New Goats

After the difficulties we had last summer with our pasture we have been slow to add new livestock to the farm. After clearing out all the toxic perilla mint we could find last fall, we got one new goat, named her Hope and hoped for the best. Not only did she survive but she surprised us with a healthy kid early this spring! We suspect she probably get in with a buck while she was at the livestock auction where we bought her. Feeling hopeful, we decided to bite the bullet and buy more goats.

On April 6th we brought in 6 Kiko does and 2 doelings. These ladies will, hopefully, be the matriarchs of  a herd of meat goats. The plan is to use them for breeding and sell the offspring. I’ll be adding a buck to the herd later this summer. All of the does kidded in February or March so I want to give them at least one or two more months off before breeding them again. Right now I’m thinking of using a Boer buck so that the kids have more of the traditional boer “look” that most buyers around here are accustomed to. I’m using Kikos as the does, though, because they have much better maternal instincts and abilities than boers and are generally much hardier goats an easier keepers. Since I need lots of does and only one buck, I’d rather have lots of easy keeping Kikos and only one delicate Boer.

Of course, I can’t have a herd of goats without having at least one dairy goat. I miss all the fresh cheese and icecream! So on April 28 I added Nelly, a Saanen dairy goat, and her two kids (one male, one female). The kids are half boer so they will probably go to market, but I could potentially keep the doeling as a second dairy goat. Saanens are big framed goats and can easily handle being bred to boers so in addition to hopefully being a good source of milk, Nelly can also serve as a breeding doe for market kids. She was given a dewormer a month ago that can get into the milk so I’m not supposed to milk her for a few more days (its fine for her kids to drink but humans aren’t supposed to drink it), but fingers crossed that she is as good a milker as her previous owner promises!

A Shepherd Without A Flock

Alternate title: 12 Empty Acres

Alternate title: The Dangers of Perilla Mint

I’ve been putting off writing this post. I’ve started it several times, but its hard to find the right words. And honestly its not something I want to talk- or even think- about. But it is time to share what has happened and hopefully by posting all the information here I can avoid having to explain what has happened over and over for different people. You see, over the last three weeks – since soon after we moved- every time someone asks me “How is the flock settling in?” I lie and say they are doing fine. But they aren’t. In fact, most of them aren’t alive anymore.

Let me go back to the beginning. At the end of June we moved, family and flock, from KY to FL. Our new farm was carefully chosen for its 12 acres of beautiful grassy fenced off pasture. Unlike our last farm, this pasture is mostly grass with only a bit of brushy/weedy areas around the fence line. They had been keeping horses on it and all the neighboring properties with similar pasture are full of beautiful -and expensive- thoroughbred horses. I assumed that if it was safe for them then my little flock of sheep would do just fine. We hired a livestock transport guy to load the flock in KY and deliver them to their new home in FL on June 30th. Everyone made the journey fine and after unloading we watched them explore. They had never been in such large pastures and it was amusing to watch them travel through the tall grasses, tasting the new (to them) plants as they went. As a rule, sheep and goats don’t usually die from toxic plants because of their grazing habits. They tend to sample small bites of this and that and if something makes them feel bad or tastes funny they won’t eat anymore. Generally, poisonous plants don’t taste good to them so after a bite or two they move on (the exception being Azaleas which are both delicious and deadly). I was more worried about the heat, unknown local predators or them finding a weak spot in the fencing than I was about what they were eating.

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On the morning of July 11th, when I went out to check the flock’s water, I stumbled across a dead lamb. And then I realized that only a few sheep were heading towards me -usually the whole flock comes running for treats. My stomach sank. Lily was clearly agitated and – unusually- alone without her two ram lambs. I let Lily guide me and she took me to where one of her lambs was dead in the grass. Following Lily around the pasture I soon found three ewes and three more lambs. Overnight, without any warning, we had lost Etta, Kelly, Liisu, Nimo, Nosi, Nuku and Natalie.

