We’ve gone from a week of rainy weather to a week full of warm sunny days, and the trees and pastures have really exploded with green growth. The dry weather has allowed Alex and Bennet to prepare quite a few veggie fields for planting as last week’s rain soaks down into the soil leaving the top ready to work. The beef herd and the dairy herd are both out grazing full time, and our last ewe delivered the last lamb early this morning. Once all the lambs can keep up with their mamas, the sheep herd will go out on pasture too.
We try to manage the transition from winter hay feeding to spring pasture grazing carefully to avoid getting our ruminants into trouble with bloat. Their giant rumens have been geared toward the successful digestion of hay over the winter months when there is no growing grass. They have been working hard to extract the nutrients required from dry hay and round bale silage that is drier and less nutrient dense than pasture forage. Spring grass, super rich and growing vigorously, full of water and packed with nutrients, is much easier to process in the rumen, gives off more gas, and is much more palatable to the cows.
The cows and sheep are eager to consume more and more new grass, they can digest it quickly, and there are acres and acres of it spreading all around them. We give every ruminant between three days and a week of transition time as they switch from hay to grass. They start with just an hour or two of grazing on the first day, either by giving them just a small area to graze, or by taking them back off pasture quickly. Each day, the ration increases, until they can be out grazing full time. Round bale silage and hay are offered before and after each grazing session, and the hay fed before is important to help take the edge of their hunger, and to lay down a buffering layer in the rumen.
Work continues on the new and improved sheep yard and chick brooder house. We finalized cleanup in the old sheep yard at the beginning of the week, and Josh B has been working with student farmers to prepare the footers for the new sheep shade house.
The Farm School has begun the process of getting our livestock practices AWA certified, and part of that certification mandates square footage per animal for shelter. For sheep, the AWA calls for sixteen square feet of space per animal in any shelter. We have between sixteen and thirty-five sheep on the farm, depending on the season, so our sheep shade structure will be thirty-five by sixteen square feet.
The chicks in the brooder are growing and thriving, and we have not lost a single one yet! A ten percent loss per group of chicks is pretty normal, so we buy 115 chicks if we want a laying flock of about 100. There are many causes for chick loss, including crowding on top of each other, various environmental diseases, predator pressure and genetic issues with the chick. Our most common challenge is Coccidiosis, which is a regularly occurring parasitic digestive disease.
We feed our chicks a starter feed specially formulated to help them overcome Coccidiosis, and we have had great success with this approach so far. In years past, ‘medicated feed’ was available for this purpose, but feed companies have recently switched over to MOS as an additive to help chicks deal with digestive system challenges.
The PVS barn staff has been preparing for our goats to kid in the next week or so. We have three bred does, and expect between three and six little babies when all is said and done. Similar to sheep, the goats need a separate space to spend some time as just mama and baby, before mixing with the whole group. The mother goat will get some nice second cut hay, molasses mixed into her water bucket, and lots of attention while she is closed in the ‘jug’ with her babies.
Next week, ‘The Bed-Straw Invasion!’ Stay tuned.