Being turned out to pasture each morning is still exciting to the flock. They graze all day, coming in and out of the barn for water and shade, and in the evening we make sure they are all inside and shut the gates. No sense tempting predators in the lonesome dark when there is plenty of room in the barn and bunk for lounging. Later in summer when they've been over every inch of ground and they know there are no more fresh yummy patches of clover to discover - just plain boring grass - they'll leave the barn in a more mannerly trudge. Now, though, it's like opening flood gates.
The main flock with lambs.....
And the group of yearlings and geriatrics.........
And just because spring comes but once a year..... pretty flower pictures. Dandelions and lamium and forget-me-not and bleeding heart.
You have a herd of cows, a flock of sheep, and...... behold!
A scamper of lambs!
We have been letting the flock out on grass in the 'baby pasture' for short periods since last week. The cold spring delayed the grass and it isn't good for the pasture to be walked on and gnawed on until there's enough growth to stand up to grazing so we are about a week late. Because the sheep have been on dry feed all winter they have to be reintroduced to fresh grass in a controlled manner or they will overeat and scour at best or bloat at worst. The lambs are thrilled to be out of the barn and have room to run.
The ewes immediately dispersed to find the 'best' forage but the lambs were just interested in investigating things. Everything in the pasture is new to them - dirt, rocks, tall wavy plants, uneven ground. They were entertained without going more than fifteen feet from the gate.
It was an overcast day and I used the camera phone due to its portability so excuse the less than great photos.
The bottle lambs followed me a ways and brought a bunch of their friends along.
A tilted slab of discarded concrete was really intriguing.
"This looks tasty and it's just the right height for chomping on."
As much fun as it was to hang out in the sheep barn watching the breed shows, there were way too many other things to ignore.
Sheep dog herding demonstrations.... Two handlers, a group of five Blue Faced Leicesters, four border collies and much controlled maneuvering through gates, around cones and being brought into a small pen next to the handler.
The fleece show and sale. Last figure I heard from the people at the check-out table was 960 entries - an easy all-time record, for sure. All categories were well marked and fleeces thoroughly tagged for easy shopping and/or retrieval of unsold fleeces after the event. Wall to wall wool! In the second picture down you can see the queue of people at the back of the building checking out with their purchases. This was mid-afternoon so the most eager buyers had already taken out many fleeces but there were still hundreds of bags of excellent quality wool.
Hey look! The two natural colored medium fleeces I entered placed second (Carmel) and Honorable Mention (Yahtzee) in their class! :-)
Then we took a good long time admiring the entries in the Skein and Garment competition. Both of these Champion entries were made from fleeces from sheep (Beanie Baby and Rebecca Boone) enjoying life at Punkin's Patch. Happy sheep make amazing wool and awesome talent makes beautiful things!
An entry didn't have to be large to be worthy of a purple ribbon.
I loved this hooked rug.
And so many great paintings and photos.
Look at that face!
And of course there were hundreds of vendors to investigate. This was a decoration at a new vendor's booth. She was selling.....wait for it.... felting supplies. WOW! What an advertisement!
If you can ever get to the Maryland festival you'll come home with more inspiration than you'll ever have time to execute!
This past weekend was the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. My friend Julie and I made our annual pilgrimage there to see, buy and enjoy. SO much to see and do - everything is fiber related in one way or another.
Weather was great and it was crowded - I'm guessing the usual 50,000 for the weekend. This is one of two main thoroughfares, the other being parallel this one but on the other end of the barns to the right. You can't see the many barns lying farther up the hill. And of course it doesn't count the people within all the buildings.......
The Leicester Longwool association was celebrating 25 years of the breed being back in the US. Having become literally extinct in America a group of seedstock had to be selected and imported in order to bring this historically important breed back to the US. A tremendous amount of effort and care since then has resulted in very good progress. They had a large tent to themselves and an excellent display of animals from several farms and many items made from Leicester wool showing its beauty and versatility. Some clever boots even made a flock of lawn sheep from some gnarly felted locks and corn cobs!
I had forgotten that the Leicester folks had asked permission to use a photo of some of our Cotswolds on their association banner which appears to be showing many of the breeds that originated in the UK besides the Leicester.
This majestic ram was quite photogenic.
There were ewes with unweaned lambs at their side too which is something you never see at a typical sheep show.
All the Leicesters were card graded which means they were evaluated by a team of three specialized Leicester judges and compared to the breed standard rather than to each other. Excellent animals received a blue card, Good were red, Acceptable were yellow and Unacceptable (I didn't see any of those) would have been white. I love this method of judging! Comments were listed on each card detailing the strong and weak points of each animal. There could be many blue cards, not just one, and breeders would have a much more meaningful critique of potential breeding stock than a ribbon for first, fifth or tenth place. Smarter matches could be made and extremes of type - which seems to lead show ring activity - is regarded with a wary eye since upholding the breed standard is the whole point of the exercise. I'd love to see other breeds do this once in a while, particularly any minor breeds.
