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Food, Glorious Food!

January 13, 2010

There’s an old saying that I’m sure you all have heard: “You are what you eat,” and I believe this is really true for the lambs we raise. I’ve been raising sheep since I was in FFA in high school, and many of my practices have changed over time, as I’ve learned new information and (hopefully) grown from my experiences.

Even in the winter time, we are usually able to rotate the lambs across pasture every two to three days. We still feed hay as their primary source for protein and energy, but keeping them on a pasture rotation during this time does several things for us.

Chow time! Replacement ewe lambs diving in on a fresh round bale of alfalfa.

First, it keeps growing, green forage going into their bodies. There is no substitute for “live” forage in terms of meat quality and nutrient makeup. We know that lambs dining on green forage will have higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid than lambs fed stored forage alone, and that lambs fed grain have even less. So we keep the lambs moving, and even give them priority over the gestating ewes if our supply of green forage is limited. We also don’t feed them any grain after weaning.

Second, it keeps us from concentrating manure too densely. We love the fertilizer effect of manure and urine. (Yes, urine! Did you know it’s 80% nitrogen?) Moving the sheep gives the soil microbes and weather the time to break down and digest the manure, making it available to the next forage growth, before we come back over the same spot again.

Third, especially in winter, it helps prepare the pasture for the spring growth. We won’t go back over the same ground in winter without significant regrowth, unless it’s an area where we plan to renovate, and we want the extra ‘deposits’ from the sheep. Grazing it down hard and letting it rest gives the cool season legumes like clover and vetch a head start when it starts to warm up in late February. Since these legumes are so critical, we try to manage the pasture to their benefit over the benefit of the grasses. The grasses can take care of themselves 😉

So why am I talking about this now? Because we’ve had such extreme weather the last two weeks, we haven’t had the pasture growth (even minimal) that I anticipated, and we’ve had to park the sheep for a longer period due to the frozen ground. From the looks of the forecast, we’ll be getting back to a more normal pattern, but we are only now able to start rotating again, probably this weekend. (The ground is still very frozen here, in places) I don’t like to harvest lambs when they are only eating stored forage, such as hay, so we’re going to postpone our next processing date to sometime in mid-March. That will be the last of the lambs we harvest for cuts, then we’ll do the annual sausage harvest in late April. We’re likely to run out of cuts for a short time due to the delay, but we’d rather delay and give you a better product in the end.

Who needs a ladder? I'm the tallest one in here!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sue permalink
    January 13, 2010 11:52 pm

    Check out the second pic. I think the mystery of the missing jacket is solved!

  2. January 15, 2010 9:07 am

    D-oh! Good eye 🙂

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