Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ram Pedicure Results

Photo: Brian McArtor demonstrating how to trim hooves without the help of a deck chair. He is also using a pair of ARS Trimmers.

Mike and I finally trimmed the hooves of the rams Friday afternoon. Of course we had to use a few Premier products (these are Premier sheep on the Premier farm after all).

Mike held the ram in the Deck Chair as I trimmed his feet (the ram's not Mike's). All the trimmers sliced through the hard and dry hooves without issue. The air powered PowerParers worked well for the less detailed work of snipping the tips and overgrowth. To put a finishing touch on each hoof, I got nose to hoof with the ExoTrim and ARS Trimmers. Mike also used a Hoof Rasp several times, but the majority of the work was done with the trimmers. The job was completed with only a few minor mishaps, but they were nothing a dusting of Blood Stop Powder and SureFlexx Bandage couldn't fix.

Photo: The PowerParers cut down on hand fatigue by running off an air compressor rather than brute strength.

I received the reward for all the backbreaking work when I went to put on my coat the next day, and was knocked out by the lingering scent of ram. Luckily ram pheromones are a substitute for smelling salts and I was rudely awakened as quickly as I was knocked unconscious.

The whole ordeal was justified when the rams seemed to admire one another's pedicures. And happily, some were walking more comfortably as well.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hoof Trimming Update

Well, we've had a busy week so far applying even more raddle marker to the breeding rams and taking forage samples of our silage bales, but we haven't trimmed the hooves on the rams yet. I don't think that Mike is looking forward to that project.

To collect the forage samples of the silage bales, I had to drill into the bales with a drill bit that collected the sample as I made the hole, and then I had to repair the plastic cover of the bale. After drilling into and repairing 75+ bales, I'm curious as to what we are really feeding our sheep. We'll send the samples for a nutritional analysis (most likely for protein and minerals).

Hopefully we'll wrestle with the rams and take care of their hoof issues, otherwise what kind of shepherd would I be?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Preview for Next Week: Do Rams Like Pedicures?

Photo: Mike Corderman and Brian McArtor trimming a boer goat's hooves.

While walking down the hallway this afternoon I was stopped by Mike who asked me a very serious question, "are you busy the first half of next week?" I smelled a chance to get outside so I responded, "no, not yet." It turns out that our rams need their hooves trimmed, so check in later next week and I'll have something to say about wrestling well muscled Ile De France rams and attempting to provide them with pedicures.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Love is in the Air

The pastures of Premier are dappled with blue, orange and bright green smudges. The smudges are the ewes that have been marked by the rams this breeding season. Most of the rams have been turned out, but some were held back until early last week. Last Monday morning, Mike and I applied raddle marker to the chests of our three remaining rams. The raddle will give us the means to know which ewes have been bred.

Photo: Mike adds the first coat of Raddle Marker to our breeding rams. This is only the first of many coats for the season.

Monday's color of choice was blue, but during the past several weeks we have used green and orange markers.

Once the "boys" were released with the ewes, their noses were up in the air looking for that special someone.

Photo: This Ile de France ram is demonstrating the Flehmen Response, notice the curled lip and nose tilted in the air.

On Friday the rams and ewes were sent through the handling equipment, we documented the ewes that were marked by the rams. We use this information to determine when the ewes will be ready to lamb based on their 145 gestation period (ex. a ewe bred on November 5 should be ready to lamb on March 29th).

Photo: The raddle marker provides a distinctive mark for identification of bred ewes.

While the rams were restrained in the handling equipment, we applied more raddle marker to them, they seem to use quite a bit of the raddle marker.

At the East Farm, a new lambing/feeding building is nearing completion, the waterlines were finished Thursday, the window screens need to be installed and the electrical lines have yet to be run. Otherwise, the building is up and the sheep are now able to get out of the wind on the East Farm.

After playing "Love Connection", we brought baleage (hay silage) from the Home Farm to the East Farm. This will become a more common task during the winter when the pastures are covered in snow and the sheep are unable to find fresh grass.

Photo: Mike prepares some giant marshmallows (excuse me, haylage bales) for the sheep.

We unwrapped the bales and placed bale feeders around them. Once the bales were unwrapped, the sweetly acidic smell of silage permeated both the air and our nostrils.

Photos: The sheep decided that the haylage was indeed palateable and have since gone through several other bales. The bales are served in a Round Bale Feeder, not quite a silver platter but close enough.

Once the bales were placed the sheep were shepherded into the barn and after some hesitant chomps out of the bale, the sheep accepted their new diet and dug in. We'll have to bring more bales over in the next few days. This is our first year using silage on the farm, so feeding silage to our ewes will be a learning experience. We'll let you know how it turns out!

