Thursday, October 22, 2009

Taking Sheep to Bowser's

It's always a long day, a day long anticipated but never, any more, explicitly planned. It happens at such odd hours that it's a strictly auto-pilot affair, any more.

Yesterday I was off from the bus job, and we spent the day sorting sheep. The first half, probably, was putting together the year's data in its various forms to form the foundation of breeding match-making choices, as well as deciding who would take the one-way trip.

First we ran all the lambs through the chute and weighed each one. Any over a certain weight, that had not been pre-selected for the breeding flock, went into the small sort pen. I was very pleased to see the gains they've made in the last month, just on pasture and hay.

Then we scrutinzed the bloodlines of the females in that group, to decide whether I might want to keep one of them. It's tempting to save lambs back by default--to market the biggest ones when cash flow is a concern--and to thus slaughter our best genetic potential. I have to keep my focus on the future, not this week's bottom line.

In this case, a further consideration was logistics. There were a couple extra uncastrated ram lambs in the market flock, and I didn't want to have to handle them separate from the breeding flocks. So those two really-two-small lambs took the trip today. The extra labor would far outweigh the small economic benefit of feeding them for another 6 weeks until our next slaugher date. And the increased size of the lambs whose places they took should eventually offset any losses.

I just kept all the lambs together this year, instead of separating out the ram lambs to keep them from breeding the ewe lambs. Either the ewe lambs have been too small to breed up till now, and the lambing dates will prove the sires, or their first-born lambs will not be kept for breeding, since we won't know who the sire was before a certain date.

After selecting the final 8 for the one-way trip, we sorted the rest of the lambs yet again, to divide them into breeding groups. There are two ram lambs this year: Annie's son Fancy, black with bold white crescents all over his body; and Eider's pure white son Aslan (the shearer left a big puff on the tip of his long, mobile tail). These are some of the finest ram lambs I think I've had, in terms of appearance and breeding. It will be fun to see what we get in the spring.

Then when we had the lamb flock split, we brought the older ewes up and divvied them out between the boys.

Then we went to the urban farming meeting in Kansas City, and didn't get home until after 10:30. Set the alarm for 5 a.m., then started getting the truck ready. OOOPS--low tires, and I still haven't fixed the cord on the "new" air compressor. So I had to go find an open gas station with a working air hose.

Eventually it is 1 a.m. and I'm still puttering at this and that, getting the truck ready, backing it in place against the ramp, etc. But it's a beautiful night, and I know this by heart, and I don't EVER plan to do anything after taking sheep to Bowser's. Presumeably I'll load lambs in the morning. But I decided to hang the headlamp in the front of the truck bed, behind the cab, and open up the chute. Miracle of miracles, they all immediately ran up the ramp...but only until the first one got to the truck bed. Then they stopped--stood motionless for a long few minutes--and cascaded down the ramp again. In order to fit the big ewes when needed (the ones that greatly outweigh me, that I DEFINITELY can't load without a ramp), it is wide enough that the lithe lambs half their size can turn around. But--I have an opposable thumb, and I can open the barn door. A flake of alfalfa hay thrown in the back got everyone loaded in a remarkably short time. Then I whisked it out again. Sheep with relatively empty rumens are less likely to have the hides torn during skinning.

A bit of sleep, and then a long, quiet ride to Meridan. The customary greetings, the questions we ask one another every time. And the sharp snap of the captive bolt stunner begins the ending of lamb lives, one at a time.

And I am always so glad to bring them here. I never have regrets, not for the lambs. The alternative death they could have died, death by parasites, as so many did last summer, is so awful and senseless compared to this pragmatic, quick demise.

Fleshing hides on the back loading dock at Bowsers, in warm humid morning air that feels like spring more than fall. They have new people training to assist on the kill floor today, preparing for deer season, so for a change they are ahead of me all morning. I stay to finish the fleshing, and feel like it takes for ever, but really we are on our way home--or rather to Rees Fruit Farm for the obligatory Apple Cider Slushee and Apple Cider Donuts--by 10 a.m.

The rest of the day is dreamlike and surreal, lack of sleep mingling with contentment with my singularly odd life swirling with psychedelic autumn colors on every tree.

Weeding a bed of lettuce in the late afternoon helps me reconnect with life here at home, after an evening and a morning on the road.

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