Somewhere between irony and serendipity, my procrastination in writing this post has worked perfectly. "Taking Shelter" was meant to be the last catch-up, describing the period of nasty weather in early October, but the nasty weather has just kept coming. I'm writing this today, instead of shepherding, because the rain is coming in horizontally, from the south, and the ambient temperature is not far off freezing.
The main grazing objective for October this year is to get the barley grass and spear grass in the Road Paddock and Lucerne Reserve grazed down before the seed heads form and deter the sheep from eating it. Those seed heads, once hardened off, cause all sorts of problems in the wool and even more distressingly, in the animals themselves, digging into their skin and getting into eyes and noses. I have great respect for annual plants and grasses, with their ability to produce huge amounts of biomass in a short time and to share the abundance of their seed production through any means imaginable. At the same time, I have to manage the consequences of that exuberance!
o, the few days with reasonable weather have seen the sheep hard at work grazing the Road Paddock. But that paddock is totally exposed to the weather, and also flat enough that runoff pools there. So about every other day I've had to move the flock either into the Patterson's Curse patch which is a steep slope, with the hill blocking southerly winds and rocky ground that is dry(er) under foot, or up into the Lucerne Reserve, where the hill above the lucerne itself is similarly sheltered. Then, back to the Road Paddock.
Into the middle of this hopping about, I made the decision a few weeks ago to try an autumn lambing in 2017, which means putting the rams out now with a selection a ewes. In past years, I've lambed in October, and most years the weather has been wild, wet and windy, so I vowed I would never, ever lamb in October again. I've been toying with the idea of switching to autumn lambing: the weather is more settled, and so long as there is good green feed for the ewes while they are making milk, it should work fine. After this October, my vow was strengthened even further!
So, for the first time since I began shepherding I have two flocks to shepherd. Feels very odd to me, and no doubt to the sheep as well, as they are separated from their friends and relations. I'm guessing, too, that the new lead ewe (still haven't gotten close enough to identify her eartag) is probably in with the smaller flock with the rams, so leadership may be faltering in the main flock now. Just for the record, I have about 150 wethers, 350 ewes aged 3 to 7, and 8 rams.
My offsider Karen (who helps me with stockwork when I need it) and I selected 98 ewes in the 3-5 year range for "joining" with the rams. The joining flock is in Old Cabin, where I can easily shift them into the Lucerne Reserve to eat barley grass (among the lucerne plants) and for better shelter if need be. The rams will be in with them for 4 weeks, then the ewes will rejoin the main flock. None of these have had lambs before, because I haven't lambed for 3 years, so they are all "maiden" ewes, though the older ones would definitely be considered spinsters in traditional woolgrowing production! (By the way, the term "spinster" comes from spinning--try googling it ;-)
The nature of shepherding this spring has really changed from the previous months when forage was scarce. Now I'm doing lots more "mini-shepherds" where all I do is simply move the sheep to another spot, then leave them for a day or so. It means I'm out there more often, just not for long hours. Quite a different feeling! I love how every season in every year is a different experience--a result not just of the weather, but at least as much the previous seasons and years of management choices. It's certainly never boring.