Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Still Here

Yes, Pinwheel Farm, the sheep, Sookie, the chickens, and the whole rest of the Community of Life are still here. Facebook has been a powerful distraction, as has simply survival. Send a friend request to "Natalya Pinwheel Lowther" and like "Pinwheel Farm" if you want to keep up to date with farm events and products available.

It was also actually still here at the farm this morning...and quiet...unusual these past few years. Not just a stillness of wind and an absence of people coming and going at the farm, but also a blessed absence of the "new normal" background noise of diesel engines idling, large trucks sounding their horns, and earth-moving equipment alarms constantly chiming as they roar around pulverizing soil and trees at the neighbor's place.

The past several years have been a frustrating ongoing effort to get the county to enforce applicable codes...doubly frustrating, because of my own long history of being subjected to non-existant codes and falsified complaints. The recently intensified flurry of earthmoving and construction next door seems to be, finally, some progress towards compliance with codes and away from the junkyard it had become. (Quadruply frustrating, because I'm poised to begin working with the FOURTH Zoning and Codes administrator since the situation next door began to escalate, and since this is an interim Administrator, there is a fifth in my not-so-distant future.)


I took advantage of the perfect day--peaceful, still, quiet, overcast, pleasant fall temperature--to sort out sheep for breeding groups. This will give us lambs just before and during sheep shearing* in the spring...a bit earlier than usual, hoping to clear the calendar later in March and April for more timely intensive spring planting. (*Third Saturday in March every year...Open Farm Day...Like Pinwheel Farm on FB for information as the date nears.)

It was great having a constant stream of WWOOFers here from June until a couple weeks ago. We were able to "work sheep" (run them through the handling system** and record weights) every week or two, something that hasn't happened in a couple years due to lack of volunteers. One of the lasting benefits now that everyone is gone is that the sheep are well trained to the chute, so I can easily work them solo. Which I did this morning...more than once. (**You can click over to Pinwheel Farm's album on Facebook to see photos and notes on the handling system.)

Just so all you non-livestock-farmers can appreciate what goes into your lamb chops and mittens, and so you wanna-be-livestock-farmers can have a glimpse of what you're getting yourselves into, here's the morning's drill:

1. Realize that the older ram, Wesley, has jumped the electric fence out on pasture to get closer to the ewes.

2. Ewes loafing in the barnyard decide to explore the loading ramp, and push open the gate at the top (gate at the bottom was left unlatched and open, and top gate left closed but unlatched, when I loaded market lambs last Wed. Note to self...don't do that!) while I'm doing chicken chores. Suddenly they are all in the garden. (Must have been a lovely waterfall of fat wooly sheep cascading off the upper end of the ramp...I'll have to stage that sometime and take a video.)

3. Round up ewes with novice working dog (sometimes helpful, sometimes unhelpful, always eager) and get them into an unused paddock near the garden.

4. Let them graze there long enough that their tummies are full and they are willing to leave.

5. Run them up to the barn and into the crowding pen for the chute.

6. Start weighing sheep in the chute.

7. Realize that the list of which ewe goes with which ram is still in the house. Hope sheep stay in chute while running to house for list. (They do.)

8. Mentally run through the whole Rubick's Cube puzzle of how to organize the sorting and moving so that the groups can be joined as needed and moved to the right places on the farm without mixing. (Another sort pen would be really handy, sometimes.)

9. Sort out Wesley's ewes into the side holding pen while weighing all ewes and trying to evaluate which white ewe lamb to keep (the black one's a no-brainer--she's close to my end breeding goal for perfect fleece). Oops, two of Wesley's ewes end up with Quincy's ewes and the market lambs because I'm distracted by doing too many things at once.

10. Run Quincy's ewes and the market lambs back into the crowding pen and through the chute again to sort out the other two Wesley ewes.

11. Run Quincy's ewes and the market lambs back into the crowding pen. Open gate between main holding pen and "buffer zone" between the holding pen and the crowding pen. (Don't usually use this buffer zone for holding animals, but without another sort pen it's the only solution for this puzzle.)

12. Run Quincy and the ram lambs over from the other side of the farm and shut them in the buffer zone. (Handy that Wesley has trapped himself in the pasture and can't join them...saves a couple steps in the whole process.)

13. Run Wesley's ewes to the other side of the farm where Quincy and the ram lambs were. (The grass is greener over there, so no problem.)

