Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Check your harness.

Wrestling with a rambunctious ram to put on a harness is not the easiest of jobs but ensuring the harness is properly fitted can help avoid situations like the one below.

When using a marking harness make sure it is correctly fitted to the ram. An improperly fitted harness can cause chafing of the under arm area of rams who have little wool cover in this location. The friction between the strap and the animal can rub the skin raw. In the photo above the harness became loose, allowing the straps to rub on the animal.

Rams typically lose weight during the breeding season. The combination of exercise and lack of food consumption (they have other things on their mind) reduces the ram's girth causing the straps to loosen.  Harnesses can also loosen over time as the straps work their way into the wool.

Check a harness for proper fit during the season. This can be done when crayons are changed or when the flock is brought in to document new crayon marks. The harness should be tight to the rams body and exhibit minimal movement. Don't forget that the crayon also needs to be positioned between the legs.

(Note: The ram in the above photo was treated with topical applications of Iodine and Pinetar.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

An Early Morning Sort

Last week we started Wednesday morning a little earlier than usual. Mike and Carl needed help sorting sheep for the local auction. So Tharren and I arrived at work earlier than usual to help out the fellas. Tharren brought the camera along and was able so shoot a few photos. 

Photo: Carl (left) and Joe (right) bringing the sheep from the barn to the handling yard. 

Photo: Mike and Carl work on pushing the sheep into a handling pen. I had to turn around and open the pen behind me in order to fit all the sheep. 

Photo: We're about ready to start sorting. We needed to push the last sheep into the last holding pen and then we were ready. You may see in the background a prolapse harness hanging on the wall. We keep one on hand just in case we need it during lambing season. 

Photo: Mike putting his "shepherd's eye" to work. The pens on the left side of the handling system were our shear pens this spring. We would run the ewes through the handling system into each of these pens (there are doors between each pen for easy filling). 

When the sort was complete Mike and Carl hauled the sheep away while Tharren and I returned to the offices to grace the graphics department with "eau de sheep". 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Breeding season begins!

Photo: Mike and Carl took the flock down the road again. This time from the North Farm to the Home Farm. The total distance was about a mile. I was stuck back at the home farm with a ATV with a flat tire. I patched it and filled it with air in time to catch the guys closing the gate to the new pasture. 

It's that time of year at Premier. The rams have been brought out of storage and have been put to work in the pastures. On Monday Mike and I put a marking harness on each of the two Hampshire rams Premier acquired earlier this year.

Photo: The wooled ewes taking a walk to their new pasture. Within a few days we sent the rams in with them to start the breeding season. 

Tharren came out to take photos for a set of "how-to" instructions for the marking harnesses. We used both the cross your heart harness and the nylon harness. The nylon harness is designed for larger animals and the cross your heart fits goats and smaller rams with a more pointed brisket.

Photo: We scratched the crayon with the pin before inserting it into the harness. The mark identifies where the pin holes are on the crayon. This allows us to quickly line up the holes and insert the pin.  

The temperatures have been in the 65˚ range during the day. We used mild marking crayons which are designed to be used in 65˚-85˚ F temperature ranges. There are also cold and hot crayons. Cold crayons work best in temperatures below 65˚ and hot crayons work best above 85˚F. We chose mild assuming that the rams would be more active during the day than during the night.

Photo: Mike using a braided rope halter to pose the ram for a photo. The marking crayon in the cross your heart harness is a little high on the rams chest. It should sit between the legs. The correct position allows for optimal marking when the ram dismounts the ewe. 

Once the harnesses were on and the marking crayons inserted we took the rams out to the pasture. I noticed that the crayons were a little high on the rams chest and questioned myself on the effectiveness of crayons in a higher than recommended position. We waited a few minutes to see if the crayons would leave marks and they did. I would have preferred to re-adjust the harness in the field but it would be a little difficult to catch the rams in the open pasture. However, we will be bringing the flock in this week to ear tag the ewes and document which ones have been marked. While the flock is in the handling yards, we will re-adjust the harness so they would fit properly.

