Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hawk Hill Tribute to the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street

We are finishing up the late fall chores: getting winter paddocks set up, shipping the last of the lambs, doing some fencing and spreading the manure pile. As Bob took out load after load the pile evolved into what looked amazingly like Sesame Street's Snuffleupagus. So in tribute to the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street we are posting our manure pile "art". Snuffy is now spread over the back hay field.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"To a Maus"

My favorite Robert Burns poem is "To a Mouse" that he wrote after ploughing up a mouse nest.Wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

That poem came to mind the other day as we found we had a mouse resident in our tractor. Every time we turned on the engine she scurried out of the engine compartment and onto either the loader or the central console by the gear shift. She is a deer mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus, with big Mickey Mouse ears and a dove white belly. All in all a lovely beast but not in my tractor where she can strip my wiring for bedding and generally cause havoc. So yesterday she was "relocated" to the back field. I hope she knows the back field dialect.

Mankind gripes about wildlife invading our space but it was us that invaded theirs. As much as possible we try to amicably coexist with wildlife but draw the line with the skunk in the garage... and the mouse in the tractor.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Royal Winter Fair Trip

We just returned from our annual trip to the Royal Winter Fair and tucked in a trip to the Stock Yards at Cookstown for the sheep sale. It is nice to get away from the farm for a few days and nice to get back home.

First we went to the stock yards at Cookstown for the sheep sale. Some of the lamb prices made sense and some didn't. There seemed to be an aversion to black fleeced lamb with their prices being lower than equivalent quality white fleeced lamb. The buyers also didn't like Katahdin sheep. Their prices were low compared to equivalent quality wool breeds. The buyers bidding price was established by the worst lamb in the lot. If there was a lot of 10 lambs, 9 of which were good and 1 which was poor, the poor lamb set the price for the whole lot. Definitely a reason for having consistent quality and type in your lots. Finally the buyers were more focused on length and quality of loin rather than the quality of the hind leg. That would make sense considering there was a number of buyers for restaurants. Restaurant cuts also focus mainly on the loin and the ribs.

We attended the Market Lamb classes at the Royal and the Market Lamb Auction. We wanted to see what both the judge and buyers were looking for. As we have always done at the Royal, we did a bit of ring-side judging to see how our placements of the class compared to the judge. We were pretty consistent in placing the top end of the class, sometimes not in exactly the same order as the judge but we had the top 5 in the top 5 and more often than not within one placement of the judge's. I have been doing this at the Royal and other shows since I was a kid and entered judging competitions when I was in 4 H so I have a pretty good eye for a good animal. Unlike the sale barn the judge was focusing equally on the leg and the loin with even a lean towards leg quality. The Grand Champion market lamb sold for close to what I expected - ~$10 per pound live weight for a total of about $1000. A nice price for the owner but it was an excellent market lamb.

The one thing that was obvious with the market lamb classes is how far the purebred breeding stock classes have strayed from that type wanted for market lamb. That is quite a head scratcher for me. Breeding lines especially in Suffolk and Dorset have focused on large, very leggy animals.

Because we want to focus on lamb quality rather than breeding stock, if we show it will be limited to market lamb and carcass classes... the sheep equivalent of performance classes.

We also got a chance to visit Pax in his new digs. Nice place and nice people. He looks great and is doing very well. It is such a relief to know that our horses are well loved and cared for once they leave Hawk Hill.

Time to finish trimming some horses,


Friday, November 6, 2009

First Snow at Hawk Hill

We have been working non-stop building fences so I have been outside all day every day this week. There has been the feel of snow in the air and in the sky. Last night at about 2 am, I looked outside to see everything covered in a blanket of snow. It probably will not last long but it is a stark reminder that fall is leaving and winter is about to start.

We still have to finish a fence line or two and then the horses move to their winter pasture and the ewe lambs and rams head into their winter pastures. The last of the market lambs leave at the end of this month. The word back from all our clients has been a unanimous "Yum"! Two lambs are already booked for 2010.

We are taking a much needed break and heading to the Royal Winter Fair and then on a farm tour in Quebec. I am looking forward to meeting other shepherds and viewing other farms. There is still so much to learn.

The one advantage of downsizing our horse herd is also downsizing (big time) our hay requirements. We now have the opportunity to experiment with other crops and forage management systems. I am really intrigued with "cocktail" cover crop planting for soil improvement and fall forages. Maybe it is the scientist in me but we are already planning for different plantings to test.

Coming soon are two more steers and then the rams go in with the ewes.... and it all starts over again.

So as winter comes our animals are settling in for the long haul. In total we will have 34 animal residents for the winter: 2 dogs, 3 cats, 6 horses, 4 steers, 17 ewes and 2 rams; that is more than enough to keep us busy.

Give me another couple of weeks of clear weather and then... let is snow, let it snow, let it snow.