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Its a learning curve

We are failing. Well, not completely, but some days it sure feels like it.

Raising this new flock of Katahdin sheep has been a huge learning curve. They were purchased from an auction, which in itself is not a bad thing, I mean, I have bought and sold at auctions for years. The problem began when the storm of the year came in the same night as the auction and we were forced to purchase these sheep online. Trying to see a flock of sheep on a 5x8 tablet screen and bid accordingly was difficult. In fact, it was impossible. So we just hit the bid button until we won the bid.

When I drove up the next day to pick them up I was a little taken back by the quality, or lack thereof, of these 10 sheep. They were skinny. They were filthy. They were coughing and wheezing. One had hooves so long I nicknamed her Sleds. Bad does not even begin to explain the quality of this flock. After grouping them all together in one barn stall to examine them it was obvious they had worms. The next morning one of them lambed in the stall and things just went downhill from there.

How many more would be born right away? How would I separate them to keep the babies safe? The temps were dipping down into single digits and sick sheep outside when it's that cold is a strict no-go. So now we have three pens of sheep in the barn - ones that are thin, ones that look like they will birth any second, and ones that we are unsure of. They were put on good quality hay, high protein feed, and they all got a dose of oral dewormer.

Prior to purchasing these ewes, we purchased a bottle baby ram. Simon was a black/white mixed Dorper/Katahdin and had a precious face. His eyes were spaced nicely apart and his little face came to a point at his pink nose. He was going to make gorgeous babies.

Fast forward a month.

Now we have several babies born, Simon is big enough to go in with the sheep and get to know them. All but one ewe is looking good, and she obviously has a big worm load. More dewormer, and B6 to combat her weakness; She goes to the barn. A day later she cannot stand so we create a sling contraption to help her stay on her feet. Without it she is too weak to eat or drink. The next morning she gives birth to twin girls - how, we have no clue. Now we have babies that cannot nurse because mama cannot stand up, and things are going downhill quick. Back in the sling contraption and now I am milking a sheep and bottle feeding her babies to keep them alive.

Another month goes by.

We found Simon frozen one morning, Obviously not using the flock for warmth, he had wandered off alone and could not survive the nighttime temps. There goes our breeding ram, and with him, a little piece of my heart. The mama sheep in the sling rebounded and was walking and eating on her own. Her babies were nursing and everything looked good...until it didn't. She died the day after Simon. Would this nightmare ever end?! Back to bottle feeding lambs.

Now we are mid-Spring.

All of the ewes have lambed except Sleds, and she finally looks like she could be pregnant. Babies are growing nicely, and the ewes are looking much better. We started our mob-grazing for the year, which entails moving a portable electric net-fence every 3 days to keep the sheep on fresh pasture. They are thriving and the future suddenly looks a little brighter. Then Sleds died while lambing late one night. We believe she must have had a breech birth and we were not there to assist. So there goes yet another ewe and whatever she would have had for babies. We felt defeated. What did we get ourselves into?

Enter the month of June.

Talk about a turn around! The sheep are thriving. They are all fat and happy, with no health issues and no untimely deaths. We have pulled the little rams from the ewes so there are no surprise breedings, and are keeping the ram with best color and disposition for our breeder next year. A friend sold us her large breeding ram for a two-year program, at which time we will sell him back to her. "Buddy", as he is known, is sweet as long as we are outside the fence, but don't get caught unaware with your back turned. So now we have 6 breeding ewes, 1 ram, 6 ewe lambs, and 8 ram lambs. Our total losses in that 5 month span: 3 ewes died, 1 disappeared (still have no clue what happened to her), 1 still born ram lamb, 2 ewe lambs died, 2 ram lambs died. The losses are tough, both financially and emotionally. Did we learn from it? You bet we did.

July, August, September.

"Buddy" did his job...sort of. Three of the 6 ewes appear pregnant. Two definitely are not. The last one we are unsure. So back in with the ram for 2 weeks just in case, and sure enough, he bred them back. This is a good thing. We do not want a replay of last winter where all the ewes are lambing either in a snowstorm or in below freezing temps. We should get babies in November, then again in March. This will enable us to utilize the barn so we can keep a close watch on the ewes and the babies. I purchased a better antibiotic "Just in case", and we have fresh milk for bottle feeding.

Sometimes the hardest lessons are the ones best learned. We jumped in with both feet when purchasing this flock and now we know better. Next time, we will just dip a toe in to test the water first! So what have we taken away from this?

1. Spontaneity is not good practice when farming.

2. Get knowledge before getting a new animal.

3. Stay off internet auction sites.

4. Have more infrastructure in place.

5. Keep at it. Don't give up, don't get discouraged, don't feel like a failure. Everyone was here at one time.

So, as October is in full display, I can now sit and blog about our experience. Was it all bad? NO! So much of it was a true blessing. For instance: Every day we walk out to the sheep and call them, and are greeted with a beautiful chorus of bleats; Their little faces joyful to see their shepherds, their tails wagging. They all have names now and distinct personalities. To sit amongst the flock is to experience true peace as you watch them casually graze the thick grasses that mob-grazing has created.

God is good. He has blessed us with six big healthy, beautiful ewes and six healthy ewe lambs. He blessed us when we sold four healthy ram lambs to a nearby Mennonite family. He blessed us by giving us the sweetest ram lamb to be next year's breeder. He blessed us with four butcher lambs and we have shared and sold the bounty. He blessed us by challenging us, and now we are better because of it.

Happy farming.


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