Wednesday, December 10, 2008

N ewes

We put the rams into breed on 5th November, so we should have April Fools lambs, 1st April. As a breeding cycle is 17 days and we expose the ewes for two cycles lambing should be all over by 5th May or there abouts. Trouble is as we were breeding some Tegs (ewe lambs) I decided to hold them back a cycle, so giving them two cycles means lambing will not be over till around 22nd May. It will make for a busy spring with lambing, gardening and grazing. We split the flock into three groups and a ram for each. The Suffolks had a Suffolk ram as we hope to save some ewe lambs for breed stock and the rest went to Dorset terminal sires.
We have had a very mild fall and only just had snow so it has been great to catch up with out side work. Cooler weather is needed as it is starting to get muddy,so be careful what you ask for, next week is supposed to get down to -22c, oh well no more mud at least!
Two days ago we pulled two of the rams out from their girls and put both flocks together, that should ease the work load and give Rosa one less field to go to. Hope fully all the girls are breed, we will pregnancy scan in February and know for sure then.
One of the biggest expenses in the operation is milk powder for orphan lambs, back at our old ranch when we ran a big flock I always milked some goats as the milk was better than powdered milk and cheaper as the goats were also raising their own kids as well as a couple of lambs each. Finding milk goats in BC is another task altogether, we did find 3 bred Toggenbergs (my favorite dairy breed) about an hour away last week so we took the trusty Volvo station wagon and hauled them home. Molly,Mandy and Misty are due in March ahead of the ewes which should work out just nicely, giving their kids a good start before raising a lamb or two as well.

On the Chain Gang

As you can see by the photos Rosa our dog is back on the chain. We took it of for a while due to improved behaviour but she has now learnt to travel from field to field to check her flock while they are in different breeding groups. This in its self is good and shows the making of a good dog, but the excitement of seeing everyone brought on the chasing as well as running away by the sheep. I put the chain back on, she still travels doing her pen checking but now without the chasing and every one is fine. If you look at the chain it is not too heavy, but long enough to trip on and slow her down with out hurting her. It does not seem to bother her and we can now hear her doing her rounds as she crawls through metal gates.
Rosa is much better at guarding now as she barks as well as watches, no one is allowed to pull to the side of the road on our property line and all eagles, ravens and magpies are hounded until they leave. All of these show signs of a promising dog as she is only seven months old.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Profit Prophet

With all the doom and gloom that has followed the recent greed and gluttony in the financial markets I got a kick out of this picture. I can just image old Karl 6 feet under at High Gate cemetery shouting at the top of his lungs "I told you so." It does really make him the Prophet of Profit even if his timing was a bit off. Just goes to prove, " good things come to those who wait." Though I realise in this case that depends who's shoes you are standing in and your definition of "good".

Well Hello There!

