Sunday, July 20, 2014

More catching up - it has been a busy two months!

   At the same time we were building prom dresses and prepping for graduation, there were other things happening in our lives. I had shows I was designing - Unnecessary Farce, and The Marvelous Wonderettes; Caps and Gowns, at Chenango River Theatre.  
     My husband and I felt like we were living in the field and barn, prepping for the arrival of the sheep. There were fences to build and gates to attach, or move, as well as feeders to shift, hay suppliers to find; you get the idea.
Stretching fences

A straight, tight fence
      We had decided on Finnsheep - and after months of looking at other breeds - Black Welsh Mountains, Icelandic, Shetlands, etc., we decided on this breed for a few reasons. First of all, they are polled, meaning they do not have horns.  Occasionally you might see a sport who has horns, but this is unusual.  Since we do not live at the farm, I felt it would be unsafe to have horned sheep.  What if they were caught in the fencing and we were not there to get them out?  One could argue that this could happen even if we did live on the farm, but, hey, let's keep it simple!
    We also liked the prolificacy of the breed - they are known for nearly always twinning, and triplets and quads are not uncommon.  In some cases they throw litters.  One of our lambs is a sextuplet.  This has advantages and disadvantages.  Profits from sheep can be linked to successful live births - more lambs to raise, sell or eat, depending on your preference.  Also, lamb from multiple births (it has been argued) are smaller than singles, so it is easy for the mother to deliver them.  Multiples can  have their own problems: one  dying in utero can compromise the birth of its litter mates, more possibilities for bottle lambs if the mother cannot feed  many lambs, etc.
     Another aspect of Finns that I like is the fleece is soft (Welsh Mountain and Icelandic can be scratchy) and it is relatively low in lanolin, which means less scouring to remove the grease for spinning.  And they are smallish sheep - larger than Icelandics, larger than Shetlands, but nothing like the 300 pound Hampshires that our neighbor runs.   I am not a big person; 5'3" on a good day (shrinking a bit, I am afraid!) and although I am strong, I was worried about trying to seat a 300 pounder to trim its hooves.  Full grown ewes tend to be between 130 and 180 pounds, and the rams  mature to 170 upwards to 240.
    And they are sweet.  Having haunted the 4-H barns at the County Fair for the past couple of years, I  have seen many different breeds.  All have their own personalities, but  Finns are generally very docile. Sheep are prey animals.  They have no defences except flocking and running away.  I really did not want a flock that I had to spend all kinds of time chasing all over the barn if I needed to inoculate them, or halter them.  After visiting the shepherd we eventually bought our flock from and seeing how the sheep were willing to snuggle right next to my youngest son, we knew this was our breed.
Coming home in dog crates in the cars
    So, the day after graduation we drove two hours out into "God's Country" - the rural, green and gorgeous upstate NY and picked up five lambs. We have two rams and three ewes.  Two rams so we have ore genetic diversity in the lambing process, and, because sheep are flocking animals and do not do well alone, so there were two boys to keep each other company.

Guess who likes carrots?
Rosie - a bottle lamb who thinks people are her flock
While all the others act like sheep, Rosie  acts like a puppy - following along, climbing up your leg looking for carrots in your pocket
      We were all going to name a lamb - 5  family member, 5 lambs, but on the way home in the cars, the lambs were named by our children.  We have Sam - white ram, Frodo (how could it be anything else with a Sam?) the black ram, Arwen is the white ewe, Rosie is our brown ewe, and Maxine is the black ewe.  you may say, "Wait, there are no black  sheep, just dark brown." The tips of their fleece get  lightened by the sun, but if you look deeper into the fleece, it is a very dark brown/black.

Sam, Arwen, and Rosie

Maxine and Frodo

Rosie likes nothing better than being next to someone - especially if you are petting her!
So begins our great shepherding adventure.  We have already given them their inoculations this month, the first shots I have ever given in my life!  Soon we will be trimming hooves, but for now we are just working on getting the routines of farm life down.
    More later...

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