Henry’s my son who grew up on this farm–learned to wrestle sheep as needed and stay out of the way of kicking cattle during handling and make hay and fix equipment–and Cori is his lovely talented lady who put together this website. They’re vegetarians, by the way.
They came out from Madison this weekend and worked with me and Craig to run all the ewes and lambs through the handling system and record all the numbers, weights, body condition scores and cleanliness scores of the ewes and lambs. (Yes, cleanliness scores. The measure of the degree to which a lamb or ewe is impacted by internal parasites is how clean they are at the hind end.) We weighed and scored and sent them all into the barn lot with hay to wait while I tallied all this information and decided which ewes to cull. Then we went back out to the barn this morning and sorted out 20 ewes to send to the sale barn.
This is one of the saddest days on the farm. I hate shipping ewes. I can crunch all the numbers as far as lamb weaning weights, and condition and cleanliness scores and come up with objective reasons to cull a ewe, but it still sucks when I have to put a red mark down her back and put a scrapie tag in her ear to get her ready to ship conventionally. And, when I took the rest of the flock back out to pasture to join the cattle, it was very painful for me to hear the “maaaa” blats of the lambs whose mothers were back in the barn because they were being culled.
This is all part of raising livestock–the hard part. People ask me what’s it’s like for me to raise livestock that go to slaughter. I typically reply, “I give them the best life I can and if they weren’t destined for slaughter they wouldn’t have been born here and had their lifetimes–from a year (lambs), two years (steers) or more (cows and ewes)–to enjoy life on this farm.” But it still is hard when the decision is made to sell cull ewes or cows. The drought this year has made things harder: I have to cull harder to make sure we have enough winter feed, and the ewes are in lessened condition than normal because the pastures have been affected by drought.
When Henry was leaving, he suggested I write a blog post about the dogs. I thought about it, but realized that I needed to write about the hard stuff…like the trucker coming Wednesday to pick up the 20 cull ewes. All part of livestock farming, but it’s hard.
And what does it mean to those who eat lamb or beef? Does it make you want to go vegan? Even in my pain, I have an opinion on that. The lamb and beef from this farm is produced sustainably. Soybean production, even with organic production, results in a topsoil loss. Grass-finishing lamb and beef holds topsoil and sequesters carbon in the pastures. But, still, it’s not always easy.