Feb 2012 - winter activities

It seems like health concerns have dominated the last several months-mostly those of my step-mom but my Dad and John’s Dad are getting into the groove too.  My stepmom continues to valiantly fight her cancer and the side effects of all the chemo treatments.  We thought we were going to lose her early last week but she has significantly rallied and it looks like we will enjoy her presence in our lives for, hopefully, quite a bit longer.


In addition to supporting our parents when they need our help, we’ve been staying busy keeping all the stock fed and cared for, taking the kids to their various events, and lots of other projects.  John is in the midst of a major farm shop reorganization and thinning. I’ve been trying to do more to advertize our yarns and wool on the web as well as dealing with yearend accounting and tax prep.  It is also time to start to return some attention to my job as county Farm Bureau president.  I’ve lost a few  productive days recently to a horrible head cold and now it seems to have become a sinus infection.  Hopefully the antibiotics I’m on for 2 weeks will help get things back under control.


I was thankfully feeling well enough to go to Boise early this week to get more details about the Washington, DC trip John and I won.  We will be going to Washington DC in early March as Idaho Farm Bureau Ag Ambassadors.  I am really looking forward to getting to meet with American Farm Bureau, USDA, and our congressional delegation.  John has never been to DC, and I haven’t been since I was 15-16 years old, so it will be great to tour all the various monuments and sights.  Farm Bureau is trying to arrange tours of the capital and the White House, as well.  We have arranged for friends to care for our livestock while we are gone and other friends will take the kids.  Hopefully, the older generation’s health issues will not become crises while we are out of town.  My sister-in-law and I are trying to get John’s Dad to have the surgery he needs very soon, or after we get back so that we will be able to provide the support he needs.  He is so sure he won’t need help after his 4 day stay that he will likely schedule the surgery whenever he darn well pleases.


I serve on the Idaho Farm Bureau sheep and goat committee and during our meeting I got an update on newly implemented regulations dealing with restrictions on how we can use antibiotics and other medicines to treat our sick or injured animals.  We use very little of these medicines ourselves, but I was really surprised by the level of record keeping, and conferring with our vet, we will have to keep/do to comply.  We will no longer be able to assess our animals health and treat the animal without confirming our assessment with our vet.  I wonder how happy he will be when I call him at 3 am during lambing when I believe that I have a sick animal that needs treatment now…not after he gets to work.  Certain illnesses are very fast moving and must be treated as soon as identified.  There is a certain amount of stockmanship/animal husbandry that a person develops over multiple years of being around their animals and now we can no longer just act on our knowledge/experience.  We have long called to confer with our vet when we were unsure what treatment would work best, but now we will have to have that conversation most every time.  I guess the USDA doesn’t think we can be trusted to treat our animals intelligently anymore.


Apparently, one of the rams we got this summer took advantage of getting lose in August as we had a set of lambs born in January.  The ewe was unable to save both lambs, it was around 10 degrees that night and we were not expecting anything to happen, but the little survivor is doing pretty well.  We brought the rest of the flock in to try to assess if other ewes were developing udders (sign of upcoming delivery) but thankfully there were only one or two other ewes who might be getting close to lambing.  The rest should lamb in late April..when the weather should be much more cooperative.  We’ll keep a closer eye on the handful of potential early lambers and hopefully we’ll be able to save all the lambs that the naughty fellow sired.


I’m trying to not fret too much about the lack of snow this winter but it is very worrisome.  We got some rain a while back and that is actually not at all helpful.  When it rains on frozen ground a lot of that moisture makes its way into the waterways and heads downstream.  That moisture in the creek will do us very little good this coming spring and summer.  John’s Dad says that 1960 was a winter like this, and that there were heavy rains in the spring that kept him from planting his crop until mid-June.  Hopefully we will get adequate moisture in the form of snow, or as rain after the ground has defrosted and can absorb the moisture.  We decided to not sell anymore hay, just in case we are unable to produce much of a crop next year.  It is sure hard to profitably produce grass-fed beef and lamb when mother nature doesn’t send us the moisture we need to grow our summer grass, and hay for the winter. 


Introducing Ewes to Legume Pastures

I let the ewes and lambs have access to a pasture with a patch of alfalfa in it for a few hours today. Several have bulging left sides where their rumen is located.  The bacteria that have been digesting grass and alfalfa hay are finding it easier to digest the alfalfa and are therefore making more gas. Hopefully the bloat preventing supplement is keeping the gas levels to a manageable level. One ewe had me very worried as she was panting with her mouth open-a possible sign that her large rumen was making it hard for her to breath. She had stopped panting when I stopped watching and came to the house.  Hopefully she'll be okay.

I'll let them eat some more tomorrow in an effort to get their rumen bacteria adjusted to such a digestible feed source.  I saw that I need to buy some more bloat block tomorrow too-they've eaten good portions of the 10 blocks I put out ($200 worth).  Hopefully the store in town has more and I won't have to go out of town to buy more.

