The sheep are here and I am resisting the urge to write about Spot the love bug. And there were two dark brown eggs today, which means two of the Golden Comets have started laying! Building suspense here for future farm posts!
I promised to write about finances, logistics, and sentimentality as being considerations before the sheep leap. Here goes.
There seem to be three major financial considerations with sheep: the original capital investment (nothing like calling a living, breathing biological critter ‘capital’); fencing; and hay during (Ithaca’s long) winter.
You can compare prices on sheep, but there is a basic going rate. Not much room for negotiation here. Our Sheep Breeder does give a discount if you buy more than one sheep from her.
Fencing is a bit more negotiable. We are trying to buy the bare minimum of fencing. If we need more down the line, the cost will be spread over several years, which helps. For the moment, we have invested in two rolls of electric fencing. We need to get the sheep trained to electric fencing–meaning, nose or skin on electric fencing = ouch. We are also going to rely on the perimeter fence of the property, which is a traditional barbed wire fence about four feet tall that has been there for who knows how long. Ron repaired as many holes as he could find. As the sheep munch on overgrown bushes and shrubs, we will probably discover more holes that will need to be repaired. Finally, for the moment we have them in a temporary paddock made out of metal t-posts and the six foot fencing we use for our garden. We’ll use that fencing for now, start training the sheep to the electric fencing, and once we can trust the e-fencing, take the six foot fencing off and mount that to reinforce the chicken wire fencing on the orchard and garden, which is already getting rusted. (Argh.)
Hay during winter is going to be substantial because we’ll need to get six sheep through three hard months of winter plus some more on either end. We don’t have a hay supplier yet and we haven’t figured out where we’re going to store it all. This will need to be figured out. Obviously one doesn’t want to run out of hay in, say, early February. If we have more sheep in future years, that will mean more hay. And hey! That means more money.
One of our main concerns about getting sheep is their impact on our ability to travel. Having a big garden and chickens–and cats–already constrain us. But sheep take it to a new level. This is not great in many ways. We want and need to travel, but we also like our farm.
Ron came up with a great idea as we were mulling over the sheep option a few weeks ago. We have some neighbors who also have some land, a big garden, chickens, and they plan to get sheep and alpacas in the next year or so. What if we traded help? Would they be interested?
Turns out they were super interested and really like the idea of cooperating. We won’t co-own any critters, but the idea is an old one: neighbors help neighbors, farmers help farmers. What a concept. We talked about it over brunch a few weeks ago. Many of the details will have to be worked out as we go along, but we think–and hope–it will work (well) for both families. We’ve basically created the “Sheep Mutual Aid Society of Our Street.”
This is the kicker in the whole sheep deal: sentimentality. The sheep will be here, we will be responsible for them, we will tend them, we will take care of them, we will get to know them, and we will undoubtedly become quite fond of and bonded with them.
And then we’ll breed and eat some of them. And, if all goes according to plan, it will be Ron and our neighbor (of the Sheep Mutual Aid Society) who will do the killing and butchering.
This is the part that is still hard for me to envisage. The four females–Brownie, June Bug, Spot, and Cinnamon–will be our breeding ewes. Tandori and Tagine are destined for, well, tandori and tagine. (In fact, one of them is ours and the other belongs to our Sheep Mutual Aid Society neighbors; we’ll raise one of the boys for them, while they are getting their farm set up for sheep next year. They’re paying for the boy sheep, we’ll split the cost of hay, Ron will manage all of the sheep, but when we go out of town for this first year, our neighbors will take care of all of the sheep. It all adds up and works out in a non-quantified, non-commodified sort of way.)
But speaking of commodities, our ewes are commodities of sorts: breeding females to produce lambs that will either be sold, eaten, or in the first year or two, added to the flock. And the boys, well, they are really commodities: chops, kebobs, roasts–and, yes–tandori, tagine.