Thursday, March 25, 2010

...and now it's finally Official!

(this was written on Sunday, March 21, 2010, but I was bad.  It was too hard to sit down and write for long with birdsong and sunshine calling!)

March 21, 2010, the first day of Spring.   Yesterday the sheep were shorn.  Now we have a bunch of naked sheep boinking around.  Poor little Rocky didn't recognize his own mom.  With the weight of all that fleece gone, they seem to be lighter on their feet, when they keep them on the ground that is!    Now the hard work of skirting, sorting and pricing the fleece begins.   Please check our website for pictures and pricing.

After shearing and a 'dip', they were turned out onto new grass pasture.  They were like kids in a candy shop!  On the other hand, Piper wasn't so happy and he didn't hesitate to let us know, complaining well into the night.  Yup, he was banished to the Ram's Head Inn (bachelor digs) until autumn.  Rocky will join him at weaning.

The early daffodils are in full bloom, giving us fragrant. sunny yellow bouquets.   Peach blossoms have started opening in our two year old orchard.   Maybe this will be the first year we get fruit!

With the sheep moved out onto spring pasture, we've proceeded with tilling in the winter cover crops.  Planting of cool season seeds has begun.   Lettuce is already going like gangbusters.  Fragrant Sweet Peas and garden peas will follow over the next few weeks.  Likewise the seed potatoes are going in the ground for staggered harvest.  Soon we should have our first taste of Cranberry Red (red skin, pink flesh), Caribe (purple skin, white flesh) and Russian Banana Fingerlings.   Those last potatos are soooo yummy roasted whole and tossed with a drizzling of extra virgin olive oil, a little melted butter and chopped parsley!

Tomato and eggplant seedlings are progressing nicely.  I find it so hard to wait for that first tomato sandwich!  OMG - I'm getting so hungry!

This week we started the Italian broccoli, amaranth, Asian greens, radishes, beets and carrots.  And at the beginning of April - corn!  I can almost taste summer.   Hard to believe it's only six weeks until the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival and the opening of the Goochland Farmers Market.

Hope we see some of you there!

~ Tru

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring has sprung!

One of the first signs of spring have arrived...spring peepers are here.  They began serenading at sunset today.   Daffodils are poking their green stems up through the dead leaves, crocus and chinodoxia are blooming.   The last frost date is officially 6 weeks away and seeds are sprouting.

We saw the first robin two weeks ago and lambs have obviously hit the ground.   Peeps (chicks) will be arriving next week.  Daytime temps have been in the 60s, and best of signs of any more snow!!!

Hope you all are able to enjoy similar pleasures soon!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hard Lessons

Shepherding is a never ending process of learning.  Some lessons come easy some simply take time, and some are very hard on the emotions.

After six years of pasture kidding and lambing with the usual crises of assisted births or poor mothering we thought we were ready for anything.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  This past weekend I learned a very hard lesson --- never be complacent about anything involving living creatures.

I arrived home from work on Thursday to find Giselle, a 2008 BFL ewe, had given birth to what we thought were twins.  One was alive, one not.  Our young female LGD was in the process of consuming the dead lamb.   I’d heard varying opinions on this, some believe the LGD try to eliminate anything that will draw predators.  

Since this particular female had gone through a previous lambing season with flying colors, my assumption was the lamb had some type of defect or been stillborn.   Shepherds with several lambing seasons under their belts know this is part of nature's plan...such things happen.

Because I had to pick up my human kid from an after school activity, I placed Giselle and baby in a stall and removed the dead lamb from the pasture.  The other LGD, our senior male, went off to pace the fence line, not an unusual activity for him.  As I drove down the drive, all seemed calm.

An hour later I returned to a nightmare.  

The young female was chasing one of the Coopworth ewes.   It was dark now, but I could clearly see which dog it was.  I called her off and she came over wagging her tail.  Annoyed at the chase behavior I thought she had long outgrown, I grabbed her collar and walked her back to put her in “time-out” – a kennel near the shed.  When I took my hand off to close the gate, I found the blood.    Still not suspecting a problem (maybe it was just the blood from the dead lamb) I set about getting feed and hay.

As anyone who has been to a petting zoo or around any goats or sheep know, these animals are food fiends.   The hair on the back of my neck began to rise when no one was waiting at the gate.   

When I finally accounted for all the sheep, three had varying degrees of cuts and gashes on their ears and heads.  The Coopworth who was being chased when I arrived was fine, the other was missing her left ear and her fleece from neck to shoulder was soaked in blood.  The male LGD was still at the fence line, now racing up and down, barking in frenzy.  If I hadn’t caught the female in the act, I would have assumed a predator had struck.    As it was, I considered his activity something I could deal with later, the wounded Coopworth ewe was a priority – I didn’t think she would survive the night.   I rushed inside to call the vet.

It was another two hours before I could deal with the still distraught male LGD.  And that’s when I found the third lamb, a lovely female, frozen, just on the other side of the fence.  I don't think I've cried so much since my mother passed on many years ago.

We are very fortunate to have a practice group of wonderful sheep vets.   The Coopworth ewe, Symphony, is doing remarkably well and should make a full recovery.   We will likely lose her lamb as well, but still having her at all is a miracle.

The second miracle arrived the next evening.  Triska, our first homebred sheep, gave birth to a beautiful blue ram lamb.   He was between one and two weeks premature and his momma didn’t have any milk for him.   So far our little bummer is doing okay.   

Here are our two beautiful 2010 babies – Inish (blue) and Rocky (white)

While I still believe there are many benefits to pasture lambing, all future Laingcroft lambs will be born in secure pens.  And I will always make the time to investigate anything our male LGD is trying to point out to us.