Lightening the Load…



As you might have imagined, the last fortnight has been a bit of a challenge for us in so many ways.

Maggie’s accident, surgery and now recooperation time has been quite the schedule and routine changer.   We’re adapting for sure, and going into this third week has been a whole lot better in so many ways.  However, it’s not just been the accident that has placed a sort of heavy load on us all!  We just came out of lambing season with all the excitement and joy that brought, as first time lamb shepherds, it had a lot of stress, unknown issues and challenges to us city girls!  Ain’t never birthed a lamb before…  nope!  And to suddenly have nine of the little fellas ripping around and causing trouble, well, let’s just say it was an eye opener experience!   And then you add a momma cat and her eight kittens…  well, that has it’s efforts and challenges as well.  And trying to get our garden in to some of my expectations…  client work…   yard work…. increased chores….  whew…  it’s a wonder we actually remember to shower or buy groceries!

When I found myself feeling the need to sleep too much and sort of avoid the world a bit, I knew it was a reaction to a bit too much stress and such.  Some folks can handle it better than others.  Our life has become pretty simple and calm, so to us, this has been a wild couple weeks!  I think I’m ready for a bit of a break!  Or at least, a lightening of the load we have placed on our backs.

I was really starting to worry a bit about our sheep situation.  We had sold two sheep successfully, and planned to keep three…  but that left four lambs that needed homes.  It would be neat to be able to keep all the animals we bred this year, but the firm reality is that our sheep are not pets, they are livestock.  And they have roles in our scheme of things.  The breeding and raising of lambs is a two fold situation.  It helps us to develop a strong herd of ewes and the sale of some helps to finance the winter feed bill.  We used 83 bales of hay last year to feed the flock.  And unfortunately, with the drought, hay averaged $8 a bale.  That’s $664 dollars.   Add in about 200 pounds of sweet feed for the cold parts of the winter for another $40 and then $125 for shearing and meds… and you’re looking at about $750 a year to keep sheep!

(To be perfectly fair in this whole equation, I think that’s not such a bad cost when you consider it costs us about the same to keep two dogs!)

Still, it would be nice if the sheep could help to provide for some of their upkeep in the sale of wool and lambs.  I’ve sold and bartered the equivalent of $200 in wool so far.  And sold $200 in lambs.  So we’re about half the way there.  Still have a lot of wool left, so that is fair to say, a bit of credit in the bank.   But that still left 4 lambs.  I had an offer from a friend around the bend for two of them…  but that left two more, ram lambs.

It was becoming very apparent that the testosterone level in my herd was way out of whack.  With 5 ram lambs and two older whethers, they almost outnumbered the ewes.  And as cute little week old critters, they were adorable, but as almost 3 month old rams?  Shesh…  the head butting and postering was getting out of control.  One evening, Luther was headbutting Bridget so hard, they were both a little loopy from the experience.  (Bridget had butt Noel, his mom, and Luther decided to put Bridget in her place, which was pretty funny since Bridget outgunned him three or four times to one…  still, gotta admire his need to protect his momma.)  Thing is after they were done, he went and rammed me in the leg!  Unacceptable!  And then a bit later, Merle came up and head butt me in the leg as well!

I knew that I had to do something soon.  So I popped the extra boys on Craigslist and immediately got responses… for MEAT!  oh no….   That really gave me pause for thought.  I know that the fact of extra males in the farmyard is usually the freezer.  It is the case with chickens, turkeys, hogs, goats and sheep.  (Cody pony is quite pleased to not be included in that list!)  But I hoped all my babies would end up in loving fiber homes, not on the platter with a rice dish.  Thankfully, the first two offers were very low so I was able to wave them off as I thought more about this.

It occurred to me that I really didn’t have a good exit strategy for this first lambing season.   I guess I just assumed that there would be a line waiting for my beautiful lambs.  That’s what all the how to books say…  they make it so easy sounding…  “after you sell the last of your lambs, you can reconsider your herd plans for the coming year…”   of course,  they failed to mention that you might not find good homes for those lambs!  I thought, well, there is always the livestock auction.  So I checked on the prices…. oh no!   The going price right now, when EVERYONE is selling off their randy little rams… is 10 cents a pound to a high of 70 cents a pound.  That means my little dumplins, that weight less than 25 pounds would be less than the cost of a burger or a meal at the local fry joint.  That just didn’t sound right.

