On this page we will provide a brief look at what is happening on our farm each month.
April 2012 - October 2012
The summer of 2012 has been hot and dry at Thirteen Mile Farm. By the first of November it looks like western Montana will finish 2012 with considerably less than 10 inches of total precipitation, an record low. For much of the summer forest fires burned in the region. An enormous fire (400 square miles) burning on the Idaho-Montana border and a smaller fire (12000 acres) south of Bozeman kept the Gallatin Valley blanketed in smoke from mid July through September. We had started the summer with good soil moisture and good growth in our pastures but the rains stopped in June and, with the exception of a few thunder showers, there was no measurable precipitation until October. Consequently hay and other crop yields here are extremely low. We are hoping for a snowy winter but the long range forecast is for a warm and dry season.
|We have for many years provided water for livestock with a shallow well, a solar powered DC pump, a 1000 gallon storage tank, and a gravity supply system through a 2 inch plastic pipe about one half mile in length with an 80 foot drop. We tapped off the 2 inch pipe at regular intervals to fill stock water tanks. The entire system was above ground and could not be operated once temperatures dropped much below freezing. In 2011 with about 80 cow-calf pairs and 60 sheep watering from this system when one of the solar panels began to fail, we drained the 1000 gallon tank on several hot days. We and the cattle could not tolerate that.|
|In 2012, with financial assistance from the USDA - NRCS, we have rebuilt the entire watering system. The half mile, 2 inch pipe is now buried 18 inches deep. We decided not to bury this pipe below the frost line, 5 feet, but to be at a depth that would allow the system to function without freezing through the shoulder seasons of fall and spring. We were able to dig the 18 inch deep trench with a trenching tool on one of our tractors.|
|The storage tank is now 3000 gallons. We still pump from the well with the solar powered pump and a float valve which maintains the water level in the tank. We installed several "frost free" stock water tanks along the pipe line. These tanks include an 8 foot long, 2 foot in diameter vertical pipe with a thermostatically controlled valve which agitates the surface water and reduces freezing when the air temperature drops with no electric heating. The system is a major improvement for us and will allow better use of pastures, especially in the late season.|
|Another summer project was to extend the drip irrigation system in the market garden to water an additional 2 acres. The 2 inch supply pipe is buried deep enough so that we can cultivate over.|
|The poppies in the yard were late this spring but were as bright as ever.|
|In July we once again hosted the Montana Conservation Voters summer picnic. In previous years we have done this in June as close to the summer solstice as possible and for the last two years we have had high wind and rain on the evening of the picnic. This year the picnic was in mid July with a perfect, warm, clear evening. The event focused on referendum issues which will be voted on in November 2012.|
|In August we were able to get away for a two week canoe trip in the Northwest Territories of Canada. It is a long drive to get up there but it is so wonderful to spend time in the Canadian Shield country north of the tree line; a land of lakes and rivers.|
|As always, the fishing was spectacular.|
|We have enjoyed a long, warm fall with many indian summer days. Pelly and Becky are cooling off in Spanish Creek in the Gallatin Range south of Bozeman.|
|Another fall day in the nearby mountains.|
|In September two groups of Russian and American professionals from mountain regions are exploring entrepreneurship in the Altai Republic of Russia and in the US state of Montana. The ultimate aim of this Altai-Montana partnership is to promote sustainable development in mountain regions through dissemination of know-how and experience in development of small and medium-size enterprises among indigenous people and local communities. The group from the Altai Republic visited Thirteen Mile Farm and toured the wool mill. Becky and Dave are holding two intricate felted pieces made in the Altai.|
|In early November we were visited by a small bear cub. He or she climbed into a cottonwood tree behind the house for a brief nap. Unfortunately a bear this small should not be alone this late in the season. We have no idea where his mother is or if she is alive. We left him alone and after an hour or so, he was gone.|
November 2011 - March 2012
2011 - 12 will go down in history as the year when in Montana we didn't have winter. On the farm we had a 6 inch snowfall in November which melted off quickly and except for a few flurries, no more snow until mid January when another 6 inch snow fell. There were days in December and January when the temperature approached 60 degrees and only one night of below zero all winter. We had a few days of rain in January. In short, not a typical Montana winter.
