News and Blog
Saxon Merino Ewes
We always shear the first Monday in March but we can't shear wet sheep. Before shearing we never know what the weather will be from one day to the next—forecasts are always general—we always prepare the barns to shelter the sheep and that takes a week to do. More often than not it rains or snows in early March and we keep the sheep inside and dry for several days until they're shorn.
Most of the year the sheep are outside; another exception is when the ewes and their lambs are brought into the barn after birth for several days.
Yesterday at noon we put the dry sheep inside just as it began to snow; they were crowded in the barn with all the feeders and water tubs that normally are outside. This morning was misty— but no rain—we let them out into the yards; but when it started to mist heavily back into the barn they went. If it's not raining the sheep can stay out tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday too. They dry better outside particularly if there's a breeze. They like it and we like it too.
The Hill Between The Two Barns
We move the Saxon Merino ewes to the upper barn for shearing a week from today; Dominique leads them with the sound of what they love and follow—whole oats in a pail that she shakes—and Rebecca is behind the sheep with Poem tugging at the leash eager to scare a straggler back into the flock.
"Ultimately, we need to understand that this isn't just a few bad corporations—it's Capitalism...Whether you're for revolution or reform, let's be honest about the system we're dealing with. Capitalism is unraveling, undermining even its own interests with its tireless demand for more growth, more profits, endless new markets with no protections for local industry, more corporate consolidation and monopoly power over both economics and politics."
Big Food Must Go: Why We Need to Radically Change the Way We Eat By Christopher D. Cook, AlterNet.
Monday we're moving the ewes to the upper barn for shearing on March 5 & 6 where they will find hay bales put out for them but in a much smaller yard suitable for lambing that follows in about two weeks. The move will take them off pasture until the green Spring flush that they will enjoy with their lambs.
But we're running out of pasture in the lower farm for the ewes; what they have to eat is getting thin. And for some reason they ignore a 5 acre field that we've opened to them, who knows why. They won't go there and you must assume that they know something that you don't either rightly or wrongly.
The ewes are not complaining, not yet; but the older ones seem to eye us skeptically. Dominique suggested that I feed them hay but I can't put out round bales of hay now with only three days left where they are before we move them; it would be a waste as I would have to put out 7 bales, about 5,000 lb. or 7 days worth of hay to give them sufficient space at the hay feeders to avoid the overcrowding and injury* that feeding fewer bales would result in.
Fortunately we had 3 days more pasture for them if we moved a fence and Dominique did that while I was in New York at the Union Square Greenmarket.
Winter grazing the sheep has saved me about $400 a week in hay—I haven't fed a bale for about almost three weeks—my hay cost is aproximately a third or more of my weekly feed bill. Tomorrow we take the ewes off pasture and confine them close to the barn while they lamb. We will start feeding them hay bales again. However the bucks, Ohio sheep slang for rams, will stay at pasture for awhile longer meaning my savings on hay will be halved but continue and I'll take it all the same.
Since I began this Winter grazing experiment, I look at Winter pasture differently than I did before, particularly at its carrying capacity or how many sheep the area will support for what period of time. The biggest surprise for me is that Winter forage can sustain sheep at all; how to determine its carrying capacity is another matter that will depend primarily on the weather from year to year.
But one thing is certain, as any chef will tell you, you have to listen to the diner and in my case it's the sheep.
*Without sufficient room on the hay feeders sheep will climb over the backs of other sheep and trample them because they are all hungry at the same time.
Rams Grazing In Late February
We thanked Will for showing us his pasture and his cows; he also loaned me two books about grazing which I have yet to open. Seeing what he was doing and where he was doing it was enough for me to start, to graze sheep in February, in fields that I'd ignored because they were, or so I thought, brown and dead. I needed no books to get going—seeing was believing—if he could do it, I would try it. And if the ewes needed more nutrition, I could always feed them.
On the way back to the sheep, Dominique and I agreed that we would watch their body condition; we would keep feeding them grain but the bales that were left in the hay feeders, once gone, would stay gone as long as the sheep were not hungry. Don't doubt, hungry sheep will tell you when they're hungry—they "baa" at you, they become incredulous, they imply, "how could you treat us like this?" then look away from you to melodramatically face their suffering alone letting you blame yourself for your lapse—they know who their servants are; they're not afraid to speak up, a hundred odd voices in a cacophonic chorus bellowing, "Feed us." They're good and the fat ones are better at it.
