Sunday, February 24, 2019

February Walkabout

The English language may need a new word for WET. Or, at the very least some new measure of degree. Because it is no longer adequate to say “it is wet out there”.

the wet weather gives Mrs. Cardinal a "bad hair day"

It is a sodden, slippery, mucky mess.  Springs have sprung where they’ve never been seen before . “Wet-weather” creeks continue to rise. The little drainage ditches along the side of the road have become whitewater rapids. And, there are ponds where there used to be hayfields. I fully expect to see Noah (and his Ark) floating downstream at any moment.

2018 was the wettest year ever in some parts of Virginia. And, it’s looking like 2019 is going to be more of the same. If this continues, some serious changes will have to take place. Meaning, we may have to give actual consideration to all those jokes about aquaculture. Maybe we should seriously consider growing rice. Perhaps tilapia?

There is never much to report in February. I spend too much time trying to overcome my loathing of the shortest month. I’ve tried for years to express exactly what it is that causes my issues but haven’t ever been able to pinpoint the source. I might be close. So, check out… at the end of the month. My new-ish website is where I’ve been posting some of the other stuff I write that isn’t farm-related. I hope you’ll visit and read. Or, come show me some Facebook love here: Barbara Womack-writer on Facebook (be sure to “LIKE”)

Back to February on the farm…

We have already established that it is wet. (and I don’t like it)

when it's not snowing or raining...
the wind is BLOWING
today it is supposed to gust up to 50mph!
In addition to all the rain, we have had 8 ice events since November. EIGHT! No wonder there are still branches down from that first storm. It hasn't been dry long enough to do a proper clean-up!
icicles on the apple tree
nighttime ice
chickadee on icicle feeder
through the front porch trellis
iced hydrangea
ice-encased morning glory seeds
maple buds and icicles
icicle feeder
redbud icicle

ANOTHER ice event

woodpecker in backyard

Let’s see…
CUTE twins

the creep feeder works!
big ewe can't get in and eat all the feed

Lambing season is done. I can’t say I am thrilled with the outcome this year. There are only 18 lambs. The fewest we have had in years. This is disconcerting (and disappointing) when demand is at an all-time high. But, the few lambs that we do have are hale and hearty. Although, I am “co-parenting” one lamb. His arrival into the world was fairly traumatic, and I didn’t think the ewe would survive. She did, but for some reason, she still allows me to “help” with her offspring. I could do without the extra treks to the barn in the dark and wet...but, oh, well…the 4H kids will enjoy feeding the bottle baby when they come by for their annual visit next week!

sometimes my bottle-baby
has a drinking buddy 

During the only 3 days (I don’t think I am exaggerating) that it wasn’t raining, we actually got some farm work done. First, we moved the pullets to the henhouse. They spent a couple of days in confinement and have now assimilated with the rest of the flock and we’re getting a fair number of pullet eggs every day.

these girls do not want to move
check out their expressions!

moving to the henhouse

loading hens before breakfast
Then, we culled the old hens and took them down to the zoo. For the record, it was indeed a one-way trip.  Ordinarily, we make a day out of the trip to the zoo, since the owner allows us free access in return for our contribution of “local food” for the big cats. But, this year it was just too cold and mucky (even at the zoo).

February hay

We spent Valentine’s Day hauling hay. (is that romantic, or what?) I really didn’t think we were going to find a dry day to get that job completed. Thankfully, the hay guy was able to get the wagon out of the barn and up to the road so we could pick it up. (the squishy conditions made it somewhat of a gamble) I am happy to report it didn’t start raining until after the barn was stacked to the rafters once more. And, perhaps the best part of all…we were able to unload (and stack in the barn) the entire load by ourselves.  I have to admit, I had some serious doubts about our abilities and endurance. It was slightly daunting to stand on top that hay wagon, looking down at all those hay bales and know that much of the work depended on ME  getting MY act together. (Karma and Tess both attempted to lend a paw)

from the top of the wagon
(see Tess at the bottom of the wagon?)

getting started

"helpful" Karma

taking the wagon back
(only took 1 1/2 hour to unload and stack!)

When you make your living on a tiny piece of land like we do, hand-work is a given. In many cases, there is no equipment available for small-scale agriculture. This has never been a problem. Just get in there and “gimme a hand”  Read this. My grandmother always used to tell me that I had capable hands. I believed her, and we’ve managed to get a lot of things done despite our lack of equipment and/or labor force.

But, for the past year, my “capable hands” (also elbows, knees, feet, and ankles…) have been failing me. They are weak. They hurt. All. The. Time. Nothing helps (yes, I know about turmeric, CBD oil, and all that stuff). I’ve done research, went to the doctor and have been waiting 3 months on a rheumatology appointment. (3 weeks to go!)  The possibilities are somewhat worrisome and the outlook uncertain. It would appear changes are coming to the hill, I’m just not real sure what they are.

 But, we got the hay stacked.

In other health-related news, the Boss’ six-month scan looked good. So, we can put that worry aside (sort of) for a bit and attempt to concentrate on other things. Like the Market…

There are 5 weeks until Opening Day of the Market.

Wait a minute…

5 weeks until Opening Day?

Okay, typing that sentence was a startling revelation! I don’t think we’ve made even one preparation. No. Wait. I did get seeds ordered. And, the first batch of broiler chicks arrived Thursday morning.
day-old broiler chicks

eight weeks to fresh chicken!


5 weeks?


Guess I better close this post and go do…something, anything…to get focused and ready for the 2019 Market season. I can’t believe it will be #22 for us! Is it just me, or does that seem like a lot? It is a lot. We've done this a long time! (no wonder I'm falling

Thanks for stopping by.

another rain/snow/ice event
made for nice photo ops

I hope you have a Happy Sunday! 

it was nice to see the sun...set

and a pretty "blue sunrise"
 Here are a few more sky shots for good measure...

Come back and “visit” again next month!

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.