Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grass Dirt Dogs and Work

Just a short move from the winter feed area down to the corrals to sort sheep and put them out to graze. The dogs were used to keep the ewes from going onto the newly planted field, and to load the corrals. The the older ewes were taken back across the road to their lambing paddock, and the younger ewes were kept in the back pasture.

Moving the sheep from the winter feed area

The view from Mints perspective

The grass does not look this good in real life, but i got down at eye level and i must say the sun we had one day this week has helped.

Ella says these are MY SHEEP
The wind was howling and Ella was sound alseep. I said her name and she was NOT  amused at the surprise. I was hoping to take the leash off that i put on her for the move, but she was in no mood.

Newly planted grass field should like grass soon...
This looks like dirt, but i sure hope it looks like grass soon

Alfalfa root and why it is so hard to kill the stuff and plant something else
 Alfalfa is almost impossible to kill...even when you try. This root shows why.

Most of the lambs will lamb in the pasture will no assistance, we try and band and tag the lambs in the first 12 hours.  The lambie bus( pulled by an atv) is used if for any reason a ewe and her lambs need to be brought into the barn  Usually this is because the ewe has decided she does not want to be a mom and needs to be put into a stanchion( so she cant bump her lambs off and they can eat) until her maternal instincts kick in. Martin and i have a pretty good timing where i use the dog to hold the ewe and he snags her leg with a leg crook. I am sure a video of this would be ammusing as some ewes weigh a lot and things dont always go as planned. Some times i laugh so hard i cant stand up :)

Lambie Bus

This flawless sheep move brought to you by Duster and Mint

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Calm Before The Storm

The week before the official start of lambing is here. May 5th is the day we start, but the old Cheviots( or chevyawts as my dad says) usually start a few days early. Last year we had an abortion storm and had about 40 dead lambs in 2 days, all before the "start" of lambing. It was hell on earth and something i hope to not see again, thou as a sheep rancher i am sure i will someday.

Last week we tore out and old alfalfa field and planted it in a sugar ryegrass called We have another field planted in this seed and we hope to re seed it, and tear up another old pasture this summer and plant with the sucra. With the drought last year we are behind the power curve for graze to keep up with our ever expanding flock.

Spring has also been NO where in sight for April and May, BUT we have lots of water and the irrigation season is ready to start. Some sun would be nice, but hey we can't have it all. I am a little worried about my lambing paddocks as the lack of warm temps has kept the grass growth slow.

My dad comes out each year from Montana and help us lamb for a week. Gpa( as we call him) is an old cattle man, but it did not take him long to figure out the ins and outs of sheep. Last year we had rain and 40 deg for the whole lambing, it was the toughest lambing we have ever had. Gpa said that even thou he used to calf out in -20 deg weather, he would appreciate some nicer weather this year for lambing. :)

The neighbor has been losing lambs to coyotes this past week, he lambs in Feb and March.  The trapper has been out to set traps and i have my livestock guard dogs tied up so they don't get in any traps.We have a wonderful trapper who is very attentive to ranchers needs, and skilled at his job.   I was on my run this am with a few of my working dogs, being very careful to keep the dogs on the ditch road, so they would not get in any traps on the hill.

There was a trap on the edge of the ditch road and it caught my young dog Star. He has very lucky that there was no damage to his foot and i was able to free him quickly.  Marty talked to the trapper and he said the rest of the traps are on the hill, but i wont be taking any chances. I thought all the traps were on the hill ,or i would not have had my dogs with me on the road.

I hope the trapper has some luck in the next few weeks before we get into full swing lambing. My older LGD Ella will not leave the lambing area and with that and electric fence, i feel like we have good protection...but you still worry.  With the loss of our LGD Boomer we are down a dog this year, and the pup Max is too young to be out in the lambing paddocks.

The main irrigation line needs to be put back in and the wheels lines readied for irrigation. I big wind storm yesterday pulled a section of wheel line loose and flung it across several fields. About a mile of a neighbors wheel line was taken into a steep ditch. These lines were all staked down, so that was some big wind.

Lambing supplies have been stocked, lamb ear tags are here, and we will sort the two lambing groups and turn them out wend. The older ewes go across the road and the young first timers go into the back pasture, where we can keep a better eye on them.

This is our first year using Janet McNally's bucks. Janet's flock is enrolled in Lambplan

LAMBPLAN provides practical information for terminal, maternal and dual purpose sheep producers on the genetic potential of their animals. Sheep are ranked according to various production characteristics using Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs). ASBVs are available for growth, carcase, wool, reproduction and internal parasite (worm) resistance. ASBVs are directly comparable across flocks within a breed and across breed in the terminal sire group of breeds.

