“Yes, with this approach to farming we make decisions and put our hands to some small manipulations but the very breadth of mixed crop and livestock systems often quickly leave us behind and spread out to do their own work of symbiotic osmosis and complementary relations.”
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.
Establishing the age of farm animals through the appearance of the teeth is no new thing. The old saying, “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth,” is attributed to Saint Jerome, of the fifth century, who used this expression in one of his commentaries. Certainly for generations the appearance, development, and subsequent wear of the teeth has been recognized as a dependable means of judging approximately the age of animals.
After living in Ohio for twelve years and being very home-sick, I was ready to get home, spend time with my family and friends, and get back to the farm. The question arose, can one really come back home? When I lived in Ohio and asked myself that question the answer was adamantly, yes! Now that I was here… I wasn’t so sure.
Sheep naturally inhabit areas that are high and dry. The animals, however, will thrive on any land except that which is wet and swampy. The fine-wool breeds of sheep especially exhibit a preference for the lands that are drier, whereas there are one or two of the British breeds that are particularly adapted to the lowlands. The industry of raising sheep has been carried on with success in areas that have tropical temperatures with low rainfalls, but rearing the animals in regions of high temperatures and high rainfall has not been generally successful.
Another consideration for the Trimburs was health and ease of care. Heidi says, “Finnsheep, as a breed, won this one without contest! They are smaller, super-friendly, have no horns to worry about and no tails to dock. They are hardy, thrive on good nutrition and grow a gorgeous fleece. I love to walk out in the pastures with them. They all come running over to say hello and some of our rams love to jump on our golf cart and “go for a ride” – it is hilarious!
When we first sheared our sheep, we were at a loss as to what to do with the wool. Unwilling to throw it away, we shoved it into a pillowcase under the bed until winter brought time for projects. We looked into buying a spinning wheel, but the prices were far outside of our range. I had read that the first “Saxony Wheel” was made in the 1500s by a woodcarver who undoubtedly had fewer resources than I do, even with my simple shop and few tools. Then, he had to invent the thing from the ground up, shooting in the dark, while I could look and copy from spinning wheels in the neighborhood. I am somewhat mechanically inclined, about average as a handyman, and I was able to come up with a design that is simple to build, simple and dependable to use, and takes up almost no space in the house.
The real trick in shearing isn’t learning the pattern of the shearing strokes, which lessens the time involved in removing the wool, but in immobilizing sheep by the various holds that give them no leverage to struggle. A helpless sheep is a quiet sheep. Rendering sheep helpless cannot be done by force alone, for forcible holding makes them struggle more. Try to stay relaxed while you work.
“There it is!” I smack the table and point at the computer screen, where pictures of edema-stricken sheep enhance an article on ruminant parasites. “Barber pole worm,” I read, “is a blood-sucking parasite found in wet pastures. The first thing to be done is take the flock off the affected area and put them on uncontaminated grass.” Okaaayyy. It’s Winter. Like that’s gonna happen. I take down as many notes as I can and tape the scrap envelope to the fridge. “Visible. Lives in the abomasum. Can survive outside of host for 2-3 months. Lives in the bottom four inches of grass. Can be found in water droplets. Will lie dormant until host is vulnerable, as in pregnancy or Winter. Resistant to most commercial parasitizes.”
Icelandic sheep belong to the group of sheep known as the Northern European Short-tails, a group of relatively primitive sheep that have in common, as you’d expect, their short tails that never need to be docked, and their origin in countries and regions of northern Europe, including Iceland, the Baltic states, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Shetland and south through Scotland. The sheep of Iceland were brought to the island by the Vikings in the 8th – 9th century. There they make up a substantial percentage of the agricultural output of the country, and are a commercial production breed.
Driving tepee truck is a humble job, beneath the dignity of a lamber, but it suits me fine. The ten-mile drive through the hills to Sunrise Camp is beautiful in the early morning. This is the season between snow and flowers, when the first soft green of grass and moss spreads over the hills with a promise. The long hard winter is over. Next month the ranch will be literally carpeted with wild flowers — bird’s-bills, dog tooth violets, crocuses, wild irises, evening primroses and forget-me-nots — a tangled, riotous fulfillment in colors no artist could paint. Beautiful, yes, but I like this season better. For everywhere I look I can see the stir of new life — in the tender, pale green of the hills, rolling on and on to meet the horizon; in the deepening green of slender, silver-trunked quaking aspen; in the sweet, sharp-scented fragrance of pine and spruce and fir, as the sap runs through their branches.
Since we’ve raised sheep commercially, we’ve been committed to trying to live with the predators in our environment. Over the years, we’ve lost just a handful of sheep — several to coyotes, at least one each to mountain lions and rattlesnakes, and four in one night to a neighbor’s dog. Mostly, though, our commitment to nonlethal predator protection tools has worked. A combination of electric fencing, livestock guardian dogs, sheep selection and grazing management has allowed us to co-exist with the predators in our environment.
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.
I heard through the fiber-vine that the mill I used was shutting down because the owner was retiring. After much hemming and hawing, my husband and I decided to purchase the equipment. I created a business plan, secured an equipment loan, and moved everything to our small farming town of Halsey, Oregon. The retired miller, Janelle, has been an amazing mentor. After the last year and a half, I can safely say that I now understand my equipment and how to get it to process fiber at its best.
Imagine – a beautiful fall day in the Northeast. The air is crisp, the foliage shining red and yellow and orange under a clear sky. Now imagine yourself surrounded by a phantasmagoria of color and texture, a dizzying array of handmade things combining beauty and utility in remarkably unique ways. Add some delicious food to this picture, and throw in a diverse crowd of enthusiastic folks. Mix all of this together, and you have set the scene for the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival.
Have you been staring longingly at those wide eyed alpacas you see out to pasture on your way to work? Or maybe you’ve been mentioning to friends that you would love to have a couple sheep whose wool you could use in your knitting, crocheting, or weaving. If these thoughts have crossed your mind, you are in luck as author and fiber farmer Chris McLaughlin’s new book Raising Animals for Fiber gives an informed overview of owning your own fiber flock.
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. 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.
Twenty-five years ago, I chose the Shetland Sheep breed, literally by the book. Having long thought about getting sheep, my decision was made easier after reading an article about The Livestock Conservancy, where I learned that dozens of livestock breeds were in danger of being forever lost due to low numbers worldwide.
The origin of this highly useful tool is, as one might expect, lost in the dim shadows of man’s early attempts to domesticate animals he deemed useful. No historians were present when one thoughtful shepherd picked up a long stick, and began poking his sheep to get them moving in a particular direction. Or when he found that a short, angled branch on the end of the stick could be used to hook his animals when it became necessary to catch them. Or when he found that by actually bending the wood itself to make a hook, the strength of the overall instrument was increased. But one might assume, following a logical progression of thought, that the creative process went something along those lines.
I help to teach a class for aspiring farmers in the Sierra foothills. Invariably, we begin talking about when a new producer should purchase his or her first tractor. This seems to be a “guy” thing – the male of our species can’t conceive of a commercial farming enterprise without a tractor! For most start-up crop farms, however, a tractor shouldn’t be the first capital expenditure. Things like deer fencing, irrigation systems and hand tools are far more critical to a small-scale vegetable grower – buying a tractor to cultivate an acre of crops just doesn’t make economic sense.