In a few days they should be able to eat in the alfalfa grass mixture pasture without too many problems, though we will keep them on the bloat preventing supplement blocks just to be sure.  If we get a late season frost which would damage the cell walls making the alfalfa even more digestible, any animals grazing the alfalfa could be at risk (risk is minimized by the bloat preventing blocks we put out).

This is a stressful period for us.  We have lost ewes and lambs to bloat in the past and so try to learn from those experiences and safeguard our flock from futher losses.  Keeping the ewes on these alfalfa pastures is necessary because it lets the  pastures at the Meadow farm grow and be ready for the sheep in a few weeks.  It also keeps the young lambs away from the coyotes that live near the Meadow.  The ewes and lambs will also benefit from having such high quality feed-if we can keep it from killing them.


June 3 update

We are just waiting on one cow and a couple of ewes to have their babies.  The vast majority of our lambs and calves arrived safely and with minimal help from us.  We had 12 sets of triplet lambs born this year, which is way more than we usual have.  We have a bumper crop of lambs this year, as very few mature ewes have had singles.

We have moved all the yearling cattle to the meadow to begin grazing the pastures there, leaving just the beeves we will harvest in July, and the ewes and lambs here at the town farm.  In the next few days we will begin grazing the ewes and lambs across some alfalfa grass mixture fields.  We have started the ewes and lambs on a bloat preventing supplement to try to prevent this deadly problem.  Bloat can occur when animals graze on legume pastures (like alfalfa) because the bacteria that ferment their feed in their rumen (stomach) can produce more gas than the animals are able to pass by belching.  The gas can expand their stomach to the point that the lungs are unable to expand-causing rapid death.  The compound in the supplement stops the frothy bubbles from forming in the rumen, and thus prevents bloats in animals that consume it.  Alfalfa is a very high quality feed-very palatable, very digestible and high in protein but it can be deadly if not carefully grazed.

Checking the ewes and lambs to detect health problems, feeding the “bummer” or bottle fed lambs and calf, and now building temporary fences to control the ewes access to the pastures is keeping me busy.  The kids are now done with school for the summer, so the season of hauling them to 4-H activities, base/softball games and practice, scouting and dance is now in full swing.  We are also making weekly trips to the butcher to replenish our meat supplies from the meat we store there.

John is hoping to finish planting our new hay and grain fields in the next day or two.  He is also getting all the fences repaired and is going to rebuild a section of old fence along our perimeter.  The water system has need a major repair which has delayed our being able to get animals into some of the pastures. 

We are planning to “work” the cattle next week.  We will give the calves their booster vaccinations to supplement those they were given shortly after birth.  We will give the cows their annual booster vaccinations as well, they are vaccinated against diseases that cause abortion as well as other diseases.  The yearlings will also get their booster shots.  The yearlings will also get branded at this time.  Branding is the only way to prove legally that the cattle we take to the butcher are our own.

I’m hoping to get several fleeces skirted so I can deliver them to the spinner on the 11th.  I’m not sure how long we will have to wait to get them back as yarn.  I hope to get a batch of yarn dyed too.  Sometime soon I hope to get a few things into the garden- although we are still getting heavy frosts. 

I’m late getting to our daughter’s softball game so I’ll leave this a bit short for now.



Flat Andy's Spring Visit

Hello Students,

I bet you thought I forgot to report back on Flat Andy’s adventures on our farm!  But I didn’t forget, but I am very slow getting the job done.

Flat Andy has been busy this spring.  As you may know we raise beef cattle and sheep here in Soda Springs.  So spring on our farm means BABIES and shearing the sheep.

We started calving in mid April, and we started lambing on Easter weekend.  Flat Andy got up with me several times at 3 am to check for newborn lambs in the snow.  When the weather is cold we check every 2-3 hours for babies-day and night.  I found it very hard to take photos of Andy helping to warm the cold lambs with the radiant heater but here is a photo of a brand new set of triplets being warmed up in the middle of the night.

We had a farm record of 12 sets of triplets this year, and a ton of twins and very few single lambs.  Did you know that some breeds of sheep even have quadruplets (4 at a time) or quintuplets (5 at a time)?  We’ve never had more than triplets-thankfully.  Most ewes (mom sheep) need help to feed three babies so many times it is better to just have a set of healthy twins.

On one of those trips to bring new lambs into the barn Flat Andy got his foot stepped on by a ewe and we lost part of his boot. 

Our ewes lambed really quickly this year with 80% of the 100 pregnant moms lambing in just 3 weeks so Flat Andy and I were really busy bringing new lambs into the barn.  We bring them in to separate them for 24 hours from other families so the ewe and lambs learn to be a family, and we can make sure everyone is healthy.  Sometimes a ewe will be so excited about lambs that she will actually steal lambs from another ewe.  We try to make sure the lambs all end up with a mom who loves them and has enough milk to feed them.

Sometimes a ewe will be so sick, or have so little milk that we have to raise her lamb on the bottle.  We call these lambs bummers.  We give them bottles 4 times a day at first and then eventually they are only fed twice a day as they learn to eat hay etc.  We also give them a heat lamb to help them stay warm in really cold weather.  We had 8 bummer lambs this year, and several others that were getting a bottle once a day, or who were drinking from a self feeding bucket.

