Evergreen Students for Sustainable Animal Agriculture

  (Olympia, Washington)
pastured lamb

Fall in the field


A new season of lambs are on their way! Our ram Big Boy is in with the ewes doing his thing, making sure all of our ewes are bred. He is outfitted with a chalk harness to mark the ewes as he breeds them so we can make sure all of our ewes are pregnant. We will ultrasound in a few weeks to double check. Until then, our ewes will graze in the field with colorful chalk markings on their rumps and mingle with Big Boy. 

 A new year of school has also begun and with it come club meetings. It is great to get to see old friends from sheep club again and to welcome new club members into our flock. I'm excited for all this year will bring! 



Wonderful Wool

Today E.S.S.A.A. hosted a fiber arts workshop as part of the Synergy Conference at Evergreen. Through this workshop we brought the wool sheared from our sheep to those in the Evergreen community who want to use it. A local fiber artist led the workshop and shared her knowledge and resources with us.


We started with dirty wool from our sheep. 


The first step was to sort the wool into 'really dirty' and 'reasonably dirty' piles. 

Everyone learned how to wash wool. It went quickly with so many hands! 

 While the wool was soaking, we learned how to make and use drop spindles with old CDs.  

After the wool was washed we learned about carding. On the left is un-carded, freshly washed wool. The extra fluffy wool on the right is what the same wool looks like when it has been carded. 


This is a drum carder. We also got to experiment with hand carders, but the drum carder certainly cards faster.


Then, the wool was ready to be spun. Look how white and fluffy it was! Like sheep-scented cotton candy.  

Everyone who wanted to got a chance to try spinning on a spinning wheel. Spinning wheels are so much fun. If you haven't tried one, I thoroughly recommend it. I am still very much an amateur but I had a blast. 


And, just to show you what our sheep can do, here is a sock made out of their wool.  Pretty cool. 


The Littlest Sheep Dairy

This is Franny Lou:


And this is Franny Lou's milk!:


Franny unfortunately lost her lamb, but we decided to make the most of the situation and use her milk. Now, sheep club members get to learn how to milk a sheep and how to manage a tiny one-sheep sheep dairy. Franny is milked twice a day and Victoria is freezing most of the milk to make sheep ice cream. 


Franny is a very well behaved sheep. She stands patiently in her halter as we milk her, provided she has somebody patting her neck and sitting beside her. We want to build  a head gate so that milking can become a one-person job. Right now we are looking at designs and planning a building party. 


Sheep's milk is fattier and sweeter than cow's milk. It also has more protein and calcium. I drank some yesterday and it was delicious. I can't wait to try it as ice cream!





We sheared all the sheep this weekend! It was hard work, but we worked through it together, taking turns and helping each other. One person would hold a sheep while one or two more sheared and a third took the opportunity to trim the sheep's hooves. While this may sound like an efficient strategy, it took hours to get the shearing done. Professionals can shear a sheep in a matter of seconds. We are far from professionals, taking forty-five minutes to an hour and a half to shear one sheep depending on the breed. Our Romneys were the biggest challenge. Still, the sun was shining and morale was up,keeping everyone going and gaining shearing experience. I'd never sheared a sheep before, so every moment was a learning opportunity. We'll be professionals in no time, or perhaps a little more time than that. 


Nibble Nibble

Everyone is nibbling these days!

 Nibble nibble nibble. Nibble nibble nibble. It is so relaxing to watch.Click here for video! 

 All this nibbling fits in well with the advanced grazing class that I am currently taking along with three other sheep club members. Even more members are veterans of this course. In it we are learning about pasture management, grazing behavior, forages, and animal nutrition. The sheep give us hands-on, real life experience that connects with what we are studying. 

Sweet little baby sheep and education. All at once! I am so thankful for this club. 

Here are some sheep with their tongues out!



