Monday, December 6, 2010

The Sheep are Growing Feathers!

This fall we acquired some new additions to the farm, some young Japanese Bantam chickens. So far they have settled right in and are doing the job I intended for them. I thought having a few chickens pecking around the pasture might be a good thing to help decrease the parasites which affect the other beasts here. The problem was keeping them away from the predators. My friends who have chickens lock them up at night in fortresses to keep them safe from the wild creatures, namely raccoons and skunks. Being a bit lazy, I was not ready to invest the time and energy into that plus adding another chore to the day's list. Then I learned about these little bantams. Several of our friends have them and have had a hard time keeping them from madly multiplying despite treating them as feral. I was then fortunate to get some, maybe my good fortune as well as my friend's.

When I got the little critters I wanted to imprint them to the barn. My first attempt, leaving their cage on the floor of the ewe barn for a couple days, resulted in failure. They did not return to the barn to roost, preferring the trees near the pasture. One by one they disappeared (chickens can't see at night and I suspect the raccoons were picking them off). From my chicken friend I was gladly given a few more . This time I placed the cage up a bit higher off the ground in the barn for their imprinting. Wasn't sure what would happened when I let them out but they seemed to get the idea. In affect they are basically free roaming chickens, all the time. They roam and scratch around the pastures during the day (who told them to stay out of the vegetable garden?) and return to the barn to roost at night. Perfect! Now all I do is throw some scratch out for them and they are on their own. The pictures here show them in the rafters above the sleeping sheep. On cold nights the sheep help keep them warm. So for now the only problem seems to be that the sheep are now wearing feathers! And of course, the question will be, what to do in the spring when they start laying eggs. Oh well, we will deal with that problem later.












Monday, November 1, 2010

Rams or Hams

This time of year as we approach breeding season I begin to look more closely at our rams. Their fleeces are soft and long and they seem to like to strut their stuff. Presently we have 4 adult rams and 2 ram lambs. As we don't breed that many ewes, 10 at max, we try not to accumulate that many boys. The rams we have kept are the "good boys", that is they have some special redeeming quality AND they are "good". Good meaning they don't bash fences, they don't fight with the other boys (well not much anyway) and, most importantly, they don't ram us! These pictures were taken about a month ago. I believe the girls were in view to them so they were showing their best sides. What hams!



McTavish JASPER




McMeadows ROWAN














McTavish APOLLO


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The 3 in conference


Monday, October 4, 2010

Sherman and the Show


This past weekend we spent at The Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival. We had an interesting experience there which revealed to me what a great group of folks we have that are involved with the Shetland Sheep. Shows are always a bit stressful; the getting ready and getting there, the feeling of over-stimulation with people and activity going on all around, and then the question of your sheep health. We do not make a practice of taking sick sheep to a show, but sometimes it does happen that they come down with some crud while at the show. Well that happened to us at the OFFF this year. We arrived on Friday afternoon to the Canby Fairgrounds with a full load of seemly very healthy sheep. Friday night was uneventful, feeding and checking on them in their respective pens before heading off to sleep. Early the next morning, I went in to feed and ready sheep before our show at 9 am. As I came into the barn I noticed the pen with our 3 rams had a bunch of "yuck" dribbled about, a sort of yellow, brown runny stuff in the water bucket, along the pen rails, in the straw. My first thought was someone had the scours. After checking the outlets of the 3 it did not seem to be coming from any of them or they had gotten over it quickly. But then I noticed little Sherman, a ram lamb, was drooling the stuff all over his front. Yuck, and so soon before the show! After finding his temp normal and a brief consultation with a couple other sheep breeders, we decided he had most likely choked and lost his lovely cud all over the pen. We cleaned him up and off to the show ring to compete against our fellow Shetland breeders. After the show and through the rest of the day, all was fairly normal. But by around 5 pm, as the festival was winding down, I noticed little Sherman just did not look good. Droopy ears, drooling again, and his fellow pen mates were bopping on him, taking advantage of him at a low point, as rams will do. I pulled him out of the pen and took a temp. Humm, low. Eye color was very very pale. I called over a fellow shepherd, a previous vet tech and another, a nurse, both I figure were the ones with the biggest first aid kits and had them take a look. Other breeders came around and no one was quite sure what could be going on. Maybe he got bopped hard and had a concussion. Could be. About the time we were getting stuff ready to poke him with the little guy began to go down fast. He was having seizures and it was all I could do to hold him safe. He looked so bad, I seriously doubted he would survive this. Just then another sheep person offered her services to simply put him out of his misery. Really? I declined thinking he would probably take care of that himself, just give him a few minutes. As he was continuing to seize and more and more of our little Shetland sheep breeder community people began to show up offering drugs, advice and assistance. With their help we shot him with high powered drugs and got a tube down his throat, putting a quart of electrolytes back into the system. I think there were 5 people all working on the little guy with another 5 observing. After a few minutes though things began to look up and he seemed a bit more stable. We made a call to our vet, but knew he could only offer advice as we were a bit out of his local area. We got reassurance from him that we had done the right things and what to continue with. What a great vet! After a brief period of "throwing up", Sherman did continued to improve. I sat with him into the night and was amazed at all the people who came by before bed and talked, expressed their concern and offered their support. I laid in his pen until the wee morning then off to bed as I could see I wasn't doing much for him and we both needed rest. He seemed like he was probably out of the danger zone. Early that morning I checked on him, poking him to see if he was dead but delighted to find that he wasn't. Throughout the next and last day of the show I was warmed by all the people who came by to check on him to see how he was doing. Such concern for one little sheep. It was really sweet. I must say one of the nicest things about having Shetlands is the great community of friends we have. Not sure if other parts of the country have it as good as we do here in Oregon. Of course I am bragging, maybe other folks in other areas do have this too, but ours feels really special and an event like this clearly points it out. We can be out in the show ring competing against each other, but then in the after hours we can pool together and really help each other out. Very sweet! And thank you to all of those that showed they care and support. Sherman would say thanks but he is too busy eating! Oh and all I can deduce from conversations with the vet was that he may have eaten a bad mushroom.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Shawn Sheep


