Thursday, August 28, 2008

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

I walked out into the sunroom today and saw this...Rascal sleeping on top of Mooch. Best of Buds. It doesn't get better than this. :)

Poor L'il Rascal!

I haven't been feeling too well lately. Mom took Mooch (who used to be called Groucho, but he told Mom he didn't like that name so picked Mooch out instead...)and me to the v-e-t two days ago. She said they were going to "fix" us, but I didn't think we were broken. Mom pushed us into a thing called a PTU which I think stands for: Prisoner Transport Unit, then we went to see Dr. Rob. We've seen him before and all he's ever done was check us over and give us a sharp thing called a "shot" then we came home.
But this time Mom left us there! Aunt Kim, Dr. Rbo's helper, gave us a shot then we both started to get very sleepy! I couldn't keep my eyes open. All I could think about was why wasn't Mom here taking us back home to Mama? And I was so very hungry and thirsty 'cause there was no food or water out for us last night.
The next thing I knew I woke up with my tummy hurting so much. Mooch's tummy wasn't naked at all, only mine. It hurt to move. It hurt so much I didn't even want to think about food or water or even playing. Mom made us stay in our room. She kept the room dark and quiet and checked on me all night long.
I am doing better today. Mom fed us warmed canned food last night and I was so hungry I ate 'til my tummy stopped talking to me. I'm still not wanting to play with Mama, Uncle Shadow, or even Mom and Dad, but I feel better after each nap I take.
I'm going to take another nap now, so Mom said she wanted to talk to you all and tell you what happened while I was asleep at Dr. Rob's...

(I had taken both Rascal and Mooch in for neutering on Tuesday morning. Mooch's surgery went just fine, but when Rob started in on Rascal, he found that Rascal had only one descended testicle. That being the case, Rascal was then immediately prepped for abdominal surgery for removal of the remaining testicle. Much to Rob's surprise, he could find no other testicle in Rascal - he said he looked and looked but there was absolutely nothing...not even a hint of a second testicle. We will watch Rascal closely as he grows for any signs of typical tomcat behavior. If he does exhibit the signs of an intact male cat, he'll go back in for surgery. If not, it will become apparent that he only had one to begin with.) don't you go ahead and sleep all you want. We've all got your "6" Little Buddy...sweet dreams. :)

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Boyz in the Hood, er...Pasture

I was out in the pasture this past Friday looking for noxious weeds that might not be too good for the sheep to eat. After my walk, I let the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Plus One out to have some time grazing and stretching their legs. I had my camera with me and decided just to take a few photos...then I realized something...
We sheep people are always discussing our ewes and rams, whom to sell, whom to breed and so on. But it struck me that we often overlook some very important members of our flocks. The wethers.
For those of you not up on the "sheep lingo" a wether is a castrated male sheep. Male sheep are wethered for various reasons - horns not correct, conformation isn't up to show or breeding quality, a bad disposition, for meat production - are just a few reasons to wether a ram or ram lamb. In other countries, most males are wethered during their first week of life. We here (at our farm) tend to wait a bit for a number of reasons. I like to see how a lamb starts to grow. More than once I have seen a lamb look like it would be a good ram only to have something come up like a bad temperment or bad horns become a deciding factor a couple of months down the road. But I digress...
Wethers have no agenda. They have no raging hormones that interfere with their dispositions. They live only to serve (or to be served, I guess). And I have to admit that some of my favorites in my flock are wethers. Let me introduce them to you...
Above is Shaun the Sheep. Shaun was the very first lamb to hit the ground here at Sheep Thrills. He would have made a beautiful ram except that sometime during the recovery from my back surgery, his horns went from nice to turning inward and downward, the points of which were rubbing the middle of the back of his neck. The horns were trimmed the same time Shaun got, ahem, "trimmed" by our vet Dr. Rob. His color is remarkable to me - a red iset, meaning he's a mahogany red with white wool mixed in giving him that frosted look. It's just beautiful. And is beautiful to spin!
Next we have Colin. Colin's real name is Mountain Niche Colin P., but we just call him Colin. He was wethered for two reasons. The first was that he followed Ralph everywhere and wanted to be his pet. The main reason was that his horns were turning and very close to his cheeks. There would have been very little room had the horn girth expanded.
Colin is a gem! He is the one who inspects the newborn lambs and is very belligerent if you don't let him in the barn to view the newbies in the lambing pens with their mamas. All the girls trust Colin and let him even sniff the youngsters. And it's Colin we turn the weanlings out with. He takes charge of them and teaches them all things sheep. He's actually one of the hardest workers on this farm, being both lamb-mentor and buddy to Skittles, the Ram. It's amazing to think of all he really does around here. And I think I'm the Boss. :)
Then we have the two Do-Da Brothers, Sven (above) and Ole (below). Both of these guys were wethered due to pushy behavior. In Ole's case it was very pushy, dangerous behavior. If left intact, Ole would have become a dangerous ram. Sven is really a very mellow guy who just is "there" and fits in anywhere. He's not assertive, nor is he shy. He's kind-of "vanilla" but a really good vanilla.
As for Ole...Ole is my joker. He would love to come in the house and be a dog. I suspect some of his earlier behavior is due to this personality trait. He wants to be in your hip pocket. When I go to feed in the mornings, it's Ole who greets me at the gate, not pushing for food necessarily but just wanting to be pet and have someone say "Good morning, Ole". He's the pest...the one who follows me into the feed room to see if there's anything interesting in there he should have.
Now I mention horns alot. There's a sad fact in any kind of animal farming. The fact is that few of the males have what it takes to be a good sire. You have to be picky about that 50% of the genetics of your next lamb crop, so you look for the best: good horn growth that is open and clears the face, good conformation, good temperment (yes, a bad temper gets passed along) even survivability and resistance to disease and parasites. The sad fact is that most male sheep do not make the cut. Then what do you do with them? Well, mostly they go to market. Shetlands are valued for their quality wool, so if there is any chance of an animal "making a living" as a wool producer, we try to give it to them. But you can't keep them all. Most people I know who have had an overabundance of ram lambs say this year they will probably go to market, wool or not. Feed costs are prohibitive. And we just don't have the space for any more wethers.In fact, we may not breed any sheep this fall due to the economy, but we won't go there here in this discussion.

