Winter catch up

Our lives in farming are a little bit cyclical. Every winter we have meetings, paperwork to catch up on and we welcome new lambs in February and March. Seems simple, right?

Our farm meetings throughout the state and nation are designed to help us continuously learn about business trends, plus connect with other farmers and agricultural professionals. One of the reasons we keep our sheep outdoors is that it’s easy to feed them enough (hay bales rolled out on the ground) for us to be gone a few days in a row.

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Then there’s paperwork. We have industry publications that sometimes get ignored when we’re working outdoors in summer and autumn, so we catch up on some reading during winter. We also make sure our records are in order for our state’s voluntary environmental protection program or government programs we may be enrolled in. And we track all receipts that piled up so that our taxes can be filed on time.

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When we expect lambs, a few tasks get more intense. We have to shear the sheep a few weeks before they’re due (this is for their health and better wool quality). Shorn pregnant sheep then get moved into the barn (we don’t want lambs being born outside in a Michigan winter!) and they¬†get fed a different diet to get them ready for supporting lambs. If each sheep gives birth to two lambs, we end up having a lot of mouths to feed. I’ll share more about that later.

And every spring we plant fields into various forage mixes for a variety of “salads” for the sheep. So I’m off to do that…

Sheep shearing timing

We get a lot of questions about shearing our sheep. On our farm we shear ewes (mature females) before they have lambs, rams (mature males) in May with the spring lambing group and lambs at 3-4 months old. The ewes that are shorn in the winter are able to use a barn for shelter. As you can see in a photo from today’s 30 degree temperature, our sheep are still comfortable outdoors during nice weather.

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Shearing promotes the health of ewes and lambs. Their health is improved because the barn is drier, as wool can hold a lot of moisture. Shorn ewes also make nursing easier for lambs because the udder is easy to find. An added benefit is that, if shorn when the ewes come into the barn, wool is kept clean before it’s harvested.

Growing lambs

As we prepare for another season of winter lambs, I can’t help but reflect on my trip to sell healthy, full-grown spring lambs last week. It’s amazing that these animals turn our abundant – otherwise inedible to us – pastures into healthy meat for families like ours. Here’s a comparison of the same lamb when he was newly born to the time he was ready for harvest.

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In just a few months, our lambs grow to be about 120-160 pounds. We can’t keep them all, but we can provide care and attention for each animal on our farm.

Taking down Christmas decor

This weekend we took down our Christmas tree. Every year on Christmas we joke about pitching the tree out the door as soon as gifts are opened. We had a neighbor out east who did that – basically before we had even eaten breakfast. But we enjoy our real tree every year from about 4 days before Christmas until after the new year. We spend a lot of time choosing the ornaments each year and reading old letters to Santa that our kids wrote, which we keep in the ornament boxes. Not surprisingly, we have a lot of sheep ornaments and a lot of ornaments that remind us of the love shared in our family.

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We enjoy sorting through the many sheep ornaments and ornaments that signify the many things we’re grateful for

A new year, a new generation

Every year, just as the last of the holiday cards are delivered to mailboxes, we meet with fellow shepherds to reflect on the last business year and look ahead to a new year.

The Michigan Sheep Breeders Association is an organization we’ve been involved with for many years. In a way, we’ve built our business alongside and because of these farmers. We’re truly grateful to come together each year to share ideas, hear from agricultural professionals and re-evaluate the goals of our farm.

This year it was especially exciting to have our youngest daughter attending the conference as a beginning farmer. Her interest in farming is a constant reminder to us that raising our children on our first-generation farm was – and continues to be – worth every tough day.

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One of the benefits to working hard every day is to see a young person have a spark of interest in agriculture.

Changing seasons

We’re coming up on Christmas and winter festivities. It seems we just had 2014’s winter lambs, spring lambs and a busy hay season. After years of being in the sheep business, it’s good to know (some of) what to expect. And while we can plan ahead for regular occurrences, the day-to-day task change-ups make farming interesting and challenging. Bring on 2015.

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These snow flurries are about to be a common occurrence. Bring it on.

Back in the game

It’s time to get this blog rollin’. We have a few family updates to get out of the way: Brigette got married this fall to a nice gentleman named Ed and Elaine moved back to Michigan to begin the next step of her career.

We’re looking forward to what 2015 has to offer – and how is it that we’re talking about it already? – but truly grateful for the blessings of 2014.