Tuesday, November 9, 2010

preparing for winter

November has really settled in around here. The leaves are off the trees and have been blown by the wind to the back corners of the pastures. (That's April, our Akbash Dog, on patrol in the sheep pasture this morning.) We had our first measurable snowfall yesterday morning (a couple inches of a disgusting snow/sleet/freezing rain mix). It's time to make winter preparations here on the farm.

We spent a chunk of time on Sunday setting up a new sheep shelter abutting the back side of the barn. This should help protect it from the worst of the damaging winter winds. We used bent steel cattle panels as a framework, and a tarp from our old hay tent as the covering, so we had no expense. The shape and steel mesh of the frame will hopefully make removing snow from the shelter unnecessary.

Our old sheep shelter, a pipe tent that has served us well for several years. It was always a challenge to keep the snow knocked off the rather high roof, and we were constantly repairing the tarp grommets as they tore away in storms. This weekend we'll deconstruct it, scavenge usable pieces for future projects, and remove the rest. I'll be happy to be rid of it, it's become a bit of an eyesore over the past couple of years. The new shelter is better hidden and less intrusive. (Note the snow at the bottom of this photo, leftovers from yesterday's storm.)

Speaking of the sheep, it's time to do some winter flock adjustments. Time to sell what lambs we want to sell, butcher those that we want to eat, and covert those that are no longer producing well into food for our dogs. As much as I would love to keep them all, it's just not practical -- it costs a lot of money to feed sheep through the winter, by cutting our flock in half, we'll cut the feed bill in half as well, and will pay for much of the food from the sale of the lambs. We'll be keeping our 4 best ewes and our ram, and by next year at this time, our flock will be back to about this size and we'll go through this all again.

Since we're on the cheery topic of butchering, here's what our turkey flock looks like all grown out. Butchering starts this Wednesday and will go on a few birds at a time until we're down to just 3 birds, two chocolate hens and a chocolate tom, which we'll keep to hopefully produce next year's flock.

Our duck flock is also in need of some winter thinning. Half of these ducks are drakes (males), and you only need a few drakes to breed the 9 or so hens we have. So the vast majority of the boys have a date with orange sauce. They're on the docket for after the last of the turkeys go.

The chicken flock will get trimmed a bit, too, although historically I've had good luck selling the extras rather than having to eat them, and this year looks to be no different. We'll be keeping most of our young white leghorns, who have just begun laying adorable little white pullet eggs at just over 4 months of age. (The eggs will get larger as they mature.) Our older birds and the birds of other breeds will be sold off over the next week or two.

Not on the sale list is our very handsome Blue Andalusian rooster, "Falcon" (aka "world's best rooster"). So long as Falcon keeps behaving himself (meaning being non-aggressive towards humans and not crowing at stupid hours of the night), he can enjoy his home and his harem, and maybe we'll hatch out some of his progeny next year.

A batch of black-eyed susans resisting frost, freeze, and snow at the back corner of the barn. The last item on our "to do list" before moving the sheep to their new shelter is to transplant this cluster to the kids' garden. The thought of the sheep mowing them down after they've so heartily withstood the advancing winter is just too unbearable to us.

And one more sign of the season -- sick days. J's got a fever/headachy sort of thing going on. So we've had a couple days of absolutely nothing (even less than our usual "nothing" type days). He's either been sleeping or reading, while Zoo Boy's either been reading or....well, more reading. Seriously, NOTHING happening here....

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