Urinary Calculi

Earn a reputation for being a crazy sheep lady and life gets even more interesting.  Recently I was contacted by a complete stranger, asking me to take a look at her sick sheep.  She thought it might be urinary calculi and, seeing the animal, that was clearly it.  Urinary calculi – aka kidney stones – are a common problem in young, castrated male sheep and goats. If the stone actually causes the urinary bladder or urethra to rupture, this problem is called “water belly” because of the accumulation of urine in the abdomen. Stones can also form in the female but very rarely cause a problem because of the large size of the urethra. Males that are castrated at a very young age have a much smaller penis and urethra, leading to easier blockage of the urethra by small stones. Caught early they can be treated but this poor lamb had been suffering a long, long time – his bladder had already ruptured and formed the classic “water belly”.

The only humane thing was to put him out of his misery, which we did immediately.  The owner just wanted him gone so, rather than have his life go to waste, we brought him home to process.

Between our concern and the coming storm, we forgot to get pictures of him.  However I found an image on the web that is very similar to what we saw:


While skinning, bloody urine leaked, tainting much of the carcass.  The hind legs, which were suspended above the abdomen when hung, were fine, however much of the rest of the meat became dog food.

We can only hope the owner learned from this experience to seek help early, to avoid needless suffering.  Meanwhile, I am thankful none of our sheep or goats have had this problem.

And if you enjoyed this post, you won’t want to miss next week when I describe, in detail, the symptoms, progression, and common complications  of  malignant rectonasal inversitis.


Meat in the Freezer

The romantic view of homesteading extolls the joy of having a pantry stocked with home-canned goods and a freezer stocked with home-grown meat.  Butchering one’s own grass-fed meat and using it to fill a freezer sounds great, doesn’t it?  What the pioneers don’t mention is how utterly exhausting a day of butchering can be – and how one’s feet ache by the end of it.


Three lambs made it to our freezer this week.  Three lambs who were born here, raised on mama’s milk and grass, and who died knowing only kindness and gentle words from people they were familiar with from birth.

We chose to grind a lot of the meat today as we find ground meat to be the most versatile.


We also were able to put away many pounds of meat to be used as dog food, and of course, saved the meaty bones for the dogs.  In short, almost nothing of these lambs goes to waste around here.

We are exhausted and aching in ways we never imagined.

The Transformation of a Pole Barn – Part 2

In part 1, we detailed how our pole barn was transformed into a real, enclosed barn.  But there was still a lot of work to do to make the barn animal-ready.

The north end – about 20×30 – is the new sheep and goat quarters.  What we’ve learned about raising sheep and goats together is that goats are dominant and will bully sheep.  Therefore we decided to separate them, using an internal wall to keep each on their side.

The layout had to include a dog run for Kilo and Karina, to allow them to sleep – and bond – with their future charges.  The internal layout wound up being driven by the dog run, as we erected it first and then used its walls to form the walls dividing the sheep and goats.


The dog run started with a cattle panel laid on the ground – in addition to providing stability to the structure, it prevents them digging out.  Side panels attached to the floor panel have smaller openings than a cattle panel, to prevent them climbing through the holes.  The tube was completed by another cattle panel across the top, to prevent them climbing out.  Panels cut to fit the ends, one affixed and the other hinged – completed the dog run.  The dimensions are 50″ (the height of a livestock panel) and the whole structure is 16′ long.


The dog run taken from the sheep side, looking through it to the goat side.


Looking at the front of the dog run and the internal gate leading into the sheep area


The goat huts stacked in the corner of the goat side are in use. The goats sleep in the bottom one, while the top one serves as storage for minerals, hoof clippers and scale.

A hay wall at each end will allow them to eat without making too big a mess.  And a mineral feeder in each side will allow all animals access to the minerals formulated for their species.


Winter has been and gone and it is now spring.  The sheep and goats quickly adapted to the routine of coming in at night and separate themselves into their sleeping quarters.  Best of all it keeps them safe and happy.  Meanwhile I sleep better at night knowing they are safe.


The Transformation of a Pole Barn – Part 1

We were fortunate when we moved to our homestead, that there were already some usable structures on the place.  Unfortunately, what we’ve found over the years is they were built for purposes different than ours, and therefore don’t work as well as we’d like.  Case in point: the pole barn.  I personally don’t care for pole barns.  Sure they provide a roof, but since rain can come from whatever direction the wind is blowing, unless things are placed in the center, they are liable to get wet anyway.  Meanwhile, the sun shines in and in the case of our pole barn, oriented north-south, sun shines from the east until noon and from the west thereafter.  At least the sun damage is equally distributed over anything stored there!

