Our first baby!

We noticed as the girls were being shorn that Rose’s udder was more full than Flower’s. And, since our veterinarian recommended checking for lambs every 4 hours {especially overnight} when the udder is “full,” I wondered: What does a “full” udder look like, exactly? It struck me, again, how much information is available for all sorts of things, like, “You should shear the sheep before lambing to make it easier for the lamb to find the udder,” but not for the most basic, practical things, like, “When the ewe’s udder looks like a basketball it’s full of milk and she’ll delivery her lamb within 48 hours.”

So I got up the first night and walked down to the barn at 12:30am. It was cold and I had a very hard time getting back to sleep. I didn’t think she looked like a ewe in labor {you know, at least not like any of the other zero ewes I’ve ever seen in labor}. I decided to look for a more reliable sign than relative udder fullness.

So I did the only thing I could think of: I Googled it. That’s right, I pulled up the trusty old Goog and typed, “ewe udder prior to lambing.” Among the Images results was a link to this page. And of course it answered my question immediately. It’s a collage of photos of the writer’s ewe, every day or so, from the time her udder looked “full” to the day or two before she lambed. The ewe’s udder looked like Rose’s udder in the first photograph. And there are 9 photographs.

So I had a pretty wide range from “check her every 4 hours, especially overnight,” to “it could be two weeks before that baby is born.”

Did I mention I’m totally new at this?

I decided not to wake up the second night. I had a late meeting and didn’t get to put the sheep in the barn until 10:30pm and figured I’d check on them first thing the next morning. Instead, I found this:

Surprise!

Surprise!

I guess you could say I was caught a tad bit off-guard. I can see the nursery paddock from the house and had zero clue that Rose was in labor. I saw no suspicious behavior. Heck, the dogs didn’t even notice! The great news is that Rose delivered her baby without complications, right out there in the field, and not at 3am or at below freezing temperatures. Just the way sheep have been doing it forever.

Of course I woke the kids and they helped me put together the lambing jug, feed Flower, and then I grabbed the baby lamb and brought her to the barn as Rose followed. We went to bed at 12:30am, once they were all toasty warm and safe for the night.

Phew!

Rose and baby, Dot

Rose and baby, Dot

Shear Madness!

OK, so it went really, really well, but I was SO nervous beforehand! I am new in town, and don’t have any experience with shearing sheep, so I had a tough time figuring out how to get the girls shorn, before lambing, and when it’s not 14 degrees (or colder) outside. You know, in that teensy window during the winter to spring transition. Oh, and you can’t shear wet sheep. And they really shouldn’t get wet for a few days following being shorn. What’s so hard about that?

Luckily, when the veterinarian came out last week to check on the girls I asked him for a referral. I called Drew Mackey over the weekend, and to my surprise, the guy that shears 70+ animals per day, was able to come out on Monday, the third of three sunny days. Turns out I got him just at the beginning of his busy season. Drew sheared the girls in no time flat, even with all of us crowded around asking questions. He showed us his tools and explained what he was doing every step of the way.

Even with no power in our 1/4 sided barn, we managed. We keep our generator in the barn, and used it to power the lights and the clippers. We used our 2 sheep/goat panels (cut down into 6, 5/6-foot lengths), hooked together with zip ties, and created a chute and shearing area. I was pretty proud of our ingenuity and we didn’t lose a sheep! Overall, it was a great day to be a farmer!

IMG_4544 Flower's 2015 fleece IMG_4545 IMG_4543IMG_4553 IMG_4556 IMG_4560

We have sheep!!!

I remember the day (weekend?) I finally realized just what it was I wanted to do on our farm. I’d been through all sorts of ideas: CSA, dairy, broilers… Nothing really fit with what I was looking for, until I was chatting with a fellow Ladies Homestead Gathering member about knitting and livestock when I finally realized what I want to do on our farm is SHEEP! I’m an avid knitter and I love caring for animals, so of course I should raise sheep!