Photo: The rams on their way out to the pasture. They will be with 125 ewes for a few weeks. We plan to switch rams after a few weeks. But the first lambs dropped will be from these fellas. 

The ear tags we insert will be used to help make our lambing season less stressful. How? We will write down the tag number of each ewe and also the time frame she was expected to have been bred in. The ewes will be brought in shortly before they're due to lamb and we'll sort off the "soons" so they can be brought into the lambing jugs.  

Photo: It didn't take long for the rams to mark some of the ewes. I was happy that the high crayon placement still left a mark on the ewe. 

Photo: This ram is wearing the nylon harness. The yellow crayon he is wearing marked the ewes very well. We will switch crayon colors during the season to signify different breeding times/different sires. 

Ideally we would have put the harnesses on the rams a day or two before we sent them out to the ewes. This would have allowed the rams to get used to wearing the harness and allowed us to properly adjust it. Harnesses typically only need one adjustment after the initial installation. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A quick forestry lesson...

Last week I took a quick walk on the North Farm to open up a PermaNet electrified netting fence to let the sheep travel between pastures. As I was walking the fence line I saw the following: 

A closer view would show you this:

What you're looking at is a "hedge ball" from an Osage Orange tree. The Osage Orange is also known as Hedge, Bodark or Horse apple. The trees were commonly used for fence posts or as an actual "hedge".  The hedges acted as fences and the thorns on the trees deterred cattle from passing through. Barbed wire would eventually come onto the scene to replace hedge as the thorny deterrent. The orange/yellow wood makes excellent bows and is immensely strong. 

The fruit has been used to deter spiders, cockroaches, boxelder bugs and other insects. As I write this there is a hedge ball sitting on my desk—I have yet to have any insect issues!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Up and at'em

This week we moved a flock of ewe lambs between pastures at the North Farm. Premier photographer, Tharren, was able to shoot a few photos while the ewes walked through the dew covered grass during the early morning. A few of the ewes are marked with Red Super Sprayline. These ewes were with the wethers acquiring a few more groceries before we put them onto pasture.

The flock in the above photo is walking along an ElectroNet electrified netting fence. We used it to divide a clover field from a grass based pasture. In a few months we will put the rams in with these ewes for spring lambing. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Duck and Goose X-ing

The ducks and geese that live on the Home Farm have decided that they would like to live closer to the Premier offices. They switched ponds a few weeks ago and now occasionally block the driveway to the employee parking lot.

The waterfowl spend a fair amount of time on the driveway above. We will remedy this by putting up a roll of electrified netting to keep them on the pond and off of the driveway. 

To keep the distance the birds travel from feeder to pond, we put out a large Emperor Feeder by their new home. The feeder holds 110 lbs of feed and does not need to be protected from the elements like other feeders.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Preparing for a Better Breeding Season

Photo: A Suffolk ram that was new to our flock last year. He produced some very nice lambs for us.

We've been gearing up for our upcoming breeding season which starts late October/early November. This means we're tracking down marking harnesses and crayons as well as dusting off containers of raddle marker. We're also picking out the rams to use for breeding purposes.

We kept a few rams intact from this years lamb crop. In the May Farm Diary post "On the Job Training" we noticed a Katahdin ewe raising triplets on pasture after a cold/wet spell. Impressed with her ability to raise 3 lambs on pasture and with her lambs' survival ability we left one of her ram lambs intact when we processed lambs (castrating, vaccinating and ear tagging). We will be trying him out this year to determine how well he passes on his mother's maternal instincts and his tenacity for survival.

Photo: A Hampshire ram lamb we're going to experiment with this year. He's a handsome boy and we expect some nice sized lambs from him. 

