Free Workshop!
Creating a Vision for Your Farm/Ranch

Do you know what you want
your farm or ranch to look like?

How about your finances, watershed, or family?
Do you have a picture of what your life will look like in 5 years?
Step out of your endless chore loop and choose a new path.

In this free workshop Jenn Colby shows you a manageable process to develop a vision, whether you are figuring it out by yourself or bringing the whole farm or ranch with you. You’ll walk away with a step-by-step guide to take home, and we’ll go through how to vision in person or online (it works!).

Join On Pasture on January 25.  Let’s set ourselves up for success! ______
For More on Jenn and her process, check out this month’s “Thinking Grazier.” It’s an On Pasture Open Access Article.

Be sure to sign up for the Solace Farmer Blog in the box to your right ->

Safety for Sheep and Shepherd

By Linda Poole, Regenerative Grazing Specialist

When NCAT’s Livestock Team recently held a series of webinars for people considering a new livestock enterprise, many folks indicated they were thinking of getting sheep. Sounds good to me! Sheep were first domesticated 11,000 years ago, and for centuries women and children tended sheep or goats while men managed larger, potentially more dangerous stock, such as cattle and horses. Today, sheep can be handled without a lot of expensive infrastructure, and well-socialized sheep are friendly, calm, and fun to be around.

But with their small size and cute-and-fuzzy-factor, it’s easy to underestimate sheep. It’s also a fact that they can maim or kill you. This is not intended to cause you to fear sheep; it is fair warning to respect them. Safety is especially important if you’re working sheep alone, without someone to watch your back or lend a hand if things start to go sideways.

Safety with sheep is a topic better suited to books than blogs, but by paying attention to these common-sense guidelines, shepherds can work more safely:

  • Source your sheep from a reputable breeder. Those cheap sheep on Craigslist or at the auction barn might harbor health or behavior issues that you just don’t need in your life.
  • NEVER turn your back on a ram, and this goes double during breeding season. Tame rams can be the worst, going from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in an instant when their hormones surge during breeding season. Don’t play with or pet rams. Petting a ram is like feeding a bear – neither usually ends well for the animal.
  • Ewes can thump you, too, especially when they have baby lambs. Stay attentive to the body language of sheep around you.
  • Keep your head up and eyes open when you bend or kneel to eye level with sheep. This can invite a charge, and it puts you right where a sheep can inflict maximum damage.
  • Instill respect in your sheep. I train sheep to keep at least a few feet away from me unless I invite them in closer. My tool for this is a plastic grocery bag tied to the stout handle of a 6’ long leg crook. Working the flock, I hold the stick still beside my leg until I want the sheep to move off, then I gently wiggle the bag low to the ground. If I want more energy in the sheep, I lift the stick higher and give the bag a stronger shake. If necessary, I can use the stick as a prod to repel a disrespectful sheep. To catch a sheep, I herd it into a stout fence corner, and then use the crook to carefully catch its leg without ever getting my head down where I could get rammed.
  • Always be alert, fair, and firm. Practice low-stress stockmanship. Good stockmanship is essential to safety for sheep and shepherd!
  • Many old shepherds, myself included, have bad knees and sore backs from foolishly trying to block or catch a running sheep. Use your brain, save your body: set things up to keep sheep from stampeding in the first place. And if they do, step aside and let them go. Then start over, this time keeping things calm.
  • Working yards don’t need to be large or fancy, but they must have good footing, good visibility, and sound fences in a sheep-smart layout.
  • Implement biosecurity. Some diseases are communicable between humans and sheep. Good hygiene practices reduce the risk of passing diseases between species. If you develop an unexplained malady, tell your doctor that you raise sheep.
  • What’s your emergency plan? Do you have an escape route? Got your mobile phone? Does someone know where you are, when to expect you back, and what to do if you don’t show up?
  • One of the most useful references on safety for shepherds is (ironically) the Beef Quality Assurance Handbook. For sheep-centric information, consult the guide Safe Sheep Handling.

Small ruminants are wonderful creatures and can be the basis of a rewarding, fun, and profitable business — so long as you always think of safety first.

