Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Guardian Animals for Your Sheep

Guardian animals is a kind gesture you can do for your sheep -- leaves them with less stress.
There are usually three kinds of guardian animals: donkeys, [sheep] dogs and llamas. The latter I really know very little about, other than that it should be a female and a lot of sheep owners do use them.
I personally picked donkeys, not that I’m not a dog lover, because I always have been; but because, not only is it just me taking care of animals, but a dog has to have a special bowl of food taken out to him/her every day. While I leave the farm very little for anything more than one day, there are still those times. I then would be asking a neighbor to not only feed the farm animals, but to put a bowl of feed out for the dog(s) that is guarding the sheep. (My house dog goes with me!)
There are many benefits for having a dog, however, and there are several different breeds to choose from. The dog, once trained, can take the sheep to outlying pastures for a day of grazing and then bring them back to their protected area at evening. It would seem to me that unless your flock is very small, that you would almost have to have at least 2 guardian dogs. The dog has to sleep sometime and while their ears are very keen, this would give at least four ears to hear of impending danger.
I chose donkeys however because the donkey eats hay and grass just like the sheep do -- and will even eat some of the ’weeds’ that the sheep will not eat … so everybody is happy! Again, they should always be females that are in with the flock.
I now am leaning towards miniature female donkeys as when winter comes and you are putting out second-cutting hay and alfalfa (both of them the high-end of hay prices!), the hay is not being devoured by a medium size donkey. The miniature size donkey also remains a similar size to the sheep, thus not intiminating them with the larger size of a standard (aka Jerusalem) or full-size donkey (size of a regular horse).
Again, unless your flock is very large, one donkey is probably the best, as otherwise, they tend to hang around together ... rather than with the sheep.
Donkeys are notorious for hating canines (dogs). My donkeys ’tolerated’ by house dogs - the house dogs stayed clear of the donkeys … they all seemed to have this ’understanding’! But the hatred for canines carries over to coyotes as well, which can be a real menace to any flock of sheep. If you have neighbors nearby who allow their dogs to roam, not only would I post a sign that states there is a guardian donkey on duty 24/7, but personally notify your neighbors that donkeys will kill canines should they come into ’their’ field.
It sure can give peace of mind at night or when you are away, that something is guarding your livestock ALL the time!
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." Luke 2:8
God bless .... Diane

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sea Salt, Sea Kelp & Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

Welcome again to my blog. I’m enjoying refreshing my memory on all this. Hope it is helping you some too!
This week we need to talk about salt, minerals and diatomaceous earth (DE). The latter sounds like a big word - so DE is easier!!
Every person and/or mammal that I know of needs salt. The table salt that most people use - unfortunately, is of little value to anyone, with the exception of maybe a small amount of flavor added. The salt that is MOST beneficial -- and should be used for humans and animals -- is sea salt. WOW … what a difference in taste … especially when fresh-ground. However, the latter is hardly practical for livestock. I had to do a little research at first and some scouting around, but finally found a health-food store that stocked 50 lb. bags of sea salt. They also carried Sea Kelp and DE (Diatomaceous Earth). (Note: Sheep have difficulty with a salt block like you would put out for other livestock and therefore, will hardly use it.)
In my different paddocks, I don’t have a covered area in each one, so am forced, during rain, to take the feeder in the barn … or loose the minerals/salt. However, during dry periods - or even just a day of decent weather, I leave the mineral/salt blend out for their free-choice. The sheep see me coming with the feeder and there is no coaxing - they love it. I use about an even amount of sea salt, sea kelp and DE. When first starting with it, I would probably add a little more salt so as to get them to use it.
Sea kelp is just loaded with beneficial nutrients and minerals to help keep your sheep healthy, and their wool beautiful.
DE is used to help diminish or completely eliminate infestations of worms. It is a very fine powder (almost feels like body powder), that is actually ground-up oyster shells. It acts as ’knives’ on the worms, cutting them and expelling them from the animal’s body. I have used it on other farm animals and my dogs. If you already have a heavy infestation - or suspect same, DE may not be enough to get rid of the worms quickly enough. Used on a regular basis for the sheep, however, you should have little to no occurrence of worms … along with rotating them from field to field. (A study done at the West Virginia University several years ago in which the ONLY thing WVU did was to move sheep from one pasture field to a new one every day --- NEVER had occurrence of worms. They were being paid for that study, as well as students earning a degree, so could spend time building and tearing down fences. Most farmers do not have that luxury.)

"He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth:" Ps. 104:14
Blessings -- Diane

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rotational Grazing Fields

On the right, in the first picture above, shows a field that the sheep left a few days ago … it is in its process of recovery and will not be touched for a good week or more. The paddock at the left in the same picture, is a portion of the paddock that is shown in picture 2. It has nicely recovered - after having sat for about 2 weeks or so.