Unable to speak and barely able to see through my tears I texted Chris “I don’t know what to do. What do I do?” But once I calmed down I realized that something had to be done, and quickly. We had lost 7 sheep but we had 5 left, plus Ivy and Grace. Whatever had killed half my flock was still out there. I needed to do something to protect the rest, if I could. I put in a few calls to local vets and soon was put in touch with Dr. Jimenez at the University of Florida vet school. We discussed taking one of the bodies to the state lab for a necropsy and toxicology testing but decided that it would take too long to get results from toxicology to help the rest of the flock (they needed action taken NOW, not in a few weeks when the lab results were back) and that by the time I got one of the bodies down to the state lab a few hours away it would probably be decomposed past the point of doing any good. Instead, Dr Jimenez grabbed a few of her veterinary students and came down to the farm to see what could be done.

Dr. Jimenez and her students performed a necropsy (the animal version of an autopsy) on Nosi’s body out in the field. It was immediately apparent that something was wrong with his respiratory system. The lungs had damaged areas and large blood clots were found throughout the throat. His digestive system (always a delicate area in sheep) was fine and I was pleased to hear that there was no sign of parasites since that is a big problem in ruminants. It was clear that whatever killed Nosi – and the rest of the flock – had affected his lungs/respiratory system. After the necropsy, Dr Jimenez and her students walked through the pasture to see if they could find the culprit. Very soon, she stopped at an area of overgrown weeds along the fence line and identified our killer: Perilla Mint.

Perilla Mint, or Shiso, is – as its name indicates- a member of the mint family. It smells minty, has a square, bumpy stem and small purple flowers. Though a culinary herb for humans it is deadly to all ruminants. Apparently it is toxic to horses but horse don’t usually like to eat it, so it has been allowed to grow and spread out here in horse country. Unfortunately, my flock decided it was delicious. I later discovered evidence that they hadn’t just been eating it where it was mixed in with the grass they were grazing- they were actively seeking it out and eating it with preference over the nice, healthy grass filling the pasture.

After identifying the problem, I walked through the rest of the property and found that one of the front pastures only contained a few small patches which I could quickly pull/dig out. While Chris dug a big hole for half the flock to be buried in I moved the rest of the flock to the safer pasture.

2016-07-20 10.32.21.jpgA few days later Leo succumbed, followed shortly by his brother Larry. A week later we lost Kaylee. We aren’t sure if these deaths were due to damage caused before we moved them to the front pasture or whether they found more perilla that we hadn’t caught. As of today- July 28- only Lily, Nigel (one of the ram lambs), Ivy and Grace remain. Two days ago we noticed Nigel limping and discovered that his thick wooly behind had attracted flies and he was suffering from a case of fly strike. I won’t go into details because its gross but we got him cleaned up and on antibiotics and so far he seems to be recovering. It has been almost a week since our last loss and we are hopeful that this is the end. If Nigel and Lily survive another week we will be sending them to NC to live at my parents’ farm (where Francine, Elizabeth and her two ewe lambs from this spring already are- thank goodness). Florida isn’t an ideal place for Shetland sheep with their heavy wool coats and they will be more comfortable in NC. The flock will continue up there and we already have some plans for preserving some of our flock genetics with Elizabeth and her two girls and Nigel (who thankfully we kept intact). Lily was a newcomer to the flock, only added a year ago, but she has such a sweet personality and exceptionally fine fleece that we are very thankful that she has survived.Cross your fingers that these two sheep make it to August 6, when my parents are coming down to rescue them.

We will keep Grace and Ivy on the farm. They are better adapted to the hot weather than the wooly sheep and so far don’t seem to be suffering from the perilla or the flies. Of course, they will be restricted to the front pasture until the rest of the property has been cleared of perilla.

Once we get the perilla mint removed from the property we will be starting over. I’m not sure what our new flock is going to look like. I’ve heard good things about Gulf Coast Native sheep but I’m not sure if my heart is ready to become invested in wool sheep again just yet. Since we already know how to raise sheep and goats I’m considering giving meat sheep and/or goats a try. There are breeds better suited to this climate and an ethnic market for the meat. Once we get rid of the toxic plants our only problem should be internal parasites (worms) which love the hot, damp weather but we have enough pasture that we can rotate the flock to keep the worms under control.