Here are a few tips we'd like to pass on to help your breeding season, whether it's already started or starting later:

  • Put on the marking harness a few days before the ram goes out with the ewes. This allows time for the rams to adapt to wearing the harness and allows you time to adjust it for a proper fit. 
  • Switch crayon colors throughout the breeding season. This allows us to narrow down if/when a ewe was bred. This comes in handy during lambing season if you need to put ewes into jugs or the barn. 
  • Keep track of the weather. If you're using a harness and crayons they need to be the appropriate crayon for the outside temperature. If you experience high temperature fluctuations, cool mornings and hot days, pick the crayon range for when you notice your ram actively breeding. 
  • An alternative to harnesses is raddle marker. Last year we brought a ewe flock in every ten days to see which ones were marked. We then documented their ear tag number and brought them into the lambing barn a few days before they were due to lamb. This worked out very well for us this year. 
  • Apply raddle marker with OB Gloves or latex gloves. Reapply every 2-5 days. 
Marking Harnesses vs. Raddle Marker
Both are excellent management tools for streamlining your breeding and lambing seasons. 

Marking harnesses allow you to switch colors throughout the season unlike raddle marker which limits you to one color per season. Marking harnesses also involve less mess. Raddle also needs multiple reapplications throughout the season. Crayon marks though not considered scourable in the U.S., wear off much quicker than raddle marks. 

Raddle marker is not temperature dependent, it works just as well at 90ºF as it does at 20ºF. Raddle marker does not have to be attached to a ram like a marking harness thus there is less stress on the ram. 

We hope you have a successful breeding season so you can have an excellent lambing season!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rain! And we don't even have hay down.

It has been raining nicely this afternoon so I kindly asked Tharren to go out and document the rainfall and he was kind enough to oblige. We've recorded just over half an inch.

Photo: Tharren went out along one of the barn's to take this shot. Normally our poultry flock spends their time in this area but today it was a little too wet for them.

It's been a little over a month since we've had a significant rain. The pasture's were turning brown, the creeks were getting a little too low for comfort and we were able to make a lot of hay. Folks have been leaving their windows open and farmers were cutting hay constantly just to coax a few drops out of the sky.

Photo: Tharren remarked that this gutter could stand being cleaned since there are a few leaves in it clogging the drain. I'm sure he won't mind being volunteered for the job.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Last hay of the year!

We baled what are likely the last small square bales of the year for us. The lack of rain has made this our final cutting but we have enough hay in the barn and stored as baleage to get us through the next year. The bales are a clover/grass mix and should offer excellent nutrition to our eweflock and some of our feeder lambs.

I helped Stan, Dennis and Tracy unload the racks while Tharren, Mike and Carl baled. A few times I found myself at the top of the hay mound waiting for one of the fellas to toss a bale up to me to stack. Most of the time I didn't need to stack, the guys are more than proficient at stacking hay by throwing the bales exactly where they wanted them.

Last week we unloaded a few racks and during this time Stan discussed competing in a bale tossing contest during his college days, based on the last few days of stacking hay I have no doubt he did well.

Photo: The final rack. Once the hay was baled Tharren was able to snap a photo of us stacking the final bales. From left to right: Dennis, Joe (me), Mike, Stan and Tracy. The rack used was one Stan used growing up on the Home farm.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mob grazing and a walk in the pasture.

On August 9th-11th the Practical Farmers of Iowa hosted several pasture walks focusing on Mob Grazing. Mike, Tharren and I attended the walks in Richmond and Bonaparte, IA.

Photo: The group takes a walk out to a cattle pasture at the beginning of the tour.

Photo: NRCS Grazing Specialist Jess Jackson analyzes the contents of one of the pastures. He discussed that with mob grazing there should be a manure patty in every square yard of the pasture.

Mob grazing, otherwise known as ultra high density grazing, is the practice of stocking 100,000 to 1 million lbs of livestock per 1 acre of land. Animals are moved at least once per day, this depends on the stocking density. Increased density encourages livestock to eat all available forage, including weeds. Pastures are then rested for 60-90 days allowing the plants sufficient time to recover.

What the animals don't eat, they trample. The trampled biomass is returned to the soil as a beneficial litter. The high density concentrates the manure from the livestock in the paddocks. Manure is spread by the livestock throughout the paddock for a beneficial distribution of nutrients.

