Monday, January 31, 2011

Out For A Sunday Stroll

50 degrees and sunny so we were out for a Sunday stroll yesterday. Sometimes you have to just stop everything and appreciate the moment. I went from hanging out in my mobile greenhouse to photographing the animals to working on Gramma's hat to listening to the sounds. It really felt like Spring.

Amelia and Sarah look so content here.

The sheep just glow. Is it the ACV (apple cider vinegar), the air, or the fact that they are pregnant (I hope). Doesn't Annie look a little round.

What beautiful animals. I don't know how anyone can not have sheep. Much better than dogs or cats. You don't have to open the door a kazillion times a day. They don't scratch the furniture.

They don't jump on your bed in the middle of the night.

What a handsome guy in his Sunday Best. His feet don't even look that dirty in this picture. They really do get dirty feet-- but I don't let them in the house.

Beau, who usually has his face in the camera when he sees it, was exploring in the delightful Sunday afternoon sun.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

One Apart From The Others

Another example of how sheep books and articles try to make sheep farmers paranoid is that they all talk about flocking instincts and state that any sheep apart from the others should be suspected to be a possible sick sheep.

One article even said that you should check out the last sheep in the line for possible ailments-- come on! What about sheep individuality? Maybe they are just talking about a sheep trailing behind in a western flock of a thousand plus sheep but if that is the case they should clarify that.

What if the sheep is not trailing behind but goes off from the flock to check something out? How close do they have to be?

The sheep here do stay pretty close most of the time. It is funny to watch them graze a fresh area. One goes they all follow--another goes they all follow; it takes awhile before they settle down and graze.

Tonight, just at dusk, I went down to close the chicken door and give the sheep and Beau some hay. When I got to the gate there was one chicken waiting for me to open the gate to let her in. It was probably chicken chicken but it was too dark to tell. As she entered the coop there was a long minute of squawking --something to the effect of "why did you stay out so late?" "You woke us up."

Then I took some hay up to the over turned trough that serves as a sheep table up by the barn. Usually I put 2 flakes of hay on the table and then put one flake down by the gate in a smaller container for Beau. Tonight Beau decided to stay up by the barn so Hildegard decided to eat in Beau's spot. No one joined her so she ate alone.

I am glad my animals are individuals. Mira sometimes stands on the table- what if they all did. Amelia has a knack for escaping- what if they all did. Annie spooks very easily- what if they all did.

I am not going to worry if one is apart from the others-- at least they won't follow each other off a cliff.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Health Indicators

The animals who live here are always helping me to determine how healthy I am physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

The chickens peck me and make punctures or scratches. Then I watch to see skin color changes and healing around the site. Karen and I were doing Beau's hooves the other day and he hates that. I strained my right thumb good trying to hold him. That night it got hot and was very sore but the next day I was ready to start moving it and now it is just achy.

They all make me laugh constantly. A couple of the sheep seek me out and want to exchange affections on a regular basis. I worry a bit about them sometimes but they let me know they are O.K. My emotional health is good.

Now that the rooster and I are getting along and Thor has gone back, my mental health is good. There for awhile things were not so good.

Getting to know the animals better, offers many opportunities to work on the spiritual level. In the last week or so I have tuned in to several conversations around how the animals let us know their needs. I love hanging out with the animals whether I am trying to figure something out or just meditating.

Temple Grandin was the keynote speaker at one of the annual farm related conferences (I forget which one) in our area. Many could not attend the conference because so many wanted to hear her. Grandin is a young woman with autistic characteristics who understands animals very well by thinking like them. Many farmers, nationally, have gone to her for help with setting up their operations to work better. There is a movie about her and many short videos. Here is a link to one.

The animals have helped me assess my overall health and it seems to me it is pretty good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Late January Snow

This morning it was raining and the animals wanted to come out and graze. I told them later because I needed to finish some drum carding so I could give my neighbor her drum carder back for awhile. As I was carding I looked out and saw the light rain had turned to snow and it was snowing heavily opps.