The commercial cattle and hog industry has been using this type of information for many years. The sheep industry is well behind in this area. If you are not buying rams with "numbers" to back them up, you may want to read up on the advantages of buying ewes or rams from a breeder enrolled in Lambplan ,or NSIP

Our kids are both playing baseball all month, with games 4 days a week between the two of them. With lambing coming on and baseball ,there wont be much time in May to train dogs for the upcoming summer trials. I will use my young dog Mint as my main lambing dog. As much as i enjoy watching a young dog handle the work of pasture lambing, it is not the best prep for the trial field. The work does involve some patience, which is always helpful, but it also requires a lot of calling in on singles and slicing of flanks.

Mint loves and excels at the tough, stressful ranch work, but i expect it to take longer for her to acquire the finesse needed on the trial field.  I think she will get there, but the balance to find a tough ranch dog, which is also a good trial dog, is not that easy.

The trial dog VS the ranch dog is a contentious topic i shall save for another day!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


When i was a very  little girl i wanted to be a vet. Then my beloved cat died and i realized that animals dying was a big part of being a vet. That was the end of wanting to be a vet. From the age of around 6 when asked what i wanted to be, i would say " a cowgirl."

My parents tell the story that when i was very young i would asked each person i meet " you got a peeecuuup?" aka pickup. If the person said "no" i would walk away wanting nothing more to do with them. If they said "yes", then  i was a friend. I guess cowgirls always love trucks.....and horses.

Lana and Mr. Russell
 I got a horse for my 6th birthday. He was a welsh pony named "Mr. Russell."  Russ was named after the man we got the pony from.  Russ was a perfect kids horse. We rode him 3 at a time, slide of his rear end, and sat under him. I rode him in our small town parade, decked out it full cowgirl attire...including my rifle of course.

Brooks and Dunn have a song that always reminds me of my dad teaching me to ride.
"Cowgirls don't cry"
Her daddy gave her, her first pony
Then taught her to ride
She climbed high in that saddle
Fell I don't know how many times
Taught her a lesson that she learned
Maybe a little too well

Cowgirls don't cry
Ride, baby, ride
lessons of life are going to show you in time
soon enough your gonna know why
it's gonna hurt every now and then
if you fall get back on again
Cowgirls don't cry

When our daughter Katy was 3 she would tell you she was a "cowgirl princess."   I am not sure of the defintion of that, but i know i never wanted to be anything "princess"  :) Cactus Kate has her own style.

We have been looking for a kids horse for Katy, and a good friend found us "Mac." Mac is a 21 year old ret roping horse.  Mac and Katy are spending the next few weeks getting to know each other, and making sure they are a good fit. So far so good. Katy loves Mac and i think the feeling is mutual. Katy is using the same saddle i rode as a little girl, and this makes me very happy.

The start of big dreams


love you buddy
 George Straight has a song i like called "how bout those cowgirls"
How 'bout them cowgirls
Boys ain't they somthin'
Sure are some proud girls
And you can't tell 'em nothin'
And I tell you right now girls
May just be seven wonders of this big, old round world
But how 'bout them cowgirls

Katy on my mare Pistol kissing her favorite cowboy..her dad
I ended up being a police officer, but in my heart i was always a cowgirl. Now i am back to that dream, and Katy will get a chance to be a cowgirl if she wishes....i do hope she doesn't want to include the police officer part thou :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

P. Chop and Curly

This story would be much better if i had a before picture. Our son won a pig at the greased pig contest at the fair last fall. The pig was a lil weiner pig who weighed about 20 lbs. We have bought pigs before, but have never feed one out oursleves.

We were told the pig would do better with a "buddy" of some sort, and that another pig was best. This being a sheep ranch we were short on lil pigs so we went with the next best thing....a lil lamb.

The pig was named P. Chop and his first friend was named "Ed." Ed was born with neurological problems that left him with a stiff neck that he carried very low. Ed and P Chop were friends for a few weeks, but eating that good pig food made Ed to heavy for his damaged body. We had to slaughter Ed.

About this time we were selling our lambs, and there was one lamb that was just to ratty to put on the truck. No matter how nice a lamb crop you have there are always a few lambs who you just hate to admit came from your ranch.  This lil ewe lambs mother died so it was not all her fault, but she was a sorry lil lamb.

We named her "curly" because she had patches of wool missing and all around a sorry looking fleece. Curly and P.Chop became fast friends. They slept together, ate together and romped around their pen snorting and baaaing.

We don't feed any of our sheep grain. I was worried that Curly would bloat the wait she kept pace at the feeder with P.  Curly did not bloat and both animals grew well throughout the winter.

Each year we give a cut and wrapped lamb to my parents and to my brother and sister in law. My dad is old school and likes the older yearlings, we do too.   What he really likes is a grained lamb, but i never have the time to do that so he is more than happy with the yearling.  We also don't like the taste of a grained lamb.