So almost immediately after finding the farm, I started looking for sheep. Tripp and I decided that two pregnant ewes would be the place to start. I had my heart set on a pair of Romedale/CVM ladies, and once we learned that the largest breeder on the east coast purchased our Scotch Collies’ brother we knew we’d found our source. After a few months of emails back and forth with Marie at Marushka Farms about caring for sheep, and then exactly which animals would fit us best, we picked up our girls this weekend! I cannot fully express how excited we are to have our first two sheep on the farm!

New hay Feb 2015

Rose and Flower

It really is a small world…

Long story, but neat {at least I think so}.

Today I called Miss Utility for a power line marking ahead of a satellite TV installation. The customer support rep said BARC Electric would be out between now {10am} and September 18. When we got home from our errands this morning, there was a BARC Electric truck on our road, doing something with the power lines that cut across our property. I leaned my head out the window and asked if they were here to mark the power lines. “No, ma’am, that’s another truck.” Oh, I said, well, there’s this wire that runs near the barn from this line {pointing directly overhead}, it’s green, appears to be grounded, but doesn’t appear to “go” to anything. Do you know what it is? He said he’d come have a look.

A few minutes later this {enormous} power line truck comes up the driveway. Two guys get out and explain that that line by the barn is there to maintain the right of way for the power company, but that there is no power to the wire. Someone before us had power in that barn, and a transformer on that pole, but now nothing. I will have to call the engineers and see about getting it hooked back up. Oh, I said, feeling dejected. I want the line to be nothing so I can pull it down, but also, something, so I can turn the lights on in the future barn… Anyway…

“Do you know how to get into that field over there, the one with the power poles?” Sure, there’s a rock crossing down below that last building – are you going to take that {gigantic} truck over there? “We’ve done it before!” Alright then… But hey, since you’re here…I have another question. There are a few places around the property with wires just sticking up out of the ground. Three places, actually. The lines appear to be dead, but we can’t figure out what they’re for or where they go… Can I just cut them off at the ground? “We can cut them for you, ma’am, if you want us to.” It’s really no problem for me to do it, I just want to make sure it’s okay to cut them. So, they back their {I mean, HUGE} power truck around and head down the driveway. He give me a “You mean, this one?” hand signal from 200 feet away, so I walk on down to see. Yes, those are the ones. “Hey,” the other guy calls out, from 20 feet away, “here’s a bunch coming up right here by the {guest} house!” What?!? {That makes FOUR places} “Ya, and what’s this giant PVC pipe here, by the barn?” Um…. He pulls it up – it’s empty. It’s at least 6 inches across, with a nice big PVC cap on top, and the hole goes at least 18 inches into the ground – but there’s nothing there. No wires and no visible tunnel or anything. Um…? So ya, there are wires like those two sets there, one in the field and another in the barn – any ideas? “They probably tried to run ‘private wire’ {that means, homeowner installed} from the {guest} house to the {“activity”} barn, to avoid putting in a separate meter. Down the hill? Now, I’m not sure about that…” Oh, well, don’t cut them then. I guess I need to do some more research…

Here’s where the story gets good!

I heard the guy ask Caden if our dog {Findlay} was a Border Collie. He told him no, he’s a Scotch Collie. So a little while later the guy asks me. “What kind of dogs are those?” Scotch Collies, I said. “Oh, I used to breed Border Collies.” Really? Do you have sheep? “No, but I used to work with them for a few people. Do these dogs herd like Border Collies?” They do, but you know how Border Collies are always…”on”? These guys are known to have an “off switch,” they are also reliable as homestead guardian dogs. “So, a good all-around dog?” Yes, exactly. In fact, there’s this farm down the road that has sheep and collies, and I’m hoping to get in touch with them about training these guys… “David Clark and his wife Cheryl? Ya, I know them. They’re great people.” Ya, that’s them – do you think they’d help me? “Definitely, I’m sure they’d be very helpful. We’re from over in Bath County and there’s a lady there {insert name here. I’ve already forgotten…Maybe her?} that’s a world renowned herder…” I didn’t know that! Isn’t there a guy in Highland County….what’s his name, Mc-something… “Ya, McCaig, I used to work for him. Man, it’s a small world, isn’t it?” Yes. It sure is. And I am absolutely thrilled to

Mountain Wave Kelsey, dam to our two pups. Herding Instinct Test

Mountain Wave Kelsey, dam to our two pups. Herding Instinct Test

Sheep

Among the other crazy things I hope to do on our little farm, sheep are up there in the Top 5. Of course we’ll have a garden, and our laying hens, and Ladies Homestead Gatherings, but what our homestead really needs is livestock. And I think our first one will be sheep.

