Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Lamb

I took some pics of the lambs this week.  The first load of lambs will be trucked to slaughter in less than a month. I am looking forward to getting them home and feeling the finish on them.

. We are very happy with how the lambs look, and how they are growing on the alfalfa stubble. The stubble has wilted some and is started to dis color, but still looks good.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Alfalfa Stubble That Is, Green Gold, Oregon Tea

When i think of stubble i think of that old Beverly Hillbillies song "Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea."

It is that time of year in the Klamath Basin. The heavy frosts have come and the alfalfa stubble is ready to graze. The frost lessens the chance of bloat.

We never know what fields we will be grazing, that is one of the stressful parts about grazing other people's land. The graze depends on which field has the right amount of stubble, how long has it been since the last cutting was taken.  This is hay and  potato country. The spud farmers can't put spuds in the same field  two years in row, so their rotation crop is often hay.

Most of the hay sold here is high end, dairy quality hay. Most farmers figure to take 3 cuttings. If the weather holds some will take 4. If the stubble comes up to much after the last cutting then the rodents will really destroy a field.  Also, the more stubble left, the more area for weevils and aphids to lay their eggs. The weevils and the aphids eat the alfalfa.

In addition there are a fair number of farmers here who sell organic hay and potatoes. That means no chemicals to kill the rodents and bugs. 

All of this can be good news for sheep ranchers.  The stubble is a very high protein food for the sheep, and the sheep do an excellent job of evenly, and naturally taking the stubble down.

We like to graze stubble withing 1-5 miles from our ranch.  We save time and gas by trailing the sheep instead of trucking them. This requires good dogs and some good friends to help. The key to a good move is keeping the sheep moving, while keeping the pace fairly slow. If we have a lot of stubble to graze, we put the ewes back with the lambs. The ewes also keep the lambs moving along more smoothly.  These are lambs we are trying to finish and the more calm the move, the better for the sheep. This is one job we absolutely could not do without well trained, tough Border Collies.

Also a factor is keeping the farmers along the route happy. You never know from  whom your next grazing opportunity will come,  and good trailing makes good neighbors. This means keeping the sheep out of newly farmed fields, as well as yards and gardens. Along the way there all also all sorts of driveways and ditch access roads. The sheep seemed to love to cut down these.

The dogs work hard. One second they are pushing the sheep up a hill( sheep hate this) and the next they must sprint ahead to keep the sheep out of a farmed field. We also have a friend in a truck to warn traffic and ask that they stop and let the sheep go around them before they move on.

This last move was hectic and i wished we would have had more help. I did not get many pics, but here is one of the hill right up from our ranch. This was not an easy push. I wish i had more pictures, but it was to busy to get more.

Mint takes well deserved break and guards the lawn.

This is a photo of the field before sheep have grazed.

The sheep are grazed in electric net and electric 4 wire.  Here is a pic of section that has been grazed.

This shows a section the sheep have started to eat. As you can see lots of food left but not as lush.

Fat lambs make me happy.

These lambs were all produced by Janet McNally's Tamarack rams.  Our lamb buyer was here last week and took this picture of 3 of the rams we own from Janet. These rams are 2 years old and have never had grain. They will be joined by two new yearlings lambs we bought from Janet this fall.

Photo by Cody Heimke

It is stressful not having your sheep on your own ranch.  We use a combination of electric fence and livestock guard dogs to keep the sheep safe. This is Ella one of our LGD. It was taken during lambing and she was asleep when i snuck up and took her pic. She is very sweet to people, thou very aloof, but i feel better knowing this is the face a coyote will see.

On this years trailing we were stopped by one of the largest spud farmers in the area, he offered us 150 acres of graze. We had not asked this man for graze in the past as we figured being such a large farmer he would want to use machines to take care of the stubble. Just shows it never hurts to ask! While i was checking sheep the next day, another farmer stopped and offered several hundred acres of graze. The sheep advertise for themselves by doing such an excellent job. We keep sheep moved and water rotated so the field looks as pristine as we can leave them.

