For a few of our early bird lambs, life started in the "sheep shed" on a fresh bed of straw and wood chips. Pictured is one of our Suffolk cross lambs from 2017. This one, #5, became a favorite of ours and often took a liking to being the first to meet us at the fence at chore time so he could get a chance to nibble on any sort of clothing he could get his mouth on. Many of these Suffolk cross lambs start out dark or black and gradually turn "white" as they age. Lambs were tagged and castrated within a day or so depending on how vigorous they were.
Then it was out to pasture! This next picture was taken as we moved the flock into their first paddock for the season. The gangly fellow on the right seems to be doin' a little jig. I don't know if you've ever been around lambs but if you have you'd know that lambs are pretty good at "jigs"! Cheap entertainment I tell ya.
The lambs and their mothers then spent the summer grazing in Electronet paddocks. Electronet is the white fence you'll see in the background of this picture. It allows us to quickly set up predator proof pens and keep the lambs and ewes moving on to fresh pasture every 1 to 3 days. Two things we appreciate about sheep (its always important to look on the bright side when your dealing with sheep) are their tendency to graze what we would consider less desirable forage species (thistles, coarse forbs, and shrubby stuff) as well as their rapid movement. Sheep are always on the go it seems, and when trying to build a litter layer to improve soil humus their trampling down of grass can actually be beneficial!
The sheep were supplied water and mineral by a mobile sled carrying both a water tank and mineral feeder. Since we do not use any conventional wormers or meds on our sheep, for parasite protection we used a monthly dose of a non-toxic soap called Shaklee's Basic H in their water tank to help rid them of any internal parasites. Also their mineral mix which consisted of a 50/50 by weight mixture of Fertrell Nutri-Balancer and diotomaceous earth helped to keep any parasites from getting a hold. Yet another crucial part in our parasite management plan (this is big with most sheep) was the frequent movement of the sheep to fresh pasture. Keeping them on fresh grass that hasn't seen lambs for quite a long while is a good way to break any pest's lifecycle.
Lambs were weaned once they were a little over three months old. We sold this group's mothers at this time because in the coming year we hope to start with a different breed of sheep that is a little more genetically adept at thriving in a purely grass based operation.
After spending the rest of the summer months and the beginning of fall grazing perennial pasture grasses, the lambs were put on some higher energy, seeded, annual forages. For about a month and a half the flock grazed purple top turnips to help them meet their finishing energy requirements. It was quite a sight to see some of these guys poppin' softball sized turnips out of the ground!
Mmmm, me like me mineral!
Once that month and a half was up the lambs were put-up in their winter quarters for the last few weeks before slaughter. Here they were fed a high quality alfalfa-grass mix to put on those last few pounds. Pictured above is number five from the beginning of this narration!
In the end we were left with some absolutely mouthwatering, super nutrient dense meat packed with vitamin B-12, iron, selenium, zinc, and much more. Our pastures were also better off for it. Raising sheep while respecting their herbivorous nature is a win win for the land and the people who will consume their meat!