Sheep are beautiful. Sheep scream “FARM!” And sheep make WOOL and since I’m a knitter, it only seems logical that I would have sheep, right? No, I don’t have a spinning wheel, nor have I ever sheared a sheep or carded a fleece, but I am 100% confident that I could and so, I am determined.

Where to start?

One of the cornerstones of our farming philosophy is to choose animals that are considered “heritage” breeds; those bred by farmers before the drastic mono-culturization of our current food and fiber system. So the first thing I did was check the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy for their list of endangered breeds. The ALBC’s Mission is to :

{Ensure} the future of agriculture through the genetic conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.

Under sheep, they have the following breeds listed as Critical:
Florida Cracker
Gulf Coast or Gulf Coast Native 
Hog Island
Leicester Longwool
Romeldale/CVM
Santa Cruz

And the following listed as Threatened:
Black Welsh Mountain
Clun Forest
Cotswold
Dorset Horn
Jacob – American
Karakul – American
Navajo-Churro
St. Croix

Romeldale/CVM Sheep Mama and twins

Romeldale/CVM Mama & Twins

I read through the descriptions of the various breeds, focusing mainly on those on the Critical list. The folks at Colonial Williamsburg maintain a breeding flock of Leicester Longwool and the Hog Island is native to a small island off the coast of Virginia, so those two were considered finalists. But the winner, at this point in time, is the Romeldale/CVM. I am attracted to this breed because the animals come in a variety of colors, because the dams are said to be good mothers, and because “the breed’s fleece quality and performance characteristics…make them useful for many production systems and valuable to handspinners and other fiber artists.”

Ok, so I chose my starting breed. Now I have so many questions!

  • Will I have success selling the fleece?
  • Should I consider selling the lambs for meat?
  • How many animals should I start with?
  • What kind of fencing will I need?
  • Should I keep a ram?
  • What about Livestock Guardian Dogs {aka, LGDs}?

I have really enjoyed reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep which is a wonderful resource for new and experienced shepherds. But, even better; I was fortunate to come across Alison Waddel of Phoenix Farm Fiber in South Carolina through www.LocalHarvest.org. Alison has a profile on that website which directs people to her farm, plus she is able to sell roving and other fiber right there as well. To supplement what she sells through Local Harvest, Alison maintains an internet store on Etsy where she sells fiber from her Romeldale/CVM sheep and mohair goats as well as upcycled / recycled products, soaps, and other neat things. So naturally, I emailed her! I introduced myself and mentioned that I was interested in keeping Romeldale/CVM sheep and did she have any advice or suggestions. She responded quickly and thoroughly and for the past week has been answering innumerable questions from me. The ones listed above barely scratch the surface, but here are the answers I’ve come up with, with Alison’s professional guidance:

  • Yes
  • Yes
  • 4-6
  • 2×4 No Climb Fencing around the perimeter to contain dogs and baby lambs + our poultry netting surrounding the chickens within the sheep’s paddock.
  • Yes
  • Alison recommends Great Pyrenees. My plan is to have one {trained female???} LGD as soon as we get our sheep.

I am so grateful for making a long-distance shepherd friend already, and look forward to my opportunity to Pay it Forward very soon. Thanks, Alison!

** Internship Update – Unfortunately, the Howell Living History Farm has decided not to take any new interns this fall, so I will not be learning to drive a horse team in Lambertville, New Jersey. BUT, recently I came across a gentleman just 30 minutes or so from me who works his horses in the fall for wagon rides and parades and he has offered to teach he what he can. I spoke with Greg today and hope to spend some time with him and his pair of Belgians very, very soon. I’ll keep you posted!