Sunday, January 27, 2019

January Walkabout

There is an old farming adage: “when you raise livestock, you will  end up with dead stock”. (or something like that)

Okay, not the most uplifting way to start a post, I know. But it’s the reality we live with here on the hill.

I’m pretty sure that whoever coined that phrase had to be a shepherd, because everyone knows that the thing sheep do best is DIE. Seriously, no exaggeration. Lambing season just brings the struggle into clear focus.

For the most part, birth is a natural occurrence that happens with little or no human intervention. If the shepherd needs to step in, it is because the situation is critical, and the possibility of a positive outcome is neither guaranteed nor expected.

That was how yesterday began…with livestock becoming deadstock…

(in case you were looking for rainbows and lollipops, you might want to skip this post)
Actually, the issue began earlier in the week when one of the old (old) ewes seemed to be going lame. Foot problems in cold, wet weather are not unusual, so I just made a mental note to keep an eye on it and went about my chores.

There were other lamb arrivals, all of which happened without my assistance. They all looked hale and hearty, although not very numerous. This season we’ve had a great number of singles, lowering our birthrate considerably. We can only surmise that somehow the weird summer weather had some impact on this, although I haven’t figured out exactly how. Our bottom-line is going to be seriously affected as well, and there’s not a thing I can do about that one. (I am trying hard not to think about that!)

Then, as I walked back into the barn the other evening, I found the skinny ewe wedged between the loading gate and the barn. (just how she got in this spot escapes me) At this point she was completely unable to walk because her back legs were particularly weak. I’ve seen this happen before when a ewe is hugely pregnant, and the lambs press on a nerve. Occasionally it corrects itself after the birth, but all too often it does not.

Since there was torrential rain in the forecast, the Boss dragged her back in the barn and we settled her out of the way of the other animals. She seemed fairly comfortable and munched hay with a contented air. There was some tiny hope that she would recover, but it was much more likely that we were looking at a lost ewe. A downed animal develops other health issues rather rapidly as bodily functions depend on the animal being upright. But, there was a chance that her offspring could survive.

As the days wore on, she required more and more interventive care. I brought her buckets of water. I tempted her to eat with alfalfa treats. I dosed her with nutrient drenches. To my amazement, she seemed to hold her own.

When it became evident that birth was imminent, it was also obvious that human intervention was required. The ewe wasn’t even trying. While the Boss and I were both pretty certain that this wasn’t going to end well, as the shepherds, we had to give it our best shot.

She was totally lethargic and didn’t even struggle when I began my internal exam. None of this bode well for a successful lambing.

There were two lambs inside that skinny old ewe. Two very big lambs that were all tangled together. And, there was no vigorous movement from those very big lambs. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t be sure there was any movement at all. This was not good.

We strained and we struggled. We really tried. The fact that she couldn’t stand, or even shift her weight was increasing problematic. Usually in birth, gravity is a big part of getting the babies out. With the ewe stuck on the floor, brute strength was our only option. And, any “superpowers” I may have possessed are greatly diminished of late as arthritis seems to be gaining the upper hand.

The ewe had very little strength. She was stressed, dehydrated and bleeding. There were two enormous (probably dead) lambs stuck inside her. This one was going in the loss column. Completely. There was no way to salvage any of them. The only humane thing to do was to put her out of her suffering. The Boss had to perform his most un-favorite task…

As the Boss drove the tractor out to dispose of the dead ewe and her lambs, I cleaned up the mess in the barn and headed back to the house. I spent the rest of the day trying not to think about the loss. Rather unsuccessfully, I might add.

I hate that aspect of farm life. And, it never gets easier. But, it is the reality.

And, while it certainly doesn’t make for an uplifting post, it gives you a sense of the lens through which we see the world. The hardships definitely make us more appreciative of the successes. We have learned to take nothing for granted. Ever.

January sky

In other news, January has not brought with it the changes that I had hoped we would see in 2019. It is entirely possible that I am getting impatient and that things will change at some later point (that’s what the Boss says). But, for now, it seems we’re in a holding pattern. Did you see my snow day post? Click here.
healthy lambs

But, the lambs that we do have are healthy. The “lamb races” started this morning. (I may have to update this post )The pullets are beginning to lay eggs already. And, even though I didn’t make it to the annual Farmers’ Market meeting (lack of sleep and cold viruses make a miserable combination) there were a number of new folks interested in becoming vendors. That’s a good thing for the Market. And, in turn a good thing for the other vendors (including us).

So, Life moves on.

