Sunday, December 6, 2009

Back at last and with tales of woe.

Gosh, we've been busy as a beehive around here. No time for such frivilous pursuits such as blogging. We (meaning Steve and Kaitlin and little bit of me) have been digging and composting and getting new cows (more on that another time) and cleaning up the garden for winter (just in the nick of time, I might add) and all sorts of other smaller projects. One of these projects sounded like such a good idea. But like many 'good' ideas it turned into much more of an adventure (or more accurately--fiasco) than I meant it to be.

This whole thing started a couple of years ago when we bought 4 Navajo Churro sheep and introduced them into our existing and I might add VERY healthy flock of romneys. I had this idea that since we were such a small operation we could do our part to preserve the world's genetic diversity by switching our animals over to the rarer, heritage breeds. (What follows is only a small part of what I get for trying to be noble.)

I started by doing a LOT of research trying to find a breed that would give us what we wanted (yummy lamb) and that would be easy to keep and have nice fleeces. I never really thought about how perfect (and hardy) our existing romneys were. They are a standard breed in a climate like ours--sort of like an angus or holstein cow might be. Here's what they look like (not ours)...
We loved our romneys, they were easy keepers and easy to shear and had beautiful fleeces. Plus they were pretty friendly for sheep. Sheep are notoriously shy, but ours were nice. I could walk up to them and pet most of them without much trouble.

Enter the churros. We bought four beautiful churros from a breeder in Central Washington. Churros are known for their colorful fleeces, and their tendency to have four horns. They lamb easily (and often, sometimes three times in two years) and are known to be hardy. They are also listed on the Slow Food Ark of Taste, which means they are known especially for their delicious tasting meat. With all these characteristics, I thought we'd be a perfect match. Here's what they look like (again, not ours)...

Churros are smaller than romney's..see those delicate little legs of theirs. Since they are so tasty I thought the smaller animals would still be okay with our lamb customers. They are much more skittish than the romneys but I thought maybe we could work that out over time and with love. Ha. That was my first mistake. It's been two years and they are just as timid as ever and those beautiful fleeces are apparently glued to the sheep with superglue because our shearer almost refuses to come shear them as they are such hard work to cut. Hmm. And did I mention that churros are hardy in the desert and we live in the Pacific Northwest. (My mistake again.)

Anyway, back to the real problem. See, my next churro mistake came out of ignorance. We had the romneys for almost nine years and never had wormed them. Our flock came with the place and had been on autopilot for many a year before we got them. We added a ram and away we went. Lots of lambs every year and no problems. We didn't even know that intestinal parasites were a common problem in sheep because our sheep NEVER had them. The churros apparently did.

A couple of months after we got the churros, we noticed the romneys getting thinner. As they approached lambing time, we thought hmm this isn't good. We fed them more and watched them grow fatter tummies and way skinnier bodies. It is harder than heck to get a vet out here that knows anything about sheep. Believe me, I tried. Even the large animal vets pretty much focuses on horses. When the lambs started coming, we had all kinds of problems. Failure to thrive, mamas that were too skinny, a stillborn. I started reading on the internet but didn't really find an answer...probably because I didn't know what questions to ask and maybe because the obvious was just too obvious for me to know.

We lost a few lambs (both romney and churros) and that got us really worried. I started asking around more fervently. Then right after we lost a few lambs, a mama died. She just laid down and wouldn't get up. We kept the baby alive by bottlefeeding her but it was sure sad to watch her sit day by day by her dying mother with us not knowing what to do.

We still had no vet to come. The mobile vet said he was a dog and cat man and the horse vet said she didn't do sheep. I asked around but wasn't getting any answers. This is the problem with living on the suburban edge of rural.

Then my Australian sheep farming friend Lloyd came for a visit. He took one look at my sheep, pulled down their lips and said "Aw, girl, those sheep have worms. You gotta' treat um quick or they are going to die." So quick like a bunny I hopped off to the nearest farm and feed store and bought some wormer. But cuz this feed store specializes in horsey gear, they didn't exactly have the right wormer and another sheep died. From the wormer or the worms we will never know.

By now I was feeling way more than bad. Lloyd was gone and with him went his 60 years of common sense. All my years in Catholic school/church kicked in and I was feeling REALLY guilty. (As well, I should have been.)

We finally found and applied the right wormer and fed those girls up and everyone got healthy again. The shearer came a couple months later and wondered what the heck happened to our girls. Hearing our tale of woe, he was shocked we hadn't been worming all these years. Apparently, it is normal for sheep and other ruminates to have worms. I guess everyone knew this except us.

So the months went by and we diligently followed the directions on the wormer and gave everyone a dose every month. Each month the sheep became healthier and healthier and things seemed better.