Picture 2 shows another view of the paddock (as mentioned above), that the sheep left several weeks ago. It has nicely recovered. Just below the recovered paddock (at back of picture), is another paddock that they have not been on yet. I need to either weedwack it or bring the tractor in to cut off several inches of the top of the grass.

The 3rd picture is of a newly clipped paddock. This is the first time the sheep have been on this paddock for this year. I just finished brush-hogging it BUT ONLY DOWN A COUPLE OF INCHES. It still stands about 3-4” tall. If this section was left not brush-hogged, they would waste a great deal of it, as it would be too tall for them to come down on top of the grass. Cutting the top of the grass also helps prevent the grass from scratching their eyes … which can cause additional problems.

This last picture is of an “electric” fence that I set up to get the sheep from one paddock to a new one, and NOT go on the old paddock shown to the left. It is merely a ‘lane’ -- and not electrified either! I have tied plastic bag strips so that they can see it (or use surveyor’s tape). Once they are use to seeing --AND FEELING-- electric fence - unless spooked, they will not go near it.

"Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house." Proverbs 24:27

Blessings! Diane

Monday, May 25, 2009

Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar Water for Sheep

Last post, May 18th , we referred to the benefits of vinegar in water. This should ALWAYS be Apple Cider vinegar.
Vinegar is a miracle-working liquid for man or beast. I had previously heard of the assistance it gave to reduce -- or eliminate -- worms in sheep. Knowing of its many benefits for man, I decided to give it a try. While I can’t say that I have any direct proof of it reducing worms in sheep, based on its usefulness in so many other areas, I figured it certainly couldn’t hurt. I started with a VERY small amount … didn’t really measure, just poured from a gallon jug. Since there is a strong smell and taste, I wanted my sheep to get use to that first and not refuse to drink! I would estimate that the first few days, it was probably no more than a tablespoon per each gallon. Several days later, I started adding maybe 2 tablespoons per gallon. Here again, I never actually measured, but by approximately 2 weeks time, the amount of vinegar was probably in the range of ½ to 2/3 cup per each gallon of water. This was given to my ram also -- who, except for breeding times -- was kept by himself with a wether (a neutered ram). There were times when he was kept by himself - but always close enough to the ewes' pens that he could see his ‘girls’. Sometime after starting the vinegar/water, I again read in several different animal publications, the benefits of vinegar to breeding, particularly, breeding so as to maximize the outcome with ewes. While rams can become very friendly (HOWEVER -- NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON A RAM), you can only use so many rams and/or sell so many. If marketing for meat is your main objective, then this particular piece of information may not be of value to you, at least once you get the number of ewes you are seeking. Since this information of vinegar-to-ewe ratio kept turning up, and I had now been using vinegar for maybe a year plus, I made sure that I kept it up; especially several months before the ram went in with the ewes. The first year, I got a 50% ratio of ewe lambs vs. ram lambs -- not impressive, but a whole lot better than I had done previously.
The second year, I got a 75% to 25% ratio of ewes to rams --- percentages were better!
The third year was my bonanza == 100% ewes. I was sold!!!
Give APPLE CIDER VINEGAR to your sheep --- you won’t be sorry. Happy lambing!! Diane

"He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: From following the ewes great with young ..." Psalm 78:70-71a

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Intensive Rotational Grazing - Fencing & Water

(Credits: Many, many thanks go to my sister, L. C., who has many talents - but I presume her specialty is making a computer ‘sing’ or any other thing you would like it to do! She created the beautiful ‘sketch’ you see here. Enjoy looking at its detail!)