Photo: A mob of dairy cattle. The cattle are held in with Step-In FiberRod Posts, a MiniReel and IntelliTwine polywire.

The first farm we visited was in Richmond, IA. The farms owner, Phil Forbes, runs a flock of St. Croix Hair sheep and raises dairy replacement heifers. NRCS Grazing Specialist Jess Jackson and Iowa State University Animal Science Professor Dr. Dan Morrical took the group on a walk through the pastures. They discussed which plant species were dominant and what could be done to improve the forage and utilization of the pastures. Mike talked to Mr. Jackson about several pasture revitalization projects Premier is thinking about doing, including eradicating the endophyte infected fescue on our farms.

Photo: The St. Croix hair sheep are a fairly small animal. The ewes weigh about 100 lbs each and a fat lamb has a hanging weight of about 40 lbs. They do well on pasture, have high resistance to parasites and work well for their owners management system.

Photo: Dr. Morrical (center) discusses the sheep operation and the pro's and con's of hair sheep breeds.

The second farm was an organic dairy located north of Bonaparte, IA and is run by the Smith family. The Smith family milks 70 cows and mob grazes their herd on 1/3 acre pastures. Discussions focused on how the farm decided to become organically certified after years of decreasing their herbicide/pesticide use, going organic seemed natural. Other topics included rations for the cattle, raising replacement heifers and the management of the pastures.

Photo: Organic dairyman Dan Smith (facing photographer) describes his operation and pasture management. He mob stocks his dairy herd on his farm which has been organically certified for about 20 years.

For more information on Practical Farmers of Iowa visit: http://www.practicalfarmers.org/.

On a side note, during the walk I met the Erem family from eastern Iowa. They have a recent planting of hardwoods on 7 acres and decided it would be wise to keep the deer out. They spoke with one of our consultants, Gordon Shelangoski, and decided to install a 3-D Anti-Deer Fence. The fence is working and we're thinking about sending Tharren out to take a few photos of the fence in action.

Photo: Suzan Erem and myself discussing the fence her family installed to protect their hardwood plantings.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

High Moisture Baleage

Last winter at Premier, we fed our flock baleage that we produced. The previous two summers were wet and not suited for producing quality conventional field dried hay. The low quality forage was low in protein and energy and required supplementation for our gestating ewe flock. We experimented with baleage and found the results satisfactory.

Photo: Carl (in the tractor) mows with a mower conditioner. The mower has "rollers" which crimp the grass to aid in the drying process.

High moisture baleage is typically baled at 55-65% moisture, though this figure ranges even among forage experts. Moisture is determined through several simple tests or using a moisture tester. The bales are individually wrapped or are wrapped in tubes to prevent mold and harmful bacteria from forming. This makes each bale or tube its own silo and eliminates the need for indoor storage for quality forage. Once wrapped, aerobic bacteria (oxygen using) consume the oxygen contained in the bale and then anaerobic bacteria (non-oxygen using) consume available sugars and produce various nutritious organic acids, preferably lactic acid. The acid preserves the bale in a similar manner that vinegar (actually the nutritious organic acid—acetic acid) preserves cucumbers as pickles. Ideally enough acid is eventually produced to inhibit these bacteria and others from further growth, preserving the bales for winter feeding. The energy available to livestock may be determined by submitting a sample to a feed laboratory and have a forage test conducted for TDN (total digestible nutrients). When ready to be fed the bale is unwrapped and set in one of our Big Bale Feeders.

Photo: The double basket rake allows us to rake two windrows into one.

Photo: The single row shortens the number of trips around the field we need to take while baling.

Photo: The forage in this field is a clover/grass mix. This field was made into small square bales.

Baleage is produced similarly to field dried-hay. The main differences are that baleage is wrapped and there is reduced time between mowing and baling. The higher moisture percentage shortens the amount of time the hay needs to lay in the field curing. Since the bales are wetter, they are much heavier when compared to conventional bales of the same diameter. The bale is also packed very tightly in order to reduce the amount of air (less air means less chance of mold or of harmful bacteria growing). Baleage is moved with grapples since bale spears penetrate the bale or wrap and would introduce unwanted air into the bale.