To make up for not letting them out before the ground got covered, I gave everyone their apple cider vinegar (ACV) and some grain.

The rooster kept crowing and crowing and I thought it might be a "Lassie thing" but when I went to the barn everything looked O.K. except the chickens don't like the snow and they were holed up in the barn-- better than the coop I should think.

The snow is very beautiful

and we have had very little this year but I am not as excited about the snow as I usually am. Could be the 49 degrees of yesterday and a phone call, last night, with one of my sisters about dogwoods, got me to thinking about Spring and lambing and now I want the calendar to move forward a little faster.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


While hanging out with the sheep and Beau today, I was reminded of the game "spoons" we used to play as kids. I Wonder if anyone still plays that game.

To play the game you find all the playing card in the house (parts of many decks). Then you find a bunch of people and collect some spoons (one fewer than the number of people playing). Everyone starts out with 4 cards and the object is to end up with all your cards being the same. One person starts with the deck and picks a card. He/she either keeps the card and discards one from his/her hand or passes the card picked, along to the next person around the table. That player does the same and pretty soon the pace picks up as cards go round and round. When one player collects four of a kind, he/she holds those cards, continues to pass cards along, and tries to quietly take a spoon from the center of the table. Here is where the fun begins. When you see someone take a spoon you quietly do the same while continuing to pass cards. There is no winner- just one loser (the player that doesn't get a spoon).

It was always fun to see how engrossed everyone got in the game and see how long it took for players to realize a spoon was missing. Sometimes, everyone would notice the first spoon go and there would be a mad grab. Other times, one or two might notice and take a spoon but others would go a long while without noticing. Occasionally, all but one player would notice and take spoons and continue to play and finally the last player would look up and notice all the spoons were gone and feel like a fool.

So there we were- all over near the orchard. Beau decided to go check out the grass near the shop --but Beau doesn't like to play the game. Amelia wandered over to join Beau but none of the other sheep noticed. A short while later, Annie very quietly went too, but Mira and Charlotte noticed and ran to join the others. Mira and Charlotte were so obvious that Sarah saw them and followed. That left Hildegard, who was facing the other direction and very engrossed in a fresh patch of grass. When Hildegard finally looked up, she didn't know where everyone had gone because of the elevation change and her line of view. I was on the crest and the sheep were in dips on either side. Hildegard came up to me with a look of "where did they go" and then was able to see. But instead of running over to join the others, she walked slowly with an expression of "this is a stupid game- I don't want to play anymore".

Sheep generally have good flocking behavior, but they tend to spread out a bit if grass is sparse. With the terrain here on the farm, it is nice that Beau is so tall so he can keep an eye on everyone. If a sheep loses the others, and they aren't playing a game, they call out and get a response. When I want to get all the sheep back to the barnyard, all I have to do is get Sarah's attention and she will lead the others home. Beau sometimes hesitates. He knows he is not a sheep.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"We are not glad to see you"

Just got home after being away for 4 days. We returned after dark but of course I stopped off to let the animals know we were home. They were all laying down and not a one got up, came to the gate, or gave any indication that they were glad I was home. They did this the last time too but by the next morning they broke down and let me know they were glad I was back.

I know kids do this when left for a few days with caregivers while parents get a break but why is this the universal reaction amongst kids and animals? Is this one of those 10,000 monkey things?

Anyway, we are back and I am greatful for neighbors who care for our animals.

John's dad looks great. When we go away for a few days, I count the meals I don't have to make. I like cooking and eating well but sometimes look forward to not cooking for a few days. We had 2 meals with John's dad at the rehab center ( not quite what I had in mind) which were surprisingly good. Guess we don't have to worry about his getting good food. I told John the animals probably like it when I go away cause other people probably spoil them and give them more treats.

