Thursday, February 5, 2009

Is it Spring Yet?

I'm hearing this question quite a bit these days, from the kids as they tug on their snowpants and boots, from the chickens (more or less...) as they huddle inside their crowded coop waiting for me to come defrost their water bowl, from the sheep who-- although well equipped for snow-- seem pained by hay rations and limited mobility.

It has been a long, hard winter. Most of the pasture is under more than two feet of snow-- a hard, crusty snow-- and the temperature was a miserable 4 degrees this morning.

Yup, I'll admit I'm a bit of a whiner when it comes to winter. I procrastinate like crazy, futz with snow pants and snow boots and gloves, take another few sips of coffee, stoke the fire in the woodstove, anything to avoid the grip of the wind outside.

Funny thing: Once outside, I love it. I lean on the fence just like in summer and watch the ewes chow down, the ramboys tussle, the dogs attempt to dig out the deermice that scamper under the snow. It's really not so, so bad....

This winter, we've been preoccupied with the usual questions:

Are the ewes bred?

Is our nutritional program adequate?

We hope so. But the internal workings of the flock are, as always, a bit of a mystery. We worry when Charlie and Bombadil (Now back together in an adjoining pasture) curl their lips in ramly romance as a ewe angles by. Is she just teasing them a little, or is she hoping that perhaps she can entice one of them over the fence for a long-delayed tryst?

Last year, we were sure that our ewes weren't pregnant at all. (We worried a lot last year) and every one of them produced a lamb or two. The year before that, half of them really weren't bred! (Due to a dominant wether in with a wimpy ram lamb, we think.)

We hope we've learned a bit from our three winters' worth of worry, but who really knows?

Also, we've been supplementing our ewes with kelp, sheep minerals and selenium yeast this year, and giving them a mix of forage extender pellets, alfalfa and a tiny bit of grain in addition to hay. Hopefully, this will result in the right nutritional combination-- not too much, which would result in birthing complications and gigantic lambs and not too little which would result in birthing complications and tiny lambs.

The most frustrating part is that this is all instinct and guesswork. We base our program on readings, advice from fellow shepherds and hard won experience and we hope-- and hope and hope!-- for an easy spring.


Christy said...

I don't even have sheep yet and I already find it so overwhelming! And I'm just like you with putting off the going outside.

Lisa said...

I was thinking of you today. Dave and I are getting a few chickens this year (few meaning literally 2 or 3) and I was asking around. Apparently I have to order 25 unless i find a feed store that I can buy them from. Caveat is i WANT sussex lol and chances are good that I can't get them at a feed store... wait I am off topic again.

My point... you live not very far from me so I was wondering who your supplier is? You probably order them too but it was worth asking.

Also... This is a trial chicken thing. If this is something we like and our neighbors don't hate us, we will get more. We wanted a good dual purpose docile breed. Anyway thats all I got just curious thanks!!

P said...

Hi Lisa,

Good to hear from you.

We ordered our chicks from Murray MacMurray. On our first experiment with chicks, we split the order with a friend. 12 was just about right for us.

Our feed store (Greenfield Farmer's Co-op) does carry chicks in the spring, and I believe you can order some of relatively rare varieties if you do it ahead of time. We got our guineas from the feed store that way.

Also, Craigslist's "farm and Garden" section sometimes has interesting varieties of chickens-- and lots of free roosters!

In fact, we are about to craigslist some of our roos-- four of the eight we hatched out mid summer were boys and it is not a happy scene for the hens down in the coop.

If you want to come by and pick up a rooster and a few hens, that'd be fun! The young ones aren't any breed though-- a combo of easter eggers, marans brahmas and buff rocks mostly.


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