Photo: Dennis, Tracy, Mike and Patches hard at work herding the sheep.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shepherd for a Day

The Fall Catalog is finished, printed, and in the mail!! This means I’m no longer dreaming about writing catalog copy or worrying about layout and photos. I have enough time away from writing for the venture onto the farm. This is especially helpful because Carl McCall, one of the shepherds, is otherwise occupied with bringing in his own harvest. So last week I spent some time with the other shepherd, Mike Corderman, helping him do chores and repair fences.

I should explain the main reason about my day out. I’ve been working for about 2 ½ months but still do not know my way around the Premier Farm or know where the other farms (North and East) are located. Stan took me on a quick tour of the farms and decided I needed a better understanding of what (and where) Premier is.

The morning was like any other, bright blue skies with a slight chill in the air. I started it off by helping Mike fill buckets of corn and dumping them into feed bunks for the feeder lambs on the home farm. We sprinkled protein pellets over the corn and topped the bunks off with a bale of hay for good measure. All this occurred under the watchful eye and wagging tail of Sammy the guard dog puppy. We had to jump and dodge his tail a number of times before we were finished with the lambs. I thought puppies were typically small, Sammy is quite large but definitely a puppy.

Photo: Sammy is a Great Pyrenees, Shar, Polish Tatra, Maremma, and Spanish Mastiff cross.

Mike and I went out to the pastures to bring in the ewes and check whether or not the ram has marked (bred) them. We ran the ewes through the handling equipment (a series of chutes, gates and panels) to check each ewe for new marks, but we didn’t find any. Though I grew up on with sheep on my family’s farm, I’ve never used handling equipment, so this was a new experience for me. It allowed us to get close to the sheep without scaring the animals.

I was also introduced to the North Farm, where Premier keeps another set of feeder lambs and pastured ewes. We drove there in an old truck that had the lingering scent of ram in the upholstery. Too bad we don’t have a scented Farm Diary, otherwise I’d share it with you.

I filled buckets with corn for the bunk feeders and sprinkled protein pellets on top while Mike adjusted the round bale feeders. While walking down the aisle I encountered another type of guard animal, roosters. Premier keeps its roosters at the North Farm to prevent them from harassing their female counterparts. They were the good variety of rooster, the kind that don’t try to attack you when you walk by. I guess living with sheep all the time has affected them.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is sheep will try almost anything to get themselves into trouble. This ranges from the classic head caught in the fence to crashing through the side of a barn instead of going out the main door (yes, I’ve had that happen). Today was no exception, two of the ewes on the home farm had foot/leg issues. The first ewe’s hooves were overgrown and causing her foot pain. We trimmed her feet and treated her for hoof rot/scald in case that was present . On her walk back to the pasture her limp was almost gone. It’s a good feeling knowing you’ve helped an animal out. The second ewe had a laceration on her back leg that was causing her some issues. We brought her to the barn so she wouldn’t have to struggle in the pasture. She was treated for any potential infection and is now on the mend.

Photo: Mike Corderman prepares to give the lambs an injection.

The lambs on the North Farm recently came off pasture and were new to grain. Several of these lambs took the lions share of the grain and became sick. Mike discovered several of these downer lambs while adjusting the bale feeders at the North Farm. We carried them into a separate pen and provided them with hay and water hoping they would come out of their funk.

We went to the East Farm and we found Stan overseeing several projects that were going on there. We discussed the sick lambs and Stan thought that the overeating may have caused enterotoxemia. He informed us what to treat them with and if we had any questions while we were picking up the treatment supplies, Gordon (Sales/Shepherd) would be able to help us. While gathering treatment supplies (syringes and needles) we asked Gordon for any other treatment suggestions. He suggested an additional dosage of a different treatment to help combat other issues the lambs were experiencing. Back at the North Farm we treated the sheep we had separated off and found a few more in the flock that needed to be taken out and treated. Today the lambs are alive and healthy, their ears may be a little red from a lecture on proper ovine dietary habits but otherwise they are fine.

Once the lambs were treated, Mike and I finished the chores on the East Farm that we never quite started (treating sick sheep trumped moving sheep). We set up and took some down netting to create a path to move a set of ewe lambs from one pasture to another. Tracy, Frank and Tharren were also at the farm fixing a tile line and tarring the tops of fence posts. They took a break from work to help herd the sheep.

Photo: Stephanie Sexton takes the sheep for a walk on a brisk October Day.

After lunch we cleaned up a mess created by a creek on the home farm. The creek flooded during a heavy rain and washed debris into a fence of netting. After disconnecting the fence, we repositioned the netting and removed all the sticks, leaves and dirt that collected in the netting during the flood. There were several sections of netting that had been decommissioned because of the flood, so the project took the rest of the afternoon.

