You may have noticed a trend among homesteaders, perhaps even a trend that you're experiencing yourself, in which life on the farm has become so full of summer busyness (that is, awesomeness) that there's hardly time to even document it all! So many things throughout my day cause me to pause and think “Oh, I've gotta share this with my readers!” or “I better Instagram that!” or “How pin worthy!” or “I better remember to write about that!” or “Where's my camera?!”
And then I realize that something, be it an animal, child, garden, or husband, needs me desperately and I must come back to said “thing” when I have the time to.
Which never happens.
Because as we all know, summer on the farm means work. It means getting loads of hay every weekend and stocking up the barn for the winter ahead. It means battling with weeds and bugs to begin to bring in the harvest from the garden that's been back breaking work since March. It means new animals. Watering pasture. Washing mud stains out of clothes by hand because your washing machine is broken. Preparing slop buckets for pigs. Building trellises for growing roses. Caring for newly transplanted plants. And ya know – that whole raising children and pregnancy thing.
I love the work. I love the bustle of summertime. I love beginning to see the garden fill in and holding onto the promise of the great harvest that the late summer and fall will bring. This year, we'll be butchering 50 broilers, 2 hogs, and 1 sheep! Lord willing.
Yes, I said sheep.
“But Shaye, you don't have sheep!” I hear you say.
Oh dear reader. I'm thankful that the Good Lord has given me enough time left in this day to tell you about the dear sheep we brought to Beatha Fonn Farm just the day before last. Because, as I'm learning, there may be few things I love in this world more than sheep.
And so, even though there was other tasks to complete, I grabbed my camera and took an entire day away from the farm to drive 3…4…5…6 hours… (truthfully, I lost track) to pick up said sheep.
And so. Yes. Beatha Fonn Farm is now the proud home to a small herd of Katahdin sheep. And by small herd, I mean really small. But we all must start somewhere. And humble beginnings can often be the starting point of great achievements. I'm sure there are examples of this, but frankly, I can't think of any right now. I'll blame it on the farmer brain.
Preparing for Sheep On The Farm
Why Katahdin Sheep
Because they're delicious. Katahdin sheep are known for their succulent and delicious meat production – the entire reason that we're raising them. Even though sheep's milk is delicious, we've got our dairy cow and we're happy to keep her here. Raising sheep for meat production came with a few great benefits to us on this particular farm. For starters, we have scrubby landscape that really needs to be worked aggressively to bring it back to life. Sheep are fantastic and pretty non-picky grazers. For two, our pasture land (we have five acres) can get pretty steep and rocky in spots – again, something that sheep are fantastic at handling. Because of this, we knew we'd be able to utilize a huge portion of our land for red meat production without having to have established, lush pasture for a steer. Sheep eat much less, are ready to butcher much earlier, and can still provide our family with a good amount of red meat each year.
A friend of mine raised Katahdin sheep and they were instantly appealing when we began looking into the prospect of raising sheep. Unlike most sheep, Katahdin's don't grow fleeces so sheering is not a requirement. Another major bonus, considering we don't know how to sheer a sheep and in our super hot summer climates that would be essential. Couple that with the fact that they're meaty, delicious, quick to finish, and have good temperament – sign me up, baby.
Why Travel So Far To Pick Them Up?
A few reasons, really. Katahdin aren't a super popular breed of sheep so it's not like there was a breeder down the road eager to sell me their best ewes. The farm that we purchased them from I've known of for awhile and I know take excellent care of their animals – including hoof care, worming, proper supplements, high quality pasture and hay, etc. It just so happens that when we were looking to acquire our sheep, they were looking to sell their herd (they are transferring their operation to a dairy business). Couple that with the fact that they've got proven, high-quality genetics and it made sense for us to trek over the mountains and bring the sheep back to our farm.
As we briefly talked about before, there are times when pinching pennies is not the most important thing to me. This was one of those times. I wanted high quality ewes and a high quality ram that would provide us with high quality breeding stock for years to come. I wasn't interested in hunting Craigslist for the cull of another farm. I wanted the goods, baby. The Farmstead had 'em. And so, we drove.
We brought back four sheep with us from our journey. Would you like to meet them? Oh fantastic! They want to meet you too. They told me so. They're pretty excited to be featured on the website. Naturally.
Hamish is the ram of the herd. He does what any male animal does best – eats, sleeps, leads the pack, and well… breeds the females. Hamish is beautiful – resembling a lion of sorts. He doesn't have any long hair on his face or chin – but he is boasting quite the tuft of chest hair. It makes me giggle when I see it.
By the way, someone should have told me that giggling is not the best idea when you're super pregnant with your third child. Things happen.
But I digress.
Hamish is also like any other male animal in that while he is kind, fairly gentle, and tame he is not to be trusted. One does not simply turn their back on any intact (uncastrated) animal. While he's just a sheep, his head is still hefty and hard enough to do some damage. And thus, one does not (for example) carry a bucket of oats through their pasture. That would be a stupid decision. Because Hamish would attack you for your oats – he would want your goodies. He is scratched and loved on – but ultimately, respected.