As for me, I'll just appreciate the guys I do have now. I love them all and each one for his own attributes...besides....they have the softest fleece of anybody!

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cool Thoughts

My friend, Tina, had a great idea to post a picture of something cool. They are having record heat in the Pacific NW right now. We, too, are having warm temperatures with increased humidity due to it still being "Monsoon Season". The past few days have seen tremendous storms moving through. My sheep are getting used to the Drill of having me round them up to put in areas where they have proper cover if they want. Our pasture has no mature trees and if Skittles doesn't stop bashing the barriers to the trees we are trying to grow in the pasture, we still won't have any shade.
So, I'm leaving you with the thoughts of chilled mallards standing in cold water with snow about.

And I keep in mind that the Earth will turn and...eventually...those of us who love cool weather will become more active again. I wish, I wish, I wish....
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008


This summer seems to be riddled with questions. Or at least in my mind. I have been waiting to do assessments on the ram lambs for sale. It was only today that I realized that the oldest of them were now just four months old, the youngest ones three months.
This would normally be the time I would be weaning, but thinking we would be in Oregon in June I had decided to try weaning early this year. Actually, it seemed to make no difference in the development of the lambs. They all did just fine. The only problem is that I have had to wait to see who's developing into a better ram prospect, and who may have to go to the butcher.
Many, many shepherds have been talking about cutting back on the numbers in their flocks. I get the feeling that people are trying to cut back due to rising hay costs. Here in our part of Arizona, grass hay goes for $20.00 a bale plus tax. I have switched my sheep to mostly pelleted hay. It seemed more costly at first, but there is no waste and they pellets can't be blow about in the winds. I figured I lost 50% of the hay I fed last year due to stemmy grass, contamination of one sort or another, or the sheep just being picky and eating the best bits. They eat every single pellet put in from of them. And pellets don't get into fleeces like hay does. Win-win.

But the biggest question is wether or not to stay in the USDA Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification program. The USDA has three divisions of tracking scrapie (a chronic wasting disease in sheep much the same as BSE in cattle). The first program is one in which every sheep in the US gets an ear tag or other identification mark, like a tattoo, that follows the sheep from birth to death. A slaughterhouse can track a sheep back to where it came from, or so the idea goes.
Next is the voluntary program to become certified scrapie-free. I joined this program when I got back into sheep. You had to be in this level to use artificial insemination on your ewes at that time. Since I joined this program, the rules have changed and now you need not be in this program to be able to use AI.
The third level is now called "Export" status. As one could guess, this is the toughest level with more intense government snoopervision. Producers at this level are allowed to ship sheep to other countries.

My conundrum comes in that the program I have been in now requires me to submit the head of any sheep I have die to the nearest USDA approved lab for assessment. Normally, I wouldn't have a problem in anyone trying to track down and stop this disease. However...the government would like me to cut the heads off my sheep (only IF they die, Folks) and send the head to their lab at my cost. At my cost... (My cost for the overnight shipping of the head as well as getting a vet to come remove the head if I choose not to do it myself)
Not only do I have a problem with submission of heads, but the thought of them wanting me to pay for the privilege isn't sitting well with me. A bigger conundrum is that in Feb. '09, I could be the first ever certified scrapie free flock in Arizona. Naturally, they would like me to stay in the program, siting that my having a "scrapie-free flock" is a marketing tool. The problem there is that I don't know of anyone who has had any success in using this as a marketing tool.