After a day of hard work, I went to my desk to find a pile of emails and work that I would need to catch up on. I tackled some of the work before sniffing the air and sensing the particular smell of sheep. It was at that point in the day I thought it would be wise to head home. When I left Premier, I smelled like a sheep and was a little red from the sun, so all in all, it was a good day at Premier.

Photo: Stan Potratz and Sammy (One of Premier's Guard Dogs in Training).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Catalog Season!

If you look across the fields and farmsteads of Southeastern, IA you’ll see farmers readying themselves for a fall harvest, birds traveling down the Mississippi Flyway for warmer climates, and at Premier we are putting the finishing touches on our Fall Equipment Catalog.

Instead of farming our catalog out to be produced by others, we do everything but the printing in-house. This allows us to develop a more intimate knowledge of our catalog and our products.

The various departments at Premier have been painstakingly working on products, copy, and graphics for our fall catalog. We have completed the majority of the work. Now it is down to editing, proofing content and fine tuning graphics.

What does the catalog process involve?

New products to offer are determined through customer commentary and reviews as well as in-house brainstorming. If you have an idea for a product you’d like to see us offer, feel free to let us know. We also spend time throughout the year field-testing our products to ensure that they’re worth being in our catalog. You’ll see a few of our employees’ backyards featured in the catalog where the products were tested.

Once products are determined, our photographer Tharren takes photos of all the products, being used in the field and modeled in the studio. We have so many photos to choose from it is now becoming difficult to pick which of them to use.

The copywriters (Stan and Joe) fill all the white space that the Graphics department leaves in the catalog with descriptions, instructions, how-to’s and everything else that needs to be written up and added to the catalog.

After the graphics department (Jody, Kerrie, and Tharren) ensures everything is aesthetically pleasing, the catalog is sent out among the staff for editing. Print-outs of the catalog are passed among the sales team and several others to edit content. This includes, Gordon, Sara, Mark, Brenda, Kolby, Stan, Mandy, Stephanie and Joe.

After the first round of editing, the edits are made to the catalog and a new set of print outs are produced.

Finally, Stan’s sister, Vivian, has the final proof, after her eyes check for typos and grammatical errors, the catalog is sent off to the printing press. Expect to see our finished product in your mailbox around mid-October.

This process may sound fairly straightforward, but it does take a lot of effort from everyone to pull it off.

We're always looking for new ideas and topics to write about, so if there is anything you'd like to see or read about in the Premier Farm Diary, feel free to contact Joe Putnam at jputnam@premier1supplies.com.

photo: Jody, Joe, Kerrie and Steph hard at work analyzing catalog format

Friday, July 2, 2010


After nearly 3 weeks of incessant rain, the skies have finally cleared and we've had a week of beautiful weather here in Iowa. The saturated ground has begun to dry, and folks are finally able to the mow their lawns, harvest garden produce, and walk across their driveways without needing mud boots.

This week at Premier has been a busy one. Photos for the fall equipment catalog are in full swing. Our summer intern, Kylie, has been in front of the camera nearly every day--she's been using foot trimmers & chicken CatchNets, helping work sheep, corralling puppies, and carrying around our new PRS 50 energizer. And through it all she never stopped smiling!

Hay production has also been going strong every day this week: mowing, tedding, raking and baling (both big round and small square bales). If you look closely at the floor in Premier's break room, you can see little bits of hay strewn about. Baling hay, you see, is a team effort here. Folks from various departments lend a hand at baling time.

Next week we will be cleaning out the chicken house and testing new poultry products. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sunny Skies Once Again

After nearly a week of solid rain, the sky finally cleared today and we actually saw the sun! Despite the soggy pastures, our resident group of pasture lambs seemed as excited for the sun as I was. Their watchful mothers, however, seemed quite reluctant to allow a photographer to venture close to their lambs.

North Farm

East Farm

The East farm has a group of very happy free-range geese, and one duck who thinks he's a goose. They spend their days waddling between ponds at the East farm.

Cheyenne Miller

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pasture Lambing Begins

Yesterday afternoon I went to the East Farm to see what was happening over there—you never know when photo opportunities will present themselves. I saw a few ewes standing in a small grove of trees, which I thought was odd as it was not particularly hot that afternoon, and the rest of the flock was happily grazing on a nearby hillside. I approached the grove of trees and quickly found what all the fuss was about—lambs! Born a week early, our pasture lambing had begun quite unexpectedly. The lambs, all singles, looked to be in good health. As a new mother myself, I was quite touched watching these ewes care for their newborns--shielding them from the elements while keeping a close eye on me. They softly grunted to their little lambs while the rest of the world carried on around them.

-Cheyenne Miller, Photographer

Thursday, April 1, 2010

New chicks!