Tomorrow I will check out their conformation. Hope no one is checking out mine.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Long Farming Hours

It has been a long day. I started out having a neighbor over for tea and now, at 7:30 P.M. I am sitting down to relax. The time in between has been very busy.

My neighbor who came for tea is taking care of the animals for a few days while we go visit John's parents. It seems like every time we go away for a few days the feeding regimen has changed since the last time we went away so neighbors come over to review the new arrangements.

This time, since Charlie brought over a round bale and put it in Thor's old domain, the instructions about opening one gate and tying another - and when to do it- had to be gone over.

I was telling my neighbor that this was a good time for me to go away since we have changed the hay the girls and Beau will be eating. I was afraid they would turn up their noses to the new stuff and look at me with sad eyes begging for their greener fresher hay. (and I was afraid I would give in) Well, I saw them eating the new hay so I guess everything will be alright.

Most of the day was spent making sure everything was set, as far as the animals go, including getting more water down to the garage/barn. The water was very low in the barrel so I have been trying, every afternoon at the warmest time, to get the pump/hydrant open. Today got up to 37 degrees but still no luck. When Charlie was here, we tried to heat the pipe with a torch but that didn't even work. My next plan was to put the barrel on the little trailer and fill it up at the house hose but Charlie said he had a long hose he could add to all of mine that he thought would make the distance. He went over and got it and I had the rest connected so added his and had a little to spare. Unfortunately, his was frozen in spots so it took a while, bending it back and forth to get the ice freed. Hours were spent getting to this point and it probably took 10 minutes to fill the barrel. Then we had to disconnect all the hoses and run the ends down a slope to make sure they would be free of ice for the next time.

When people come to visit, I clean my house. When I go away, I clean the barns, barnyard, and chicken coop. That took some time and distance with my new wheel barrow hauling 2 loads of old hay and straw to the garden compost and one to the manure pile in the other direction.

At least it was a beautiful day and I got some good exercise. I even got sunburned. I always forget this time of year -- you usually can't stay out long enough to get sunburned.

Good thing I got some exercise today because the next 2 days I will be sitting alot. Tomorrow is the annual sheep symposium where I will get to here the latest on controlling parasites. Oh well, I always make some good contacts, learn something new, and have a good lunch with some good people. Sunday we drive 7 hours to see John's parents. It will be great to see them since we didn't get to at Christmas.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Life Is In Sinc

The spinning event didn't get canceled! The snow missed us again (unlike last year). Very little snow this season but plenty of cold. So Naomi and I went to spin and had a very fun day. We met a group of about 15 spinners who spin together once a month. They live a bit north of here but I plan to go spin with them when I can.

I met a sheep farmer who is my kind of gal. She has 23 sheep and shears them herself with scissors. She buys a new pair of Fisker orange handled shears every spring and goes to work shearing her flock. She said she loves shearing sheep and would come help me in March.

She also said she wants to buy a dark ram lamb from me if we have any born here this spring. She wants to add color to her flock. Wow, I hope it is that easy to sell most of the lambs this spring.

She is a real easy going person and put on her website that no one should buy fleece from her if they were going to complain about it.

Charlie said he had a small round bale of hay he could spare that he would bring over tomorrow so that the sheep and Beau could have free choice hay. Again, put out a "would like" and voila! Hope the critters aren't picky about the hay.

The chickens were down at the spring again today (they really like it down there). I went down to see how things looked and found some water cress to munch on. I decided it would be a good day to drag the old bike up too. There were two young boys in the family that lived here before us and one of them left a bike down near the spring. Every time I saw it, it just didn't seem a good day to try to drag it up and then I would forget about it until the next time I went down there which also wasn't a good day. Today was a good day to drag it up and maybe soon I will drag up the old car tire and a few other weird things.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Quiet Winter Day on the Farm

The animals are grazing, John is working on the driveway and filling in holes, I am carding wool, and now it is snowing.