The blackfaced ram pictured above; one of two Oxford rams I have along with two Shropshire, four Corriedale, one Tunis and one Ile de France rams; is a sire of the crossbred lamb I sell every Saturday of the year from my farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City and online from the Lamb Store.
All breeding ewes on the farm are purebred Saxon Merino sheep.
It's not that I have two different flocks, one for lamb and one for wool, I have one flock of Saxon Merino ewes and I choose how I want to breed them from year to year based on the market. I select which, and how many, Saxon Merino ewes will be bred to the larger framed rams and which will be bred to the finer wooled purebred Saxon Merino rams. The amount of Saxon Merino wool I shear every year is in part due to the breeding selections I make. The crossbred lambs are viable and healthy due to the hetrosis from crossing different breeds and the purebred Saxon Merino lambs have an ultrafine wool (17.4 microns) which is soft and like no other wool
The Scream Edvard Munch 1895
New York City - Sotheby’s is honoured to announce that Edvard Munch’s masterpiece "The Scream" (pastel on board in artist's original frame, 31" x 22") will lead its Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in New York on May 2, 2012.
The iconic work is one of the most instantly recognizable images in both art history and popular culture, perhaps second only to the Mona Lisa. This version of "The Scream" dates from 1895, and is one of four versions of the composition, and the only version still in private hands.
It will be on view in London for the first time ever, with the exhibition at Sotheby's opening on 13 April. In New York, and also for the first time ever, it will be on exhibition at Sotheby's in advance of the sale beginning 27 April. The work is owned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father Thomas was a friend, neighbour and patron of Munch. Possible sale estimate: $80 million US.
From Art Knowlege News
In a page in his diary headed Nice 22.01.1892, Munch described his inspiration for the image thus:
I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.
Saxon Merino Ewes Grazing In February
Monday morning Dominique and I drove about 20 minutes from the sheep to Warwick NY, where she grew up, and at her direction we wound around country roads then past a sign that said "Lowland Farm." We pulled up to a barn and parked next to a beat up old farm truck that was once shiny and slathered with new car pride but now was mostly forgotten except when needed for a muddy chore that rusted it out further.
We got out, saw Will coming up the road and said hello. The farm was hilly and had been cleared long ago, judging by the stonewalls and tree lines that surrounded the open grazing areas which were small; the farm had been founded when you needed less livestock to make a living farming. Will opened a gate and we slowly walked across a field up toward the cows.
The ground cover was brown and had died back from the frost that had come in late October. It looked similar to what I had around the farm. Will said it was principally canary grass; mine is orchard grass. I wondered how this dead brown grass and crunchy weeds could entirely support livestock.
The cows looked healthy; they had a good fat covering on them. I asked him, "You're feeding no grain?" He replied, "No grain." I nodded. I thought about the thousands of dollars I'd spent feeding grain to sheep this Winter that Will didn't spend feeding his cows. Dominique was talking about sheep, about how she wouldn't like not-feeding the bred ewes.
I was looking and listening. Livestock are a farmer's charges; you take on animals, you take on the responsibility of caring for them "in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health..." It's that kind of a commitment. I looked at Will and stated in a questioning way, "You decided to graze your cows and if it didn't work out, you could feed them as a back up?" He said, "Yes." I nodded. I looked back at the brown grass at my feet, which had a little green growth in it, "Of course," I thought.
It was decided.
I said to Dominique, "OK, let's get the rams out grazing; we'll cut through that fence line to the un-grazed hay field; I'll chainsaw the brush and clear an opening, and we'll open the lightly grazed pastures behind the pond to the ewes."
"Rebecca and I can put up the portable electric fence in the new field," said Dominique, "but I still want to feed the bred ewes."
A 17 Micron Saxon Merino Ram
Wool is measured by its average fiber diameter (AFD) expressed in microns (one micron equals one millionth of a meter) and by its yield, which is the percentage of clean wool that remains after vegetable matter and grease have been washed out.
