Monday, January 23, 2012

I am a slow learner

We have had horses for 12-13 years now and it has taken us this long to figure things out for the good of the horses, our pocket books and us.  When we started we spent a lot of money getting the barn renovated for box and standing stalls, bought tons of blankets, etc. Lots of money was wasted.
 Now we: 
  • leave the horses out 24 hours a day year round with a run in shed
  • bed the run in shed with coarse sand instead of straw (it stays drier and is a lot easier to pick clean)
  • insulate the stock tank and use a bucket heater to keep it open in the winter
  • throw a handful of pennies in the stock tank to control the algae
  • feed in a round bale slow-feeder net in a tombstone feeder
  • fecal test 4-5 times a year and only deworm as required
  • only vaccinate the minimum for a closed herd
  • trim as required instead of on schedule (changes with season and ground conditions)
  • 99% of diet is forage, supplement based on analysis
  • adjust diet based on body condition 
They are healthier and less stressed and so are we.  I am looking forward to the time we have the same breakthroughs for the sheep. I hope it doesn't take 12 years.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Shepherd in Winter

As I lay nestled under the duvet listening to the morning weather - “-23 with a wind chill of -30” – I chant my winter shepherd mantra – “What the hell were you thinking?”.  At -40 I add “I could have been in a villa in Tuscany right now”.  I drag myself out of bed in a house that was built in an era when upstairs heat and insulation were considered optional.  Fleece PJs and fluffy socks – a TSC vision of loveliness.

If I am lucky Bob has the stove going before I get downstairs. There is oatmeal for breakfast with a bit extra for the chickens.  I am training them to come when they are called with oatmeal bribes. (see the former post) If you think that you look like a fool herding sheep without dogs, try chickens.

Now the ordeal of getting dressed for chores: insulated coveralls, my dork hat with ear flaps, neoprene gloves, neoprene boots, ice cleats.  If I ever give up farming I could find employment as a dominatrix.

A stilt legged shuffle to the barn.  Oh, you say, the warmth of sheep wafting over me when I open the door.  No, the barn was built by the same folks that thought heat in the house was for wusses.  It is a drafty, old bank barn where we house very few sheep but keep the hay, the water and the feed.  The sheep are in paddocks with run-in sheds scattered around the barnyard.  Water sloshing over my coveralls freezes instantly.  I recite the mantra again.

I look over the breeding groups: a red butt here, a blue butt there.  It is starting to look a lot like Christmas and the tune comes to mind.  I am jostled by the sheep as I fill feeders; the guardian dogs are prancing in the snow.  I am starting to wake up, to warm up.

Like with childbirth, I know I will forget all of this when I see the lambs frolicking in the spring pastures.  A pushy ewe dumps the bucket down my boot; here comes the mantra again.