When Priorities on the Farm Compete

© 2011 Don Tubb

It is still a challenging time at Topsy. The lambing is winding down, although the flock groups still have to be checked twice a day for problems.

The regular chores include a visual check of each ewe and lamb (it’s hard to see back ends, where most problems occur), as they are always curious, wanting to face the ATV. We have to ensure a constant supply of mineral in feeders and that water is always available. The guardian dogs are fed and patted.  Other priorities – the fences need to be checked and repaired. The pastures are constantly monitored and the plan for moving to the next available grazing must be in place. The noxious weeds have to be controlled, as does the growth under electric fences.

Twenty-one foster lambs were sold to two good homes, where some will be raised to form a new flock. In addition, a few were adopted back into our flock.

However, all the lambs need health intervention now, and the field vegetation is suddenly leaping up and demanding to be grazed or cut and baled… all at once.

All lambs are born with long tails plus testicles on the males. If we leave the long tails on when we send the lambs and ewes to summer pasture, the flies will be hugely attracted to the dirt under the tails, will lay eggs, which hatch larvae, which eat flesh. (Fly Strike is an ongoing serious threat for ewes and lambs both, especially in damp, hot weather.) We know that the most humane way to ‘dock’ the tails is to use elastics that gradually cut off the circulation, and slowly wither the appendage. We can’t leave intact males in the flock, because they will become sexually active within a startlingly few months, producing endangered winter lambs.

So Don, Christopher, Ian and Jacob spent 5 longish days in the barn, with help from neighbour Kitsy some days, separating moms and babies temporarily, checking the well-being of each, ringing tails and testicles, and then reuniting the families, and giving them time to adjust . However, the long wet cool spring suddenly morfed into hot dry weather and the field growth needs to be cut before it passes prime. My allergies attest to the fact that the grasses are ‘heading out’ fast.

There are so many chores on a farm, competing for priority in the spring.

Last year we began making ‘balage’ – cutting hay younger, letting it dry only one day, then wrapping it in plastic so it will, in effect, pickle. The ewes eagerly ate last year’s product, and it saved us money as it replaced a lot of the grain. (We are still seeking recycle options for the plastic wrap.) The baling has to be done meticulously, as certain soil microbes can contaminate the silage, making it toxic to the ewes. Being able to start haying while the weather is still unsettled, but the grass is ready, reduces the farmers’ stress.

Further priorities:  although all machinery is put away in the fall cleaned and serviced, there are always more mechanical needs in the spring. We manage on very old, rebuilt machinery, avoiding the debts some farmers shoulder for more modern equipment. Ian did the first small cut June 8th to test everything and we’re off.

The final lamb count, after the last group was ringed, was 1304 from 845 mature ewes and 290 replacement ewe lambs (first year mamas). With the rams, that gives us a flock of very close to 2461. “This ensures we will continue to provide top quality lamb for private sales, and to produce wonderful wool products, available on-line and at the farm store, the Wool Shed.

Meanwhile, the gardens are somehow getting planted, the glorious orioles are consuming an orange daily, the loon calls echo on the lake, and the spring entertainment (just watch a newly fledged robin for a few minutes) surrounds us, when we remember to stop and enjoy.

© 2011 Don Tubb

 
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