|This may also be the year of the cat. Fraidy Cat showed up in November and earned his name as he would fly away in a streak of white and grey whenever he saw anyone. He moved into one of the barns and would show up on the front porch for dinner each night.|
|Underfoot (you can imagine how he earned his name) appeared in the hay field north of the house near starvation. Two ravens were sitting near him waiting for him to stop moving so they could eat him. The next day he showed up on the front porch to share dinner with Fraidy Cat. Unlike Fraidy Cat, Underfoot must have been someone's pet as he is very tame.|
|Bannock is the only cat allowed inside and he flaunts his privileged status.|
|The sheep have been through an open winter and by February are ready to be sheared.|
|There is a full coat of wool on this ewe.|
|We did some haying for a neighbor last summer and traded our work for two calves, a steer and a heifer. They have spent the winter grazing and feeding on hay with the sheep.|
|On January, 27 we woke up to the sound of a new lamb in a pasture near the house. Lambing wasn't to begin until March according to our records but here he was and he was not at all premature. We had a ram lamb last fall and it seems he was better at getting through or under fences than we realized. It turned out that he bred only 5 ewes and with the open winter and warm weather, it was not much of a problem.|
|This is what our place looked like most of the winter. No snow, blue skies, and warm days.|
|There was snow in the mountains and here in Yellowstone Park, 75 miles south of our farm. We enjoyed some great skiing but even here, the snow was far below normal for most of the winter.|
|These are a few more of the offspring of our adventurous ram lamb.|
|Our first lamb at age three weeks. He is growing very well.|
|We sheared the sheep on February 24. Ryan, a shearer from Livingston, Montana was able to shear 61 sheep and finish be early afternoon.|
|We had a good group of friends to help with the shearing operation.|
|We hadn't planned to have lambs around for shearing but.... Mark rescued this pair of twins from from the shearing floor and kept them occupied while their mother was sheared.|
|One of our projects this winter was to build a ramp at one of the livestock watering stream sites. We received both design and financial assistance from USDA-NRCS.|
|We put a permeable plastic fabric down and covered it with about 2 feet of gravel. The idea is to provide livestock with access to the water but keep them out of the stream bed.|
|Livestock can reach the water but we hope will not be inclined to stand in the stream bed. We will watch it this summer and see how well it works.|
|By the end of March, lambing was almost over and the lambs and ewes are feeding on hay but also nipping off the shoots of green grass that are beginning to show.|
|These twins are having a snack at the end of the day.|
|These lambs have settled down to spend a warm night on pile of hay. Their mothers came and gathered them up shortly after the picture was taken.|
August - October, 2011
August continued hot and dry with brief thunderstorms but no significant precipitation. By September our pastures were not regrowing as we had hoped they would and the grazing season was drawing to a close. The mountains began to accumulate snow in early October and by the end of the month the snow level was at about 7000 feet (Thirteen Mile Farm is just below 5000 feet).
|Snow was still accumulating in the mountains surrounding the Gallatin Valley in June but by August much of it had melted off and we enjoyed several hikes. This is the Gallatin Crest trail south of Bozeman.|
|Looking south from the Gallatin Range, the mountains in the background are near the northern border of Yellowstone Park.|
|Becky finds it difficult to pass up an opportunity for a swim although at 10,000 feet the duration of the swim can be measured in seconds. Pelly is more at home in the water than other border collies we have known but this was as far in as she wanted to go.|
|By August the chickens are producing between 8 and 12 eggs per day. It has been about a year since the neighbor we traded lamb for eggs with moved away and we are again enjoying the fresh eggs from chickens that eat grass and bugs and what chickens have evolved to eat. We have been careful to close the entrance to their coop at or just after dark each night and we haven't lost any more chickens to the weasel or dog or whatever got them earlier.|
|Our rooster gets bigger and prouder each day. He is demonstrating some signs of aggressive behavior but, so far, he hasn't attacked anyone.|
|We are contemplating converting Mariann's stationary green house to a straw bale structure next summer. The green house contains a 10' by 10' walk-in cooler and space and equipment for cleaning and sorting vegetables from Mariann's Field Day Farm. We baled about 300 small square bales of wheat straw from near by C-5 Ranch and will store this over the winter for use in the straw bale building.|
|Our exiting project the fall has been building a Photo-Voltaic, (PV) solar power generating system. We expect the 3.84 kW system to produce 6900 kWh, about 80% of the power required by the wool mill. The array of 16 panels tracks the sun both horizontal and vertically throughout the day much as a sunflower does. The estimate of annual production is based on records of sunlight days over the last twenty years at our location. The power is net-metered and is fed back into the grid when we are not using it all. The system was designed and installed by Independent Power Systems and was partially funded with grants from NorthWestern Energy, our local utility, the USDA Rural Energy for America (REAP) program, and the U. S. Treasury Department. We threw the switch and began generating power on October 21.|
|The PV panels are located far enough away from the barn so that they are never shaded by the barn. Pelly was flying down the lane on an important mission when this picture was taken.|
|We now have solar thermal panels on the south side of the barn heating water for washing wool and PV solar electric panels on a pole north of the barn generating 80% of the power used in the mill. It is now an almost completely solar powered wool mill.|
|We moved the rams in with the ewes in early October to begin another breeding season. The ram in the middle here is checking out a few ewes.|
|Business has been good in the wool mill through the summer with about 70% of the effort devoted to custom processing of wool sent to us by other producers. We have two new employees, Morgan and Sarah working with Turan in the mill.|
July is a time of the farm when haying takes precedence over all other activities. The weather dictates when we can put up hay and, whenever we anticipate a window of four days of hot, dry weather we start mowing. June was cool and wet with snow still accumulating in the mountains but July came on warm and dry and we were put up all of our hay this year with no rain with some very hot, dry days. Now at the end of July, we are hoping for rain as our soil is very dry.