Ok so things are winding down a bit after summer has come and the rain has stopped. Gives me time to finally sit down; a reason to come indoors from the blistering heat. Also gives me time to ponder this next breeding season. As I go through the list of ewes, one ewe always ends up on the breeding list dispite our rule of breeding them every other year (this is to breed a bit less and to give the ewe a year off). That poor sheep is Shawn. It is interesting that she is one of 4 original lambs born on our farm. She had a sister which we sold. The other two were rams and they both found trouble in some way and did not even make it to breeding season. It was a learning year for us! Anyway, I kept Shawn, not because she was the friendliest; she is not, certainly not like her "pocket sheep " sister. I guess I kept her because of her color. She was very, very black. As she grew her fleece became more stunning. It is funny that of all the years I have had her, she is now 7, I have never worked with her fleece. After shearing, and folks come to view the fleeces, it is the first to sell, and I am really bad about turning down a sale. Over the years she has gradually greyed but that too is stunning. Two years ago I finally got smart and held her fleece to show at Black Sheep Gathering under Judith MacKenzie and the fleece got a blue ribbon! I guess people know a good thing.

Four years ago we bred Shawn to Sizemore Sylvester and we ended up with McTavish Jasper (see above). He a a gorgeous fellow and has won many ribbons back in his show days. He is lighter in color than Shawn, but his fleece is silky soft, and it too, in spite of the smell (rams have a very distinctive smell), always sells. His lambs are super cute, fine boned and too have lovely soft fleeces. Jasper is one of our main breeding rams now. So in thinking back it is funny how one ewe can then become the foundation of you breeding program. So I guess since we are breeding Jasper we can afford to give Shawn a year off....or maybe not.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

lambs growing up

So as you can see it is no longer possible to sit in the pasture, wine in hand and enjoy the lambs. They are no longer enjoyable! They are too big and bordering on obnoxious! The girls, there are only 4 of them, are still super cute and fun to pet. But all these boys! They paw you with their sharp hooves, step on you and climb up your back as if you are some sort of mountain to scale. They chew on your hair try to drink your favorite beverage which ultimately gets spilled. We usually have our boys under strict rules, no stepping on us, no head butting, but this year we have found it impossible to enforce them. They are OUT OF CONTROL! Last time we were out there I could only stand about 10 minutes before wanting to seek refuge. Guess we don't have to worry about our lambs not being friendly.





This is little Ninki, actually her name is Ninkasi. She was named after the great brewery in town, it actually means goddess of fermentation. I thought it was a perfectly appropriate name for a sheep as that is what they do all day. So until she grows up she is referred to as "dinky Ninki".