It also helps that is wide open farm ground ,so people can see if there is a problem with the sheep. Mostly we worry about loose farm dogs.

Sheep graze in background of the wide open spaces

This is my second blog about trailing and graze, i wrote one last year too. I do this to encourage and educate others to think about grazing opportunities in their area. Lamb prices are good, and more and more people seem to be interested in raising sheep.

When we moved to the Klamath Basin 4 years ago from our small farm in western Oregon, we knew nothing about electric fence, trailing sheep, or grazing stubble. We would not have taken it on had we not had good dogs, but we had to ask a LOT of questions to get to where we are today. It has not been easy(i call it the learning cliff) and there is still much to learn, but i encourage others to jump in there and find better and cheaper ways to graze their flocks.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cheap Sheep Gal

Several years ago i was giving a ride to our friend Dan Byrne(rest in peace Dan.) Dan was a cattle rancher friend of ours and the husband of my good friend Geri.  As we drove along a ditch bank i was quizzing Dan about the plants we saw and asking what was good feed, and what was not.

Dan answered several questions and then asked me why i was asking.  I told him i was thinking of grazing the ditch banks with our sheep. Dan said "well hell, you are finally thinking like a cheap sheep gal!" If you cant find free food you are not much of a sheep rancher!"

I took those words to heart and i have been looking for cheap or free food ever since.

This fall i was out looking for alfalfa stubble fields to graze my lambs on. The stubble fields are a very rich source of fall food, and using sheep to graze is also beneficial to the farmer, as it helps kill the weevil and aphid eggs. The weevil and aphids eat the alfalfa.

I pulled into a farm house and introduced myself to a neighbor i had meet once before. I asked about a stubble field and he had and he told me the man who was leasing the field was going to be taking a 4th cutting from that field, so there would be no graze.

We stood and talked a few minutes and the man said i could graze his other field if i wanted. He said he thought the spud farmers may want it for next year, but i could have it until then.   He said i would take a look, and went to walk to the field. The field is up against the hill and you can not see it from the road.

At first glance this is what i saw. A lot of dried up mustard. Mustard is good food, but this was too dry. This field was not farmed this year or last, but it has irrigation ditch on 2 sides and this year, after the water crisis of two years ago, the ditches subbed a lot.

Not to be discouraged i set to walk through the field, to see what else i could find. As i walked i started to see more of this. Good grass under that mess.

Still further i found a lot of this, coarse but green and lush.

The next week we trailed the ewes to this field which is about 2 miles from our house. As we set up net i lost sight of the ewes. I cold just see a few ears here and there so i sent Mint. Then i could just see a pair of Border Collie ears every now and then ,and she bounced up to look for sheep. It seemed like a very long time until Mint found the sheep and brought them to me.

Here i am mom!

Hay prices are high this year and any graze that you can find after irrigation season ends means less hay to feed, and more profit. The lambs are still grazing on our ranch, but a neighbor in the other direction stopped by this week and offered 40 acres of stubble to us. The man who cut the farmers field did not want the 4th cutting and this farmer did want that much stubble left for winter.  We will be trailing the lambs to this field next week and i will get some pics and a write up of that then. The lambs are not as easy to trail.

These are the days i am very grateful that we have good dogs( trucking these sheep and lambs would be much more time consuming and expensive) and the dogs can do the job in an hour or two. Also thankful we learned about and invested in, temp electric fence, as none of these fields have good fence. Also thankful for the livestock guard dogs that keep the sheep safe, when they are home and especially when they are on the road :)

We do worry about the sheep when they are not on the ranch, but it is part of the season for our ranch, and i try to turn the worry over to God when i can. I could not do that without the lessons of a cheap sheep gal, learned from the many sheep and cattle ranchers that have given us advise over the years. Also from the advice i have found from Bill Fosher's sheep forum, which is an amazing source of information.

I encourage other shepherds out there to ask for graze, learn new ideas about graze and fencing and  "think like a cheap sheep guy/gal!!"