Lambs and Dreams

When my alarm rang at six thirty on Tuesday morning I was in the middle of a dream about lambing. In my dream, our last pregnant ewe had her lambs, twins, and we were gathered around her looking at her babies. Mimi picked me up at seven and we drove off to the field to do the morning sheep check, which involves feeding the sheep, making sure they have water, counting them, checking for signs of trouble, and seeing if new lambs have been born. In the car, Mimi asked me if I thought our last ewe would have lambed, and I answered yes, definitely, citing my dream as evidence. We arrived at the field and found no new lambs. I wasn't surprised. My dreams, after all, aren't prophetic. 

 BUT THEN! After the sheep were fed and lambs were counted, we noticed the ewe was pawing the ground, walking in circles, and vocalizing, all of which are signs of labor. Mimi and I prepared the jug and, by the time we were done, two new lambs were laying beside the ewe in the pasture. A fast and uncomplicated lambing. 

 So, in conclusion, all of our ewes have now lambed, and I'm pretty much psychic. 


 Pictures by Victoria




Laugh and Play

Click for another video of our lambs!

There are now sixteen lambs on our pasture, and they don't just follow their mothers anymore. Not when there are friends to play with! They hang out with each other, nap with each other, race, hop, play, and head butt. We still have seven more ewes yet to lamb, so there are even more new babies to come.  This past weekend I took advantage of the uncharacteristic Washington sun and sat in the pasture for hours with the lambs and ewes watching them play and enjoying the weather. It was beautiful.




Lambs! Lambs! Lambs!

I am proud to announce the births of three little lambs! Two of our ewes lambed on Thursday and they are adorable beyond all reason. We let the families into the pasture on Monday after jugging and monitoring them to make sure that they bonded and that all was well. 

 Click here for a video!

The rest of the ewes are expected to lamb soon. I will be sure to keep you updated on their progress. But for now, here are some scenes of new life on the pasture.

 Mama's Milk



Oats and Sheep and Barley Grow

We have reached a decision of what to feed our ewes to boost their nutrition around lambing time! Instead of craisins, we are going to feed locally grown oats and barley. This will give the sheep the energy they need while supporting the local economy and reducing the amount of fossil fuel used in transportation. The club will even get to visit the farm in Toledo where the oats and barley are grown, meeting our farmer and learning more about the source of our grain. 


My First Yarn Ball

A few nights ago I got to try carding and spinning wool. My friend Bailey has a spinning wheel and carders and gave me a lesson on how to use them. As if that weren't exciting enough, she was able to get wool through Evergreen from our sheep. I showed her pictures of the sheep that grew the wool she works with and she showed me how to work the wool from the sheep that I help to grow. It took a bit for me to get into the rhythm of the spinning wheel. I had to coordinate the pumping of my foot with the spinning of the wheel and the movement of my fingers through the wool as it wound together into yarn. 

Pretty impressive, right? I thought so until I saw the yarn balls that Bailey spins. Turns out they aren't necessarily supposed to have all those lumps and size variations. But as Bailey says, imperfections in hand spun yarn are beautiful, or so I'll keep assuring myself until I get a little more practice. 



A Sheep Feeding Experiment

Recently in sheep club we've been discussing possible feeds to supplement the diets of our ewes around lambing season. We know that the ewes will need some extra energy during that time, but we have yet to decide what the best feed to provide that energy would be. The grain we fed to the ewes last year worked out well, but this year we wanted to explore some other options to see if we could find a non-grain energy source. 

At Thursday's club meeting, Mike announced that he might have found the perfect supplement for our sheep: Craisins and dried cherries. 

They're small, concentrated, full of energy and nutrients, and economical when classified as not for human consumption. But do sheep like craisins? Would they be able to eat them without them gumming up in their mouths? Would they eat them at all? We went to the pasture to find out. 

