29 December 2008

End of the Year

Road plowed and sun shining.

Off to do shopping and get ready for 2009.

26 December 2008

After the Wind and Snow

Well the wind blew the snow and there was more snow. This is the hay barn, we rarely get winds that blow snow this far under the barn.

Even the back side lane which should have been protected got a lot of snow.

The pile next to the tractor is from the driveway just in front of the house.

This is looking out the driveway.

Even the roof is drifted over. This is very unusual because the metal roof usually lets the snow slide off pretty easily.

All the animals are fine. We're a bit short of things like milk and fresh vegetables but have plenty of food in the pantry and freezers and worst case have a whole corral full of dinner on the hoof. Ken's going to try to plow the driveway again and see if we can get out to town today or tomorrow.

Fortunately the power is on, our internet is wireless so also ok and our phones are cell phones and also working.

25 December 2008

Christmas Blizzard

We're under a blizzard warning now. Ken plowed the driveway yesterday and it snowed again.

Here's one of the ewes all covered in snow. The sheep are doing just fine, they enjoy eating the fresh snow. They are eating a lot more hay than normal but it's been cold and we have plenty so I'm not too worried.

Ken has to shovel paths to the horse feeders to be able to push the wheelbarrow out to them.

A white Christmas for sure.

23 December 2008

Clean your Ears

Winnie cleaning the ears of one of the rams. He seemed to enjoy it.

We got almost a foot of snow last night, on top of what we already had.

16 December 2008

A lot more Snow

A lot more snow today. Here are the ram lambs from this year

Even the ewes under the barn have snow in the barn. They all love the snow though, it's fun to eat snow cones.

14 December 2008


Well I was right, we got a lot of snow over the night. Flat Stanley is getting ready to leave us and go visit a friend in California. But here he is with Ken and the truck, covered in snow.

13 December 2008

The Smell of Winter

When doing chores this evening I was reminded of the smells of winter.

It's the calm before a major storm due in tomorrow and the smell of coal smoke is in the air. Just a faint whiff, not like 30 years ago when a day like this had an overwhelming smell of coal smoke from the furnaces in the valley. Now it's just a hint of the fuel that has kept people warm since it was settled by whites.

Now the coal combines with the smell of wood fires.

It also smells like snow. You can feel and smell the storm before it comes. I expect a lot of snow tomorrow morning.

It's finally winter here in Colorado.

10 December 2008

Being Filmed

I was interviewed for the movie Locavore Movie about local food, sustainable farming and the state of modern agriculture. I have no idea whether any of my answers will be in the movie. It is due to be produced only on DVD and available in the Spring of 2009.

Flat Stanley got his picture taken as well.

09 December 2008

Flat Stanley has a Busy Day

Today was a busy day here at the farm. Stuff didn't really get started until the afternoon but we had a lot to do.

Our first problem was the septic tank. We've had some sewer gas backing up into the house when we do laundry. The plumber came yesterday and we found a trap that was dry but as a precaution he suggested we get the septic tank pumped. It was last pumped in 2000 so we are a bit overdue. Flat Stanley got to help Ken use the backhoe to uncover the tank.

Cheerful Cesspool Service came out and did the actual job. They were great to work with and came the same day I called.

I took Stanley to look for eggs.

Unfortunately our chickens are old and we haven't gotten any eggs for weeks. If they don't start laying, now that their molting is over, they will go to be butchered by the end of the year.

My next job is to go get the mail. Our mailbox is out on the main road.

We filled hay feeders this morning so there wasn't anything to do for the sheep. Desert Weyr Gwenda came over to sniff Stanley though.

Wye Hieghts Fychan AKA Wye Heights C-3 is by himself in a pen. He is scheduled for slaughter this week so is separated from the rest of the rams.

Last stop was to check out the main ram pen. Our guard dog Winifred aka Winnie is fascinated by Flat Stanley.

07 December 2008

More Fencing

To get the back cedars section ready for Larry we had to take down the old fence that was there.

THis is where the new fence will go. Ken moved a bunch of rocks out and smoothes the ground.

Another view of the new fence.

Sighting down the new fence line.

06 December 2008

New Divider Fence

With the front west orchard pasture now reseeded back to permanent pasture we needed to install a more permanent divider fence.

This fence is far enough away from the trees that we can get the tractor and marker down beside them but still not too far into the pasture.

With a good solid welded wire fence we can save this pasture for hay, or graze it with rams or just stockpile it for later grazing by the ewes and lambs.

Good fencing will give us more options in how we use this new pasture.