Do you see any sheep in this photo? They are there. If they don't get to eating they will be burried in food! We have begun mowing like mad as the grass goes to seed so fast and then looses much of it nutritional value. We have noticed too, if you can mow it at the right time, hopefully before a good rain shower, it will grow back with more leafy good stuff. Of course once the rain stops for the summer it dries up to nothingness and we are left with having to feed hay. Unless one has irrigation, it is a short growing season around here.






As we only had 4 ewes lambs this year we only have one left to sell. That is beautiful Margo, who you can see at the top. She will be our little show girl at the Black Sheep Gathering coming up here in a few weeks. We do have lots of ram lambs left, however, and always the possibility of a wether. Hurry they are going fast! :-)


















Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Catching sheep


It has taken us awhile, let's see, about 10 years but we now have evolved to the point where we have a wonderful system for catching the sheep. I hate rodeos, especially where my sheep are involved, but it seems that is how it has been up until this year. Yes, periodically you do need to catch the buggers; to shear, to worm, to trim hooves. And yes you need to catch ALL of them, not just the super friendly ones. One thing about sheep is that they have an innate sense of when you want to do this and suddenly they scatter, wanting no part of you. Our dog, with some border collie genetics, is no good; after being pummeled by one of our precocious ewes he no longer likes the sheep and avoids them at all cost. So it is up to us humans to find a way to catch the sheep and preferable not in rodeo style.



Things I have learned about sheep. Sheep easily go uphill; it is much easier to coax them to go up rather than down. It is easier to get sheep from a big space into progressively smaller spaces rather than going from a big space to a very small space; they just don't like it and will scatter in many directions no matter how many helpers you have. Sheep like to follow fence lines and like to go around blind corners. I have no idea why, but it is quite easy to herd them to a wall that they can go around and then be out of site.



With all these factors put to good use we have finally come up with a system for enticing our crafty little sheep into the barn and putting them on lock down. We start with a little food, sweet cob is always good. The sheep go in the barn to eat. I carefully sneak around the side, close up the corral outside the barn. At this point a few nervous Nellies come running out of the barn to investigate, usually scaring the lot of them into doing the same. I calmly continue to step closer. To avoid me they go uphill into the fence, around the solid barn door, around a set of feeders, and meanwhile I close the barn door and, what do you know, all sheep are now safely locked intside. I can now singlehandedly get ALL the sheep trapped in the barn ALL by myself in about 3 minutes flat, and no rodeo!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Beside The Sheep......

We have some other members of McTavish Farm you should meet. To the left is our llama Pele. He was hired to protect the sheep from predators like dogs and coyotes, which we know are around here. Llamas probably aren't a match for cougars or bears. So far Pele has done an outstanding job as we have not had any attacks.




This is Clancy. As you can see he brings humor to the whole operation. Over the past few days however he has been an asset to the lane as his barking is keeping a visiting bear at bay. Our neighbors on either side have lost their bee hives to the bear with a sweet tooth. We put Clancy out in the evening and he has been running in the neighborhood and barking, hopefully keeping the bear out of the nearby chicken houses. Let's hope the bear finds a new home soon. Keep barking Clancy!

These are our ducks. I know you see a faint resemblance to a bowling pin, but no, these are ducks, Indian Runner Ducks. They do not fly but motor around on two legs. They move together as a group, or as a friend says "as one big duck". They are very social. The ducks were brought on board to eat the slugs and snails and have done a fantastic job. Not only do snails feast in our garden, but they are a host to the liver fluke worm that affects sheep. So the ducks are multi purpose, they make our garden grow better, keep the sheep healthy, lay yummy egss and, on a gloomy rainy day, they make you smile.
Last but certainly not least is Sasha. She is our oldest member at 12. She was a rescue dog and has been great. She doesn't really have a job per se, but is a great companion, for both human and for Clancy. She is great with everyone, kids included. She is espescially warm to anyone with food. She is one dog that could find food where others thought there was none. Her favorite "move" is to tadpole on her belly though the grass.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Great Things Come From Sheep

