Breeding sheep is one of the most enjoyable enterprises on our homestead. Sheep were the first animals we introduced back in 2010. They have been a central part of our operation since then. I’ll talk about that today.
Welcome new listeners and welcome back veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. Thank you all so much for listening. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
Before we get to the sheep, what else is going on here on the homestead?
The holes in the walls are still being filled in by Scott. Who knew it was going to take this much time to complete that task? Well, the building is rather large and parts of it are very high. That requires special ladders and scaffolding and such to be able to reach the tallest parts of the walls. Additionally, Scott is finishing the concrete block walls in such a way that they resemble stucco. It takes a bit more time and effort but the result is quite beautiful. I’m very pleased with the effect. I can’t wait to see it painted. Maybe a nice off-white stucco color to enhance the look. We shall see. I actually leave color decisions to Scott. I have no head for decorating. Thank God he has a wonderful head for it. Everything he builds reflects his eye for beauty, symmetry, style, color and so much more.
We now have seven breeding sets of quail. Count them, seven. We made a day of it. Somewhere along the line we lost one that I didn’t know about. The final count in the penthouse was 56 birds. We processed 32 of them and kept 24 additional birds for eggs.
Fowl or Foul?
After finishing the processing, we went back out to their cages and took every single bird out of their cages. Scott spent lots of time cleaning up those cages and getting them sanitized for the winter. Have you even wondered why birds are called fowl? Well there is another spelling of the word foul and it has to do with awful smells. I tend to think that this is why birds are referred to as fowl. All birds have to have their roosts, cages and runs cleaned regularly. Otherwise, they smell foul. Well, there is always some smell from time to time no matter what you do. Take that into consideration when planning the location of your chicken and/or quail homes.
Another addition to the quail housing was adding lights. They will now have light for 14 hours a day. That is what is required for them to produce eggs. The new girls have yet to lay a single egg and the older hens, 15 of them, were down to producing no more than six to eight eggs per day. Even that would have dropped to zero or nearly zero in the near future. Inadequate amounts of light make feeding your birds through the winter counter-productive.
There is an automatic timer on the lights. It comes on at 4 am and will stay on until 6 pm. So even on a dreary day like today, they have plenty of light. We use bulbs that produce the “daylight” spectrum of light. It’s not quite the same as most grow lights. Well, I take that back. I think lots of grow lights are going to the daylight spectrum to more closely emulate growing plants outdoors. The same for the birds. We want them to have as natural a light as possible.
Because we have seven sets of breeders, that means there are 35 hens out there. If those lights work like we hope, we could potentially have 35 eggs per day in a couple of weeks. It will take at least a week and perhaps two for the light to affect their egg production. In addition to the light, they get lots of good nutrition and supplements to make sure they have everything they need to be healthy and productive.
I got to say hi to the donkeys a couple of times in the last few days. I haven’t been seeing too much of them as my homestead tasks have led me elsewhere. It’s so good to see them up close and personal. And they are personal. Donkeys love humans. They love human attention. And we love giving it to them. It won’t be long and they will be getting another bit of attention that is not so popular with them, but necessary. Hoof trimming.
Yes, they need to get their toenails done. Scott handles the nail salon and I just offer comfort while the uncomfortable deed is accomplished. All are getting more and more used to it. Daisy nearly falls asleep while it’s going on where Johnny and Cocoa still have some real fear issues with it. They are getting better each time. We shall see how it goes this time. Maybe they will have completely overcome their fear just like Daisy and Sweet Pea.
Cows and Calves
The cow girls are doing fantastic. Rosie has integrated well into the herd. She is low-man on the totem pole, as would be expected. But she is getting along with everyone and thriving in her new environment. Scott is training her and retraining Cloud to come into the milking shed and stick their heads into the milking stanchion. This is in preparation for the vet to do pregnancy checks on all of the girls. The milking stanchions are very convenient for restraining our girls in comfort while medical checks and treatments are performed. I think I’ll ask Scott about cutting off Rosie’s horns too. Once she is used to putting her head in the stanchion, we can easily saw off those horns of hers. It’s quick and painless but she will definitely need to be restrained for her safety and ours.
We are nearing the time when the calves will be completely weaned. A week or so ago, I stopped giving them their second bottle of whole milk in the evening. At the present time they get ½ gallon of whole milk only in the morning. In the evening they get ½ gallon of skim milk. As soon as my stores of skim milk run out, they will only get whole milk in the morning. That will last for a week or so and then no milk at all.
Drying up the Milk Cows
We are still milking the big girls twice a day but that is about to change. Their milk becomes less and less as the days go on, the longer they go into their milking cycle. The quality of the milk also changes as they get later into their lactation cycle. Soon it will be time to dry them up. That means we will go to only milking once a day, then once every other day and finally stopping altogether. More details on that in a later podcast. We will start that process in a week or so.
Garden and Fruits
We are still waiting on that first frost. The garden is still going. Scott said he thought that first frost might come in the next couple of days, as soon as the rain from the remnants of hurricane Zeta stops. I didn’t want the lima beans to be soaked at the same time I was forced to pick them before a frost. So I did what any other sane homesteader would do. I rushed out there this morning before the rain started and picked everything. Literally, I pulled up the plant, stripped the bean pods and piled the spent plants to the side. It only took a little while and I’m glad to get that part done. The pods were actually still wet from the last rain we had from the remnants of hurricane Delta. At least I think that one was as hurricane. I have the beans laid out on newspaper to dry.
