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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Sheep A Logical Choice

Sheep: A Logical Choice

by Sylvia Jorrin of Delhi, NY

Ewes, yearly by twinning, rich masters do make,
the lamb of such twinners, for breeders go take:
For twinlings be twiggers, increase for to bring,
through some of their twigging, peccantem may sings.

This old English verse describes sheep farming in a time when it was a highly profitable enterprise. In our own era, sheep have been successfully integrated into farm operations in ways that can both balance labor and produce income. At the turn of the century, a flock of 40 or so sheep was considered a manageable one in combination with other livestock. It was referred to as a “mortgage burner.”

Sheep have numerous uses on a smallholding. They are excellent grazers and are ideal at revitalizing old pastures as well as an excellent follower of the cows in a rotational grazing system. Cropping the grass at 2-3 inches that the cows have left at 8 inches encourages new growth in the spring. They have been known to clear stone walls of surrounding blackberry or raspberry canes, and effectively prune apple trees. Even the redoubtable thorn apple can be effectively pruned into a very pretty little tree, by the presence of sheep. Their manure is usually in pellet form and is spread throughout a pasture as they graze. A sheep shares a ton a year of fertilizer with the earth.

While wool commands relatively low prices unless it is maintained in a marketable condition for handspinners, there remains to be a number of practical uses for it on the farm. Fleeces that are relatively free from burrs and hay, can, with some thorough going over to remove the remaining chaff, be either hand or machine washed. Loosely packed in a zippered pillow cover, it can be run through the gentle cycle of a washing machine using lukewarm water. It then can be put into a dryer set at the “synthetic” setting and allowed to dry for a few minutes. Remove the partially dried fleece and pull the fleece into a light fluffy mass of fiber. Allow to air dry. Put into pillow ticking, this makes a very warm and cozy winter pillow. Relatively clean fresh fleeces can be sent to processors to be made into batting with which to make quilts. Quilters using wool batting tend to rave about how easily their needles go through the quilt.

Wool that is customarily discarded during shearing from the belly or the crotch area makes superb mulch around fruit trees. The fouler the better is the directive, for spring rains gradually wash this slow release fertilizer into the ground and on to the root system of the tree. In the year or two that it takes for the fibers themselves to break down, as compost, even more nutrients from their composition are released. Most shepherds especially in northern climates find it necessary to build up a manure pack over the winter in the sheep barn. That is a combination of wasted hay, bedding, straw, manure and urine. As it decomposes it provides warmth for newborn lambs. In the spring it provides an excellent source of nourishment for the fields. Some farmers who also keep pigs, put the spring piglets in the barn first to root up the pack, make it viable, and, in turn, add fertilizer to its bounty. It makes it considerably easier to shovel and spread after being exposed to a work team of piglets.

Some sheep breeds produce more lanolin on their fleeces than others. All do produce some, however. Once again, the often-discarded neck and wool around the udder, has it use. It is first washed in cold water, then boiled. As the wool has a tendency to rise, it is necessary to put a plate on top of it in the pot. After it has boiled long enough for the grease to rise to the surface of the water, the pot is removed from the heat and the water is chilled, enabling the grease to be skimmed off as a white curd-like fat. The fat is then reheated to a melting point, and strained through a linen cloth. There was a time when the linen was used as bandages. Yellow broom buds can be added to the lanolin to make an effective ointment for the hands. It was one made by county women in England and sold to sailors whose hands would be made sore by handling the rope. Sheep’s tallow, by the way, has been traditionally used to grease horse tack for centuries.

Sheep A Logical Choice

In the year 1131 a small group of Cistercian monks left their Abby in France and settled in a desolate area of Yorkshire. They began to raise sheep in order to produce wool for their habits. Within a hundred years, wool raised by the Cistercians and farms around their monasteries were considered the finest in all of Europe. Merchants traveled each year, across the Alps, over the Channel, all the way to the North Country of England just to purchase this wool, so beautiful was the quality.

It was said of the monks “where one blade of grass was wont to grow, they could grown two.” What was their secret? A simple enough one, to us. They had a scriptorium. That is, they had a place where monks who could both read and write, kept careful records of their agricultural methods. Record keeping is probably one of the most critical tasks of all. Sheep rearing is particularly sensitive to that task. While it is often, but not always, easy to remember what each sheep produced in a flock of three or four ewes, other information is critical as well. It is a very convenient tool to have an idea when a ewe is covered. If a marking harness is used on the ram, or for that matter, raddle powder mixed with salad oil is painted on his brisket; it is possible to know when was the first time a ewe was covered. Should it not have taken, she will be covered again in approximately 18 days. Raddle wears off in about a week, enabling you to reapply it to the ram. The crayon from a marking harness is a little more permanent and may need be color changed every two weeks or so. It is then possible to calculate approximately when the sheep will freshen. While Finn-Landrace ewes usually take a 145-day gestation period, most other breeds need about 150 days.