We always shear the first Monday in March, about two weeks before lambing begins. This year that Monday falls on March 5 with lambing beginning on or about March 23; that date is dependent on when we put the rams in with the ewes. Gestation in sheep takes five months.
Shearing the ewe before lambing makes birthing easier for all involved: the ewe, the lamb and the shepherd. The ewe can better mother her lamb, the lamb can better find the teat and the shepherd can better see how the mother and newborn are doing.
Shearing in late pregnancy: there is no danger of premature birth or of losing the lamb to an abortion (the sheep term for miscarriage) as there would be if the ewe were shorn in the early months of gestation. We schedule no handling of bred ewes in the first 3 months of pregnancy, no feet trimming, no deworming and no vaccinating for fear the ewe will lose her lamb.
Last year at shearing we separated the lamb fleece (wool from sheep born a year ago) from the fleece of the older sheep by sorting the sheep into two age groups before shearing them. After shearing I ended up with 1 bale of lamb's grease fleece and 4 bales of the grease fleece from older sheep. The bales weigh about 600 lb.; they are shipped to the scourer for washing. The yield is simply determined by weighing the grease wool before and the clean wool after scouring. For micron testing, core samples of the clean bales of wool are taken and sent to a wool lab for laser analysis. I can have the wool micron tested at Texas A&M or privately, as I did, at Yocom-McColl Testing Laboratories.
The micron test results came back Friday:
The AFD of lamb's wool, which is 100% Saxon Merino, measured 17.4 microns with a yield of 63.7%. This is an Ultrafine wool.
The sample was from about 150 fleeces; some lambs had finer wool (sub 16 micron) and others had coarser wool. Green Mountain will spin it into yarn in March or April depending on their schedule. I suspect they've never spun a wool as fine as this.
The Superfine wool from the older sheep (also 100% Saxon Merino), which is coarser because older, had an AFD of 18.7 microns with a yield of 65.3% which is a record or a near-record yield in the United States. American sheep usually yield less than 50%.
For your inspection: the Sirolan Laserscan Micron Test Report from Yocom-McColl on the core samples of my Saxon Merino lamb's wool.
Saxon Merino Rams Winter Graze
Farmers are always learning. The week before last Dominique and I visited Will, a neighbor of hers, at Lowland Farm in Warwick, NY. He markets grass-fed beef and his cows were still on pasture grazing without being fed grain or hay; this grazing without supplementation interested me. It seems like winter grazing operations are always south of here but his farm was 20 miles away, the climate would be similar. I wanted to see his 80 beef cows grazing in January. And Dominique had said that he'd been to a 'holistic' pasture seminar in Missouri put on in part by South Africans (it was Jan Smuts, a South African, who in 1926 coined the word "Holism") and I've always wanted to learn more about pasture management. Truly, I was skeptical about grazing livestock in Winter, particularly bred livestock, without feeding them; but Will was local, he was credible, he was someone to talk to (We'd met briefly at the Florida, NY Farmers' Market last August), I could look at his cows (some were bred too) and more importantly I could look at the condition of his pasture and compare it to mine at home.
I had hoped that if he could do it with cows I could do it with sheep. I'm not interested in making people believe they are 'more healthy' by increasing the Omega 3's in their diets by eating grass-fed meat (see my report of a discussion I had with Michael Pollan at Greenmarket), I'm simply interested in cutting costs by feeding less to the sheep, and at the same time, keeping them well nourished.
I feed whole oats, my sheep love them, they are healthy; but oats have become expensive. Their price has tripled since I began farming 26 years ago and it has risen exponentially in recent years. When I asked the feed mill why oats had gone up so dramatically, they said that all grain prices were linked to the price of corn, "When corn goes up, everything goes up." Nobody seemed to know why.
Corn is mashed and distilled to make ethanol, an additive to gasoline, and it is supposed to make a gallon of gas cost less—but how can that negative be proven—gasoline is still expensive and now meat has become dear too (along with most other foods; recall that "When corn goes up...") because corn is a primary livestock feed. Corn's price is tied to ethanol production; the demand for ethanol has increased and so has the price of corn. It was once the cheapest feed a farmer could buy for his livestock, but no longer.