Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Walkabout 2-18

Looking forward.

If this week had a theme, it would be have to be looking forward.

That stands in stark contrast to last week when I got all bogged down in the pain and frustration of looking backward, rendering it impossible to write a post with any sort of positive outlook. Personally, I find February to be a dismal, depressing month fraught with anniversaries of hurt and heartache. Our experiences and memories clash with the exuberant celebration of LOVE that threaten to overwhelm at every turn and I find myself giving serious consideration to “hermitizing” until Spring.

Last week's snow was pretty...

But, since time is marching ever onward, there is no time for the endless loop of sad and painful thoughts that February churns up within me. It’s time to get with it, get over it and start working…
It seems everyone I talk to feels it necessary to remind me that we are in the serious countdown to Market season, whether I’m ready or not. So, onward…

another gloomy day

the creek is pretty high after all the snow and rain

After some serious delays, I did some much-needed cleaning/organizing in the greenhouses. I even got the early spring brassicas seeded! Seeding must be the focus of the upcoming week if we hope to have anything for the Market.
cleaning the greenhouses requires a lot of "elbow-grease"
some tunes and lots of caffeine

But, the hoophouses stand empty and in need of some serious attention. For the first time in 10 years, we don’t have any winter crops growing (even the weeds look sparse). I must admit, it’s a bit unsettling/depressing to walk in the hoophouse right now. But, last year’s challenges left little time or energy for hoophouse growing, or much else for that matter.

Last year’s challenges also caused us to re-evaluate a lot of things and take into consideration the fact that we do indeed have limitations. In looking forward, we know that in order to stay sustainable, in order to continue on, we will have to make some serious changes. We’re still working through some of those changes, but year-round hoophouse production may be a thing of the past.

MUD Season has arrived!
rainy, snowy days keep the lambs inside
as the muck and mud behind the barn grows and grows

The crazy, changeable weather led to another job for the Boss. Every Spring we find ourselves dealing with the muck behind the barn. And, every year we deal with it in a slightly different way. 
This year, he scraped it into a big pile in the back corner. Now, when the rains of Spring come, I won’t run the risk of sinking to my armpits when I head out to feed the sheep. And, the lambs can add “king of the hill” to their daily routine.(action shots to follow)

barnyard cleaning day
Speaking of lambs, we ran them through the barn for their first round of vaccinations. And, they look GOOD! They’re all gaining well, even the tiny triplets. One big, single ram lamb (known as FAT BOY) weighs 55# at 34 days. That’s a fairly impressive growth rate. Generally, you look for a pound a day for the first couple of months.  That’s definitely got us looking forward to lambchops!
working lambs
the aftermath

Thoughts of lamb chops are almost always followed by concerns about keeping the lambs safe and healthy. I haven’t heard the "song-dogs"  lately…but, I know they’re still out there…somewhere. I don’t know if Gus could hold off a pack of coyotes by himself. Recently, his nighttime skirmishes have primarily involved skunks. And, he has not come out on the winning end of that. Or maybe he did. Either way, he is incredibly odoriferous (in other words, stinky…really stinky)

When Ellie Mae passed away in July (read about Ellie) the Boss said we shouldn’t rush into getting another dog. I had to agree. Last year was so hard in so many ways that it seemed senseless to add any more challenges. So, we left the subject for another time.

But, I must admit, I truly missed her furry presence on my nocturnal barn trips. She was a most empathetic companion. Even Gus seemed a little “off”. To my mind, we NEEDED another dog, but I was trying to be patient. More than one person had sent us info on possibilities, but our needs were specific, and nothing seemed quite right. I had about given up on the whole proposition.

On one of the Boss’ daily perusals of Craigslist, he found some Great Pyrenees puppies for sale. A phonecall, a quick paypal transaction (this all took place while I was grocery shopping) and then next thing I know we’re headed out for points unknown on the great puppy quest of 2018.
mama dog had 8 pups

By lunchtime, we were headed back to the hill with “Karma” who is just a fluffy, white ball of fur at this point. 
Karma headed for home

She’s only seven weeks old and not real sure what a sheep even is. But, she’s got potential.