This information also can help determine how one might want to handle a feeding program. The shepherd might decide to separate sheep that are closer to term, and feed the more expensive, high quality hay and grain to ewe closer to the end of gestation. With sheep due to freshen as lambs or around twelve to fourteen months, extra care and careful nutritional management are mandatory. Often very young sheep will babysit their lamb rather than mother it. Careful record keeping will give enough information to help the shepherd avoid some otherwise unavoidable pitfalls.

One commonly heard complaint that is voiced by both shepherds and former shepherds alike is, there isn’t any money in sheep. A realistic assessment of the goals of the farm is a necessary one before starting to raise sheep. Expectations need be considered. Evaluating them on paper is a sound idea. Pound for pound, a dairy sheep will produce more milk for less grain and hay costs than more dairy cows. While wool prices remain low on the farm, use of wool may compensate dramatically. Niche markets are developing paying premium prices for on the farm-raised lamb whether it be organic or not. The wise shepherd will be a conservative spender; not buying anything that is not absolutely necessary at the onset. As your farm develops, it will itself suggest, quietly at first, then with a louder and louder voice, what it needs to function.

A talk with a shepherd, who runs approximately 100 sheep, revealed that she feels fortunate to not have a cent to spare the first year she started, beyond money for grain and hay. There would have been many mistakes made getting things found to be easy to live without. An enterprising farmer will soon learn how, in many cases, to create the things needed, rather than buying them. The sheep themselves will let you know what you need to take care of them. Like all creatures, there is a balance and uneven distribution of intelligence among them. Some sheep are as intelligent as a very bright dog. Others are a bit vacant, or, perhaps they are waiting to surprise you. If the shepherd is willing to approach them with a quiet mind and willing heart, it is amazing what one can learn from them. For people who are indeed so willing, sheep can be an absolute joy as well as a humbling experience. To those who find raising sheep to be a necessary and important part of their small farm, there is when things are going well a peace being in the barn at night waiting for the lambs to be born, that is like none other.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 3

Working with horses can and should be safe and fun and profitable. The road to getting there need not be so fraught with danger and catastrophe as ours has been. I hope the telling of our story, in both its disasters and successes will not dissuade but rather inspire would-be teamsters to join the horse-powered ranks and avoid the pitfalls of the un-mentored greenhorn.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

Week in the Life of D Acres

Week in the Life of D Acres

by:
from issue:

D Acres of New Hampshire in Dorchester, a permaculture farm, sustainability center, and non-profit educational organization, is a bit of a challenge to describe. Join us for this week-in-the-life tour, a little of everything that really did unfold in this manner. Extraordinary, perhaps, only in that these few November days were entirely ordinary.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

by:
from issue:

Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

by:
from issue:

In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

Mayfield Farm

Mayfield Farm, New South Wales, Australia

by:
from issue:

Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

by:
from issue:

In the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild. “Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked. “Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm. We assembled the ingredients on the table. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

Prosperous Homesteading

Prosperous Homesteading

Prosperous Homesteading at FreeSong Farm by Greg Jeffers prosperoushomesteading.blogspot.com

Personal Food Production

Personal Food Production

by:
from issue:

We can argue about when, but someday within several decades, oil and the plentiful super-market food we take for granted will be in short supply and/or very expensive. We must all start immediately to grow as much of our own food as possible. This is the fun part and is the subject of a vast popular movement highlighted by innumerable books, magazines, and web sites. Square-foot gardening, raised beds, and permaculture are the new rage. We don’t need thirty-million acres of lawns. Flowers aren’t very filling either.

Such a One Horse Outfit

Such a One Horse Outfit

by:
from issue:

One day my stepfather brought over a magazine he had recently subscribed to. It was called Small Farmer’s Journal published by a guy named Lynn Miller. That issue had a short story about an old man that used a single small mule to garden and skid firewood with. I was totally fascinated with the prospect of having a horse and him earning his keep. It sorta seemed like having your cake and eating it too.

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

by:
from issue:

Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory who was a wildlife and ranch biologist in Africa who was concerned that the advice he could give farmers didn’t work in the real environment and even when the advice was good it wouldn’t get implemented. He developed a program which helps farms create a clear Holistic Goal and then use the farms resources to move toward the goal while being ecologically sustainable.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

by:
from issue:

Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT