Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Winter Flock and Guardian Donkey

The other day was warm, I thought it would be a good day to take pictures of the sheep, but they didn't seem t be doing anything too interesting, they were just standing in the sun, in the shed.  I still thought this would be a good time to take pictures since the pictures can be used to show people what a shed for livestock looks like.

At the time only the sheep, and donkey, were in the shed.  Crystal, the llama, must have been off somewhere doing her own thing.

The lambs are not due until March, which is much better than last year when they started delivering new years eve and continued through the cold months of January and February.  This year has at least been warmer, and lots less snow too.  I am sure the sheep are happy to have a better winter.

I took these pictures only a few days ago, everyone is on their best behavior, waiting to see what Santa might bring them for Christmas.

I had to take two pictures of my small sheep flock, and have no idea of how to splice them together to make one big picture.  In the first pictures we have, from left to right, Girlie sheep, Patsy sheep (laying down) and Aggie the donkey, as well as Mrs White Katahdin.

*Yes, some farmers do name their animals.

In the second picture we see, starting from the left, the as yet unnamed Dorper ram.  In front of him is Diamond sheep.  In front of Diamond is Blackie, and Blackie's mom, Favorite Sheep (the one that had the stroke a few years ago).  Back in the shed, behind Diamond we see Mrs Dark Brown Barbado (named Dark Brown because when we got her we first had two and she was the darker one), and to the far right, and still in the shed is Mrs Brown Katahdin.

I think for Christmas we will give them an extra snack of hay around noon and some cut up apples.  They really love those.  We buy the discounted apples at the grocery store as they make a nice treat for the sheep and Aggie.   We may even put a few out for the birds too.

On behalf of myself, husband, and daughter, and all our critters, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and happy holiday season, be sure to keep extra care of your pets over the holidays, so many times we get busy and forget about them out in the cold. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Goats that Fall Down

When I attend the odd and unusual livestock auctions everyone always looks forward to the fainting goats.  These small goats are super cute and when scared their legs freeze up and they often fall right over, they lay there fully away but immobile for about 5-15 seconds, until their muscles relax, then they jump up and carry on. 

The condition these goats have is myotonia congentia and as a result they are often called Myotonic goats, fainting goats, or wooden leg goats.  The gene responsible for this condition is recessive, but has been found in other animals, including humans and cats.

I found the above video on YouTube, it is not my Goat, his name is Gonzo.

In the goats one sudden scare causes their muscles to freeze up, they lose balance and fall to their side.  The younger goats are more prone to falling, as the older ones soon learn to brace themselves.  Although once used as meat goats these animals have since become popular as novelty pets.

Myotonic goats  tend to be docile as a result of their condition and have a poor time climbing fences - which is something many other goats are noted for doing, as such they can be good pets for people who are new to the world of keeping goats.  The biggest concern is that they are very vulnerable to predators, such as coyotes or dogs.  It is not necessarily true that predators will be confused when the goat falls over, it might just be thrilled at the chance for an easier kill.

If you are looking for a cute, novelty, goat breed, then Myotonic goats may be just what you are looking for.  I have seen prices at the Innisfail Auction Market, Alberta, for Myotonic goats being anywhere from $30 to over $100.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Free Cats for Farmers

Farmers often have no problem getting “free” cats for their barn, but many do not bother to vaccinate their cats, or to spay or neuter them, as a result they often have more kittens than they need, or have sick cats.

On the other side of the coin there are always cats surrendered to animal shelters that are not suitable for adoption in most homes. Cats who are not using their litter box for behavioral reasons rather than treatable medical ones, are normally euthanized as “unadoptable” by most shelters.

Most of these cats would make suitable barn cats, or good shop cats, and as such many shelters are now trying to saves as many of these cats as they can by offering them up in such a way.

The Edmonton Humane Society is one place that has recently started a “Barn Buddies” program to give these cats a second chance. The cats are free (but donations are always welcome) and come vaccinated, chipped and spayed or neutered. They are also friendly. To note, some shelters do adopt out feral (less friendly) cats to farm homes as well. The Edmonton Humane Society requires interested people to apply with them for this program.

Potential adopters are required to have:

  • A barn or building where the cat can find shelter from bad weather.
  • Food for the cat. Note that a well fed cat is a better mouser.
  • The right attitude to make sure the cat is cared for and receives veterinary attention as needed.

If you are bringing home a new cat to the farm or shop, it should be kept in an enclosed space with food and water for several days to help it bond to the area.

If you are a farmer who could benefit from such a program please contact your local animal shelter to see if they have cats available under such a system.

The information for the Edmonton Humane Society's Barn Buddies program is here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Snowy Morning and Bad Llama

A couple of days ago we woke up to snow, the first so far.  Normally, here in Alberta, we would have had more by now, but the fall has been wonderful.  Even the bit that we did get was not enough to shovel. 

The animals can still get grass but in the fall there is very little nutrition in the grass so we feed hay, just once a day for now, they will get fed twice a day later when we really start getting snow, and winter sets in. 

Naughty llama

We do have proper feeders near the barn for feeding hay, but have 2 bales near the house which we are feeding now.  One of the round bales was just a bit too close to the fence and Crystal decided to help herself.  As a result she has bent the fence.  I nailed a board across the top, but she leaned on it so bad it broke off.  Eventually the bale will be out of reach, but it's funny because even when there is plenty in the pasture she insists on eating from the bale.  I think it is because she has it all to herself that way. 

I always try to throw out several piles of hay because the animals tend to move around from pile to pile and push others away, by having extra piles it means everyone gets something to eat.

Patsy and Girlie having breakfast
As we only have 10 acres we do not grow our own hay, rather we buy it and have it delivered.  We do not even have a tractor to move bales around, so must feed by hand.  Certainly small square bales are easier to feed, but they cost more money, and are getting harder to find.  As such we buy the large round bales and have them delivered. 
We put tarps over the bales to protect them, sun can take away nutrition from hay, and if water gets into the bales they will rot!

When we buy the hay it is always hardest to know how much to buy.  In the past we have not bought enough and had to get some in the spring.  This was often because it kept snowing, and snowing, and snowing, so we kept feeding, and feeding, and feeding.  Hopefully this spring we will not have to worry about that and I will not need any more hay.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pumpkins for the Sheep

A few years ago I carved a pumpkin and left it outside over night, when I woke up the next morning it was gone, only the burnt top remained.  I thought somebody stole it, but deer droppings made me realize that the deer had come by and eaten it up.

Sheep like pumpkins too, in fact most animals do.  After Halloween this year I had 3 pumpkins and no plans to make pie so I thought it would be nice to throw them over the fence for the sheep to eat.  I think the action of throwing these massive orange gourds over the fence scared the sheep for a few minutes, but it was not long before the more curious ewes approached.

Diamond sheep (pictured to the right) seemed  enjoy eating these large squash the most, with her sister, Favorite, and niece, Blackie sheep, also enjoying some pumpkin too, while most of the others stayed back.  Blackie (below) was quite comical as she even tried to roll the pumpkins around, pushing them with her forehead.

Pumpkins are loaded with nutritional benefits for pets and people.  They have beta carotene for eye health and are loaded with fiber to keep everyone regular.  The pumpkin seeds are said to help reduce the worm load in some animals, but are also noted for being particularly good to combat depression.

Giving pumpkins to the sheep to eat was also a way to break up the monotony of their day, even zoos often give some of their animals pumpkins at this time of the year, to play with and eat.

Many of our house pets can eat pumpkin too; birds, cats, and dogs, as well as rodents and reptiles.

If your pet has not had pumpkin before be sure to introduce this treat slowly.  As carnivores, cats won't eat too much pumpkin, but it is noted for helping control hairballs.  Rabbits will also enjoy pumpkin too.

If you used your pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns be sure to remove any candle wax and burnt areas from the inside of your pumpkin before you give them to your pets.

Crystal, our llama, usually charges ahead to investigate anything new but even she was concerned about these strange round objects.

Your pets will certainly enjoy this post-Halloween treat.  If you do not have pets, be sure to leave your pumpkins out for deer or birds, who may enjoy the different treat.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Always a Daughter, Also a Friend

People seem to think that livestock animals are without feelings to one and other.  By observing my own flock I clearly see this is untrue, not only do farm animals often form friendships with their own kind, they do tend to remember their offspring.  This contradicts what people are sometimes told, as I was often told as a child that farm animals do not remember their offspring after it is weaned, and particularly after they give birth the following year.

I do notice that even years later the sheep that were related tend to hang around each other more than with their non-relatives.  Mother's and daughters seem more close than sibling pairs. 

Dark Brown Barbado is a sheep we bought at auction, one we have had for a few years.  Early in 2009 she had twin lambs, Girlie being one of them.  Girlie is part wool sheep, she gets a woolly coat that sheds erratically and looks funny unless cut off. 

When the lambs were young I had told my daughter she could pick one to keep.  Her most favorite lambs happened to be rams, so she had to make another choice, and selected Dark Brown Barbado's lamb which she since named Girlie.  To make Girlie friendlier my daughter took her into a stall and gave her lambs starter pellet treats from her hand every day.   It was not long before Girlie learned to go to my daughter for regular treats. 

Girlie has had 2 sets of lambs herself, and has always remained friends with her mother.  This fall I took the picture of the two ewes standing in the pasture and thought they were posed quite nice, so wanted to share the photo here.

Girlie is in the back, with her mom, Dark Brown Barbado in the front. They are both starting to get their warmer winter coats.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Bright New Ram for Fall

After lambing in January and early February I had decided that this year I would plan smarter for lambs in later February or March.   As it happened there was a livestock Auction in the middle of September.  That ended up being a bit of a disaster.  We were planning on selling some chickens and ducks at the auction anyhow so got an early morning start, only to arrive at the Auction market and find out the auction was postponed until the following week. 

So once again we loaded our birds for the sale and looked forward to finding a ram for our small flock of ewes.  The problem was that not a single sheep was brought to that particular auction.  There were plenty of goats, pigs, and alpacas, but not one sheep.

We went home and looked on line at our favorite website for buying and selling livestock, but there were no rams for sale within a reasonable distance.   Panic was setting in.

Finally we found a guy, whom we had bought a ram from in the past, and as luck would have it he did have a ram for sale. 

Most people have larger farms and can keep a few rams, but with only 10 acres and no way of keeping them apart we do not keep a ram all year or we would risk him breeding ewes too soon and having lambs when we least want them!  As such we buy a ram in the fall, and sell him in the spring.

The ram we bought this year is a lovely black and white Dorper x Katahdin.  Not a purebred, but that is alright as our flock is mostly mixed ewes anyhow.  Our biggest concern was finding a ram, and we really wanted a hair sheep.

Our new ram was brought to us in the evening and it was already dark, by next day I went out to take pictures of him and watched as he tried to join the flock.  Crystal. the llama, was not about to hurt him, but I found this one picture perfect as the girls seemed to take shelter behind her.

Our new ram might just end up being called Oreo, for lack of any more original name, he is quite nice, and not as nervous around people as our last ram.  He is still young so will be big and handsome by spring when his lambs arrive.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Auction that Wasn't

Every spring and fall in our area there are auctions for birds and sheep. We need a ram for the fall and want to get rid of some of the chickens and ducks as we do not have proper places to over winter those animals. I called the local auction market a month ago to find out when the sale was. I was informed it would be September 18. I need to know this because as we live in a tourist area we often work weekends and need to book time off to go to the auction.

The farm truck had not been started in over a year, that was another issue, We needed the truck to pull the trailer so we could bring home a ram. I really should not have waited until three days before the auction to try it out, but sure enough it was dead. After a lot of tinkering (and a jump start from a neighbor) we got it running, but when we turned it off it died. The price of a new battery would be more than a ram so we thought we would just go to the auction and see if anyone there could drive our new ram home.

The morning of the auction was cold, it had rained the night before and dropped below freezing for the first time this month. We got out at 8:30 in the morning to catch the birds and box them up, our hands were numb! But we got them all boxed up and the boxes just fit into our small car and off we went to the auction market.

One interesting thing did happen as we were boxing up the birds. The polish rooster screamed when he was caught and one of our cats came running, she started hissing like crazy. I don't know if she thought she was protecting us or him.

pic taken at an earlier auction

Something seemed a bit odd as we drove up, and as we got closer to the auction market it was clear. The auction had been postponed. There was a sign on the gate saying it would be next week, instead of this week. Apparently a fund raising (Terry Fox) marathon was taking place so they had to change dates. I am sure they published this in the newspaper, but we never saw anything ourselves.

I felt foolish driving home with all our birds.  The car stunk!

So... we will give it another go this Sunday, and will head to the Thorsby Auction market once again to sell our birds and buy a ram.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Selection of a Ram for Breeding Season

Fall time is when most people select the ram for their sheep production flock.  A sheep producer should be thinking about this well ahead of the time they require a ram. 

The first step in selecting a ram is to look at your ewes.  Do they have any genetic flaws that you need to avoid in your ram?  If so you need to keep this in the back of your mind when looking for your ram.  Consider what your desired lambs will look like and focus on finding a ram that will fill that gap. 

Are you breeding for meat or to produce more breeding animals?  If your goal is to produce mostly butcher lambs you need a ram that is bred for that purpose, but he does not need to be purebred, or registered.  If your goal is to produce more breeding animals, or those for show, and resale, you will want to spend more money and find a registered ram, ideally one who has proven himself at shows, or who has produced lambs who have done well.

The age of your the ram should be no younger than 5 months, by that time he will show you his potential, although he should not be put with too many ewes at this young age.  You probably will not want to buy a ram that is more than 5 years of age if you intend to keep him for many years as fertility will decline after this age.

Look at the overall condition of the ram.  Check his feet for signs of foot rot if it is known in your area.  Examine his teeth especially if you are intersted in keeping his lambs as future breeding stock.  It should also be said that a ram with small testicles should not be considered for breeding.  Ask to see his mother.  If she has lambed look at her udder;  you should not buy a ram from a ewe that has a poor udder if you want to keep ewe lambs from him for future breeding purposes.

Be sure to ask about general health of the flock and if he has been vaccinated or wormed.  Look at other sheep at the farm you are buying from, if you see any that are poorly looking, you may want to consider the overall health of the flock/farm as it relates to the prospect ram.  If the ram is thin he will need lots of extra feed to stay in top shape for breeding your ewes.

If your ewes are smaller do not over match the ram for them or they will have a difficult time giving birth and you may have several dead ewes and plenty of bottle baby lambs to look after.  Select a ram whose breed is comparable to your ewes, if they are first time lambers you may even want to select a ram that is a slightly smaller breed than the ewes. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Using Llamas as Guard Animals for Sheep or Goats

Not long ago a Llama could command thousands of dollars at a sale in North America, now a knowledgeable buyer can pick one up for under $10. I have even seen people pay to have them taken away.
What was once suppose to be a bottomless market hit bottom, and today, although a few people do still raise them for fiber, one of the main uses of Llamas is to guard other livestock, such as sheep and goats.

Tips on getting a Llama to guard your livestock.
  • Get one that is friendly, and ideally halter trained.
  • Get only one – that way it will stay with your livestock, if you get more than one they form their own herd and do their own thing.
  • An intact male Llama can be mean to your other animals, a gelded male, or female will be much better.
  • Buy a Llama with a low quality fleece, that way you do not have to worry about shearing it.
  • Buy a Llama that has been raised with sheep or goats.
You can tell she is not letting anything near this Jabob lamb.
How do Llamas Protect Sheep and Goats?

Being tall makes it easy for a Llama to see a predator approaching. They tend to be slightly more observant than sheep. When alerted to something new, or out of they usual, a curious Llama will typically approach the intruder. In the case of a coyote, who is not use to being approached in this way, they will usually turn and leave, a fox (more interested in your chickens than your sheep) might be equally confused. A single feral dog might turn and leave at this “threatening” move by your guard animal, who may simply only be curious.

By being observant, bold, and curious, the Llama, often scares away the intruder. If the predator does get close the Llama may try to spit at it (they have foul smelling spit, more likely to deter a human than an hungry predator), or kick.

This year I witnessed a coyote in the neighbors pasture.  The sheep were grazing in tall grass and did not see it, but the Llama did, she started walking towards it, simply looking curious and not aggressive.  The coyote fled.  Coyotes are not use to animals walking towards them, it found this intimidating and decided there was easier food elsewhere.  I am aware that our llama would have been no match against a hungry pack of coyotes. 

All in all Llamas are a fair, to good, defense against the occasional predator, however if you want tougher protection you might also want to add a donkey to your herd.

Llama versus Guard Dog?

I have not used a guard dog, and only have one llama, and one donkey for our small flock of sheep.  A dog requires dog food, and as such are much more expensive to feed than my llama.  As well any dog that is guarding sheep must be properly vaccinated, and protected againsts diseases.  Another fact worth remembering is that llamas do not like dogs - if you introduce a guard dog, or pet dog, your llama might hurt it, so keep introductions slow, and safe!

Only certain breeds of dog work well for guarding sheep, some (such as the Border Collie) will chase the sheep too much.  Some people find that by keeping dogs coyotes are more likely to come around, either attracted by a female in heat, or because they see the dog as an intruder in their area.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Does this Halter Make my Neck Look Fat?

Horse people often consider a donkey to be a rather funny looking animal, they have big ears, a thin tail, no withers, and can kind of look lumpy.  Horse people are well aware of what a fat horse looks like, but few understand how donkeys get fat.  I need to point out that it is fairly easy for a donkey to get fat, especially when kept with horses.  Donkeys are very food effecient, having come from Africa, and do not need as much food to survive, therefor a donkey with little activity, and a fair amount of food - will get fat!

To understand more about donkeys and fatness, we must look at the ships of the desert; the camel!

 Most people have the wrong idea about camels and their humps.  We have been told camels store water in their humps. A lot of children, and some adults, have the image of a camel with a hollow hump and water sloshing around in there, but this is not accurate at all.

The camel's hump is where it stores its fat. The hump is an adaptation to living in the hot desert. A camel's hump is made up of fat cells and muscle.  By storing all its fat in one, or two, humps, rather than distributing it all over its body (as most animals do) the camel can stay cool in the hot climate. Donkeys have a similar adaptation.

The donkey has its fat storage area along the sides of the crest of its neck.  When a donkey gets fat, the top of its neck gets thicker, and fatty.  In extreme cases the crest will even fall over.  At this point it is very hard to correct. 

Above you can see our donkey, Aggie, showing her displeasure at having her picture taken to demonstrate a fat donkey.  You will note how tall the grass is.  This summer we have had so much rain that our pasture is over grown.  This area is one of the more chewed down places, and the grass is still lush and tall. 

Aggie's neck did not get fat like this over night, it was a big bit when we got her (not unusual in our area) and got bigger since, but this year, it has gotten particularly bad.  This afternoon I am going out to give her some exercise to help it from getting worse.

I have seen some donkey's where they neck is falling down and we really do not want that to happen to Aggie.  At that point it is not uncommon for a donkey to get so fat it gets fat lumps all over its body. 

Owners of donkeys must remember that the donkey is adapted to areas where food is scarce, to over feed a donkey (to give it grain) can be cruel - we never give Aggie grain - she got this fat on grass alone!

Read more on Donkeys and Camels - click here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chicks, see how they Grow

Hatched on July 12, my little Cochin chicks are growing fast, and looking rather awkward.

Above with one chick (out of nine) showing after hatching.

The first two days they spent hinding under the hen, with the rooster always close by.  As the nesting area is raised I was concerned they would fall out and built a ramp.  By the third day she took the chicks out and started nesting with them under the laying area, so I bedded that with straw.

Young chicks need chick grower ration (which is what is in the dish the chick is standing on in the picture above).  They also will eat the mother hens ration, and scratch.  Chicks must be provided a safe place to drink fresh water. It needs to be a proper system so they do not get wet, as getting wet can be a real problem for chicks whose down will soak up the water (as well as getting a chill they can drown). 

Above we see the two-day-old Cochin chick just beginning to explore.

After a few more days they became quite independant.  The rooster in particular would keep a good eye out and would make a call if he suspected danger.  Rather than running to him, or the hen, the chicks would run and hide.  It was quite interesting to watch as they became invisible in tall grass in a second.

At a month old they have lost most of their down and are not looking quite as cute.  They explore and try to fly, often climbing up on some tall branches they have in their enclosure.  Their feet are getting feathers, and they are becoming quite brave.  If I offer them small bits of bread some chicks will take it from my hand, others wait for mother hen to take it and give it to them.  They also really like dandelion leaves.
Above the chicks at 1 month of age.  There are still  nine of them.

Although they are perhaps not as cute now, its interesting to see how their feathers change.  The one at the bottom of the picture looks proportionately bigger than the others, which is a bit of a trick of the camera but you can see how it has some bigger black feathers on its legs.

I do not Eat Sheep Meat

When I was young we lived in New Zealand for a  year; a country known for its sheep production.  Lamb was not exactly "cheap", but it was a common food in the area - and New Zealand lamb is exported world wide as a prime meat choice.

I never liked the taste of it, I always found it "gamey".  My mom, and everyone else in the family, loved it, and mom served it with mint sauce. Now, back in Canada, I keep sheep as pets, they mow the lawn, and I do not eat the meat.  To me it is no different than eating any other pet.

The term "lamb" is used to refer to the meat of any sheep under the age of one year old.  In some parts of the world the term "hogget" is used to denote the meat of an animal that is young, one year of age or so.  "Mutton" refers to the meat of a more mature animal, and is tougher. 

The age when the lamb is slaughtered can be broken down into more specific terms depending on the country it is slaughtered in.  Baby lamb comes from animals slaughtered between 6 and 8 weeks of age.  Most lamb is "Spring" lamb, coming from animals slaughtered between 3 and 5 months of age.

As I said I do not eat lamb.  I grew up in the city, and never learned the "mental" ability to kill my own meat.  I am a hypocrite in that I can raise lamb, but cannot even eat it, and having kept these animals (and chickens) as pets, I find myself becoming almost vegetarian!  Even so, I understand that some people do eat meat, and as such try to make sure my animals have good lives before they are sold. 

Sheep tend to be one of the luckier livestock animals in that for the most part (except for mulesing) in that they are not subjected to some of the cruel mass farming techniques that other livestock animals endure (such as feedlots). 

One thing we did notice is that the ethnic buyers prefer lambs that are left natural.  They do not want them wethered (castrated), they do not want their tails docked.  This is something producers should keep in mind if they wish to market their lambs to ethnic buyers (those from the middle east).

Lambs are usually slaughtered by being stunned and having their throats cut, being hung by one (or both) legs to allow the blood to drain.  Kosher slaughter is done when the animal is fully alert, meaning its throat is cut but it is not stunned first, they do not want the animals to know they are going to be killed, they do not want the animals to be afraid.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Grass is as High as a Sheeps Eye

The first seven months of 2011 have been nothing if not wet, and cold. Winter was long, snowy, and colder than typical. Anyone who thought spring would make up for it was wrong, anyone who thought summer would make up for a terrible winter and spring, was also wrong.

Winter was cold and wet, spring was cold, wet and windy, and summer continued the trend. The gloomy cloudy days made everyone miserable, the wind tore most of the sheet metal off my shed and the rain made everything soggy. Weeds were pretty happy, and the pasture did look greener than every.

Two years ago there was a drought in the area. Pigeon Lake, nearby, was way down from its usual, and even 2010 did not bring it up to where it should be.

We sold a few sheep in 2010 due to the drought, pasture was very poor that year, and rather than go through the same worries again it was just easier to sell a few sheep. In the spring of 2011 we sold Baby Katahdin, the ram, and all the lambs, so we were left with 8 ewes, Aggie the donkey, and Crystal, the llama. This seemed like a reasonable number of sheep.

July 28, 2011

The problem being that we had nothing but rain so the pasture did nothing but grow. All of central Alberta, and southern Alberta did much the same, although parts of northern Alberta experienced fires that left the town of Slave Lake ravaged (later it flooded).

You might think the animals were thrilled with all the grass... but no, they were being eaten by mosquitoes if they were not being pelted by rain, the shed had not much of a roof left so they mostly stayed in the old barn poking out only rarely to get something to eat, then going back to get away from the bugs. I have been here now 6 years, the mosquitoes were the worst I have ever seen.

July 28, 2011

For almost one week in July we had sun, but it was tempered with thundershowers at night. The lucky thing being this was the week our cochin chicks hatched at least they had some sun. I am not so sure if there has been a day with no rain, or not.

The sheep cannot keep up with the grass, and nor can we, lawn mowing is a never ending chore. The mosquitoes are not quite as bad and the grasshoppers are assisting in chewing down the pasture. Aggie is getting fatter and fatter (donkeys get fat on their necks) and we see the sheep now from time to time when they poke their heads up above the grass.

If you have been following this blog you know the sheep are Patsy in the front (with 5 horns), Mrs Brown Katahdin, Diamond, with Mrs White Katahdin tucked in behind, Girlie and her mom, Dark Brown, and off to the left is Favorite Sheep.  Blackie is only see in the above picture, where Aggie is also getting in on the shot.  Crystal is actually behind Aggie rolling in the mud/dirt.
To compare I will show you a picture taken in roughly the same spot two years ago.
Patsy in 2009 - same pasture as above.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fat Rumped Sheep

Typically when people think if sheep they think of a classic looking animal with white wool, and a docked tail.  When shown an image of a Fat Rumped sheep they think the poor thing has some sort of growth, but fat rumped, and fat tailed sheep represent about 20 - 25 % of the entire sheep population on the planet, most being the the Middle East, Africa, India, and parts of China. 

Fat rumped, and fat tailed sheep, are not new, they have been around before Biblical times, and are very adapted to their environments and a nomidic lifestyle in harsh conditions.  They are among the more unusual types of sheep.

photo source

Fat rumped, and fat tailed sheep do not have their tails docked, over time these areas get larger.  These sheep store fat in their tails, or rumps, much like a camel stores fat in its hump.  Few people know this, but donkeys store fat in the same way, along the sides of the crest of their neck.  The tails, or rumps, have been used in cooking, but is less popular now than years ago when other cooking oils and fats were harder to get.

Some of the more common breeds include the Blackhead Persian, which is a hair sheep, the Awassi, and the Karakul sheep, whom we have talked about before due to the cruel industry of harvesting fetal lambs.

Fat rumped, and fat tailed sheep are very exotic, and a bit funny looking to people who have not seen them before, but they are ideally suited to life in harsher desert areas. 

Read more, and see more pictures, of fat rumped, and fat tailed sheep, by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Facts about the Icelandic Sheep

Icelandic sheep are a medium size breed of wool sheep that come from Iceland.  They are the decendants of sheep brought over to Iceland by the Vikings.  Icelandic sheep have naturally short tails which are not docked in North America as this disqualifies them from being registered.

Some Icelandic sheep are polled (have no horns) and others are non-polled (have horns), and horns can occur in both genders. These sheep come in many colors, with black, and patterned, sheep being common, as well as shades of brown. The Icelandic sheep have clean faces (not woolly), and clean legs. Some producers will shear their Icelandic sheep twice a year, once in the late winter, and again in the early fall.

photo source

The fleece of an Icelandic sheep consists of a soft undercoat, known as thel, and a longer coarse outer coat, known as tog. Thel is very soft and often used for baby clothes, tog is ideal for weaving. The two are sometimes used together as lopi.

The fleece of an Icelandic sheep is low in lanolin and often considered to be of good quality. Their wool is often used for carpets.

The Icelandic sheep breed is over 1,100 years old and have a reputation for being cold hardy, and tough.  Their hardiness comes as a result of natural breeding, and selected breeding, in the harsh climate, and environment, that is Iceland, a country where grain is not produced, and summer is relatively short.

Icelandic sheep are very prolific, often having twins or triplets, often producers prefer ewes to only have a single for their first year.

In North America Icelandic sheep are registered with the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation, and must be tattooed.

More information on Icelandic Sheep:

About Horns on Sheep

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Our Newest Chicks

In the spring my husband bought me a pair of bantam Cochin Chickens.  I have always wanted Cochins, but we just never managed to get them for some reason or another.  I was really excited, not only are Cochins a super cute breed of chicken, but they are known for being a really good breed for raising chicks - that is to say Cochin hens are known for being broody.

My husband and I have never raised chicks from eggs yet, we always bought mature birds, although one time we did buy week old chicks - most turned out to be roosters so we sold those.

As the summer went on I was worried, the hen laid many eggs, but was not sitting on them.  I know a hen will  usually lay many eggs before sitting on them but got worried when she kept laying other batches of eggs in other areas of her coop.  I had no choice but to wait.  One day in June I did not see her in the pen, and soon realized she was indeed finally sitting on the eggs.  I had no idea how many eggs she had under her. 

For the next 21 days we waited.  Then on July 12, when I came home I noticed something was different, indeed mother Cochin had hatched out some chicks, and one had even fallen from the coop.  I picked that one up and it rushed under its mother to get warm.  We didn't disturb mother hen to see how many she had but were certain it was at least 4.

The following day we found out that mother hen had 9 chicks.  We put the chick starter, as well as a dish of food for the hen, in the coop.  We also put a very shallow dish of water in for them, knowing chicks can drown or get chilled if wet.

A couple of days later, mother hen took her little ones out of the coop and into the fenced yard to look around, it was the first day it had not rained here in ages.  The chicks seemed to enjoy it and stayed fairly close to mother hen.  Both the hen and rooster kept a watchful eye on all nine chicks.

If you are planning on keeping chickens and letting them raise chicks be sure you have a pen that is strong and the wire is such that the tiny chicks cannot get out.  You need to have chick starter for the little ones too, and be sure there is no water that they can fall into or even shallow water that will wet them and give them a chill.

Read more here:  Raising Pet Cochin Chickens
Why Won't My Chicken Eggs Hatch?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Poor Rooster

Our poor new rooster, he lost his mate and his tail feathers all in the same day.  He was lucky to get away with his life, and fortunately roosters are not too fussy about their hens, and he can get a new one.  Read more of what happened the day a fox visited our farm.

hen in front, rooster in back

A few weeks ago we bought a few pet chickens from the bird auction. For the first time we got roosters. We put pairs of hens and roosters into our various bird enclosures. After a few weeks of getting them familiar to their new homes we would let one pair out in the day so they could be even more free range.

One pair was a Polish hen and rooster. Ideally they have feathers that shot out of their head like a crown or punk hair cut, our birds were just starting to grow these feathers in. They enjoyed being out and especially loved eating the dandelions. We have several pet cats, and they didn't bother the birds at all, so we had relatively no worries about letting them out in the day, at night they returned to their enclosures and we would shut the door.

the rooster days before the "attack"
We have never had fox problems on our hobby farm before. There was one time several years ago where a fox visited in the day, we played a bit of a game with it. I was trying to chase it away but it was on the other side of a large round plant bed, the fox would run around one way and switch directions every time I did rather than running off. Eventually he gave up and left and we never saw one since.

June 4th I let the pair out at 7:00 in the morning and at 9:30am and was just getting ready to go down stairs to clean the cat litter box. I have to walk by the front door, and when I did so I glanced out just in time to see a fox running by with a black chicken in its mouth!

I wasted no time in running out and going after it, still in my pajamas. I chased the fox down the driveway and was yelling. At a point the fox amazed me and did actually drop the bird. The panicking bird ran right past me heading for home while I chased the fox a few more steps. Then I turned to find the bird, but it was missing.

My husband came out (alerted by my yelling) and we both looked for the bird, and its mate. At this time we were not sure which chicken the fox had been holding in its mouth as even when I saw it running I was still focused on the fox. We found a big pile of feathers which were mostly long ones indicating that it had been the rooster, but the hen was also no where to be found.

I had to go to work, my husband continued to search the yard for the frightened, but fortunate, bird. It wasn't until 5:00 that day that the bird made its presence known, returning to its enclosure. It was the rooster. He looked angry and a bit scared, he hopped up on a roost where he felt safe. We still had no sign of a hen. It has been two days and she has not shown up (we were hoping she was hiding scared somewhere). It appears as though the fox must have gotten her first, and was returning for the rooster.

rooster back in his pen too scared to go on the ground
Foxes are known to be particularly smart, and good hunters. We never found any feathers indicating where it got the hen, so it must have got her without warning. A fox will often return to get as many birds as they can when they find an opportunity. We are lucky it only got one, but now our rooster is sad, lonely, and missing most of his tail.

rooster on the ground, missing his tail and hen

I have been keeping a look out for the returning fox, and so far he, or she, has not been back. 
We cannot blame the fox though, it was only doing what was natural, trying to get food to survive.
More Reading on Chickens

Monday, May 23, 2011

Seeing Eye Sheep and Seeing Eye Goats for a Blind Horse

Most people are well aware of seeing eye dogs, a dog that guides a blind person. A few people are aware of some seeing eye horses, these being horses that are trained to act as guides for a blind person.

You probably are not aware of seeing eye sheep and goats that act as guides for a blind horse. Apparently a quarter horse mare, named Sissy, has 10 companions who act as seeing eye animals. These consist of sheep and goats who act as guide animals for the 15 year old grey mare (horses can live into their early 20's, but are often sent to slaughter or euthanized in their teens).

The goats and sheep stand between Sissy and the fence to stop her from walking into it, they herd her (presumably with their vocalizations) towards hay, and water, allowing her to feed equally. They even direct her to shelter when it is needed. This all makes perfect sense when one understands that horses, goats, and sheep, are all herd animals. Having a large horse actually helps the smaller animals in coyotes are less likely to attack small animals when a larger (particularly taller) animal is with them.

Sissy and companion seeing eye Goat - photo from Reuters

Sissy and her farmyard pals are currently living in Deer Haven Ranch, a 300 acre rescue and retirement home for unwanted animals located in Montana.

Other Reading

Saturday, May 14, 2011

There's a Pig in the Yard

The other morning as my daughter was getting ready for school we noticed one of the cats looking keenly at something. I went to the window but couldn't see what it was so we figured it was just birds. Twenty minutes later and my daughter heads off to catch the school bus, but something is wrong, and I hear her calling me. I worry that something happened to one of the sheep, or perhaps there is a fox in the yard.

When I open the door to see what caused the commotion, my daughter calls to me “There is a Pig in the yard!”. I put on my boots and rush outside to see a male potbelly pig running up and down the fence line trying to get into the pasture with the sheep, who were well back from the fence.

The donkey, Aggie, and the llama, Crystal, were also standing well back, confused by this strange animal. I was a little disappointed that neither one of these “guard animals” was trying to chase the pig away.

My daughter said the pig has been running at the neighbors and they knew who owned it, so I called them. Apparently they had informed the owner, but the pig's owner had not come for it so they were very happy to keep it, as they have another pet pig too. So we proceeded to try to chase the boar (male pig) to the neighbor's home, about ¾ of a mile away.

All was going well until a car came down the road and the potbelly pig ran into the forest. I tried to find him but those things are fast and soon was too far into the forest to see or hear. Hopefully he found his own way out of the woods and back to the sow (female pig) at the other farm.

We have never kept pot bellied pigs, or any pigs in fact, as pets, but here is a link you can read to learn more about Pot Bellied Pigs as Pets.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Weaning Lambs

Weaning lambs can be difficult and stressful.  We just weaned our last lambs yesterday, and were kept awake most of the night by the ewes baaing.  If you own sheep and are approaching weaning time here are some tips to make it easier on you, the lambs, and the ewes.

The earliest you can wean lambs (the act of separating ewes and lambs) is 2 months old provided you give extra feed to the lambs and watch them closely.  Three months is preferred, and you should certainly wean the ram lambs before four months of age.  Ewes will wean the lambs on their own between three and five months of age, but ram lambs will be sexually mature at five months of age and may try to breed their mothers and other ewes.

The easiest way of lambing, is to sell (or remove) some lambs from the ewes that had multiples.  In other words, if a ewe had twins, or triplets, selling (or removing) one before the others is great.  This reduces the stress on her, in that she is not losing all lambs at the same time, and gives her some relief in that she is not feeding so many lambs.

When lambs are removed it is best if they are sold, or taken to where the ewe and lamb cannot hear each other, or they will try to reconnect and could get hurt running through fences.  If you cannot do this then you may need to put the lambs in the barn for a few days to allow the ewes to dry up.  They will be safer in the barn than running around crashing through fences.

If you have ram lambs with horns those should ideally be the first as their horns will be painful on the ewe's udder.

You can imagine how glad the mother of this little guy was to have him weaned.  Pictured here at three months, this is a Jacob sheep, ram lamb.

When removing the last lambs be sure to watch the ewe's closely to make sure their udder dries up.  If you were feeding the ewes grain, this should be reduced one day prior to weaning to help the ewe dry up.

Further Reading

Why Farmers Take Baby Animals Away from their Mothers

How to Care for Bottle Fed Lambs

*This information would also apply to weaning goat kids.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Broken Horns on Sheep

When sheep break their horns it can be serious.  They could bleed to death, or they could suffer from the result of infection, or flies.  As well tetanus can be a concern. 

When we had some Jabob ewe lambs, one seemed prone to always knocking one of her horns off, causing bleeding, and worry.  If a sheep breaks a small horn treating with Iodine, or any other product you have for bleeding and/or infection, is a good idea.  You can apply something to keep the flies away too but keep it out of the wound unless instructed otherwise as per your veterinarian (not all products can be used on sheep). Make sure to stop the bleeding.

If the sheep does go off its feed, and starts grinding its teeth - call a vet.  If the horn was large and was broken right off (say on a Jacob, or Barbado ram) call a veterinarian immediately!

We just had a ram lamb, with small horn buds, knock one of the tips of his horns off.  We were separating the lambs from the ewes and accidents like this are likely to happen with lambs trying to get back to their moms. 

We treated with iodine, and are letting the wound heal on its own otherwise - exposed to the air.  It is still too cold for flies here, so we are not worried about that.

This picture was taken about 4 hours after the injury happened, it was bright red when it happened, but who thinks of taking a picture then?  You can see how small the other horn is, only about 2 inches (5cm).  The injured horn may be sore for a few days, but this little ram lamb should be fine and will continue to grow a horn in spite of the setback.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Innisfail Odd and Unusual Animal and Bird Auction Sheep and Goat Day

Twice a year there is a great three day auction held at the Innisfail Auction Market in Innisfail, Alberta.  This auction market holds regular cattle sales, as well as horse sales, but is also host to the Odd and Unusual Animal and Bird Auction.

Every Easter and Thanksgiving weekend a three day livestock and farm equipment auction is held in Innisfail.

On the first day (Friday) of the sale Goats and Sheep are sold.  Typically the sale opens with the bottle babies being sold - both goat kids, and lambs.  Then goats are auctioned off, followed by sheep.  Very often a few bags of feed are sold and a few other items related to sheep, and/or goats. 

Later in the day antiques, and caged pets are sold, with birds (including house birds as well as poultry) selling Saturday, and larger mammals on Sunday (horses, donkeys, bison, llamas, cattle, and so forth).  Tack and other large animal equipment is usually sold at the start of the Sunday sale. 

The sale is very well run, the animals penned so that people can look prior to the auction and make note of which animals they wish to bid on.  The sheep and goats are generally NOT run into the ring in numerical order but rather by gender. 

The auction sees many breeds of goats and sheep.  Fainting goats tend to be very popular at this auction sale as are hair sheep.

If you plan on attending as a buyer it is good to arrive early to have a look at the penned goats and sheep, as well you will want to get a good seat. 

If you plan on attending as a seller you will need to arrive extra early and get into line up to unload your animals.  Typically the animals well sell in the same order they arrived.  Birds must be in good boxes and you need to write a description on the box, it is best to do this at home prior to arriving.  Sheep require a CSIP tag.

If you are selling bottle baby goats, or bottle baby lambs, it is generally a good idea to bring a bottle and a days worth of formula powder to supply to the buyer of the animal.

For Innisfail Odd and Unusual Sale Dates and Contact Information - click here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sheep Trivia and Facts

Just wanted to share some neat information on sheep, sheep trivia, as well as a few odd facts about sheep.

Not all breeds of sheep have wool, many have hair which they shed just like a dog.  They are called "Hair Sheep" and there are many breeds.  When crossed with wool sheep, the sheep often  have a mix of both (the part Jacob sheep pictured is also part hair sheep, you can see she is shedding).

Sheep do not have top teeth at the front of their mouth.

Some sheep have no horns, others have many, the sheep pictured below is a part Jacob sheep ewe, she actually has 5 horns although one is poorly developed.  Many sheep of this breed have four horns.
Sheep normally have long tails, these are often docked to prevent feces from building up on the tail. However there are also breeds of sheep who have fat tails, thicker than a persons arm.

Tennis rackets are often strung with “sheep gut” it takes the small intestines of eleven sheep to produce one racket.

