Some one is picking on Jemimah. She is a friendly, gentle Muscovy duck. Most of the summer she sat on one or another nest trying to hatch some babies. The second time she was successful, but the new puppies played too rough with the ducklings and they were killed. Jemimah did not give up, even though her eggs were not fertile, since the drake was eaten by the pigs earlier in summer. Finally, in late October, I destroyed her eggs and nest and forced her to go home. Poor Jemimah. She was not in good condition and has a delayed molt, but I suspect the hens picked on her emerging feathers until there was blood. Once there was blood, the cannibalistic chickens would continue to pick on her, possibly even kill her. So, she was removed to the hospital next door, aka, the rabbit cage. There is a shelter there for her and grain and water, and of course lots of grass hay. The bunnies get some carrots and lettuce from time to time, too and Jemimah loves lettuce. She will have to remain there until her wound is completely healed. Tomorrow, I will bathe her wing and remove the crusted blood, then put some healing salve on it and leave her to get better on her own. Unless she shows any signs of infection, which ducks rarely do, she should recover in a few weeks. Poor Jemimah.
The Blue Faced Leicester (pronounced Lester) sheep have arrived, two ewe lambs and a ram lamb that are big enough to breed right now. They made the journey from Valleyview, way up north about 7 hours away. The sheep are from the renown Little Smoky Blues farm. These sheep were developed over a long period of time from traditional long wooled breeds in England, particularly the Wensleydale and Old Leicester and are bred to use as sires for cross bred ewes, called mules. The Blue Faced Leicester sheep are very large, with the rams being over 200 pounds and the ewes around 175. They are good mothers with strong maternal instincts and can support twins easily. They do breed seasonally when the days are the shortest and can be bred the first year if their lamb growth is sufficient. Rams are most often used to improve commercial flocks and improve lamb size and growth. The first cross ewes then are bred back to their breed rams and the influence of the Blue Faced Leicester greatly improves the flock. This has been traditional in England since the turn of the century. The Blue Faced sheep also have a fine crimped long wool particularly sought after by hand spinners. The ram will breed the ewes for quite a few years and the offspring will be sold or bred to other rams, with only the select lambs with exceptional fleece being retained at the Fat Ewe Farm. Welcome home little sheepies.
Ameraucana chickens are pretty neat. They do not have large combs and sport muffs around their faces rather than wattles, the hanging down red things you see on must chickens. They are a medium sized bird with longer legs and are wonderful at foraging. They fly rather well too, so it is surprising that they are staying in the coop area, since they can easily go out if they wish. As a matter of fact, they stay inside all too much and I am wondering why. The Chanteclers are not mean to them, but the Guineas can push them around. There are all females except the one black and white Splash coloured rooster. He is not a great specimen as far as perfect conformation goes, but he is a pretty interesting fellow and stays with his girls all the time. These Ameraucanas are supposed to be blue (which is really a bluish grey), black (which has beetle green and blue in it as well a midnight black) and black and white spotted, which is called Splash. There are a few odd coloured ones, not quite Wheaten coloured, and not in the white category either. Earlier they had started to lay a few eggs, but now that the light is gone so early in the day, they are not laying at all. The breed is very hardy and although they could go next door into the heated and insulated coop, they prefer their own hut, which is just a plywood sheet over livestock panels and a tarp over that. Surprisingly, with the coop full, it is quite a bit warmer than outside and most importantly, it does block the wind. The chickens do not seem to be cold or seeking heat, which would be evidenced by them puffing themselves up, remaining quite still and huddling up. The best part is that they lay blue/green eggs! Simply beautiful!