We’d also like to add a small dairy cow to provide milk/cheese for the family and perhaps get a meat calf to keep her company and raise to market weight.

For now we are still coming to terms with our losses (both emotional and financial), researching how best to deal with the perilla mint and beginning to make plans for the future.

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The sun setting as we finished burying sheep on the day of our biggest loss.

2016 Lambing Stats

I am pretty sure we are done with lambing for the season (though Etta could conceivably surprise us with a late lamb). Here is what we ended up with:

Stud Ram: Honor Flock Toffee from Underhill Farm IN S38604

April 18th—twin ewes (Elizabeth) –Nora (solid dk brown) & Nola (white)

April 23rd—single ewe (Lana) – 6lb –Nina (moorit gulmoget)

April 23rd—single ewe (Liisu)—8lb –Nuku (moorit gulmoget)

April 24th—twin ewes (Kelly) –6lb & 6.5lb –Nellie & Natalie (fawn katmoget)

April 25th—twin rams (Lily)-5lb & 9lb Nimoy and Nosferatu (solid black)

April 29th—single ram (Kaylee)- Nigel (solid dark brown)


I’m really happy with  how everything turned out; not only did everyone have smooth, safe deliveries with healthy lambs but we ended up with mostly girls which is ideal. With the exception of Nina (who belongs to Lana’s owner, Natalie) I think I’ll keep all of the girls as part of my flock and, in the future, part of my breeding program. Now I just need to decide which of the boys I want to keep, if any, and if I want to keep them as wethers or possibly keep one as a future stud ram. I’m considering keeping one of Lily’s ram lambs as a stud since a) I would like to get more of her blood line in my flock and b) the only ewe he will be related to for next year’s breeding is his mom, Lily, and it would be easy to separate her for breeding season. All the other adult ewes are from a totally different genetic line so it would be a good way to introduce some new genes and mix things up a bit. The only problem is that I’m not sure I want to use an exceptionally small ram or an exceptionally large ram for breeding. My flock already tends towards stockiness and I don’t want to increase the size in future generations. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem wise to use a ram who was undersized and wobbly at birth….Decisions, decisions!

Two Boys for Lily

I thought Lily would be one of the first to lamb. She started looking huge before anyone else and her udder came in early and has looked painfully full for weeks. Every day I think “today is the day.”

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Today she was acting a little bit off– finding weird places to nap separate from the rest of the flock– but she is always somewhat independent and it was a hot day so everyone was seeking out shady spots to nap.

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I didn’t think much of it– she has fooled me too many times already! And to be honest, I was a bit distracted this afternoon catching Etta, hauling her across the pasture and then shearing her. We both were of the opinion that it was far too hot and we are both far too pregnant for that sort of effort, but it had to be done. After finishing with Etta I came inside for a dinner of leftover pizza and a shower. I was also supposed to have a virgin pina colada that I’d been looking forward to all afternoon- but my blender died. Anyway….after that I went back out to check on the ladies in the maternity yard, including a newly shorn Etta,  and the few pregnant girls left out with the rest of the flock (Lily and Kaylee). But Lily wasn’t with the flock.

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Sheep- even jet black ones- are very easy to spot at night if you have a good flashlight because their eyes reflect the light. I soon found her at the far back end of the pasture in their favorite spot under the bushes. As I got closer my flashlight beam reflected off of not one but three sets of eyes, two much closer to the ground!

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The twins must have been born not long ago because they were barely cleaned off yet. Sometime between 7pm when I finished shearing Etta and went inside and 9:30 when I went back out to check the flock.

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After 6 girls in a row we finally have two little boys. I would have liked girls from Lily because I’d really like to get more of her genetics in the flock, but even if we just keep these two as wethers I think that their fleeces will make it worthwhile. I may even keep one as an intact ram to use for breeding the part of the flock that he isn’t related to. I think that they are both solid black (its hard to tell when they aren’t fully clean and dry yet). The big one is named Nosferatu (Nosie) and the little one is Nimoy.