"I'm here to guard you, Mr. Ram!"
Angus is having NO part of this thing
he stomps his foot every time she approaches

Gus has recovered from his shock and dismay over being mistaken for someone’s mother and I think they will get along just fine. So, prepare yourself for stories of puppy antics and lots of pictures.

Gus and Karma

So, yeah…we’re looking forward to the day in the seemingly distant future when Karma is actually an asset and can protect the farm. In the meantime, isn’t she CUTE?

she is SO tiny 

something about a boy and a dog
But, puppy cuteness aside, there is still work to be done.

It’s time to start the acclimation process for the pullets. With 50 half-grown birds in the brooder, things in the brooder were getting a little cramped and a whole lot gross. We discovered that the building was literally bursting at the seams…the wall connection had come loose and needed to be repaired.

The Boss decided that we need to get the little girls moved into the henhouse…PRONTO!
pretty pullet

Moving the pullets is an annual chore that happens in late winter since the brooder needs to be emptied and cleaned before the first batch of broilers arrives. (and that is scheduled for NEXT week!) You can read about that in some detail here.

Since the move coincided with a visit from #1grandson, he got pressed into service. (never too soon to look forward to the future and teach the little ones about farmlife)

While “Mom-O” caught the pullets, “PaPa” and #1 put them in crates for transport. The pullets were then placed into their portion of the henhouse. #1 greeted each one and assured them all was well. Never has a pullet move gone so smoothly!
getting ready to move the pullets

bringing the chicken crates to the henhouse

here she comes!

"it's okay chickens!"

After about a week, we will open the door between the two areas of the henhouse and allow the pullets to mingle with the mature hens. This time of acclimation tends to minimize the struggle for dominance that determines  "pecking order"

By the time the Market opens on April 7th, the adjustment period will be long over and the egg-laying should be in full swing. Again, looking forward

we had a dinner guest Friday night that we always

And that wraps up another week here on the hill.

Thanks for stopping by.

                                      Have a Happy Sunday! 
...and we have GERMINATION!
this is a sight that will never grow old
...and it is why I LOOK FORWARD to the growing season

Come back and “visit” again real soon.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Sunday Walkabout 2-4

Well, it’s February.

That means the big push of lambing is over (actually there was no push this year, it just sorta happened), the groundhog saw his shadow…meaning there will be six more weeks of winter (I'm here to tell you it's gonna be longer than that before it's really Spring), and the landscape has faded into a somewhat depressing monochromatic palette, sky and earth seem to meld into one another on cloudy days.
a peek out the office window reveals
a SNOW day!

it's not always monochromatic
cloudy skies prevented us from seeing the historic lunar event
but, it was still pretty a few days later

On the other hand, the seed orders have been placed, some much-needed precipitation is on the way, and we got the first broiler chick confirmation email. Things are moving right along as we get a few days closer to Spring.

That being said, nothing much happened on the old homestead this week.

This time of year is all about maintaining.
ewes eat LOTS of hay

Maintaining may sound simple, you just keep on going. Right? It’s just a matter of “providing with the necessities of life and existence”. That certainly doesn’t sound too challenging. Around here that means lots of feeding and watering.  And, to that end, the Boss hauled a load of hay for the sheep. (and he unloaded and stacked it alone…YAY, Boss!)

"maintaining" means providing essentials for life
and lots of lamb bottles

Maintaining can be somewhat boring, but keep in mind it is essential work, without it there is no planning for the future…heck, there is no future. But you just never know what’s going to happen next.
everybody got in on feeding lamb bottles

In the course of a single day, three different lambs got stuck (in three different ways) that required human intervention.