I remember once when I was quite young I got ringworm on my arm. When my mother gave the official diagnosis, I remember panicking thinking that a worm was living in my arm, and screamed for her to get it out. Worms are not welcome in bodies, human or animals. Today I had a discussion with a commercial sheep breeder about worms, particulary C. Ovis, a tapeworm that lives in dogs and sheep. There is a relationship between the two and both are necessary for the cycle. The worm is a tapeworm and in sheep, it burrows in the muscles and creates white pustules, which result in condemnation of the meat, so it is vital that it is not in the flock. Many shepherds keep livestock guardian dogs. The worms hatch in the dogs and the dogs shed them through stool. They look like rice, but I have never seen them in any stool here on the farm. I do not believe it is good practice to treat an entire flock for worms if only one or two appear to have symptoms. Here, I keep tabs with the Famacha system, which checks the colour of the lower eyelid. The pale and white colour is dangerous, showing a high wormload that the sheep is not managing and the result is severe anemia. Medium pink is a warning to watch that sheep closely and red and dark pink show that the sheep is somehow either resistant to the worms or is managing them. In my humble opinion, it is the sheep that are resistant and managing that a shepherd should breed to bring back the traits of natural worm resistance. In the wild, chemical wormers are never used of course. The weak sheep may succumb to a worm load, but that sheep is not the type that would do the flock in good stead anyhow. Survival of the fittest is indeed, the best way. Commercial flocks cannot afford to allow sheep to die or get worms, especially the tapeworm C. Ovis, which causes great loss of dollars. so most often the entire flock is wormed. This builds resistance to chemical wormers and soon they are no longer effective as the worms become super worms. Unless we return to allowing nature to select for worm resistance and practice rotational grazing, that is grazing short periods and moving the flock on, not to return to that grazing area for months, which allows the worm eggs to die off. Some natural substances are quite effective as well. I have been experimenting with garlic, feeding garlic mixed with baking soda and a little salt, free choice. The sheep seem to like it and willfully eat it in varying quantities, but not every sheep. There are four ewe lambs, all Jacobs, who do not like it and do not eat it. Based on the Famacha scoring, they have higher worm loads than the other ewe lambs. For these sheep, the garlic needs to be mixed with a sweet feed in order to get them to consume it. Molasses on kelp should also work. The goats quite like the garlic/salt/baking soda mix and also willingly eat it, but the rams are as the ewe lambs, with only some eating it and others not. I will purchase some dried molasses and mix the garlic with it, because I know they all eat it then. I am sure if it was mixed with grain they also would eat it, but the greedy sheep would overeat the grain and may get sick.
The subject of worming is very complicated with all the critters on the farm and the cross contamination from some species to others, such as the dogs and the sheep. This is a small farm with a total of nearly 50 sheep and on hands management is possible due to the small numbers. Daily, I go into the sheep pens and watch and check various animals. When there is no response to the garlic, then and only then, does the animal get a chemical wormer, but they likely will also get their walking papers if this occurs frequently. For now, the garlic and sometimes herbs and garlic method seems to be working for the most part. It is part and parcel of a whole farm organic management emphasis and to create a worm free flock will take years, breeding and selecting only the sheep that are naturally worm resistant. Then, those sheep will be amazing. I hope I am around to do it and see it.
Kittens needs to be fed. I guess puppies do too, but not three or four times a day. I fed the puppies twice daily when they were little and now, at 7 months, they are fed once a day. Basically, now, they feed themselves. The food is put out for the dogs and they eat it in the order of superiority in the pack. The kittens have a bit of order to the three of them too. Smokey, though he is the oldest, is not the dominant one. It is little Leon, the barn cat. Maybe the first few weeks of his life, he learned something that the other two never had to - to fight a bit for his food. Now, he grabs his share, runs and hides and growls loudly at anyone or anything that wants to come near him. They also need water. The dogs find water or eat snow, but the kittens seem to need water. I wonder how barn cats or wild cats survive if no one gives them water in winter. They must eat snow too. Maybe these kittens are a little spoiled. They like their meat warm in winter, and meow loudly if they have to eat frozen meat. The dogs never complain, as long as they have food. I heat their meat in winter though, much of the time, so they have something warm in their bellies too. The thing is, kittens are a pain in the butt. They are needy. They are supposed to catch mice. When does that start? So far, they hang out at the porch door and cry for their sustenance. I have to shoo them out of the house constantly. Dogs never try to sneak in. They are far more respectful than that! i guess I am not much of a cat person. I do cuddle the kittens from time to time, just so they remain tame, but I do not find them endearing enough to spend a great deal of time with them. I hope in summer, they are far more self sufficient. Silly kitties.
