Thursday, December 29, 2011

No such thing as average

The ewes need supplemental protein and energy at the moment.

Starthistle seedheads contain some energy - even at this time of year.  The sheep eat these seedheads despite the thorns.
On this date last year, we'd received 10.99 inches of rain for the month of December.  Our average for December (at least in the ten Decembers we've lived in Auburn) is 8.13 inches.  So far in 2011, we've received 0.10 inches.  After getting just 1.12 inches in November, things are awfully dry here.  One definition of average is that half of the data falls above the average, and half falls below.  We're definitely on the "below" side this December!

Statistics may be boring, but the ramifications of such a drastically below average December (rainfall-wise) are anything but boring.  We're scrambling to find enough feed for the sheep now, let alone in 8 weeks when we start lambing.  While the cold weather and lack of moisture means that green grass is scarce right now, it also means that the forage we've already grazed isn't regrowing.  We experience our greatest forage demand in the last 4-5 weeks of pregnancy and the first 4-6 weeks of lactation - in other words, from mid-January through mid-April.  We bet on the averages - usually, we'll have enough rain to ensure the onset of spring grass growth by the third week of February.  This year, I'm not certain we'll win our bet.

We have several courses of action.  First, we're trying to save some forage that we haven't grazed for more than a year - this will hopefully get us through the first few weeks of lambing.  Second, we're providing supplemental protein and energy to the ewes right now.  The protein will help them digest the rougher, drier forage that we have available, and the energy will keep them going during these colder days.  If our winter drought continues, we may need to consider additional supplemental feed.  We may also need to consider selling some ewes to make sure our feed demand matches the quantity and quality of our supply.

In the meantime, we'd appreciate prayers for rain!  Here's hoping for a wet start to 2012!

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