The local meat packing house had a slightly better deal…  $1.10 to $1.25 a pound for young lamb.  Still…  how could I drop off my babies knowing the horrors that lay before them.  It was a real dilemma.

With the help of my local homesteading clan, I posted the question and asked a lot of the veteran goat and sheep herders for their advice and pretty quickly, I had a new game plan.  Since the little dudes were growing well on grass and water, why not raise them up until fall and then sell or butcher for our own freezer or to offer as barter meat, or the very least… use as dog chow for our own canines.  I was buying store lamb and rice chow at a premium, why not our own grass fed, no drugs lamb for our special friends?  The only problem with this scenario is that we were not ready to have to house two separate flocks…  because it was apparent that we could not keep all these “feeder” lambs in with the main flock and keep from getting knocked over all the time.  It would cost some to fix up the weed patch as the potential “feed lot” on our farm.  Not a lot, but it would need a little better rain and shade shelter for the boys…  and also a bit of heavier fencing in a few weak spots to make a constant paddock for them.   It’s a big pasture and they would do well on it, but still… we were looking at a couple hundred in cost and then the time and effort to get it done, NOW…  Neither of which I had laying around at this point!

All the sudden, I had a lightbulb go off!   Why not trade or barter for these lambs, or for the fencing or some combination of the two.   And since Tom was interested in the other two… I started with him.  And since he was cash poor but resource rich, we struck a fantastic deal!    He took the other two ram lambs to grow as feeders on his farm (which he was set up to do…)  and in exchange, I got a handsome set of Durrock feeder hogs for our farm (which we are set up to do!).  These pair, that we named Oscar and Meyer, are nearly 60 pounds already, weaned and a pair of shoats (males) so they will grow nice and big in no time.   They will be nice companions for Ebony when she comes back from being bred.   And they will have a date with destiny about the time of her own piglet delivery so they won’t hurt or interfere with that.  (We will probably let the hogs stay together for a while, but then move Ebony to a adjacent stall as she progresses through her pregnancy to avoid any roughhousing.   They will still be able to hang out with each other and keep each other all company.

It was a delightful barter!  I have another year now to get ready for extra lambs if that happens, and in the meanwhile, we’ll get about 200+ pounds of pork for the freezer come fall.  Granted, we will have feed costs for the hogs, but still, around here good pork is easily at least $3 a pound, so that’s a $600 dollar increase for the farm’s bottom line.  I would say that the sheep/lambs have earned their keep!

Cody pony better watch out…  (gg)

Aside from all those plans and considerations, to say the least, it was a huge relief when we packed up the last of the lambs in Tom’s truck and watched them roll off to their new life.  He has a flock and they will be adding to it.  I imagine one or two of the lambs might end up in the freezer, but, well, that is the deal…  still, they will have lovely pasture and a good summer to enjoy.

We also took in our first batch of meat chickens last Tuesday and they returned 70 pounds of chicken for the freezer and a lot less chores and feed cost.  Just in the week they have been gone, it amazed me how much feed they were actually going through at 14 weeks of age!  And the mess!  Oh my!  That was a huge relief to not have to worry about them anymore.

And we found good homes for our two half breed angora rabbits, Sophie and Pascale.   They were half English and French bunnies from our last litter that we learned are less desirable to the fiber folks.  We have decided to concentrate on just the French pedigreed Angoras and finding a good home with a young 4H lady was another lightening of our load!  We moved Velvet out to the little coop and moved our stud bunny in with our only two French girls for a little romp and romance.  We hope that they will have litters in a month or so…  since we have a waiting list for our French pedigreed buns!  Still, having four less cages to deal with, is a huge help for Jessy!