The problem was I started reading about that wormer. Gosh darn, that stuff is nasty. I sure didn't want to give my sheep something that was that toxic if I didn't have to. It was bad enough that the sheep would eat it but my insides got all quivvery when I knew we would be eating the meat too. The wormer said it was safe and that it passed right through in 24 hours; but still, I didn't like the idea.

So, it wasn't long before my next internet quest became the search for a natural worming medicine that worked. Apparently, this is a lot easier said than found. There are many natural worming methods that don't do squat. And there are many more that people promote with enthusiasm but that nobody has any proof that they work.

I kept reading as much as I could and investigated all kinds of methods. Some methods sounded like they would work but they were tricky. If you gave a sheep just a little too much they would die. That sounded worse than the sure shot wormer that came in the tube with specified doses on an oral syringe. I kept reading. I figured with my luck and lack of skill I was bound to hurt somebody and I couldn't bear the thought of anymore of that.

Finally, after I couldn't find any method I particularly liked, I asked a friend in California whom I knew to be both sensible and organically minded. Lots of organically minded folks still use the nasty wormer because getting the natural ones right was so hard. I figured if Hank did something natural, it would work and wouldn't be that hard to get right. Hank owns a goat dairy and makes some of the best cheese and goat's milk soap ever. And he doesn't seem to like to fuss with stuff unless it is necessary.

After getting his recipe via email, I trouped all over town and the internet and finally found all the ingredients. (Already this wormer is much more expensive and way more hassle than the wormer in the tube.) Kaitlin (the wwoofer) and I then mixed the ingredients together in a tub. Using face masks to protect our lungs from the powdery diatomaeous earth, we felt quite satisfied when we were done with our mixing. We put the mixture in a covered tub and then left it for a few days while I tried to figure out a way to make the sheep and goat and cows want to eat it. Another HA!

See those sheep are smarter than they look. They took one whiff of that wormer and walked away...literally...even though I had hidden it in a delicious pile of grain and molasses--their all time favorite treat.

The truth is I tried to turn the wormer into nice little molassesy grain balls that they would love to eat up. What I got was gobs of molasses with all kinds of powdery stuff in a bowl. It didn't quite work like Hank said. I guess I must have done something wrong. Apparently when he does this his goats can't wait to eat their wormer. An hour or so into my molasses mess, I was wishing for his goats instead of my sheep.

After all my fussing around trying to make it right, what I still couldn't figure was why they didn't rush to eat this delicious gooey mess anyway. The bowl was filled with grain. They LOVE grain and they never, ever get it unless it is a special day (like today) when I want them to do something that they don't want to do. Usually the smell of the grain overcomes their good sense and they follow me like lambs. I guess all that garlic powder in the wormer overruled the sweet grain smell and turned them away.

Here's how it sort of went: We let the sheep into the barn by twos and threes and offered them a tub full of my grain/molasses/wormer mess. But see, that is the cleaned up version. What really went on was a whole lot less tame.

Let's just say we spent an awful lot of time and energy trying to get those sheep to eat that wormer. I can't really tell you all the things we did and said and keep a G rating so I am going to skip that part. But you can guess. Just put in your mind, twelve skittish sheep and one bossy goat, two cows with horns and one with none, two baby cows and a border collie who doesn't know what he is supposed to be doing but really, really wants to help. Add a couple of humans who are way too slow for this crowd, a very cold day (think molasses in January) and a barn full of pumpkins and delicious hay. Now let's just say we ended up with a big mess and the wormer is now inside the sheep. And the sheep, well they smell like they spent the evening at Dimitri's.

Since you all are undoubtedly going to be more successful at this than I was...Hank PROMISED it was easy, I am going to give you Hank's recipe and pray that your journey with worms is less adventurous than mine has been. Here's what Hank said and good luck!

Here are two recipes we have been using for 4 years now on our goats. Works great and I am sure it would be effective on other ruminants.

#1: 8 parts wormwood, 8 parts fennel seed powder, 8 parts garlic powder, 1/2 part black walnut powder, 1/4 part stevia, 3 parts DE. This formula is used throughout the year, EXCEPT when the animals are pregnant.

No wormwood for pregnant animals!

Then we use:

#2: 3 parts mugwort, 2 parts fennel seed, 2 parts hyssop, 2 parts thyme, 4 parts garlic powder, 2 parts pumpkin seed powder, 1/4 part stevia, 2 parts DE.

For both formulas: Add in summer 2 parts nettle; add in winter 4 parts rosehip powder.

Either formula can be given as a three day "cure", then we give about 1/4 cup to the animals weekly, mixed in a small grain ration or rolled into balls with molasses and grain..


  1. Wow, I really am a city girl...I thought churros were those cinnamon sugar twisty treats from Mexico! Reading your blog is always an educational experience.

    I still love my pictures from when Lucas and I visited you guys -- who knew farm animals were so much fun!