AgriCulture: In Their Element (the Elements) by Troy Spindler

Happy Solstice, everyone.

Today was the longest day of the year, but I have to say, every day without a barn has felt pretty long to me. Losing the barn three weeks ago has been inconvenient, to say the least. We just postponed our already late shearing date due to rain. With a barn, we could have easily done it under shelter with a readily available source of electricity. Now we have to wait until July, and we’ll have to bring out a generator to power the electric shears.

As you might expect, we depended on the barn a lot. The classically designed, red and white building was a focal point on the farm both aesthetically and operationally. We used it every day to corral, monitor and rotate the sheep. In it we stored food, water, tools, medical supplies, and a decade’s supply of raw wool – not to mention the turkeys.

While we felt reliant on the barn for so much, the sheep seem to be getting along fine without it. In fact, I’d even venture to say their health has been steadily improving lately. Over the past three weeks, they have proven their resilience and shown off the magical qualities of their wool coats. They’ve endured hot days, thunderstorms, and cold rainy nights (luckily none to extreme) without reliable shelter. My instinct is to protect them from these weather events, but theirs is to simply endure them.

It is a common conception that barns are where farm animals live. For concentrated farms that primarily feed their animals hay and grain, this is true – the animals spend their time in human-made shelters. But on our small-scale, grass-fed farm, the barn is a mere comfort station for the sheep. Their true home is the pasture. Our sheep spent most of their lives out in the forage, even while the barn still stood. Only in winter would they be in the barn for extended periods, because that is where the hay was. This hardiness has always been a blessing, especially now as we sort out our next steps.

Considering their incredible ability to withstand the elements, it’s tempting to just let them wander the fields totally free of supervision; but that’s not recommended. According to our extension agent, Jason, transmissible diseases are a much greater threat to sheep flocks than the weather, and they are best prevented with intensive flock management. The most common and concerning killer is actually picked up right on the pasture. It is a microscopic worm – a nematode – called Haemunchus contortus, or colloquially as the barber pole worm.

Sheep are most likely to pick up the barber pole worm from the soil when they eat very short grass. The worm attaches to the lining of the sheep’s gut and proceeds to suck its blood from the inside. The worm has a spiral digestive system, which when filled with blood resembles the poles commonly seen outside barber shops – hence the name. Each female can release over 1000 eggs in a day, which end up in the sheep’s feces and back in the soil. An overload of worms will cause anemia in sheep and can kill them in a matter of days.

Understandably, Jason got me psyched out about these tiny versions of a Syfy Channel B-movie villain. He said that if we have the worm, it’s not good to let the sheep linger too long in heavy use areas – aka where they poop a lot. But after the barn burned down, our options for viable pasture were limited. What was once a barrier separating four different pastures became a treacherous no-mans-land of debris that precluded access to three of them. The two pastures remaining (including our far North field) are quite large, but the sheep definitely have their favorite “heavy use” spots. We quickly got to work putting up temporary fence around the wreckage to reestablish better rotation. Then we had to isolate potential worm carriers.

The first thing to check is the mucous membrane under their eyelids. Normally, they are nice and pink with blood vessels. Any sheep with white eyelids is anemic and should be treated with deworming medication (don’t treat till you see the whites of their eyes, as they say). Our ten oldest ewes seemed to have the whitest eyelids, so we gave them the meds and isolated them on one side of the wreckage. To be certain, I had to get a close look at their poops. Really close. At 100X magnification close.

Luckily, the Cornell Cooperative Extension generously rents out a small microscope for five dollars an hour. So I casually brought several baggies full of sheep poop into their office, they pointed me to the microscope, and I got to work. After scanning eight samples in my allotted hour, I didn’t see a single nematode egg (phew!). Perhaps those older ewes just aren’t making the blood cells that they used to. Either way, I now feel confident that we don’t have a barber pole crisis on our hands. Still, I’m glad we went through all of the steps, as they are preventative measures. In the same vein, even though the sheep are perfectly happy out on the pasture, we’re going to build another barn. Just in case.

WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK

Beets, $4/bunch (mixed bunches Chiogga, Detroit Red, Golden),
Scallions, $2/bunch
Kale $3/bunch
Collards, $3/bunch
Purslane, limited quantities, $2/bag
Cilantro, limited quantities, $1/bunch
SPINACH $4/BAG
OASIS TURNIPS, $3/BUNCH
SORREL, $2/BAG
MINT $.75 a bunch
DILL: $.75 a bunch
SHISO LEAVES, $1.00 FOR 10

EGGS: Production is now in overdrive. We can handle all your orders. $5/doz

MEATS: We keep some on hand, but it helps to order ahead in case we need to retrieve from our stash in the big commercial freezer

GEESE: One remaining, about 8.5 lbs. $10/lb.

TURKEYS: A few small ones left over and frozen $11/lb .

GUINEA FOWL, We are sold out!

ROASTING CHICKENS – We are sold out til Fall

LAMB: shoulder roasts at $10/lb, riblets $8/lb, small and larger leg roasts $14/lb, lamb stew $7/lb, shanks, $10/lb

PORK: Loin pork chops, $12/lb (2 to a pack, btwn 1 and 1.5 lbs), Jowl (roughly 2 to 3 lbs each), $12/lb,
Spare ribs and country ribs $7/lb
baby back ribs $8/lb
fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
picnic or Boston butt roasts (roughly 2 lbs) $12/lb
smoked bacon, $12/lb
Kielbasa $8/lb

DUCKS: SOLD OUT

COMPOST, $6/Bag, approx. 40 lbs.

FARM PICKUPS:

Email us your order at farm@turkanafarms.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Regular pickup times are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call at 518-537-3815

AgriCulture: In Their Element (the Elements) by Troy Spindler
AgriCulture

 
 
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