Friday, April 7, 2017

Cool Sheep Karma

Occasionally, you have something happen to you that makes you stop and think, “Wow that was cool”. Something that comes out of the blue and could not have been predicted or a story that is so good you could not have made it up. That very thing happened to us, most specifically Isaac this past week.

Let me set the stage. We decided after nine years of sheep production that we finally had enough lambs and more importantly, enough good lambs to host an open house at our farm and sell a selection of this year’s lamb crop. It was kind of a nerve racking ordeal because you are not sure how many people (if any) will show up. I decided we would keep this year’s affair a low budget operation and see how it went. The only money we spent was for a new white board to keep track of bids and sales and a batch of Jennifer’s soon-to-be famous monster cookies.

No, I did not spend a dime advertising the sale opting for relying on free social media. I started a Facebook page for our farm and posted on several other pages and Craig’s List. I went cheap (a strategy that will be reviewed next year). Keep all of this in mind as the story unfolds.

Even with my frugal approach to advertisement we did get some interest in the lambs including one gentleman from Oklahoma who was interested in Isaac’s Southdowns. He contacted me via Facebook and we exchanged communications for the better part of two weeks. I told him about the genetics behind Isaac’s flock and we planned for transportation if purchases were made. All along I thought it was kind of neat that we had attracted the attention of someone from Oklahoma.

The night before the sale we were making final arrangements and I sent him some more pictures including more information about the bloodlines of the ewe lambs he was interested in. Let me mention a detail about Isaac’s Southdowns I had forgotten to include up to this point. Isaac had developed an affinity for Southdown sheep after buying a Southdown whether to show. At the same time the Kansas Sheep Association started its Starter Flock Loan program.

The program allowed for a three-year loan in which the youth interested in sheep production. KSA would  purchase the ewes and give them to the youth. Since then (and probably because of Isaac) the loan is limited to commercial ewes but Isaac indicated on the application that he wanted Southdowns. KSA purchased the ewes for Isaac and I know Jeff Ebert spent a good bit of time finding those pesky Southdown ewes. I still remember the day when Jeff called to tell Isaac that he had found five ewes in Oklahoma and would be bringing them to us later that week (it was a full-service loan).

Isaac got his ewes and in a few weeks the registration papers came. I remember looking at them but not really knowing much about Southdown breeders. OK, now that I have added that to the story, fast forward to the night before our first annual open house. I looked through the papers of Isaac’s ewes and looked at the two original ewes he still had (after four years) and noticed that the name on the registrations matched the name of the gentleman from Oklahoma inquiring about Isaac’s ewe lambs. I am kind of slow but a light came on in my little brain and I made a connection.

The morning of the sale I shared my theory with Isaac and he started communicating with our Oklahoma friend directly. Sure, enough the original ewes had come from him. He knew that they were for a youth in Kansas to start their flock but he had not made the connection. After all he did have Isaac’s name for the papers but KSA had paid him directly for the sheep.

Our new friend and customer from Oklahoma ended up purchasing two ewe lambs through our sale. He and Isaac also decided for him to come look at other ewe lambs and potentially some mature ewes too. He had sold all his Southdown ewes but was now looking to get back into raising them and had randomly come across our sale flyer.

That night I sat down and reflected about what happened. We had a pretty good sale, especially for the first one. However, my mind kept coming back to the set of random circumstances that led to Isaac selling lambs back to the same breeder he had gotten his start from and neither one of them knowing the other until after the sale was complete. Talk about going full circle. I tell you, sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up because the truth is way cooler than fiction.

Plotting Cows

Spring has sprung and so have my cows. The grass has started to green up and the temptation was just too much for my old cows and they finally broke through the electric fence separating them from the brome. I suspect they got some of their calves to do the dirty work and that says a lot about the character of my cows. They fear the electric fence and the ensuing shock but they have no problem sending junior into the fence. The calf then gets caught up in the fence, breaking the wire and allowing mama to waltz right through the opening and onto the brome.

I must admit that I find this morally reprehensive. Don’t get me wrong, my cows are perfectly fine mothers with this one exception. I guess they are going with the idea that the calves won’t be around next year and therefore they will not get culled for being fence jumpers. Maybe they know that if I culled every cow that got out I would put myself out of the cattle business.

In the grand scheme of things, it is not the end of the world either. When they get out on the brome they are not off my place, they are just not where I want them. Every night I go out with a bale of hay and unroll it in the pasture I want them in. Every night they file back through the hole in the fence that they have had one of their unsuspecting calves create. Once inside the confines of the pasture, I mend the fence while they munch their hay. The next day, someone nudges their calf through the fence and we are at it all over again.

Yes, I have tested the fence and it has plenty of spark. I am also aware that if I built a permanent fence I would not have this problem. I have, however, decided that my cows are evil and they would find some other way to get under my skin. I have also entertained the idea that maybe the calves know what they are doing and the evil in them is genetic. Sometimes I even wonder if instead of sending their calves through the fence that maybe the cows have gotten a hold of one of the many pairs of fencing pliers that have disappeared from my truck over the years and are cutting their own way through the fence. I know cloven hooves and working pliers kind of shoots holes in that theory but I would not put it past them.

They have made me mad enough that I have finally started work on building that permanent fence. It is a long arduous process. All of you who have tried to dig postholes in the Flint Hills know what I mean. In any case I have started the process of building a better fence. This has led to the cows coming up and watching me put the fence in. I have decided that they are doing one of two things. First I am sure they are mocking me. I am not exactly sure what they are saying about me, but I know for sure that they are making fun of me. I am also certain that they are passing this lack of respect on to the juvenile delinquent offspring, thus perpetuating the cycle of disobedience. I know they may look like they are chewing their cuds and watching the fence building progress but I also know it is much more.

I suspect they are also looking for weak spots in the construction of the fence. They are probably already plotting where they can make an escape from the new reinforced fencing. I am sure they are taking notes and holding strategy meetings on how to break back out into the green brome grass.

As mad as they make me I have tried hard to appease them by feeding them only the best hay. I make sure they feeders are full and I even roll some hay out for them to lounge on in the sun. Yet they insist on ignoring my good faith efforts and continue to trample my fence and eat my brome.  Mocking me the whole time.

I have concluded that as much as I love my job and I really enjoy running cows, they do not reciprocate the feelings and are very self-centered. The only real satisfaction I have is the fact that I know that no matter what they may do, in the end I will win. Because no matter how many times they foil my well-made plans and circumvent my authority, they might win the battle. However, I smile with satisfaction each night as I look at my hamburger on my plate because I have won the war.