Flock Talk

At the end of the first week of January all the ewes are looking good as we move into lambing season here at Leafhopper Farm. Alfalfa ration remains steady with an occasional loaf of organic bread as a treat. All the mature ewes who have lambed before are showing belly. The first years look round, but determining by looks alone is no guarantee. Large sheep operations use ultrasound scanning to check pregnancy. This is important to determine lamb numbers, barren ewes who should be culled, and saving on feed. In a small flock like Cascade Katahdins, bread for good fertility, mothering, and food conversion champions- meaning, these sheep put on weight with minimal inputs- they don’t need grain. Katahdins are independent birthers- meaning humans don’t usually have to lend support. They are also great mothers, rarely refusing a lamb. These qualities make the lambing season a welcome time, with little stress- thank goodness!

As we move through January, appetites grow with belly size and I have fun speculating on twins vs. singles- remember, we don’t scan. But we’re not betting the farm on our lamb production, putting everything on one system, especially finances, is not cultivating diversity of resources, something any growing asset will need. The ewes need a few other minerals, which are crucial outside inputs for raising healthy Cascade Katahdins; iron, sodium, selenium, manganese, and Vitamin E are some of the most important in our region. A red/pink salt block covers most, and additional range blocks every few months add protein to support good lamb development. The sheep could survive without the range block, but optimal health is preferred to survival in a domestic setting. Wild ungulates don’t get salt or range blocks, but also know mineral location on a much broader landscape, and have adapted to life in the environment with what’s available. Copper is toxic to sheep, and you should never feed sheep goat or cattle supplements without first checking the label, because copper is necessary for those species.

Our fist lamb of 2023 comes into the world on January 25th- a healthy ram we named Otis Redding. His mom was a second time mother of a single, which is not optimal breeding, but the ram lamb is turning into a fine looking fellow and we’re happy with her offspring performance. The ewe is only three years old, but her lamb from last year is in the herd with great prospects too. In this herd, production is important, but the health and quality of lambs is just as important. The mother has two teats, and producing two healthy lambs is her optimal design. Single, large lambs are ok, but this ewe may not be in the herd for much longer, unless she produces twins next year. These herd decisions are hard, but keeping productive genetics in domestic animal system is a crucial part of what makes domestication applicable. We’ve optimized the inputs and have to get equivalent out. Wild systems are not held to commercial standards and have unpredictable margins which cause population boom and bust cycles, which humans have struggled to remove themselves from with stability. Domestic systems are stable only with the outside inputs. Have we lured ourselves into too great a false sense of security?

Leafhopper Farm LLC has been hosting successful animal systems for ten years, and the few outside inputs for our livestock have remained constant, even with price fluctuations, political turmoil, pandemics, and climate change. There are weakening links in supply chains, and costs are rising beyond our scale of productivity, but the lasting contributions of these domestic affairs will offer enough foundation to foster the return of temperate rainforest to a small patch of The Pacific Northwest. Dung, browsing, breeding, and becoming food for the community is an honorable life and death of sheep. It’s why we raise them, slaughter, consume, and shepherd Cascade Katahdins here at EEC. Gratitude to our working flock, and all the new life of 2023.

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