Here are some thick batts of wool I carded on a drum carder. I am trying to get alot carded because I have to give my neighbor her drum carder back for a little while.

Now I have some white Cotswold with a little black alpaca blended in, some of Mira's greyish (pictured above,) and some Finn (pictured above) ready to spin. Will try to do more in the next few days.

I carded about 4 ozs to take to a spinning event last week but they put the wrong date in the newspaper so Naomi and I will go again tomorrow and hope there isn't a cancellation due to snow. Where did I put those rovings?

I need a new computer. This one doesn't know sheep farming vocabulary. It underlined batts and rovings and yesterday something else related to plural possessive. Can't remember the other things but I know it is enough to warrant getting a new computer. It has other issues too but it will have to last until I get my business up and running. More on that by the end of the week but for those who voted on the farm picture, number 3 got the most votes. Thanks.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Year Later

About this time last year I bought a blue 9 quart bucket with a plug to keep the animals' water from freezing on our cold nights. This year I have two heated buckets and this year they are down by the gate (no extension cords through the barnyard). Last year I had to haul water from the house to put in the buckets. This year I have a 50 gallon barrel in the garage/ barn that I fill with a hose on a random warmish day. The water is protected enough that even if the valve freezes I can open the top and fill a bucket. What a difference.

One of my favorite parts of being a farmer is figuring out how to make something work better with little money or valuable time spent. Farmers have a great deal of ingenuity and it is always fun to ask the old timers for a solution to a current problem.

It is also easier to have hay and feed in the garage/barn instead of the animal barn. This way I can get things together without the fear of Hildegard or Amelia locking me in the closet. Feeding time is so much more peaceful (but not always peaceful).

I used to feed the sheep hay in the barn. Now I put the hay on an overturned heavy plastic trough. Now I just need to figure out how to keep Mirabai off the table. Beau has his own spot away from the chaos where he uses much better table manors.

I have heard that anyone can be a pretty good musician after ________ hours of practice ( I forget the number but there is one). I wonder if there is a similar number to become a pretty good farmer.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Too Fat, Too Thin, or Just Right

Back and forth, back and forth, one day I think the sheep are overweight and the next I am afraid I am not feeding them enough.

There is so much conflicting information out there. Some sheep farmers say you should have your hay tested for protein content at a testing facility others say it is not necessary. Some give a specific amount of grain at different times and other say you really don't need to feed grain. Part of the problem is that the vast majority of sheep farmers are trying to get as many lambs as possible and most are raising sheep for meat.

I thought it would get easier with research but I get more confused with each new conflicting article or website. So the other day, when I was talking to Naomi (farmer of 300+ sheep) about going to a spinning event, I asked her how to know how much to feed the sheep.

Naomi just asked how their fleece looked and if they looked and seemed healthy. I said their fleece was beautiful and they looked great. She said that I was feeding them just right. She did say I could give them a little alfalfa pellets for the last 6 weeks of their pregnancy for Vitamin A and Calcium.

Why is it that we always question our innate wisdom? And why is it that most people, when asked a question, want to let us know how much they know instead of reminding us what we know?

Thanks Naomi!!!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

SHEEP's Eye View and LLama too

This is the view from high up in the main pasture. Breath taking but the sheep are always looking down. Beau seems to look around alot but with his long neck he has a different perspective. Beau is a guard llama so it is his job to notice everything. Maybe on a beautiful Spring day when their stomachs are full, they all do look up and think to themselves "we've got it made".

Not really sure what sheep's vision is but I do know that when I am up here I feel like I am on top of the world with no place better to be.

Yesterday we traded places; I went up to take pictures for my web page, to be up and running in the next few months. The sheep and Beau walked along the driveway finding fresh green grass- a welcome change from hay.

Here Mira and Hildegard munch unaware of how photogenic they are complimenting the winter palate.

