Saturday, October 18, 2008

What I'm doing

After the past few days of letting all the new information about what people are doing for breeding groups settled in, I thought long and hard about it. On the one hand, I realized that people have a hobby (perhaps the sheep) and hobbies bring them joy, excitment and a range of emotions. Its also typically a money pit. I should know. I have two hobbies that are money pits. I knew this going into them, but I enjoy them and so feel that the emotions and friendships that I've acheived are well worth their weight in gold. I have the dogs. I knew from the beginning that the dogs would be a money pit. Kind of like kids (so I've heard).

I also have pigeons. I've had pigeons since 1993 and a small chunk of my income (ok pretty substantial) would always go to the pigeons. In 2006 I had my first year where I felt comfortable even selling pigeons for breeding, and sold them at lower than average prices. In 2007 I had quite a demand and sold quite a few at current market trends. Those sales paid for my trips to the shows and hotel/food etc. It also paid for the minerals/vitamins/pro-biotics as well. They've never paid for their food or housing but even if they can pay something back I'm happy about it.

The sheep were really supposed to start as something for Sadie and Oliver to herd. I had just acquired ducks and the two of them loved to move them across the yard, but I wanted something larger for them to herd. I also knew from learning, that Shetlands were not the greatest at flocking (ok I'm being nice, they actually suck LOL, trying to spread out into the area to cover the most ground...they are such pigs). After I really fell for them I thought perhaps it was time to try and 'make a go' of this financially as a second income. Granted the first few years are 'building up' years and a lot is invested, but I was ready to do it. The cattle were a second income, why couldn't the sheep be? My mindset was then made up. They were livestock, here to eventually create a profit between fleece, meat and breeding stock.

Now that the cattle are increasingly becoming more expensive to maintain, my dad and I are cutting drastically back to a handful of breeding cows. I'm putting most of my eggs in one basket with the sheep and hoping that in lean years when there was no market for my animals, I would put most of the Shetlands under the BFL ram and get market mule lambs. This year however I was able to move out all of my for sale sheep that I had offered for sale. There are a few ram lambs left that didn't sell yet, but if they do NOT sell, I will gladly take them to the butcher in the spring for more lamb brats and breakfast sausage (hey that stuff is GOOD!)

I've been really nervous now about breeding 30 ewes, when everyone else has just a small handful they are breeding. I worry that there will be no market and I"ll have an enormous amount of lambs left over to sell. However, after talking with Rayna about it and my parents, I realized that if everyone else is only breeding a few lambs, that most will not have many for sale, and hopefully people would direct them to me, who will have many to choose from! If no one else is breeding in large numbers, there won't be as many lambs available next year, hopefully bringing prices back up again. If I'm completely wrong (which I"ve been known to be many times), I will take most of my mature ewes next year and breed them to the BFL for market lambs the following spring. I would only breed my best ewes and lambs to the Shetlands next fall.

I had thought about doing that this year, but with the massive AI I am doing, I will hopefully have 12-24+ lambs that are are all over 60% UK, and from an array of Shetland UK lines. With those lambs, I had hoped to keep most of them and they would 'replace' their mothers here. Their moms could either be bred back to a different F1 ram lamb line, if sales were good and numbers back down, or they could be bred to the BFL if no one was interested in buying them.

Livestock, for me growing up was very utilitarian. Its true I had 'friends' among the animals and I cried, well like a little kid (I was one once you know) when I had to sell old "April" or "Blackie", or when 'MY' pigs had to go to market. I balled and balled and balled but it didn't bring them back to me. It was a hard part of life I had to deal with. And even though I was very sad, I was very happy to have the money to buy NEW animals with, or pay of bills with or buy things with.

When I was in college I had a few of my favorite cows left. April, Daisy and Blackie 2 (yes how original). They were 9, 10 and 11....all getting up there in age. Some hadn't been bred the year before and were extremely fat...they didn't settle by AI or by natural breedings with the bull. The ones that did calve, had weak calves, or the calves were always getting sick, the mom's didn't have enough milk etc. I just couldn't keep them here as pets when they eat at least a round bale each per month (I'm just guessing). That's a lot of cash for a young kid with school debt and a new car. They had to go.

I typically don't go to the sale to watch them sell them, but I had to say goodbye again. I always take photos of the animals before they go to market. I have several photo albums plum full of photos of animals that I've had to sell and didn't want to. I sometimes even yet get teary eyed looking at the photos, but glad that I have those photos to remind me of them so I never forget them.

Anyway I went to go see them at the auction barn. They were out back in the 'butcher cow' pens....where all these holstein dairy cows were packed in there like sardine's and my tiny little jersey/red angus cow April and my hereford/angus cows Daisy and Blackie 2 were all in the mix. I nearly wept then and there. I said in a soft voice " Hey girls" and all three lifted their heads above the huge beasts next to them and faught their way over to the fence to see me. I lost it. Those trusting, amazingly smart girls had found me. I almost opened the gate to take them back home. I can never do that again..............

So you see. I do have a heart. Its not that I like to take them to market, but its a part of reality for me, a part of the farming life I've learned to deal with. Its makes more room for the productive, healthy, robust and new, better animals. That's what I have to keep reminding myself. There is no room here for sentimental livestock. Someday when I'm rich, maybe....just maybe there can be.


Mim said...

Thank you for your comments! Sheep are livestock first and to have someone write that we like to cull to butcher really got me going. You can not find enough good pet or fiber homes and everyone should not be bred. There are and I have seen over the years too many pet homes that were a worse fate than death!
I'm still crying about those three cows you wrote about. I've been luck my "Ranch Butcher" comes to our house.

Sharrie said...

Well, put. Thank you very much. I have learned that lesson , too since I have ben living on the farm. Doesn't mean I don't cry when I loose that calf that I nursed back to health, but I have learned the lesson.

Available sheep

With my work load continuing to pile up, and less time to spend with the sheep, I am offering the following: My entire flock of BlueFaced ...