It is officially over for another season; we had our last set up twins last evening. Stragglers. Our last two were born when our first 6 are ready for market! With lambing out of mind, we are now focused on milking. For those who don’t know, for several reasons, the construction of our milking parlor has been delayed… really delayed. In fact it is now almost a year and the clock is still ticking. Our problem solving skills were put to the test once again when trying to figure out what the heck we were suppose to do without a milking parlour with animals that are near impossible to dry off??
Question & Answer
Q: What does “drying off” mean and why is this so difficult?
A: These are dairy sheep. They have been bred to produce lots of milk for a long period of time. Being such great producers, means their babies grow really fast when nursing and get too big to nurse before the milk runs out. Much of the time the lambs will damage the mom’s teats because they get too big and aggressive. Beautiful thought eh ladies? If we are not able to milk them and the babies are no longer with their mom’s we have to “dry them off”- get them to stop producing milk! However because of the breed this is a problem; they won’t stop. This leads to mastitis problems and other ailments. We were advised by our vet and other sheep farmers to cut back their food and water for a short period of time and this should help them dry off. We tried this however we found that some will starve to death before they stop producing milk!
This is why it’s important to get them in a parlour and keep milking them. Thanks to the generosity of a friend farmer, Em Zember, who owns the The Great Canadian Soap Company we were able to bring some of our animals to her farm and use her milking parlour until ours is ready. Seriously… I cannot get over the generosity of some people… This happened right before Gab went to borrow a scale from another farmer and came home with the scale, feeders and a bulk tank!
Gab spent some time at the goat farm building a second parlour to accommodate our ewes. We started by bringing only 5 animals over to see how it was going to work and we now have 21 being milked on the parlour.
Now this traveling to another farm to milk is extremely labor intensive and time consuming. This is only a short term solution, however it really helps us out for the time being and more importantly helps us keep our animals healthy. The challenge now is training the ewes to climb up onto the milking parlor. They are not used to it yet however they are getting better after each milking. We figure they will just get used to their set up and what they are supposed to do when we will be moving them back home to be milked on our farm…Well this is our hope anyway!
This is just another simple example of how there is always a way. There is a solution to every problem you just may have to dig deep to find it. Some of the solutions may not be ideal, but they can be better then the alternative.
Wow, 1 month since our last post. Time is flying and so much has happened. The finish line is in sight. We are down to our last 3 ewes left to lamb and we have over 200 lambs. Our barn is at max capacity and we can no longer contained lambs to pens; they are excitedly running around everywhere. The entire barn is their play ground (we have some adjusting to do for next year).
We had a rough week a few weeks ago where we lost two pregnant ewes and the babies they were carrying due to lambing complications. There is no other way to describe the feeling of loosing animals you tirelessly care for than ” it just sucks”. We involved the vet and neighboring farmers to see what we could do to help the ewes in question and the outcome in both cases was that the ewes were not going to make it. To make the decision to put an animal down (to avoid suffering) is an extremely difficult; one that I hope we don’t have to make too often. We were left with the conflicting feelings of disappointment that we could not do anything more to help and the one of self doubt; was it our fault? Was there something we could have done to prevent this or was this simply nature taking it’s course? We were left with hoping the later and moving on because we still had a barn full of animals to care for.
Another side note. The times when you need to call the vet and have challenging situations to deal with never seem to happen in early afternoon during the week. They always happen in the middle of the night, on a weekend. My vet last year confirmed this for me, it is an unwritten-rule of sorts. The farmers “kick-him-while-he-is -down” phenomenon… Throw him a challenge but don’t make it easy. Make it at a time when resources are limited and sleep is a luxury! I would like to think this will get easier with time, but I very much doubt that. I think I could ask all farmers I know and my guess is they would all answer the same thing “this will always suck”.
We know this is inevitable, we will loose animals. The silver lining is that these are great learning experiences; ones we hope are rare. Besides, we figure we’ve reached our quota for the next few years so we should be good for a while right?? I am however happy to share that once we turned that awful page, life on the farm purked back up and lambing continued successfully.
A couple cool things that have been going on here lately:
- Our friends at Campbells Fiber Farm shared with us some of the yarn made from our raw wool, that was pretty exciting!
- We have been getting some lamb sausages made and they are delicious and selling really well!
- We do not yet have a milking parlour set up (however stay tuned for this update, we are excited about what is happening!) so Gab decided to get crafty and build a small stand so he could milk a few ewes for ourselves. We get a lot of milk from just a couple sheep. It is really good to drink on it’s own and Gab made a small batch of cheese on the stove this weekend.
We have hit a lot of walls during this project, but I am going to brag for a second… This man is determined!… and needs a hair cut…and shave.
4. Our fortune cookie today told us “A surprise announcement will free you”. We are quite excited about what this week will bring!