Well, not summer camp exactly. But I just got back from a four-day trip to Corvallis, OR to attend the Katahdin Hair Sheep International Expo and Sale. I really enjoyed it, they had great farm tours, speakers, and a sheep sale. I bought a few sheep too! I’ll try to write about the highlights, as best as I can capture all that I absorbed there.
The first thing we did there was tour the Jondle family’s Abundant Life Farm, to view how they raised hair sheep (I think they have Dorper crossbreds) in a pasture rotation system with cattle and poultry. They have a great video on their website that describes how they got into farming, but I’ll summarize the important basics: they left Silicon valley and the “rat race” of the computer industry, studied at Joel Salatin’s farm for six months, and then started their own farm in Oregon, modeling Joel’s methods, in the year 2000, involving all three of their children in the adventure.
Marilyn Jondle showed us their batch of 200 turkeys- they do one turkey harvest per year for Thanksgiving. When the turkeys are young, they house them in a covered move-able shelter, to keep them safe and also contained. Once they are a few weeks old and big enough, they open the shelter doors, and enclose that in a larger portable hotwire area. Both systems are rotated through the pasture every day or two, to give the turkeys access to fresh grass and ground. They had a very nicely designed turkey “tractor”- the frame appeared to be made out of chain link-style posts, with the bottom ends of the pen turned up like sled blades to make it easy to slide. She said they had the frame custom-made by a greenhouse vendor.
They pasture their cattle and sheep together. I think for many years, people thought this couldn’t, or shouldn’t be done. But, now there is solid research behind this method. It has been shown that not only does combining sheep and cattle improve the graze for both species, it makes an acre more profitable than by raising one species alone.
They process their chicken by themselves, in their state-licensed processing facility. She mentioned that they grow chickens 200 in a batch. Having helped a friend a while back with processing about 20 chickens, and thinking it was a ton of work doing that many, I asked Marilyn how long it takes them to do 200 birds. She said casually, “oh, a couple of hours.” (!) So, I guess you get good at it with practice and the right equipment!
Marilyn also showed us how she moves the sheep and cows to a new “rectangle”- it’s really easy, because they “get it” and are anxious to move to the fresh grass. She uses two strands of hotwire (the “stretchy” kind, wound on reels that make it easy to wind and unwind), creates several sub-division in the pasture, and moves the animals to a new section daily. As soon as she opens up the new section, the animals all rush to get into it, and then she closes off the hotwire behind them.
In the picture it looks like all the grass is dead. Indeed, Oregon has been having a very dry summer, like we have had; so a lot of their grass has gone dormant or seeded out. But there still was green stuff in there for graze, and the animals were munching happily.
Marilyn reported something useful to know- since they started, they’d been following the same “recipe” for managing their livestock and had been very successful with it. Except that in the past year, she had switched mineral brands because a salesman convinced them that he could offer an equivalent mix for a lower price. But this year, she had a lot of lambing problems, and lambs born with defects. She feels that it can only be attributed to the change in mineral mix, so she’s switching back to the other brand. Someone pointed out that this could also be caused by ingestion of certain toxic weeks during pregnancy; and it’s true, they could have had something like this crop up, without knowing the cause for certain. It’s amazing how one small change in ewe nutrition can wreak havoc with a lamb crop!
They also pasture pigs in a woodsy area on the other side of their property. We didn’t tour that area, or the pastures where they keep their chicken tractors; but we could see them in the distance.
Marilyn explained how they direct-market their products. Having first built a customer base by going to farmers markets, they know organize “buying clubs” where they notify their customers of a pickup time and date, take orders ahead of time, and bring the products to a pre-determined location in the city for distribution. She reports that it’s great- customers get exactly what they need, she and her husband only have to spend a couple of hours on the drop-off activity, and they don’t end up taking anything back home with them.
I’m grateful to the Jondles for opening up their beautiful farm for us to tour, and for the time Marilyn took to answer all of our questions. They have a very nice place- clean, well-maintained, a great setup, and very nice looking animals!