One of the tricky things about caring for the health needs of sheep is that they can’t talk. They can’t say “It hurts here,” or “I have a headache,” or “Something’s not right with my digestion.” I can observe some health symptoms, such as lowered head, hunched back, lethargy, limping, diarrhea, or pain indicators in the face. However, other health issues may be asymptomatic, eventually leading to what appears to be an illness with quick onset.
Is there anything a shepherdess can do to increase the health of her flock and prevent disease? I am reading a handful of books right now that are helping me answer this question.
I trust that If I provide a healthy pasture filled with beneficial plants and provide for their mineral, water and shelter needs, that the sheep will thrive. There is a place for Western medicine (treating the symptoms and diseases with drugs) in treating animals, but I’m interested in a more intuitive, synergistic approach to supporting the health of my sheep.
While herbs are incredibly beneficial, I want to avoid using them like pharmaceuticals. “Oh, Bessy the sheep has a cough? Let’s boil some dandelion root with a pinch of dock.” I want to integrate the beneficial herbs into the pasture to allow “free choice” foraging. Part of me really wants to believe that there is something inside the sheep that draws them to take what they need from nature–nothing more, nothing less. By domesticating these animals and removing them from their natural, fence-free environment, I have the responsibility to fill the pasture with a diverse mix of plants that will round out their nutritional needs and support their range of body functions (including the increased needs of breeding, pregnant and lactating ewes, as well as lambs during their first year.)
Technically I got my first radish a couple weeks ago. I picked it, put it in my jacket pocket and forgot about it. Today, though, I was able to harvest my first fistfull of radishes! Yay!I’m not a huge fan of radishes, but they’re great because they can be started in early spring and harvested a month or so later! They’re also incredibly easy to grow. An idiot-proof veggie.
Today I planted outside! Josh is stuck inside doing taxes, so I feel kind of guilty. I know he’d rather be outside with me. If he has time today after taxes, I’ll go outside and help with his projects.
I got the radish seeds in the ground. I also planted the pea seedlings that I started indoors back on February 22, 2019.
For the radishes, I took a 2×2 square of ground, turned it over a few times, mixed in some wood chips, scattered the seeds, and lightly tilled them under.
The pea seedlings went into the hugelkultur bed on the south side.
Today I started reading a book called Natural Sheep Care by Pat Colby. Chapter 6, titled Land Management, is a rich resource, and will be a foundational part of our sheep farming venture.
Colby says “[Land management] is the single most important item in any farming enterprise, be it fine-wool sheep breeding, meat sheep, dairying or stud breeding. Land management is the difference between ultimate success or failure. All disciplines demand land in very good condition mineral-wise. Without all the minerals being available in the right quantities, the microbes, mycorrhizae and other occupants of the soil cannot do their work to make it a living, breathing food factory which will nurture all who live off it.”
Today I picked up three free chickens from a lady who needed to rehome them. She said they all have been laying throughout the winter. Within an hour of us putting then in the pasture they had sneaked through the cattle panels and were browsing the side yard. It took some chasing to get them back in the pasture. Grant locked them in their coop overnight (without the chicken that Payne family gave us) to get them used to their new home.
Today I finished my first hügelkultur mound. It’s 3 feet by 12 feet. I created it by digging a hole six inches deep. Then, I lined it with birch logs from a tree that we had to take down when we lived at our Crater Lane house. I added smaller logs and branches as the next layer. Next, I filled in the gaps between the wood with wood chips we received from various Chip Drop dumps. Finally, I used the first that I initially removed as the topping. Much of the sod that I dug up in th beginning was used on the bottom of the mound to prevent erosion.
This weekend I planted seeds indoors that I plan to transplant in a month. They’re sitting on the window bench in our dining room. Spinach, Swiss chard, kale, peas, and marigolds. I used cardboard egg cartons, seedling soil mix, and some plastic containers. I purchased all the seed packets at the Dollar Tree for 4/$1.