Growing Pains

When I started raising sheep, my initial flock of ewes were the culls from other sheep farmers flocks. I purchased my first ewes and ram at the local livestock auction.

The conformation of these ewes was light boned, small frame and not much muscling. My thinking when I first started was “a lamb is a lamb when selling market lambs.”

Market lambs are purchased to make a meat carcass. They are purchased by meat packers or processors to be turned in the various cuts of meat for the restaurants and food stores. How big and tasty looking a cut of meat appears, is determined by the muscling around the bone.

I noticed that some groups of market lambs sold for twice what my lambs were selling for. The reason, the top priced market lambs, even though the lambs were in the same weigh classification, were wider, thicker, had more muscling. I needed more muscling on my lambs.

I purchased rams and ewes with more muscling. I learned of Dorper sheep, and started using registered rams to breed my ewes to produce better market lambs.

When I butchered my first lamb for my dinner table, I learned where the different cuts of lamb meat are and what the lambs I raised looked like to the processors. This influenced my breeding and purchase of breeding stock decisions. I started seeing a sheep as a meat carcass. As I improved the muscling on my sheep, the value of my market lambs improved as well. I currently receive the top price for my market lambs at auction.

Growth and improvement sometimes causes unexpected problems. I call these types of problems – “good problems”. As they are indicators I am doing my job correctly.

Three years ago, we purchased a handling system to make the task of trimming feet and deworming/vaccinating easier on me. Having to catch each individual sheep was time consuming and very tiring. The sheep handling system of a sheep race or alley and chute would make the tasks easier and faster. The chute tips to where the sheep is on their side, and the floor drops down allowing access to the feet for trimming. The task of trimming feet became so much easier and faster. I was not totally worn out after trimming fifty ewes, and I can do the task in a few hours instead of all day.

A little over a year back, I started vaccinating four weeks before scheduled lambing. I noticed my pregnant ewes were a tight squeeze to get through the system, but they managed.

Then this last week I was trimming the feet of ewes and one ram in the breeding group. The ram got stuck. While I laughed with my husband about the fact my ram was stuck, the various methods I tried to move him. And concluded I needed his help to remove the side panel to let the ram out of the system. The ram managed to get himself free during our conversation. The rams are not going through the handling system anymore.

With this experience, we realized the rams will not fit. Later in the day, we were appraising the replacement ewe lambs and baby ewe lambs still on their mothers for keeping in the flock. During our observation, these lambs will mature to the size of not fitting in the handling system as well. We are in the process of finding a solution.

I had bred and improved my sheep flock to be too big for the sheep handling system we own.

Some problems or challenges in sheep farming are “good problems”.


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