Theresa Walker is Seacoast Eat Local’s Vice-Chair and raises Romney and Merino sheep for fiber and breed stock at her Durham, NH farm, Great Bay Wool Works
We’re all eating a lot in January – livestock included. Forecasts of arctic blasts and winter storm watches send many of us out to stock up on food and fuel. As a shepherd, the needs of my flock during bad winter weather are no different than the needs of me and my family – access to shelter, fresh water and food. And, like me, my sheep eat a lot more when it’s bitterly cold.
Our Durham, NH flock ate twice as much hay and grain per day during the cold blast that hit the region the last week of December through the first half of January. That means my supply of feed, harvested and stored throughout last summer, may not be enough to get me through to late spring, when I can put the flock back out on pasture. I’ve already started calling my “hay guys” to find out what they have stored. Alas, not much, given the long, cool spring and dry late summer and fall we had last year. Prices for hay are going to climb throughout the months ahead.
Some members of the flock, older brood ewes that are not pregnant, can get by with less. But breeding rams, lambs still growing from last year, and pregnant ewes cannot. Pregnant ewes, due to give birth in early February, can consume twice as much feed and three times as much water per day during the last month of their five month pregnancy, the most critical period for lamb development in utero. Ensuring adequate food and fresh, unfrozen water becomes the highest priority.
Even on the coldest day in January, the flock is eager to get out of the barn, stretch their legs, watch the birds, eat the snow, and nibble on Christmas trees dropped off by neighbors. Concerned folks will call to let me know the sheep are out, and I appreciate their interest in the flock’s welfare. I let them know that the sheep can choose to go inside if they like, and that keeping the sheep cool on a hot and humid August day is harder than keeping them warm on a bitter January day. Sheep are built for our New Hampshire winter weather, their wool coats prove it!
– Theresa Walker, Liberty Hall Farm/Great Bay Works, Durham, NH. www.greatbaywoolworks.com. Follow the flock on Instagram @greatbaywoolworks