Monthly Happenings- December

With December coming in, everything comes to a slow trickle. Though the La Nina is making the weather warm, the drought has returned in November and persists. We’re now in a moderate drought according to Drought Monitor. We expect that this will continue into next year given the current forecast models for the La Nina.

Given that, our field’s priority at the moment is to rest and recover and grow where it can. Any moisture that falls on it, it can take full advantage of with the sheep off it. We pulled the sheep fully off the field in late October, the lack of rain was not justifying it’s continued use. So the field will in essence have over 115 days rest for the season, which may seem like a lot, almost a third-year, but we believe this will help continue the grasses’ ability to thrive. Right now most of the cool season grasses have sprouted, but are stunted at around 1-2 inches for most of the field as seen below. We have had only about .5 inches of rain in November, and poor rain in October.

The sheep have been munching on hay and a small supplement of corn and soybean meal. Their body condition scores (PDF warning) are between 2.5 and 3.5 for everyone, with full bellies and healthy appetite and vigor. Most have their winter coats ready to go too as the chilly weather has been setting in this past week. At the moment, they are very vocal each morning, to get their food! A couple are close, we believe, to giving birth. We do expect some lambs over the winter.

With the cooler weather, less time has been spent outside overall, though daily walks are still ongoing. We tried our hand at making some cheese for personal consumption, making 1 lb. 14 oz. of cream cheese from a gallon of milk! We were very pleased and excited at the process. The taste is wonderful, and I like the texture and slightly-more-firmness of the cream cheese (when compared to store-bought). The leftover whey was also collected and will be used in other recipes.

There’s been a lot we’ve learned and accomplished this year, some of which will be carried forward into the future as good practices.

Accomplishments of the Year

  • Cutting and curing hay by hand
  • 100% supply of the sheep’s feed needs for 2 full weeks in 2020
  • Continued grass pasture expansion
  • Growing and harvesting peanuts, sorghum, okra

These aren’t presented in any particular order, but are intertwined a bit. This year was the first year we were able to cut and cure some of the field grass into hay, around 60 lbs worth to feed the sheep. In addition the stalks and greenery provided by sorghum and peanuts this year contributed to us being able to supply all the sheep’s feed needs for two whole weeks. The grass in the field has dominated in terms of coverage for the first time since we moved here. The spring rains and long-term perennials are really beginning to shine and take over the field!

Another area to look into for us is using okra as a partial protein supplementation. The okra that has been grown so far has done very well in the climate withstanding heat and dry weather. We saved seeds from our 6 okra plants starting in August and got 9 oz. of seeds out of them (mind we were eating pods all summer from these plants too!). When given a few ounces to the sheep, they ate it readily. Okra has moderate protein, less than legumes higher than grains, and a hard seed coat. The plant does have potential sperm issues as well if fed in high amounts to humans. So our thinking is to let it be a partial supplement to avoid the potential negative effects, but still provide some crucial protein over the summer.

Areas to Improve Upon for 2021

  • Supply 1 month of sheep’s feed from the property
  • Wheat and barley growth patch trial
  • Expansion of peanut and sorghum growing
  • Personal goal: Garden vegetable yield increase

Goals should be modest, doable and potentially achievable. Given our machinery limitations and most importantly, time limitations, we won’t be able to accomplish everything on our dream list. But that won’t stop us from making steps forward! Our biggest goal will be to provide a month of the sheep’s feed from the property, a combination of hand-cut hay, sorghum, corn, and peanut foliage; even harvesting some ragweed to feed the sheep. It’ll be a continuous goal throughout the year.

This winter we have a small patch of wheat and barley growing as a trial, our aim to see how well it does given the environment and soil and how well it produces grain; the results of that should be known by early summer next year. Along with that expanding the sorghum and peanut planting with other garden vegetables will make for a busy time come spring. We aim to utilize the compost and use water-conservation techniques to see how well we can get away with less watering while still growing nutritious food.

For the rest of the year, there will be 2 more posts, the 8th and the 15th. The 8th will be homemade lamb dumplings, which were quite delicious to have over a few days. And the 15th will be covering a bit on composting manure. We’ll resume posts on January 5th, 2021 to enjoy the holidays. Stay safe during the holidays and take all precautions for coronavirus, we all can do our part to aid our neighbors and community!

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