Until now the sheep and goats have spent winters under an old horse shelter, with hay walls to provided additional wind protection.  However that shelter lies at the low side of our property and spring rains flooded it multiple times.  What started as a think tank to remedy the flooding, ended up as a far bigger project – closing in the pole barn on the high side of the property, to create a “real” barn.

After weeks of drawing up one sketch after another, we settled on a design we felt would work best, and finally the renovation was underway.  The first step was to frame out the existing poles to support the tin.  This included adding in four new poles to span the wider openings.


Next was to add tin to the new framework.  We elected to make the east wall solid and in future years hay will be stored along that back wall.

The west side center sections will remain open, with gates across them to keep animals out.  This will allow for easy access and lots of light.


We also added a small roller door in the north side.  This can be rolled up to let in light and create air flow.


Due to the slope of the ground where the pole barn was located, it was difficult to have the tin meet the ground in a continuous line, so instead the metal was stair-stepped, and we filled the base with screenings to block off openings.


To keep this post from getting too long, we’ve divided this post in part 1 – the external – and part 2 – internal.

To be continued….


Kilo the Karakachan

Despite spending a vast amount on fencing to keep our sheep and goats IN, we haven’t been successful in keeping predators OUT.  We considered the loss of a lamb within the first few weeks to be a fluke caused by a gap in the fence left by fencing contractors.  Having closed the gap we had no further cause for concern for two years, so had grown complacent, until this spring when coyotes dug under the fence, resulting in the loss of twin lambs.

The attack was disconcerting because although we easily found the spot they’d dug under and reinforced it, what’s to prevent them digging at another spot?  And with the investment in the Royal White sheep, keeping them safe became even more important.

For years people have been telling us we should consider donkeys, llamas or dogs as Livestock Guardians.  Donkeys’ braying and reports of their trying to mate the sheep made them unappealing.  Llamas’ need to be sheared and reports of their trying to mate the sheep also made them unappealing.  And dogs?  We resisted them for several reasons:

  1. They are another animal that requires care and feeding.
  2. Many breeds of LGD bark.  A lot.
  3. They are another animal that requires care and feeding.
  4. Many LGD’s roam.
  5. They are another animal that requires care and feeding.

However due to the emotional devastation that follows the loss of an animal to predators, and the financial investment in the Royal White Sheep, we reconsidered.  But we decided there had to be alternatives to Great Pyrenees – the big, fluffy white dogs most commonly used as guardians in this area, so we set about finding them.

What we learned was surprising: there are many different breeds of Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD), each coming from a different area of Europe or Asia, and each therefore having been bred with different qualities.  Exotic sounding names like Sarplaninac, Ovcharka, Karakachan, Akbash, Tornjak, Tibetan Mastiff and Central Asian Shepherd.  Dogs from Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Tibet.

After learning of the strengths and weaknesses of each breed, we felt that the Karakachan would be the best match for us.  Unlike Great Pyrenees, who bark to alert potential predators of their presence, Karakachan tend to bark only when they detect an actual threat.  And, rather than roam to expand their territory, they tend to bond more closely to their stock and therefore stay closer to them.  When a threat is detected, they will gather the stock behind them, while facing off the threat.

Ideally, LGDs work better in pairs.  A pair will trade off the work load, with one sleeping while the other keeps watch.  When there is a threat, one will stay with the stock while the other confronts the predator.  However in cases where it is only possible to have one dog, Karakachans work better as a sole guardian than do some of the other breeds.

Enter Kilo, the Karakachan Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD).  Deciding on a Karakachan was the easy part; finding one was the challenge.  However thanks to the Internet, we were able to locate a litter in West Virginia, and committed to a pup – then 3 days old. Here he is at five weeks old:


At six weeks he weighed over 12 pounds.  At eight weeks his litter mates started leaving for their new farms.  And finally, at nine weeks, Kilo farewelled his mother to start on his long journey westward.  The first leg involved a 13-hour drive to Arkansas – along with one brother.  The second leg started when I arrived in Arkansas to collect him and drive him the remaining 7 hours home.


The next few months will be a steep learning curve for Kilo and for us.  Kilo will need to gain the trust of the sheep and goats – currently far larger than he is.  He will live with them and bond to them.  Meanwhile we will be learning how to incorporate a guardian into our daily routines.  I’m sure there will be challenges along the way but feel that sleep will come easier – especially when we have young kids and lambs – than it does now with the constant worry about their welfare.

The Rickshaw

I know, I know, posts have been few and far between lately.  In our defense, that is because we’ve been busy out on the homestead DOING rather than in on the computer TALKING about it.  One of the projects that has consumed many hours over the past few weeks is what we are calling The Rickshaw.

The desired goal: Rotational Grazing
The challenges: Providing water and shade, and milking the dairy goats

Fortunately, HWA loves a good challenge.  Out came the sketchpad and pencil and for three weekends, he sketched, measured, erased and sketched some more.  Then he shopped for supplies – first from our collection of scrap lumber – and then at a store for what we didn’t already own.