It was a beautiful day and I cleaned up around the barn and barnyard with my new 2 wheel wheelbarrow. The sheep kept coming up to see if I was getting out any grain-- the grass was green and good but grain is always better. They got good exercise going back and forth.

The chickens cover considerable ground these days; from way up by the house to down by the spring and to the end of the driveway. With all animals occupied and content it was a good day for major clean up.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Educational Posturing

Educational posturing was the focus on the farm this morning. After some consultation with comrads more savvy than I, on rooster behavior, I went up to the rooster and approached him from behind slowly with my hands and was able to take hold gently but firmly and hold him down and still. When I let him up he walked away.

Before, I would try to grab him from the front when he was trying to attack. This was aggressive confrontation. What I really want to do is educate him about who is the boss on this farm not fight him.

Here is an example in the human world... Say you were a teacher in a high school and some students were distributing drugs outside your classroom. You could go up to the rooster in an aggressive confrontation from the front or you could come up from behind and put your hand gently but firmly on the shoulder of the rooster and educate him about your knowledge and recommendations.

The new approach worked good today--- Lets see about tomorrow.

On another side; my number one employee in production sent me a prototype for wrist warmers for the rehab/ therapeutic division of FAR R R AWAY. More on this later.......

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Staying Clean

I had an outside shower today--Hurray!! December was so cold that we could not keep the water lines hooked up. I am glad January is here-- much warmer (so far). Beau and the girls had an outside shower yesterday and I guess I could have joined them but I prefer warm water showers.

Anyway, we are all clean and happy again. Also the snow finally melted on the pasture which means a bit more grazing a little less hay so they stay cleaner that way. Shepherds used to run sheep through rivers to get them clean before shearing -- maybe they still do where there are rivers on the open range but around here farmers are expected to keep their sheep out of the rivers and creeks (the nitrate thing).

Many sheep farmers put coats on sheep before they start giving them hay to keep all the chaff out of the fleece but I just don't want to do that. Some sheep wear coats all year but I would rather felt my fleece off the sheep.

Maybe when I trench and run water out to the barnyard I will build the sheep and Beau an outside shower so they can stay clean all the time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Food Waste

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! As one year ends and another begins it is a good time for reflection and personal plans set in place to make the new year better than the one we are leaving.

The First thing that comes to mind for me is the amount of food I waste. I have been thinking about this since last summer when I had one of the most productive vegetable gardens I have ever had. Unfortunately, it was also the most food I have ever wasted. It is hard when there are just two of us here and many nights, when John is working, I eat alone. I gave quite a bit away but it is hard to find places for it to go or at least it takes alot of energy. I don't have a separate freezer and I don't take the time to freeze or can much of the extra. I wish I could just gather it up and take it to a vegetable processing facility ( like a meat processing facility) and go back and pick it up with some of it put into sauce, some into paste, some into vegetable bouillon, some into soup, some into stew, and some in a form that could go to the food pantry.

In the October issue of Ode Magazine there was an article about Jonathan Bloom and his interest in food waste. In the article it said that "Americans waste at least 40 percent of all edible food raised, grown, bought, or sold in the country". Bloom is launching a campaign to try to cut down on waste which he is calling "Waste-Not Wednesday". He is asking people to not waste food one day a week hoping it will make people more aware of the amount of food they waste.

For Christmas, Lyndy gave me some reusable bags to keep vegetables fresher longer. One lets gasses out, one keeps moisture in and I forget what the other does. The package lists which vegetable goes in what type bag but it doesn't list many of the vegetables so I will have to see if there is more info on their website. Hopefully this will help keep the waste down.

Shortly after our first snowfall, when I had been feeding the animals hay for only a short time, I noticed how much they waste. They pick out the green tender grasses and leave the coarser blades. I keep thinking if I don't give them the hay as often they will eat the less desirable but they don't. When I do give them fresh hay they attack it like they are starving. I need to find out how to resolve this. Maybe I will adopt "Waste- Not Wednesday" for them.