Wind Chill

Ewes huddled together out of the wind.
Ewes huddled together out of the wind.

It’s very cold today. This morning the low was minus 12 F at sunrise and three hours later the temperature has only risen to minus 4. The wind chill is at about minus 35 a dangerous situation. As painful as the wind is, it is important on days like this to make frequent checks on the animals to be sure they are safe and comfortable. And it is also important to keep their water fresh and not frozen.

My ewes were all bundled together in their shed to keep out of the fierce winds and only very slowly came out to eat the hay I brought them this morning. The rams, who are in a separate area, were also huddled together and reluctant to come out. But they all did, quickly ate their hay and went back to their shelters.

Cernunnos is not liking the cold wind very much.
Cernunnos is not liking the cold wind very much.

We got a little snow on Tuesday and that covered up all the hay I’d been spreading in front of the chicken coop so the chickens aren’t too eager to come outside. I just brought them some yogurt that had turned into something like cheese and they seem happy to have that along with the usual corn, peas, and sunflower seeds. Later, they’ll be getting some cooked winter squash and potatoes with a little peanut butter mixed in.

Mashed Potato Breakfast for the Chickens

Big Rooster staring me down.
Big Rooster staring me down.

This morning it was minus 11 as the sun was coming up. For breakfast and later lunch my Americauna chickens had mashed potatoes in addition to their corn/peas/sunflower seed mix. I grew over 500 pounds of potatoes and 400 pounds of winter squash last summer, more than I need but the chickens will certainly benefit. I think that giving them cooked food like potatoes and winter squash is more than a treat. Although low in protein the fresh food has plenty of nutrients not in their grain mix plus it supplies them with much needed water in the winter. They really enjoy the cooked food.

Boiled Potatoes for the Chickens

Chickens Eating Boiled Potatoes

A Flock of Sheep Chapter Thirteen: Treating a Sick Lamb

Eostre
Eostre after about a week of treatment and TLC

I’ve been treating one of my lambs, Eostre, for what appears to be a parasitic disease. It’s hard to tell exactly what she had but the symptoms were frequent coughing, some foaming at the mouth, tooth grinding, and difficulty eating and drinking. She could have had a respiratory infection, an object caught in her throat, or parasites of the respiratory tract, either bot fly larva or lung worms. Not having a bottomless well of resources I have had to do my own diagnosis.

After looking in Eostre’s mouth and seeing that nothing was stuck in her throat I decided that she had either a respiratory infection or parasites of the respiratory tract. I bought antibiotics and a worming drug called ivermectin. The antibiotics made no difference in her condition which was getting worse. Eostre was barely eating and drinking and I could see she was loosing weight. She moved slowly, her ears and eyes were droopy, and she lay down in the tall grass a lot.

I built a small pen for Eostre in the shed and put her inside with fresh bedding, a water pan, a grain pan, and a box of hay and grass. I then measured out a half a dose of ivermectin and mixed it into some grain with a little extra molasses. I did this every day for three days, skipped a day and repeated it for three more days. This seems to have worked and the coughing has almost stopped. Her appetite began to improve and I was able to get her to drink water. I knew she was getting better when she began to chew her cud again. She also stopped grinding her teeth. I continued to feed her what I had been feeding the sheep all summer which is grass with clover, trefoil, dandelions, daisies, goldenrod, stitchwort, and pigweed. I also gave her small handfuls of aspen leaves. To her water I added a packaged electrolyte powder that had vitamins and minerals.

Sheep can be parasitized by a variety of worms: flat worms, flukes, tapeworms, and all sorts of roundworms. There are also sheep bot flies, one possible cause of Eostre’s illness, which lay already hatched maggots on the noses of sheep. The maggots migrate into the sinuses where they develop and mature. Once mature the maggot crawls back out, drops to the ground and pupates to later become an adult fly. Bot fly maggots cause irritation of the sinuses. Sheep bot flies also infest cows, deer, and horses. They can infest humans, too. The distraction and irritation they produce can lead to the sheep stopping feeding with consequent malnutrition.

Eostre’s coughing could have been produced by lungworms, too. Her symptoms seem to point to that more than bot flies. Lungworms are nematodes (roundworms) and there are several genera and species. Supposedly, they are host specific so that those of sheep will not infect deer and vice versa.

It is possible Eostre contracted this parasite from pasture contaminated with egg-containing feces. So far none of the other sheep have shown any sign of lungworm infection. I am still trying to figure out how it got here in the first place but suspect that three sheep brought here for a short time last fall may have introduced it. I later found out none of them had been wormed before being brought here and two were from low-lying pastures where snails, an intermediate host for some species of lungworms, live. My pastures are well drained and dry and not connected to wetlands or low areas where snails live.

Parasite infestation can be minimized by rotating pastures, keeping pens clean, and hay and cut forage in mangers off the ground. One of my pasture projects this summer has been to divide the pasture into four paddocks. So far, I have two paddocks enclosed and am working on the others. By setting up my pasture into four paddocks on a three week rotation I can decrease the chances of fecal-oral transmission of parasite eggs. It will not be a 100% prevention but it will lessen the chances of parasite infection by allowing eggs and larva to dry out and die waiting for a host. Cleaning the sheep pen and keeping their forage in the mangers is practiced, too.

For parasites of the digestive tract it is possible to control them by adding plants like wormwood, fever-few, balsam fir, aspen, and willow to their diet. These plants contain compounds like thujone, terpenes, and tannins that interfere with the metabolism of parasites. Care must be taken to give wormwood and fever-few in small amounts as they are toxic to mammals, too. Plants with tannins should not be fed in large quantities as tannins are anti-nutrients that bind to proteins and make them indigestable. I have been feeding aspen and willow, which contain tannins, and balsam fir, a source of terpenes, to my sheep several times a month as a supplement to their grasses and was glad to learn about these potential benefits. However, these herbal treatments may not work well if the parasite load is very high. Treatment with a drug specifically for parasitic worms at once a year is a good practice.

