Sustainable Farmers – Stewards of the Land . Chapter 13

Morning Glory Farm, Grant Township, April 2012

SHEEP SHEARING:  Last year, winter was cold and long.  The lambs were being born and it was too cold outside so the little ones were brought into the barn from the harsh weather.  This year, it’s the opposite.  Spring is early.  The lambs are not born yet, but the sheep are hot with their wool still on. Sheepshearing is not a common practice by hand.  It’s exhausting work.  The sheep are heavy and some struggle.

This smaller sheep is placed on her bottom. In this position she becomes subdued.
Sheep waiting their turn in a barn stall. It's unusual for these sheep to be inside away from their pastures.
Sheepshearing is a trade that not many have today. Notice the skill of shaving the wool in one long piece.

These sheep are heavy to hold so the sheepshearer has a strap from the ceiling which holds his weight while he leans over and carries the weight of the sheep (50-200 lbs of sheep).  Sheep can be easily injured during this process so the handlers are very careful to keep their heads from whipping about and hitting things, or kicking a human in the head with a hoof.

I bet it feels good to have that wool coat off
After shearing, toenail cleaning and trimming.

Muskrat Farm, Stillwater Township, April 2012

Muskrat Farm is a transitional organic farm which uses sustainable practices.  The beginnings of something beautiful…fruit trees, honeybees, laying chickens, cats and horses.   This Spring, more fruit trees will be planted and the apiary expanded.

Honeybee collecting nectar from plum tree

During a normally cold Minnesota winter, honeybees would have just broken their communal cluster to seek out the very beginnings of pollen on poplar and maple trees.  They stay together in a tight ball inside the hive boxes constantly vibrating to generate warmth.  This year, honeybees are already collecting not just pollen, but nectar, about 3 weeks early.  It’s going to be a big honey season.


Hemlock the rooster leading Violet the Favorelle on a walkabout

Hemlock is a rescued rooster.  He escaped and was found on the road starving with his beak clipped off.  He has a hard time foraging without a pointy beak, so he’s fed an oatmeal mash, blueberries and other favorites that are soft enough to eat.  He’s a Wellsummer & loyal protector of the flock.

Hens do their victory song after they lay an egg.  We’re not sure why, but it seems like they are proud. Watch Rosebud, the lead hen,  do her victory song in the henhouse.

The Hens bounty for the day

CHICKENS:  Muskrat keeps laying hens (“layers”), not meat chickens.   Layers are becoming a popular “pet”.  The hens here have names and know them.  They are domesticated and cared for lovingly, which they respond affectionately to.   The chicken that one buys for eating, is a different breed of chicken. Usually all white and the farmer will fatten them up quickly to be butchered and sold before they are 6 months old.   The layers in contrast are kept for years as they continue laying.  At Muskrat, they will live out their full lives even after they are no longer producing eggs in their senior years.  A chicken lives about 12-15 years.

Rosebud, Rhode Island Red, chick at 2 weeks old.

Chickens are more delicate than you would think, they are birds after all.  Common ailments that can cause death are stress, predators, respiratory infections, and egg binding.  People should be informed before acquiring chickens that they require daily care, protected shelter, specific foods and sometimes healthcare too.  Chickens are one of the most ancient animals known; they have not evolved much from the original creature.

Vinny is an Ebony Oriental Cat rescued from a kitty mill where he was soon to meet his death from starvation.  He was terrified of the world at first since he’d never been out of his little cement basement den.  He’s a beautiful, healthy and happy cat now.

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