Our single apple tree of bearing age has apples every other year. Last year there were only a few apples but this year there are many blossoms and the promise of lots of apples in the fall.
We planted five new apple trees last spring but it will be several years before we harvest any apples from these trees.
|By mid-June many of the lambs are doing very well. This lamb stays always very close to his mother.|
|This is one of the largest lambs, a single male. He looks like he has a belly very full.|
|The chickens are doing well but there aren't as many as there used to be. Something killed and ate eight of them. Our border collie, Pelly, is not completely above suspicion nor is the neighbors blue heeler, Dexter, but no witnesses have come forward. It may have been a weasel as at least one of the chickens was killed in the hen house and the dogs cannot fit through the door.|
|This chicken has turned out to be a rooster. He spent much of June practicing crowing and by July, we are greeted each morning and much of the day by his loud cock-a-doodle-doo.|
|These are the first eggs the chickens produced. It was July 30 and the chickens were about 5 months old. We are now getting about 4 eggs a day.|
|The pigs are always ready for dinner.|
|We bought some Romney sheep from a ranch in Idaho. These are yearlings and lambs. We have been favorable impressed with the productivity of a ram we have from this ranch and we decided to purchase some of their ewes from the same genetic lines. They are grazing here on regrowth in a field that was grazed in May and June and has come back nicely.|
|Bannock likes to sit on top of a fence post and survey his domain. Mariann has been very pleased with his work cleaning mice and voles out of her Field Day Farms garden.|
|Thunder storms moved through the valley almost every afternoon in July. They usually produced little or no rain but, when a little rain did come with the storms we would see beautiful rainbows.|
|The light on the hills and clouds as the storms passed was often wonderful. Some of the storms came with high winds and hail but fortunately we have avoided almost all of the hail. However, in late July one storm swept through the farm with what could be called a micro-burst of wind and took down about 25 cottonwood trees. Some of the trees were over 2 feet in diameter and we were very sorry to loose them.|
|The sunsets almost always bring us out side to watch the end of the day.|
February, 2009 - May, 2011
As we said back in early 2009 we were ready to make a change in the farm operation. We had been at it for 15 years and we needed what Becky referred to as a sabbatical. We wanted to do a few of the things that required more time away from the farm than we had been able to manage. It has been a bit over 2 years and we are ready to begin again updating events on the farm with the monthly news. In this installment, we will mention a few of the high points of the last couple of years.
|While Rich and Katy were away from Willow Spring Ranch in early 2009, we took care of the sheep. This involved spinning out round bales of hay each day.|
|It was always good to see Max with his sheep. While he does not ever seem to want to leave the sheep and spend time with people, he really loves some brief daily contact.|
|We had considered a Spring hiking and camping trip into the canyon country of southern Utah for years. In May of 2009 we drove south and hiked through Buckskin Canyon into the Paria River bed and back up the Paria to the road. The canyon is several hundred feet deep and in places, as narrow as four feet. The water sculpted red sandstone is spectacular.|
While we were in the Southwest, we hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon from the North Rim. Becky had hiked into the Canyon from the South Rim a few years ago but Dave had never been there. Although early in the season, we experienced the first real summer heat at the canyon bottom with temperatures of 110 degrees F. We had left Montana a few days earlier in a spring snowstorm.
