Greener Pastures

Unfortunately, I have neglected my duties in keeping up with this blog. Having a newborn is busy, and I did get caught up on that and left my blogging to fall to the wayside. This last year has been a tough time for us, as we have tried to decide what we could do to make our small farm more profitable. Should we focus more on custom hay? More or less cows? Should we keep the sheep? What are we going to do with our chickens?

We started this year with few conclusions to the questions above, but have slowly worked this year to do away with certain areas and start new projects. As we are wrapping this year up, we feel like we are finally in a place to update and move forward.

Last year, we were heavily focused on two new projects: hatching and raising chickens and raising a sheep herd. For many reasons, these two projects were not right for us. In regards to the sheep, we were unprepared for the different needs they had to cattle. While we did feel like we had done adequate research, it seemed like there was always something new going on with them. We had several get sick, and a neighboring dog who killed several of our babies. After a few months, we decided it was best to sell what sheep we still had and take a step back to clear our heads. As for the chickens, we got a little (a lot!) carried away. We are the type of family that goes in head first and again while we did do a lot of research, and felt prepared for this step, we were very unprepared for the amount of chicks we would end up with no outlet for them. After hatching our last batch of chicks we ultimately realized we did not have the outlet for the chicks at that time and decided to cut our losses. We sold our incubators and the last of our chicks, keeping only a few free rangers for our egg supply.

We sold our sheep very early in the year, and spent the summer only dealing with our cattle. B took a full time job in the spring, so our summer has remained busy with both of us working full time jobs and keeping up with the cattle we have. Mid summer we made the decision to let our leased cows go back to their owner. We have about 20 head of cattle, and were leasing another 20 head of cattle at that time. The lease cows are no longer on the farm. Instead, we have now turned around and leased our own cattle to another farmer in the area.

A cattle lease is pretty straight forward: one person owns, one leases the cattle. For ours, we provide the land and we are responsible for the vet bills on our animals. The other farmer is responsible for feeding the cows through winter, taking care of fences, helping them calve and providing a bull for breeding. When it comes time to sell calves, we will split that check 50/50 with the other farmer. It generally works out for both parties as the lessee is not financially responsible for the animals, and we both benefit from the profits.

The thing that has been in the back of our heads all summer though, is what can we do to potentially be more profitable? As it stood at the beginning of the year, we were losing money on the farm, as the expenses from last year were not completely covered by the money we made from custom hay and selling calves, and that does not include wages. We weren’t even making enough money to cover the fuel, netwrap, vehicle maintenance, vet bills, and the long list of expenses that goes along with running a farm. By the end of hay season, we had decided that making custom hay is not something we wanted to pursue as well. It is a very time consuming task, and it is something we hate doing. Therefore we decided we did not wish to continue with that.

All of this brought us full circle to a small project we looked at last fall/winter. Last fall, B had looked into growing mushrooms as a hobby. There are many different varieties of mushrooms, and we have at this time successfully grown two types: pink and blue oysters. We had purchased a shipping container in the spring, and we are now in the grueling process of turning it into a MushRoom. The grow room will be at the back of the container, and we will have lab at the front to prepare our mushroom spores and liquid cultures for growth. It has been a long process for us, as we are both working full time now with a toddler. Slowly but surely we are making progress in this venture. We are really looking forward to sharing more of this journey with everyone, and we do have some ideas up our sleeves.

While I am sad to see so many changes in the farm over such a short period of time, it has been good to see changes. Change promotes growth. We couldn’t grow with the way we were doing things. We have goals in mind for our farm, and if there is not growth on the farm we are stagnant. This does not mean that we wont one day have sheep or chickens again. However, we will take a hard look at why we failed before. We will take time to improve our methods and learn from our failures. We appreciate everyone who has followed our journey so far, and who has been supportive or offered advice. We could not have done it without everyone’s support.

Until next time,

T

Twin Calves

This time of year is so busy for us. It’s calf season! We have a fine bunch of mamas this year. Anyone who has cows knows a couple of things about mama cows. One, they like to hide their babies from us. Two, they are extremely protective of their babies with some mamas becoming outright homicidal when you get too close to their babies. This time of year can be stressful, as we try hard to keep track of who has had their babies and get them tagged while also trying to get eyes on the calves every day.

