Back in the Sheep Business

Buckeye Farm Beat

The hills are alive with the sound of sheep. Can the dogs and coyotes and flies be far behind?

Published on: June 25, 2014
 

On the wall of my office is a framed editorial I wrote back around 2002. It is titled "The Last Lamb Crop" and describes my trials and tribulations raising sheep for about 20 years on our 80-acre farm near North Berne. Turns out I was wrong. It was not my last lamb crop after all.

My departure from sheep production was stimulated by a couple of things. One was a young firefighter who had recently moved from Columbus to Perry County. He saw our sheep grazing and stopped by the farm to ask if I had any for sale. I asked how many he wanted and quickly negotiated the sale of the whole kit and caboodle -- 60 ewes, the watering tank, elasticator, heat lamps, shears, electric fencing, chalk markers, flock record book, Mid-States Wool Growers catalogue -- everything sheep related. I sold it all and wrote a nice column about how fun it was to raise sheep and how I would miss it.

INSTANT FAMILY: One of my fall-bred Dorset ewes delivered these healthy twins the second day she was on the farm and it looks like the others wont be far behind. The Dude, our dog, learned quickly that anything on the opposite side of an electric fence is off limits.
INSTANT FAMILY: One of my fall-bred Dorset ewes delivered these healthy twins the second day she was on the farm and it looks like the others won't be far behind. The Dude, our dog, learned quickly that anything on the opposite side of an electric fence is off limits.

The second reason for divesting myself of sheep was a growing need to harvest the mature cherry trees on the farm. The trees were very valuable, but so large they were pulling out of the sandy soil and falling on the ground to rot. The timbering process required tearing out fencing of all kinds. Ancient slabs of oak that made up the board fences were sawed up for kindling.  Locust posts were hoisted a couple of inches above the ground level and chainsawed at the base so they wouldn't leave a hole. Woven wire -- some fairly new and some 50-years-old -- was rolled up and hauled to the recycler. Gates were unhinged and sold at the local auction.

Then a couple of years ago along came the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Environmental Quality Incentives Program and I was able to get some cost sharing to replace parts of that fence. We leased the fenced pasture out to our neighbors for their Angus herd. When I looked at the new fences, I realized I could string a bit of additional wire between them and have a convenient pasture close to the barn that would perfect for -- you guessed it -- sheep.

As my neighbor Calvin Hanes was finishing up the new fence project with his friend Jason Moyer, Jason brought up that he had seen a flock of Dorsets that were being liquidated in Licking County. I called around and discovered the price was pretty reasonable and the flock well-breed. I wasn't quite ready for delivery, but the owner was ready to sell. So a couple of weeks ago, I took possession of 10 ewes.

I figured 10 were just enough to keep the pasture down and not involve too much husbandry on my part.

Little did I know the husbandry part was going to start immediately. I had asked for fall-bred ewes, but I was under the impression the lambing might start in August at the earliest.  Two days after their arrival the first pair of twins hit the ground.  That meant I had to get some iodine fast and new castration and docking equipment and a second water tank for the back pasture and new charger for the fence and some worming medication and a tube in case the lambs aren't milking.

Didn't I have all that stuff once?

Then there are the gaps the ewes have found under our fence. It seems the gate to the back pasture is a little high on one end and there are three amigos who have figured out how to crawl under it. However, their seven buddies aren't as clever yet. So after the three get back to the paddock beside the barn they stand and bawl at their pals -- who bawl back at them from the hillside pasture. I'm pretty sure the rest will figure out how to squeeze under the gate well before I can put some gravel under there to stop them.

And I can see a couple of more ewes bagging up for their "fall" lambs.

"This is how 10 sheep turn in to 30," my wife patiently explains.

The good news is the lamb market, like other meats, is strong -- much higher than when I quit. The bad news is that now that I am back in the sheep business, it's all due to turn around.