Photo: The baler's cutter bar pre-chops the forage for better compaction within the bale. This produces very "tight" bales.

Photo: Due to the high moisture content and shorter drying time, the forage is baled while it is still very green and unbleached by the sun.

  • Less drying time with a minimal amount of sunshine. The common phrase used with baleage is "hay within a day". We can almost bale between the rain drops.
  • Plastic wrap eliminates the need for indoor storage.
  • Higher quality feed. The high moisture allows the stems to better hold on to the leaves, resulting in higher nutrient content and reduces the need for supplementing with protien.
  • Lower labor costs when feeding. We used to feed supplement to our gestating ewes daily. Now we only need to feed as often as the ewes finish a bale (typically every 3 days).
  • Little or no supplementation. This depends on forage quality. To determine our flock's needs we sent in samples of our forage for analysis to Dairyland Labs in Wisconsin.

  • Photo: Individually wrapped bales are easier to transport once wrapped. They also look like very large "marshmallows".

  • Added weight puts added stress on the equipment. This can be reduced by producing smaller bales. Smaller sized bales means we will have more bales overall. More bales translates to a larger amount of plastic used to wrap these bales.
  • Plastic wrap produces a lot of waste but we were able to recycle it rather than sending it to the local landfill.
  • Spoilage. Punctures in the plastic, low sugar content, air present within the bale and many other factors can cause spoilage.
  • Specialized equipment such as bale wrappers and bale grapples are needed. We also have a cutter bar on the baler which cuts the forage into 9 in. lengths. The shorter forage packs much easier resulting in a tighter/denser bale.
  • We have to be careful what gets baled. Too much dirt in a bale can introduce unwanted bacteria. When we mow, we cut the grass a little higher than if we were making conventional hay. Our rake is set so it the tines do not touch the ground and driving over the windrows is something we are careful not to do.
  • The moisture has to be just right. Too much moisture makes the bales very heavy. It also means the livestock may fill up on water instead of nutrient rich dry matter. Too little moisture and we run the risk of mold and unsatisfactory microbe production. If the wrong bacteria grow, fermentation does not occur and the bale spoils.

  • Photo: The first bales we wrapped were wrapped with an inline wrapper. It worked very well but we chose to go with individually wrapped bales for ease of transport.

    Individually wrapped vs. Inline bales
    Inline bales are baleage bales that are set end to end and wrapped on the sides. The benefits are less plastic used for wrapping. However, the bales at the ends of the "tubes" are exposed resulting in lost forage. Bale size must be consistent otherwise bulges and air bubbles may form in the "tubes".

    Photo: To protect the bales from curious livestock and hungry varmints (raccoons), netting is installed around the bales to discourage the animals.

    Whereas individually wrapped bales use more plastic but they can be handled once wrapped, inline bales cannot. We can move these individually bales without compromising the protective plastic.

    Photo: Photo: PermaNet electrified netting was installed around these bales since our livestock guardian dogs have access to the area where these bales are placed and the dogs enjoy lounging on (and puncturing) the bales.

    We have to take care where the bales are stored. Sticks and stems can puncture plastic so the ground we set the bales on had to be clear of debris. Curious sheep or a guard dog looking for something to climb on can puncture a bale just as easily, for this reason we set up electrified netting around our bales.

    Did our sheep eat it? Yes, they maintained excellent condition throughout the winter. We ultrasound the ewes to determine if they were carrying singles, twins or triplets. Ewes scanned with triplets were later separated off and fed baleage with soybean hulls for a protein supplement, otherwise no supplement was needed.

    Photo: Ewes and their lambs consuming baleage from one of our wire panel Big Bale Feeders.

    Did we like baleage? Yes and we're producing it again this year even though it has been drier than the last three summers. We still produce small squares to feed in our low waste bunk feeders but the majority of our hay crop is now wrapped up.