Seeing the calves every day can sometimes be easier said than done. We do our best, but we currently have the cows in a wooded field. Mamas who like to play hide and seek with their babies will pull their babies off into the wooded area to hide them from us. So far, we have been able to put eyes on each calf at least once per day, and we are checking them twice daily.

Yesterday morning, B went to check cows and found that one of our mamas had twins! She was missing when we checked cows the night before, and he found her yesterday morning with her two babies. Immediately he knew that she was not producing enough milk to support both babies. With the help of a friend, he was able to catch one of the calves and brought her to the house to bottle feed. The mama will produce enough milk for the other calf. We don’t have twins on the farm often. Here are some interesting twin facts for you:

In beef breeds, twins occur about 1% of the time. There is a higher rate of twins in dairy breeds.

In other farm animals (sheep and goats) it is extremely common to have twins. In cows, however, having twins can be a bad thing. Having twins is hard on the body, and a cows body is only made to have one baby at a time. Having twins means a higher rate of abortions (miscarriages in cows are called abortions) both in early pregnancy and in late term pregnancy.

Cows that are carrying twins have problems during delivery more commonly than single calf pregnancies. These mamas will generally need help during delivery. Cows that are carrying twins will more frequently go in to preterm labor, and the calves aren’t mature enough to survive.

It is pretty rare to have identical twin calves. In twin calves, you are 25% likely to have two bull calves, 25% likely to have two heifer calves, and 50% likely to have one bull and one heifer. 90% of the cases where you have one bull and one heifer calf, the heifer is infertile.

An infertile female twin is called a Freemartin. When a female and male calf share a uterus, the male hormones will cross through the blood supply to the female calf and that will cause abnormalities in her reproductive organs, making it nearly impossible for her to have babies. There are ways to check if she will be infertile, including a blood test. Typically a Freemartin cow would be raised for beef.

Twins are genetic. Twin heifers are more likely to have twins.

When we have twins on the farm, we always pull one calf off of the mama in order to ensure that each calf gets his best chance. In twins, it is common for one calf to be a lot stronger. This will mean that the stronger calf will get all the mama’s milk, and the weaker calf will likely starve to death. The alternative is that each calf will get half the milk produced by mama, but it will not be enough for them. Mamas to twins rarely produce enough milk to support two babies.

We look forward to seeing our babies grown this fall and winter. Calf season is tough, and can be stressful, but it is worth it.

Summer Break

I’m sure we’ve had some of our followers wondering where we have been the last few weeks. It has been several weeks without a post. I wish I could say that we had taken a lengthy vacation to somewhere exciting. That has not been the case.

The last few weeks have been quite hectic. One reason we have taken a break from writing is that we have been awaiting the arrival of our first child. She arrived on June 22, and we have spent the time since adjusting to our new role as Mommy and Daddy. Another reason for our hiatus is that we had taken some time to re-evaluate the projects we have going on now, and to see what changes can and should be made.

As you all may know, this year is a growth/trial and error year for us. We are looking for new ways to expand our farm, and to find a niche that works for us and our schedules while adding diversity. When we added chickens, it was only for free ranging, and the option of having our own farm eggs and having our chickens to eat when they reached end of life. That transitioned into trying to hatch and sell babies, going as far as to becoming NPIP certified. After much discussion and evaluation, we have decided that hatching and selling baby chicks was not for us. As a result, we are now back to free ranging our ladies, and all our girls are much happier.

This summer has been busy for hay. With all of the rain, it has been near impossible to get hay cut in a timely manner. This is a source of supplemental income for us, and it has made it difficult not being able to complete the jobs in a timely manner. The weather dictates our ability to cut and bale the hay, as we want to have as little rain on the cut has as possible before baling. This has caused us to lose a couple of jobs as well, as someone else was able to get to a field of hay before we could. That being said, we have managed to have a good year for hay. The majority of the hay we have cut has been good quality hay, and we have excellent hay customers who have been so patient and understanding.