But one of the biggest things to help concerned Amber and her huge litter of kittens.   We called around and our local shelter was willing to take them in if we paid their fee for neutering.  I could only afford to take in Amber and four of her five identical boys at this time.  We are keeping one of the torbie girl kittens, Lilly, and we brought her other three siblings into the house for another week or so to see if we can find them homes.  Unfortunately, with the heat, we had to let them into the screen porch as well as the mud room, and that area is not so well protected.  Amber started to come and go, and we learned that she is a very skilled hunter.  Much too much so…  she began to bring back prey for her kittens in the form of mice, chipmunks, birds, baby rabbits, snakes, swallows, and then the last straw…  she killed 8 of Maggie’s hen’s chicks one late afternoon before we knew what was going on.  It was dreadful.   I know that cats like to hunt… but Luna has been our only main hunter and since she was well fed, she would only take out the small field mice in our poultry barn that liked to get into the chicken feed.  So that was a good thing.  Occasionally, she would catch a chipmunk.  But Amber!  She was killing machine!    And I don’t know why she felt the need to do so much… we fed them all constantly!  I was buying a HUGE bag of kitten chow every week for the last couple weeks!

And then, the steps in the mudroom had become a cat flop house…  our two barn kitties had decided the living was good in there as well, so we had eleven felines all just laying around, eating and pooping (in the litter box but still…  yikes… 11 cats!)  and it was just getting awful.  They were leaving half eaten victims laying about, and just making a mess by knocking things over off shelves and such.  It was keeping Jessy busy for certain and it was apparent that we Windhaven ladies will not become cat ladies in the near future!!!  Sheep ladies, maybe, but not cat ladies!!!

We had many nice folk on our Facebook page offer ideas like low cost spay and neuter clinics, but they all had at least SOME fee, usually $25 to $40 a cat and then you had to take them back!!!  Unfortunately, the $400+ bucks to do that is not in our budget, nor is the ability to keep 13 cats in total here!   It was just too much!

Now we have our number down to eight cats.  Duke and Baron have gotten over the strange disappearance of their lady love and her brood.  I actually saw both of them out in the barns doing barn kitty things again!  (They had become weird uncles in the whole kitty gang scheme of things.)  Jessy and I cleaned out the mudroom and screen porch and removed all the kitty leftovers and litter box.  We made a little kitty corral in the house, in our farm nook area and brought in a big dog crate to serve as their temporary safe spot.  Maggie is thrilled to have the new job of getting the four kittens used to inside home life… and often has all four snoozing on her as she recuperates on the couch.  We have a friend that might be looking for a kitten in a few days as they are loosing their old forever kitty to cancer.  And the shelter says we can bring the others in as soon as we are financially able.  We’ll see how the week goes.  But changing that whole outside, over population situation was another HUGE burden off our shoulders right now.

It hasn’t totally sunk in yet, all these changes, but they are going to, tomorrow I suspect!   Less cats, less sheep, less chickens, less bunnies…  wonderful!  Two pigs?  No problem.  Pigs are really pretty easy to raise.   They don’t seem to mind confinement and they just pretty much like to eat and drink and sleep.   It was pouring rain this early evening as I brought the sheep in from the back pasture.  I got them in their paddock just as it started to sprinkle hard so I grabbed Buttercup and Daisy and ran for the big barn in the back just before it came down in BUCKETS…  Knowing I wasn’t going anywhere for a little bit, I settled into my comfy lawn chair out there, just for these occasions and promptly had two goatie girls on my lap…  (note to self… Buttercup is getting BIG!!!)  Still, I didn’t mind.  We all sat in the deafening silence of the storm, snuggled up and sharing a little moment together.

The two pigs came over to the stall fence after awhile, grunting that soft little piggy grunt of interest and investigation.  I actually got them both to sniff my hand a bit and not run in terror.  I added a bale of old straw in their pen and it was just wonderful to sit and watch them dig through it and make a big comfy hog nest in the corner of their new home.  I gave them all an apple I had in my pocket for Cody…  and Oscar, Meyer, Buttercup and Daisy enjoyed crunching on it’s sweetness as we watch the rain fall.  At one point poor Bucka Roo came running into the barn, soaking wet and just a mess!   He must has been out on a field trip and it took him a while to reach the safety of his home base.  He fluffed and shook and came over to sit and preen himself back to some normal state, joining our little barn party.  I was almost sad when it let up and I had to put the girls to bed and head back to finish up dinner.  It felt so good to just have this HUGE sigh of relief off my shoulders with these several adjustments to the homestead.  Now I can concentrate on getting the rest of my life in order!  Yah!!!!



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About Mobymom

the banjo player for Deepwater Bluegrass, and the editor of as well as the main graphic designer of the Westvon Publishing empire. She is a renaissance woman of many talents and has two lovely daughters and a rehab mobile home homestead to raise.

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