Thursday, September 30, 2010

Selling Out

We sold our sheep. All of them. This was due to a variety of factors, the largest being that coyotes have killed over half of our lambs since they were born. To reduce such losses we have historically used guard dogs, but our neighbors don't like guard dogs and shoot that obviously doesn't work anymore. Buying $800 plus dogs just have your neighbor kill them gets pretty spendy.
A guy I recently interviewed for the paper summed it up best when he said, "it's completely demoralizing to gather your sheep a week before selling your lambs and to find a bunch of dead lambs from coyotes. There is an entire year's worth of your work, laying there with its throat cut, completely useless. It wears you down, I don't blame people for getting out of the sheep business."
That's what happened in our case. We finally had enough. We like our livestock, and we cannot find an effective method of protecting our sheep from the predators - we semi-jokingly say our local trapper couldn't find a coyote in his kitchen, and without guard dogs it's crazy the amount of killing they do.
So when the sheep market peaked this summer we sold out.
It was sad, I helped load the first truck last weekend. We all (with the exception of my mom) have always commented on how much we dislike sheep, but in reality they were a very useful way of diversifying our operation and we are all aware of the benefits of having them around.

We counted specific numbers to put in each compartment of the truck. One thing I've learned over the last 12 years or so of raising sheep is that if you think you're a livestock person (which we all thought we had a pretty good grip on that) go work some sheep. They will keep you humble. They are completely different to work than cattle, and will really improve your livestock handling skills....or injure you to the point you're out of the way anyway.

They jump, run, stop, turn, run over you, and continue on as one massive woolly unit usually. I have been hurt much worse and with a much greater frequency working sheep than working cattle. It takes practice to get working them down...and I don't think anyone ever gets it completely perfected. The people we bought them from originally would come to help us, and they're as close having it perfected as anyone, and they would just stare at us as we ran around in a chaotic mess the first couple years.

Up to the loading dock they go...

And into the cattle pot. Loading sheep is another adventure and sometimes you get to load each one individually. It was that bad this time...but they didn't just run on every time either. This ewe is on the top deck of the pot...

And these are on the bottom deck. The door in the upper left corner of the photo is where the single ewe was standing in the previous photo. Cattle pots are very efficient in their space utilization. A specific number of cows, calves or sheep are put in each compartment based on weight and space. You don't want to crowd sheep too much, especially on a long haul. It's also very important to take them off water the night before. If you don't several will die during transit...I can't remember why, but it's not good. We also take ours off feed the night before because it makes them haul better too, it's easier on them to not have a full stomach.

This really isn't as full as it looks. You can see some space on the top right, and there is space at the back on the left and right sides too. While I mentioned you don't want a compartment too full, you also don't want it too empty. If there aren't enough sheep they get bumped around more. The right number allows them to cushion each other, but they don't suffocate either.

The rest will be shipped off this weekend. My dad said he doubts we will ever have sheep again, which is too bad. We live in some of the best sheep country in the world...if you can control the predators.

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