At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
TwoInTents Blog
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Counting sheep not just for dreamers

Denver is on the verge of allowing you to raise a four legged friend not named fido. 

Raising sheep can be very profitable, whether you are raising them for wool, meat, milk, or to sell lambs.  The best way to maximize profits is to keep your flock healthy from day one.  When you buy your sheep, no matter the age, make sure that they have been ear-tagged with scrapie tags.  Scrapies is a serious infectious disease and you should never buy a sheep that does not come proven to be from a scrapie-free herd.  Also make sure that you are buying sheep that are current on vaccinations.

If you are buying young lambs or have pregnant ewes, young lambs require special care.    If your lamb is not nursing and needs hand-fed, make sure to feed it several times daily.  It should also receive colostrum at first, whether from its mother or from a bottle.  By the time the lamb is one or two months old, it should be eating grass or hay in sufficient quantities to wean it from its mother or the bottle.   Lambs over a week old should be given access to hay and grain so that they can start learning how to eat more than milk. 

With all age sheep, make sure to feed grains that are formulated for sheep: sheep are very sensitive to copper, and feeds not designed for sheep (such as cattle feed) are too high in copper.  Sheep that have too much copper in their diet will become lethargic and anemic, and typically die 1 to 2 days later.  Copper toxicity may take years to show symptoms as the copper builds up in the liver, so don’t assume that your feed is okay just because your sheep appear healthy.

        Sheep are prone to fly infections under their tail, which results in a painful and potentially fatal disease.  To prevent this, all lambs should have their tails docked (removed) when they are less than one week old.  It is difficult and dangerous to remove the tails of older lambs.  This is typically done by banding, wherein an elastic band is tied around the tail to cut off the blood flow, and the tail will fall off after the tissues die.  You may also want to vaccinate for tetanus at this time.

        Male lambs should also be castrated by banding before they are a week old.  When your lambs are 6 to 8 weeks old, they should be vaccinated with a CD-T vaccine.  They should be given a booster shot 2 weeks later.  Most sheep do not require any other vaccines than this during their life.

        Watch out for worms!  A worm infection in your sheep’s gut can make it very sick or kill it.  You can tell if a sheep needs dewormed by looking at the color of the membranes of its lower eyelids. A pale color (white or pinkish white) is a sign of anemia (low red blood cells) which is the primary symptom of barber pole worm infection. The barber pole worm (Haemonchus contortus) is the primary worm affecting lambs. It is a blood sucking worm that causes blood and protein loss, not diarrhea.  A lamb with scours (diarrhea) should be treated promptly.  It is not usually contagious, but it can be, depending on the cause.  Many things can cause scours, but it is usually caused by a type of bacteria called coccidia.  This can be treated with several different medicines.   Lambs with scours should also be given electrolytes in their water.

        Coughing sometimes occurs in sheep, typically from dusty feed.  If your feed is not dusty, or if your sheep are coughing even when no food is present, they may have allergies, or they may have a respiratory infection.  Take their rectal temperature: if it is more than 103F, they have an infection and should be given antibiotics.  Other diseases such as soremouth and footrot should also be watched for.  With regular care and fast response when you see a problem, your sheep can live long and productive lives. 


Make your own plow!

Tillage without machine operated or animal-operated tools can be difficult.  These tools can be very expensive, and the machines and draft animals that are used with them can be more so.  Yet with some home-made tools, a farmer or gardener can quickly break ground. 

Checking on craigslist will often yield a surprising amount of raw materials suited for making plows. 

Your home made plow will not be as nice as professionally made ones, but with lowered expectations, you’ll find that it will undertake the job well enough.

While disk plows are very much in vogue – and for good reason too, they perform excellent tillage – they are modifications of a 4 Coulter Plow developed by Jethro Tull, the father of modern agriculture.  Besides inventing the row, the aisle, discovering cures for most plant diseases, developing the first agricultural futures commodity market, domesticating sanfoin and the turnip, inventing the system by which animals may be penned, and other significant achievements, Tull also invented a better plow than the traditional moldboard which he called the 4 Coultered Plow.

Today, two plows have succeeded the 4 Coultered, including the disk plow and also the chisel plow.  Both work on the same principles of slicing the ground and minimizing the downward thrust of the blades by maximizing lateral forces.  The lateralization of downward gravitational thrust is easily accomplished with a disk or a chisel, but is also accomplished by a knife (or “coulter”), mounted at a less than perpendicular angle to the ground.  Curving the knife backwards results in a disk-like shape.

The mounting of the knives onto a frame is one option – this is typical for disk plows – but there is also the option of mounting consecutive knives on a single shaft. 

If you are not fortunate enough to find your materials on craigslist, do consider making your plow out of wood.  Wood had been used for thousands of years with success before metal became available, and long after metal was available, metal was too expensive for most farmers to use.  Wood has disadvantages – it does not last long, it shatters, but it largely gets the job done.

That said, finding blades to attach to a frame is easy enough.  Old pickaxes, hoes, heavy pieces of scrap steel, or other blades that will not bend or snap under the extraordinary pressure of tillage work wonderfully. 

When you attach them to the frame, you will have something that looks somewhat like a harrow, but designed for ground penetration.  Weighting the frame with old tires, cement blocks, or other heavy things will drive your blades into the ground and pierce the turf.  Dragging the implement with a truck or car is possible, if the chasis will hold, until you get used to it, pull gently and see if your beast will take it.

Or, use a real beast.  A cow or horse may be easily brought under the yoke, happy to help your gardening (hey they eat that stuff too!).  Or, a large team of dogs for light work. 

But if this exceeds your technical skill, you may also acquire rusted out farm implements from wealthy professionals who use them as lawn implements.  If you convince one that the rusted look is “out” this year, they might even give it to you for free if you haul it off their lawn. 

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