we think) finished lambing for 2014.  We have about fifty lambs in all for a total of about 160 sheep. We went into lambing season with 88 possibly bred ewes. The ‘possible’ part is due to having purchased 29 new-to-us ewes this past winter. We could have confirmed with a sonogram; we chose not to but it did leave open the question of how many lambs to expect.

The lambs are so cute to watch them jump and play with each other and then loose there mama and start calling for her and go running off to check in. With the lush spring grasses coming in strong the sheep are nearly rolling in food. And they act like.

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lambs 2

We currently have the sheep in small groups in various parts of the farm to try and keep the spring grass flush under control. There is one group eating grass in the Arbequina, one group in the Picual, another group in large enclosed pasture in between the two olive groves, a group in the main front pasture following the Lecheras, a group in Megan’s garden (trying to keep the grass under control until Jon can till the soil), and a group keeping the front Pecan grove clipped short. Spring tasks are nearly done – we have put in ear tags, docked tails and castrated, done the first of two rounds of vaccinations – next to come is the shearing. If the weather and the shearer can cooperate we’ll be in excellent shape for the summer.

 

Downside to a high learning curve

I know I’ve said it before but there’s only so much you can learn from books. No matter how much you read. And then comes trial and error. Unfortunately for us, farming with animals means that trial and error often involves animals. Sheep have, without question, been our biggest trial. More specifically, the Romney. Which, according to all we knew – and everyone local we’ve talked to – should have been the easiest and best bet. Our neighbors on all sides have Romney. Their Romney are doing fine. Ours? Have had issues from the start. Our current battle is sheep lice. The ram brought it in with him. Be we didn’t know that because he didn’t show signs for months. Now we are waging a war.

The worst affected?

downside

Almost all the Criolla are fine. Most of the Corriedale and PolwarthX are fine. But if one sheep has it, the flock is infected. So we’ve treated them repeatedly. We’ll get it under control, then it’ll flare again. It’s likely our Romney wool clip for this year is useless. Or maybe not. Supposedly the lice only damage the wool at that 1 cm point above the skin. So maybe if the wool is still on the sheep it’s fine? I won’t know until shearing. The good news is that while the sheep look bad, they don’t have any skin lesions or other secondary issues. That’s the upside. They still look terrible, and likely feel the wind in odd places, but otherwise they’re fine. We just treated them again, this time with a new-to-Uruguay product from Australia that is substantially stronger. Also substantially more expensive. With any luck it will hold until we shear the end of September / early October and then we can give all the sheep a bath. Twice.

It took some gentle prying before one of the local farmers finally admitted that sheep lice is a huge problem here. The government used to require that all farmers treat their flocks. Then the government stopped that requirement and the lice population has ballooned. Just like we have to trim hooves while our neighbors don’t, we run through regular foot baths while our neighbors don’t, we will also now also be regularly treating for lice while our neighbors don’t.

 

There’s always one

With trying to manage pasture in the olive orchard with animals comes the constant issue of making sure that none of the animals eat the olive trees. We’ve had varying levels of success with an array of management techniques, typically used in combination. More fence stakes, less fence stakes, different combinations of electric fence wire or electric fence tapes, powerful charges, smaller chargers, multiple charges, different groups or combination of groups of animals, moving more often, moving less often (this one was a disaster), vitamin supplements, different water access, and so on.

Our current grouping in the back is doing fairly well – we have Hereford cattle (cows, steers, and calves) eating through pasture in the Arbiquina with the Normandy bull keeping them company. And, just because I have one, a picture:

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The second group is the yearling sheep (i.e. borregos in Spanish) which are munching away in the Picual.

Between the two groups, there’s always one animal who just doesn’t stay inside the fences. It’s because of them that I take an afternoon walk with Resi every day and go check fences in the back 40. Because there is always either a cow or a yearling sheep out. Always. Thankfully, it’s usually a sheep. Because the cows are a lot more work to get back inside the fencing. And, at least in the case of the sheep, they typically aren’t munching on an olive tree. There’s too many interesting weeds closer to their nose. But still, out is out.

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And often their first response?

If I can’t see you, you can’t see me!

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Lambing 2014 continues

With out first lamb of the season already here, we figured with 88 ewes to lamb we’d have lambs being born right and left. Nope. Nada. Lamb #2 made her appearance just this past Sunday. And mama is none to keen on company. This is the best look I can offer:

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A little white Criolla lamb. Once again, no idea if male or female.