Friday, July 13, 2007

Working Sheep

I can't bring myself to give my loyal readers just a bunch of political musings, when I've spent most of my day off from bus driving enjoying the fullness of life at the farm in this season.

This morning a fellow shepherd came and helped worm sheep. One of my apprentices, MR, watched and assisted. Dozens of little refinements to the system suggest themselves...of course, they do every time I use the handling chute. Reverse the swing on the main holding pen gate. replce the wooden tracks for the "guillotine" style gates so that they move freely and don't bind. Reconfigure the holding pen to channel the sheep into the chute more effectively. Additional boards along the back of the chute to discourage jumping. Block the view of the "done pen" from the holding pen. Lamb-proof the gate that's made from a pipe horse panel. Make a handle for the sort gate.

Maybe I WILL get them done in the next three weeks before the next worming.

MR and I also got out the "Sheep Sofa" and trimmed hooves on a few ewes that had overgrown hooves. (photo at; this website is NOT where I ordered mine from many years ago but the product is identical.) It's a wonderful tool, well-designed to use simple physics (akin to judo) to position a sheep in a reclining position at a comfortable working height. The sofa and herd are in a small pen, but with some elbow room. You calmly walk through the herd looking at every sheep EXCEPT the one with the purple chalk on her nose (we marked the ladies that needed pedicures as we ran them through the chute for weighing and worming), until the unsuspecting customer is near the sofa. Then you quickly put an arm under her head, and grab her tail or a handlful of wool on her rump. With her nose pointed in the air, she'll tend to step backwards, and you steer her back towards the sofa until her hocks are at the lower bar. Then, a quick lift of the head with a hand under the front elbow flips her backwards onto the sofa, feet in the air. In this position, the sheep tend to relax and not struggle. Having a helper to steady the head does help prevent the occasional escape artist.

I trim hooves with a light pair of very sharp shears of a type known to gardeners as "vine pruners". I end up buying new ones every so often...the old ones going into garden or forestry duty. A tool in good condition makes the work so much easier.

Hoof condition is an important factor in trimming. Today, the hooves were perfect. Not so dry that they were difficult to trim, not so wet that they were muddy and yucky.

Later, we walked over to begin planning the temporary fences for the rented pasture next door. I pastured sheep on "Spencer's Pasture" my first couple of years with sheep, before I had any pasture on my farm. It's good to be back there...feels like coming full circle, older and wiser and more mature. The pasture has changed, several years of not being grazed, it has grown up in small elm trees. The sheep will enjoy eating their leaves and stripping their bark, and eventually the pasture will be open pasture again.

Towards the end of the day I weeded the potato block. The plants are huge and luxurious, and the blocks look tidy under their hay mulch. The potatoes are blooming, rows of purple and pink and white. I was surprised to see a few Colorado Potato Beetle larvae. They are so uncommon a pest on my potatoes that my response was, "Wow! Look at that! Haven't seen one of those in a long time!" instead of, "Oh, no! Not more of those."

I decided NOT to pick them off and crush them, nor feed them to the chickens. The vines are so huge that it's unlikely that the beetles will do much damage. Blister beetles are also eating the potato leaves. Again, the plants will do just fine without those leaves.

I didn't want to walk all the way out to the pasture at sunset, because I was tired after weeding the potato blocks. From the yard and garden, huge trees block the sunset view. But when I looked down the lane to the north, I saw that the best sunset colors were actually in the north, setting a stunning magenta backdrop for the Torii. I leaned on the barn gate, and felt a weary, calm contentment.

This is where I am supposed to be. God and me are in our heaven (or at least one little corner of it), and all's right with the world.

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