Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Octagon Eco Incubator

This incubator is cool! It has a capacity of 24 chicken eggs, and comes with dividers so you can set it up for whatever size eggs you have. It is auto-turning and it looks to be easy to use and easy to clean.
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Farmers' Market in Daggett, Michigan

There is a new Farmers' Market in Daggett, Michigan, which takes place at Fran's Rink and Park in Daggett--- next to the grocery store, which is next to the place where I go to vote.

It started June 18th, and is on Thursday from 4pm until 7 pm. When I went, there were 2 vendors. There were green beans, garlic, and live chickens and rabbits available, among other things.

The web site has information on what vendors were there in June and July but hasn't been updated. Also it does not have information on how to become a vendor at the market. (I'm working up the courage to phone the farmers' market manager for info.

I'm hoping that folks in Menominee Co. will patronize the market and that it will still be there next year--- I'm hoping to participate.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

5 Best Books if you are Serious about Sheep

If you are serious about your sheep--- whether you have 5 or 500--- you will want some good information about them. There are a lot of sheep books out there. Here are a few with actual information you can use.

1. Sheep Raiser's Manual by William K. Kruesi
This 1985 book is one of the first two I bought about sheep raising, and it has been in constant use as a reference ever since. It is aimed at the producer of commercial sheep (for meat), perhaps in flocks of 100 or less.

This book contains a wealth of sheep wisdom. There is a section on methods of grazing, from continuous grazing to intensive rotational grazing and strip grazing. The pasture improvement section tells how to improve your pastureland through methods such as frost-seeding. A chapter on line breeding tells how to improve your flock through linebreeding while avoiding the hazards of closer inbreeding.

There is a section on accelerated lambing methods, particularly the Cornell STAR system. This system was very popular when the book was written; now people are more likely to favor a system of annual spring lambing on pasture. However, it is good to know both methods!

There is also a very good section on farm business management that all sheep raisers should take a look at. Your sheep should be supporting you, not you supporting your sheep.

2. Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep: Breeds, Care, Facilities by Paula Simmons and Carol Ekarius I bought the earlier edition of this book, Raising Sheep the Modern Way . Updated and Revised Edition about the time I bought the Kruesi book, and both books were my first sheep raising guides. The breeds section in this book was where I first got the idea of getting Shetland sheep, which at the time were very rare and quite expensive. The book has a great deal to offer in the way of sheep facility plans, suggestions for sheep related income, particularly from wool, and vital information on sheep health in lambing. Above all, it introduced me to the charming rhyme 'Ewes yearly by twinning/Rich masters do make/The lambs from such twinners/For breeders do take.' (Youatt, 1837)

The twinning rhyme is sadly absent from the newer edition, but it is updated and now includes a number of profiles of successful sheep farms. It has enough new information that I don't for a moment regret buying the new edition even though I still had the old.

3. A Conservation Breeding Handbook by D. Phillip Sponenberg is useful for the breeder of any rare breed of livestock including sheep. The most important thing I got from reading this book is detailed instructions for how to divide your flock into 3 separate bloodlines for the purposes of reducing inbreeding. It also details 'rescue breeding', which is when you start with a very small flock, perhaps with only one ram.

These breeding methods are not only of use with the very rare breeds, it's also good for preserving rare bloodlines within more numerous breeds, or for those who want to minimize their purchase of outside stock.

4. More Sheep, More Grass, More Money by Peter Schroedter is not written by an 'expert' but by a boots-on-the-ground, manure-on-the-boots sheep farmer who tells how he makes money by grazing sheep in Canada. Grazing is the emphasis here. Schroedter recommends pasture lambing in the spring rather than winter lambing in sheds and tells how to do it. He tells how to pick strong grazing replacement ewes, and how and when to add grain feeding to the mix.

Much of this book is quite amusing and it is a great and useful read, but remember this is one man's experience. He dismisses the prolific breeds such as Finnsheep, Romanov and Booroola as being too expensive to feed for his system, yet I know of one Booroola breeder who also practices pasture lambing. As always with farming books, try things out and keep what works for you, in your situation.

5. The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable is another book I bought early on which has proved its worth over time. The book recommends using garlic as a wormer; recently there have been scientific studies which confirm this method's usefulness. This book is a very complete account for the use of herbs with different classes of livestock, including many that the flockmaster can grow for himself.