First, we put some craisins in a black plastic feeding tray that we have used before to feed the sheep. When we shook the tray and placed it on the ground, the sheep came running. They seemed to be loving the craisins, all clustered around eating them, even pushing each other out of the way. It looked like the craisins were a wild success. Still, we couldn't be sure. We dumped some piles of craisins and dried cherries onto the pasture to test whether the sheep would find them and eat them off the ground. The sheep had much less interest in the craisins on the ground. A few of the sheep ate them, but with much less enthusiasm. We left them with a few piles of craisins and a pile of cherries. Maybe the sheep just need to learn that the craisins are food or maybe they only ate the craisins from the feeding tray because they expected them to be grain. 

 We still have a bit more figuring out to do about this craisin situation. 



ESSAA in the news

Check out Evergreen Students for Sustainable Animal Agriculture in a couple publications this spring:

Pick up The South Sound Green Pages or check it out at this link: http://www.oly-wa.us/GreenPages/Article.php?id=2009;05;200905e  The photo below by Janine Gates is from the Green Pages Article

Also, there's a great article in the magazine Edible Seattle (available at many food co-ops and grocery stores) about our animal ag club and agriculture at The Evergreen State College. They've included some tasty sounding lamb recipes!



Lambing Season's Slow End

Our last ewe to lamb finally had twins a couple weeks ago, drawing lambing season to an end. Everyone was in suspense waiting for her to lamb because she took weeks longer than the other ewes. Besides that, this ewe is everyone’s favorite. Originally she was named Queen Mary, as she is the matriarch of the flock and is always the first to lead the other ewes up to see you. This year she earned the nickname "pigface" due to her pink nose, voracious appetite, and enormous girth. She finally had healthy twin lambs which she very attentively cares for. When we feed, she leaves her lambs to eat, pushing the other ewes out of her way. As soon as she's cleaned up every bite she lets out a call to her lambs and runs back to them so they can nurse. While her lambs are a bit younger than the others, we're confident they'll catch up fast!

Now that all the lambs are born, we've moved the flock to a fresh field of fast growing green grass, and have begun to plan our pasture rotation for the spring and summer.





I'm happy to have a blog on this great website because it helps us to fulfill an important part of our mission as a student group and farm -- to increase the level of transparency, dialogue, ideas shared between food producers and food consumers. Through this blog we can share happenings with the sheep flock and the management ideas and decisions that we discuss and implement. As a group of college students running a farm, we are always learning and trying new things with the goal of producing food in what we feel is the best way possible, changing to adapt to the new situations which are presented nearly everyday when dealing with the dynamic biological system that is a farm. In this way, management is a constant exploration: How is the grass growing right now? What are the nutritional needs of this animal, based on its stage of life? What is the weather and how is it affecting the animals behavior? What are common diseases during this time of year and how can we prevent them? We've been a student group-farm for just two years now, and already have learned so much about assessing these questions and fine tuning our management.

One example of a management change we made this year, based on what we've learned and experienced, is supplementing the mother sheep with a small amount of grain during late gestation and early lactation. Decisions like these come with a  significant amount of deliberation, study, and observation among members of the student group. What we learned is a meshing of animal physiology, pasture management, and nutrition. We learned that  sheep, especially those carrying twins like many of ours, have a limited amount of room in their abdomen for food intake during late pregnancy when the lambs have grown and are taking up space. This, combined with a greatly increased demand for nutrients while supporting fast growing lambs, means they have to get a lot of nutrition in a small amount of space. Bulky forages like grass and grass silage are necessary elements of the sheeps diet, but the nutrient content is such that they can't always eat enough quantity to get the nutrients they need. A small amount of grain, which is concentrated in energy and mixed with some necessary vitamins and minerals, goes a long way in providing the extra nutrients to supplement what they get from the grass. We are also giving them a small amount of grain in the first few weeks of lactation when their body has a high nutrient demand for producing lots of quality milk to get the lambs off to a great start. Our lambs are still 100% grass finished, the ewes eat forage only for the majority of the year, and all the sheep live on grass pasture throughout their lives.

We always welcome questions and feedback from consumers, so please feel free to email us at essapasturedlamb@gmail.com .

Happy spring!

 - Alea

RSS feed for Evergreen Students for Sustainable Animal Agriculture blog. Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader