God’s Little Chuckle

March 6, 2013

Two of my ewes lambed this morning. I know God must have been smiling at my feeble attempt to control outcomes: the two ewes who lambed were neither of the two ewes I’d carefully put in jugs.

Moreover, both were maiden ewes who had never lambed before and each gave birth in the melée of the big stall. However, they were champions and after some flurry on my part to sort and rearrange the ewes and the new families, all is well.

Here is Magnolia with her twins, one a ewe lamb, 6 lbs 9 oz, and one a ram, 5 lbs 7 oz.


I’m not sure why the lambs are so small, as Magnolia seems quite healthy. However, tiny as they are, the lambs were on their feet nursing very quickly. Magnolia is a perfect mother.

My ewe Georgie, not quite a year old, gave birth to a singleton, a pretty and vigorous ewe lamb, 7 lbs 12 oz.  At this age, an extra pound or two makes a tremendous difference. This little girl looks as if she could bench press the babies in the next jug.


Meanwhile it truly seems impossible for Blackberry, at age seven my flock’s grande dame, to go much longer or grow much bigger. I look at her udder swollen to shininess and think, Ouch!


Three pregnant ewes down, five to go. I am running around madly with lists, packing and organizing. The girls and I start our drive to Florida tomorrow at noon.

I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’m praying for one or even two more safe deliveries before I get behind the wheel.

Shopping for Jug Hay Feeders

March 3, 2013


Always as lambing season wears on I begin wishing I had a pair of jug hay feeders. For years I have been propping a flake of hay in the corner of each jug at feeding time. Invariably the ewes paw the hay, searching for the best leaves, and thus waste half of it into the bedding. Many times I have looked longingly at jug hay baskets online. This year I decided I would be disciplined and do some comparison shopping.

Here is what I found:

204Sydell makes two different hay baskets. The original is made of heavy 1/4″ rod. It hangs over material up to 1.5″ thick, i.e. a finished 2x board. (My stalls are built of rough-cut boards that are actually 2″ thick, so these baskets wouldn’t work for me without modification.) They are $39 apiece, a hefty chunk of change, but the real killer for all the hay baskets is the shipping.

Sydell’s site is so cumbersome you can’t find out shipping charges without entering your credit card information to purchase, but another dealer offering the Sydell baskets, Ranch Supply (by far the cheapest), indicated that shipping to New York would be $25.23. Total for two baskets, with tax, roughly $110.

GetThumbnail-1.aspx Sydell also makes a poly hay basket that looks a bit like a very well-ventilated trash can. These baskets are $47.50 apiece. Again, Sydell’s site is unhelpful for calculating shipping charges so I looked for another dealer.

Valley Vet sells the poly baskets in a 5-pack — you save fifty cents per basket! Unfortunately the shipping comes to $57.50. Total for five baskets, over $300.

North Star (with the motto, “Home of the Rednecks”) also makes a hay basket, below right. The North Star baskets , too, are available through Valley Vet, for $32.95 apiece.GetThumbnail-2.aspx Shipping for a pair, $43.14. Total for two baskets, roughly $120.

Fourth and finally, we come to my favorite sheep equipment company, Premier 1 Supplies. Many years ago, my friend John Morgan told me I could learn anything I needed to know about electric fencing by reading the detailed Premier paper catalogs. These days Premier also has a great website that offers a plethora of downloadable information on all aspects of equipment use. Moreover, Premier is a small, human-sized company.  Though I only shop there a couple of times a year, I know I can call and ask Brenda what I need, or have Gordon walk me through a tricky problem over the phone. Best of all, Premier is frank about the pluses and minuses of any product they sell.

Premier’s single hay basket (below left) is simple and looks much sturdier than any of the competition. Like Sydell’s feeder, it is made of heavy 1/4″ rod, but this X-Tuff feeder is reinforced with horizontal rods and can hang over a 2″ board. These feeders cost $33 apiece. Premier also sells a double-sided hay feeder (below right) designed to fit over the wire panel separating my jugs, feeding both jugs at once. (It appears that this option is going to be removed or upgraded, perhaps to all 1/4″ rods, as a note on the page says WHILE SUPPLIES LAST.) The double-sided basket, which would suit my needs perfectly, is only $24.



The problem, again, is the shipping, and I am sad to report that it is also impossible to calculate shipping charges on the Premier site. I can learn that although the $24 feeder only weighs 6.90 lbs, due to its dimensions it will incur shipping charges based on 49 lbs. However, to find out what those charges would be, I’d have to email the company.  From reading other sites, it appears likely that shipping would be around $20. Thus, I could purchase a feeder to service two jugs for under $50. This is obviously my best deal.

So — what to do? It’s easy to see that I can’t spend over $100 to save a couple of flakes a day of hay that costs $3.75 for a bale of ten flakes. Does it make sense to spend even $50? Ewes are usually only in the jugs for 2-3 days at a time. The jugs are only in use altogether about six weeks a year. When I read discussions on sheep lists about jug hay feeders, the issue always comes down to the high cost.

51kC44Ln0YL._SX342_Some folks turn to alternatives. I read online about shepherds using milk crates or homemade racks nailed up from plywood. I myself even looked into old-fashioned metal bike baskets. I could buy two of the latter on Amazon with free Prime shipping at $12.99 apiece. However the bike baskets are short and look flimsy, and if I were going to spend $26, wouldn’t it make sense to pay for shipping and get Premier’s purpose-built item?

Most of the small-flock shepherds like me appear to decide to simply continue to put a flake of hay in the corner of the jug, ignoring the annual short season of hay waste.

As for myself, now that I’ve examined all the options, I think I will email Brenda at Premier and ask her to let me know shipping on the $24 double-sided feeder before it sells out. Two wasted flakes a day, at my current hay cost, comes to 75 cents a day, which means a $50 feeder would pay for itself in 67 days, or less than ten weeks.

I know I would use one for many years.
Edited to add:  Sadly, the two-sider feeder has sold out, and will not be returning. Rats! However I was quite wrong on shipping, which would have been $38.78!

Biotracking Moxie

March 3, 2013


Yesterday my wonderful friend Alison came to the barn and took a blood sample from the underside of the tail of my Jersey cow, Moxie. Alison is a nurse and the sort of brisk and irrepressibly cheerful person who remains completely unfazed when a patient nervously evacuates its bowels on her shoes.

“This is such fun!” she exclaimed, deftly maneuvering the needle.

On Monday I will send the blood sample to a lab in Pennsylvania and find out if Moxie is pregnant. For $2.50 they’ll run the test and email me the results.

I’ve now discovered so many mistakes I made in the chaos of last year that I will not be surprised if Moxie is open (not pregnant). It will be all of a piece with the rest of my fumbling.

However the challenge in Moxie’s case I had anticipated. Due to fixed slaughterhouse schedules, my bull Opie had to go to slaughter at only eleven months old. It’s quite possible that he was not yet fertile at those times when Moxie was in heat and he was enthusiastically breeding her. (It’s a farming truism that when you want your animal bred, your male will be a late bloomer, and when you don’t want your animal bred, the male will be potent at six months old.) I had mentioned my concern to my vet. David snorted, and pointed out Opie’s big, wide head and handsome frame. “Don’t insult him so! He’s a beauty!”

We shall see.

Biotracking is a fabulous development of the last twenty years. As a test it is cheap ($2.50 vs. $75 farm call for the vet), non-invasive (a needle prick vs. an internal palpation), and quick (can be done after one month rather than three). I should have the results on Moxie by next week. Knowing if she is pregnant or not will help me make smart decisions about Moxie’s feeding and care this spring.

Thank you, Alison!

The Watched Pot

March 2, 2013


This photo of Blackberry was taken yesterday morning. She’s taking on roughly a diamond shape. Her distended sides are practically pointy.

I decided that if I didn’t drive down to check on her yesterday evening, she’d be sure to lamb last night.


Sigh. Five more days before we leave. Seven more pregnant ewes. What a nightmare.

The Goose Hoosegow

March 1, 2013


Yesterday I hinged and hung a scrap of 1/2 inch plywood to make a gate partitioning the calf stall in half, to create a night stall for the geese. It is not a thing of beauty but it’s only a temporary arrangement for the crazy mating season. After shooing the geese in, I put Cooper’s flake of supper hay against the new door.

My gander Andy was outraged. As I filled the evening water buckets I could hear his loud complaints.


Let me out of here! I’ve been falsely imprisoned!


There you are, you stupid calf! Open this door!


Don’t you dare lie down to go to sleep, you silly moron! Open this door!


*  Sigh.  *