More Lambs

The day after Freckles had twins, Angel did too. We noticed one around 1 p.m. yesterday all by itself. Angel seemed to keep noticing it and hanging around it but was not cleaning or nursing it. Kirsten went and cleaned him up and placed him on the hay. A while later Angel had another; she cleaned her better but was still not nursing either one. So we made the decision to start them on bottles. Kirsten drove up to Plum Run Dairy and bought some goat colostrum and raw goat milk, the closest to sheep milk we could get, since, unfortunately, we could not catch Angel in order to try and milk her — one of the main drawbacks to our system of 100% on-pasture is that the sheep are not very human-oriented. Fortunately, the two survived the night in the barn and seem perfectly healthy and peppy. We’re at a loss to explain Angel’s behavior as she was a good mother to Annie last year. Today we are trying to get her to accept the wee ones but don’t have high hopes. Meanwhile, it’s six bottle feedings a day.

Freckles Is First!

Our first lambs of the season arrived last night, in relatively mild weather, around 30°F. The twins are huddled around their mama this morning. We have not yet determined their gender.

Another Snowy Day

We got fresh bales of hay rolled into the pasture for the sheep just as today’s snow was starting. It was too wet yesterday for our annual Twelfth Night bonfire — couldn’t get the fire to stay lit.

Hay Low In The Dell

The pickin’s are getting slim, so we have more round bales on order. They serve nicely as windbreaks, jungle gyms, and bedding as well as food, and they’re durn cheap to boot!

Icy Day Sheep

We had an ice storm this morning, on top of last week’s snow. The sheep seem pretty content with their bales of hay.

Farmer + Pharmacist = Farmercist

A talk for Capon Bridge Middle School
Career Day 2002

RxPharmacists are allied health professionals. It now takes six years to become a Doctor of Pharmacy or PharmD. You need to go at least two years to a regular college or university, and then four years to a school of pharmacy. You must pass a test called the PCAT in order to get into a pharmacy school. In order to graduate, you must perform several different externships. An externship is a real-life situation where you do real work at a pharmacy under the supervision of an experienced registered pharmacist. After you graduate from pharmacy school, you must pass a State Board examination before you can practice pharmacy. Once you are a pharmacist you must complete 15 credit hours of continuing education every year to keep your license. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but most pharmacists in the U.S. make $80,000 a year or more!

There are many specialties in pharmacy. These include community and chain store pharmacists. Some are employed in matters of pharmacy law and pharmacy administration. Others are researchers and educators. Some work in hospitals, and some administer IV medications to patients in their homes.

A lot of pharmacists work part-time. I am one of those.

I worked full time for a number of years in a very busy food and drug store near Washington DC. I’ve also worked in hospitals and I still work part-time for one nearby. I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of people take medication they might not need (or at least not as much of) if they would just watch their diet more closely. There are a lot of serious medical conditions that can be greatly influenced by the food we eat. They include, but are not limited to, type II diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer, and depression. I started paying attention to where my family’s food came from and what was in it. I saw lots of processed ingredients like partially hydrogenated oils (or trans-fat) and corn syrup in simple foods like bread and crackers. I also learned that a synthetic growth hormone was used in cows to make them produce more milk, but the milk isn’t labeled as such. I even found out that we routinely use some of the same antibiotics on chickens that we use to treat human disease. This is helping to cause these antibiotics to become less effective against the germs. All this made me want to learn how to grow healthier food, so I began a new profession – I became a farmercist!

Career DayFarmers raise food. On our farm we have goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and rabbits. We have a vegetable and flower garden, and we’ve planted some fruit trees. We produce our own meat, milk, cheese, eggs, and vegetables. We can also sell extras to our neighbors. Some things we must have money for, like building a barn and fencing in the animals. Expensive things like these would be almost impossible to do without some sort of income outside the farm itself. That’s why working part-time is a great help – I earn money but still have time to manage the farm. We still buy some of our food, but we try to get it locally so we can see where it comes from and how it is cared for. That helps other people stay on their farms, too.

There are as many different kinds of farmers as there are pharmacists. Some raise cows, or grow corn, wheat or soybeans. Others grow mushrooms, vegetables, flowers, or herbs. Some have thousand-acre ranches in the West, and some have just 100 acres in the Northeast. There are even farms on 3-acre plots in the suburbs! You can farm part-time or full-time, but just like any profession, it is the interest and care that you put into your product that determines if you do good work.