So cleaning out the barn is not my favorite farm activity but there is one consolation...yummy compost. Sheep make a great soil amendment, not the sheep themselves but what they make. All that excrement that accumulates in their sleep quarters combined with straw (adds carbon for a good C/N ratio) helps the garden grow. We pile all the barn waste for the year into a big pile and let it sit for a year or two. No turning, no fuss, the rain, bugs and worms do a terrific job breaking it all down into some super soil. We either spread it on the pasture to help the grass grow for the sheep; complete cycle. Or we use it on the vegetable garden. Sheep manure is one of the best. This year I did some sheet composting and even spread layers of discarded wool (from my skirting of fleeces) under the added compost. Wool breaks down slow but it does release nitrogen (just don't get it tangled in the weed eater!). As you can see our garden is flourishing this spring. The picture of the two piles show how much it breaks down and becomes smaller. Breaking it down first lets all the bugs have their way with it
before putting it around your tender plants. If it is not broken down first, I have found the bugs begin to eat the tender seedlings. Also before spreading it back on the pasture, the sheep parasites will die and I won't be giving them back to the sheep. They are happy for that. So as I am shoveling and hauling, I try to think about all the great things that will come from cleaning out the barn, and it isn't so bad.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sheep Are Dumb....and more about pasture management

Ok whoever coined this phrase must not have had Shetland sheep as I find this NOT to be the case. Take this morning for example. I had great plans to have the moms and lambs eat down this small, seemingly yummy patch of grass on a fairly small piece of real estate. I basically wanted them to "mow" it. So I put them on it first thing this morning thinking they would be hungry. Well for some reason or other the moms did not like it. They were yelling all sorts of obscenities at me. Things like "this grass has been walked on by ducks", "this grass it too close to the compost heap", oh and other things I probably shouldn't repeat. To avoid the excessive noise I escaped and went inside. My thought was they would shut up if I wasn't there to yell at; I really didn't want to get the neighbors mad too. Well they did quiet down but they still weren't going to eat the grass either, instead many of them stuck there head though the fence, apparently the greenery on the other side was much better. One of the lambs even squirted through the fence to eat my new shoots of raspberries! OMG what a fiasco this was. In hopes of mending my relationship with my neighbors I decided to put these "mad as hell" moms to a different paddock to shut them up. They had won!
In transitioning them to this new paddock, the sheep had to be shushed back into the "waste area", through a "u" turn in the barn and then out the just opened door to fresh grass. The moms new the maze and were out there in no time flat. The lambs however were not so easy. They took a detour to play on their favorite gym equipment and run around the waste area. This waste area is a paddock we put the sheep on when we want them off the pasture so it can rest. A place where we can put them to keep our paddocks from being overgrazed. Well it happens to be directly across the fence from where the moms were now grazing. My thought was these lambs aren't going to be able to figure out the maze when they can see mom directly on the other side of the fence. It had been a week or so since many of them had been there. To avoid upset lambs, I unbungied a part of the fence to open up a temporary "gate". I shushed them along toward it but in doing so they they got a spooked by my funny shushing vioce, and in a great mass went running right past the opening, up through the barn and out the other side, right to their moms. They knew the way! Who was the dummy here?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pasture Management and Ninki's First day

Yesterday it seems the grass finally started growing. Time to get the sheep on it and eating. Up until now the sheep were a bit restricted from the pasture, eating hay instead. We usually have to feed during the late summer (too dry, no grass growth) and winter (too dark, too cold). So right now, YIPEEE time for fresh, green grass.

We practice a modified "management intensive grazing" at our place. We have broken up our approx. 6 acre pasture into a series of smaller paddocks using a nauseating system of electric wires. This is suppose to keep the sheep in where we want them and off other paddocks so they can recover and grow. The sheep are suppose to know this. Well this is the first experience with electric fences for many of the lambs. What we hope for is that they touch the wire with their wet nose (I know it sounds mean), they get a powerful ZAP, and there they have learned the lesson for life, that is, stay on your side of the wire. If they do not learn it that way then we have a few problems. In reality, a sheep with a full coat of fleece, could easily bolt through the fence and feel nothing at all as long as they move fast enough (please don't tell my sheep). If they learn it as described above, we will have a nice working relationship for years to come. Having been witness yesterday, I believe most have learned it. Let's cross our fingers to be sure.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lambing conclusion... Easter Sunday!


Before bed I went out to check Runa, not really expecting anything, but lo and behold: a waterbag! Runa easily slipped the little girl out at around 10:30. She was not gulmoget but is a beautiful rich red brown. Runa was a bit clueless about letting the lamb nurse so we worked on that and after about an hour we felt that she'd likely just have a single, but after 8 straight boys we were elated! Back in to get a good nights rest.

Just a check before bed...