|In June our daughter Erica visited for a week with her two children Maya and Avi. They are helping harvest the rhubarb.|
|During the many years we had sheep and cattle on the farm we went north almost every summer for a short canoe trip but we were never able to be away for more than about two weeks. During the summer of 2009 we paddled 600 miles from Lynx Lake at the headwaters of the Thelon River to the village of Baker Lake at the head of Chesterfield Inlet in Nunavut, Canada. It was a wonderful trip.|
|No, we aren't raising Musk Oxen at Thirteen Mile Farm but we did find several on the Thelon River. We were able to collect enough Qiviut (Musk Ox soft inner fibers) from low bushes where it had rubbed off animals for Becky to bring home and, after processing through the wool mill, knit a hat and scarf.|
|Our daughter Karen and her family spent Christmas of 2009 with us. Her children Will and Julia are getting a bedtime story on Christmas Eve.|
|We have developed a new suite of colors at Thirteen Mile Wool Mill. These can also be viewed on the Yarn Page.|
|In February, 2010 we went into a back country cabin on the Campbell Ice field in British Columbia for a week of skiing. It was spectacular. We had thousands of acres of untracked powder to explore every day.|
|Mariann van den Ellen has worked at Thirteen Mile Wool Mill for several winters and run a commercial vegetable farm, Field Day Farms, during the summer months. In 2010 she began to move her operation to Thirteen Mile Farm. Here she is using bins of composting straw and old sheep manure to generate heat for starting plants in an otherwise unheated greenhouse.|
|In May, 2010 Pelly, an 8 week old border collie arrived. Tiaga, our 15 year old collie died in 2009. She was a truly amazing herding dog until near the end of her life. We had not had a dog on the farm for about a year and Pelly is a welcome addition.|
By July, Pelly had about doubled in size. We think she is best described by paraphrasing an old Mother Goose Rhyme, "There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead, and when she was good she was very very good, and when she was bad she was horrid." Pelly has some good days.
|Field Day Farms developed two acres of vegetables in 2010. We installed a drip irrigation system on the plot.|
|We built two greenhouses during the summer of 2010. This one is on a concrete slab and will be used for starting plants and washing vegetables and preparing them for delivery. It will also house a 10 foot square walk-in cooler.|
|In late summer, 2010, we went back north for a short canoe trip in the Northwest Territories. To say the fishing is good in the northern lakes in an understatement. The Lake Trout we catch provide wonderful dinners.|
|We improved our wool processing system substantially in 2010 with a new Picker. This is the machine which opens up the washed wool pulling the clumps of wool apart and preparing it for carding. This machine can be loaded from the top with a batch of wool and left unattended while the wool is picked.|
|Pelly is getting bigger, is more often "good", and on cold winter nights, shares her bed with Bannock, the cat. Bannock came to us from a nearby farm that had an excess of cats. He was originally named Pancake by his young girl owner. We were afraid that might predict a short life.|
|Max is back! During late summer, 2010, we had a flock of sheep from Willow Spring Ranch grazing on some of our pastures. Max came along as a guard and, when the sheep left to return to Willow Spring, Max stayed with us. We were beginning to build a flock of sheep and we needed a guard dog. Max had gotten into trouble at Willow Spring by killing a few lambs. He means well and begins by playing with the lamb, but the play can become too rough for a lamb with an unpleasant result. We are working to reform Max.|
|So far max is happy to be working with a small flock and is doing well. Coyotes are often nearby but do not bother the sheep as long as Max is present.|
|In January, 2011 we added 12 South African Merino ewes to our growing flock. These are a fine wool breed that has been developed to produce both a fine wool and a good lamb carcass. These ewes were bred when we bought them. In the future we may breed them to a Romney ram to produce the medium diameter wool we like for the yarn we produce.|
|The green house on the right is a mobile building. It sits on a 150 foot long track. The building is 48 feet long and can be moved to three positions. Mariann and Field Day Farms, started green vegetables in January and began harvesting them in February. We moved the building to the second position in March for another crop and into the third position at the end of May for a crop of tomatoes.|
|A couple of years ago we traded a neighbor a lamb for a dozen eggs a week for a year. After eating good eggs produced by chickens that wander around on pasture and eat grass and bugs, we can no longer eat tasteless, commercially produced eggs. Our neighbor has moved away so this year we will have our own eggs. We rebuilt an old chicken house during the 2010-11 winter, a project that had been on the back burner for years, and these guys moved in March, 2011.|
|Here is another pair of new residents of Thirteen Mile Farm. Back in the 1980s we used to raise a few pigs each summer and this year we decided to do it again. These two provide constant entertainment for Pelly, the dog.|
This month we have experienced days of 20 below and temperatures of near 60 above a few days later. It is difficult to get used to the winter when the swings in temperature are so extreme. By the end of the month we had settled in to more stable weather with night temperatures of about 10 above and days in the 30s. The cool nights have kept the frost in the ground and some of the snow around. There has been no significant new snow since December.
We are making what for us is a radical change this month. We have sold our entire flock of sheep to Rich and Katy Harjes at the WillowSpring Ranch, about 6 miles south of here. The ranch is on land that we hayed and grazed under a different owner about 10 years ago. The land has been managed organically for many years and Rich and Katy are in the process of applying for organic certification from the Montana Department of Agriculture. They will continue to manage the flock in much the same way that we have and will be marketing lamb to many of the same customers. The lamb will be processed at Stillwater Packing plant, the plant we have used for the last three years. We have agreed to purchase the wool from the flock which will provide us with a source of organic wool and allow us to maintain the quality of yarn produced in our wool mill. Rich and Katy have a commitment to be out of town for late April and early March and we have agreed to lamb out most of the flock when they are away. We will continue to operate the Thirteen Mile Wool Mill processing wool for other producers as well as our own.
