Baa Baa Black Sheep

I would like to thank Randall Parkin for being our guest blogger this month. The Parkin’s have been clients of Winterset Veterinary Center for a number of years and she graciously consented to helping me with our sheep blog. I hope you enjoy her pictures and words as much as I did. I have really learned a lot from the guest bloggers I had this year.

~ Dr. Lonna Nielsen

In 2003 we bought a farmstead complete with house, pastures, and a barn on 10 acres in Madison County. For the next Mother’s Day, my husband gave me a gift certificate for 2 sheep and a llama. At the Iowa State Fair that year, I met a Lincoln Longwool breeder, and was hooked. In September, we drove to their farm, and I picked out a Natural Lincoln (white) ewe and a Colored Lincoln (black/grey) ewe. On the way out of the sheep shed, another ewe put her front feet on a fence rail and demanded I pet her. She was a Corriedale, and I HAD to have her. Corriedales, like Lincolns, are generally friendly. I had found three sheep and no llama.

The llama was supposed to provide protection for the sheep, but we acquired three miniature horses instead, who performed well and were much more fun.

Most sheep producers in Iowa raise sheep for meat, or sheep to sell to 4-H and FFA youth for livestock projects. As a long-time knitter and very beginning spinner, I wanted the sheep for their wool. Most producers don’t want to deal with the wool, which only brings pennies per pound.

In contrast, my little spinning flock grew wool that when processed into yarn or sold as doll hair sold for $40 per pound. Even raw fleeces could bring $5-7 per pound. One of the main differences was that I kept the wool cleaner while the sheep grew it, kept it organized when it was shorn and removed the icky parts before the fleeces were packed in bags.

Fleece

Lincoln sheep originated in Lincolnshire, England. I first chose Lincoln Longwool sheep because they were a people-oriented breed, and looked really cool. With wool that grows about an inch a month, I sheared them twice a year, in contrast to most breeds who are shorn once a year. Lincoln wool is lustrous and grows in curls – I found a market for the white wool in artists who make those fabulous Santa Claus figures with long white hair and beards. I washed that wool by hand and sold it to a doll hair wholesaler.

Lincoln Wool

I named my first Lincolns Victoria (the white one) and Jasmine (the colored one).

Corriedale sheep are a Merino/Lincoln cross that originated in New Zealand and Australia. (Merino, or Spanish Merino, are believed to have originated in Spain, and produce a very fine wool.) My Corriedale ewe quickly became my favorite, and I named her Corinna. Corriedale wool became a favorite for spinning, and produced yarn that was comfortable even against bare skin. Corinna and I would sometimes just hang out watching the other sheep. I would sit on the barn threshold, and she would stand beside me and lean into me.

Corinna

We ended up breeding our ewes by taking them to the farm where we got them, then the next year purchased a Lincoln ram from them. I named him Duke – since our address was Earlham, he was thus the “Duke of Earlham”.

Our first crops of lambs were born in January and February, which is common in Iowa sheep operations. Lambs sold for 4-H or FFA projects need to be of a certain size early in the project year. Winter is a miserable time of year to be traipsing up to the barn to monitor lambing, so I finally started breeding my ewes in November so they would lamb in a much more pleasant April!

Because our ram was a Lincoln, some of our lambs were Lincoln/Corriedale crossbreds, and they also produced really nice wool. It had some of the luster of Lincoln, and some of the characteristics of Corriedale wool – a finer wool, and the desirable crimp.

I started to spin on a wheel after I got the sheep, and though my wool crop got pretty out of hand after my flock became larger, I did have a great time making yarn to sell.

I was much more a dabbler in the business, though I know several women in Iowa who have made it a profitable endeavor. It didn’t take long to decide to send my wool to be processed into a form that was ready to spin, but I washed and carded my first few fleeces by hand. Victoria’s first fleece became a wonderful knitted afghan that I swear is like wearing a heating pad.

Eventually, I purchased a few Jacob sheep, and then some Babydoll Southdown. Jacob are an ancient breed with four horns and multicolored fleeces. Babydolls are a small version of the Southdown sheep, which originated in England.

There’s a fabulous web site that covers the topic of sheep beautifully: www.sheep101.info. According to information on that site, I learned there are over 1,000 breeds of sheep worldwide, and over 60 breeds here in the US.

We now live in Winterset, and our sheep days are in the past, but we are glad we got to experience raising sheep. My mom raised sheep when I was growing up, and I have always loved them, especially lambs. Having my own flock was a way to connect to my childhood.

Big Event in September

Allow me to share another milestone in our household. Our son got married this past weekend at a resort in Wisconsin. The weather was perfect and venue accommodating for all family and friends that were able to attend. We were able to spend some quality time with our children and grand-daughter.