Normally, I am all for eradicating diseases. I allow the USDA inspectors free access to the sheep and records during their annual visits. But this head-removal is going a bit above and beyond in asking producers to submit to these measures - especially since we pay taxes to have these institutions do this themselves. Like everything else, funding is getting cut short and states are not able to pick up the burden. But should I be willing to let that burden be transferred onto me? Especially since any sheep entering the food chain is inspected and samples are taken at slaughterhouses to keep an eye on this disease. And I do understand that a disease can be harbored in a small flock, so it gets back to the funding of it, I suppose.
Adding to this was the delivery of a rather large box about 10 days ago. It was an empty box, only lined with a thermal retaining material and two empty plastic bags inside. Oh, yeah...the instructions for removing and shipping a sheep's head was also in there.

So, while my sheep have nothing to hide, I still find myself getting angry at the extent the small producer has to go through at this point, knowing full well that as soon as the government changes staffing down the line, this will all change all over again. Most other producers in the VSFCP are dropping back to the Mandatory level. And I may follow suit. I just can see where the benefit for my operation comes in.

...and we who keep Shetland sheep come to think of them more as pets with great fiber to spin. But I can also see both sides of the if these devils will just get off my shoulders and let me make a decision...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Please Send Good Thoughts...

Please send good thoughts and purrayers to my dear friend Tina and her cat, Neelix. Neelix has been fighting thyroid disease and is still losing quite a bit of weight. Tina is very,very worried about him.

Tina has had Neelix since he was a kitten over a dozen years ago. He sits and waits for both her and John to get home each day as well as doing his Snoopervisor duties around the Marietta Shetlands barn.

Neelix has been continuing to lose weight even with treatment. If you have some time, please stop over to Tina's place to give both her and Neelix some encouragement. I would appreciate it. Tina emailed me this morning to let me know she was having to take Neelix in to the v-e-t today. I so hope they can find out what's wrong and it's an easy fix like too much thyroid medication.

I hope you know you are definitely in my thoughts and prayers today, dear Friend...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Summer Things...(2nd Try)

Note: For some reason my first try at this post did not show any of the pictures, so I have re-posted sans the former comments. Please do let me know if you have any problems viewing this post. I suspect Blogger is up to something...

The weekend before this last one saw us at a tractor show north of town. It was a fairly small event but reminded both my Hired-Hand-With-Benefits and myself of something we don't see often here. Tractors. The inspiration for going to this event was my HH looking for a new transmission for the small garden tractor he uses about the place. The old Craftsman had died a slow, horrible death and try as he might it could not be resuscitated for love nor money. Parts had been replaced to no avail. It was dead. This prompted the ordering of a new and a bit larger garden tractor. I have yet to hear if any of the accessories fits the new one. A major piece is the snow thrower which makes easier work in clearing out the snows of winter.

I love old farm equipment. Well, I guess I have to qualify that a bit as I like new farm equipment just as much. I had instilled in my character the love of good tools from a father who took me to countless hardware stores looking for items to make life easier.
My HH will tell you, I have never balked at anyone in the family getting some sort of tool or equipment to make life easier or more efficient. I am a big believer in the right tool for the right job.
Now, that being said, I also grew up in a family where each of us ended up with our own toolbox due to Dad grousing at someone who had used his tools without permission or put them back dirty or in the wrong place, usually my brother. This tradition has carried on in this family as well although a bit of "friendly" tool robbing occurs from time to time.
And this attitude goes as far as to in the kitchen (proper cooking implements) and wool working equipment: good spinning wheels, carding machine, looms, etc. Dad instilled the value of our time being worth something early on in life. If it was worthy enough to do correctly, it was worthy of time...a valuable commodity in itself.
So, the short of it is we enjoyed seeing all the tractors although I didn't see one Allis Chalmers tractor among the ones on display - those mainly John Deere and International Harvesters. I guess it's a Midwest thing, but I have fond memories of driving an Allis from time to time.

I also wanted to share this daisy with you. When I was married, almost 32 years ago now, I carried a bouquet of yellow roses and daisies. Not until later would I find that my mother had saved the seeds from those daisy flower heads for me. On the return from living in Germany, I was given a baggie filled with the seeds from that very bouquet, then about five years old. that baggie was placed away and I didn't come across it again until we moved into this place in '92. I took a chance and planted the seeds.
I've always admired daisies for their strength of character. They hadn't failed me and came up with vigor. The first plant from those seeds eventually succumbed to age, but not before it left "babies" for me to keep. Every summer it reminds me not only of my wedding, but of the mother who the daisies and in me. Mom passed away in '83, but I still feel the connection through these blossoms.

And the final picture is of lily plants in our "pond" that were given to us by our cat vet, Dr. Bill and his wife, Melanie. We weren't sure they would make it through a winter in our area (they have a backyard pond in town), but they have. It's been a joy to see them bloom and grow.
In pondering over the flowers coming up, some against the odds, I have come to re-think and take stock in the saying, "Bloom where you're planted". I'll try to remember that, Mom.