14. Walk out to the pasture and take down the fence that Wesley jumped. Follow Wesley as he walks up to join the ewes, and observe who's going to lamb in exactly 5 months (April will lamb in March).

15. Back to the barn. Manually separate Quincy from the market lambs and put him in the main holding pen.

16. Run the ewes through the chute to join Quincy, sorting the white ewe lambs out into the sort pen for a final evaluation. (One of them will be kept as a replacement ewe.)

17. Realize that I've been miscounting ewe lambs, and actually have one more than I thought. Which means one more than I have scheduled for processing. Which means either keeping an extra one for breeding, or selling one on the hoof. (Don't need to decide that now.)

18. Watch ewe lambs for awhile: compare weights; look at hoof color; ear/skin/face/leg color; tail mobility, wooliness, and length; wool density, length, texture, and character; wool cover pattern (clean face, legs, belly), overall conformation and behavior. (Sometimes I consider who the dam is, but in this case I'm just looking at the lambs. Whoever the dam is, she will get extra "points" for having her lamb selected, rather than the lambs getting extra points for having a particular dam.)

19. Choose two, actually the smaller ones. Judging by ear tag numbers, they are some of the youngest, they were sired by Wesley, and they have the silkiest and densest fleeces plus some dark skin on their faces which indicates some colored genetics lurking in there under Wesley's whiteness. Put them in with Quincy and his ewes.

20. Run Quincy and his ewes out to their side of the pasture and close the gate. Hope that Quincy and Wesley will both be content with their own ewes and not figure out how to jump into the main lane that serves as a buffer between the groups, which would probably lead to fighting through the fence and maybe jumping the other fence and getting into the same pasture which would lead to a lot of fighting and general mayhem. (Wesley--older, bolder, wiser, and larger--is on the side with the strongest, highest fence.)

21. Since I'm out there, take a side trip to evaluate the pasture they've been grazing down in the far west, along the drainage ditch. They've done a great job on poison ivy and other weeds. (Need to rearrange fences so Quincy's group can clear out some other areas before frost. That will also give more separation from Wesley.)

22. Spend awhile watching a mixed flock of small birds catching bugs in the big elm trees. Junco, tufted titmouse, and apparently several species of warblers in fall plumage--hard to identify, esp. as they move quickly and appear mostly silhouettes against the gray sky. (Good reminder that what I've done with this land DOES make a big difference for wildlife...esp. now that the neighbors are bulldozing most of the thickets and trees on their property, destroying a lot of wildlife habitat.)

23. Notice that the neighbors who are doing the earth moving have set up a situation where if we get a heavy rain, a lot of silt will flood over my pasture. (Mental note to follow up on this with appropriate agencies to ensure that adequate sediment control is in place to prevent erosion/siltation).

24. Notice that the other neighbors have set up their horse fences so that the horses are walking up and down a fence line at the top of the bank of the drainage ditch, which could lead to severe erosion and sedimentation of the publicly managed ditch that drains most of the county north of here. (Mental note to do some education with neighbors and follow up with Drainage District. I'm not a busy-body; this ditch is vital to the whole area, and my pasture is one of the places the water first backs up into if the ditch doesn't function as designed.)

25. Check fences. (This area has been subject to several incidents of people vandalizing perimeter fences over the past few years, rendering parts of my pasture unusable at times.)

26. Head back towards the barn to put the market lambs in their new pasture. Oops, here they are! How did they get out of the barn? (Turns out the heavy gate to the sort pen was unlatched, and they eventually pushed it open.)

27. Round up the market lambs and put them in their pasture.

28. Back to the barn to check that there's mineral in the mineral feeder, check all gates, etc.

29. Mental checklist to be sure that all groups have access to water and are well separated by "hard" (not electric) fences.

30. Gather up weigh sheet and breeding group notes and head to the house. (I'll compare weights to last week's and calculate gains/losses later.)

31. BONUS! Discover that there has been an egg in my sweatshirt pocket ever since I chased the ewes out of the garden, AND IT HASN'T BROKEN! A testimony to good handling equipment, trained sheep, and a (somewhat) trained working dog...not to mention a lot of experience and understanding of sheep psychology and behavior. And patience. Especially notable since some days I can't even seem to walk from the coop to the house with a pocketed egg without an "eggsident".

If this all sounds like a fun, exciting morning, just give me a call. We can arrange a "play date" at the farm sometime soon...like when I need to weigh all three groups again in a week or two.