Friday, April 19, 2013

Belling the Lambs

Another year of lambing is over for the most part. Now sheep have gone out on the mountain, eating the new spring grass and easing the squeeze on my pocketbook from buying hay all winter. Of course, there is the ever present danger of predators on the mountain. We have an abundace of coyotes, bears, bobcats, ealges, and even mountoin lions, no matter what the DNR says; I have seen one.

 A  few years ago the farmer to the south and the one across the road stopped running sheep because of the coyote problem. DNR has a predator control officer who willingly comes out to diagnosis your problem, "yep, you have a coyote problem." He will put poison collars on the lambs, which does not save that lamb, but it will be the last lamb that coyote will ever kill. However, while a workable solution, you must lose several lambs before getting help, and by then so much of your hard work has gone to feeding your enemy.
We have tried guardian dogs, donkeys, llamas, and now bells. We still have a donkey, who would rather live with the horses. Our last llama has died and we have the alpaca but I am not sure how that will work yet. We are on our forth year using bells and for the dollar, it has worked the best.

I noticed that when we put the poison collars on the lambs, the coyotes quit killing them. Not because they had died, but for some reason they no longer even made the attempt to attack. So I thought that if I put bells on the lambs it might have the same effect. The DNR man told me it might work for a while, until the coyotes realized it was a dinner bell. I tried just the same, with great success. Now instead of losing nearly half the lamb flock, I may lose none, or only one or two.

The first year I bought harness bells and took them to a tack store and had the Amishman help me fix them to elastic collars. It worked marvelously and when the lambs ran across the mountain face behind the house, it sounded like Santa's sleigh was arriving. The next year I was able to reuse some of the collars but some were lost or stretched out too much. I bought the smallest cow  bells from my friendly farm store and easily attached them to the collars by stringing them on the elastic and sewing the elastic closed. Then I moved to cutting the elastic longer and just knotting it shut. With the bigger bells, it sounded like the salvation army had set up shop on the mountain side and were ringing for all they were worth.

This year I needed to replace a few collars and add some more, having a larger lamb crop then in past years. I bought all the bells the friendly farm store had in stock and still was short. I asked my son to bring some home from across the mountain in the valley where he worked. He prompted me to order form the computer. Of course! Today's' age. Unfortunately, no one carried the little bells I had been using, but the larger ones used at sport's events were much cheaper. I thought to give it a try and ordered red ones, believing they would be easier to locate if a lamb lost one.

So all lambs are belled. The larger ones make me think that we have a football game going in the back field. However, since all of the types of bells are now represented, I feel more like sitting on the swing and listening to the bell choir sounding over the mountainside.

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