When Allen is home, he and I go out together, when he’s away at work, then I am doing the routine, slightly modified. We are well bundled to keep warm because we will be outdoors for awhile plus, while our drive to work is short, there is no cab to keep us warm or protected.
This is our tractor as this is only the second year we have used it for feeding, in years prior to this we fed very differently. We can take two bales, one on the front spike and one on the back.
We head out at first light, start the tractor and let it run to warm up. I head up to the storage shop to begin filling dog food dishes. If it’s really cold the hydraulics on the tractor usually need longer time to warm up.
We climb aboard on the tractor, taking dog food dishes with us. Old, small tractors like ours are not outfitted for passengers but we have figured out where a passenger rides best. We can take two round hay bales at one time and two bales is what we need to feed the main flock each morning. We travel to the bale stack, collect two bales and head out to the pasture where the flock resides, a distance of ¼ to ½ mile, depending on where the sheep are at.
We decide where to feed the ewes each morning depending mostly on the wind. When the weather is average and decent we can feed on the hillsides, in the open. When it’s cold or too windy we feed out of the wind where ever the ewes will be most sheltered. Often they have chosen a bedding spot and we’ll feed in this area several times to ensure they have bedding there.
We cut the bale twines and pull them off, probably the most miserable part of the job, especially if there is icy coating on the bales from early winter rains. You can which way a round bale will unroll by looking at it’s end and determining which direction it was baled in. Unrolling a round bale in the wrong direction creates an awful lot more work.
By this time the sheep will have risen and come over to investigate and we’re working around a lot of wooly bodies. They know the routine as well as we and they’re eager to eat. We unroll the bale on the ground, using the tractor to get it started and finishing the core of it by hand, rolling it out in front of us. If needed, we have a pitch fork to peel back the layers of hay and spread feed if it sloughs off in piles that are too thick. While unrolling we’ll be surrounded by sheep as they loose any reservations about being close to us when hay feed is being served. Yet I’ve only been stepped on a hand full of times in ten years.
Before we leave the field we feed the guardian dogs, who by now have also risen from their warm nests in the hay to come and eat. There is no order to feeding the dogs but we do ask they show manners, meaning they aren’t allowed to be pushy around food. When it’s cold I offer extra food stuffs in the way of meat, scraps, canned dog food, hot mash etc. whatever I have on hand. We stick around to see that they eat and that one dog doesn’t run another one off.
Once the critters on pasture are taken care of we head back to the yard and if needed we pick up a third and forth bale for the groups of sheep around back of the yard. These are small groups so they only require a bale every fourth or fifth day. We check in on them and feed the guardian dogs there. I offer a small amount of whole oats to my four bummer lambs. On the way in and out we take a look at the two water bowls to be sure they’re still open.
Before heading outside to start this routine I’ve already fed the six stock dogs at the house. Unless needed they stay up at the house while we do chores. When the outdoor feeding is done, I collect these dogs and go for a walk. I usually go for walks before starting the farm day, but in the heart of winter, I switch my walks to after the feeding is done. That way I’m not walking in the dark and in my mind it’s a tad warmer when the sun is up.
In the evening we do a repeat minus the hay feeding. I’ll take the stock dogs out for a second walk while it’s still light out, unless I’ve taken them out during the day for sheep work. When we return we fill dog dishes and ride back out to pasture on the Ranger to feed the guardian dogs a second time. Going back out also assures us the sheep are bedding down and sheltered for the night. We return to the yard and head out back to the dogs and sheep located there. At dark we’re back in the house where we’ll feed ourselves and the stock dogs again before settling in for the winter evening.