Viva la Difference

The line between the light and dark green areas is where we had the electric net fence a few weeks ago, The dark green half on the left was grazed by the sheep, and the lighter half on the right was mowed with the tractor (without the benefit of the sheep’s fertilization factor!)

Sheep in the Dell

The sheep have their summer coats on now. That’s Sampson, the ram, in the front, finding out what’s going on. That’s Tawny just getting up, near her twins Missy and Mack.

Tatham Farm

We purchased Sampson, our Katahdin ram, as a lamb from Bill Tatham in April 2001. We liked Bill and his farm and we recently purchased four ewe lambs form him as well, so I decided to write an article on his farm.

The drive through West Virginia to the Tatham farm in Broadway, Virginia on route 259 has a distinctly bucolic feel. Poultry houses, green fields, and cows abound between the tiny towns of Baker and Matthias. There are a few unkempt, muddy pens, but they are in the minority. The road then crosses the state line into Rockingham county, where there is a slightly more suburban feel – that is until you reach a small cabin on North Mountain Road.

tombstone The log-cabin farmhouse has seen a long and colorful life. It has served as a haven during Indian raids, as a sorority party house, and now as the home of William Tatham. Built with a true spirit of cooperation by two couples in 1797, these intrepid people shared the house until they were able to build another one close by. The two farms also shared the spring run by zigzagging the fence across it. The tombstone of a young wife outside the front door is a poignant reminder of the rigors of frontier life. Although it did not belong to his family, Mr. Tatham appreciates the historic nature of the cabin. The Tathams have been around since the earliest days of this country. The William Tatham that wrote “An Essay on Tobacco” in 1782 was certainly an ancestor of the William Tatham now in possession of this rustic abode.

Mr. Tatham has farmed here for 7 years, starting with steers, then adding sheep in 1999. I first met Bill in 2001 when I went to buy a ram for my new flock of Katahdin sheep. His record keeping impressed me, so I was back again to buy some unrelated ewe-lambs from him. He has Boer meat-goats, guard donkeys, and Katahdin sheep on 56 of his acres, and Angus cattle on the rest of his total of 116 acres. He says he’s thinking of getting out of goats, as he likes the sheep so much. He currently has both registered and unregistered stock.

gatesImmediately noticeable at the farm are the numerous excellent gates. In addition to being part of the permanent fencing, Bill keeps several loose gates that have short chains and S-hooks for making quick paddocks, pens, and alleys. This helps his operation stay flexible as he can respond quickly to a lot of situations by using them. Some interior gates are hung “upside-down” so they can be quickly removed and pressed into service elsewhere.

The newest addition to the farm is a metal barn next to the house where gates are again used to full advantage. The barn is divided into thirds, each with a large door. There is a workshop/ garage portion, an area with a concrete pad for hay storage, and a pea-graveled area for animals. The animal area has a sturdy wooden fence that runs perpendicular to the wide door. It has three gates, which can either be placed flush against the fence to make one large area or “closed” against the wall to make three separate stalls. If necessary, the storage area can be used for animals as well. The rain gutters outside end about four feet off the ground so that water can be saved in barrels. The multipurpose aspects of this structure are impressive, and I doubt I’m doing it justice here.

The paddock my ewe-lambs were in is about 2 acres next to a spring head. “The sheep want to go right to the head to drink; they rarely drink further down the run,” he said. He can see this paddock from his porch – an advantage during lambing season. An adjoining paddock held my ram’s mother with 2 healthy new lambs by her side. This area has an old shed adapted as a lamb mineral feeder, as well as a loading chute. The sheep are very calm, as Bill doesn’t go for cowboy tactics. He just calls the sheep to him with a coffee can with a bit of cracked corn. Gets ’em every time.

The sheep are wormed with a combination of diatomaceous earth and ivomectrin. Bill says that the diatomaceous earth in with the loose mineral mix has also helped to control the fly population. The sheep receive no vaccinations and are grass-fed on rotated pasture. The only grain they get is the small quantity it takes to get them to move to another paddock. They essentially move in a circle around the house with the donkeys. The 3 donkeys are excluded from the flock during lambing season, as they sometimes get rough with the lambs.

