Monday, April 07, 2008

Happy Spring!

Wow, didn't realize that it's been since January since I posted anything. Yikes. What have I been up to that I haven't had the time (or energy) to write? Let's see:

My ewes have almost all had their lambies--just waiting on five more late bloomers. So far there's been three sets of triplets! Jasmine wins the all-star award for having three nice big ewe lambs, and Tina gets the prize for heaviest total lambs (10, 12, and 14 lbs. ram lamb triplets). The 47 ewes who've lambed have produced 47 ewe lambs and 41 ram lambs. I lost two of the ewe lambs and there was one stillbirth. I have to say I am pretty pleased with those numbers, especially in my first season!

The pasture really just started growing about in February after the rains, and the ewes and lambs have been munching through it at lightening speed. The lambs have gotten so big and plump in such a short time its amazing. I weaned the oldest third of the lambs about a month ago, but the rest of them are still getting mother's milk as well as good green stuff. But since the rainy season seems to have ended prematurely, we are already beginning to lay out irrigation pipe to keep the pasture lush. The ground has already hardened to the point that I have to use a mallet to pound the posts in for the electric net fence, rather than push them in by hand.

So, I've got all these ewes in milk, with lambs big enough to wean, but I'm still without a milking parlor or cheese plant. I had hoped that I would be able to get them constructed and up and running this winter and be in production right now. I am planning on erecting a pair of kit shed buildings on concrete slab, which should be pretty simple and straightforward. Unfortunately, I had to send away for official architect-stamped plans from the shed company (which evidently no one ever does because it took them three months to figure out how to get them to me) and go through the building permit application process with my local county (which took two two submittals and a total of two months). So, the next step is to meet with the state dairy inspector and my contractor next week. Hopefully, construction will be under way shortly after that. If things go smoothly from this point forward I should be able to milk for a month or two this summer before the ewes dry out.

When I realized that my plans for spring milking and cheesemaking had to be delayed, I decided to dry off the first 18 ewes to have lambed with the idea of breeding them for early fall lambs. I put Goldenrod, the ram, in with them last week, after a couple of weeks of flushing (giving them extra feed to make them more fertile). Upon introduction to the ladies, Goldy immediately started putting the moves on one of Amaryliss, but I haven't seen much action since then. I am hopeful that they will lamb in September and then I can start milking them in October, which would mean cheese to sell in the Winter.

I've had a number of responses to my help wanted ads from all kinds of great folks. Because I am behind in construction of the dairy facilities and am still a bit unsure what summer will look like it has made the interview/hiring process somewhat complicated. It is a little scary for me to suddenly be responsible for providing other people with a livelihood (in addition to myself) and not be sure when I will actually be in production and making any income!

My parents have given me a start-up loan, and I hopefully will be getting one from California Farmlink/Cal Coastal (I've had a number of visits from their staff and they seem enthusiastic about my business), so I will have some money to get started. The thing with a dairy and cheese business though is that you must make all of your investments up front before you have any products to sell. The facilities must be fully functioning and up to code before you can make anything--you can't just build the infrastructure as you go along as you might with a vegetable farm. That definitely contributes to the scariness of starting my own business! I'm pretty used to the "taking the final for a class you never went to" and "nude-in-public wearing only socks" genre of dream these days!

I think once I actually get to the point of pouring concrete and nailing walls together my anxiety will transform into excitement at getting things going. Seeing all of the lambs born this winter was definitely an inspiring milestone, and I'm ready for the next one!

I almost forgot the other major activity I've been up to lately--slaughtering and butchering my lambs from last year. I had experience breaking down a lamb carcass from my kitchen days, but the killing and gutting was new. I never would have believed it, but I am actually a gun owner now! My mom gave me a .22 automatic that belonged to her first husband about 50 years ago, and I've used it to put the lambs down quickly before bleeding them. I know some may find it morbid (although they themselves eat meat that someone else kills!), but I've discovered I actually enjoy slaughtering and butchering my own animals. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that I was responsible for this animal from its birth until its death. I am also fascinated in the process by which a living thing becomes food that we eat. The lamb has been really delicious as well, some of the best I've ever had. The friends and family I've shared it with seem to agree, too. So, I am looking forward to the crop of wether lambs that will be maturing this summer. I will be selling them to restaurants and probably at the farmers markets locally. (They'll have to be slaughtered and a butchered by a professional of course.)

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