Sunday, May 20, 2007

The business of Boulderneigh

When taking the responsibility for propagating any kind of animals, I believe one should be willing to make tough decisions. My husband, a horse vet, and I, an active rider, trainer and competitor, have groaned and rolled our eyes untold times over someone saying of a particularly nasty mare, "We should just breed her; it might settle her down." I'm a firm believer in the saying, "Good stallion, better gelding." We've raised two litters of bulldogs, and took pride in the fact that we weren't breeding for show quality, but for healthy, long-lived individuals all too rare in this often-problematic breed. Then we took great pains to place them in suitable homes. After all, according to scripture, we are only stewards of all we have, not really owners.

Enter Shetland sheep, by way of Oregon's interesting property tax laws.

When we purchased our small acreage in 1995, it was already in "farm deferral." In other words, the property tax rate was greatly reduced because the previous owner was claiming to use it for legitimate agricultural use. If we would rather not bother with agricultural use of some kind, we could switch to the regular residential tax rate -- but only if we paid the difference between the two rates for the last five or seven years, which would add up to thousands! Obviously, it was in our best financial interest to keep the property in farm deferral. So, what to do with it? Our horses didn't qualify, unless we were selling them or boarding others. (I did sell two in 2002 in part to help finance the construction of our new home. If the total sales prices could be spread out, it would satisfy the annual income requirement for our farm deferral for the next 70+ years, but it apparently can't be done that way.) We bought and sold feeder calves a couple years, in part so my husband could "play" with them on his cutting horse, but aren't set up properly to keep them here at home. Besides, I don't like a project that is expressly about buying and selling an animal for slaughter when I am a vegetarian! (Not that I think eating meat is "wrong," necessarily; I just figure that if the original diet given in the Garden of Eden was plant-based, and the diet we will eat in heaven is plant-based, I might as well enjoy the diet of a perfect world now!) So the quest was on for the "perfect" farm deferral project: one that wouldn't take significant pasturage from our horses, one that produced a product we are comfortable with, one that could provide the modest required annual income on our small acreage, and last, but certainly not least, one that I enjoyed.

To me Shetland sheep seemed the perfect answer, and still do. I can sell quality individuals as breeding stock, and the rest as fiber pets and/or lawnmowers. I can sell their fleeces, and even handspun yarn. Granted, all of the above doesn't happen on its own. You must provide feed and care, make the best breeding decisions you can, market/advertise/show your stock and fleeces, and prep and spin the fiber to sell handspun. The payoff? These wonderfully personable little creatures who are a delight to the eye and hand allow us to keep our property on farm deferral.

I am new at this, with less than a year and a half of actual shepherding under my belt. What if I find that my careful little plan doesn't work? What if I end up with sheep I can't sell, or males that are dangerous? Yes, I have considered these things -- I am known for overanalyzing, not the opposite! For me, sending "culls" to auction is not an option. I know too much to be able to send any but the most ill-tempered and dangerous animal to its death in that way. (Besides, I am fairly confident that I could find a home for a $25 fiber pet or lawnmower, which is all most expect to get for a Shetland sent to auction around here.) I might consider using the mobile butchering service as a last resort and then selling the meat, knowing that the animal wouldn't be stressed, mistreated or worse in its final days/moments. I owe them that.

We'll see how it all works out. I have my four girls, the number I've settled on as just right for Boulderneigh. I might do some changing of ewes, but the number will stay at four. I am considering the purchase of a ram, if I can't find a source of quality rams to lease. Check with me in another year or two to see how my plan is working. I hope to have good things to report.

That's it for now at . . .


Tina T-P said...

Beautiful iris pictures - they always remind me of my grandma, who had a HUGE garden & aboaut 1/4 acre of it was dedicated to iris, glads & dahlias - good memories to have, for sure.

It is truly hard to decide what do do when you have a small flock - how to manage them - we've had a couple of years when we've had all ram lambs - the market for them here is slim, and we've had to end up sending them to to the auction - we had to send Gizmo ($200 purchase price) & Cimarron (born here on the farm) to the auction this spring when John was hurt - we hated to do it, but I just could not control them & after Gizmo bashed my hand, they were pretty much "out the door" from there.

Even tho we are in a rural area, we don't have that kind of taxing around here - I'm glad that you are able to take advantage of the benefits :-) (sure seems like keeping the horses should have qualified you tho, doesn't it?)

Take care - have a great week. T.

Kathy said...

I sure wish my iris would bloom like that! I guess that would mean I'd have to water them, huh? :)
My neighbor came over today, bringing one of her granddaughters over to see the lambs. She commented "My, there are alot more than I thought here." I explained that I would be keeping the actual numbers down and that it just looked like quite a few due to the lamb population bouncing all around her. We, too, will have to make decisions here - I wish I were in an area where someone would even pay $25 for a pet fiber animal, but here, they would just end up in a cookpot on the reservation. I have determined that I will not sell any animal so low that seals its fate here.
And wow, Oregon has some different property laws! As Tina said, too bad the horses couldn't qualify too.

(And the girls look like they've settled in real well!) I love the final wonderful to get you all in one place! But isn't Rick having a tough time getting down on that knee? ;-) (LOL)

Carol B said...

Well Michelle,
I am glad to know that you are thinking things through. I know you will be a responsible shepherd. And I know you will get a lot of joy out of keeping your sheep. I know that gulmoget ram lamb must be very tempting. I love that pattern too. I think that if you do decide to breed your ewes, that ram would be a good one to use. And those are beautiful irises. Peace, Carol

Juliann said...

LOVE those iris! I am a big iris fan, they are one of my favorites. :)
I have the same spiritual view of animal stewardship. I often thank God for allowing me to be temporary guardian over His 10 acres of land, and His shetland sheep and chickens.
We are blessed! ;)