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In the past when we have had twins they have always been similar in size but this time one of them is nearly double the size of the other! The larger one is 9lb which makes him the largest lamb we’ve had so far, I think, and the smaller is 5lb which may make him the smallest we’ve had (though we’ve had  several at 5.5lb). And of course together the extreme size difference makes them look even more exaggerated.

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I’m a little bit worried about the small one, Nimoy,  because he is so little and is a little wobbly, but he was on his feet when I found him and doesn’t have any trouble walking around. It took him a while to figure out how to nurse but to be fair, Lily’s udder is kind of unusual shaped and the teats are tucked behind her legs in a way that the lambs have to really search for them, or she has to lift her leg out of the way. She also kept deciding he needed more cleaning off anytime he got close. Finally I grabbed hold of Lily and made her stand still while I literally put the teat in Nimoy’s mouth. Thankfully once he had experienced nursing he caught on quickly and it wasn’t long before he was able to find the teat by himself and get a nice long drink. I do have a bottle on hand if he ends up needing supplementing, but hopefully it won’t come to that!

Now that Lily has lambed the only two ewes left are Kaylee and Etta. Kaylee is definitely pregnant but Etta may not be. I have a hard time guessing when Kaylee is due– she and her sister Kelly both carry their lambs very well and don’t get giant or uncomfortable looking, even when carrying average sized twins. She has a round belly and a well developed udder so she could lamb tonight– or next week. If Etta is pregnant at all I suspect she won’t lamb for a while, unless she is carrying a small single, because she isn’t round in the belly and her udder is small. I didn’t actually plan to breed Etta this year anyway so I’d be perfectly happy if she ends up not lambing.


Kelly’s girls- all cleaned up!

I noticed that all the photos of Kelly’s lambs that I posted in the previous post were a bit messy so I when I went back out to check on the new family just now I got some more photos that show the girls (yes- two more girls!) off a bit better!


When I first went out, they were hanging out with Liisu and her lamb. Unfortunately, Liisu has decided that she must protect her lamb from the scary humans at all costs and won’t let me get close enough to grab the lamb and move her to the maternity ward (i.e. the fenced in area by the barn). This makes it harder for me to check on Liisu’s baby and impossible to socialize her, which is a real shame because the baby seems friendly.


Kelly’s lambs haven’t figured out running quite yet, though, so I was able to scoop them up and carry them back to the barn with mom following after. Now they have joined Lana and Nina in the barnyard.

Both girls are about 6lb which is a nice healthy size for Shetland lambs, especially twins. They feel a bit more delicate to me than yesterday’s singletons which isn’t a bad thing. My sheep tend to be very stocky and I wouldn’t mind having a few girls who are a bit more graceful.


As I thought when they were first born, they are almost completely identical. Just like their mom, aunt and half sister. We are going to have to get them colored ear tags or something in order to tell them apart!


After having the maternity ward to themselves most of the day, I think that Lana and Nina are happy to have some company. Thankfully Nina’s markings are almost completely opposite from Kelly’s lambs so there is no confusing which lamb belongs to which mom!

Next Up: Kelly

While Natalie and her boys were visiting to meet the lambs born yesterday (in particular Lana’s daughter, Nina, who belongs to them) we noticed that Kelly was acting like she was in early labor. She was staying by herself and hiding in the bushes, standing up and laying down a lot, and glancing back at her sides and rear like she was thinking “what is going on back there!?”.


This sort of behavior can go on a while before the lambs are actually born so we played with Lana and Liisu’s lambs for a while and then took a strawberry pound cake break. When we went back out to check on Kelly things were starting to progress.


Not wanting to disturb Kelly while she was laboring we watched from a distance but thankfully I had remembered to put the zoom lens on my camera we were able to sneak a peek without being in her way.


Before long another little girl was born and we got to watch as Kelly cleaned her up and the little lamb took her first shaky steps.

We thought that she must only have the one lamb this year since she didn’t look huge and was taking so much time cleaning off the baby but soon after the lamb was dry and had its first meal we noticed that something else was happening. In no time we saw two tiny hoofs and a little nose sticking out and several big pushes later another lamb had been born!