It is now 6th November and it is snowing/sleeting/and raining in no particular order. "Nesh" as we used to say, so miserable in fact that I can't find anything I would rather be doing outside so I guess I will have to sit down and do this Blog! I see its been 9 weeks since I last posted though quite frankly I don't know where the time went.
First of all we bundled the kids off back to University, then we were busy making a 3rd cut of hay. Next we bought in another two flocks, one of 39 head the other one 3 head. The large group were Dorset and Dorset cross and the 3 amigos as we call them were Coopworths, a Romney Leicester cross which makes a lovely ewe and I just wish we had 300 instead of 3.
This Thanksgiving we flew to Kingston Ontario to see our youngest two at University, my first time there and with the Fall colours it was a great trip. Kingston is an interesting historic place with a vibrant down town and if you ever go there visit "The Sleepless Goat" cafe, my wife says their 7 layer chocolate cake is heaven!! We did a tour on a boat through the Thousand Islands which was a riot of Fall colours and is the best way to see them and oh yeah we saw the kids!
We have also completed a Farm Environmental Plan and passed with flying colours so in due course we will be given a sign for our farm gate to say that we are doing it right. Personally I am not sure what all the fuss is about as we have always farmed this way, only now it is called sustainable and green, putting us on the map. I'm not to sure if it puts us on the extra profit map yet, time will tell. Next week the same fellow is coming to do a Bio-Diversity plan on the farm, but with all the worms, bugs, birds and four legged wildlife we have around along with lots of weeds and trees as well as a river with salmon in it, I'm hoping to get another colourful sign.
More recently we sorted the flock into breeding groups and put the rams into their respective groups. This should give us lambs starting around 1st April when Spring should start to be waking up in this valley.
Rosa our dog has been growing like a weed though not without problems. The Dorset flock we brought in do not like her and run when she gets near, so Rosa runs after them to say Hi and it never ends. We hoped the ewe's would settle, no luck, and scolding Rosa was difficult as I am not there all day watching. So I found a nice length of chain for her, attached around her neck it drags along the ground to her back feet. Its not very heavy so it doesn't hurt her but when she runs she treads on the chain and stumbles, after an afternoon of getting used to it the excess running has stopped and the Dorset ewes are much calmer and happy grazing. Rosa can still run to great me but can't turn corners while on the run or else she does a lip stand. I will leave this on for a couple of weeks and then remove it, this should be long enough to break the pattern and then we will see if she has learnt to behave.

Friday, August 29, 2008

IPE Sheep Show

We took a day off this week and had a family outing to the Interior Provincial Exhibition in Armstrong. I went mainly to watch the sheep show and to see how our friend Jo was doing with her Dorset's and Romney's. As Jo shows on her own it is difficult for her to handle four animals at once so she press gangs any one she recognises in the stands to give a hand! So I helped out with the Dorset's and Jo won supreme champion flock with them, though I don't think it had any thing to do with my showmanship. This is good news as we buy our Dorset rams from Jo and know them to be good as they throw nice uniform lambs. We will see Jo again in a few days as she will be showing at our local Fall fair and at that time will bring my wife a much anticipated black Romney ewe, who's fleece she will spin, hopefully to make me a nice vest for the up coming chilly weather.

Market Day

With the arrival of Twaal Creek Suffolk's we knew are pasture would be pushed to the limits unless we sold down some lambs or moved the sheep across the river. Moving across the river was not really an option as Rosa our guardian dog is still too small to handle coyotes and we need all the forage there for the expanding flock this winter. So the decision was made to sell as many lambs as we could to help the pasture out. They were sold to a local lamb buyer and most will end up down the coast in the lower mainland and Vancouver, have a nice BBQ you guys!

The lambs were ready for slaughter and had a nice finish on them which is good as all they ate was grass and Mums milk. This is thanks to their sire a Dorset ram who fleshes easily and does well on grass. We moved a trailer load and hope to move the rest in September with the tail end in October for freezer sales and our dinner plate.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Twaal Creek Suffolks

One of my several jobs is that of the Southern Interiors Grazing Mentor, which means I get to visit and help area ranchers with their grazing plans and problems. This can involve watering and fencing, grazing plans and seeding needs, and sometimes stock management practices. The program is ran by the federal government and is a great help to those who use it. Sadly it seems many have not heard of it or are just too plain ornery to have some one offer some helpful ideas, we ranchers are funny like that!!!

Recently I visited John at Twaal Creek ranch to look at how to better make use of his irrigated pastures for grazing and in particular the grazing of his sheep flock. John is at the age of retirement and that's being kind as he pasted it 15 years ago, but don't be fooled as I was greeted by an enthusiastic gentleman with a keen interest in all things agricultural and as a retired University professor a well travelled and knowledgeable fellow. In fact he shocked me by saying he was fluent in Farsi ( he had worked in Iran back in the days of the Shah) and called the sheep in Farsi, even more amazing was that the sheep speak Farsi and came when he called!! The day went well and after a walk over the ground and talking over of possible problems we laid out a plan and time table for reseeding ,fencing and rotational grazing. I had taken my laptop along and had shown John photos of our operation and how we manage our flock and grazing. Near the end he admitted the ranch was for sale ( I had seen the sign on the way in) and if it didn't sell he would implement the plan and if it sold he would hand the plan on to the next owner. This was OK by me as my main concern was the land management not ownership.