As we get ready to flip the calendar page to February, the cycle of life here on the hill will continue. After a little roadtrip, we have a fresh supply of potting mix, so we’re ready to start seedlings. The first batch of broilers will arrive in a couple of weeks, so we better get hustling on moving the pullets to the henhouse. And, since the hay supply is dwindling rapidly, we are guaranteed a good workout as we stack the barn full once more.

red at morning...


blue morning

cute ram lamb

"dancin' in the dark"

early morning snow

trying hay

hey, ewe!

icicles at the creek

sheep-dog love


early morning

barnyard "pond"

night sky

Karma IS a white dog
(in case you can't tell)


another red morning

setting moon

Karma: "but, Sissie, Mama says to SHARE the cookies!"

ice fog in the valley

light on the snowy mountains

birds in the backyard

barn at dusk

sun-worshiping at the barn

one giant turnip

Those are just the regular occurrences of everyday life. This “crazy…tragic, sometimes almost magic….awful, beautiful life”. (Darryl Worley ) And the truth is the next line says “You can't really smile until you've shed some tears.”

after a really big fight
Karma and Gus have a "moment"

I hope we continue to find time to be aware of our surroundings, even though sometimes it is difficult. To take time to recognize the tiniest of blessings that are often overlooked as we get caught up in the struggles and responsibilities…

…and I hope you have a Happy Sunday! 
every sunrise is a blessing and an opportunity

Thanks for stopping by. Please come “visit” again.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Snow Day on the Farm

It's snowing...
and this ewe is NOT amused!

In case you missed out on the snow...we had about 5 inches over the are more than welcome to share ours!

Here are a few shots, mostly from the kitchen window.

...and so it begins...

dinner date at the bird feeder

1st lamb arrived
he's been joined by 2 more
(the rest should arrive over the weekend)

this woodpecker looks COLD!

"majestic" Gus

a new bird feeder in the backyard means we're getting lots of visitors

heading out for morning chores

snow blowing before breakfast

pretty mama cardinal in the snow

woodpecker at the feeder

Stay warm! Stay safe! We're getting ready for another potential snowstorm...

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Walkabout 12-30-18

You probably won’t believe me when I tell you that I almost didn’t make it to write this last post for 2018.

And, while I may exaggerate a bit, I assure you the muck and mire behind the barn is no laughing matter.

2018 has been the 2nd wettest year in the history of weather keeping. Not just here on the hill where I can assure you that is indeed true. But, throughout the state, particularly our beautiful Valley. It’s a soggy, sodden mess and there are all sorts of ongoing problems relating to the weather.

Here on the hill it’s been raining for something like 47 days straight and the barn lot is looking like the Great Dismal Swamp  (although it isn’t nearly so picturesque). In reality it has rained 16 of the last 30 days AND we had nearly a foot of snow. (so I don’t exaggerate too much)

December snow on the farm

The other day we were under a flood warning (again) and there was no sign the deluge was letting up any time soon. It was dark when we headed out for morning chores. Pitch dark.

I put the feed out for the ewes and started back to the barn. In the dark, I veered ever so slightly from my usual path and found myself mired in ankle-deep muck. It made sucking sounds as I tried to move my feet. I began to sink deeper. And deeper. The mud was almost like some alien force, grabbing my ankles with unbelievable strength. Suddenly, the heavens opened and rivulets of water were snaking their way down the back of my neck as I struggled. Oh great!  I tried tugging my foot out of the mud. No luck. If anything, it sank deeper. I tried again and nearly pitched face-first into the goo. That would have been funny if it hadn’t been so aggravating. The next time I pulled on my foot, my boot nearly came off. Now, that wouldn’t have been good, let me tell you. Ewww….cold, stinky mud covered socks…had personal experience with that one…no thank you to a repeat performance!

Now, arthritis in both my feet and my knees is redefining mobility (not in a good way) and making life a literal pain. So, every attempted “step” was painful as well as ineffective. I began to lose my balance again. I started using the feed bucket to maintain my upright position. I wasn’t having much luck “powering through” this situation. The Boss had already gone inside and was unaware of my plight. I considered yelling, but it was pouring rain and I couldn’t imagine he could hear me. Maybe I could send a distress signal toward the house with my headlamp! Yeah, right. He would have to be looking out the window at the precise moment I shined the light. And, I have absolutely no Morse code skills. I was pretty much on my own.

Long story, short…I finally got free. Although, I did wrench my back and get my coveralls soaked with mud. At least he didn’t have to haul me out with the tractor bucket! And, I didn’t find myself slipping slowly under the mire, never to be seen again.

