Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Attack of the Pine Beetles!

Attack of the Pine Beetles!

The Red Turpentine beetle is the largest at just 3/8"
There is currently a noticeable increase in mortality of the Ponderosa pine trees in the Spokane region.  The reason for this is a marked increase in pine beetle activity, frequently a result of increased human activity in wooded areas.  There are four species of beetles infesting the pine trees.  They are: Ips, Mountain Pine Beetle, Western Pine Beetle and Red Turpentine Beetle.  These insects are quite tiny, ranging in size from the 1/8” long Ips to the 3/8” long Red Turpentine.  All four species of beetle are capable of killing the trees they infest within one year although the Red Turpentine commonly attack trees already weakened and are rarely the sole cause of mortality. 

The four species emerge at different times during the spring and early summer, normally May through August though weather conditions influence the variability of that timing.  Beetle activity can start as early as April and last well into September.  The time of year when the beetles are most active is also the time of year when people tend to work on construction projects, pruning, thinning or logging operations.  Unfortunately, all of the pine beetles are attracted by the smell of pitch and will come from several miles away to a stand of trees where the smell of pitch is present. 

Once a tree is wounded and the bark has been scrapped or cut away on any part of the tree, the beetles can easily gain access to the exposed inner bark layers and are not susceptible to the trees defense mechanism of attempting to pitch the insect out.  Any timber management activity that would include cutting or pruning pine trees should be scheduled for fall, winter and very early spring, extending perhaps into late March if the slash is to be burned or chipped.  Slash piles created in late winter/early spring are prime beetle breeding habitat. 

Pitch tube indicating beetle attack
Piles of sawdust (frass) indicate an attack by the tiny Ips beetle
Identifying pine beetle infestations is fairly simple if you know what to look for.  Three of the beetle species will cause the tree to attempt to expel the insect back out the same hole it bored in through.  The tree’s natural defense against the attack is to “pitch” the insect out, creating what are called “pitch tubes”.  These can be anywhere from an inch to two inches in diameter.  If the tree is fairly healthy, open grown and has adequate water and nutrients available, it can be successful in warding off the attack.  If however, the tree is stressed, either by mechanical or other insect damage or disease, or by overcrowding and a lack of sufficient nutrients or moisture, the beetles will most likely be successful in getting under the bark and establishing egg galleries.  The tiny Ips beetle leaves only bits of red/brown sawdust in the cracks of the bark or around the base of the tree so the attack may be more difficult to recognize.  The larval forms of the beetles are what cause the most damage, destroying the nutrient transporting layers of inner bark. 

Pre-commercial thinning decreases competition for moisture
Full scale logging is a good tool if done right
Pre-commercial thinning or full scale logging can help prevent an infestation of pine beetle if it is done at the right time of the year.  Reducing the stocking rates to what is in keeping with the amount of moisture and nutrients that are available will help keep the trees healthy and able to resist disease and insect infestations.  The added bonus of removing unhealthy and overcrowded trees is the reduction of potential hazard fuels should a wildfire occur in the area. But before picking up the saw and cutting, it would be a very good idea to contact a forester or do a bit of research.  There are a number of publications in the libraries and on-line about pine beetles and preventing and/or treating infestations.  Your first call should be to your local conservation district or extension office.  In Spokane, contact Garth Davis, Forestry Program Manager for the Spokane Conservation District at Garth-davis@sccd.org or call 509 535 7274.

Lambing Season is Over!

Lambing Season is Over!

With uncertainty, worry and a bit of lost sleep giving way to happiness and relief, our first lambing season is finally over.  The lost sleep was directly related to being novices at lambing, imagining all of the things that could go wrong while hoping desperately that nothing does.

The first delivery was the easiest with the lambs coming in the evening before it got really dark and cold. The score on that delivery was rams 2, ewes 0.  The second batch came on St. Patrick’s Day in the wee hours of the morning.  I didn’t discover them until about 6am and was concerned because it was windy that morning with the temperature in the low 20’s.  We didn’t know how long they had been out in the cold wind but it was quite apparent that they been there for some time.  We scooped them both up and warmed them for a bit then put them and their momma into the jug.  We kept watch on them and noticed that they had not nursed and one was staying very quiet and still in the corner of the jug.  Momma didn’t seem to care about either one of them and moved every time one would try to nurse.   
The one and only ewe lamb out of 6
We were prepared for this and because of the cold weather, we decided to supplement with a bottle to get them some nourishment and warm them up.  We checked the ewe and noticed her milk hadn’t come in so we gave her a shot of oxytocin, after which she started feeding them.  The score on that delivery was rams 1, ewes 1, and a big sigh of relief from us!  As it turns out, she is the most devoted of the ewes to her lambs.

Ewes and lambs sharing with the hens.  
The final delivery was the following Sunday.  The ewe had seemingly gone into labor on Saturday, but after a few contractions, labor stopped so we put her in the jug and waited.  She delivered two very large lambs the following afternoon without any problems.  The final score: rams 5, ewes 1, all of them healthy, active and growing quickly.  Obviously we would have preferred the mix to be at least a bit more even since we really wanted to grow the herd from our own stock over the next couple of years.   

19 month old Mila loves the sheep!
Our first year of having sheep wasn’t without some issues.  The loss of two ewes to coyotes, the loss of our ram to disease and a couple of escapes made for an interesting and challenging experience.  We learned a lot and are looking forward to this year with a bit more confidence and knowledge of what we are doing.  Right now, watching the lambs running, bouncing and playing with each other is a delight!  Giving our grand kids the experience of seeing and caring for the sheep is priceless.  And for us, the real payoff comes a bit later when we will be watching with great satisfaction, 10 sheep eating our grass.

The Lambs Are Here...Some of them!

The Lambs Are Here!  Some of them…

On Tuesday, March 5th twin lambs were born to our Katahdin ewe, Fiona.  The sire was a Katahdin/Dorper cross with a gorgeous midnight black body and a tan saddle of longer, almost wool-like hair.  (Katahdin’s are hair sheep meaning that they shed their winter coasts and do not need to be sheared).  We borrowed that ram after our Black Belly ram Simon, succumbed to a massive abdominal infection late last summer.  We were hoping that the borrowed ram would service the ewes so we would have more genetic options available to us next year with our own ram. This year was being dedicated to growing the herd and diversifying the genetics.

The lambing process itself was very easy, at least for us.  Basically, we had nothing to do with it.  We had prepared the lamb jugs and all was in readiness for whatever issues could pop up.   At about 6 that evening I heard a very shrill bleating coming from the paddock and instantly realized we had a lamb!  I ran outside and saw the noisy one and then I saw a second lamb with Fiona, just a few feet away.  We grabbed towels and proceeded to wipe them down and place them in the jug.  Fiona followed in behind them with no problems and we shut them in for the night.  I was so happy that we had the jugs ready.  There was a cold wind from the north that evening and it was going to get cold that night, but they were well protected inside the jug with fresh straw bedding.  And with mom to cuddle up to, they wouldn’t get cold. 
We kept all of them in the jug for 3 full days so that Fiona, a first time mom could bond with them and we wouldn’t have to worry about having to bottle feed.  We stepped in every day to make sure everyone was doing okay and finally opened the jug and let them out on the afternoon of the 3rd day.  As one of our friends told us, “there is nothing cuter than a lamb, except maybe a puppy!”  We had to agree.  We have had lots of puppies and they were all cute but the lambs had them beat.  A week later, they are running and bouncing all over the paddock and making life difficult for momma and the other ewes.  We separated the ewes and lambs from the ram.  He was not at all impressed with them and none too gentle either.

Luck was with us this first time and we still have two more to go which could happen any day now.  I can’t say we are more experienced, we really aren’t.  But I’ll take that kind of luck any day.  And cute isn’t adequate to describe the pair of ram lambs running and bouncing around the place.  Go sit and watch them for 5 minutes and whatever stress you had will melt away…

The Ewes Are Huge!

The Ewes Are Huge!

One of the first harbingers of spring is the start of lambing season; a time of great joy and concern.  This will be our first experience with lambing and like everything else we have experienced during the first year with sheep, I expect a very positive outcome with a couple of valuable “lessons learned” mixed in.

When we finally took the plunge and purchased our first sheep, the big motivation was to have the sheep eat the pasture grass so we didn’t have to spend so much time on the tractor mowing.  We quickly learned about appropriate stocking rates and how many sheep we were going to need; as it turned out, a lot more than we had. (First valuable lesson learned) So we purchased three more ewes and a ram to fill out the herd.  After the loss of our ram to disease and the predation of a couple of ewes, (more valuable lessons learned) we ended up going into winter with three ewes and a new ram that was picked up at the end of October.  We also changed to hair sheep instead of wool sheep. The original plan was to process and sell or use the wool ourselves.  With no time to devote to it (yet another valuable lesson learned) we switched to Katahdins, a hearty breed of hair sheep with no wool to shear and are well suited to our climate.

Shelter divided into two sections as lamb jugs
The wonderful folks that provided us with the Katahdin sheep happened to read an article I had written this last fall.  I described the winter paddock and shelter that the sheep would be occupying and about the ewes probably being pregnant.  They wrote to advise me that we should construct “lamb jugs” to place the newborn lambs into right after they are born.  Simply described, they are an enclosure protected from cold rains, snow and low temperatures where mom and lamb(s) can bond for a few days, giving the lambs a better chance of survival.  Also, the ewes are more likely to care for and feed the lambs, meaning we won’t have to bottle feed them.  I decided to section the winter shelter I had constructed, into two separate lamb jugs, each 4’ wide and almost 8’ deep.  I also constructed an additional jug by attaching plywood to a 6’ x 10’ metal tubing dog kennel frame that I cut down from 6’ high to 4’ high.  I divided the kennel in half with a sheet of plywood, and added a roof, making a jug about 5’ x 6’.  I can easily make the other half of the kennel into an additional jug next year.  The front of the jugs will have wire gates which will be facing toward the house so we can observe and they will be out of the wind.  The jugs will serve double duty
Old dog kennel is now a jug
this summer as shade shelters.
The ewes are pregnant and getting bigger!

So the ewes continue to grow, and our checklist is almost complete.  I think we are ready, although I am sure there are a couple of those valuable lessons to be learned this first time.  That’s okay, we can be taught and we look forward to the experience.  We truly are living the dream…