By now John had decided I knew a little about what I had been talking about and a bit more about livestock and sheep in particular. So he asked me straight out if I would like to by his flock, as he wished them to stay together rather than take them down to the stock yards and disperse them. I had to agree as they were a superb flock of commercial Suffolk's and were a healthy closed flock it would be a shame to loose the genetics. At this point I must say that Suffolk's are not my favorite breed, I have always felt cows should be black and sheep should be white but even I could see these were a great set of sheep. John knew he had me hooked so he struck with a price that I could not refuse, my prejudices flew out the window and I became the owner of a fine looking flock of Suffolk's.

The icing on the cake came several days later when I was arranging to pick up the flock. John was over the moon with excitement as he had sold the ranch the evening before, he had sold his flock to me and was heading to our local town to retire and as we were only 4 miles down the road he could see his sheep from time to time! Well I could not wish for a better neighbour or a more interesting visitor, and I began to wonder who was mentoring who but it all seems to be working out well. John called in the other day for tea as he had been to sign up for his senior's flat in town. He walked into the corrals, bellowed in Farsi and all his sheep ran over to great him.

The cream on the icing came when we were chatting and discovered we were both Quakers so now we can have Meeting together and then wonder out to the pasture and brush up on our Farsi with the sheep.

Enclosed a few photos, John is the fellow looking menacing and waving the stick, the fellow on the left is Douwe our truck driver who we will use again as he did a good job for a fellow who normally works with cattle.


I see its been over three weeks since my last post and I have been so busy I am having trouble remembering what happened and in what order it happened in!!
The three little pigs are no longer little and no longer three as we sold one to a neighbour who plans to BBQ him whole to celebrate his 40th birthday. I hope I get an invite as I'd like to sample the end product.
We put up our second cut of hay, without any rain and although the yield was not high the quality was great, lovely soft high protein calf hay, if you know what I mean.
Rosa our young pup is doing well and is now part of the sheep flock, she is not such a porky puppy now and is just starting the gangaly, clumsy young teenage period.
The big news in our family is the arrival of our second grandchild Joseph Robert, a brother for Bronwyn. My wife was over for the birth and then helped out our daughter for the first few days, I of course was busy haymaking, but hope to make the trip over the mountains to see our new addition soon. At the same time I am to build a swing play set for Bronwyn as a birthday present, so it will be a working holiday, but I will have a fun help mate.
During this time we also bought a second flock of sheep to add to ours but I will write about this in the next post. Hope you are all having a happy safe summer.


Well its very hot here and I promised myself that I would post on the blog when it rained. Trouble was it never rained but now it is so hot I still can't work so here goes.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pig Update

The pigs are growing well ,moving every two days to a fresh salad bar and cultivating my new garden as they go! They are on their second feed trough as they destroyed the first wooden one. The new one is a third of a plastic barrel and it seems indestructible.They are grazing over the area for a second time and you can see that now they are bigger they do a much better job rooting out the weeds and grass. I will soon be booking them up with a butcher and if all goes well they should be ready in September. So it's home grown ham for Thanksgiving followed by leg of lamb!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I know!

Yes its been a while I know, its what mid summer and ranching is all about, busy busy busy. Hope to post soon.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Things have been boring around her lately, moving irrigation ,chores, weeding etc. Until last Thursday, when we went to Agassiz and picked up Rosa our new guardian dog for our flock. Rosa is an eight week old Maremma bitch who was born on the ranch with a flock of sheep and goats. Maremmas are guardian dogs meaning they live with the flock at all times and deter coyotes stray dogs and all pests four and two legged. We have had a number of Maremmas over the years and know of their skills and lamb saving abilities. We wish to expand the flock this fall and that would mean grazing the flock on the other side of the river alongside the mountain where coyotes abound and the neighbours there have long dumped dead stock in the bush, in doing so training the coyotes to eat farm livestock, Duh !! So by having Rosa now she will bond with the flock and be big enough to do the job required of her next spring.

