As I study the Pat Coleby mineral supplementation subject more and more, the biggest hang-up I have is over copper (Cu). I can breeze right through the advice for offering the other minerals free-choice, feeling confident in her assertion that the sheep will eat what they need and no more. And most of what’s in her recipe is fairly low-risk, even if the sheep ate a little too much. But not so with copper!
When I start researching a topic, I can really get obsessed. And such is the case with mineral supplement options for sheep. I might have just bought my bag of “sheep mineral” from the local feed store for years and not given it a second thought, had it not been for Pat Coleby’s book Natural Sheep Care. The book is a mind-boggling read, going into great depth on dozens of trace minerals, and the role each one plays in nutrition, and when deficient, in disease. When I first read this book, my reaction was “bleah!!” and I stuck it back on the shelf, because the stuff just seemed too complicated. And you would think surely the makers of my feed store mineral bag already had all this figured out, right? 😉
Quite a while ago, I read Pat Coleby’s book Natural Seep Care. Then I put it on the shelf for a long time, because her assertions and suggestions are a bit overwhelming, and not easy to implement. But I’ve decided to embark on following some of her advice, including offering the sheep individual trace minerals (instead of a commercial proprietary mix) so they can eat what they crave.
The first challenge was figuring out a sheltered, but moveable, device in which to offer this mineral buffet, since the sheep are in ever-rotating pastures. I nagged myself to craft something from scratch, but just wasn’t getting to it. So I finally purchased two nifty mineral feeder stations.
I’ve been really pleased with using marking harnesses with the rams this year, it’s reassuring to verify that everyone is getting bred on schedule, and that there were no accidents earlier in August that I didn’t know about! Here are two girls with nice clear blue marks on them, indicating that in five months, they should have some of Hershey’s lambs.
But, here is one that didn’t go as planned:
Oops! That’s both blue and green! That’s ‘cuz Hershey busted through the hotwire separating the groups on a couple of occasions. So, oh well, I’ll have a few lambs with a mystery sire. If they are great and I’m dying to keep them, I can DNA test them so they can be registered; otherwise they’ll just go on the locker list. And this is probably where the marking harness provides most of its value, is when somebody gets where they shouldn’t. Without them, I’d have no idea what went on in the few hours Hershey was in the wrong pen, where this way, at least I can quantify the damage!
This week is all about the boys, for once, on the farm! Usually boys play a bit part and the girls have a starring role on farms, but there are times when the men get their due. We do need them!
Yesterday was the start of breeding week for the sheep, so Tuesday, the rams got fitted with their breeding harnesses.
I waffled again this year on whether or not to “flush” the ewes prior to breeding. Flushing is putting them on an increasing plane of nutrition as they come into heat, coaxing their bodies to release more eggs, to render a higher rate of twins and triplets. Last year I did it, and had a 200% lamb crop born, so I think I’m going to stick with the plan for another year or so; and then maybe experiment with dropping it and see how it compares.
The last speaker I listened to at the KHSI Expo was Dr. Kreg Leymaster, a researcher from the USDA Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Nebraska. His talk was inspiring, he made me feel pretty fired up about our breed! 🙂 MARC is doing a lot of research on sheep breeds, trying to winnow down which ones are the best producers, the best tasting as lamb, and have the lowest maintenance requirements. I gather that the general vision at MARC is to help America develop the dreamiest sheep breed ever: one that consistently produces 200% or better lamb crops, with no help, thrives on the average forage offered by the open range (not grain feed lots!), and renders high quality, good-tasting lamb. The ultimate put-dinner-on-the-table sheep!
Udders have been on my mind the past few weeks. Our 7-month old ewe lambs were still nursing on their overly indulgent mothers. I will be separating the ewes in a few weeks, because the ewe lambs are going to pair with a different sire than the older ladies. I figured it would be good to get weaning out of the way before then; both so the mothers could start adding some condition (though none of them are thin!) and so the ewe lambs wouldn’t be stressing about weaning during the week they should be breeding. So, a few weeks ago, I split the hotwire enclosure into two halves.
Here are some notes I had on a marketing presentation I heard at the KHSI Expo in Oregon. Dr. Charles Parker has a long background in livestock research, and he spoke on the future of the lamb industry in this country, and how we should be thinking about marketing our product.
So, first off, the future generally looks very bleak! The U.S. lamb industry is actually on an eighty-year severe decline!
I mentioned that one of my new sheep seemed to be feeling under the weather the first few days after I got her home. But after giving her some liquid nutrient as a pick-me-up and immune system support, she seemed to recover, and I saw her grazing, chewing her cud, and generally looking fine by the end of the week. I check on all our animals daily, so am quick to observe any problems.
Last Friday evening, I noticed she was hanging her head again, and seemed thinner, with runny eyes and new diarrhea. Continue reading “Sheep “Shipping Fever” – No Good End”