I honestly thought the first one was dead when I walked into the barn at daybreak to do chores. Her head was caught in one of the interior fences, her body turned backward and motionless. Horrified, I dropped everything and rushed to correct the situation. I was somewhat startled when I touched her and she jerked, letting out an enormous BAA! A small manipulation on my part and she was freed. She ran directly to her mother, getting a much-needed drink of milk. No harm done. (although the Boss did do a little repair job to the fence)

Later in the day there was a bit of commotion behind the barn. Further investigation revealed a lamb with his front legs in the stocktank. He looked rather resigned to the fact. He couldn’t get enough traction with his back legs to jump forward. And, he didn’t have the mental acuity to simply pull his front legs out. So, he was just standing there…yelling every once in a while. Needless to say, this was disturbing the other sheep who simply wanted a drink of water. Other than being a little soggy, he was none the worse for wear once he was rescued.
I'm stuck!

No sooner had I freed him than I realized another lamb was complaining about something. This time one of the bottle lambs had gotten wedged between the gate and the wall. Some of the lambs are thin enough to scoot through the gap, but the bottle lambs are a little pudgy and she only got halfway through before it was apparent that her heft is not always an advantage. Again, an easy fix.

you're stuck, too!

Then, there was the lamb with the tail…

Lambs are born with long tails. Most shepherds dock (cut off) these tails as a matter of farm hygiene. Those long tails collect excrement and harbor all sorts of nasty germs, so the animal is far healthier without it. There are a couple of methods for tail removal. Obviously, you can cut them off. But, that’s bloody and gross. I’m not a big fan of bloody and gross, so…

elasticator tool

Here on the hill, we use an elasticator tool to apply a strong rubber band around the tail (when the lamb is about 1 day old), it squeezes off the blood supply and the tail withers and falls off after a week or so. This has the unsettling side-effect of little, unnecessary lamb tails scattered around the barnlot, but has always been an effective method for many years.

One of the single lambs seemed to have scours. (diarrhea) While this can be a sign of serious illness, it often happens to single lambs with big appetites. (it is easily corrected) But, her long tail was drenched. It was supposed to get bitterly cold and I was certain this would freeze. (or at least make her very cold) After I gave her some medicine that would clear up the condition, I made the decision to go ahead and cut the tail off. Generally, there is no blood supply left to the tail after a short while. So, this should have been an easy fix.

But, of course, it wasn’t.

It bled. It bled a lot. She shook, blood splattered. I applied some medication…and that splattered. There were red blood dots and blue medicine spots everywhere. And, it was still bleeding. But, I finally got it stopped. She went to her mother. All was right with the world.

The next morning, when I walked in the barn for morning chores, she was lying in a pool of blood. Seriously, it looked like a crime scene. I can only assume that prior to my arrival, she got stepped on, causing the wound to bleed again. I had no idea why it was bleeding at all, but that didn’t matter now. There was a lot of blood, so time was of the essence.

As I surveyed the supplies in the barn, the bottle babies were gnawing on the leg of my coveralls, looking for their breakfast, the ewes were milling about, complaining loudly about my tardiness, and I was scrambling around with this bleeding baby. The environment was not conducive to creative thinking.

I dunked her tail in iodine, hoping that the drying action would stop the bleeding. That worked until she started running with the other lambs. She was leaving a trail of blood behind her. I began to fear that she would bleed to death, although she seemed to be feeling perky. It couldn’t be bandaged, so I was running out of options. Finally, I put another band on her tail, hoping the added pressure would stop the bleeding. Ah, success!
Apparently, this ewe has babysitting duty

two little sisters wearing sweaters on a bitterly cold day

learning to use the creep feeder

mmmm, grain is yummy!

You just never know what kind of problem-solving you might have to do before breakfast!

Other than that, my mental prowess hasn’t met any real challenges this week.

Because…we’re hanging in there…maintaining… “providing with the necessities of life and existence”. (which if you didn’t know…is a full-time job…on any farm)  

 Facebook just reminded me that FOUR years ago today I wrote THIS. A lot has happened in the interim. And, I’m not real sure I still possess that kind of eloquence…or even that kind of passion for what I do.

