Saturday, March 22, 2008

Solitary Confinement! - or - I've Been A Baaaad Boy!

Last evening, I had to take the wethers out of the pen they were sharing with Skittles. Except for Colin, I noticed that Skit kept herding the smaller wethers into a corner at the bottom of his pen. He would not let them near the water trough, or near any of the spots I had placed hay in - trying to have separate areas that everyone would be able to eat. Somehow, Skit would keep chasing all of the others away from any of the piles of food liked some crazed fanatic. He hogged it all, trying to gorge himself with all of the food. He was getting everything plus keeping anyone else from getting much of anything at all.

What alarmed me was that he wouldn't even share with Colin, his best buddy. I had an inkling about this and was watching his behavior for the past few days. Usually, Skit would eat his hay sharing with his buddy but keeping a wary eye on the smaller wethers as he munched. Everyone got to eat what they were supposed to. I suspect he felt he needed more, pig that he can be, which started this behavior in the first place. Then, he became hopped up on hay and timothy pellets, causing the abusive behavior.
The "last straw" for me was finding poor Ole absolutely covered in grass and hay when I went out to feed yesterday. It was very apparent that "someone" had broadsided Ole, causing him to be thrown flat to the ground and then on his back. Ole was also walking around as if stunned, just very slightly limping. He was in the far corner with his brothers, Colin placing himself between the smaller boys and Mr. Piggy, in full "I am the Protector" mode. Enough.
I opened the gate to allow the wethers into the barn-proper. Skit can still be nose to nose with them, even share hay with them through the fencing if he wants. But he can't block them from eating. I knew it was the right thing to do when the four wethers went straight to the water and drank their fill. I then put out some hay, hay-pellets plus a pan of minerals and bicarb-buffer. After feeding the ewes and giving Skit a much smaller protion of hay I sat on the stoop watching the little boys and Colin eat in peace. As I sat there, each of the boys, in turn, came over to me, put their head in my lap (still happily munching on hay) and looked up at me as if to say, "Thanks, Mom. I was getting so very hungry and thirsty."
I suspect that Skit will settle down when he gets back to having only his portion of feed. I will watch behaviors to see if Colin wants back in with Skit, or wants to stay with his babies. Colin loves the little ones. Yup...I think it may be that Skit will eat alone in his pen, in full view of the other sheep, until he settles back down. All the boys will still be turned loose together in the pasture where they all have room to run if need be.
Space can be a problem when you have animals in intensive farming situations. I'm sure there are a few Shetland people reading this, on small places of their own, nodding in acknowledgement of having the same problems. Whom do you put with whom and do they have enough space? How can I manage the pasture so everyone gets some pasture time without overgrazing the land? We rotate pasture areas to try to keep the grass and land healthy. This can be a very hard thing to do in Arizona. We are blessed with a stream and green grasses for about 2/3 of the year. I have even had neighbors come over and ask how I still have grass when they can't keep any growing on their places. I try to explain the concept of rotational grazing and that it works for even small spaces, but it doesn't seem to sink in. I explain that a horse will eat pastures down to dirt if allowed to be in an area for a long time. For some reason, they just don't "get it". Sigh.

On the UP side of things, we may have a shearer lined up for next Friday! I am so jazzed about the prospect of having the flock shorn! I may not have the pregnant ewes shorn even though we're not close to lambing until mid to late April. The shearer that's coming is a woman with much experience and is known for her gentleness and quality of work. I will defer to her judgement as to whether or not it would be safe to shear the ewes. Or she may have them stand for shearing, I'm not sure. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, I expect. Bless Katie, in Taylor, AZ, for offering to contact this person and share her with me! I will have more to tell next Friday, I'm sure! :)

As you can see from the above photo, snow has melted to where the hens can get out and "Talk a little, peck a little. Talk a little, peck a little." Come to think of it, maybe everyone here at Oleo Acres is just plain ready for warmer temperatures - the snow has melted from everywhere but the north side of buildings and hills, the sun is shining, and the birds are definitely into their "Spring Songs". But the wind is still very cold.

I think we all just have Cabin Fever. The days are lengthening and all signs point towards moving toward summer. And IF the wind dies down a bit, I think all of us will reclaim our sanity or at the very least head towards normalcy...any day now. :)


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

I'd be leery of that big, black bully if I was a little guy, too. Shoot, I'd be leery of him, period! He looks ready to take all comers in that photo. Glad no one got really hurt before you separated them.

Tina T-P said...

Glad to hear everyone is OK, if not a little shaken up. Poor little guys - Poor Skittles - just trying to be king of the mountain, mom....

Happy Easter to you, Ralph and all your fuzzy & feathered buddies.

XOX T & the Shepherd

Sharon said...

Your Easter colors will be fleeces. The time to sheer is so serendipitous but this year we got it right. Well so far, at least. Wish you were my neighbor so I could buy eggs from you.

Lauren said...

That Skittles is so good looking; no wonder he is being bad. Just like the human males, the hunky handsome ones think they're entitled (not that I'm saying anything about anyone I know ;-))

I'm curious what your shearer says about the pregnant ewes. Since I didn't shear ahead of time this year, I was wondering how long I have to wait (or rather how old the new lambs need to be) before we shear their moms. Maybe you could ask for me? Thanks.

~~Sittin.n.Spinnin said...

Lauren, I have done both, no negative effects either way... if you wait too long after lambing though you may end up with a lambing break in the ewes wool. I may end up with bad breaks this year as I cant get shearing done until mid April :(

Kathy said...

Lauren: I will ask the shearer for you and let you know.

Becky: We Shetland people have to deal with what's called "The Rise" with some of our sheep - it's a natural break in the fleece naturally - from when this breed naturally shed the fleece. Most Shetlands have a rise and some even still "roo" the fleece, naturally shedding the fleece. Sometimes you'll get an individual who will shed an entire fleece, others it's by bits and pieces. On the Shetland Isles, inhabitants would pluck the fleece from our little sheep instead of shear. A few of my sheep could be plucked, but if the shearer is coming I will take advantage of getting them all done at once. :)

Kathy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shepherdchik said...

Poor Skittles...he was just hungry!