This is a change that we have been thinking about for several years. We have been raising sheep and cattle here for about 20 years and, while it is a good life in a wonderful place, it is very difficult for us to be away for more than a few days at a time. There a few things that we want to do that will require us to be out of town for several weeks at a time during the next two years. Brian Goldhahn, a neighboring organic cattle rancher, will graze cattle and put up hay on our fields during the next couple of years.
In a year or two, we are likely to begin building a flock of sheep again.
|By the end of the month the sun had melted the snow off the south facing slopes of the Bridgers. These lambs are on crusty snow that has been with us since mid-December.|
|Max has moved to the WillowSpring Ranch on a two year loan and is with his sheep. The Harjes's plan to bring in a guard dog puppy during the summer to learn the tricks of the trade from Max. We hope that in two years the new puppy will be able to take over and Max can return to guarding livestock here. Max had been gone just a few days from Thirteen Mile Farm when we spotted a single coyote in a pasture with our lambs about to sort one out and eat it. We are vulnerable without a good dog.|
|A few of the recent lots of plant-dyed yarn produced in the wool mill. The white and gray and natural colors.|
October, November, December , 2008
Fall seemed to fly by at Thirteen Mile Farm. It was a long and beautiful fall with warm days lasting well into November. This gave us time to complete some of the projects we had started during the summer and to button up the farm for the winter. By mid-November the mountains were getting snow and snow came at our elevation in early December. Mid-December brought a stretch of cold weather with several nights of 25 degrees below zero with days at or below zero. We went skiing on Christmas day in Yellowstone Park and found 4 to 5 feet of snow; probably the best early winter snow pack we have seen in several years.
The heaviest lambs reached 120 pounds in late September and we began marketing this years crop. The cool summer and a few early fall rains provided good grass for the sheep and cattle through October but by the end of the month we were beginning to supplement the grazing with hay, at first every second or third day. By the second week in November we were feeding hay every day. Our cattle were finished at or near 1000 lbs. by November and were shipped out in two loads in November and December. These grass-fed, organic cattle, owned by the Montana Organic Producers COOP, were shipped to Nebraska and will be retailed through the Whole Foods chain of stores.
Our daughter Karen with her husband Bill and children Will and Julia were here for a week at Thanksgiving. We had a wonderful time with walks around the farm and short hikes in the mountains. On Thanksgiving we cooked an organic pastured turkey from a nearby ranch. It was delicious.
We make great plans to go hunting each fall but there never seems to be time. This year in November we did get out to Stan Boone's ranch in Eastern Montana for weekend of antelope hunting. We brought back one antelope and have enjoyed a bit of wild meat.
We had our best year yet with the wool mill. About half of the mill business was processing wool for other producers located all over the country with the rest of the business was processing our own wool into finished roving, batts, yarn or felt.
|By the end of December the several warm days created an icy crust on the snow. The sheep like to walk in the tractor tracks whenever they can. They all have heavy coats of wool by now and they will be sheared in a month or two.|
|Max is now just over two years old and he has developed into a wonderful guard. He is always happy to have people visit but he never wants to leave his sheep and when we move the sheep from one pasture to another, Max will not go through a gate until he is sure the sheep are coming. In the two years Max has been on the farm, we have lost only one lamb to a predator and that was in a pasture without Max.|
|Taiga is fifteen years old. On sunny winter days, she spends much of the time sleeping on the porch. She has very little hearing these days or maybe she has decided to only hear what she wants to hear. She still enjoys wandering through her familiar pastures and watching her sheep but she no longer herds them. She is enjoying retirement.|
July, August, September, 2008
We have had several inquiries lately asking why the monthly news has not been appearing on this web site. The Summer days here on the farm are long and busy we are often outside until late in the evening. It is hard to find time to sit down at the computer and write the news. So we apologize for not keeping this up to date and we will try to fill you in on recent activities.
This summer was cooler than recent years and was more like the summers of the 1990s and 80s. We had a few days where the afternoon temperatures approached 100 but they were few and far between. The spring rains sent us into the summer with the best soil moisture we have seen in recent years and the combination of good soil moisture and moderate temperatures produced a good grazing season and a good hay crop. We had started haying in June and we spent much of July mowing, raking, baling, and hauling the finished round bales to our hay yards where we stack them for the winter. We usually do not take second cuttings off our hay fields but prefer to graze any re growth and that is what we have done this year.
We brought the yearling cattle back home in early July. As we mentioned in June, these cattle are real wanderers, and after they walked through fences several times and left us searching the neighboring ranches for them and calling around to see if anyone had seen any black cows, we decided to bring them home where we have better fences and could keep and eye on them. In September we combined our yearlings with a neighbors cattle and put about 100 head on one of our leased pastures where we have very good grass. We hope that, as part of a larger herd and with good feed, they will not wander too far. They are all near or over 1000 lbs. now and will soon be shipped out.
On August 10, Hannah, our 4 month old Border Collie was hit by a car in our driveway and killed. Hannah had only been with us for two months but she had already become an important member of the Thirteen Mile family. At only 4 months old she was demonstrating an understanding of livestock and would have likely become a wonderful herding dog. We miss her so much.
|Tom and Natalie spent two weeks with us in July as interns. They wanted to learn as much as possible about wool processing and felt making. Here they are packed up and ready to leave for New Mexico and further jobs and adventures.|
|Hannah. April - August 2008. She was a wonderful dog.|
|These are some of the years lambs in mid-September. They have grown well on good grass all summer and they are still on excellent feed late in the year.|
|This pasture was grazed down early in the summer and then allowed to re-grow. We took a crop of hay off the field in July and now in September, it is ready to be grazed again.|
|A full moon rising over the Bridger Mountains is one of our favorite moments on Thirteen Mile Farm.|
We visited our newest grandchild, Avi Tyler Ghosh, in Massachusetts during the first week in June and experienced 95 degrees with matching humidity. This was unusual for New England this early in the season. When we arrived back in Montana, we found 39 degrees and snow. Winter seemed reluctant to leave Montana this year. It has been a strange spring. However, by the end of the month the weather had turned warm and with all the precipitation we had received through April and May, our fields were about as green as we have seem them in recent years. We started harvesting hay during the last week of June with good weather and good yields.
We still have 20 yearling steers and heifers from the Organic Producers COOP and they are proving to be a handful. We moved them onto leased pasture about a mile north of our home place as soon as the grass greened up and we were able to stop feeding hay. The fences on this place leave something to be desired and we supplemented the existing and ancient barb wire with temporary electric tape. This worked well for a few weeks but a couple of the steers are wanderers and, although they had lots of good green grass, they broke down the fence and took the group off on an adventure. We have had cattle do this before and they generally don't go far but this bunch literally headed for the hills. When we finally located them with field glasses, they were on the slopes of the Bridger Mountains miles from where they had started. We had a great time bringing them back.
The latest addition to Thirteen Mile Farm is Hannah, an 8 week old Border Collie. Taiga, our older Collie, is now almost 15 years old and has retired. She has been a great sheep dog for many years but by last summer she was getting too stiff and tired to move a flock of sheep and to keep up with Lambs and we knew we needed to bring on a new dog. Hannah came from Barb Gunness, a sheep rancher and dog breeder with a ranch in the Paradise Valley about 50 miles southeast of our place. We have processed Barb's wool for several years and have watched some of her dogs and liked what we saw. So when we learned that Meg was pregnant with the father coming from a cattle ranch in Toston, 50 miles to the north, we signed up for a puppy. You can see her below well settled in after a week with us. If Taiga were writing this, she would have nothing good to say about Hannah.
|This was our front yard on the morning of June 11, 2008. The snow piled up about 4 inches before it began to melt and by mid-afternoon it was gone. These lilacs may have wished they had waited a week or so.|
|The newest resident of Thirteen Mile Farm is Hannah. She is about 8 weeks old here and this is about as slow as she ever goes when awake. She is a Border Collie and will someday herd sheep but today she is concentrating on poppies.|
|That's the one that needs to be subdued.|
|On the evening of June 18, we held the annual Montana Conservation Voters, Gallatin/Park County Chapter Solstice party. Steve Bullock, the Democratic candidate for State Attorney General is addressing the group. You see umbrellas and raincoats because, after 5 years of perfect weather for this event, a lightening storm and brief but heavy rain came through this year. It quickly cleared off and the sun came out.|
We waited for most of the month for Spring to arrive but instead, we had at least some cold rain or snow almost every day. The snow was usually wet and would quickly melt away. We are feeding hay longer than usual this year and some neighbors are running out of hay. The mountain snow pack was building through out the month and our soil moisture is as high as we can remember. If the sun ever comes out again, our pastures should explode with new growth.
We usually try to do some fence building and repair in May and this year, between rain and snow storms, we have managed to rebuild a quarter mile of fence and replace a number of corner posts that have rotted and broken. A red tailed hawk has a nest in a cottonwood over the fence we were rebuilding. She would circle over us and call whenever we were in the area. Fence maintenance is a never ending task.
On May 13 the Alternative Energy Resources Organization, (AERO) held a public tour at Thirteen Mile Farm to look at the solar water heating system we use to heat water for washing wool. Dale and Courtney, engineers from Radiant Engineering, the firm that designed the system were on hand to explain the intricacies of solar energy in general and the details of our system in particular. The Tekmar electronic control on the system logs the differential temperature between the solar collectors and the storage tank in the barn and provides a value that, when multiplied by the flow rate, yields the number of BTUs collected by the system. We have been operating the system four years and have collected about 1 billion BTUs. Our alternative source of energy to heat water in propane gas. When we calculate the amount of propane not used over the last four years and use an average cost of $2.10 per gallon during the period (propane is currently $2.60 per gallon) the system has produced more than $25,700. in savings. This is a better rate of return than we had anticipated when we installed the solar system. We use between 250 and 500 gallons of water a day often heated to 180 degrees. The performance of this system suggests that any operation in a climate similar to ours using a significant amount of hot water would do well to consider using solar thermal power to heat the water.
|Early in May, MOSS, the Montana Outdoor Science School brought about 100 second graders out for a day on the farm. We had a rare for this year, warm sunny day, and the kids had a good time.|
|The yearling cattle have been on one of our home pastures for most of the winter. The grass has been slow in coming this year but we were finally able to trailer the herd to a nearby leased pasture where the grass is a little ahead of ours.|
|When the lambs are about a month old they will run the perimeter of their pasture almost every evening just before sunset. One or two lambs will begin the run and others will join in till they sometimes will have a crowd of forty or fifty racers. Sometimes one of the mothers will try to participate but will not be able to keep the pace. Lambs are fast.|
|These are the solar panels we use to heat the water for washing wool.|
Lambing continued into early April but slowed down rapidly and by the middle of the month we were done except for a handful of stragglers. The lambing season was one of our best in the last few years with a lambing ration of about 1.6 (an average of 1.6 lambs per ewe - we would like to see a ratio of 2.0) and three sets of triplets. In two of the triplet cases the mothers have been able to raise the lambs and are doing well. In the third case the mother had no milk and we had to bum all three lambs off to a neighbor who is bottle feeding them with the help of her grandchildren.
The blustery weather of March continued right through the month with very few warm sunny days and temperatures well below freezing at night. Several storms dropped significant moisture on us, often in the form of wet snow. In recent years we have gotten used to early springs and we usually can stop feeding hay by late April but this year it looks like we will be feeding through the middle of May. The grass is beginning to green up but until we get some warm sun, there won't be too much growth.
|By the end of the month some of the lambs were about 6 weeks old and getting pretty big. The grass is green but not very tall yet. We try to keep dry hay available for the sheep until the grass is mature enough to be nutritious and the sheep will eat some hay but they prefer the fresh green grass.|
March came in like a lion and went out like a lion. We had a few warm days but most of the month was blustery with a little snow almost every day. The snow would often melt off during the afternoon if the clouds let the sun through for a bit but it has not felt much like Spring yet. Lambing was scheduled to begin on March 20-21 (according to when the rams were put in with the ewes last Fall) and it started as usual a few days early. By the end of the month we had over 200 new lambs and more coming every day. So far it has been a pretty good season with few losses and it looks like most of the ewes will lamb within one cycle, 17 days, of March 20th. The rams did a good job.
It is interesting to watch the lambs and ewes at this time of year and study the different mothering techniques. Some of our ewes will keep their lambs with them at all times with the lambs never more than a few feet away with no apparent coaching. Other ewes will put their lambs in a particular spot and expect the lambs to stay there while the mother goes out grazing or exploring. And the lamb do stay put. Then there are the ewes who never seem to have a clue of where their lambs are. Periodically, they will look up and realize their lambs are gone and race frantically about the pasture calling loudly for the lambs and generally causing a sheep disturbance. It is hard not to compare these behavior patterns to people we have known.
It has been difficult to keep all the balls in the air during the lambing season but Turan Albini has kept up with the work flow in the wool mill this month and we have helped when we can.
|Our lambs are usually born in the pastures or in a shed the ewes have access to. We bring them into a barn and jug pen, a 5 by 5 foot pen, where the new mother and lambs spend about 12 hours getting used to each other. They will then move into a mixing pen with several ewes and lambs to get used to keeping track of each other in a crowd and then out into the pastures.|
|This was the first set of triplets born this year. They are small but strong and spunky. We usually don't like to see triplets because most of our ewes cannot produce enough milk to raise strong triplets but these are doing alright so far.|
|We are keeping these triplets around the lambing barn longer than usual to keep an eye on them and see that they are doing well. They have had the run of the barn for about a week and have taken over.|
|Becky is putting an ear tag in the lamb so that we can track it's development.|
|After a day or so in the jug and mixing pen, the lambs and ewes are out in the pastures. They have access to shelter and will use it in severe weather. We have had snow on the ground many days and it may melt away by late afternoon and fall again during the night.|
|We have had seeming continuous light snow through the lambing season but the lamb usually seem to find a warm place to lie down and sleep a good bit of each day.|
|The return of the sandhill cranes is something we look forward to each Spring. This year our neighbor reported hearing one on March 9. We didn't see or hear them until a week or so later but by the end of the month they were with us every day. This crane is making a low pass over a pasture and calling to his or her mate as they approached a landing.|
The cold and snowy weather of January eased up a lot in February. The snow continued to build up in the mountains making skiers happy and promising a good runoff for later in the spring but at our elevation of about 5000 feet, the snow began to melt. Because the spring seems to come a little earlier each year lately, we have moved up lambing a little each year and this means we also shear a little earlier. Of course our shearing schedule depends on when our shearers can fit us into their schedule. This year February 29 was the day. It was clear and warm with almost no wind - about perfect for shearing. We shear inside a shed but the sheep go out immediately after being sheared and it is good to have mild conditions for them.
As many of you may know, Katey our wool mill manager is a graduate civil engineer and a registered professional engineer in Montana. After two years with us Katey has decided to return to engineering practice with a local firm. We will miss her and we wish her the best in her new ventures.
|We had two excellent shearers this year. Johnny Harbor and the left and Brent Roeder are both experienced and very skillful. They arrived at about 7:30 am, were set up and ready to go by 8:00 and had sheared about 175 sheep by 2:00 PM. It went very smoothly this year.|
|As usual, we had a lot of help from neighbors and friends. The fleeces are being skirted (damaged and dirty wool removed) here and bagged. This year we kept most of the fleeces in separate bags rather than compressing the wool into bales. This will give us more flexibility in selecting wool for further processing and sale.|
|For the 6th year, Greg Smith was with us for the day moving sheep down the alley to the shearing floor.|
|Max spent much of the day with Greg. Max is very attached to his sheep and becomes concerned when we are doing anything with the sheep he doesn't fully understand. We are down to one guard dog now and he seems able to protect the entire flock. Although we often hear coyotes at night at this time of year, we have lost no sheep to them.|
|As soon as they are sheared the sheep are back outside to find some hay and warm sunshine. The sheep will have access to shelter at night from now on until lambing is over or until the really warm weather of Spring comes.|
|Shearing is an intense day for Tiaga. She needs to be every where at once and there is no time for naps.|
|Talk about a suspicious mother who doesn't like cameras! These two fully full-term, fat and happy lambs showed up on February 26, fully a month ahead of schedule. Our first thought was that, unknown to us, a ram must have gotten into the flock of ewes and lambing was about to begin. however, we did not see another lamb for almost three weeks. So somehow #81 managed to find a ram all by herself a month or so early and get back to her flock before we realized what was happening.|
After a few relatively mild days at the beginning of January, Montana began to remind us what winters were like 20 years ago when we moved to the state. Several days of light snows left about 6 inches with each storm and then a storm came in from the north with high winds, horizontal snow, and temperatures dropping to 26 degrees below zero. The wind blew for three days and when it was over snow was three feet deep in places and 3 inches in others. It was hard to tell how much snow fell. Although things warmed up somewhat, the cold, wind, and snow continued through the month. Roads were closed on several days and semi-trailer trucks were blown over on Interstate 90 east of Bozeman.
The sheep do fine in this weather if they can get a little shelter from strong winds. They have a full years growth of wool and don't seem to mind the cold. We now have 20 calves on the place ranging from 450 to 600 lbs. Although the calves increase their consumption of hay quite a bit with the cold weather, with enough hay and shelter from the wind, they are doing fine. Machinery is much more difficult to keep running in cold weather than animals. Our tractors and pickups have electric block heaters installed but we quickly learn how good our batteries are and the block heaters do not heat hydraulic fluid in the tractors.
|Peterson, our 13 year old cat, who we sometimes do not see for weeks at a time in the summer, settled under the wood stove during the cold weather.|
|We spin out round bales of hay for the sheep and cattle every day at this time of year. During January we are feeding about 100 elk along with our livestock. The elk feed only at night but we see their tracks in the morning and the hay that the sheep have left is cleaned up. The elk got into one of our fenced hay yard one night but fortunately didn't do too much damage. However, elk are very hard on fences.|
|By the end of the month the days are noticeably longer and, although we have had many cloudy days, we often have lovely evening light with the sun dropping under the western clouds just before sunset.|
|THIRTEEN MILE LAMB & WOOL COMPANY
13000 Springhill Road
Belgrade, Montana 59714
Tel. (406) 388-4945