We do have another project up our sleeves, which I will be sharing with you all soon. We are so very appreciative of our followers, and I cannot wait to share the next leg of our journey with you all!

 

Adding Sheep to our Farm

Farming isn’t easy. As I have talked about in a previous blog, there is always work and chores to be done, always animals that need our attention. Over the winter, we have trialed having pigs and we have added chickens to our farm. Ultimately we decided not to keep pigs, and to expand our chicken flock.

After much consideration, B and I recently decided that we needed to add sheep to our farm. There were many factors that we considered when making this decision, and this was not a decision that we made lightly. We are, of course, keeping our cows and chickens. We just added some sheep to keep things interesting… Or something like that…

As mentioned, there were several factors that went into our decision to get sheep. For starters, sheep are a much smaller animal, and therefore they are easier to herd and work than the cattle. Working sheep vs working cattle is a completely different ball game. The cattle are obviously bigger, and it only takes one crazy cow to get the whole bunch worked up. When the cattle get riled up, they are big enough that they can trample you and have potential to seriously harm you. When the sheep get spooked they are much smaller and more skiddish. They are more likely to run away from you. Another factor that we considered when making our decision is the fact that since sheep are smaller, they are much easier in general on the ground and on the fences. This means less wear and tear, and ultimately less repairs on the fences than with the cows. A small downfall of the sheep, however, is that with the babies being smaller we did have to add some materials to our fences to keep the babies from being able to get out. The babies can fit through the smallest gaps in the fencing!

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One of our new mama sheep. This is the third baby to be born at Wrinkle Farms.

With our sheep, we chose to have what is called hair sheep as opposed to wool sheep. A common misconception is that hair sheep are a cross between goats and wool sheep. This is not true. Hair sheep are their own breeds. The difference between wool sheep and hair sheep is that hair sheep have more hair fibers to wool fibers, and wool sheep have more wool fibers to hair fibers. This mostly makes a difference in their coats. Hair sheep shed, and as a result do not require shearing as the wool sheep do. They will typically keep their coats until mid to late May, and then begin shedding their hair. This will cause a “patchy” appearance in their coats this time of year, as some of the hair has started shedding while some of it lingers. Some hair sheep do not shed as quickly as others, and will still need a little bit of help with that process. This was important to us because this makes the hair sheep more suitable to our climate in SWMO without us having to work them with the shears.

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Our first two babies born on Wrinkle Farms. These two babies were born on Mother’s Day.

It is believed that there are more sheep breeds in the world than breeds of any other livestock species (with the exception of poultry.) Worldwide there is an estimated 1000+ breeds of sheep, and there are 50 distinct breeds of sheep in the United States alone. There are two breeds of hair sheep that are considered to be the “most common,” although there are several breeds. Two of the most common breeds are Katahdin and Dorper. We chose these two breeds for our herd.

The Katahdin sheep are a mix between several different British meat breeds: Suffolk, African Hair Sheep, St. Croix, and Wiltshire Horn sheep. In the 1950’s, a breeder by the name of Michael Piel worked on developing them, and he named them after Mt. Katahdin, which was near Piel’s Maine farm. The Katahdin are well known for being a low maintenance breed, and they are extremely hardy to climatic extremes. One of the most interesting facts about these sheep is that they are naturally resistant to internal parasites. These sheep are typically raised for meat.

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The Dorper sheep is the second largest sheep breed in South Africa, and they were developed there in the 1930’s. These sheep are bred by crossing a Blackheaded Persian ewe with a Dorset horn. These sheep are typically either all white, or they have a black head. The Dorper is well known for their thick skin, which makes them hardy to harsh climatic conditions. The Dorper has the most sought after sheep skin in the world. These sheep do lack the parasite resistance that is common in a lot of other breeds. They do not shed as well as other sheep breeds, but they are considered to be a superior breed in the United States, and they are one of the most popular breeds of registered sheep in the U.S.

Our dorper sheep are actually a cross between dorper and katahdin. Because they are a mix of the two breeds, you get the best characteristics of each breed.

With there being so many different breeds, and factors to consider, this was a big decision for us. However, we are excited to add this adventure onto our plate and see where it takes us.

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