As we toured the farm, I noticed an abundance of water sources in the form of ponds and streams, as well as plenty of trees and wooded paddocks. Bill has placed the ponds so that they are in natural drainage paths, taking advantage of the land’s slope. In one of these wooded areas, there is a mineral lick available to the donkeys, which is placed too high for the sheep to access. Bill used to keep goats in the area near here next to the new barn, but they kept escaping into his neighbor’s garden. He eventually moved them down the road across from his beef operation. An unlooked-for positive effect was that the neighbor, who had intended for years to build a new fence, finally did.

donkeyIn the early years, Bill lost some 7 goats and 1 calf to coyotes. This prompted him to purchase the guard donkeys. Since the introduction of the donkeys he has had no problems with coyotes, despite a neighbor’s recent loss of 22 sheep to the predators. “Donkeys naturally hate dogs” he says, which brings up Bill’s number one farm hand – “Screamer”. Screamer is an energetic part Chihuahua, part Australian Sheltie pup who accompanies Bill on farm errands. She is the only dog the donkeys will tolerate, but she’s taken some licks from them. Screamer makes friends with all new lambs, catches mice, and checks out every visitor. I wasn’t real sure she was going to let me leave with those lambs.

Bill’s beef operation is 3 miles down the road. He has 52 cattle, including the bull, cows and calves. There are 3 donkeys here as well. A lush combination of grass and clover covers the rolling hills. There is a large pond with a gravel alley and two metal barns to accommodate animals and machinery. The animal handling areas have color-coded gates so that instructions to helpers may be easily understood. These areas also have a 4-foot gate so handlers can quickly be in an area non-accessible to animals. A fence/gate combo similar to the one in the new barn can separate animals if necessary. There is also a dry lot here so an animal ‘s intake can be controlled in case of illness. A similar handling and loading area is atop a hill in an old peach-packing shed. The animals are kept out of the barns during warm weather to control fly populations. In addition to this, face-fly feeders and oiler rubs between the gate posts are used. Again, Bill says that diatomaceous earth and pasture rotation keep fly problems to a minimum. Bill has long-term plans to lease this area when he decides to scale down.

When I asked Bill how he gets his animals butchered, I was surprised to learn that the facility he uses is just a mile away. His animals get an extra apple or two while they wait in the yard. Talk about low stress! That must be some tender beef! Bill swears by the Angus breed. He’s tried Charolais, but didn’t like it. He only raises what he likes to eat, and he sells only live animals. He markets directly using a free local radio spot and word-of -mouth.

The community pulls together in other ways as well. They share land and equipment for hay and haying, and Bill doesn’t advertise his sheep if a neighbor is advertising. There are lots of new, suburban-type houses around, but the area seems to be retaining its agricultural character.

There’s more than meets the eye at this farm, and the combination of history, innovation, diversity and good stewardship made for a very informative visit.

Last Lamb of the Season

Our last lamb of the season was born yesterday. She has a black patch around one eye so of course we named her Pirate!

Brown Lamb

We awoke Monday morning after a night of torrential rain to find another new lamb. This one is all brown, quite the surprize!

Lamb Twins

Tawny lambed late Sunday afternoon, our first set of twins. This picture was taken early Monday monrning. Our ewes are young and the first time they generally have only a single lamb, but as they mature twins are the norm with occasional triplets. It is said that a well-managed Katahdin flock should acheive a 200% lamb crop each year, e.g., with a flock of 9 ewes we can expect to get 18 lambs each year.

Second Lamb of the Season

We awoke this morning to our second new lamb. She’s the one laying down next to mama near the hay feeder. Lamb #1, now a full week old, is standing between Mom and Dad.

Our First Lamb

We had our first lamb yesterday! She was born “on pasture” between 9 and 11 a.m. The Katahdin breed has a reputation for easy lambing – so far, so good!

Our First Lamb [Continued]

It was a cold day, barely got above freezing, but thankfully it was sunny. Mom had her clean and dry and was nursing by the time we discovered them at around 11:45 a.m. (These first three pictures were taken at around 3:30 p.m.)