Selenium and Lamb Growth

Increased Selenium Dosage Boosts Growth and Immunity in Lambs

In a new study published in the Journal of Animal Science, Oregon State University (OSU) researchers show that maximum selenium levels permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be too low for sheep to reach optimum growth and health.

Selenium is essential for cellular function in animals and aids development. Large selenium doses can be toxic, but too-low levels can impair growth and compromise the immune system.

“When sheep don’t grow to their potential or have weak immune systems, it can be a sign of insufficient selenium,” said Gerd Bobe, co-author of the study and an OSU professor. “Our research shows higher levels of selenium can result in healthier animals that grow bigger and that can improve returns at the marketplace for farmers and ranchers.”

A challenge is that the range between selenium deficiency and selenium toxicity can be narrow; current FDA regulations limit the amount of dietary selenium supplementation for animals grazing on selenium-scare soils to 0.7 mg per sheep per day or 3 mg per beef cattle per day.

In OSU’s experiments, pregnant ewes were given selenium doses up to five-times higher than the FDA’s allowed level – an amount of supplementation researchers determined to be not harmful to sheep. The element is carried into the bodies of offspring, helping young animals during development.

At the highest selenium doses, ewes gave birth to lambs that grew to be 4.3-pounds heavier than average after 60 days. Furthermore, survival was 15-percent higher in lambs receiving the highest amount of organic selenium supplementation. As farmers look to sell sheep at five to six months old, weight and health metrics are keys to profitability.

A new generation of OSU research is attempting to determine how much selenium and in what form is best for optimal growth and health of sheep and cattle.

Prolapse in the EWE

Genetics appears sometimes involved as some breeds can be more susceptible, and also some individual breeding lines can seem at particular risk.

by Suzanna Bell, Veterinary Investigation Officer, AHVLA Aberystwyth

Vaginal prolapses can occur in ewes up to 55 days before lambing, but more commonly in the last four weeks of pregnancy, or shortly after lambing. An incidence of one per cent in flocks is common with some flocks experiencing rates of more than two per cent.

Vaginal prolapses increase the risk of ewe death but can also result in abortion/stillbirths, difficulty with lambing (dystocia) and new-born lamb deaths. The timing of cases seems to coincide with the relaxation and softening of the soft tissues and bones of the birth canal, initiated by hormone changes during late pregnancy.

Genetics appears sometimes involved as some breeds can be more susceptible, and also some individual breeding lines can seem at particular risk.

Suspected factors that could increase the risk of vaginal prolapse in ewes:

1.Fat deposits in the birth canal further slackening the soft tissues: both genetics and over-feeding could influence.

2.Hormone imbalance: thought to be genetically influenced in some cases. Mouldy feed might in some cases affect the hormone balance due to the presence of toxins that are similar in action to hormones.

3.Possibly hypocalcaemia (low calcium): although many cases have normal calcium levels.

4.A short docked tail: this may weaken the muscles/ligaments attaching to the tail bones.

5.Lambing difficulties in the previous pregnancy.

Previous vaginal prolapse: 40 per cent of ewes will prolapse again in subsequent pregnancies.

Increased abdominal pressure is also believed to be a major causal factor in combination with one or some of the above factors:

1.Large pregnant uterus (womb): multiple foetuses within the uterus is associated with a much increased risk, suggested as a five times increased risk for twins and even up to eleven/twelve times the risk for triplet bearing ewes.

2.Large amounts of intra-abdominal fat: over-conditioned, over fed ewes. Particularly if the condition score is greater than four.

3.Rumen distension: from feeding bulky feeds, an excess of dietary fibre or gas build up secondary to acidosis/grain over-load.

Other suggested predisposing factors in some flocks include:Lack of exercise: prolapses occur more commonly in housed than outdoor flocks, longer periods lying down may also influence.

Poor body condition: condition score of less than 2.

Lying on steep slopes: sheep tend to lie with the head uphill and gravity may encourage a prolapse in some cases.

Develop a plan with your veterinary surgeon to reduce the risk of vaginal prolapse to the minimum.

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