Winter! How does that affect our livestock?
Thankfully, our sheep have 9 months worth of growth on their wool coats, when the weather starts to get really cold. Wool is a great insulator from the cold. The more I read about wool the more I am convinced it is an almost perfect fiber! The sheep are lucky to have it.
I always hear some concern for our sheep, when the snowy ewe pictures get posted, that they are out in the snow and not tucked away in the barn. I have shared this in the past, but will again-"Sheep are Tough". My flock prefers to be outside. We have less health problems when they live out on the pasture. They have great survival instincts. They stick together, know where the windbreaks are, and they tend to stick close to the barn when the weather is really unpleasant.
We do have to feed extra bales of hay, and make sure the hay is good quality. Their nutritional requirements are higher with the colder temperatures and the hay produces body heat when it is digested.
We also make sure they have clean water. I know that some sources say that they can eat the snow and I know that my sheep have eaten snow, but we still put water out every day.
If the weather gets harsh we will move them into the barnyard so they have more protection against the elements.
I should add I am talking about adult sheep with wool growth, not sheep that have no fleece or young lambs. If we had lambs right now it would be a completely different story, they would not have the means to maintain their body heat. They would need to be housed, one of the reasons we lamb in the Spring.
We also have goats. I love our goats but they are not as hardy as the sheep when the weather turns really cold. It is not their fault, their winter coats just don't compare to those woolly sweaters that the sheep are blessed with. They are the first to be moved into the barnyard and occasionally bought into the barn to help them keep warm. They also have the extra feed requirements.
December will be here in a few days, the cold weather is coming-time to pull my wool hat out of storage!
We typically shear every year in March/April before the ewes lamb. This year the weather didn't cooperate and we ended up shearing most of the ewes after they lambed.
We spend a lot of time skirting, washing, and processing the wool.
If you follow our Facebook or Instagram Farm page, then you know I talk about wool a lot! I also have had many conversations concerning shearing. From someone who has raised sheep for 23 years, these are my thoughts....
Sometimes I am surprised by some of the "rumors' that fly around about farming. Actually, not as surprised as I use to me. Thank you internet (haha)
One of the biggest misconceptions I find, is about sheep shearing. I have read articles that talk about the horrors of shearing sheep. I have seen pictures of lambs. cut up and bleeding (you don't shear 2 month old lambs, fyi) Last I checked, all of my sheep survive the shearing experience. Actually they handle it better than my toddlers did during their first hair cut!
I have heard that sheep are abused while being shorn, even experiencing bodily injury/death. An experienced shearer knows how to handle a sheep, and most of the time the sheep handle it pretty well. The lambs and yearling ewes are a little more high strung about it, but the shearer does not harm them. Occasionally a ewe will get a cut from the clippers, which is dealt with at the time of shearing, and it heals very quickly.
A good reason to hire an experienced sheep shearer. They do make the experience easier on everyone!
( I think I have received more injuries during shearing days, than the sheep )
I have heard about the unnecessary stress that sheep are put through by shearing because a sheep will only grow the amount of wool it needs. False! I keep sheep, we have missed shearing times, the wool gets VERY long, matted, dirty, and collects manure tags. Unshorn sheep not only look unkept, but they also will lose body conditon, and it is not a good situation for them at all. Sheep are domesticated and have been for a very, very, long time. Shearing is necessary if you want to raise healthy sheep. ( unless you raise hair sheep)
I have heard claims that sheep would shed their wool, naturally before summer. If only! I have never had a sheep shed its wool. If they did we wouldn't have to hire a shearer every year. There are some sheep that do shed their wool, but most do not.
Our sheep will grow fleeces that weigh between 7-11 pounds annually. After shearing, our sheep bounce around like lambs. I personally think they appreciate that wool cut!
If you visit a farm on shearing day, you will see the sheep are handled with care, and the shearing experience takes but a few minutes.( We have had groups come out on shearing day, I assure you, there were no children watching on in horror as the sheep got their annual clipping.)
Any smart farmer will not want harm to come to his/her animals. Why would they? They are an investment! It only makes sense to take care of that investment. If I had a shearer that abused my animals, or left them seriously injured, I would be looking for a new shearer. Large farms are not much different than small farms, they just have more sheep, once you get to a certain number of animals does not mean you quit caring about them. Sheep are expensive, a stressed animal that needs medical care, is not a good scenario.
We pay for these sheep, they are not cheap. Most of our ewes live their lives out here, we take good care of them. In return, they give us beautiful wool fleeces and lambs. Wool is a renewable product, that has so many wonderful qualities (biodegradable, breathable, durable, fire retardant, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties).
Win, Win! That is how I see it. If you have questions about animal husbandry, ask a farmer, that is what I do. I think wool is an amazing fiber, in case you couldn't tell. I am grateful to play a small part in sharing wool and wool products with others.
We are heading into our 24th year of lambing on the farm. Most of our ewes are lambing in April, but we have a few ewes that could lamb at any time. It is the perfect time to go through and check on our lambing supplies, and make sure we have what we need on hand.
Our must haves-some items are not needed for every circumstance, but they are included.
Umbilical Spray- We have upgraded from using a teat dipper, to dip the navels and went to a spray several years ago. Quick and not as messy.
Lamb Sling-This is used when the ewe has her lambs on pasture and we want to move the lamb and mother to another location. It cradles the lamb and you can carry the lamb at your side. The ewe will be able to keep track of her lamb and follow along. If there are two, we just carry the other one.
Towels- Towels come in handy when the weather is chilly and we want to help dry the lamb off so it doesn't lose too much body heat.
Nutri-Drench- A liquid supplement that can be used for weak newborns.
Selenium and Vitamin E Gel- A supplement.
Scale-Not necessary, but it is nice to be able to weigh the lambs at birth.
Syringe and Tube- You use this to tube feed a lamb that is weak and has no sucking reflex (which they do not have if they are too cold or weak) You place the tube, down the esophagus of the lamb, the tube is long enough to reach the lambs stomach. You attach the syringe and feed the lamb their mothers colostrum. This is a life saving skill and should be learned if you raise sheep or goats.
Elastrator and bands- These are used to dock lambs tails which is done at about a week old. It is also used to castrate Ram Lambs when they are a little older.
Syringes and Needles- We give a vaccine called CD/T when we dock the lambs tails. We use it to protect against Tetanus.
Nipples- We only need these when we have a bottle lamb and we usually only have one of those if the lamb is rejected by their mother. That doesn't happen too often,(thankfully) but we do, occasionally, have a bummer lamb, so we keep nipples on hand.
Disposable O.B Gloves and Gel- We use these when we have to assist in a birth.
We are all set for lambing 2021!