Premier welcomed spring with 65 day-old peeps. Jean (co-owner of Premier) and I picked up the little birds from the post office, where the employees were only too happy to hand over the noisy box of chirping chicks. The incessant chirps were a good sign, indicating that the chicks where healthy and energetic, and indeed they were. We ordered them from an Iowa hatchery, which ships the birds via the U.S. postal service. This brought back childhood memories, as I recalled my dad picking up several hundred Leghorn chicks from the post office each year.

Our current flock of brown-egg layers is now two years old, and this summer they'll be moving to their new range -- a pond pasture behind the Premier offices. Most of the poultry photos on Premier's website and in the catalogs are of this flock.

Premier's new flock is a colorful group. The chicks don't know it, but it's their job to test a bunch of new poultry feeders, waterers, etc. and look their best for in-use product and netting photos. Accordingly, we ordered a variety of birds so we could test a wider variety of products for both free-range and backyard use.

On the list:
1) Brown-egg layers. We've been especially pleased with the Laced Wyandottes and Brahmas, so we ordered more of them, along with several each of Speckled Sussex, Partridge Rocks and Cuckoo Marans. (Another reason we like these chickens -- we enjoy the fresh eggs!)

2) Cochins. These are new for Premier, but popular among our backyard poultry customers. We selected Blue, Black, White and Silver-Laced.

3) Bantams. Incredible -- these wee birds make standard-size chicks look jumbo-sized! We have 24 of these, two or three of each: Frizzle Cochins, Golden Laced, Mottled and Barred Cochins, Black Silkies, Dark Brahmas, Mille Fleur, Golden Sebright, Japanese and the amazing White Crested Black Polish (these were the only ones we could immediately identify with certainty -- because they have what looks like little pom-poms on top their heads, even as day-old chicks).

It's proving to be an interesting little flock. Problem is -- as downy little chicks, they all look alike! We're slowly figuring out which is which as they grow their new feathers and begin to show their colors.
                                              –Vivian Rothe 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Scanning Data

We thought this information might be of interest to some regarding our recent scanning done here at Premier.

Ultra-sound testing conducted by a contractor with a long history of skill.

North farm.
196 ewe lambs exposed to 7 Dorper/Romanov rams in Dec 1 to Jan 15. 75% of lambs are Border Leicester/Ile De France/Romanov/Dorper, 25%Katahdin/Romanov/Dorper. Lambs born on April and May.
- 93% are pregnant
145 singles
37 twins
14 open.
This was a good result for lambs of this age, size and genetic makeup.

Home farm.
126 ewes (Border Leicester/Ile de France) were exposed in Nov. to lamb in Mar./April. Most of these are were too far along in gestation (110 days) for a fetal count to be truly accurate. We will shed lamb this flock.
94% pregnant. This is lower than the norm for this type of ewe at Premier. However 8 open ewes included culls from last year that were retained to allow us to conduct marking paint trials. If these were excluded the pregnancy % is acceptable.

East farm.
190 ewes exposed in Dec to Dorper/Romanov rams. Ewe genetics- a mix of Dorper, Romanov, Katahdin, Border Leicester genetics. Some are 100% hair ewes in appearance. Others appear 100% wool and are more than 60% Border Leicester.
- 97.5% pregnant.
45 singles
120 twins
20 triplets (perhaps 1 of these w. 4)
5 not pregnant

While the % pregnant was very good we were not happy to learn that so many ewes were singles. We suspect that the "single" ewes are those with a high % of Border Leicester genetics as we know, from prior results, that these ewes have many more lambs/ewes if exposed in October than December.

It's our intent to lamb these on pasture with minimal attention. (it's an experiment). We can't do this in SE Iowa until May. One negative aspect of this system is that, because the ewes are left alone from May 1 to June 10, we can't know which ewes had more twins vs singles vs triplets. Ultrasounding solves this. It allows us to separate the ewes in advance of lambing according to fertility and to keep them separate during lambing. We propose to cull the less prolific ewes and avoid retaining their lamb-and by this method trend toward a more prolific, aseasonal ewe flock.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Scanning Ewes

Hello Folks,
We are really ready for spring to arrive here at Premier. I am sure like most everyone else, we are sick of snow and ice. Green grass and warmer temperatures can not come soon enough.

Today we scanned all of the ewe lambs. Carol Dodge, Ewe Countem of Eau Claire, WI did the scanning. We then marked the ewes based upon Carol's scans as open, single or twins or more. Then the ewes will be sorted and managed depending on how many fetuses they are carrying.
Shed lambing starts here the end of March with pasture lambing starting the first of May.

We have also been busy finishing the spring fence catalog. It went to the printer earlier this week and should be in your hands the week of March 15th. Pictured are just a couple of the new products that will be featured in the 2010 edition. They can also be viewed on our website in the next couple of weeks. (Double Spiked ElectroNet, RaccoonNet to protect sweet corn, “all in one” solar units and Pig Quikfence.)