Sheep are pretty amazing. They produce very tasty meat, especially if solely grass fed, and certain breeds can be milked. Sheep cheese is sought after, as is sheep milk, the richest, most complete milk available to us. Pygmy goat milk is a close second. Some breeds also provide wool, a special fiber that can be felted or spun to make garments that are warm even when wet. There is nothing like a good pair of fine wool socks in winter or summer. The properties of wool keep feet cool in the heat and warm in the cold. Lucky to be a sheep! Along with the wool, especially on the Merino breeds of sheep, a wax is produced from the sebaceous glands, that is almost identical to human sebum, though a sheep produces large quantities of it to lubricate and waterproof its coat. This wax is lanolin. At one time lanolin was used more extensively for cosmetics and skin care than today and it was sought after as a superior skin softener with healing properties for damaged or burned skin. Then vegetable oils, waxes and butters pushed the animal grease aside and although lanolin is still widely used in cosmetics, it is not a selling feature. It should be.
Lanolin has forty percent alphhydroxy acids. These compounds have been shown to heal and protect skin in a superior fashion. The closest approximation occurring naturally are from plants, but the quantities are minute in comparison to the lanolin sheep produce. Yet, does one ever hear a commercial such as this: "Sheep wax from wool in your premium cosmetics.." uh..nope. Not all breeds of sheep produce lanolin and a few are lanolin free. Home extraction of lanolin involves boiling the wool for a long time, then rendering the water that the wool was boiled in for a long time to reduce it and finally either cooling rapidly to separate the lanolin from the water or skimming. The raw lanolin will have all the properties of cosmetic grade lanolin, but make the person using it smell like the sheep. So, further cleaning is necessary. First the extraction of sweat and salts and then deodorizing. To do this, mix the lanolin/water with a little more water and a pure oil, such as olive, shaking it rapidly while the mixture is warm. The salts and sweat will bind to the water and the oil will pull the other impurities out, leaving a relatively clean lanolin which can be used as is or to formulate skin products. Thank you Creator for making sheep and thank you sheep for the lanolin. Nature is truly astonishing.
Today, we can have anything from anywhere that we want. But, is it sustainable to fly bananas half way around the world. The pickers of the fruits do not get paid enough and we complain about the cost of bananas, which are cheap compared to berries, for example.
Putting together soaps and lotions is easily attainable for most and really is better for the family. Chemicals do not need to be part of our toilet routines. It is tempting to buy Rosewater form Bulgaria, Ukubu butter from Africa, and Lavender from France, to make wonderful products for the skin. These are fair trade goods too, but that still does not make the acquisition of them a sustainable resource. Why did lanolin fall out of favour? Why is shea butter so much in favour? The difference is that lanolin is the grease from a sheep's wool and that is not something that women, in particular, have been trained to accept as a beauty product. Lard, or other animal fats, were also used to soften the skin and provide protection as a barrier cream. Today, I do not know a single person who would put lard willingly on her face, but I have. Lard soap is mild and makes a long lasting hard white bar that is a pleasure to use. In creams it tends to go rancid rather quickly as compared to tropical butters, but it is equally as good at doing the job. Hemp oil is produced in large quantities in Canada and yet we do not hear about it much. Not only is it superior for ingestion and health, but it is superior for skin preparations as well. So, in view of keeping ingredients more local, I will concentrate on using hemp and lanolin and beeswax to make skin care. Selling these may take some time and education, but there are a handful of followers who are interested in sustainable resources as well. It just takes one person to get the ball rolling. I guess I will give it a try.
