Monday, September 10, 2012

It Ain't Easy Being Green - or why register your animals

Many of our purebred lambs look like they have been in a paintball fight with green splotches all over their heads and a few hand marks on their bodies.  We just went through the exercise of tattooing the youngsters that will be kept or sold as breeding stock and the cross-bred ewe lambs that we are keeping for our commercial flock.  

Why do we tattoo?  First, we need a permanent, non-removable identifier on all animals for traceability and record keeping, and second,  tattoos are required for registration of purebred animals.  Only animals that we consider of sufficient quality to be breeding animals are tattooed whether they be purebreds or not.

We have often been asked if we will sell a purebred animal for breeding without registration papers for less than a registered purebred and the answer is no.  We feel that  purebred registries are critical for tracking bloodlines and keeping data on purebred animals especially for the rare breeds.  It is only through that information can we ensure that much needed genetic diversity within a breed is maintained. 

If our purebred sheep are of sufficient quality to be used as breeding stock they will be registered.  If they are not of sufficient quality to be used as breeding stock they will be sold as freezer lamb.  Period.

When I see advertisements for registered animals at $400 and unregistered animals at $200, I really scratch my head for the reasoning for the price difference.  Registration fees are negligible in the total cost of an animal.  For example it costs me $10 to register a lamb under 18 months of age.  The only reason for the price difference is either the quality of unregistered animal is greatly inferior to that of the registered animal or the unregistered animal is either not pure or is unregisterable. Any other reason such as the breeder can't be bothered is just straight bad economics or possibly deception.

An unregistered purebred animal is known as a grade animal in the livestock world.  There is nothing wrong with grade animals and there are some exceptional specimens in grades. Same as there is nothing wrong with crossbreds. However it is a false sense of economy to buy a grade animal with the assumption that you will be able to register it sometime in the future. I have seen more than one beginning breeder get burned by that assumption. If you want a registered animal, buy a registered animal from a reputable breeder. Have a sale contract stating that the animal is registered and the registration papers will be transferred.  If you buy an unregistered animal, make the assumption that you never will be able to register it.

If you are breeding animals become a member of the appropriate breed association.  Administrative fees such as registration and transfers are less expensive for members. Know the breed standards, breed within the standards and register your animals.

Why should you buy registered animals?  Registration papers are as close to a guarantee as possible that the animal that you have purchased is purebred and is recognized by the breed association.  You also have an extended record of the animal's ancestry.  I was able to trace the ancestry for one of my mares back over 100 years.  While that exercise was interesting knowledge of the more recent ancestry is necessary to knowledgably breed your animal.

In an earlier post, I talked about heterosis and the healthy mutt.  Heterosis works best if you cross two purebred lines.  So in order to have that advantage you need to maintain purebred lines as well as crossbreds.

At Hawk Hill we register our best quality purebred animals, we follow the breed standards and we are members of the appropriate breed associations. If you buy a purebred animal from us, you will be buying a registered purebred. No unregistered, purebred bargains here.



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Livestock Guardian Dog Registry Needed

We live in coyote country and raise sheep. The best ways to protect your sheep from predators is good fences, bringing them in at dark and IMO livestock guardian dogs (LGD). However the quality of LGD is really vulnerable in Ontario and probably Canada.

Every summer we all see the same ads: Guardian Dog pups for sale, working lines, $300 no shots - protect your sheep.

We have bought three pups and been burned thrice. The first dog (and a number of his sibs) have severe skin conditions. He would develop horrendous hot spots within days that cost us a fortune in drugs to partially clear. It was only by putting him on very expensive food, omega 3 and zinc supplements were we able to clear up the problem.

Pup Number 2. Bought without shots because the two tiered pricing was way out of line for the cost of the shots. Vet check by our vet showed a major heart murmur that would probably not resolve with age. The vet's opinion is this would not make a suitable working animal. While the breeder took the pup back, he was planning to rebreed the same pair.

Shame on me for getting burned twice but I thought it would not happen again.  Wrong.  We went to a "reputable" breeder, paid a lot of money but got a health guarantee.  So far so good.  After 6 months the pup went lame: diagnosis, severe elbow dysplasia.  Contacted the breeder, got a reply saying poor dog, send me the xrays (which had already been sent).  Then silence.  A few month later, the dog was seriously lame in the back end: diagnosis - bilateral hip dysplasia.  Sent the xrays to the breeder.  Dead silence.  Despite several letters, and the occasional promise to replace the pup by the breeder more than a year has passed and it is obvious this "reputable" breeder has no intention of honouring her guarantee.  So after hundreds of dollars of vet bills, I have an expensive dog that is lame, will have a very short life and we will be left with an unprotected flock.

The genetic pool of LGD is probably closer to a genetic puddle. I am guessing that there is severe inbreeding in LGD.

We need a LGD registry in Ontario and probably Canada. We need to know the ancestory of these dogs to prevent inbreeding and as shepherds looking for working animals we need a registry of reputable breeders that will stand behind their dogs. This does not need to be a purebred registry since some crosses will work as well as purebreds. It does need to be a registry of bloodlines, animals need to be tatooed, records need to be kept and health and working status needs to be recorded. Breeders need to be willing to follow a Code of Conduct regarding their breeding practices, offer health guarantees and be willing to remove inferior animals from the breeding population either by culling or neutering.

Our ability to protect our sheep will be impaired unless we have strong, healthy, well bred LGD. Will well bred dogs cost more?  Probably but my vet bills are a whole lot more than the initial cost of a well bred dog.


Eastern Ontario Drought

After years of having greater than average rainfall, last year and this we have experienced a drought in this region.  The stress on the fields and pastures is even worse this year because of a lack of snow over the previous winter.  And the impact on Hawk Hill Farm has been huge.

1. While we got a decent first cut of hay, the hay stopped growing just after harvest and we have no second cut at all.  We have put the lambs out on the front hay fields to allow them to harvest what hay is there.

2.  Our pastures are not regrowing after the first pass of grazing.  As a result we have had to supplement with hay as early as July.  A bit of rain early in August has brought some pasture back but the sheep are going through it fast.

3. Leaf hoppers have invaded our hay fields and have killed off the alfalfa.

4. Because of poor pasture quality this year the growth rates of our lambs is way down.  That means they will probably take another month or more to reach market weight.

5. We were not able to put our meat chickens on pasture as the pastures are burnt off.  They have remained in the barn.  While we probably would have had to feed as much grain (it is a misconception that chickens can get all their nutrition from pasture), it has cost us more than we had planned for bedding.

6. Feed prices have gone sky high and prices at the sale barn have gone down while farmers dump excess animals before winter.

7. My vegetable garden was pretty well a bust and what did survive was eaten by deer.

The only plus was my lawnmower has been out maybe 4 times this summer.

RAIN PLEASE and then tons of snow this winter.