Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Learned a LOT on that Sheep, Tom!

Ever have a project where everything went wrong? And I mean everything.

1st lambs on Homestead Hill

That was our introduction to shepherding.

Maybe it just seemed like everything. Otherwise we would have been foolish to continue. While I am exaggerating to some degree when I say EVERYTHING went wrong, it is very true that nothing about the project went according to plan.

Honestly, I have no idea why we soldiered on.  Well, yes, I do. It was this. 

See this face? I think that had something to do with it. And, we’re no quitters!

But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Somewhere along the way in our farming/learning adventures, we decided to diversify into sheep.  We had given up hog raising (that story is another lesson), the goats had found new homes (hmm, there’s a lesson in that one, too!) and we were looking for something besides beef and chicken to round out the protein entries for the supper table.

“You should raise sheep!”  our friendly, neighborhood shepherdess suggested. She had just come back from her annual pilgrimage to Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and she was all excited about the Lambassador and Lamb Sausage. She introduced us to the deliciousness that is lamb.

Long story, short.  We bought some bottle babies…hoping to have some meat in the freezer.

 However, one look at that face…and I was pretty sure that wasn’t happening.

Dorset ewes
So, we bought some old, culled (CHEAP) ewes from the friendly, neighborhood shepherdess. And, a ram.  We would keep the bottle babies (they were grown up now), breed the sheep and raise our own lambs.  

Visions of lamb chops and sausage danced in our heads.

The two old ewes bred easily. (so maybe EVERYTHING didn't go wrong)  And everyone settled into the wintertime routine.

When March came, it was time to shear.  That’s what the friendly shepherdess did, so we followed suit. She had a hand-shearer come and clip the wool so it could be used for fiber arts.

shearing the sheep

We had no idea how to shear, so we got a local shepherd to shear the sheep for us.  He made it look so easy with his whirling shearing machine that it seemed that one of us should have been able to do it and save all that money. Later, the Boss and Blondie did just that. (yet another story for yet another day)

Unlike hand shearing, machine shearing leaves very little wool behind. Very little...as in the ewes were now nearly naked.

The ewes were also very pregnant at this point and the complete loss of wool was a shock to their bodies…especially when it got down to 13*.  Yeah, 13* in March…late March.  Who “woulda thunk it”?

One of the ewes got sick---very sick. All our vet books were consulted, but a treatment was unclear.  A farm call from the local veterinary clinic was going to be pricey. So we made a panicky phonecall to the friendly shepherdess who just happens to be married to a veterinarian.

Yes, it sounded like she had pregnancy ketosis.  She would need some careful nursing, but should recover.  Vet-husband told us what to do without purchasing expensive medications.

I spent hours and hours during the better part of the next week sitting in the sheep shed, coaxing a mixture of molasses and yogurt down the old ewe’s throat. The mixture gave her energy (she had no will to eat) and provided some good stuff for her digestive system. Not only was her health at risk, so were her unborn lambs.  She did indeed recover.  Later, while I was in town, she delivered TRIPLETS! (with the help of the Boss and Blondie) That were promptly dubbed "Shish, Kay and Bob"(say it out loud)...who, for the record, did actually end up on the table.


The other ewe was hugely fat.  Grotesquely fat. This had been an issue all along, but it's really hard to put a sheep on a fitness diet. She actually delivered a very tiny, deformed lamb that didn’t survive.  It was probably because the mother was just so fat. Her fate was a very quick trip to the stockyard (where she probably should’ve gone in the first place).

Learned a lot on that sheep, Tom!

This expression (in various renditions) has been oft-repeated over the years.

More sheep...more lessons. Believe me, I could write a book on the things sheep alone have taught us over the years.

Lessons learned:
(this is a very abbreviated list)

There is a reason shepherds don’t keep old sheep.  
There is a reason most locals do NOT shear in March.
And, I fully understand why shepherding is no longer popular in the Valley.

But...lamb chops are DELICIOUS!

And, 12 years later, we raise some awesome lamb chops!

PLEASE read this one for further information about  eating lamb.

Are you following the other Ag Bloggers in the 30 day challenge?  Check it out HERE!


  1. I am partial to those lamb chops Barbara. Yes - farming 'from scratch' is full of hard experiences, but worth it in the end.

  2. Um, also, had lamb sausage at the S & W festival 2 yrs. ago. First time. It was The Best sausage I have ever had. WOW. Yum.

    Enjoying your 30 days of blogging. A lot. :) m & jb

    1. Isn't that stuff awesome? We don't get ours processed quite like that, but it is delicious...if I do say so myself.
      Glad you're enjoying it! Gotta keep typing. ;)

  3. I can't wait to hear the hog raising lesson! But yea there's a good reason most people got out of the sheep business. Not to mention some sound reasoning behind most "local" practices...although sometimes the locals can get a little stuck in a rut when it comes to changing practices. That's probably a lesson for another day too huh? Can't wait to read this month's lessons!

    1. I'm pretty sure you'd do some serious ROFL after some of our hog "adventures".
      You're right about local practices and ruts. I'm not a big fan of change myself, so I find that rather comforting, although sometimes it's frustrating.
      I'm thinking and typing (and re-typing) as fast as I can!
      Thanks for reading! :)