But, then again…at least we’re maintaining. And, we can hope we regain our passion and eloquence.

Thanks for stopping by! Come back and “visit” again real soon.
stunning sunRISE

beautiful sunSET

Hope you are having a Happy Sunday! 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday Walkabout 1-28

Yip, yip….yowwww! Woooo…bark, bark…yip, yip…..yowwwwwowooooowwwww!

Okay, my attempts at coyote cries are a dismal failure. Watch this  or this.

All the little hairs on the back of my neck were suddenly standing at attention. The calls were so close I could sense the fur and spit flying as a skirmish broke out amongst the band. Making it all the more eerie, Gus was sitting stock still and silent, his nose quivering slightly as he peered intently into the darkness. With the next coyote call, the old pregnant ewes hoisted themselves up from their sleeping spots and headed for the barn. That made me more than a little nervous.

I realize there are those who feel that the nocturnal cries of the coyotes are some type of amazing natural music. That explains why they are called “the song dog”. And, I guess it’s cool that they have different calls to communicate.

But, personally, the very thought of coyotes freaks me out. Thinking that they’re out there…somewhere…is one thing. Being absolutely certain is another. This time they sounded closer than ever before. And, then there is knowing there is nothing I can do…

nice lambs

This is the most intense part of the shepherding year. Day-time, night-time…it seems I’m always headed toward the barn. And, there is a definite downside to spending a lot of time in the barn. Not only do all my trips center around the barn, the welfare of the sheep and the potential sales hold my every thought captive. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I trudge out to make sure everyone is all right. Coyote cries just magnify my concerns. There are countless things that could put the entire operation in jeopardy.
checking lambs at night
I LOVE my headlamp!

So, maybe it was starting the day before sun-up with the haunting sounds of the “song-dog” wailing and yipping in the neighbor’s field…maybe it was just a side-effect of the bronchitis meds, or a serious lack of sleep. Maybe it was a combination. But, when I found what appeared to be yet another single, tiny lamb, I kinda lost it. (okay, truthfully, I REALLY lost it) All the worries and uncertainties came crashing down…the sheep, the Market, our income stream (or lack thereof), the Boss’ health, the weather, garden plans, healthcare, insurance, the mess in government, future goals, past hurts and missed opportunities. How could any of this work? Did I even want to try? Some days this life that others think is such a dream is just so uncertain and seems incredibly hard.

more nice lambs

Just like the coyotes, the worries are always there.  It’s just occasionally they seem to howl away, overwhelming and distressing. Since they certainly aren’t going away, we must learn to deal with them.

The Boss’ advice is always…ask yourself what can you do about it? Find one thing and do it…and then, do the next thing…and just keep going. 

Therein lies the rub. It’s the times when I can’t think of a plan that I get so out of sorts. All those things over which I have no control send me into a tailspin.


In this particular case, I could at least take care of the lamb. Then I could run some necessary errands and “do the next thing”.

When I returned to the barn, the tiny, single lamb had been joined by two little sisters. TRIPLETS! That explained the size. (and got our lamb count back on track to some degree) Later in the day, more babies arrived. My ovine obstetric skills have yet to be needed this season. Hurray!

these big rams lambs are my
"birthday twins"

With a plan in place to protect the sheep from the coyotes, it was time to head out for the Farmers’ Market annual meeting. This is when those who are interested in being Market vendors get together, go over the rules, reserve their places and pay their fees. Since the Boss is Market Manager, he heads up the meeting. I generally get pressed into service, although it must be pointed out that I have absolutely nothing to do with the running of the Market. We had a full house this year, even though a number of folks were absent. There were 15 new vendor applications!

This will be the Market’s 25th anniversary. I wonder if those folks who founded the Staunton Farmers' Market ever thought that would be possible…? Things have certainly changed since the early days.