Lanolin is an oil that protects the sheep's wool and keeps it water proof. It is also often used in products for human hair. Hair sheep do not have this lanolin.

Gestation (length of pregnancy) in sheep is 5 months. Most sheep will have one lamb their first year, and 1-3 lambs every year there after.  The process of giving birth is called "lambing".

Sheep are herd animals, they very much need to be kept with other sheep.

Although naturally nervous, sheep can be halter trained.

Sheep are natural grazers, but enjoy treats such as cut up apples, carrots, and beans.

Sheep cannot have copper in their diet, too much is toxic to them.

Lambs often jump will all four feet in the air at once, this is a playful jump known as “pronging”.

photo by scott liddell

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Turning Patsy Sheep into Art

Patsy, as you may recall, is a Jacob x Barbado sheep ewe.  She has 5 horns, although in this picture you can only see 3 horns clearly.  Even though it is spring we still have a foot (or more) of snow here, and not much can be done outside, so I thought I would take a picture of Patsy and do some photo manipulation work to it using a program called Corel Photo-Paint 8. 

Here is the original photo of Patsy sheep.

This is not a great picture, she is at a funny angle, there are the legs of another sheep in the background, and the upper corners are bright and distracting.  As such it is a good photo to have fun with and turn into some art.

Photos, of course, are copyright owned by myself, not for reproduction!

I first had to add some color to the white parts in the background, and blur out the pair of legs.  I also had to make Patsy's eye darker so it would not be lost in the art rendition. 

I came up with several images, this is just one.  Here I used a program called Fractalius. 

If you would like to see the other images (including one where she looks more like a rug), and the steps used to get this image, you can see the full link called Art, Fun with Patsy.

Other Links of Interest

How to Take Better Photographs of a Pet

Painting Sheep -this blog

Patsy has Twins - this blog

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Baby Katahdin Scares, then has Lambs Days Later

Baby Katahdin, our youngest ewe - being born last year, and the only one who would be a first time mother, is a shy sheep.  She is a bit smaller and was terrified of us earlier in the year.  Throughout the winter she has slowly learned how to trust us (the oats helped) but is easily intimidated by the bigger sheep who push her out of the way at feeding time. 

She has been thin - so I have been hand feeding her extra oats.  Two nights ago, however, she started choking on her oats, to the point it looked like she was a gonner.. she was frothing at the mouth and stood frozen, clearly in fear.  I gave her a hard smack on  her shoulder hoping to clear her throat.  Well the poor sheep must have thought I was horrible, but after a few tense moments she was fine.

Today, March 19, 2011, I went outside to give the sheep some hay for lunch, this is because our weather has been crazy this winter and we still have over a foot of snow on the ground and it gives them something to do in the middle of these winter days – eat. Finally we are seeing temperatures around the freezing mark, or just above – today was +1C (just above melting).

At the time I could see Girlie was in the shed with her two young lambs (just over a week old) and with her was Baby Katahdin – and just above the snow drift I could see a tiny white head pop up so I knew she had a lamb.

I went into the house to call my daughter for help. It's never easy getting one sheep and her lambs into the barn in the middle of the day. We spotted a darker lamb laying near by – shivering – both were still wet, born only minutes earlier. It took some doing but we finally got them into the barn (and chased the other sheep back out).

My daughter dried off the lambs, while I got their mother some water - ewes often need a good drink after lambing and this one was no exception. 

Having twins for their first year is not easy, she seems to be mothering both though and hopefully will have enough milk to provide for them - as she has been thin and does not have a huge udder - this is a concern!

The white lamb is a male - ram lamb.  The brown one is a female - ewe lamb. 

So that brings our total to 18 lambs - 9 male, 9 female, a perfect split!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Adopt a Sheep

When most people think about adoption they only think about cats, or dogs. Maybe they think about exotic animals such as rabbits, but few think about adopting farm animals and livestock.

There are some pet rescues that also offer, or even focus only on, rescuing livestock and farm animals. There are loads of sites for finding farm animals for sale, but few that focus on farm animals, such as sheep, for adoption. One that does have a listing of sheep for adoption is

My petfinder search showed nearly 30 sheep for adoption, most were rams, or wethers, but there were also lambs, and ewes. All of the adoptable sheep I found where in the USA, but also offers space for animal shelters, and livestock rescue groups, from Canada and Mexico to list their adoptable animals.

I strongly encourage anyone looking for a “Pet” sheep to check out's listing of adoptable sheep.

Below I want to show examples of two of the adoptable sheep from Petfinder.  I hope they get homes soon. 

If you are unfamiliar with sheep like Authur, he is a Jacob sheep - noted for their colors and fancy horn growth.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Girlies Matched Set of Twins

Girlie is part hair part wool sheep. Her mother is Mrs Dark Brown Barbado, the sheep who earlier had triplets, her father being a wool sheep x Barbado. Girlie had two lambs last year (her first lambs) but was a bit overwhelmed and we ended up bottle feeding one.

On March 10, Girlie did not come into the barn with the rest of the sheep. It was just lucky we noticed her missing really, as it was a cold night and we were hurrying. I went out and they Girlie was in the old barn, standing with two identical twins... well not quite identical, one is a ewe lamb, the other a ram lamb.

Both lambs are solid orange - their father being a Katahdin.  The little lambs needed to have their ears rubbed as they were quite cold – temperatures are still below freezing – well below seasonal normals.  The ram lamb is on the left, the ewe lamb on the right.

I took a few pictures after getting the mother ewe and her lambs set up in a stall but the camera seemed to be acting weird so gave my husband instructions to take more pictures in the morning after I went to work.

By morning time it would appear the camera was acting even weirder. My husband got several pictures, but most had terrible double images. Well that's what you get for buying a cheap Walmart Camera I guess.  The above photo is the only picture (of about 10) that did not have a double image, but the color is slightly odd.  I am pretty sure this is the ewe lamb. 

So far it looks like Girlie is letting both lambs nurse - so that is a good sign.  I hardly feel like looking after any more bottle baby sheep!