(Has it really been
a month two months since I posted? Oh my…)
As a lover of all things related to college sports, one of my favorite mascots is the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. I mean, what other team has a pig for a mascot? I raised pigs in high school and found them to be fascinating creatures–hardy, useful, and oh so delicious! I’ve raised feeder pigs a few times since, and I really would like to someday keep a few sows and a boar (Mom and Dad pig, for those unfamiliar with the terms). However, I don’t have quite enough time to invest in that type of effort, so I content myself with raising feeder pigs from time to time.
I was able to purchase four weaning-age gilts (girl pigs) from a farm in Stillwater a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve spent the time since getting them settled and acclimated. This weekend, I will begin training them to the electric wire, and after that, I’ll expand their pen. These four really like to forage, which fits in well for my plan to have them on some unpastureable land on the west edge of the farm. That will have to wait a few more weeks, because they are not quite big enough to take on a coyote (yet). Once they hit 70 lbs, they should be formidable enough to take care of themselves.
These pigs are Berkshires. Two of them are bound for Living Kitchen Farm and Dairy, one is sold, and one remains to sell. If you’d like to buy a whole or half hog, they will be available late this fall. Berkshires make wonderful eating–don’t buy into that ‘other white meat’ BS–a Berkshire pork chop is pretty close to eating a rib eye beef steak! If you’d like to try some Berkshire pork, you can sign up for the Living Kitchen Pig Roast here. Even if I wasn’t providing the entree, I’d still be attending the Pig Roast–it’s my personal favorite Living Kitchen event.
On the sheep front, it’s been a case of enduring the sudden summer temperatures and the changeover from cool season grasses to warm season grasses and forbs. The lambs are growing well, and with the cool down of temps this weekend, I’m going to try and wean the first group from their mothers.
If you raise sheep long enough, you start to lose track of some of the details. I can tell you that I lambed out between 35 and 40 ewes this year and over 45 last year, but the year before that? Psshhhtt, I have no clue until I go look it up in the spreadsheet. I can’t remember exactly what year a lot of the girls were born without looking at their ear tag (color-coded.) Think about it–if I lamb out 40 ewes on average, and they average 150% births (they usually do much better than that), then that is 60 new faces each year, and I’ve been raising sheep for more than 30 years (ohmygosh, that’s 1800 sheep!) Some of those faces leave here before 6 months of age, and relatively few of them spend their whole lives here. Many are sold to sheep dairies to be milked, a bunch are eaten, and a few unfortunate ones succumb to parasites or disease or accident. As my friend, Jamie Robertson, noted today on Facebook: “Circle of life, Flo, circle of life.”
But there are a memorable number of ewes, and a few rams, that leave a mark on a flock and a farmer. Bruce, a 40% Lacaune ram, improved the udder conformation of the flock almost overnight. His half-brother, Dante, continued in that vein. I remember most of my 25 original dairy ewes, each named after a different state, though I no longer have progeny from many of those lines. Illinois lived longer than any of the other dairy ewes (to date), passing away one hot day last summer at the age of 13 and 1/2. One of my original Hamp ewes, Trip Mama, had twins at age thirteen. She went down 3 weeks before giving birth, the strain of pregnancy just too much for her. We induced labor a week early, hoping that unloading her lamb burden would enable her to recover. Sadly, she only lived for a few days after, as if she just wanted to live long enough to give her twins life–a protective mama to the end.
One of those great, memorable ewes was Fargo. As her name implies, she was in the Dakota line, a big ol’ horse of a sheep with a big personality to match her size. She wasn’t obnoxious or pushy, but she always made sure to come over and greet you every time you entered the pen. She always had twins or triplets, and she had this grocery sack-size udder with plenty of milk to feed them. I called her ‘Farge’ for short, and I truly loved her. In fact, she may have been written about on this blog as much as any other ewe (Here’s an example.)
Two summers ago, when she turned eight, she was starting to slow down. Some nice folks from Missouri had contacted me about starting a small homestead dairy flock, and I asked them if they’d like to buy Fargo and maybe a ewe lamb to go along with her. Why would I want to sell my beloved ewe? Well, I work a full-time (and then some) off-farm job, and have 40 or so other ewes and their offspring to care for, and I felt like Fargo would be better served to be in a small flock where she could get lots of TLC. I explained to Debbie and Alan that they would likely only get a couple more years of lambs out of her, but that she would help them tame down any other sheep, and she was an easy keeper to boot. So Debbie and Alan loaded up Fargo, the old lady, and Ottumwa, the ewe lamb, and off they went to Missouri.
Fargo rewarded the Smitheys the next spring by having triplets–all girls! This year, she had another productive year, giving birth to twins last Friday, a boy and a girl. It became apparent, however, that something was very wrong with Farge the next day. She had gone down and couldn’t get up, and she was running a high fever. Debbie gave her penicillin to combat the infection and Gatorade to keep her hydrated, but she just kept getting worse. Debbie and Alan made a trip to the farm store to get a different kind of antibiotic, in the hopes it would knock the fever back, but when they returned home, they found Fargo dead. All of us who knew this big, strapping, goofy ewe shed some tears at this news. You couldn’t meet Farge and not like her. As Debbie wrote me later: “Fargo taught us a lot about sheep and lambs and milking. We will never forget her.” Nor will I. RIP, old friend.