And, more changes are scheduled. The City of Staunton is re-furbishing the parking garage across the street from the parking lot where the Market is held, so it will be closed for 6 months. That means that all the police vehicles will need to be parked elsewhere… (probably in the Market space) And, the job must be done during warm weather, so it will happen during the height of Market season. All of this will seriously impact the Market, in addition to the loss of customer parking.  It remains to be seen how the customers will react to the disruption. I guess we will just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

And, then there is the issue of the trees…

trees at the Market

Those trees that make the Market so scenic, the ones that add to the ambience and grant much-needed shade on summer days, are slowly dying. Such sadness! There is no way to save them, as the variety is just not suited to the particular application. The Boss attended a meeting where the City Arborist presented several plans to correct the issue. They might simply replace the trees as they die. Or they might re-vamp the area, using something called the  Silva Cell, which is really pretty.  Or they might do something entirely different…changing the area dramatically. Since the decision is up to the City, and whatever they decide will require funding (which has yet to be allocated) so nothing has been decided. Whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) will greatly affect the Market. It feels like we’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop…

I would really miss the trees
especially in the fall

Uncertainty seems to be the watchword this year.

That’s not to say there is nothing positive happening on the hill. Not at all.

Broiler chicks have been ordered, lamb processing dates confirmed, and the Ag Census completed.

while I worked on paperwork
Remy sat IN the trashcan and shredded everything
(I suppose that was helpful)

 We even had a 4H group come by for a farm visit the other evening!

when this little girl's dad asked if she was going to stay the night
she looked up at me and said
"Okay, can I?"
Lambs arrived all week with little or no fanfare. And, we spent Saturday evening with all the kids, celebrating my birthday. Thanks y' was great!

Nothing like snuggles with all the grandsons.

maybe I shouldn't tell my girls...
but, these are the best presents

When we got back, I headed to the barn to check on everyone. That’s when I heard an ewe screaming in pain. She was outside. It was beginning to rain. It was next to impossible to get her into the barn. And, all the other sheep were not being cooperative. However, she soon delivered without assistance and there are now 21 healthy lambs cavorting around the barn.

afternoon at the "lamb beach"
all the babies take a place in the sun

the four stages of sleep
dozing, napping, dreaming and flat-out exhausted

Ah, the sun feels SO good!

I wish there were more, but…it is what it is.  There are two ewes that didn’t breed at the same time as the rest of the flock, so it is possible that there will be a few more next month. Although, even if that happens, we just won’t have the numbers we have in the past. We’re still feeling the effects of last year’s “challenges” to some degree. That’s frustrating in a number of ways. But, again…it is what it is.

sleeping with lambs

this little lamb has the most comfortable bed!

Demand for lambchops (and all other cuts) has increased dramatically and it is tempting to consider expanding the operation. However, that’s much easier said than done. Housing, grazing and feeding throughout the winter would require some major adjustments as well as considerable financial investment.

On the positive side, the lambs are all big and healthy. And, while I am supplementing a set of twins, (mama-sheep didn’t have enough milk) at least I don’t have SEVEN bottle babies like I did one year. Did you read  this?  or this? 
bottle babies chew on EVERYTHING

I guess that brings us to the end of the “news” from the hill. The upcoming week will find us watching the weather closely (we need precipitation!) and figuring out a time to haul a load of hay.

Although,'s a little something to be THANKFUL for

the stocktank heater shorted out and burned up the plug
it did NOT cause a fire!


we had a spare!

Thanks for stopping by.

Hope you have a Happy Sunday! 

Come back and “visit” again soon.

moon during a middle of the night barn check

Jan. 31 will be a big lunar event
full moon, blue moon, lunar eclipse
first time in 150 years

Here’s a postscript for those of you who might be wondering…

I haven’t heard the coyotes again.
                    …and…it’s RAINING!

                                          (how’s that for good news?)