Eostre is better than she was but still coughs occasionally. But she is stronger and is able to be with the flock again. I am hoping that when I treat the whole flock that she will be rid of this disease.

New Chicks

One of my Americauna hens went broody a month ago and began setting on the eggs laid by the other chickens. For a while I would just gather the eggs from under her each night. But she remained broody so I cleaned out a small dog kennel, put her in it with some soft hay, food, and water and left eight eggs with her to see what would happen. Over the last two days four of the eggs have hatched and I now have four new chicks. I don’t know if they are male or female so I’ll just wait and see.

My other chicks are now six weeks old and have grown much larger. They look healthy, have their adult feathers, and unlike last year none have died from a disease. Twelve have died one way or another to a cat, a hawk, a chipmunk, trampling by the other chicks in a panic during a storm, and, for one unfortunate bird, under my foot. So now I am down to 18 of my original chicks.

Here are three of the new chicks with the mother hen today.

New chicks

Progress in the Garlic Patch and Elsewhere

This year the garlic got off to a late start. Most years it is up by the first week of April and nearly a foot tall by May. Not so this year. The spring thaw came later than usual and April was a cold, wet, snowy month. May hasn’t been much better either.

On May 7 the first feeble garlic shoots emerged from beneath their moldy mulch almost 40 days later than in earlier years. The heavy April snows had compacted the mulch into something like cardboard. As the snow melted it soaked the mulch creating ideal conditions for a film of white mold to grow over it. After a few days I decided to lift the mulch off the garlic so that the sun could warm and dry the soil. I also started my tractor and tilled up a wide strip on the west side of the garlic and planted six fifty foot rows of onion sets and a few red shallots. These are starting to come up now.

Garlic emerging from soil on May 14 after old mulch removed.
Garlic emerging from soil on May 14 after old mulch removed.

Lifting the mulch worked and more garlic cloves sprouted leaves. In a few more days almost all the cloves I had planted last fall were up. Now it was safe to mulch again so I spread a thin layer of about 20 wheelbarrow loads of spoiled hay over the garlic and onions. In seven to ten days when the garlic plants are taller I will add another layer of spoiled hay. This will keep the soil moist and cool and suppress weeds.

Garlic with new mulch on May 19.
Garlic with new mulch on May 19.

On Saturday, I tilled the corn patch once more to mix the manure and bedding more thoroughly. On Sunday afternoon, after feeding the sheep their grain and before the rain came, I tilled my potato patch, mulched it with spoiled hay, cut up five pounds of seed potatoes, and marked out the rows getting it all done by sunset. The rain clouds were gone Thursday (we’ve gotten almost 2 inches since Monday) and I was able to plant 200 feet of potatoes. On Saturday I am hoping to plant more potatoes and get the rows ready for my flour corn. The winter squash mounds are done and covered in a thick layer of rotted hay that is almost like soil but it is still too early for the squash which will be planted around June 5. I’m still working on getting the summer squash, string bean, and tomato areas fixed up.

It is finally warm enough by the house at least that I can leave the tomato seedlings outside. I don’t think I will bother selling any this year. The late spring set me back and I could not put any plants outside until May 18 so many of my seedlings did not grow large enough to be worth selling. I will still have plenty of plants for my use and for tomatoes to sell at the farm market later this summer. I tilled under last year’s mulch in the tomato area today but still need to put down a new layer of spoiled hay.

Elberta Tomato
Elberta Tomato

Apple trees and Siberian and Korean nut pine seedlings I ordered over the winter arrived in late March and early April. The plan was to plant them in the thawed ground the day they arrived like last year. Instead, I had to keep them in their shipping boxes and it wasn’t until last week that the ground had thawed enough to dig last week. Even then I had to pour hot water in some holes to melt the ice. On Tuesday this week I repaired the fencing around all the Siberian and Korean nut pines and the apple trees planted last year and put new fencing around this year’s plantings to keep the sheep from eating them. I am planting fruit and nut trees in the sheep pasture to make better use of the limited arable land. In the next few weeks I’m also going to be planting willows along the outside of some fences for a hedge to grow fresh willow branches for sheep forage.

Siberian Stone Pine shoots
Siberian Stone Pine shoots

On May 17 last week I picked up my order of thirty basswood trees from the conservation district. So far I have planted 25 trees including 4 in the sheep pasture. It’s been quite a job so far as the roots are over a foot long. The holes have to be dug deep and large just like the ones for the apple trees. I’m mulching these with old cardboard sheets covered with spoiled hay. My hope is that in several years they will begin to flower. Basswood flowers are very fragrant and the honey made from them is prized. But even if no honeybees use them they will still be nectar and pollen sources for wild bees.

The sheep have been wanting to get into their pasture for a couple of weeks now. I have been letting them out to graze for brief periods last week but the grass was not tall enough to leave them all day. On Tuesday (May 21) they got to spend the whole day in the small paddock after a week of only a half hour per day to get them adjusted to fresh food again. On Wednesday, after feeding them a pile of hay, I let the sheep out into the larger paddock for a few hours before sunset. Now they are in the pasture everyday feeding on fresh grass and clover whenever they want. Everyone seems fine and able to handle the fresh grass.

Some of the lambs in the pasture early Wednesday evening.
Some of the lambs in the pasture early Wednesday evening.