While most of the grading was done in the Leicester tent, about a half dozen sheep were brought to the main arena so more people could observe the process. I also like that the animals are off lead and allowed to move around a small pen on their own - no one setting their feet or posing them to hide deficiencies. The three judges were very thorough and examined everything from the sheep's bite to their gait, fleece character, overall size with respect to present age, reproductive equipment, pigment on nose, ears and hooves, udder structure on females, growth of lambs if applicable and other traits. Here Dr. Phil Sponenberg gives an explanation of this ewe's grade.
The weekend was busy with 'regular' sheep shows too. There were many breeds that warranted their own show - meaning they competed against only others of their own breed in each class - and some breeds didn't have enough entries to show alone and so they competed against quite different individuals. Here is the White Wool Long class. I saw Cotswolds, Teeswaters, Leicester Longwools (some of these chose to compete in the 'regular' sheep show as well as being card graded and did very well against stiff competition) and Scottish Blackface. The judge really got a work out comparing apples to oranges and kumquats. All combined there were over 600 sheep on the grounds for the various shows, exhibits, demonstrations and sales. A breed for every purpose and then some!
These stylish Border Leicesters were waiting for breakfast.
While some Cotswolds dug in.
Next time - more really fun stuff at the festival!
....to make up for lack of narrative. We've been occupied with finishing shearing the flock, sending wool out for processing, getting fleeces ready for the Maryland show and generally taking care of everyone.
Andy did finish building three creep feeders for a fellow shepherd. These are free-standing and can be moved but are designed to stand against a wall.
They are deep enough to hold slices of hay and slanted at the front so the hay will continue to drop down as it's eaten (and also hampers little lamb feet from standing up against the grid and reaching over the top).
The bottom of each feeder is solid to catch hay fines or a grain ration and the lip in front will keep good stuff from being rooted out onto the floor.
The lambs here are growing well and doing all kinds of cute lamb things. The gray one on the right was racing across the pen, accelerating into a blur like The Flash.
These two little boys were starting to play at head butting.
There's the 'bouncing around together in a group' event.......
About half way through, notice the white guy that jumps so hard he falls down.
Everybody chews on hay, either for real eating purposes or just for something to do.
And the older ones have started to chew a cud. (Sorry this is grainy - I tried the zoom function on the phone).
Our 2015 lambing season has concluded with this hefty fifteen pound ewe lamb. Isabelle is an experienced mom - she always has a single and it's always a ewe - and the lamb was scrambling up and looking for a meal in just a few minutes.
We ended with 48 lambs (from 27 ewes) of which 23 are girls and 25 are boys. The sexes evened out toward the end - of the first ten lambs eight were rams. I had expected many colored lambs but only got nine and of those five are boys. We had quite a few ewes fail to conceive, also one aborted in February and another about two weeks prior to the first possible due date. We lost one ewe to complications of pneumonia. Despite a week of struggle on everyone's part she couldn't kick it and died leaving twin ram lambs. Another ewe disowned one twin after a few hours which was very odd but she was adamant so there's a third bottle baby. There are two sets of triplets and two ewes with twins who only have one teat working so several lambs are being supplemented. Nobody risks going hungry around here.
One novel incident was a ewe with a uterine torsion. Think of someone in a hammock that swings sideways until it flips all the way over, putting a twist in both ends. That's essentially the case here, and with everything twisted she couldn't deliver the lambs. It happens in dairy cattle and we've seen it here in that regard but the vet said he'd never seen or even heard of it in sheep. Oh, goody. Every year we see some new, weird thing. We were able to correct it by laying the ewe down, applying pressure to her abdomen to keep the uterus in place and then rolling her over - sort of rolling her around the lambs instead of trying to flip them over inside her. Obviously we had to be super careful we were working in the proper direction! We did it twice and it did work but the lambs had sadly expired, probably the day before. We've been aggressive with pharmaceuticals on her and yesterday was the first day that she looked like she felt halfway decent.
So now that lambing is done I can sleep through the night again! Woot! All that remains is to band and tag the lambs and trim feet and deworm the ewes before turning them into mixing pens.
In other news, we had a shearing day and got started on the fiber flock which wasn't bred to lamb this year. Being under less physical stress really shows in the fleeces - they are all looking really nice this year.
Angel.......I think. I don't recall exactly.
Taffy, a Border Leicester cross, with the belly wool already shorn away and set aside.
She has some gray fibers creeping into the black.
This is a really big lovely fleece and I have it earmarked to go to the FLFF fleece show and sale.
So now I have a good bit of work lined up....literally. Thirty-eight fresh fleeces, many already reserved from the website for hand spinners and some destined for the fleece show and sale at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in - gads - a hair over two weeks.
Tomorrow's job - assembling the multi-teat nurse bucket and getting the bottle lambs familiar with it. Feeding time has turned into a crazed free-for-all with the greedy little thugs eager lambs literally leaping over each other, pawing and butting and trying to gnaw the plastic teat out of the other lambs' mouth. There's no such thing as teaching them manners so we need to change the scenario to work better.