Normally we shear the sheep before we lamb but it didn’t work out that way this year.  Flat Andy was pretty impressed when he watched the ewes get their annual haircut.  He also thought the wool was really soft!  Most of yarn is sold and eventually ends up in mills that make blankets or coats.  We have a small amount of our wool made into yarn which we sell at farmers markets.  The lambs can find the ewes teats much easier when she is “naked” so I think they like having Mom be shorn.  

Since our sheep do not have to walk on roads (like range herds) or over many rocks which would wear their hooves down we have to trim our sheep’s hooves at least once a year.  Flat Andy thought our “tilt table” was pretty cool, since it just lays the ewes on their sides so we can access their hooves to trim them.

Do you remember getting your shots so you could go to kindergarten?  Well we have to give our ewes two shots a year, and our lambs get vaccinated when they are just 3-4 weeks old, and then again in 3 weeks.  Flat Andy was glad he didn’t have to be vaccinated, but the lambs are quite brave!   We use a “multi dose syringe” that allows us to give a little bit of vaccine to a number of animals quickly.

Fairly soon we will start putting our animals out on our pastures so they can graze and stop feeding hay.  We are waiting for the pastures to get enough growth so they won’t be damaged by grazing too early.

We don’t handle our newborn calves nearly as much as we handle the lambs… they are so much bigger when they are born, and they almost always come just one at a time so unless the weather is really aweful their Mom can  usually take care of things without any human help.  Here is a newborn calf.   This calf is about a month old.   The calves are given their first vaccinations when they are only a few days old, they also get their ear tag at that time.  We will give them another vaccination in mid June, and the yearlings will also get another booster which will last them until they are harvested for meat.

Thank you for sending us Flat Andy, and thank you for your patience.  I hope you enjoyed seeing the baby lambs, and so hopefully waiting for them to arrive was worth it.  If you have other questions you can always ask your parents to let you come visit the farm.  Tomorrow the entire 3rd grade is coming here for a tour!

Have a great summer!



May 9th newsletter

We are in the midst of one of our most busy seasons of the year.  We are about 2/3rds of the way thru our calving, the remaining 1/3 of the cows should calve in the next month or so.  Most of our cows have successfully delivered their calves without any assistance from us.  One cow had twins and didn’t want the second calf so we are raising the extra calf on the bottle. 

We started lambing on Easter weekend and now 16 days later 70 ewes have lambed.  I keep thinking things will slow down but that may not happen until around the 18th.  Ewes have a 21 day estrus cycle, so most of the lambs should come within about 21 days of their earliest due date.  Amazingly we have had 11 sets of triplets born this year-which has to be a herd record for us.  It looks like we will have around a 200% lamb crop this year, if we can keep them all well.  We have only lost a handful of lambs this year-and half of those we lost when their mothers laid on them.  Several of our mothers of triplets have had health issues, which has forced us to give them antibiotics…so all their lambs will be sold as antibiotic treated lambs.  I have had to play midwife twice this year, once when the lamb had one leg back (they are supposed to come nose and both front legs first) and once when the lamb was just too large for the ewe to deliver easily.  These two ewes also required antibiotic treatment for uterine infections.  I do my best to keep things clean when delivering lambs but that’s not easy when you’re out in the dirt.  If you want to read about our first set of triplets you can find some info at:

We were finally able to get the ewes shorn a few days ago.  The newborn lambs will be able to find their mother’s teats much easier now that their mothers udders and legs are not wooly.  But I’m sure the ewes are missing their wool coats since it has been raining or snowing all day.  I’ll work on getting the fleeces skirted and down to the Jim & Lynn of Spinderella’s Creations to be turned  into yarn as soon as I can.  In the next week or so we’ll get the lambs vaccinated, and start getting the ewes feet trimmed.  We normally trim feet as we go thru lambing, but we waited until after shearing as the newly trimmed hooves are more likely to hurt the shearer if the ewe kicks during shearing.

We have removed the bull from the cows, so they don’t breed the cows as soon as they come into heat again after calving.  We will get their annual health test done tomorrow and then take them to a friend’s bull pasture until we need to turn them in to breed, in early July.  We will soon need to bring all the cows and calves in for their booster vaccinations as well.


John has been working on getting all of our electric fences up and running so we can keep the cows contained.  The deep winter snows are always a bit hard on the fences, so they all have to be checked, and some insulators may have to be replaced.  In the coming weeks John will be planting grain on the farm he plants for another family, as well as a bit of alfalfa on our property.  Our winter wheat seems to have come thru the winter in good condition.

My time on the computer is greatly limited this time of year so please be patient with me if you place an order for May 21st.  We have to check for lambs at least every 3 hours, which means we are both a bit sleep deprived.  I spend many hours in the barn caring for the newborns and my bottle lambs.  The beginning of market season has come and I find I have not completed all my winter projects.  We had hoped to have new signage for the yarn and for the meat, the new website completely ready and a store for the yarn created.  I also need some nice weather so I can get some new batches of yarn dyed!  I’m really looking forward to Thursday when warmer weather is supposed to return…I’m already sick of the rain and snow.