In our last Post (5/10/09), we were discussing initial fencing of a piece of property and then ‘cross-fencing’ it. The practice of which we were referring is called “Intensive Grazing”, or “Intensive Rotational Grazing”. The benefits to this method of grazing is just amazing to the animal and the land.
In our sketch, we have taken a certain amount of acreage and sub-divided it into paddocks. The amount of land shown is purely for demonstration -- yours may be less or more. The important thought is to have approximately 12 different paddocks to rotate the animals on. Depending on the amount of animals you have and the size of the paddock, would determine the amount of days the animals spend there. PLEASE NOTE, none of the paddocks have more than 2 days designated. This keeps the grass from being completely eaten down, trampled on, or too heavy a manure load. When the animals are moved, this particular paddock will then have about 2 weeks of rest. Even with little to no rain, a field, left alone, will begin to rejuvinate itself.
The exterior fencing needs to be durable -- welded or woven wire about 4 feet tall is the most ideal. But costs begins to add up when fencing for animals, so 3’ welded wire would also work. Just run an electric wire line above that to hopefully prevent an outside animal from jumping the fence. An electric strand run about 4-6” above the ground line -- AND on the OUTSIDE of the fence, is also a good idea to prevent outside animals from tunneling under the fence.
The inside fencing (cross-fencing) does not have to be as particular. Several rows of baling twine, tied with surveyor’s tape or plastic bags that the animals can see, could easily be used, or a couple of rows of electric wire. Unless the sheep were spooked, they would respect the lines you have made (except for the ram! especially in mating season). The worst would be that the ewes would simply find themselves in the next paddock.
In our sketch, our water source is found in the center of all of the paddocks -- saves on supplying water to each paddock individually. An underground water line is shown running from the barn (assuming water is there) to the center of the field. A hand-pump at the trough usually is all that is needed as the supply of water needed is not like filling for cattle.
Building a roof over the watering trough area would accomplish several additional benefits. If a 300 gal. plastic water tank were buried beneath the trough, and down spouting provided from the roof into the tank, a free supply of rain water would be available. Additionally, this would keep this area somewhat dry instead of a mud hole in the rain. It would also serve as an area where minerals could be provided that would not become soaked. (Minerals will be discussed in a future post.) Placing wood chips or straw (not hay) around this area is also recommended.
While 12 separate paddocks seem overwhelming, especially if there is little to no extra help, start with 3-4 paddocks and the next year divide those, and so on. Four paddocks to rotate the animals on is far better than just letting them freely graze and waste a great deal of what the Good Lord has put out there for them to eat.
As promised in our last post, rotating the sheep onto new pasture greatly reduces, or can completely eliminate worms or parasites. And to destroy their life-cycle, a 2 week period is needed before the animal returns. Worms or parasites need moisture like any other living creature. They will climb up a leaf blade to get the morning dew -- which is just the time the sheep are coming out to graze …. but on a new pasture, the sheep won’t find any!!
Next post - the benefits of vinegar in water!!
“… water ye the sheep, and go and feed them.” Gen. 29:7b

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Raising All Natural Sheep

The raising of all-natural sheep goes back to Bible times. King David, author of the Psalms, took his sheep to new pastures where they could find fresh, untrampled grass and other 'herbs' to eat, which gave them all the nutrients that were needed, as well as fresh water to drink (leading them 'beside the still waters' -- a very calming effect for both animal and man).
Fencing appears to be the biggest obstacle facing the farmer who wants to raise his animals in a natural method. A good fence around the periphery of the property to be grazed, is a must ... not so much as to restrain the sheep, but to protect them from outside harm. Once the outside fence is established, dividing the property into sections -- and the fence needed to divide -- is not quite as demanding. Should the animal 'escape' one section, it would simply find itself in the next enclosure.
The most preferable amount of paddocks (sections) should be at least ten (12 is best!). This would allow for an approximate 2 week rest period before the animal returned to it. (see future posts on reasons why!). Each paddock does not have to be a perfect size or the same size. The sheep do not care - just give them the grass to graze!
Sheep should be moved every 1-2 days, depending on the number of sheep and land conditions and, preferably in the evening. While flies are not as big a problem for wool sheep, they can still be a nuisance. However, when the flies 'go to bed', it takes a while the next morning for them to 'find' the sheep. This creates a natural, healthy atmosphere, and also helps keep the animal at its peak performance and satisfied. The sheep will thank you!
A second consideration is providing water and shade to each paddock. If you are dealing with only a small amount of animals, carrying buckets of water probably would not be unfeasible. For larger numbers of sheep, laying 3/4" PVC piping on top of the ground to each paddock, could be an option. (This arrangement, however, would only work in milder climates, or summer months in harsher climates.) The PVC would not be so large that the animal could not step over it. In a perfectly laid-out pasture (certainly not my farm!), burying the pipe to the necessary frost-free line (check with local extension office if not known), would be the most ideal.
If your farm allows, a watering system placed in the middle of a field, with the paddocks going out as spokes on a wheel, the center being the watering trough, would simplify the above.
Providing shelter/shade could be as simple as placing a tarp up to block the afternoon sun. Planting a few fast growing trees or evergreens in each paddock would be ideal. As one might guess, protecting the newly planted tree with its own mini-fence would be a must until the seedling was established and of enough height not to be demolished by hungry sheep (or deer!).
I have been farming naturally for about 12 years now. I wouldn't change that for anything. The benefits to the animal, its wool, the land and finally the meat that comes to your table, is well worth whatever extra work that might appear on the surface.
I will in future posts be describing what I have done and learned from my experiences in raising sheep with natural practices.
Thanks! for your time ... I know it is a precious commodity! Diane
"... He maketh me to lie down in green pastures ..." Psalm 23