Like a walk through the country side living on a small farm is full of daily surprises, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and other times puzzling and sad. I hope you will walk with me as I live out my dream of living on this tiny farm. You will come to know the dogs, cats, Shetland sheep and chickens that make up this farm and what goes into keeping them happy and healthy. Come and join the journey with me.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Chaos with an R

I was very fortunate this year to get the day before Thanksgiving off, as well as Thanksgiving and the day after---so a wonderful five day break from the real job. The weather has been totally awesome and unbelievable. I have even let the fire go out in the stove today and have the doors open. Its been in the 70s the last couple of days. Thats all suppose to change next week, but its been a wonderful week of Indian Summer.

I decided that it was a perfect time to get all the ewes back together and put Redford the ram back in with the other boys. My target day was Wednesday. As usual I had formulated a plan...sort of. I didn't really bargain on getting a bit of a stomach virus though, which made everything seem to take longer than it should.

Bright and early Wednesday I went out and without feeding any of the sheep, I started moving panels and setting up a triangular catch pen in the two rams and wether's pen (Jeff, Drake and Callum). My idea was to lure them in with hay, then squeeze them in tight with two 8 ft panels in a V-shape. I wanted to put ram shields on both Drake and Jeff since they would be the attack force against Red (who would not have a shield on). I also wanted to worm them all for the fall. Jeff was in high excitement the minute I started working out there, picking fights with Drake. Jeff is the head ram and is around 4 yrs old, Drake and Redford are the same age at a year and half. Callum is Jeff's brother and looks exactly like him, but is now a wether (a long, painful story in itself!). Things went remarkably smooth luring the boys in to the pen and getting them shut up. Even crafty Cal slipped right in. Since Jeff was the 'loose cannon' I decided to grab him and haul him out first. He is heavy and he put up some resistance, but I got him out and finally flipped him on the ground. I got the mask on relatively easy, and wormed him, then released him, confident in the fact that he was now somewhat 'disarmed'. Imagine my shock, when he immediately jumped up, ran around the pen and started ramming at Drake through the panel...hard...the full, back up and ram full force ram. I'm thinking, he can't be doing that..... The purpose of the ram shield is to block the front vision of the ram to keep him, from, ah, ramming things. He can still see out sideways---its almost like a reverse blinder. Looking closely at the now totally nuts Jeff (and the equally nuts Drake), I could see that Jeff's eyes were clearly showing beyond the edge of the ram shield! Evidently he had outgrown it just from last summer! Argh! So there wasn't much I could do for a few minutes but watch Drake and Jeff try and kill each other and destroy the cattle panel. I tried several things but they were to 'into' it. Finally I got Jeff distracted with a little grain and was able to slip in there and nab him again. I haltered him and tied him to a fence post and proceeded to try and extend the 'blinder' out a little further with duct tape (note--duct tape doesn't stick well to sweaty leather!). I was finally able to make little corner patches that helped with the front vision problem. Leaving Jeff tied, I wormed and released Callum, then tackled Drake. Not much problem there. He is still small enough so the shield covers his eyes well. Then I left him penned up, un-haltered Jeff, opened Drake's pen and slipped out. Then I went and got Red, wormed him, and led the perfect little gentleman down to the wolves. Well, the shields have helped some, but Drake seems quite able to bash even if he can't see, and Jeff had his mostly worked off in a day. I've now restrapped and adjusted them numerous times and its impossible to keep the nose straps on (they rub them off), so that they flap about. Jeff's is skewed sideways so one currently evil eye is fully exposed (and he isn't letting me anywhere near him now), Drake's flaps about, but I think they have slowed them down a bit. Having very warm temperatures helped a some too, as the rams got hot and tired alot quicker than if the weather had been icy cold. Currently they are making Red's life pretty miserable, but mostly its just butting him around, bullying type stuff. Red isn't a fighter but he isn't a chicken either, so while he opts to move away from all out confrontation, if he is pushed he will retaliate(only with Drake--they both know that Jeff is head honcho ram). I just hope they all get settled in and the masks can come off soon.

I really struggle with having the rams--often they are too much trouble to really enjoy. I like individual rams, but for a small place like this, rams, as a whole are generally alot of trouble. Since I have a very small acreage its hard to keep the rams out of seeing or smelling distance of the ewes, which often causes extra problems. They are hard on fences, they take extra care in handling, and with their lovely horns they have to be fed differently than the ewes so they don't get caught up. The more rams you have, the less problems you have it seems, but it is very difficult to run a ram flock on a little over two acres! Rams love to fight, so if you don't like fighting, then it can wear on your nerves. Its also a bit distressing for the neighbors to hear--crack....crack....crack.... as a couple of the boys take issue with each other and have it out. I haven't figured out anyway to raise lambs without the rams though! :-)

I'm very glad to have the girls (and two wether boys) back together though. I put out some nice lespedeza hay in the pasture, opened the gate for the bred ewes and let them in with the open ewes, then walked to the pasture gate and let them all out together--minimum fuss. There were a few squabbles, but not any major fights. Now that is how I like it!

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