Jacob sheep and Nubian goats and a whole lot of fence tweaking and adjustments and evaluating are going on. Dreamboat and Daisy Rose came to the farm last week and have been sticking close to each other. We quarantine our animals in a holding pen when they first arrive. This gives them time to adjust to the new sights, sounds, smells and routine and gives us a chance to evaluate, handle, observe, check for health issues and practice biosecurity for the farm. The measures we take aren’t fool proof, but so far they’ve helped us contain a lot of issues before releasing animals into the greater groups. We administer meds as needed rather than routinely and strive to raise animals with strong, healthy genetics and resistance to diseases and parasites. Keeping new animals quarantined for a while also helps us give an initial health evaluation so that we can recognize health improvements or declines and take notes of their original condition upon arrival. Everyone’s fields, pastures, forests, woods and yards are different. There isn’t a one size fits all. What worked well on someone else’s land might be a recipe for death on another. A mineral deficiency down the road might make an animal sick if they are overdosed when they move because the soil samples have different ratios, etc and the free choice loose mineral they’re given didn’t change. Also, an animal with a major parasite load or disease that isn’t treated can quickly contaminate your flock and land and you’ll have a bigger problem if you don’t intervene immediately… you may even be running all over the countryside trying to catch your brand new completely rogue animal if they’re not introduced slowly to their new surroundings… that is definitely what happened last week when Daisy Rose headed straight to California as soon as she hit the ground. It also happened 5 years ago when we brought our first blackbelly lambs home, but let’s pretend like it didn’t and that we learned our lesson the first time…
Anyway, that was a big and brief answer to a question that you didn’t ask, but it’s good information and if we can help anyone get a jump start on the lessons we’ve learned over the years then we want to do just that. After all, the Master’s of Agricultural Arts didn’t come from the books. It came from the blood, sweat and tears of this good, hard work. It came from the toil and turmoil and tests that we passed and failed with some very serious repercussions over the years. We are still learning. The best teachers always are.
There’s no easy way to lose an animal. The farm’s ram, Dragonwool Yoda passed away on Thursday and we’re frustrated to say the least. This is our first time losing a sheep to an illness and although we think we know the culprit, it doesn’t make it easier.
We have always been warned that sheep go down fast. We can attest to that fact now from our own experience. After treating him for what appears to be internal parasites and doing everything recommended, he still died. It was too late when we realized he was thin (he had an amazing fleece and showed no other sickly symptoms other than his body weight which is hard to visually observe under a gorgeous wool coat) and despite our best efforts to give him plenty of calories, supplements, medicine and time to heal, he’s gone.
I think the hardest lesson for me is feeling like a complete failure and terrible steward and admitting that a sheep died in our care. I know that death is a fact of life. I know that Yoda was a ram and not a person. I know that farming is hard and not for the faint, I’ve written about it over and over on our Urbanna Farm blog and experienced it over and over with different species. The sheep have a special place in my heart. They are special and losing a young, seemingly healthy, very promising ram just stinks. A gal who I’ve come to know and love sold Yoda to the farm and introduced us to the world of Jacob sheep. She’s become like a sister to us and I couldn’t even call her to give her the news. Andy had to do it. She’s been nothing but supportive (the entire farming/sheep community has been) because she knows. Sheep people know. She knows life happens and things don’t always go as planned. She’s been there and she still stands behind the breed and gives the encouragement needed to persevere. We will. Of course we will. Another amazing lady called me today to encourage and remind me of God’s sovereignty in all things. It’s exactly what I needed to hear.
We didn’t fail. All of the other sheep are healthy. With the exception of one of the ewes lambing early and her lambs not being viable, we are still going strong. The rest of the flock is expected to lamb any day now and we are hoping for a strong healthy crop of lambs. Hopefully they’ll all get the best of what Yoda had to offer. We’ll observe them carefully and the flock as a whole and continue to learn what good shepherding is all about. We strive to be excellent stewards. We want to produce excellent genetics and breed quality animals that need minimal medical intervention. We still want to grow our own socks and we’ll work toward that goal as long as we have the opportunity and knowledge and resources to do so. Dragonwool Yoda taught us some good and hard lessons about life. I’m thankful.
The shearer came, she saw and she absolutely conquered. Since this is our first experience with wool sheep and we had zero point of reference for what to expect from a shearer, with the exception of our personal experience ‘shearing’ two of the ewes when they arrived on the farm, I must say that I am blown away by our experience. Nicole and I had been messaging back and forth for a couple of months when I asked if she’d come out to shear the small flock of Jacobs on the farm and when she showed up, I was a little nervous. You see, we have zero experience with fiber animals. Zero. Unless these last few months of tending to these Jacobs count then count us out of the fiber farming world. What’s a micron count? What’s luster and staple length? What exactly does VM stand for? These are all little things we are learning but I certainly don’t consider myself a fiber snob although I aspire to be one someday, because when part of your life includes ‘shepherding a small flock of wool sheep’ it’s kind of cool to know what you’re talking about.
So, Nicole arrived and made us feel right at home (we were actually in our front yard) and made us feel completely normal and like the best clients she’s ever had, which is simply because she’s awesome and knows her stuff and is happy to teach and share what she knows with the likes of us.
Andy had already loaded the sheep onto a livestock trailer in anticipation of shearing which was a good thing since Yoda sent us (andy, the kids on myself) on a wild ram chase for over an hour earlier that day. The sheep weren’t too happy to be out of the pasture, but they are all relieved to have lost their fleeces before they melt in the sunshine and warm weather we’ve been having. Nicole and Amy (her partner in crime) and Andy trimmed hooves while she taught us about how to evaluate body scores and eyelids and gum color to determine if anyone is anemic or needs some extra TLC. It is really nice to have a starting point for the flock’s health so that we can keep good records of everyone through the seasons.
It was also really great to identify names with faces, because the truth is that I only knew 3 of their names and that’s kind of sad, all things considered. But, they have tons of area to roam and they aren’t exactly coming to get their heads scratched when I go out into the field to say hello. That’s okay, because I almost have their names down now and I have a much greater appreciation for each of them after our shearing on Friday afternoon. They are awesome animals and I’m excited to see the lambs they produce and to improve their genetics with each generation that is born. Sheep are great.
We learned about Nicole’s business and ministry with Adonais Alpacas in North Georgia and are completely inspired and blown away by what she does. She’s a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of love and generosity. Thankfully, she not only shears sheep (and Alpacas) but she also processes the fiber. Hallelujah! So, the fleeces went back to North Georgia with her and will return as roving, which is the step before spinning into yarn. That seems much more manageable at this stage than learning how to skirt, wash, tumble, card, rove (?) and spin with zero experience and zero equipment. I’m not writing a tutorial on how to process wool anytime soon, because I don’t know. I don’t even know how to knit. Working backwards here, huh? Or maybe from the ground up which is exactly how we like it.