05 December 2008

Sheep AI Day Three

Day three proved to be very hectic. We had poor post thaw mobility on the frozen semen for some reason so we had to rearrange and collect all the rams again and use fresh cooled semen.

With 56 ewes to inseminate and 15 rams to collect it was impossible to get any pictures of the procedures.

Our cell phone coverage is good if you use Sprint but poor for other carriers. Here is the sweet spot for Verizon users. Wish we'd known this was the right spot when we had other guests who needed to use it!

04 December 2008

Sheep AI Day Two

Day Two was more ram semen collections.

Here the boys are in the chute waiting their turn.

Processing semen in the lab prior to freezing it.

02 December 2008

Sheep AI Day One

We volunteered to be a test flock for a new sheep AI procedure. Day 1 was to give the ewes their shots to bring them into heat. I didn't get any pictures of the procedure as we were working fast to get them all done at a specific time.

For the actual inseminations we will be putting the ewes into this squeeze chute.

Our plan is collect semen for use in the AI and to donate to the USDA NAGP gene bank. Rams had to have their pictures taken and scrotal circumference measured.

The laboratory was set up inside the shop building where we had heat and plenty of light.

USDA-ARS people working in the lab.

01 December 2008

Lovely Sunset

Lovely Colorado Sunset

Living with Solar

We've finished installing the solar hot water system and after a month or so I thought I'd post the first lessons we've learned.

Installing a solar system will not in an of itself make a huge difference. You will also have to change your behavior to take advantage of the system strengths and weaknesses.

For us this has meant a few issues with how we handle water usage.

The solar system includes the panels and a storage tank. During the day the tank is filled with heat collected by the solar panels. This heat is used over the course of the night to heat water and the house. At this time of year a full day of sun will not only fill the tank to its maximum temperature but we start dumping heat out the overflow loop. So the key to making best use of the solar energy we can collect is to adjust our use of hot water.

What we've found is that we can't really start using hot water until after a couple of hours of full heat collection. We also need to stop using hot water near the end of the day so the tank goes into night fully charged so to speak.

The biggest issue has been laundry. My normal mode was to start a load of laundry as required early in the morning. What works better from a solar standpoint is to start laundry after lunch to mid afternoon. That way we use the hot water from the solar panels but we still have enough time to finish collecting heat for the evening.

We've already made a difference in how much propane we use. We'll see how well it does after we've had a full winter.

27 November 2008

Flat Stanley's Thanksgiving Dinner

Flat Stanley joined us for Thanksgiving dinner.

But first we had to make the mashed potatoes.

I had made some bread so Stanley got to see it.

The turkey looks great. It wasn't done so we had to cook it some more.

Oogie & Ray McGuinness at the table ready to eat.

Doing the dishes afterwards.

26 November 2008

Flat Stanley and the Sheep

Flat Stanley was freezing so we made him some coveralls. We have to go do some sheep work outside. This was his first introduction to our sheep toys.

Ewes in the chute ready to be worked with Stanley watching.

25 November 2008

Flat Stanley

Flat Stanley arrived from TN to visit us for a while. Here he is with Larry and Andrew as they are working on the new elk fence.

Larry's Back!

Larry's back to do the next section of big elk fence. This will be the last tall fence we put in. It will go from the hay barn around behind the house and will also enclose a small section of the cedars pasture.

We had to start taking down parts of the old fence. Here Ken's getting all the wire off the old corner brace.

Pulling posts.

13 November 2008

Toe Trimming & Deworming

Finished trimming toes on the last half of the adult ewes today. The sheep have better feet this year compared to other years. We've been culling for poor hoof growth patterns for a while but not very heavily. Seems to have made a big difference this year though. Next batch to do are the adult rams. Then we have to do toes on all the lambs from this year in 2 batches, ram lambs and ewe lambs. We use a grape pruning shears to trim hooves. They've got rounded tip blades that are curved and they work much better than any other type of trimmer. I like to have several sets of trimmers so that when one gets dull I can easily switch to a sharp set.

We also gave this batch of ewes their fall dewormer to remove nose bots. Nose bots are a significant parasite for our flock and ivermectin is the only dewormer that works on them. We still have half the ewes to deworm and all the rams, ram lambs and ewe lambs but at least we got started. We won't have to deworm until next spring before we turn out onto pasture.

07 November 2008

Sorting Sheep

No pictures but a lot of work. Today we sorted all the adult ewes into their breeding pens. I also got the toes trimmed on half of them. We've still got to trim toes on the rest of the adult ewes, all the rams and ram lambs and all the ewe lambs but it's a start. I only got one blister and hope it heals before I have to finish the job.

