Due to family commitments for the Thanksgiving holiday, my next blog will be posted on Wednesday, Nov. 30th, skipping Nov. 23, 25, and 28. Thanks for your understanding!
Although the growing season has ended, grazing continues for the ewes at Peeper Hollow Farm. The rams were brought together in their winter paddock several weeks ago, enjoying more lovely green second-cutting grass hay than they can finish. Since they feed only themselves, they leave the pastures early, and we give the ewes the last of our fields. After all, most of the ewes are eating for three — or even four! They can use the higher level of nutrition.
Until these past few days, our fall had been mild. This allowed the grass to keep growing and the ewes to keep grazing. After each field hosted its final sheep, I mowed and “put it to bed” for the season — but there are still some active fields in commission! They are all unfortunately at a distance, however. The girls are currently in the Timber, enjoying a large field along with their pumpkins. Once they finish there, they have only one more field to go: the Rock Pasture. After that, they will get the bulk of their nutrition from hay.
This move to hay will likely happen in early December if the snow holds off. Once snow falls onto the grass, it becomes much less desirable to our sheep and also harder to find, so we move them in for hay at that time. Yet for every week that they continue to graze outdoors, we save hay — and hay is money. With so many mouths to feed (this winter we will be feeding a total of 64 sheep before the lambs arrive!), the extra hay will be a welcome savings to our budget. It will give us a cushion in the spring in case grazing starts late, and if not needed then, it will get us started with hay next fall. Hay loses little in nutrition if properly stored.
The issue with ewes grazing at this time of year is the cold. Most of the sheep couldn’t care less about the cold since they are in full fleece and also have plenty of food. Their bodies produce heat during the digestion process, so extra feed helps keep them warm. The biggest issue with such cold temperatures is providing enough water in those far-off fields. Such cold temperatures mean frozen water lines and tanks — never a good thing!
A quick check of the flock yesterday evening revealed a small crisis in the making, since the water hose that feeds the water tank had frozen during the previous 24 hours. Sheep cannot survive without water, and trying to transport enough water into the Timber to fill tanks for the entire ewe flock is quite the project! Instead, we made the decision to open the gates between the Timber and the Storage Barn, giving the flock access to the automatic waterer just outside that barn. This is not ideal, as it allows the ewes access to the West Pasture (already been sufficiently grazed and “put to bed”), which lies between the waterer and the Timber — but the girls need water!
An advantage of opening the gates all the way to the barn is that the ewes will now have shelter from inclement weather. Most of the girls won’t take advantage of this since their long fleeces keep them plenty warm. On the other hand, there are two ewe lambs in the group who were sheared in October (and who I then decided to rescue from the auction), and they might enjoy a respite from the winds and cold.
It seemed obvious that we should provide water where it can be supplied automatically and won’t freeze. Moving water to distant fields, such as the Timber, costs too much. And since our sheep spend little time there in cold weather, there is little benefit for that expense. Instead, once it gets really cold, the ewes end up eating hay in and around the barns, and we’ve made sure that there are plenty of automatic waterers in that area that will remain thawed through the winter season. We will just have to give them access a bit sooner than we had planned!
The grazing season is almost over, and the world my sheep inhabit is on its way to becoming a frozen wasteland. With each freezing day, there is less for them out in the fields and more to draw them in around our barns, where they will ultimately deliver their lambs. The cycle continues to turn.
Wishing all of you a very happy Thanksgiving!
Skirting progress: I have completed skirting our lamb fleeces, and plan to have them ready to release to our customer notification list sometime in the late afternoon CST on Thursday, December 1. My personal schedule doesn’t allow for an earlier release because of the Thanksgiving holiday, so I thank you for your patience!