Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Intern Flock (by Courtney McDonald)

As part of our internship, Julie, Jason and I have been given a new project. This time it’s one that carries with it a lot of responsibility. The three of us are in charge of our own flock of sheep for about the next six months.

This flock is called the dry ewe flock - meaning that they were not bred during the fall when the ram was last put in with them. Because the ram was “turned in” for a second chance last week, they have much higher nutritional needs than the ewes whose lambs have been weaned and are now on dry pasture. These other ewes no longer need to produce milk, are not going to be bred again soon, and therefore can get enough nutrition for themselves on dry pasture. Our dry ewes need pasture richer in nutrients so that they have a better chance of being bred and have a better chance of having twins when they are bred. When a ewe has twins, that doubles the new lambs added to the flock (obviously). Whether they become replacement ewes or feeder lambs to be marketed later on, having twins is the target for the particular breeds of sheep that Dan is raising.

Taking care of the “intern flock” of dry ewes comes with a lot of responsibility. We are in charge of feeding the guard dog, Boise, making sure the ewes have a constant supply of mineral supplement, keeping an eye on their water (which is easy for the moment since it is hooked up to a self-filling hose), and moving them to fresh feed every couple of days. I think this last thing will be the most challenging part. Since their nutritional requirements are higher, the ewes need to be moved sooner than they would otherwise. This means there are new things to look for in the pasture itself that we haven’t had much experience with up until now. I’m hoping that by the end of this project we’ll have a much better sense of how to manage a pasture for all types of livestock with different levels of nutrient needs.

We are coordinating the pasture moves with the irrigation water moves, so there are many factors to consider. The sheep should never be on wet pasture, so we need to time their moves to pasture that has not been irrigated for at least a couple of days. We’re also currently sharing this pasture with a flock of just-weaned feeder lambs, also with high nutritional needs, so we keep that in mind when planning future moves. It’s also ideal for the flock to have a shade tree on hot summer days.

We will use Mondays to take care of the ewes’ feet. All three interns are working on Mondays, so with the help of Dan and Taff, we think we can accomplish the labor-intensive job of running the ewes through a footbath and trimming feet when necessary.

The ram will be pulled out of the flock in June after about 35 days (2 ewe cycles). Hopefully we will have a flock of pregnant ewes to lamb in the fall – and lots of twins!!

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