Finally he was ready to start building.

Know what this is so far? Me either!

Know what this is so far? Me either!

For a couple of weekends he sawed, hammered, measured and cursed.  And then  it was time to buy paint.  Anyone who knows me, knows that painting is the thing I hate to do more than almost anything.  Nevertheless I dutifully went to the hardware store where I was gobsmacked by the selection available.  As I wandered countless rows filled with shelves of different types of paint, I spied one called “Barn Paint”.  Among its attributes, it “self primes” and is safe to be used on animal housing.  However it comes in only three colors: White, Ranch Brown or Barn Red.  And no, they can’t add color to the white – I asked.  Given those options, the only one that made sense for a structure we hope will blend into our pasture, was Ranch Brown.


The color doesn’t look too bad!

You can see why we call it The Rickshaw.  Two large wheels at one end allow it to roll easily, using handles at the opposite end.  The built-in milk stand and head catch hold the goats still for milking.  The water tub holds 30 gallons, and we use our lawn cart or ride-on mower to haul water out to fill the tub.


Hooks on the side hold a couple of 6-foot lengths of panel while we are moving it.  The shelf at the far right holds the solar charger, as well as a bucket of other supplies – brushes for keeping the milk stand and water tank clean, halters and hoof trimmers.


A close-up of the head catch. A loop around the top holds the goat’s head in place so that she cannot move either forward or back while we milk.

Here it is after being put into service.  The Rickshaw becomes a part of the fence, with the milk stand and water inside, and the supply shelf/solar charger outside.  The panels are then used to create a gate that allows us to easily enter the paddock when we need to.  And last, a tarp provides shade that is also portable for the animals.

A tarp attached to the Rickshaw, panel and fence provides shade

A tarp attached to the Rickshaw, panel and fence provides shade

We’ve been rotational grazing most of the summer but until now were limited to areas that had trees to provide shade.  We are excited to be able to set up a rotational paddock anywhere on the property, to fully utilize our pasture area, yet still provide the basic needs of the animals.

Kate the goat relaxes on the stand while being milked

Kate the goat relaxes on the stand while being milked

More on Rotational Grazing

Our rotational grazing system as settled into a pleasing routine, understood by both humans and animals.  With the addition of our new flock of Royal White sheep, we found that each small paddock is grazed much faster than the four days it took with fewer animals.  Who could have predicted such a thing?

The beauty of the rotational grazing is that it doesn’t matter – we just move them more often.  Constant monitoring is teaching us a lot about our animals – which types of grasses they like best for example.  When moved to a new paddock, they will initially explore, grabbing a bite here and there as they go.  Once they have become familiar with the space, they’ll settle down to graze in earnest, cropping favorite grasses low to the ground quickly.  By the second night they are eating the grasses that are edible but less preferred.  Most paddocks have been grazed thoroughly after 48 hours these days and they let me know when they think it is time to move, by standing and bellowing at me whenever they see me.  If I agree with them (and generally I do), I get out the back-up fence, set up a new paddock (which takes about 20 minutes), fill a new bucket of water, and then open the fence between the old and new paddocks.  They watch me work, bellowing encouragement (or so I like to believe – in reality I’m sure I’m being told to “Hurry up, Wench”) and when I move to let them through, they are quick to run into the new area and start exploring.

Having secured them in the new paddock, I take down the old fence and then mow the area.  This is to cut down grasses and weeds they won’t eat.  Our hope is that over time, by cutting down what they won’t eat, we will allow the grasses they do eat to out-compete the weeds, improving our pastures, at the same time we are controlling parasites by the frequent moves.

The difference between the ungrazed area in the foreground, and a paddock where 10 sheep and 4 goats have spent 48 hours, is astounding

The difference between the ungrazed area in the foreground, and a paddock where 10 sheep and 4 goats have spent 48 hours, is astounding.

Standing within the old paddock and looking toward an area not yet grazed. The line between the two is easy to see

Standing within the old paddock and looking toward an area not yet grazed. The line between the two is easy to see.

Last, our old friends, the dung beetles. 12 hours before this photo was taken, this was a pile of poop. Overnight it was transformed into a pile of dirt - and was one of many found in the old paddock the day after we moved them. We are thrilled to have them, knowing that by desiccating the pile of poop, they are rendering it inhospitable to parasite eggs and larva

Last, our old friends, the dung beetles. 12 hours before this photo was taken, this was a pile of poop. Overnight it was transformed into a pile of dirt – and was one of many found in the old paddock the day after we moved them. We are thrilled to have them, knowing that by desiccating the pile of poop, they are rendering it inhospitable to parasite eggs and larva.