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Soybean/Millet Baleage

    Yesterday Mike came into Graphics and asked if I could help move some bales. He needed someone to haul bales from the hayfield to the bale wrapper where he would wrap them. We were making high moisture baleage hence the need to wrap the bales (there will be a post on high moisture baleage in the coming weeks).

    I told Mike that I would need a quick tutorial in running the tractor, a JD 6410, since the majority of my tractor experience is on tractors less than 50 horsepower and made before 1965. I was also wondering what's a good speed for driving through the fields. Mike's response was "as fast as you can".

    So with limited instruction I drove the tractor across the hay fields for 3 hours while Carl baled and Mike placed the bales on the wrapper. We were baling the soybean/millet mix mentioned in an earlier post. We were originally planning on grazing these fields, but the weather dictated that we bale.

    Since I didn't cause any major mishaps or break the equipment, Stan asked if I could come back this weekend and help Carl bale since Mike would be gone. I'll let you know if I break any equipment this weekend.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    Moving Hay with Mike

    Mike (one of the farmhands) came in yesterday morning and asked for help unloading a rack of hay. He surmised that it would be better to do it in the morning when it was cooler than in the afternoon when it would be ninety degrees and humid. Tharren and I changed into our "chore clothes" and went out to help Mike. Tharren stood on the hay wagon and tossed bales to Mike and me as we stacked the hay.

    Photo: Tharren hopped off the wagon for a few minutes to snap a few shots. If you're wondering where the wagon tongue is, it's shoved between the bales in the center of the stack. The wagon was pushed into place front first so the gallice wouldn't be in the way of our stacking. The bales are stacked from the sides inward (this leaves a slight gap in the middle of the stack).

    The hay (clover/grass mix) was baled last weekend from a field on our North Farm. 3 racks (about 300 bales) were loaded before a breakdown ended the fun. Baling was about a third complete before the breakdown. With 2/3 of the field left and a broken baler, the fellas pulled out the round baler and baled the remainder with that.

    We feed the square bales in our lambing jugs and lambing barn. When feeding single ewes in a jug it's hard to take a flake off of a round bale. We'll make up our lack of square bales by square baling one of the fields on our East Farm.

    Photo: When we stacked the hay, we had to make sure the bales didn't touch the roof. If roof and bale touched, the bale would absorb moisture and lose quality.

    Photo: I had to show off my bale throwing abilities when we finished the rack.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Herding the Flock

    A couple of weeks ago Mike and Carl moved one of the flocks from a pasture that needed some rest to one that was full of lush grass for the sheep to eat. Though this is a normal occurrence for a pasture based flock, their route was a little different. Why? Usually when our sheep are moved between pastures they need to cross a creek. The time of the move coincided with several heavy rains, thus the creeks were swollen and would not be safe enough for the ewes and their lambs to cross.

    Instead of teaching the sheep to swim, Mike and Carl moved them via an alternate route. They took them off of Premier property and onto an adjacent and lightly traveled gravel road.

    Photo: Mike and Carl herding the flock (hair sheep cross) through an opening in the PermaNet fence.

    Photo: The flock heading down the road. Both ewes and their lambs took the trip together. You may notice a size range in the lambs. Some are a few months old while others are just a few weeks.

    Photo: Though the road is usually "lightly" travelled, Mike and Carl still held up the local traffic. The traveller was a Premier neighbor and wasn't held up too long by the four legged pedestrians.

    Photo: A few of the ewes stopped to admire the scenery and tasty forage during their walk between the pastures.

    Photo: Mike and Carl conveniently picked a picturesque day to move the flock. The overall distance travelled was less than a mile. The sheep were well behaved and took the correct turn (to the left) at the farm ahead.

    Photo: Mike, Carl and their herding equipment: two ATV's and a RedCote crook.

    Photo: The flock immediately found their water source for the following weeks as they grazed a new pasture.

    Photo: Sometimes some of the younger lambs aren't fast enough to keep up with the flock (another reason Mike and Carl didn't take them across the creek). Luckily for this lamb, Carl was kind enough to give him a free ride.