Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jumpy Jacobs

Jacobs are known to be flighty by nature.  This trait is definitely heritable and some are more flighty than others.  Generally, our flock seems to not be as flighty as their breed’s reputation.  As individuals become familiar with us as their caretakers and as they age, they seem to generally relax.  Some of it is also experience.  As they have seen all there is to see, they start to know what to expect.  Perhaps it’s just us and our attitude towards them but our sheep seem generally as calm as any other flock of sheep.  We also learned early on when working with sheep that having any sort of handling facility with a proper setup of squeeze pen and gate is immensely helpful for any number of sheep above zero, as is a calm and in control mindset. 

At the first farm that we spent time on, Jacobs were the breed of choice.  While they had been in business a number of years, the farm was quite small and handling facilities were not really an option.  We only really needed to work with them a few times while we were there and we set up a temporary squeeze pen for drawing blood samples, for shearing we caught them in the field.  The owner had  decided that it was better to shear them herself with the help of her husband.  That was where Jason and I each got to shear our first sheep.  It was difficult to say the least and now I am more than willing to pay our dear shearer to come in once a year and get it all done on one day.  Two minutes a sheep versus our 60 minutes per sheep is well worth every penny!  Catching the sheep on the day we were going to shear them at our first place however was less than easy.  They had enough open space that it took three of us a while to catch a hold of just one sheep and in the process we riled them all up in their full wooly coats on some rather hot days.  It also allowed for incidents like nearly having my knee smashed to pieces by one who wished to go underneath me rather than around.  Luckily, she missed.

While we were going to school at WSU we worked with a gentleman who no longer had much in the way of handling facilities.  Our sheep ran with his for a while and he told us that they made his sheep more difficult to handle.  We also couldn't get anywhere near his rams in order to collect ours when we were ready to move them to land of our own.  Part of that was his rams were used to him and wouldn't come near us as unfamiliar people.  Some people call them jumpy.  I think they're still smart, for a sheep anyways.

While in school, I spent a little bit of time at the University of Idaho sheep facility.  They were fully setup everywhere to facilitate easy movement and handling of sheep there.  If you needed to wort a group into two, you'd take them up to the sorting pens.  During lambing season, the pens and gates were arranged so that all you had to do was open the gate and walk behind the ewe and she would end up where you wanted her to go. 

Granted, the U of I sheep facility was built with sheep and only sheep in mind and had been there a long time.  Most of us don't have that luxury. Most of us must build our own systems within our capital and land constraints.  Most of us have more than just sheep living on our farms.  For us, we are planning on eventually having a great variety of livestock living here and everything we build must reflect that somehow.  Building for ourselves a permanent and appropriately sized handling system of pens, chutes and gates is both a priority and large challenge.  A priority because already we are up to thirty breeding adults with more being added every year.  With lambs this year, we have about fifty animals to work with at any given time.  This is a large enough group that we feel the costs of a permanent system will benefit us greatly both economically and mentally.  It is a huge challenge because we are definately not done growing our flock yet and we don't want to build something too small but it has to be able to work with very few animals at a time as well and not be simply too big.  We also have to fit it in amongst other facilities like a barn and chicken coop that are both also being utilized and in between land features like a creek and the general palouse hillsides.  Oh yes, and it must fit in with our capital restraints as well.

In the time between now and when we get to build our handling system, we use a lot of T-posts and cattle panels.  We also lucked by some large sheets of lightweight concrete reinforcing panels which are very similar to cattle panels.  We but them up and left long posts on one side so that we essentially have step-in panels now.  Permanent or not, having a way to direct our flock so that there is only one way to move makes life much easier for us and much less stressful for our animals.  It is an important consideration for any sheep owner and one I feel that isn't touched on a lot in literature, especially for the small time folks.  Most of our convictions about handling facilities and methods has come from experience rather than school or books.  If you are considering investing in a permanent facility for livestock handling, take a look at the book Humane Livestock Handling: Understanding Livestock Behavior and Building Facilities for Healthier Animals by Temple Grandin.  It discusses theory and methods for calm handling techniques as well as how to build a system and facilitates proper handling of livestock.

Some folks call Jacob sheep flighty, jumpy, crazy.  I call them smart.

No comments:

Post a Comment