Do you have favorite farming books not included on the list? Tell me about them in a comment!

31 Days to Build a Better Blog , day 2 assignment, Write a List Post.

Note: several more Shetland sheep blogs have been added to our blogroll, as well as some Dorper sheep blogs. Please visit them!

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Take Care of the Flock, and the Flock will Take Care of You

Recently I joined an internet something-or-other called 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. The first day's task was to write an 'elevator pitch' for your blog. That is, to explain your blog briefly enough that you could explain it to someone in the course of an elevator ride.

What I came up with is this: 'Take care of the flock, and the flock will take care of you.' What does it mean? I'm not quite sure. But in part it's a reaction to the idea of solving all of one's financial problems with off-farm jobs, money-making schemes, and purchasing various high-priced stock, equipment or feeds to make your flock profitable.

Your flock--- the sheep you've got now--- have the potential to support you if you support them. At least, that's my hope.

So that's what I will be writing about on this blog. I hope someone enjoys it!

One thing I'm going to be doing to create a better blog is to create some good blogrolls. All of the blogs will be related to sheep farming or farming in general. Today's addition to the blogrolls is Allan Savory's blog. Allan Savory is the editor of the Stockman Grass Farmer magazine, a good magazine about intensive rotational grazing.

A previous addition to the blogroll is 'Redbud Lane Shetland Sheep'. This is a Shetland sheep farm in Missouri. Right now they have a lot of wether (neutered) ram lambs for sale, check them out here.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Arapawa Goat line in US

I've received this message from Arapawa goat breeder Al Caldwell:

"We are pleased to announce the birth of twins from sire Yellow Tag, a buck
in David Hughes herd in NZ. Our Dolly kidded a buck and a doe April 9. They
are most lively and handsome. This expands the genetic material in the US
herd from the 6 original founders to 7. It is a step in reducing concerns
over inbreeding.

Last Fall John Truelson and I organized the artificial insemination of the
semen imported in 2005. Several efforts to artificially breed the goats had
been unsuccessful over the years. We are encouraged by this bit of success.

There have been a total of 15 kids dropped on our farm this Spring. I hope
others are adding to their herds. Unlike previous years, there are 8
doelings and 7 bucks in the mix. I hope others are adding to their herds.
The conservation of the breed needs more holders and larger herds."

Congratulations to Al Caldwell (and Dolly the goat) on their blessed event.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

2009 Fur and Feather Swaps in NE Wisc and Upper Mich.

This is the schedule of Fur and Feather Swaps sponsored by the Northern Poultry Pigeon & Rabbit Club for 2009. Contact persons: Mary or Doug, 960-753-4153; Chris or Sheryl 715-938-8162. (I'm not a member or anything but I do like to attend the swaps!)

May 3
Stephenson, Michigan
Menominee County Annex Building

May 31
Marinette, Wisconsin
Tractor Supply Company

June 7
Peshtigo, Wisconsin
Peshtigo Feed Mill

Friday, March 13, 2009

What I didn't know about Araucana/Ameraucana chickens

I used to think that there were Araucana chickens--- the purebreds, who lay blue eggs, may be tailless and have tufts--- and there were crossbred chickens who laid blue eggs and which might be called Araucana, Americana, Ameraucana or Easter Eggers depending on the hatchery's whim.

Now, I had some 'Araucana/Americana' chickens from Murray McMurray hatchery some years ago and they were nice chickens. But the egg color was mostly disappointing, mostly greenish rather than blue.

Recently I was looking into hatching egg auctions on eBay and I found one for 'Ameraucana' chickens and the seller explained some stuff. There are actually two legitimate breeds of blue-egg chickens--- the Araucana, which is tailless and tufted, and the Ameraucana, which has muffs and beards. Both are developed from South American chickens. The Ameraucana in the US is very similar to the breed called 'Araucana' in Great Britain, more similar than the American Araucana is. In addition, genetic tests show the Ameraucana is related to various blue-egg chickens in Europe including the ones on the Shetland Islands. Since the reason I wanted Araucanas in the first place is because I couldn't get Shetland chickens, I decided to go for Ameraucana chickens and got two sets of hatching eggs from eBay.