The Fat Ewe Farm is full of wonderful trails, which we try to keep clear for walking and hiking. The east side slope is quite steep and there is a small hill by BC standards, but large for here, where one can climb to the top on the trail, Spy Hill Trail, and see a very long distance. The walk up the trail is exhilarating and beautiful. In summer there are wild Saskatoon bushes to offer their delicious black berries ripened by the filtered sun, wild raspberries, tart and inviting, and hazelnuts, too. Actually harvesting the nuts is impossible with the numbers of squirrels who love them and get to them before any human would.
But winter holds a magic all of its own. The tall spruce trees are blanketed with a soft covering of white down, sparkling and gleaming in the sunshine. They wave their arms to the music of the winds brushing through the hollows and it is truly ephemeral in its magnificence. The dogs love to run and explore off the trails, checking for signs of rabbits and mice, with their noses stuffed in holes on the ground. They always know exactly where they are and exactly where they should be. There are wild animals in the forest, from porcupines to cougars and bears, but they do not want confrontation with so many large dogs, so they remain hidden out of sight, not looking for a fight. In winter, trudging the deep snow, already almost a foot in some places, is so difficult, but light snowshoes make the walk much easier. How fortunate to be here in the northwestern part of Alberta, in the midst of the woods and the glory of the land. Priceless!
This is day three of 30 below. The night time temperature is very cold and there is high humidity in the air, which makes the cold go right through the bones. Captain Morgan died last night. Last year his feet froze off and he could not perch. Without being able to roost, he was subject to the cold at ground level and he did not make it. The dogs have houses to retreat to, but they only go there if it is windy, raining or snowing, and not even always do they then. This morning, Ofcharka could be seen curled up in a hay slice which had slightly fallen. This gave him a good base of hay to lay on and hay on two sides to curl into. Only his nose was unprotected, so he curled his tail around and snuggled under it. That's why dogs have fluffy tails. Jade and Jenna curled in another pile of hay and sure enough, curled their tails over their noses. Those are just the best dogs, those livestock guardians and I love each one immensely, fluffy tails and all.
It is funny sometimes how things work out. The two pups, Mike and Joe, were supposed to live with the sheep from early on (they were only 5 weeks old when they came home, but lived with the lambs until three months, then were put in with the ewes). At first it was fairly easy to keep them in, but as they grew, they became interested in the other farm dogs and continually escaped the sheep pen. Initially, yelling at them to go home would result in the two scurrying back to the sheep, but soon they were out more than in. Then Jade took over.
The livestock guardian dogs have a sense of purpose and know where things are supposed to be. Something out of order bothers them, so Jade began to put the pups back with the sheep in their pen on her own. She took it upon herself to keep them there much of the time too. The moment they were out, she would bite them and chase them back. Occasionally, first thing in the morning, she allowed them out to play and the dog pack would frolic and romp and have fun, but when she deemed it was enough, they were sent back to the ewes. She would not let the pups eat with the pack either. They were fed in the sheep pen and as far as she was concerned, they were not entitled to eat the pack food if the pack was not able to eat theirs. So that is how it is working and thanks to Jade, the pups willingly go back to the ewes on their own, with a little encouragement from Jade. Now, I simply have to tell them to go home and they wag their tails as they make their way back. One good sign was today, when I went into the sheep pen, the pups did not leave their sheep to run to me. They acknowledged me with tail wags and then returned to their napping, showing that they are bonding more closely with the sheep than I could have enforced. Nature does have a way of making the right things happen. I am thankful for these beautiful dogs, all of them, and especially for Jade's help in putting the pups places in perspective for them. Now, they can come out of they wish, and they do, but they are choosing to remain "home" with their sheep more and more out of their own accord. Yay!
Fluffy writes daily about the experiences on the farm and with the bed and breakfast patrons.