06 November 2008

Guard Dog

Winnie in the pen with some of her sheep. She is now guarding the adult rams who have not only their winter pen but the entire west side of the orchard to run in. We are hoping they will clean up the ground fall apples.

04 November 2008

Planning Breedings

I have the opportunity to run 14 primary breeding rams this year and 2 backup pens. Each primary ram will only have 4 ewes and then the backups will each have 28 ewes. This is a chance to use 16 different rams for breeding, an opportunity that is very rare and potentially really valuable.

Trying to plan how best to use this opportunity has taken a lot of work.

My first task was to evaluate and rank all my adult rams. I have 27 so there is a good set to choose from. I took my number 1 and number 2 ram and decided they are going to be my backups for this season. I then picked out the next best 20 rams that I would select my candidate primary rams from.

Then I tried to pick the four ewes to go together, find a primary ram. That went fairly well but when I got to the next step, put the backup pens together I got stuck. I wanted to combine groups of ewes so that I didn't have to sort or handle any sheep after the primary breeding to avoid any risk to the potential lambs from excess handling. I got bogged down in the problem of groups not being able to go to my chosen backups and using rams in more than one primary group which is impossible. I got frustrated and gave up for the day.

When I felt up to it I tried again. This time I worked the problem backwards.

I sorted all my ewes into major bloodline groups. Then I sorted the groups into the 2 backup ram pens. I took my 2 backup rams out of contention for use as primaries.

I took each separate group of ewes in a single backup pen and sorted them into 7 groups of 4 ewes each. These will be my primary breeding groups. In this sorting I tried to keep closely related ewes together (mom, daughters and granddaughters) or otherwise have groups of 4 that are very similar in quality and faults.

I then took all the potential rams I can use that I had identified before and took all their pedigrees and laid them out on the table so I could see and review all the pedigrees. I had 20 rams picked out as possible primary breeders. Only 18 pedigrees fit on the table so the other 2 are on the counter.

For each group of 4 ewes I would turn over the rams I could not use on them for one reason or another. I am trying not to double up on any Abbotstone Urwin bloodlinee. I also wanted to improve wool in some lines where wool has been poor and I wanted to focus on meat quality so tried to put ewes with rams that would improve the carcass traits in the lambs.

For each group of 4 ewes I picked out a number 1 and number 2 ram to use as a primary. I did each individual group of 4 ewes separately starting with all 20 potential mates.

Then I went through all the groups to make sure I did not have a ram used twice. Where I did I went to the backup ram for one or the other of the groups. I was left with only a single group of 4 ewes who had both their first and second choices being used already as rams because they were the first choice for some other group.

I then took those 4 ewes and did the process over again but took their number 3 ram for them.

The entire process from start to finish took about 4 hours but I now have all the matings planned.

I also got to review all my mating plans and choices with a good friend who is a retired animal science professor in California who also breeds sheep, goats and cattle.He agreed with not only my groupings of ewes and my reasons for grouping them that way but thought the mating plan made sense. There are some risky matings and some that are a test of rams that are unproven but on the whole I am pleased it worked out as well as it did.

Now to get all the girls bred and see what we get next spring!

03 November 2008

Meat Cutting

We got the opportunity to watch some of our sheep being processed at the slaughterhouse.

This is a typical carcass of a US line sheep.

First step is breaking the carcass in half.

This is the cross section. This is not a very meaty loin compared to some of our sheep.

We had one lamb show up with a spool joint. This is usually the designation for a mutton. She was only 6 months old. The carcass on the left has a break joint and is a lamb. The carcass on the right has a spool joint and is a mutton.

Frenching the racks.

Trimming all fat off.

Bagging the boneless roasts into netting .

The packages are prepared to be vacuum sealed.

Here they are being packaged by carcass into the boxes.

We learned a lot watching the crew work on our sheep. Our biggest impression is how much fat our sheep have on them. These are entirely grass finished and not fed any grains yet they had more fat cover than I expected to see. I can only imagine how fat they would get if fed grains.

The lamb that had to be marked as mutton was also interesting. Most Black Welsh are slow growing and it is unusual to have one grade out as a mutton when less than a year of age.

The meat cutting and packing crew was 8 people and it took about 20 minutes to fully process one carcass. That is one reason for the high cost of food. A good slaughterhouse has a very skilled set of workers and they spend a lot of time making sure the meat is cut to order. The difference between a small place like this one and a huge assembly line is obvious. The smaller plant cares and every person is skilled and can do most of the jobs. They know how to cut meat to individual orders and are willing to keep individual carcasses separate and tracked for us. A far cry from huge plants where each worker only does a single cut all day.

It's a pleasure to have such a good partner in providing our customers with good meat.