Hello from Clay Hill Ranch in La Porte, Indiana! We have farmed here since 1956, and today most of the chores are done by Brett and Heather and their sons, Blake, Brady and Brock. We are a small but diverse farm, raising both livestock (animals) and crops. We raise hay, corn and soybeans. We also raise sheep and cattle. Indiana is known for our corn and soybeans, but we are also at the top for tomatoes, chickens and eggs, and ice cream.
Spring is a busy time on a sheep farm. We are in the middle of lambing right now, which is the time of year when our ewes (mother sheep) have their babies. This year we are lambing out around 70 ewes. In a good year, we will have a 200 percent lamb crop, which means that for every ewe, we have two lambs. That means we could have 140 lambs by the time we are done!
Feeding the Sheep
The sheep eat mostly grass and hay. They are ruminants, which means they have four compartments in their stomachs. These are round bales of hay. They are four to five feet across, and you need a tractor to move them.
We also have small square bales of hay. They weigh between 60 and 80 pounds. They are stacked in the barn during the summer months so that we can feed them all winter long.
Blake and Aggie are feeding small bales of hay to the sheep. During lambing season they are fed twice a day.
Brock and Aggie are getting grain for the sheep to eat. Grain is a mixture of corn, oats, soy beans, and other nutritious foods. It can also include vitamins and minerals, and even medicine to help the sheep stay healthy and grow strong.
These lambs are about two months old and they love to eat grain already. They are waiting by their feeder for their dinner. Can you see Aggie waiting too?
On the Farm
Brady is with Aggie, Brock, and Kyla. Brady just started his own flock of Katahdin sheep, and Kyla is his very first lamb to be born. She is a little spoiled and has been known to fall asleep on Brady’s shoulder.
Dogs are important on the farm too. Aggie has found Obi and Brittney. Obi is just a pup still, but has started his training to be a herding dog. He will help us move them from pen to pen. The big white dog is Brittney. She is a guard dog, and protects the livestock from coyotes.
That is a big pile of manure, Aggie! We clean out the barns and pens often so that the animals can stay clean and healthy. We pile it all up here and then use a tractor and manure spreader to spread it on the fields. The manure (which is mostly straw and poop) is a great fertilizer which helps our fields grow.
Uh oh… Brock and Aggie seem to be stuck! With all the melting snow and spring rains, the farm gets pretty muddy this time of year. Hope they can get out. More than one farmer has lost his boots in the muck!
These are wool bags. We shear the ewes once a year for their fleece, and then store it in these huge bags. When they are full, they can weigh hundreds of pounds. We then sell the wool. We don’t raise wool sheep, which are breeds of sheep that have very fine, soft wool, so our wool isn’t very valuable. We shear each year to keep our ewes healthy and cool in the summer.
Taking Care of Baby Lambs
When the lambs are born, we “process” them. This is just a list of things that we do to keep them healthy and help them grow well. The first thing we do is put them in a lambing “jug” which is just a small pen. This keeps the mom and lambs together. It also makes sure the lambs stay safe until they are strong enough to go out with the rest of the flock. Because it can be very cold here in Indiana, we also have heat lamps. That light in the back corner gives off extra heat to keep lambs warm when they need it.
Flat Aggie is with some of the tools we use to keep the lambs healthy. The white notebook on top is our lambing book. Every lamb that is born is recorded in it. The white plastic bag is full of really strong rubber bands that we use to band the lambs’ tails.
Lambs are born with a tail, but sheep don’t use their tails for anything. Sometimes the tails are fine, but sometimes they get really dirty and can cause the lamb to get sick. To prevent this, we put the rubber band on it. This makes the blood flow stop in the tail. Sometimes it hurts for a few minutes, and sometimes they don’t even seem to notice it. In a few days, the tail falls off on its own.
Next we put a baby tag in. This is a very small ear tag. It’s just like piercing your ears. The number identifies the lamb and helps us keep track of it as it grows. The tag number can tell us who its parents are, when it was born, what medicines it has had and if it is ready to be weaned.
When they get a little bigger, we replace them with a bigger tag that we can read, like this ewe with a large flock tag in her ear. We also tattoo that number in her ear, so that if she loses her ear tag we can find out who she is.
The last thing we do is give the lamb his shots. Just like most kids get a series of vaccines to help them stay healthy, we give our lambs shots too. It hurts a little, just like on a kid, but only for a second. The vaccines help prevent diseases that could hurt the lamb.
Once the lamb is processed, they can be let out into the nursery. Here lots of ewes with their lambs are kept together. There is also a special creep pen which has narrow gates only the lambs can fit through. They get special food made just for them to help them grow and be healthy. Aggie is just the right size to fit in the creep gate.
Brett, Heather, Blake, Brady & Brock Kessler
A little extra
Our farm is called Clay Hill Ranch because our soil is heavy, thick clay and the whole farm is hills. The only flat spot on the farm is our garden patch. Our hills were formed when the glaciers from the last Ice Age started melting thousands of years ago. All of the soil and rocks that had been pushed ahead of the glaciers were left behind. We are just a few miles from Lake Michigan. Like all the Great Lakes, it is a glacial lake that was carved out by the huge sheets of ice. We have two ponds and part of the shoreline of a lake on the farm. They are all spring fed, which means ground water fills them all the time. Even when we are very dry, our ponds and lake stay full.