But, that is some serious mud! I’ve never seen anything that could be described as quicksand, but honestly, this did. And, still does. Although now the wind is blowing a gale, which yields another set of problems, but the upside is that the mud will dry quickly.

When I finally made it back to the house, and I was relating my harrowing tale to the Boss, I realized the muck behind the barn is a perfect metaphor for 2018. It’s been a tough year, kind of shitty (sorry about the bad word, but you really didn’t think that was just mud behind the barn, did you?) demanding far more brute force than usual to get through. There were times when I honestly thought we wouldn’t make it.

You can blame it on the alignment of the stars, the planets, or maybe it was just numerology. (I understand that 2-0-1-8 is a dangerous combination) Maybe it was just the effects of the weather, a divisive political landscape, or bad karma (and I don’t mean the dog). It was a difficult year. I’m not the only one who struggled with the past 365 days. I read an article by John Pavlovitz that was entitled: "2018: Has Been One Long DECADE" That about sums it up if you ask me. But, it’s about over. We’ve made it. Let’s focus on that.

That being said, 2018 was all about rain and mud. As I mentioned earlier, it has been the second wettest year on record.
red at morning...

means wet pine needles

another storm clears

waterlogged morning glories

In 2003 weather records (going back to 1874) were broken with 54 inches of rain and nearly 4 feet of snow here on the hill.  2018 saw over 52 inches of rain and about 3 feet of snow. You won’t believe this, but there is actually a good chance of rain for New Year’s Eve, so it may be even closer. Those totals are a little more impressive when you learn that our average rainfall is right around 40 inches.
But, enough of the rain news. Suffice it to say it’s WET and go on with things.

Because LIFE is moving ever forward.

It’s almost time for lambs! So the ewes are doing what they can to prepare...

ewes intent on eating

and eating

under all that snow the grass was still GREEN!

In a little less than two weeks, the first babies should arrive. We worked the ewes earlier this week, giving vaccinations so that the moms will pass some natural immunity to their offspring. The Boss will assemble some jugs in the next few days and we will be ready.

Just in case you wondered, “jugs” are little pens where the new family spends a couple of days bonding right after birth. They are outfitted with a heat lamp (to warm the babies if the weather is cold) and mama gets some TLC and extra grain to get everyone off to a good start. After about 2 days of close observation, they are turned out with the rest of the flock.

I’m trying not to get over-anxious and “count my LAMBS before they hatch”. We will have to wait and see what kind of production rate we get.  Each ewe generally has 1 – 3 babies. Twins being the optimal outcome. A production rate of 150% is average, and we generally run 175-200%. 200% is awesome, but that might be a little optimistic this year. It would also mean the barn would be super crowded!

While the photos below have no real theme, they are proof that you just never know what you might the course of two days, I observed...
a cow walking down Mbrk Road

a sheep watching a deer who is watching me

a group nap in the back yard
2 dogs and a CAT!

In other farm news, the gardens have been planned and the first batches of broilers have been ordered.  It's time to pay the sales tax and do some book-keeping. The Farmers’ Market annual meeting is scheduled for next month and I need to inventory the seeds. The cycle of life is always evident.

morning light over the snow

apparently it's "stand in a line day"

ooh, baby, it's cold outside!

wild rosehips

full moon rising over Mbrk

early morning grazing

cardinal on the fence

frosty teasel at the creek

Karma's "birthday" rawhide
(it was gone within 24 hours)

ice crystals on the xterra


the last gumball

the promise of spring

sunrise on the greenhouse

pretty mama cardinal

December full moon

I have no idea what 2019 holds in store. I can only surmise that it will be different than 2018. But, that’s a given, right?

When our girls were younger, I know they found it annoying that I couldn’t give them guarantees that things would get BETTER. I could only assure them it would be different. Somehow that doesn’t always sound promising. But, in a way, there is hope in different. Different holds a great deal of possibility, particularly when the place you find yourself is hard and uncomfortable. So, that’s where I choose to focus.

And, there's always something different...

a crow at sunrise

a dark and gloomy day

big change in the weather

sunset from the greenhouse

One thing I do know about 2019 is that I will finally be able to say that I have been published! (and that’s different)

Earlier this year I stepped way outside of my comfort zone and submitted a short essay to a collaborative book project. On January 17th, the book launches on Amazon. It has been an interesting process and I’ve met some talented, caring folks. You can check it out here.  

every sunrise is different
and each days holds all sorts of possibilities

I have also been doing a fair amount of writing and have posted a few new entries on my personal website. You should really come visit…

And, I guess that’s all the news from here.

I hope you have a Happy Sunday! 
under Gus' watchful eye

Thanks for stopping by! Come back and “visit” again next month.