This year dad gets his wish. Curly would not be suited for a breeding ewe.   My dad comes and helps with lambing each year so Curly was butched today so he can take the meat home with him. As you can see Curly is no longer a scruffy lil lamb.


P. Chop still needs another month of food and i think this cold spring has slowed his growth some, but he is a long way from 20 lbs.  Some friends asked if the kids would get attached to P.Chop and have trouble when it was time to slaughter him. This week our daughter went in to scratch  P's nose and talk to him, she then turned to me and said " his pork chops are going to taste great hu mom?!" 

 Nobody loves animals more that katy, but ranch kids are realistic about where food comes from. I admit i can see how people get attached to pigs. They have great personalities.  P.Chop was our first pig, but he will not be the last.


Monday, April 4, 2011


10-7 Ranch sheep wranglers. Marty, Katy and Duster

Moving the sheep down from the dry land

Finding good weather to shear sheep is always a challenge, and this year's "spring" weather was no exception.  Our ranch is at 4,200 feet elevation and it is very common to have sun and 65 deg one day, and snow and 20 deg the next.

Sheep in winter feed area dry land
 We like to shear before we lamb, and we start to lamb this year around May 5th. We give the ewes their 8 way booster and worm them around the same time we shear.

One week before we wanted to shear we have several inches of snow, we managed to get a clear weather window this past week, so we sheared. Thankfully we had a very flexible shearing crew. One of the reason we don't have the larger shearing crews do our shearing is they set the schedule of when they come through your area, and when they get to your ranch. If they weather is bad our you lamb later you must run your system around them. 

Most of the area sheep ranchers lamb in the winter or early spring and they jug lamb(bring all ewes and lambs into a barn after they lamb and keep them in a pen for a few days.) We lamb later in May so we can lamb on the pasture when the grass is coming on strong, and not take the ewes and lambs into jugs. We have access to alfalfa stubble in the fall and early winter, and therefore we sell out lambs several months later than many area ranches. This allows us to lamb later on pasture which we consider to be more ideal for our system and less work.

As we continue to grow our flock we may need to go to a large crew, but i am going to stick with the little guys while i can. This is the last year we will be able to get shearing done in one day, the guys worked from dusk until dawn and we just finished.  Another option is to "tag" or "crutch" the sheep before you lamb and shear after you lamb when they lambs are around 1 month old.  Crutching is shearing only the wool in the vulva area and around the udder. This keeps the blood and after birth from getting on the wool when the ewe lambs, and allows the lambs to have clear access to the udder to eat.

Jeremy and Carl earning every penny

One very important factor in a smooth day of shearing is having a good handling system that allows for low stress on the animals, and a continuous/uninterrupted flow of sheep to the shearers.  Our handling system is usually outside by the corrals, but we move it into the barn when we shear.

Clean barn pre sheep

Our 5 year old daughter Katy helped for most of the day. She was in charge of making sure the belly wool was cleaned of of the shearing board and put into the "belly and skirt pile aka BS wool."  This is wool that does not make it into the good wool/fleece bag. Katy also helped keep the chutes moving. Before we could shear the sheep were brought the sheep down from the winter feeding area on the dry land. Katy helped her dad here too.

These jobs would be much more time consuming and difficult without good dogs. The sheep wanted to come out of the dry land, but they also wanted to stay on the alfalfa that is starting to come up in the fields we crossed. Then they wanted to stay on the hay stacks. I am not sure how we would have been able to load the sheep into the barn, and the handling system, without the dogs.  The dogs were also used to sort( we did it in the corral but called the dog in like a shed/sort) the fine wool sheep ( about 85%) of our flock, from the rest of the sheep. I used my dog Mint and while she makes me nuts some times as she does not have an "off" button, she is also very skilled at handling large groups of sheep, and she has a work ethic that never quits.
Katy and Duster a pair of ranch hands

Katy pushes the sheep up the race

We hired a 250 lb high school neighbor boy to stomp the wool bag. Our kids LOVE to stomp the wool in the wool bags, but they just don't have the weight to really do the job. We let the kids stomp the BS wool at the end of the day, and we fully expect them to both take over the big bag in a few more years.

James loads the crate.. wool on ground is belly wool

James hands a fleece up to the wool sack

Our 7 year old son James helped for many hours when he got home from school.  James carried fleece up the ladder to the wool bag, and he also loaded the handling crate that the shearers took the sheep from to shear.

LGD Ella and pup Max with sheared sheep in background
 We sell our wool to Columbia wool scouring who is a buyer for Our wool is used to make dress shirts. It is nice to have the shearing done and we even had a few days of nice weather. Now we wait a month for the lambs to start coming and life gets very busy!

Fine wool fleece