Tracy thought I should just go make a quick check on Runa since she was already comfortably nestled into bed and we couldn't see Runa on the LambCam. Well, I go down there and what do you know Runa had another little girl! This one the spitting image of Runa herself, very defined Gulmoget markings! What a nice Easter finish to this years lambing season.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Olivia is just sooo cute!

Shawn gives birth

Shawn had a boy. No surprise there, but he's very nice and as yet unnamed. God do I love boys!

Rahab and Trooper

Ok things are moving along, however slowly and stressful. Ended up packing Rahab in the truck and off to the vet for the 3rd time about 8 this morning, but this time with cervix open and a tangled stiff mess inside. She never did go into labor, had to manually dilate her to be able to get my hand in there. Had an upside down lamb with 3 legs. I tried but was unsuccessful at getting anything in order much less pull it out. Jeff had a bit of a struggle as well, so I didn't feel so bad. He crammed a bunch of slime in there before pulling a 2 nd time and that seemed to do the trick. 1/2 out he was quite surprised to find out the little guy was still alive, a ram of course! After a 2nd dive in, he pulled out another ram, this one not so lucky. Probably the reason for the strange Rahab behaviors the days before. The new little guy was a bit weak, we tubed him and have had to warm him a few times. He just finally got the idea of sucking the nipple, so I am hoping we are home free. Rahab will be in pain, but with the help of drugs and some alfalfa, she seems to be progressing. The new little guy is white with black spots and a mask and his name is Trooper.
Now waiting on Shawn, she is exhibiting her prebirthing behavior. Cross your fingers for easy birth and GIRLS!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Olivia

Just a gratuitous picture of Tracy's favorite.

Lambs so far...


Well the good news is all the lambs so far are healthy and beautiful with consistently great conformation. The bad news is we now have 8 boys and just 2 girls with three more ewes to deliver. And from our Gotland experiment, of course... 2 boys. Julia is the latest to give birth and though all the lambs appear to have very nice fleeces this guy is "Oh my god!" soft. Despite being a boy still a very exciting little lamb.

Monday, March 22, 2010

03/22/10

The latest is little Melvyn and Miracle's babies. Two boys! The boys are winning 5-2 now and I'm really talking to the last five ewes. These guys are really wonderful though, and all the lambs healthy and doing well.


About 8 AM Aurora gave birth our first Gotland cross. A very nice black boy. Where is the little girl that was supposed to be there as well? She wasn't, just one big boy. A disappointment as that Misty line is usually prolific. He's big and healthy though.




Three deliveries so far today. At about 2 AM Strudel had a beautiful boy and girl. She did it all on her own.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Aurora meets Obsidian

I think Aurora has a bit of her mother Misty in her. Misty was a renouned baby stealer. Aurora.. wait your turn!

9 lbs. 10 oz. !

Well it was a long night at McTavish farm. Neon's water broke at around 1 AM, she really wasn't making any progress so Tracy went in to see what was up. There was a lamb so we decided to give her more time as she didn't really seem that stressed. After some time went by we decided we have to take a more active role, so in we go... Well, there's a leg, there's a nose, but where's that other dang leg? Boy, that's a long leg! After some manipulating and pulling, one leg's out and a head but, where's that other dang leg!? More time has gone by than is comfortable, like a ticking time bomb, stress is starting to rise. It's now about 2 AM. After some delicate twisting and some not so delicate yanking he finally flopped out at about 2:55. Strained but healthy and big... very, very big. Neon decided laying down was the appropriate way to attend to him and we certainly weren't about to disagree with her. He started nursing right away and both mother and son and the shepherds were at peace. Now 5:00 and back to bed. We'll see what the rest of the day brings...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

3 hours old

Mother and lambs doing great.

Katrina gives birth

Well there they are. The first lambs of the season and boy did Katrina do an amazing job. First time mother, she slid them right out and was patient and attentive. Much to my relief as Tracy was at work today. A boy and a girl, both strong and healthy.

First night check still no lambs...

Monday, March 15, 2010


Well, the first day of watching for the lambs and nothing happened, as usual. Started our middle of the night checks last night so I guess we're getting serious now.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It seems like spring, the tulip tree is in full bloom, but it sure is cold.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Shower finally

After 2 years and some plumbing issues I think even Tracy would say the bathroom remodel is done. Phew..

Monday, March 8, 2010


Shebaa is wondering when her new friends will arrive.
Here's Clancy w/ his favorite frisbee. He's hoping we'll stop work and do something really valuable... like play.