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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Farm Dogs

A few weeks ago, we decided to add a dog to our farm. We thought that a good Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) was in order, and decided between us that we needed a Great Pyrenees. We found someone who had some for sale, and made arrangements to pick up our pup.

On the way to pick up the pup we got to talking, and ultimately decided that we needed two puppies. We messaged the people who were selling us the dog, and luckily she had another puppy available. We got both, Cash and Hank, and brought them home to our farm.

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Hank on Left, Cash on Right

The pups have made a great addition to our farm. They are huge now, and will be huge dogs full grown. Already, they have proven to be a good investment. We have had ongoing issues with our neighbors dog (ND) coming over to kill our chickens. The other night, ND came over. Cash and Hank both went crazy, growling and barking at the ND. He was surprised to see them, and hesitant to come closer to the house. As soon as B opened the door and stepped outside, he tucked tail and ran back home.

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Hank helping us build chicken yards.

Cash and Hank were originally meant to be LGD’s, as mentioned above. I am not sure that they will take up with the cows and stay out with them at this point. They have made the back porch their home at night. This is nice because we have two guard dogs on the back porch, and it keeps our chickens from roosting on the back porch, as they are prone to doing. Cash and Hank are more or less indifferent to the chickens. The first couple of days were rough because the chickens were afraid of the dogs, and the dogs were kind of afraid of the chickens. Now, everything is running smoothly and they are all coexisting peacefully.

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Ever helpful, our pups love to be by our sides.

In the few weeks that we have had our babies, they have proven to be good boys indeed. As soon as we set them free from their cage after the first week, they did an excellent job of letting ND know that he should not be on our property. Although they are still young pups, they are getting quite large and definitely made the other dog think twice about coming after our chickens.

They have gotten used to the chickens, specifically the crows of our rooster. Some of you may know that roosters have several different calls that they will make. One of those calls is an alarm call. The dogs have been around our rooster enough that they can now tell when the rooster is making an alarm call. This morning, for example, the rooster made an alarm call. Both dogs turned their head and were on alert to see what the alert was. Although the alarm call turned out to be nothing, it is still reassuring to know that our animals can communicate like that.

We are excited about the addition of our pups, and look forward to having them around our farm for years to come.

Chicken Farmer

When we first started the adventure of having chickens, we never dreamed that it would be as in depth as it has grown to be, or rather that our interest in raising different chickens would become what it has become. Initially, we wanted chickens to eat the fresh eggs, and eat our own free range chickens as they stopped laying eggs. I am not sure, to be honest, where that stopped and our new adventure began, but here we are separating out our breeds and building new chicken coops.

When we got our first chickens back in late summer, we had a smattering of random chickens. We had Americeunas, Buff Orphingtons, Lavender Orphingtons, Rhode Island Red’s, and a smattering of others. From there, we have purchased some more chickens and traded for others. Over the winter, we had a massive decline in our chickens, as you may have read in our previous post, titled Rhode Island Red.

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Our newest rooster, a Lavender Orphington

Since the weather is starting to get nicer, we have gotten a little ummm… chicken crazy. After hatching our Red’s in the smaller incubator, B decided that we needed a bigger incubator. We had looked for several used ones and decided upon a good used one. The one we purchased is actually meant to be used as a hatcher, where you put the eggs to hatch after they have been in the incubator for the allotted amount of time. The chicks will hatch there, freeing up the incubator for more eggs. The hatcher we bought has 6 racks, and can hold up to 600 eggs for hatching. The nice thing about the machine that we purchased is that it can double as an incubator.

We purchased some hatching eggs from several different people. First we got 4 dozen Buff Orphington eggs, and we plan to keep around a dozen of the ones that hatch for our personal stock. We also purchased some pure Ameraucana eggs, which we will keep about half of. We have Lavender Orphington eggs in the incubator, along with a few mottled Orphington eggs. We recently put in some eggs from our new Polish chickens as well.

Over the last two weeks we have acquired several new breeds.

First, we got our trio of Polish chickens: one rooster and two hens. They are currently residing in the dog house and pen that we had set up when we first got our two Great Pyrenees. We love looking out at their weird hair, and they have obviously settled to contentedness as they are already laying daily.

Second, we got some  Black Astrolorp pullets. At least they were supposed to all be pullets. We are about 99% sure that one of them is a Roo, but that is not confirmed at this point. The Astrolorps are an Australian chicken, and are well known for laying brown eggs. They are basically an Australian Orphington. These guys are perfect for our flock as they are hardy in the winter, and lay dependably. They are also considered to be a rare breed.

The third big addition to our flock is the addition of a Copper Maran Rooster. The Copper is a great addition, and he will serve two purposes. With him, we will be able to keep our Ameraucana’s and our Copper hens all in the same pen with the Copper roo. Copper will be able to fertilize both breeds of hen and we will still be able to distinguish which egg is from which bird, which will tell us which babies are in the eggs. Copper’s lay dark eggs, and from them we will get full blooded Copper chicks, of course. The Ameraucana’s will lay the blue/green eggs, and from them we will get a breed called Olive eggers.

Overall, we are quite excited about our chickens. Although we haven’t resorted to naming them yet, that just MAY be the next step. We are learning as we go, and growing our flock. We can’t wait to share the next step with you!

Chickens for the Freezer

One of our new projects that B and I had talked about is the act of buying chickens specifically for our freezer. Obviously we don’t want to butcher all of our laying hens, but we also wanted some chicken for the freezer.

Typically, any chicken that you buy in the store is going to be meat from a Cornish Cross chicken. These chickens are bred to grow really big, really fast. They are supposed to be ready for butchering within 8-12 weeks from hatching. They are such a hungry bird, eating all the time, that you cannot put wood chips or other means of bedding in with them. The chickens will eat the wood chips, and it will kill them. They will eat day and night. Usually after about 4 weeks of age, they will lose most of their feathers. Our chicks have already lost most of their feathers. This is most likely a result of the cross breeding.

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When we originally started our venture with the chickens, we had discussed butchering any freeloading chickens: ie any chicken that doesn’t earn its keep by producing eggs. However, with having such a rough winter and subsequently losing so many of our chickens, we have yet to butcher any of our chickens.

A few weeks ago we decided to go ahead and order some Cornish X chickens. We ordered 25, but they mailed us a few extras. Most of the time, when you order chicks, they will send you a couple of extra chicks because some are expected to die during transit and soon after delivery. We got our chickens, and got them set up in the chicken house with some food, water, and a heat lamp.

These chicks are hands off. We check them every day to make sure that they have ample food and water, but otherwise we leave them alone. Basically with these chickens, you just leave food out and they eat all day long. Currently, we have around 20. We have lost a couple, but that is to be expected.

We have had our chicks for about three weeks at this point. They will be ready for butchering in another 5-9 weeks, approximately.