Since we were already sitting quietly and watching we had a great view of the entire process, which I recorded on video. The video is pretty long but I’m posting it in its entirety since it is unusual that I actually catch a sheep in labor, much less with a good angle for filming!

Lambs- finally!

We’ve been eagerly anticipating lambs all month. Our lambing season “window” officially began on May 9th– 147 days after we introduced the ram to the flock back in the fall. But this year the lambs have been slow to come. The girls must either have cycled late or not “caught” the first cycle. Hopefully now that the first girls have lambs, the rest will be inspired and lamb soon!


Our first ewe to lamb this year was Elizabeth. This is Elizabeth’s third lambing with us and she has always had big, healthy twins and been a great mother to them.


On April 18th, Elizabeth gave birth to two little girls. At birth, it looked like one was white and one was black. We think that the dark one may actually lighten to a dark brown as she gets older and the white has a few light brown spots and markings on her legs so it’ll be interesting to see how their color and patterning change as they get older. This is our first lamb to be born with spots!

Elizabeth is one of our finer fleeced ewes, and the father had a very fine fleece so it’ll be fun to see how the wool on these girls comes in!

So far, both girls seem to have inherited their parents’ great personalities. The dark lamb in particular enjoys getting attention from people. Elizabeth and her lambs are living at the NC farm this spring so they are getting more one on one attention than if they were with the main flock.

We haven’t decided for sure on names yet but all lambs born this year will have names that start with “N”. We are thinking about “Nora” for the dark lamb but aren’t sure about the white one!

Shearing 2016

My parents came to visit for a few days and we got everyone in the flock sheared with the exception of Etta, who refused to be caught. We’ll have to sneak up on her sometime in the next week or two and hope we can grab her! Everyone else was well enough behaved and aside from a couple of early prison breaks (mostly due to careless shepherds not securing the pen well enough) and a few unwelcome visits from a loose neighborhood dog everything went very smoothly. Now we have big pile of bags of wool to sort through and decide how we will have it processed this year!

It won’t be too long before we start lambing season. We could have kids any day now and the first lambs could arrive as early as the first of April!




Lilac with her head stuck in the fence....again

Lilac with her head stuck in the fence….again

With goats it seems that the old adage “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” has special meaning. No matter how lush the pasture, they always think that what is growing on the other side of the fence must be even better. The temptation to stick their heads through the woven wire fence for a nibble is just too much to resist. Unfortunately goats are equipped with horns that act like barbs- they slide in with ease but there is no pulling them back out. Sometimes when I hear them crying I’m able to wrestle with them and angle their heads just the right way to slide them out, but usually I end up having to cut the fence with bolt cutters. Pretty soon I’m not going to have much fence left.

Within the last week things have gotten out of hand. Not only is either Luc or Lilac (never mother Ivy, she has more sense then that, or maybe her head is just too big to fit through) caught in the fence at least every other day but they’ve started doing it at very inconvenient times. A few days ago we were woken up by a stranger at the front door with a neighbor we had never met, while out on an early morning walk, heard Lilac hollering and came to investigate. Then last night we had just sat down to a work-dinner with Chris’s bosses when I got a text from a different neighbor saying that they heard screaming coming from our farm. Thankfully they were able to rescue the goat without me having to rush out of dinner. (Thanks SO SO much Cowens!!)


Enough is enough. Today I fashioned both of the “teenagers” some fancy new hats. If they stay on, they should prevent them from sticking their heads into any holes where they are liable to get stuck. I think that the one on Luc will stay put– his horns angle out enough that I was able to fasten plastic zip ties tightly enough around his horns that the pipe is pretty secure. Lilac’s horns go straight back, though, without much spread so I’m not sure if the pipe will stay on her or if she will manage to slide it up and off. I’ve seen photos where other people have used duct tape to keep the bar in place so I’ll try that tomorrow if they manage to dislodge their hats. Fingers crossed that this is the end of our stuck goat drama!