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).