Lots of Storms
Can you believe the number of named storms this year? I think this is the first time in my 65 years that we have gone completely through the alphabet and now five letters, so far, into the Greek alphabet. We still have another month to go in the official tropical storm/hurricane season. Eleven have hit the US coast as either a tropical storm or hurricane. Most were relatively small. Tropical storms or category one or two hurricanes. Laura was a category 4 hurricane. I believe six storms have hit the gulf coast, mostly Louisiana. Pray for them. Even category one and two hurricanes can bring lots of water damage and some wind damage.
Okay, that was a bit of a tangent. Back to the garden. I also picked a few tomatoes. I know, I know. I’m supposed to be done with the tomatoes. But there were a few that looked really good so I snagged them. I have quite a few avocadoes in the frig and some guacamole always sounds good to me. It will be missing that lovely fresh cilantro taste as all of those plants died, but we will make do somehow.
Peppers and Celery
A couple of days ago I picked peppers yet again. I have plenty of jalapeno for the guac. I have so many peppers in the refrigerator. I really, really need to get cracking on getting the pepper jam completed and drying the rest in the dehydrator.
Speaking of dehydrating. I grew all of that celery to be dried as well. That needs to be harvested but I wasn’t too worried about it being wet. The wetness will help keep it fresh as I work my way through the entire crop. Other things on the dehydrating list include, basil, parsley, oregano and thyme.
Grapes and Strawberries
Scott brought me a few grapes to try out. They are muscadine. We get a few more each year, but still not many to speak of at this point in their maturity. Soon, very soon, that will change. Looking forward to making grape jam and maybe some muscadine wine.
The strawberries have survived the onslaught of weeds and are blooming once again. Those are tough little plants. I have a plan for them for next year. More on that later.
Let’s talk about sheep breeding. A couple of days ago I was talking with Scott about the sheep breeding schedule and what we need to do to accomplish our goals. Well first was clarifying and getting on the same page with goals. We had already discussed this so it was a matter of recalling the final decision.
Ewe in Heat
A funny anecdote related to sheep breeding talk was the ewe that was eager to get started. Just about the time we were discussing our plan, this ewe was hanging out all by herself near the closet fence to the boys. She was really persistent. Number one, ewes nearly always stay together. Nobody goes off on her own. They are skittish and careful animals. But this young lady was actively looking for romance.
I walked almost right up to her before she moved away. I was walking down the travel lane on my way to bring up the cow girls for milking. And there she was, hanging out near the gate, mooning over the boys that she could see across the field, but could not get to. I walked up to her and she finally moved away a few feet. She walked along the lane for 20 feet or so, then she stopped and looked around at me to see if I was still coming. I was. She turned and went other 20 feet of so before stopping yet again, just to make sure I was still there and that it would be impossible for her to get around me. This ewe was really persistent. She continued this behavior all the way back to the main flock.
Persistent Ewe in Heat
She stayed with the rest of the flock while I rounded up the girls and began the trek back to the milking shed. About the time I got up to the holding area and closed the fence that keeps the cows in while they await their turn at milking, she was back down there at the corner mooning over the boys yet again. Don’t worry honey, you’ll get your chance in just a few more days the great switcheroo of animals will begin. The boys will stay with the girls for most of the winter. Sometime in late spring we will separate the boys again and put all of the girls back together. Then we await the most glorious event of spring. The birthing of lambs.
Which Ewes Will We Breed?
There are currently 12 ewes in the flock. We are going to breed four of them. These will be the four older ewes. That means we can expect up to eight lambs in the spring. We had ten last year, but that came about because we just bred all of them, young and old. A first-year ewe usually has a single lamb. And sometimes older ewes will have only one lamb as well. However, it is more common that the second year and each year thereafter, a ewe will have twins and sometimes triplets.
Last year, three of the older girls had twins, one older girl had a single, another older girl did not have one at all and all three of the young girls had singles. That was five older ewes. Since then we have eliminated the oldest ewe and will be going with the four ewes between three and five-years-old. This is the current makeup of our main breeder flock. The three younger ewes will not be bred again. The reason for that is Lambert, our new breeding ram, is a ½ sibling to two of them and full sibling to one of them. That simply won’t work if we want to maintain strong genetics.
What Will We Do?
In order to accomplish only breeding the four selected ewes, it means we need to bring them all in, separate the ones that will be bred from the rest of the flock and put these two groups into separate spaces. Then we bring up the boys and introduce them to the breeding ewes. We can put all of the boys in with the breeding girls because only one of them is still intact. That would be Lambert. He is our breeding ram. This will be his first season. I will pray that he does well. We could also put the boys other than Lambert in with the ewes that are not being bred this year. That would require a second routine to get Lambert separated from the other boys. Scott will make that call when we get to that point.
There are so many decisions that go into every activity on our homestead. Each one has pros and cons. Making the same decision one year may not be the same as the previous year. Circumstances are always changing. I was listening to Kanye West in his interview with Joe Rogan talking about how hard it is to farm. He is attempting to come up with better methods to provide good nutrition to the poorer population. Farming is so much more than putting some seeds in the ground and waiting for them to grow. The same with animals. It is so much more than just putting them out there in the pasture and watching them graze. Every decision is a well-thought-out plan to fulfill a current need. Those needs are always evolving. Some decisions turn out to be counterproductive. But there is always next year and new opportunities to improve.
That’s it for today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed the trip around the homestead. It is always my pleasure to share our peace and joy with you. Perhaps you’ve gotten some new ideas on what to do for your own dreams and perhaps you just came along for the ride. In any case, we’ll keep you in the loop.
We are heading into late fall and winter. Likely I’ll slow down a little and perhaps only podcast a couple of times a month. The spring and summer are always so full. Slowing down for winter is just another way we work in harmony with nature.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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