Thursday, 14 February 2013

The other F-word

Our winter grazing is exhausted now and, even on occasion, buried under a dusting of snow. This year we have enough animals to needs lots of hay. Our tiny hoard of small bales left over from last year just won't meet the demand. We've graduated to big bales. Four-stringers they're called. One bale just fits in the back of Mike's single cab pick-up, with the tailgate dropped. The bales are so heavy (a third of a ton I believe) that it takes a tractor to move a single one. Big bales means big feeders, so we invested in one -

The sheep were wary of the new arrival, but quickly overcame their shyness -

Last year the flock was small enough to eat hay out of a plastic tub.

Purchasing an honest-to-goodness piece of farming equipment like this round feeder made me feel like a bona fide shepherd. But my excitement at being a shepherd was short-lived as I caught up my lamb with chronic joint-ill and administered yet another dose of antibiotic and pain relief. You can see how swollen her knee joint is -

Compare the swollen joint above my thumb, with the normal joint on the other side

I think her knee joint has been permanently damaged, and she's taken to walking on the toes of her foot to avoid bending the joint, which can only worsen the stiffness. I'm going to take her off antibiotics and just continue the pain relief, to keep her comfortable. I will try and limp her through - no pun intended - until she's killing weight. I'm lucky to have buyers for all of my ram lambs as butchered half carcases already, and another carcase to sell would be a welcome outcome.

I managed to give all the lambs their first vaccinations this morning, which I'll repeat in a month's time. Not all the lambs are growing at the same rate. Knit lost condition during the first spell of very cold weather, and his tiny backbone and hips were protruding above his pot belly. I had milk replacement left so I un-weaned him. He runs for the bottle every morning like a skinny, woolly addict. 

A couple of weeks on and his top line is nice and smooth, with fat covering those little bones. He's still a lot smaller than 2844's ewe lamb, born only 3 weeks before Knit -

That's Knit on the left, 2844's lamb on the right

The bigger lamb was a single, and had exclusive access to the milk bar. Knit will catch up eventually. I know, that's hard to believe but remember Matilda the orphan lamb? Once the flock runt, this is her now -

Still with the twisted yellow ear tag that she popped out of place when she was Knit's size. She's fit and ready to go to the ram this May. Spring grass is Miracle-Gro for sheep.

I still balk at calling myself a farmer, or telling people I farm. A hobby farmer, maybe (though as far as hobbies go, it's a pretty masochistic one). Then I attended a two-hour lecture on cross-compliance - essentially statutory requirements for farmers regarding animal movement, soil and environment conservation. As I scribbled notes, I realised that the government absolutely considers me a farmer, enough to send me invitations to these talks and, more horrifying, subject me to inspections and fines if I don't fulfil my duties as custodian of my land and animals. 

There's nothing like crippling bureaucracy to make you feel like a real farmer. That, and the slim-to-none profit margins.

authentic farmer car...

So maybe I'm not comfortable with the title of Farmer just yet, but I wholly embrace the title of Flock Mistress, as I am the mistress of my flock. Apparently, the position does come with a tiara, which I received in the post -

Thanks Aunt Meg!

A perfect fit, worn over my woolly hat. If you don't think I'll wear this to check on my sheep, you're so wrong.


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

It just never ends! Are sheep particularly ailment-prone? It seems like, just as one sheep recovers, another comes down with something. And, from where I sit (a comfortable chair, across the ocean, with only chickens for livestock), it looks like you are supremely in charge. You always seem to know what's wrong and what to do about it, and your animals seem to have the pleasant habit of recovering.

Also, nice feeder!

Jennifer Montero said...

Sheep are notorious for being healthy in the morning, and dead by dinner time. On a commerical farm (at least 500 sheep), shepherds don't minister to the sick the way a hobby farmer can.

I hate when my sheep are poorly, but get the most tremendous feeling of satisfaction if I can put it right. IF. I lose at least as many battles as I win.

But, what other job comes with a tiara that matches one's overalls?

Poppy Cottage said...

That is one pretty smart tiara Jen.

janice bendixen said...

My sisters-in-law gave me a pink tiara for my birthday. For being princess in my all-male household. I think you do more to earn yours than I. Since Darling Husband won't let me keep goats, I merely shop, cook and clean. And give quiet advice on the occasional school project. And mind the woodstove. And plan for the weekly excursions afar. And, and and... But none of these activities require puncturing any skin so I think - know - I have it far easier than you. Congratulations, Farmer Jen!