We stopped off at the vets on the way home so Rosa could have her shots before going to the pasture. Then it was off to the field to say hi to her new charges. She didn't enjoy the four hour car journey and following that with shots at the vets was a real bummer so we were not sure what to expect when we dropped her in the flock. Well we needn't have worried, she took one look at the sheep and trotted over to them and promptly started licking their faces. She was so happy she could hardly stand as her tail was wagging so furiously. The sheep were some what cautious though the lambs seemed excited to have a new playmate.

It has been three days now and all is well as I have to look really hard to find Rosa as she is in the middle of the flock most of the time or patrolling the fence checking things out. These are good signs as it shows the flock has accepted her and she instinctively knows what her job is.Although she is cute and cuddly I limit my contact with her to two or three times a day as I need her to bond with the sheep not me. So long as she comes when called and knows that its me who feeds her we will get along fine. Later once she is proficient in her job only then can we "pet" her in small doses.

Some people think this is cruel, but if they could see how happy she is in the field with her flock doing what she is born to do, they would understand, so hopefully the attached photos will help. Note the last picture, how proud and happy she is with her flock and she had only been there five minutes !!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Irrigation Trials

With the hay safely gathered in and dry fields under my feet I knew it was time to fire up the irrigation pump and make it rain. We have had a cool dry spring and early summer but now it is starting to warm up, and get crunchy underfoot. So on Tuesday I greased the motor bearings and fired up the pump, all seemed well so I switched it off and set about laying out pipe and guns on both sides of the river. The sheep pasture is getting dry now too and they will be out of pasture unless I got the water on soon. Once it was all set out I went back to the pump house with my little portable pump which we use to prime the main electric pump, primed the main pump and fired her up. The water surged through the pipes and out the nozzles on to the parched fields ,it felt good to me but probably more so for the grass. I move the pipe every 12 hours as I wish to get all the fields wet quickly and will slow up to a 24 hour move on the second time across the fields, this should ensure a more even growth on the hay fields and will improve the second cut.

All was well until the third day and for no reason the pump lost pressure and then its prime and so quit pumping water. This happened while I was moving settings and again during the middle of a shift for no reason. Not only was it loosing its prime but while it ran a rumbling sound could be heard and a vibration in the pipe work near the pump. Not good, and to top it all the forecast called for dry hot temperatures for the next two weeks. Panic and frustration were setting in as I had visions of long waits for parts followed by a big bill and a small hay crop. Now the only way to cope with this was to start with the small cheap fixes and work your way up. The only reason a pump looses its prime ( so long as it still has power to run it) is when air leaks into the system between the pump intake in the river and the pump. I checked all the valves and pipes and could hear no hissing or feel no sucking. I even went over the whole set up with a mister bottle of water spraying it to see if any moisture was sucked in, and still no luck.

After several times of priming and restarting the pump to see if it would run for more than ten minutes I noticed that the thin rubber inlet pipe from the small pump used to prime the big one was collapsing and I could hear a faint sucking sound which pointed to a faulty valve where the water used to start the main pump entered the system. I returned after a quick trip to the hard ware store with $20 worth of one inch valve and some Teflon tape, and after replacing the old valve and firing up the system it all worked like a charm. My nightmares of big bills and small hay crops were washed away by fresh cold river water from the nozzle of the irrigation gun and it never felt so good!

So next time you are told "not to sweat the small stuff" just remember the amount of air it took to stop that whole irrigation system was less than a mouse would use on a quick dash for cheese. I for one will always "sweat the small stuff" as its cheaper that way and often less stressful.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bale Hauling

In the previous post I mentioned my hauling home the hay and stacking the bales in the barn so here are some photos thanks to my daughter (who likes playing with my new camera) who followed me around on her bicycle and snapped away. She took 70 photos, thank goodness for digital.
Although I have a grapple loader I prefer a single spike for speed and agility in our old barn with all its many beams and posts. I stack the bales three high and as close as I can squeeze them. I put in 185 bales and will have as many or more on the second cut so space is at a premium.
You may notice the dust mask on my face, well I suffer hay fever which isn't much fun if you are a grass farmer like me, which proves how dedicated I am and how much I love my occupation!!


Although I have been moaning about the cool spring the grass once it had started growing has done very well. The weather conditions though have made for some strange happenings. The grass bolted to seed and the alfalfa which normally should be cut when there is between 10% and 20% bloom hardly had a bud let alone a single bloom. So we cut the grass a bit late and the alfalfa a bit early making for a fair quality and good production. We made hay on 32 acres and put up approximately 70 tons of hay. This is not a bad yield as we use no fertilizer and the fields were grazed for the last two years. We will get a second cut and possibly a third it the weather is kind, if not a third cut we will graze it till winter, using it as "foggage" or stockpiled pasture.
Our neighbours did some custom work for us one cutting the hay and the other baling. I turned it and raked it prior to baling and latter hauled it home and stacked it in the barn.

My Pasture

The spring here was slow and cold so not only was the sheep pasture slow to get going and produce, my pasture was too.We have eaten lettuce, radish ,mint and chives so far but we should be eating far more by now. I think the vegetables are at least two or three weeks behind where they should be. This time last year we were eating mint with our own new potatoes, so we had to settle for mint with store bought Fraser Valley spuds which although they were tasty it just wasn't the same. These photos were taken a couple of weeks ago and at present it looks better with more growth and hopefully next week we can have some fresh peas and the odd strawberry. I almost forgot we also had rhubarb in a crisp fresh from the garden, a true prairie fruit and one of my favorites.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Too Much Grass, is such a thing possible for a grass farmer?

It's a worthy question , as we always want lots of grass can we in fact have too much? The true answer for a grass farmer would be never too much. But for a grazier like my self we can have too much at the wrong stage of growth. This is very noticeable this year as we do not have enough sheep to keep up with the spring flush of grass, much of it gets ahead of the sheep producing seed heads and loosing quality for grazing so we will have to pull these paddocks out of the grazing rotation and cut them for hay. The paddocks that the sheep have grazed and have produced seed heads have to be clipped after the sheep have grazed to remove the seed heads so as to encourage the plants to produce the more palatable green leaves we desire for grazing.
The bottom photo shows three stages, in the foreground is a paddock we have grazed and then clipped, note the brown clippings in rows, they will rot down and provide food for the grass so it is not wasted. On the far side by the line of trees is a paddock the sheep have grazed but needs to be clipped and to the front and right is the flock and they have just moved into a new "break".
The third photo shows some of our electrified mesh fence which is portable and can be easily rolled up and put up in a new paddock. We have 17 rolls so we can set up for a weeks grazing at a time and contrary to the sceptics it does not take long, about 3 hours for a weeks grazing. With a bigger flock and more moves per week the labour goes up but costed out on a per head basis the cost actually goes down with a bigger flock. Yes, we have more grass, now we need more sheep!
The first photo shows a paddock they have just finished note the lack of green leaves and clover in the lower part of the sward. Compare it to the second photo which shows them in the new "break" where there is lots of green leaves, this small area will do them for 2-3 days and then we will move them , clip the pasture and be back to graze it in 3 -4 weeks.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Pullpig Dining Car

Those train enthusiasts amongst you will notice the play on words as Pullman Dining Cars were the place to go on long train rides back in the day of more civilized travel. Our pigs I felt deserved no less and here it is in all its splendor complete with sun shade/rain shelter, feed trough and water bowl and every day or two it is pulled to a fresh pasture for a new salad bar to enjoy. The pigs love it and are growing rapidly, it seems they love dandelions and eat them first followed by clover, alfalfa and any other available broadleaved weeds and once they are all gone they will pick over the grass before rooting around for the dandelion roots. Twice a day they get a helping of grain and brewers mash and we feel we can feed them a third grain , third brewers mash and a third fresh salad. This should make for a low fat, flavourful animal that would sell well at the farm gate. At the moment this is an experiment and any spare brewers grain can be fed to the sheep, but if we can find a bigger market for pork we have no shortage of feed and it only takes me three hours to make another dining car. Any one for beer raised pasture pork? Leave your order in the comment box.

