Tuesday, January 30, 2007


This 11-week-old English Shepard pup moved in with us on Sunday. The goal is to train him into a general-purpose farm dog that can herd sheep when necessary.

The name “Pepper” was chosen after we got him home and was not even suggested before that. I told my bride quite sometime before we got him that I thought I’d call him “Bubba”.

She said that it was going to be my dog and I could give him any name I wanted to, but that I didn’t want to name him Bubba. Then she gave me that look that means, “Drop it or I’ll have to hurt you”. So much for the name Bubba.

I considered trying to come up with a name that played off of how the dog looked. I also considered coming up with a name that had something to do with his job as a farm dog.

He is a black dog with a little white, like salt and pepper. But Pepper is the name of the Ben Johnson character in the John Wayne movie “Chisum”. The Pepper character is the trail boss/ranch foreman.

Way back in the mid 70’s my dad and his business partner ran about 3000 sheep open range style on a bunch of leased coal company land in Southern Ohio. This was done with horses, several 19 and 20 year old kids, and one very well trained Border Collie.

I was one of the 19 year old kids, and that dog was better than wonderful in that situation but it needed full time work or it would go crazy. In my opinion Border Collies are just like that, they can’t be really happy with out a full time job.

We met some women that raise English Shepard’s at one of the Meat Sheep Alliance meetings a few years ago. That breed seemed like the a calmed down Boarder Collie, able to cope with herding and other farm chores but also able to cope with snoozing on my office floor while I play computer geek.

We made a deal with the breeders some time ago for a pup, and this is it; Pepper.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Zap the beasties - for their own good

I've been trying to learn rotational grazing since we started fooling with sheep a few years back.

The farm is divided into three different pastures with permanent fence. The leased land would count as one more pasture I guess.

I subdivided the big home pasture, 10 acres give or take, into four paddocks with temporary electric fences.

I subdivided the leased land into four paddocks originally using the same sort of fencing. I have since dropped that down to two paddocks. This is because there are only two water sources over there and sharing them between paddocks was not working too well.

What I have is a bunch of small pastures rather than a proper rotational grazing system.

I still have a very low stocking rate. Something like half of what this land should carry. I want to grow my way larger instead of buying my way larger.

In the late fall I was having trouble with the sheep moving through the electric fences.

I tried several things to fix this including changing from plastic twine to 14 gage aluminum.

I went to three strands from two on the rented land. I got a better energizer.

I had a notion that the sandy soil and the dry weather had something to do with it but I had no idea what to do about it.

So a few weeks ago I was reading though book "Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence" by Bill Murphy. He teaches a much more intense form of rotational grazing than I have been using. No suprise he uses electric fences.

At one point he states that in dry sandy soils as many as ten grounding rods may be needed. He recommends grounding to a metal culvert under a roadway or an unused well casing.

My energizer was connected to one grounding rod. I moved the unit back to the well house for our old (no longer in use) well. I has a two inch galvanized well casing about 80 feet deep.

All the paddock fences are hot now even though most of the gates are open. So far they seem to be staying well clear of them although I haven't seen any of them get shocked.

So far so good.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Winter is for projects

The warm season grasses are dormant. The cool season grasses are slowly starting to grow but are not yet ready for grazing. There is no hay to make. Lambing is still months away. Breeding is done.

Sounds like there’s not much to do on the farm, right? Wrong!

The tractor needs it’s fluids changed. The chicken pens need repair. Several gates are dragging the ground and hard to use. The generator won’t start. The barn lot fence needs fixing. Last springs ram lambs are market age. All the ewes need a pedicure.

Most of these things have been done this winter and the others are in progress.

This far south a January day could be 80 degrees (yesterday) or it could be in the thirties (today). I’ve got a fresh batch of broiler chickens in the brooder. I hope they don’t turn into just so many little peep-sickles.

All the market lambs are sold but five. I’m tempted to have them butchered before I sell them. They are cheaper to keep in the freezer that in the pasture, but it is best to sell them live if I can.

This year all lambs have been sold directly to the consumer, nothing went to the sale barn.

I’m trying to work out a way to sell meat by the cut rather than by the head but I don’t think I’ll have that worked out before this lot is gone.

All together this is plenty enough to fill these short winter days.