Friday 2 July 2021

creep feeder

 Discerning carnivores, like my late-lamented mother-'t-law, talk about getting very young meat - suckling pig, kid, veal - because these products are unavailable in retail Ireland. Actually, Souad talked a lot more wistfully about mutton, which she claimed tasted of something. But then again she was a terror for <gnarr, gNARR> cruibíns [pigs trotters], marrowbones and all the wobbly bits inside. Me, I'd rather eat lentils for the rest of my life than gnaw sustenance from cartilage. Irish people eat a lot of meat but almost all of it appears <shazzam> on supermarket shelves in neat slabs and squares so that nobody has to reflect on the fact that a week ago that hamburger was eating grass. No business likes to have their capital tied up for too long. They like a return on their investment as quickly as possible. So it's economic to feed animals up to the gills, so that they reach "market weight" before the competition. This is most extreme in the case of chicken where 41 days is all it takes from hatch for 2.3kg of soya+corn to be converted into a trussed, shrink-wrapped, oven ready bird of 1.2kg.

Nobody likes mutton, and most folks are squeamish about eating lamb that has as much meat on it as a fat chicken. The Market dictates that "lamb" is a bruising great teenager of 45kg. Getting a newborn to that weight in, say, 15-17 weeks requires more than milk and a nibble of grass. You need to feed the ewes, sure, but you really need to supplement the feed of the lambs even if you have to pay ready money for nuts. Farmers want the best of both worlds of course ad lib milk but also nuts and something has to prevent the ewes from shouldering the lambs aside and scarfing up all the <yum> concentrates. On commercial farms where dozens or hundreds of lambs are growing through their paces every year a creep-feeder [R] is yer only man. There are many ingenious designs out there from swish powder coated monsters to rusty old yokes welded up from sheet-metal and steel tubing.

The deal is that creep-feeders allow unlimited access to the lambs while effectively excluding adult sheep. Bearing in mind that sheep can smell the goodies and will push over or crush anything insufficiently heavy or robust. In the past we have borrowed a creep-feeder from our neighbour after his lambs have gone to market. That monster required 4 grown men or a tractor front-loader to move it. Note the roof in the feeder [above R] - it's best to load in several days of feed at once and let the lambs work their way through it. You must do what you can to exclude a) rain b) ravens. I think it's called a creep feeder because many designs require the lambs to approach the feed on their knees.

This year after an outrageous number of false hopes and misinformation, we have a total of two [2] ram lambs which are each about 36-38kg. These b'ys need feeding up because if we can get them up to weight in a couple of weeks, they can piggy-back with the neighbour's crop on their final journey. So I needed to jimmy-up an exclusionary feeder from locally available materials. In the distant past, I had used two 12ft steel gates with one end attached to fence posts and the open end kept apart with a block of wood and a lot of knotted ropes. That creates a triangular lamb-only paddock where a bucket of feed may be placed. This year a far better solution occurred to me [not for nothing do I wake up at 3am, screaming].  I used a couple of 90cm x 200cm sheep hurdles, made locally by Daniel Whelan Engineering, which are a lot handier to handle [see above L]. We're leaving this all a bit late as you can see that the lambs are almost as tall at the shoulder as their dams. More to the point their head'n'shoulders are almost as wide.

Holding the door open with a block of wood wasn't going to answer, quite apart from the fact that I had no idea what was the crucial discriminatory distance between ewe-shoulder and shoulder of lamb. Experimentation is the key! I found a handy length of timber, cut it into 2 x 20cm lengths and pre-drilled holes every 2cm along the top edge. The Whelan hurdles, in contrast to a 12ft gate, have a couple of eyed lugs welded top and bottom at each end. Four robust wood-screws and some washers worked a charm.  A bit of adjustment revealed that 18cm was a pretty good distance. We still have to carry a couple of cups of sheep muesli up for the boys a tuthree times a day but we should be doing the journey anyway to check that the bould brats haven't gotten their heads caught in the sheep wire or indeed escaped into the forestry from pure divilment.

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