Rosie is a three month old ewe that will be one of our breeding ewes. She's shedding out now and is still a bit shy, but she's a sweetheart and is wonderfully feminine and kind. I think it's taken her the most time to settle in, but she'll come around. I've got the goods (like garden clippings!) to make 'em love me.
Guido is Rosie's twin brother, a three month old ram. For being just three months old, he's got a serious set of testes. Just sayin'. He's pretty spunky but is happy to spend most of his day cuddled with Rosie and nibbling old grass. It's amazing how much difference there is between the two – Rosie is feminine and Guido is anything but. He's stocky and beefy already. Frankly, he's going to make really good eating.
Oh sorry. Did I forget to mention that part? Yes. We'll be eating Guido. His slaughter date will be sometime in November. (It's best to harvest them before they're a year old).
Eleanor is the baby of the bunch, just a week old. Her Mom Conky died while lambing and so she is currently a bottle lamb. Eleanor has stolen our hearts. I came out from my bath tonight to find Stu curled up with her in the chair – her head laid across his shoulder, sound asleep.
If you don't love lambs, you aren't human. That's all there is to it.
Eleanor is currently living in a closed in section of the chicken coop where we can closely monitor her milk intake and easily grab her for feedings. She happily grazes with the other sheep during the day, but for the most part, we keep her pretty close. Partly because she needs us to survive. And partly because she's so danged cute we can't even stand to be away from her.
It's a rough life.
She'll need to be bottle fed for another seven weeks or so – we're feeding her Sal's rich, raw milk with a water bottle and inexpensive sheep nipple. Tonight, we even successfully latched her onto Sal – who happily let her nurse a quarter. I'm hoping that once Hiro is gone and Eleanor is slightly bigger, she can stay in with Sal and nurse from her until she's ready to be weaned. But that's another breeding/lactation/farm life story for another day.
Eleanor will be another breeding ewe that we will keep for years to come. Hamish, Rosie, and Eleanor will be the foundation of our future stock.
The sheep's shelter is very basic and minimal. It was on the property when we moved here and with a bit of clean up and fresh bedding, was ready to go. It fits them all nicely – even though it's pretty teeny. The metal roof protects from the weather. It's nestled at the bottle of a hill in a patch of sage brush, safe from the wind. I'd like to paint it, but that's unnecessary and low on the priority list for now.
The Water System
A sheep trough settled amongst the sage brush is working wonderfully. We can utilize irrigation water for seven or eight months out of the year, which is a huge blessing. Winter will be a different story, but that's always the case.
The sheep are mostly grazing, though we have been offering them some grass/alfalfa hay free choice as well. They seem to prefer the scrubby weeds, grass, and wildflowers for now. I'm thankful for that! The land so badly needs to be used and reestablished. I'm continually amazed at the wonderful work animals can do for the land – managed correctly, they can completely revive it! They'll really never need grain, which is nice. And besides the occasional sheep supplement, are pretty low maintenance in the feed category. Especially after being used to a dairy cow and bull!
Thankfully (seriously Lord, thank you!) the sheep were already trained to hot wire upon their arrival. We currently have them on a half-acre pasture that's fenced in with a 4,000 volt, three-strand electric fence. Thus far, it's kept them in wonderfully. It runs parallel to our cow pasture but is on more of an incline – not so good for Sally, perfect for sheep. It also runs parallel to our driveway which means I get to sneak a peek of them every time I drive up and down. It helps to keep a close on them. I did run some orange tape alone the fence line, just to help them to visually see the boundaries until they got familiar with “their domain”. It also helped the kids to remember that this portion of fence is now HOT and is considered a “no touch!”
Our acre pig pasture is fenced in the same and we will be utilizing that for grazing ground as well.
The First Impressions
Acquiring and becoming familiar with a new animal is always a bit frightening. Because we consider ourselves their caretakers, we know it's important to use our time and energy to their well-being. Yes, it's another set of mouths to feed. And yes, it's another set of potential problems. But it's also the promise of food, companionship, and land management for our farm. I'm thankful we went the extra mile… or hundred… to pick these sheep from people we could trust. I think that made all the difference. The sheep were what we expected, healthy as horses, and were trained in the way that we had been told – all of which are incredibly important (as you may know, if you've purchased livestock in the past).
Sheep have been a missing piece on the farm and it feels good to finally have their pasture full of life. I'm excited to learn more about them, not only as a species, but also as individual animals on the farm. It's like bringing in a whole new group of friends to the farm.
There's something so old-worldly about sheep. Something so timeless and… biblical.
When I caught a peek of Stuart loving on them in his grey wool pants, flannel shirt, and flat hat – I may have cried a little bit. Could have been the super pregnant hormones. But I think it also just had to do with the beauty that can be found in our Good Lord's creation.
As we care for and shepherd these sheep, He cares for and shepherds us.
Which I'm going to use as validation that He's pretty happy these sheep have arrived on Beatha Fonn as well.
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