I was very impressed by the blue color of many of the eggs I got, and hope that I have a good hatch to get started with the breed.

I believe that the crossbred chickens being sold as Araucana/Americana, Ameraucana and whatever ought to be labelled 'Easter Eggers' to avoid the confusion that has arisen. I'm not saying there is anything intrinsically wrong with the 'Easter Eggers'. It's just that they ought not be called by a name they aren't entitled to.

For more information on Ameraucana chickens, visit the Ameraucana Breeders Club.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What breed of Ewes should you breed to your Dorper Ram?

The Dorper breed has become a popular breed of sheep because it is a single purpose breed, and that purpose is meat. Once you have switched over to Dorpers, you no longer need worry where your next shearer is coming from, because you don't shear Dorpers. So you are out of the wool business, which has become a losing business for so many.

Some sheep farmers can afford to sell their current flock and buy a flock of Dorpers. Others will have to grow into the Dorper business by grading-up. The Dorper registry allows the registration of the offspring of a Dorper ram and other breeds of ewes, and you can grade-up the offspring til they get to a very high percentage level, at which point they are called 'purebloods'. (The animals that are 100% Dorpers with no outside blood are called 'fullbloods'.)

I got my first White Dorper ram (White Dorpers are managed by the registry as if they were a separate breed from regular, dark-headed Dorpers) a couple of years ago. The farmer I bought from told me that in the first cross with the Dorper/White Dorper, the offspring would still have wool I would have to shear. It would be a couple of generations before I would be able to get the wool out.

This turned out not to be the case, because the sheep I had were fullblood Shetlands. The Shetland is a small breed of sheep from the Shetland islands to the north of Scotland. They are noted for their fine wool, and they come in many colors and markings. But more to the point, they are known to grow their wool in yearly fleeces instead of continuously. In the Shetland islands, traditionally the Shetlands were not sheared, but 'rooed' (plucked). That is, the wool of their old fleece was pulled off by hand, leaving the start of the next year's fleece on the sheep.

I have always preferred to 'roo' my Shetlands rather than shear them. I am so bad at shearing that it's like a circus, with the sheep out of my control. I prefer not to have a sharp cutting instrument in my hand during the circus! So my breeding program has tended to favor the sheep that 'roo' well.

And so, I set my first White Dorper ram to the Shetland ewes. The result has been a small flock of F1 (first cross) ewes, every one of which has fully shed her wool!

Now, in the same year in which my F1s were born, my yearling Shetland ewes also shed their wool. I had decided to give it a try to see how fully they would shed. Many shed completely, others partially. All of these ewes were the daughters of a particular ram, Area 51. Unfortunately, Area 51 had been sold for meat that fall, because he'd had a few sons with problems.

Most of my Shetland ewes who were not related to Area 51 didn't shed nearly as much--- but the F1 ewes that ALL shed were sometimes the daughters of Shetland mothers who didn't shed at all.

The key seems to be that the mothers grew their wool in yearly fleeces which all Shetlands do. This enables their half-Dorper daughters to shed their wool completely.

I believe as a result of my little experiment that the Dorper/Shetland cross has some real possibilities. Shetlands are a hardy breed. Three Shetlands can be fed for the price of two sheep of other breeds. They are also good mothers. And they give the would-be Dorper farmer the results he wants in only one generation of crossbreeding. And while Dorpers are larger than Shetlands, I haven't have any birthing problems as a result of the cross.

For crossbreeding purposes, where you may not care about registry papers, you may be able to pick up decent Shetlands at a fair price from hobby breeders getting out of the hobby. You needn't worry about the color of the ewes--- all bred to my White Dorper ram have had white lambs, regardless of the mother's color.

There are other breeds related to the Shetland that also grow yearly fleeces that might be a good fit for crossbreeding. There is the Romanov, famous for multiple births. A Romanov breeder told me that the breed sheds its wool. Finnsheep, also a multiple birth breed, are also related to the Shetland, though I don't know how sheddy their wool coat is. And the Icelandic sheep are also a relative of the Shetland, though they are less available and may be too expensive for a crossing program.

Dorper/White Dorper sheep are a very practice breed choice and I hope I have interested some of you in the possibilities of Shetland x Dorper crosses to build up your flock.