Saturday, August 03, 2013

A Producer's Pride

I have many objectives for my sheep farm and flock. Obviously, I would like to make a profit from their production. In most years, I do. With increasing costs, especially feed costs, it is getting more difficult to make a profit, but I think I can continue to do so, as sheep (especially  Katahdins) respond well to good management.

Raising animals, sheep in particular, is also a hobby that I enjoy. Sometimes, I enjoy just watching the sheep, especially young lambs. In the winter time, I love listening to the ewes "crunch" on hay. I love watching the lambs play. I think that each sheep has a unique personality. I especially enjoy the evolving personalities (and behavior) of ram lambs.

Keeper Katahdin ewe lamb
I love the science of raising sheep. Everything I do with my sheep is research-based.  I don't believe in fads and testimonials. But hey, that's my job (as an Extension Sheep & Goat Specialist) -- to disseminate research-based information to the public. Breeding is the aspect of sheep production that I like the best. I enjoy seeing the results of my selection decisions and cross breeding programs. If an animal gets sick or dies, I want to know why.

It's important to me that I raise my sheep in the most humane way possible. I have no problem putting a sheep or lamb in my freezer (I love lamb and mutton) or selling them for slaughter, but it's important that their often short lives and harvest be humane.

I'm avoiding the word "natural" because it means different things to different people. Today's sheep are not the animals that were domesticated so many thousands of years ago. I think it's perfectly natural to raise sheep in a barn or dry lot (hoop house, in my case) and to feed them grain and other supplements. How can part of the grass plant not be natural!

Twin ewe lambs - Katahdin Dairy Mules
I'm certainly not opposed to pasture and grass-feeding, but I don't have enough land to graze all of my ewes and lambs at all times of the year.  Primarily, I use the pasture for the ewe flock. I also prefer the health, behavior, and performance of fed-lambs, not to mention the taste of their meat. When I feed lambs, they are fed a combination of forage and grain (more forage than grain usually).

I dislike organic standards of animal production because they prevent you from properly treating sick animals and preventing disease outbreaks. I deworm my sheep if they need it (usually not often), but not prophylactically.  I consider antibiotics to be an important part of my animal health program. I use all animal health products prudently and observe proper withdrawal periods. My lamb is as wholesome as lamb that is certified organic, and my animals are better cared for because my hands are not tied by arbitrary rules.

Katahdin Mule ram lambs
I have a lot of pride in the lambs that I produce. I sell my ewe lambs and some of my best ram lambs for breeding. I expect them to be productive and healthy for their new owners. When lambs leave my farm, I want them to be well-grown for their age, but not fat, although it's hard to keep some of them from getting a little chunky.

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