(Photos courtesy of Deborah Smithey)
The blog is back. It’s been over 22 months since my last post. Twenty-two months of writer’s block, crazy busy, in and out of drought, and a number of changes. I’ve missed writing from time to time, but with the advent of the new year almost here, it’s time to get back into the swing of things. I apologize for the absence, and I promise to be reasonably regular with postings through 2013.
A few days ago, I tooled out to the pasture in the afternoon to find this:
Well, not *exactly* this, because somewhere in the middle of this Gordian mess was one of the rams, Knoxville. He had managed to escape the bachelor pad he shares with three other rams. To get from there to the spot in this photo right outside the sorority house (ewe’s pen), he had to walk a few hundred yards across two pastures. He hadn’t been there in the morning, so this apparently was a daylight panty raid. When he stuck his head through the electronet, he managed to free all the ewes. He also managed to tangle himself up so badly that he didn’t get to chase any skirts. I found him tethered to the little pecan tree, plaintively bahhhing at the ewes grazing nearby. Don’t worry, he was not being shocked. The wind (or a deer) had blown off/torn loose the insulated wire that connects the hot line from the barn to the pasture electronet. I managed to free him within a few minutes, threw him over the gas tank on the 4-wheeler, and gave him a ride back to his pen. Draping him over the gas tank doesn’t let him get a foothold with either front or back feet, so he has to ride somewhat passively.
Once Knoxie was safely stowed away and a new t-post was driven to block his previous exit, I went back to tackle the tangles. Each section of electronet costs around $175 with shipping, so I was not about to abandon this one without a fight. As with any knot, I just had to find the ends, and as with many problems, it looked worse in the beginning than it turned out to be. Less than an hour later, I had it untangled and reinstalled. I didn’t even have to go all Alexander on it and cut the net.
You’ll notice one other thing from this picture. It is really, really DRY. If you raise sheep and you use electronet, I guarantee you will see this situation sooner or later, especially when it’s dry, because in dry conditions, the sheep aren’t well grounded, and even when the fence is carrying a good charge, it won’t ‘transfer’ to the sheep. We just observed the driest July – November period on record in the state of Oklahoma. If we don’t get a substantial amount of rain over the next three to four months, we’re in for a worse drought than the one we experienced in 2011. Pray for rain, y’all, please? Otherwise, you might see my sheep trying to graze the ditches on Highway 18.
Wow, it has been quite a ride since I posted last. I’m still pretty sleep-deprived but got caught up a bit last night. We are over two-thirds done with lambing with 15 ewes to go over the next 10 days or so. Once we get past this weekend’s weather, we should have some really nice sunshine in which to finish up. I have lots of lamb stories to tell, but for now, I’ll post some more pictures of this year’s crop for your enjoyment. Remember–girls get names, boys get numbers.
As I sit here and enjoy my Greek style yogurt from Wagon Creek Creamery mixed with frozen peaches that I picked last summer at the OSU farm in Perkins, I am reminded how truly blessed I am. I have freezers full of meat, a stocked pantry, a little garden, and sheep growing on the pasture. I have an off-farm job paying the bills (and sometimes driving me crazy), a good family, and lots and lots of love in my life. In the midst of all of this happiness, it’s good for me to understand and know there are lots of folks who don’t have these things. They don’t have jobs, or families, or even full bellies.
Sometimes, the problems of homelessness and hunger seem too large for me to have an impact. Then an opportunity comes along which allows me to help in a way that works for me. My partner here at Cordero Farms, Sue Young, has taken the cow by the tail and is working to turn it into hamburger for the hungry, and she needs your help. You can read all about her project Don’t Have a Cow, Give a Cow here.
Won’t you take a few minutes and make a small donation? Or a big one? If 50 people give the cost of their morning latte and scone, Sue will be more than a quarter of the way towards raising enough funds to give hamburger to the hungry in OKC for one month.
It’s the least we can do when we are blessed.
The bond between a newborn lamb and its mother is established almost from the moment the wet lamb hits the ground. A good mother will immediately start licking the lamb to clean it. While she cleans it, she makes soft, almost growling, murmuring sounds. These sounds are the first to imprint on the lamb, and the cleaning and the soft language begins the bonding process. Lambs and mothers know each other by sound first, then by sight. Studies have shown that sheep can remember faces (human faces and sheep faces) for up to two years. And mothers know their lambs by smell. When a lamb is nursing, you’ll see the mama lean down and sniff the baby’s rump. What is she expecting? She is checking to see if the lamb’s poop smells like her milk. This is why when we have to temporarily remove a baby from mama, we always try to feed it mama’s milk, so that when baby comes back, mama will accept it as her own.
Say hello to Yo, short for Yolanda. Yo was a bottle lamb two years ago. She’s 25% Hampshire, 75% dairy, and all mama. You’ll see her exhibit a bunch of these bonding actions in this short clip. I took this video less than an hour after she lambed: