farm story: Isle des Chênes
intro text by Katie Culbert with photography by Denny Culbert
(originally published in Runaway Dish vol. 1)
In 2003, Tommy and Gabrielle Bodin got a new border collie. With hopes of taking her to the herding trials, they bought their first five sheep. The sheep were intended to work the dog. Now, ten years later, they have over 80 sheep and the collie spends most of her days in the a/c while Tommy and Gabrielle are the ones getting worked. And they love it. They absolutely love it. Their enthusiasm and the joy in their eyes and the love in their hearts for the sheep and for each other is evident within the first ten minutes of meeting them. It’s clear they have something special. The 23 acre farm in Scott, LA where Gabrielle’s dad originally raised Charolais cattle is a magical slice of South Louisiana heaven. The biggest oak tree on the Acadiana Live Oak Society’s register sits right next to their house. It’s stunning. And whether it’s a herd of new baby lambs or one of their two 140 pound sheep guarding dogs, you can always find an animal beneath it. Further down the way is the most beautifully made and most solidly built barn. Pure cypress, naturally. It has withstood all the hurricanes and looks as new as the day Gabrielle’s dad built it some 50 years ago.
As people get more in touch with their food, Isle Navarre Farms could not be more vital to that movement. Tommy and Gabrielle admit that they did not plan to be a part of that wave. What started as just a few sheep that they would occasionally sell for meat to their friends and folks that would pull in off the road quickly escalated into a profitable, viable business. Now they are proud members of the regional hair sheep guild – the South- Central Katahdin Hair Sheep Association and the international version – Katahdin Hair Sheep International. Last year they hosted the regional group’s meeting on their farm. And Gabrielle recently went back to school for a degree in animal science. They clearly believe in education and are constantly work to improve their practices and share their knowledge. It’s safe to say the Bodin’s are extremely dedicated to their flock. This is evident to anyone who visits the farm or dines in a restaurant serving their lamb. Their attention to detail and respect for their animals translates in every way.
A SHEPARD’S EXPERIENCE
by Tommy & Gabrielle Bodin
Lambing season is a special time of year – time to get to know and admire new little babies, and time to work until you can’t go anymore. Honestly, the days vary greatly. Sometimes we’re up half the night, maybe with a difficult birth (although these animals have few birthing problems) or taking care of a weak lamb. And sometimes things go much more smoothly.
As we have been doing this for the last 10 years, we have worked to continually improve our genetics, and in addition to selling meat animals, we also sell registered and commercial breeding stock. It is a lot of hard work, but with many benefits. The babies are so beautiful. There’s nothing more fun than watching them when they start to “lampede” – they run around together like a school of fish. And the sheep are so calming to be around. They truly are therapeutic.
Visit the Bodin’s some Saturday mornings at Lafayette at the Market at the Horse Farm.
7:00a.m. First thought in my mind: I wonder if there are any new babies?! Get dressed (layer up if it’s cold) and check the pasture. Well, those two mammas we’ve been thinking were close for the last week had their babies! Great! And it looks like the new mammas are taking care of their babies. The babies are cleaned up and nursing – just what we always like to see. Will need to prepare a kennel, where we keep new mammas and their babies for the first 2 – 3 days. That way we know the babies are nursing well, and everyone is healthy and well-bonded. In this case, there are no problems that I see and the weather is nice (but a little chilly since it’s February), so I can come back and get them later.
7:15a.m. Get to the kennels and check on the ewes and lambs that spent the night in there. Feed them a corn-based concentrate and some alfalfa, give fresh water, clean their kennels, change the wood shavings we use as bedding. If there are any lambs not nursing well, now is the time to address it by trying to get them to nurse on their mother or supplementing them with a bottle. This can be time consuming, especially if the lamb is not inclined to nurse.
8:30a.m. OK, that burned some energy! Time for coffee and a bite to eat!
9:00a.m. So much left to do! I go out to get the lambs, opening gates along the way so we can keep the momentum going so the mom will hopefully follows her lambs as they’re carried in to the kennel. The first ewe follows well as I try to carry the lambs at about head height so she can see them. The second ewe is a different story: she starts and stops, running back to find her lambs. It takes a while, but we finally make it into the kennel! Most of the ewes get pretty attached to their kennels and feel safe in them after they adjust to it the first time. I put the new mammas some feed, alfalfa, and water and leave them alone for a while.
10:00a.m. Time to go out and feed everyone else…the ewes with babies who have already graduated from the kennels, the expectant mammas, any unbred yearling ewes, breeding rams, and yearling rams all get either hay and/or corn or a corn-based concentrate during the winter. The rams and yearling animals don’t need the level of nutrition that the expectant ewes do, so they get less. The expectant ewes also get a protein tub.
11:30a.m. Lunch break! Sit down for a little while. Yeah! 1:00p.m. The new lambs should be settled in, so it’s time to “check them in.” Each lamb is recorded in a notebook, weighed, given some probiotic and a vitamin supplement, and sprayed in the navel with iodine. The mother gets probiotic, a vitamin supplement, and some oxytocin to help her milk to come down and her uterus to finish cleaning out.
2:00p.m. Time to run errands, pick up supplies, etc.
5:00p.m. Start the evening feedings, take care of any more lambs born, and keep an eye on any suspicious looking ewes. Squeeze in supper when you can!
9:00p.m. Someone decides to lamb at night. Bring them in when they’re done and set them up!
11:00p.m. Finally, we can get to bed so we can see what tomorrow holds!