Tuesday, March 29, 2011

True Substance

Like everything in life, blogging is really difficult to do right, in that scratching below the surface to write something meaningful takes some deep digging, every day. To quote the English teacher on Easy A, "I don't know what it is with your generation's obsession with posting everything they do online, but I assure you, they're not all gems." It's easy to see why lots of people just don't make it in the blogging world, but I'm determined not to give up so easily. However, in an effort to really get to some hard stuff, some true soul searching as to my part in agriculture and why I wake up every day proud to associate myself with this industry, I'm going to have to refer to you. Ask me questions, the things you really want to know.

This past week marked the weaning season for us out on the Wenner Farm. Now, being a pretty small operation, this isn't as crazy as at some places, but the general ideas are the same. Sheep are ruminants and contrary to some opinions, they actually like to eat grain and forage, rather than milk-based products for all of life. As sheep get older, their stomach's other compartments begin to expand, converting them from the simple Abomasum (which handles milk) to the more complicated bacterial vat called the Rumen, with its associated cooperators, the Reticulum and Omasum. To facilitate this process which also leads to greater growth and a healthier life for the lamb, the mothers and us cooperate to introduce it to hay, and then feed. Once the lamb is eating enough, we separate it fully from the mother. This helps to dry off the mother so that she doesn't get mastitis and can recover from her pregnancy and lactation, as well as helps the lamb to focus on consuming the food which is best for it.

Of course, this separation leads to some anxiety between the ewes and their lambs, but not due to anything beyond an adjustment to the new system. Once the mothers have dried off we turn them out to pasture where they can start grazing on the brand new grass pushing its way up through the ground. It's a happy day when we get to turn the ewes loose to watch them prance around, excited to be turned out and running again. The excitement usually wears off in a day or two, but it's fun to watch until then. This sorting of the ewes also gives us an opportunity to evaluate all the ewes and determine which to keep for another breeding season and which to sell at market where other producers might pick them up, or they might end up in the food chain as mutton.

The lambs are kept indoors for more intensive observation because this is the critical part of their lives where they are growing and more susceptible to disease. Since we raise show lambs, for the most part, it's easier for us to decide which to keep and which to sell to other people when we find people who are interested. Of course, all of this will come later, as I update you as to what's going on at the farm. For now, it's weaning season and the ewes are starting to get turned out. Both us and them wish for some warmer weather as we sit through this abnormally low temperature Spring.

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