Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mud - revisited...

It was over 50 degrees here today and rained most of the day...  I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but this mud is terrible.  Temps are supposed to drop again and I must admit that I will be glad to have some relief from the mud.

It is hard to believe that tomorrow will be the 1st of December.  We will plan to put the Clun breeding group together on Sunday which should yield May lambs.  This year has flown by...

Good night from Muddy Dog's Farm...



This past weekend we ran in to some new shepherds who had attended the MSBA Small Flock event we held at the farm this past spring.  I love to “talk sheep” and I really enjoy sharing my farm knowledge with others.  During our chat, these new shepherds asked a few pointed questions I have heard before.   I thought I might tell you about them this morning.

1) How long should we keep our ewes before it is time to replace them?

2) We have a wether which we keep for fiber and someone told us that we should never keep a wether.  Should we get rid of him?

Each one of us has different reasons for keeping sheep and we have different goals and objectives for our flocks.  A spinner who has a few pet sheep that they want to harvest wool from may answer these questions very differently from a commercial producer who has 600 head producing quality lamb year round or a purebred producer who is raising purebred breeding stock.

In the case of the first question posed above, a small pet flock owner may answer that you should keep your ewes until their quality of life dictates that the ewe should be put down humanely…  The commercial producer may answer that at 7 years of age, ewes should be sent to market while they are just passing the peak of their productivity yet still have value as a meat animal themselves… and the purebred producer may tell you that you should keep a ewe as long as she remains healthy, productive, and is able to feed and care for her lambs.

None of these answers are wrong, they are just different because each shepherd makes decisions based on their own flock goals.  New shepherds need to learn to think in this same way… they will undoubtedly change their goals along the way, but having a general sense of direction will help them with all of the many questions and decisions they will need to answer for themselves.

In the case of the question about keeping a wether… my personal farm goals tell me that the resources (food, wormer, space) that could be going into that wether could instead feed a ewe who would be able to give me lambs in addition to fiber.  I would also argue that a wether left with a group of ewes who you hope to have bred by a ram lamb could definitely complicate things.

However, whether YOU should keep a wether would depend entirely on YOUR goals.

SO - What’s the point? 

The point I am trying to make is that I think that when we are talking to new sheep enthusiasts, we need to teach them HOW we make decisions rather than to just tell them what we decided.  That will not only help answer their question at hand, but hopefully many more in the future.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lessons I've Learned

Life tries to teach us...  sometimes we don't catch on right away, but life keeps trying to make us learn.  If we don't review these life lessons from time to time, we may forget them and then we have to learn them all over again.

This morning on my drive to work, I was reviewing some of my learned lessons and I thought I would share a few of them:

   - Putting things off until “tomorrow” only ensures that you don’t accomplish anything today.

   - When given advice, you shouldn’t follow it blindly, but rather consider it carefully.

   - Accomplishing an impossible goal that someone set for you makes you feel good about yourself.  Accomplishing an impossible goal you set for yourself makes you feel empowered.

   - Sometimes being “right” is no consolation.

   - It is when you have stopped looking for other people’s approval that you realize you kind of like yourself.

   - When someone disappoints you, you can either let them know how they disappointed you, or you can take note and try to make sure you don’t disappoint someone else in the same manner.

   - Bad things are going to happen, learn what you can from them.

   - Good things are going to happen, be careful not to take too much credit for them.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Planning makes perfect...

Proper and careful planning only ensures that you will be perfectly "put in your place" when things work out entirely different than planned for.

We have always had very good luck when we have used ram lambs for breeding.  Our first Cheviot ram was only 5 months old when he covered our small flock of ewes in one cycle which resulted in all twins.  We have sold many ram lambs over the years which have also worked well for people in their first breeding season.  So when confronted with a year when ram lambs will be counted on to "get the job done" I had no doubt that we would have banner results.

Our management program is such that our homegrown ram lambs have good size and are ready to breed when their first fall comes around.  This year we are using one of these homegrown Cheviot ram lambs on a number of our ewes.   We are also using a 2nd Cheviot ram lamb which we purchased from North Carolina, a Clun ram lamb from Wisconsin, and Panda the Merino ram lamb was bred to Annie.

Our plan was to breed the Merinos and Cheviots first for March lambs and then to breed the Cluns for May lambs which would allow us to juggle the moms and lambs around in order to accomodate everyone comfortably.   My plan ran amok as the new Cheviot ram lamb from North Carolina, while very typey and nicely conformed, arrived quite a bit less mature than I had planned on.

He went in with his breeding group in October and was pushed around quite a bit by some of my more dominant ewes.  Things seemed to settle down and pecking orders were established.  My hopes of finishing the Cheviot lambing in March are not to be as we have watched the little guy finally covering his ewes over the last week (this means late April lambs).

The good news?  He is finally able to breed the big girls and they are letting him do the job.  The bad news?  We will have an extended lambing season and will probably just be finishing our Cheviots as the Cluns start to lamb in May.

Before you say it...  there is no way that a marking harness would have stayed on this little guy.  Next year he will have one on, but by then he will likely be much more prepared for the job.

I have been pretty impressed with our homegrown Cheviot ram as he finished his group quickly and went right to work on the sold Suffolk ewes.  He didn't seem to have any problems and by the looks of the Clun ram lamb, he won't either.

Lessons learned???  1) Expect the unexpected.  2) Don't assume that past results from YOUR flock can be repeated with other people's sheep. 3) Be patient with immature ram lambs.   To be perfectly honest, I can imagine much worse things than an extended lambing season.

On an unrelated note, we got the sunshine I had wished for yesterday and the mud situation is much improved.

Friday, November 26, 2010

November Weather...

We have been very lucky with our weather this fall...  It is the end of November and we are only now having our first REAL coldsnap of the season... 

Yesterday our temps were in the 40s and we had a day of rain...  Rain means mud and anyone who has ever spent any time taking care of a farm knows that that mud can make your day downright miserable.  Trudging through slop carrying a bale of hay while trying to keep from being knocked over by hungry sheep or horses... not fun...  It's even better if the mud sucks your shoe(s) off.

A drop in temps then freezes the mud footprints into a jagged obstable course.  The horses always seem to have the hardest time manuvering across the new footing, but clearly nobody likes it...  I also know that none of the animals are entertained when I channel Annie Lennox and sing that "it feels just like I'm walking on broken glass".  I am pretty sure one of them flipped me the middle hoof this evening.

Luckily though, this signals that we are one step closer to our winter lambing season and let's face it...  visions of baby lambs bouncing through the barn make it all worthwhile.  Each year I promise myself that next year I will have done something to eliminate the mud and winter footing problems.  To be honest, we have done much to improve the farm winter footing situation.  

I can remember pushing a wheelbarrow stacked with 4 bales of hay down a long, long mud path back to the horses years ago, all while balancing a bucket of grain on top.  The "new" drive to the back has made life SO much easier and short of paving the entire property, I think that my promise to improve things for next year is only a coping mechanism.

Tomorrow is another day...  I will hope for some wind and sunshine to dry things out.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In the Beginning...

Hello!  Welcome to the blog for Ugly Dog's Farm...

In the Beginning...
My name is Rich and I grew up in the northern suburbs of Detroit.  I have always had an interest in animals although my experience growing up was limited to a pet parakeet and a pet rabbit.  However, my uncle rescued some BLM donkeys when I was a kid and I have fond memories of following them around with a camera and some wild carrot.  My uncle also had peacocks, guinea fowl, and at least one barn cat.

In my college years I went to a co-op school where all students worked in industry every other three months.  At one of my jobs, I became good friends with a woman who owned and showed horses.  I started visiting her family on weekends and we would build fences, paint barns, build horse shelters, ride horses, go to horse shows, accidently start pasture fires, etc.  Through this friendship, a love of horses grew and eventually when opportunity knocked, I bought my first horse.