Three Little Pigs

A source of food secured (see previous post, scroll down one) we now had to get some weanling pigs, so off to the Stockyards to bid on some pigs . There were a good number to choose from the day we went but only three coloured ones all the rest were white. It has been my experience in the past that coloured pigs always do better out side than white ones especially if you wish to give them a more mixed diet than what is purchased from a feed mill. So I paid the top bid and picked the three coloured pigs and as the rest sold I was relived that they did not go for much less money than I had paid.

We put them in the back of our trusty old Volvo station wagon taking them home in style and placed them in a small pen adjacent to the barn. I kept them there for the first week while I planned and built a mobile pen to put them outside in. This allowed them time to settle down and get used to their new diet of grain and brewers mash. It has a distinct smell, not unpleasant but after a couple of days the pigs caught on and ate their new ration with gusto. We moved them out to the field to their new pen and they were so happy munching on weeds and grass with their little tails wagging like mad one wonders how a pig manages in a large barn in the many "hog factories" we see dotted around the country.

New Venture

As with many of our new ventures and adventures it started by my wife reading the classifieds in the local paper. I never read them as she makes a religious habit of doing so ever Wednesday and pointing out all the interesting deals and possible bargains for me to check out. On more than one occasion this has led to a new venture or change in plans to an existing one, or just a purchase of something that would look nice or be useful. I can't complain as we have a lovely set of old beams in our house and deck that she spotted one time, so when she told me the local brew pub was giving away 20,000lbs of spent brewers grain per year to any one who would pick it up, my mind and pencil began working.
Brewers grain are the left over grains after a brew mash has been made and it is a good source of feed for cows, sheep , goats , pigs and chickens. It is low in sugar and starch as that was used by the beer but is high in protein and is palatable to livestock. It can be used for 30% to 50% of a pigs ration and in these days of high grain prices it could make a money loosing pig into a profitable set of pork chops.
Here in our town it costs 3 cents a lb to dump garbage, so the pub is saving $600 a year and that would be triple or more with the cost of labour and transport as the dump is a six mile round trip. I had a chat with the manager and brew master at the pub and they were pleased that we could recycle the waste. But I reeled them in when I suggested they might wish to put a special on their menu of "beer" fed pork. How cool is that, eating pork chops that ate the grain that made the beer you are washing it down with. Aah the circle of life!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Last Tuesday was a big day for the flock and not before time as it was getting hot and it was time for a hair cut. Phil our shearer came on time for an 8.30am start and the ewes were all nice and dry as we had sheded them over night. The wool must be dry when it is packed or else it will go mouldy and rot. Also shearers are fussy and don't like getting wet either. As the sheep had their lambs with them we sorted them out so as not to get in the way of the job and they waited for their mums to be sheared outside the barn though the noise they made it seemed as though they were right next to us.Phil is an experienced Australian shearer and though he is not as quick as in his younger days he does a nice tidy job. It made for a pleasant day with time to visit and tell tall tales over tea.
Once the fleece is off it is cast on a skirting table where it is cleaned up, any muck and plant material is removed and then the fleece is rolled up and put into a large jute wool sack which I hung from the front end loader. The wife had me save a couple of good fleeces for her hand spinning projects and the rest will be shipped to the wool growers co-op, where it will be graded and sold on to woolen mills.The wool has very little value depending on its grade from 20cents/lb to $1/lb and is usually a cost to the farmer rather than an income source. This of course is tough to believe when you go and buy a wool sweater, but as with all farm and ranch products all the money ends up in the middle mans and retailers pockets. I will save the economic rant for my other blog, when I calm down enough to write it!