JD and Alison will continue to live in the Chicago area once they return from their honeymoon. The ceremony was at 1:00 and the reception started at 5:00 so they could do pictures between. It has been a long time since I was at a wedding where the groom did not see his bride prior to her walking down the aisle. It was emotional for JD (or the sun was in his eyes), but I did see him tearing up. As with all weddings, you hope and pray that these young couples are able to weather the storms that come their way. Marriage is hard but if they commit to working as hard on their marriage as we work at our jobs and other relationships the rewards are endless. My parents have been married next month for 64 years, Dan and I celebrated 37 years in June, so I have high hopes that this marriage will carry on the tradition of until death do us part. Congratulations JD and Alison. We love you both and are excited for you as you begin this journey together.

I was excited that my parents were able to drive from Iowa to Wisconsin to attend the wedding and festivities. They are pictured with our immediate family in this photo. It is exciting that we have 4 generations with the addition of our grand-daughter, July. It is fun to watch my mom in her great-grandma role enjoying the smiles and laughter of July. I think every parent and grandparent enjoys watching others oooh and aaah over their children or grandchildren. It was amazing how many people wanted to hold July that were new acquaintances. Some people are baby crazy even if they get spit up on. Our daughter and her husband have been great about socializing July so she has no reservations with new faces. I am prejudice as most grandparents are, but July is pretty cute and special!

I enjoyed having all 3 of our daughters in the wedding as bridesmaids. Had to capture this moment since that will never happen again. They did not think it was a big deal. As their mom, I felt differently. Alison is now our daughter as well and we all love and adore her. Many fun years ahead for our family as we gain numbers by marriage and births!

We do not have any additional milestones planned for this year. I think the birth of a grandchild and the marriage of our son to his sweetheart Alison is enough excitement for one year. Thank you for letting me share these events with you as they happen. Happy Fall!

Do You Know Pigs?

Continuing on with our blog series on other species of animals and their unique needs, Dr. Jim Pottebaum wrote this article about Micro-pigs. Dr. Jim has been a large and small animal practitioner in Winterset since 1988. He has had many clients from around the state seek out his veterinary services for micro-pigs. Thank you Dr. Jim for your blog this month.

Iowa is the number one pork producing state in the nation, raising 1/3 of all pigs nationally. 48 million were raised in 2018, and $40.8 billion dollars in revenue for Iowa producers last year. 

Now, what about pigs for pets?? Mini, Micro, pocket, or teacup pigs have surged in popularity in the last few years. Micro pigs are cute, intelligent, affectionate, and easy to train. They are hardy and mostly disease free. They provide the owner with a connection to a grandparent’s farm or rural life, while living in the city.

What you need to remember is that they are a PIG, not a dog. Some cities have zoning restrictions against farm animals, and will not allow you have pigs within the city limits, even if they are pets. 

It is important to see both parents. Sometimes breeders show pictures at a young age and not full grown. Pigs that grow to big are the most common reason for surrender to animal shelters.

Feeding mini pigs should be easy. They are omnivores and need a balance of protein, fiber, fat, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Pelleted feed is available, and pigs enjoy a variety of veggies and fruits in their diet. They enjoy people food, but be aware this can cause digestive upsets. It is important that they receive pig pellets to ensure vitamin and nutritional requirements are being met. Information on the internet can be misleading about feeding recommendations. Feeding a reduced level each day to keep a pig small may lead to starvation and develop health issues. Each pig should be maintained specifically to its size and needs. 

A book called, “Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs”, is a great resource for anyone that is considering having a pig for a pet.

Pigs can adapt to living indoors or outdoors much like a dog, and are usually tolerant of other pets. They are curious and enjoy an environment to explore, root, and manipulate objects.  Without opportunities to act normally, pigs will become bored and create their own fun in the house like getting into cupboards, bumping or pushing over furniture, etc. Pigs love outdoors with space and obstacles. When outdoors, they need shade from the bright sun. A child’s swimming pool or pig wallow (shallow mud pit) is heaven because it cools them on hot days. They don’t sweat, so water/mud acts as insect repellent, sun screen, and skin conditioner.  Appropriate fencing is important. Pigs are very strong and can uproot or push thru many fences. Fences add protection from predators such coyotes or dogs.

This little pig at the airport was flown its new home!

Spay or neuter your pig early. Intact males can be aggressive. Intact females will be vocal and moody for a period of time every month. Healthy micro-pigs can live at least 6-8 years, and 10 to 12 is not uncommon. Micro-pigs can be very enjoyable and provide years of love and entertaining memories. Call your local veterinarian for advice concerning breeders and care of your micro-pigs. It would be wise to find your veterinarian before getting a micro-pig for a pet since not all veterinarians are willing to see pigs. Pigs do need routine hoof care and sometimes the male’s tusks need to be filed down. It is important to have a veterinarian that is able to do these things for you. If you plan to travel, please consider where they can stay?  Not all boarding facilities are willing to board micro-pigs. These are important things to consider prior to getting a pig for a pet. Micro-pigs offer great companionship and entertainment. They are a special kind of pet that has unique needs.

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