Mind you, at this time, I still lived at home and my mother was sure that I was "putting the cart before the horse" so to speak...  I assured her time and again that I did not own a cart.  Clearly though, it was time to find a place of my own where I could "have my horse and ride it too".  I was very lucky to find a really nice place situated on a 4500 acre equestrian park with many miles of beautiful horse trails.  Horses are like potato chips - you can't have just one, and they are constantly making more...
In 2002, I met Wayne who also had horses as well as dogs - truth be told, there are few animals he has not owned at one time.  We quickly decided to join forces and consolidate our farms - we have trail ridden our horses all over the midwest. 
Our farm name came from one of our beloved dogs...  Cy is a Belgian Malinois who we named "Coyote Ugly" after the beautiful girls in the movie of the same name.  She is affectionately refered to as "The Ugly Dog" and naming the farm in her honor was a no brainer.
In 2006 Wayne and I were introduced to a local sheep farmer and when she mentioned she was in the middle of lambing time, I could not help but to invade her farm and see the babies.  I had never been interested by sheep until that time...  I had thought of sheep as long coated goats, and I am not overly fond of goats.  Honestly, we were so intrigued by the sheep and the antics of the lambs that we immediately bought 2 suffolk ewe lambs.  We built a shed for them and a good size paddock.  We quickly found out that, like horses, sheep were also like potato chips...  and we craved MORE!

We were lucky to have exposure to a number of different sheep breeds and fell in love with the look and personality of the Border Cheviot.  Further research revealed that they were known to be good mothers, quite prolific, mild flavored, and easy keeping.  We were hooked - and still are!
Our search for breeding stock yeilded 6 aged ewes from a few farms here in Michigan, and a 5 month old ram lamb from the Simeral farm in southern Ohio.  One of the aged ewes turned out to be VERY aged and had a stroke and had to be put down in mid-winter.  The other 5 ewes (4 of which appeared to be old maiden ewes) blessed us with a 200% lambing rate our first year.

Our 2nd lambing season was just as successful and our 7 ewes (5 cheviot and 2 suffolks) yeilded 14 healthy lambs - we sure thought we were the world's most excellent shepherds...

It was at this time that our friend, who raises Merinos, bought a new ram from California that ended up winning Supreme Champion Ram at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  While this friend got some awesome lambs out of this ram, she was pretty suprised to get a few BLACK merinos!  Anybody who breeds sheep knows that genetics can do some crazy things and while these sheep were pretty spectacular, our friend had no interest in breeding Natural Colored "Fine Wools".  This turned out to be to our GREAT benefit.

We added a few of these black Merinos to our flock and have had amazing success with breeding, showing, and promoting our farm.  Along the way, we also were given a purebred white Merino ewe lamb at a day old...   She is a story all her own and I will let you read about that here:  Annie's Story

We had so much fun with our "Old Style" Border Cheviots, and our Natural Colored Merinos, that in 2008 we decided to look for another rare breed to add to our operation.  Research and web-surfing let us to Clun Forest Sheep.  In the summer of 2009 we brought home four Clun Forest ewes and an aged ram from Michele Stute of Little Prairie Cluns in East Troy, WI.

And finally, this fall we decided to sell our three suffolk ewes which were our start in the sheep business.  They have been awesome mothers and produced some amazing and fast growing lambs for us...  It was time to focus solely on our purebred flocks and to let the Suffolk girls go help another relatively new shepherd gain confidence and grow some awesome lambs.  The ewes are in with our Cheviot ram right now and will go to their new home within the next month.
So that is brief history of the farm...   a starting place to help frame the stories to be posted in the future...  There are many details I will add over time - I hope to make this blog somewhat entertaining, somewhat educational, and somewhat accurate!!!