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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Is Hay quality really that important in Beef cattle?

I have heard for years people talk about the difference between horse hay and cow hay. Some people think that a mixed grass hay is not suitable for horses and that feeding something high quality like brome and alfalfa to cows is just crazy. Personally, I am not experienced in feeding hay to horses. I do know a lot about what to feed cows.

This year, like many other years, I am feeding a fescue grass mix. Our cattle seem to handle it well and it’s been several years since any have lost their switch or hooves. I know some people have issues with their cows on fescue but in this part of Missouri there seems to be fewer issues annually.

Cow that lost her switch on her tail

Fescue is nice for us because it allows us to abuse our pastures, running far more animals than we should and it still grows back. Most other grasses won’t handle that kind of stress. One draw back is we have to fertilize it each year. If we don’t, the grass that grows back will be thin and not grow as tall. I have considered switching to other grasses, due to their higher protein content. However, it is hard to justify that when fescue stands up to all the abuse and produces a good crop each year. 

In years past we have fed other grasses and have never noticed a difference in growth of the cows or calves. The protein in fescue is lower then some of the finer grasses but our personal experience has not shown a difference in growth. One thing, however, is that in years with a higher mold count the miscarriage rate increased in the cows. There is some mold in the hay every year, but it varies. In years where mold content was lower, there was no difference in our cows and calves. 

This year, they hay is not the best. This has been due to the rainy fall and winter. After having such a dry spring and summer, it was hard for a lot of farmers to get enough hay to make it through the winter. We didn’t have that problem, but the high precipitation has increased the amount of hay that is wasted. The rainy weather turns the outside of the hay bale into waste. Even with the extra waste, it seems to be providing good nutrition for the cows, and all the calves are growing well.

Here is a link to a nice article that talks about how to manage when you feed fescue to cows. https://www.agweb.com/article/minimizing_the_risks_of_fescue_toxicosis_in_cattle_naa_university_news_release/

 

 

Rain Rain Go Away

The past few weeks it has rained almost every other day. Normally rain in the winter is a great thing, as it helps ensure we have a good growing season. This year though we have gotten too much. The fields at one point had over a foot of water over nearly the whole place.

I’m not one to normally complain about rain, but mix rain and cold temps and you breed a disaster for young calves. I have been battling pneumonia in a small group of calves. So far this year I have lost two to pneumonia. They can go down so fast, in a mater of hours. There are some things you can do to prevent this from happening with your calves and cows. They make a vaccine that works wonder if they get it in time. Sometimes you have to resort to the strong antibiotics. With the two calves that I lost, I gave them the antibiotics. For one reason or another they were just not strong enough to improve. In some cases, unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to save your calf.

Another thing to keep in mind while trying to save calves is hydration. Keeping the calves hydrated and full of electrolytes is one of the most important things you can do. This allows their body to fight the germ and have a chance to recouperate. Normally one of the first signs that a calf is sick is sunken eyes. This is also a main symptom of dehydration.

A lot of what’s important in human health also translates to calves. The same signs and treatments also apply. The key to helping calves get over any sickness is catching it early and treating it fast.