Friday, December 3, 2010

The Final Hours of Sheepy Preparations

You may be wondering why I am up at 1:30 in the morning (I know I am!) One might think it's from nerves, as I'm going to be picking up my sheep in less than twelve hours, but really it's a wicked head-cold. It seems only natural that I, being a person of little convention and even less luck in timing, would launch into a new farm endeavor with a head-cold, just at the onset of winter. Did I mention the hydrant in the barn has frozen and we'll be lugging buckets to water our livestock? Weeeeee! (Wheeeeeeze?)

We've had our first snow, which surprisingly has stuck for the first time in several years. Usually we get a few goofy days of snow-melt-snow-melt before getting a good layer established, but this year we launched right into winter over night, December 1st. You can see Basil on the left resting between burst of puppy zoomers around the yard with Connor. I had forgotten how much she loves the snow, despite being a adorably skinny little waif that shivers the moment temperatures drop below fifty. The dogs always approach a change in season with renewed enthusiasm for life. I love to watch them exploring the fruits of the season, whether it's discovering a fresh pile of deer droppings to do disgusting things with, or sniffing out and marking on a new rabbit warren (more on that sometime in the future- we're not supposed to have warrening or burrowing rabbits in Michigan but as I said, convention is often to the wind). Winter is full of new discoveries for everyone.

My last few days have been a harried race to complete the various preparatory tasks for the sheep. I've reenforced the fence, built two gates, found a supplier for grass hay, done a few field walks searching for any remaining burdock plants, and basically done everything I can do to be ready. My favorite of the tasks has definitely been building the gates. I admit I got tired of dropping another $50 every other day for new gates, so I managed to glean a wood-and-wire gate design off of an old photograph and quickly set to building both a large gate for the sheep barn and a small gate for the barnyard-to-pasture pass. The photo to the right is of the new large gate which will allow me to keep the sheep under shelter in the really nasty weather, without keeping them cooped up in their stall. It'll allow for airflow and protection, should we get any of Michigan's special ice storms this year. This photo before finishing with the welded wire on the gate. It still needs a trim and some more staples/nails on the left end. This gate will also help me contain lambs in the spring, and separate the sheep should I ever need to do so. I used the small holed welded wire as opposed to the more formidable 4" woven wire since the Icelandic breeder mentioned that she's had lambs get their heads stuck in the large holes. Since this may be a common place for the lambs I figured it's better to keep them safe even if it does mean having to replace the wire annually. The fencing is now all in place, gates safely secured and I am very happy with my planning and design. I have five tiers to my sheep lot, the stall, the shelter, the barnyard, the pasture and the welded wire fence I installed earlier this year (which won't be stretched until spring's thaw) around the yard. Each area that the sheep are in is surrounded by at least two layers of fencing to keep them in (and very very far away from the neighboring golf course) and more importantly to keep predators out.

You may or may not be able to see the plans I sketched in one of my sheep books, but I have two small pastures planned adjacent to the main one. I hope to be able to lead my sheep easily with promises of treats so that I can rotate them through the orchard using the electronet fencing I purchased from Premier1.

The new four-leggeds come home tomorrow afternoon! Eight year old Ingrid, a lamb ewe and a lamb ram, who are as yet unnamed. I'm sure I'll remedy that quickly! The ram isn't really mine to name since he is on loan, but I'm sure he'll pick up a nickname quickly if the breeder hasn't already thought of something! It will be exciting to have them around, and even more so to know that in five short months I'll be on lamb watch! Hopefully the ewes will come into season quickly so that the ram can breed them and I can have lambs in early May. The earlier in May the better since there is a weekend in April that I have to be out of town.

Is it ridiculous that before completing my latest huge homesteading endeavor (to-get-sheep), I'm already considering my next? Of course this is insane, and I've always got several plans going at once, but I'm considering buying a plow and a tiller to be horse drawn. My horse Aoife is a great cart horse, and I keep looking at plans to make a stone boat so I can get her started on heaftier things, but it occurred to me (and naturally I'd have to clear this with the landlady, who may consider it too great a liability) that I could technically drive Aoife to my house, as she is kept at the horse farm where I run my lesson program, just two and a half miles from here. If Aoife came to visit for the day, I could have her plow for me, bring up firewood and do various tasks, before driving her home at the end of the day. It seems like a win-win for everyone, especially since Aoife is a very ... chubby ... lady, and almost never gets to enjoy grain with the other horses as a consequence, but these tasks would obviously warrent a grainy-sort-of-treat!

Maybe I'm crazy, maybe I've watched too much Victorian Farm and maybe it's 2:15 in the morning and I need to get some rest... either way, it sounds like this winter is going to be full of more than just planning veggie varieties! (I can feel my family members rolling their eyes as they read the previous paragraph- My God, what is she up to now?!)


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