Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Onion Sets and Broiler Chicks

Okay, at first even I was hard-pressed to find the commonality in this one. I reckon we could serve them together…

In reality, these are true harbingers of Spring. Forget robins, we might see them all year. Forget the crocus and forsythia, they will bloom in protected areas after a few warm hours. When the chicks and onion sets are in the farm store...you better get ready for Spring!

When we went into town for our weekly errand run, the purchase of these two items topped the “list”. The first batch of broiler chicks is purchased from one of the farm stores…this eliminates any loss in the mail due to cold. Eight weeks from now and we’ll have fresh chicken for the Market once again. The onion sets provide a quick start to green onions which are an unbelievable sale item at the Market.

While I was more than a little glad to pick up our necessary supplies, I was also surprised by the difference in the atmosphere in town. It was as if someone had turned a switch and everyone was thinking spring.

There were lots of flowers for the spring garden and brightly colored pots and watering cans. One farm store already had seed potatoes, onion plants, and strawberry plants. Tiny garden plants in pots were displayed on shelves in front of the store. Easter decorations and flowery items had taken over the other stores. THINK SPRING! That seemed to be the motto throughout the retail world.

With only 39 days ‘til the first Saturday Market…I guess we better get moving! The onion sets are going in the ground today, along with lettuce, chard and arugula. This will be followed by more seed starting. The day after tomorrow we will head out to make the ‘tater run for seed potatoes.

The “winter that wasn’t” is apparently done.

It’s THAT time of year.

Spring Sprint Season is about to begin. We’ve got the onion sets and broiler chicks to prove it!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The $10 Door

Greenhouse growing is something that we have taught ourselves over the years. No formal training, just a few books, and a LOT of trial and error. One thing was certain…and we didn’t need to read it in a book to know… access to the greenhouse is crucial. I mean, if you can’t get inside…you can’t get anything done…right? Air flow is another necessity. We have fans to stir the air, but we need a constant flow of cool air in the summer. Cross-ventilation is maintained with opened windows in conjunction with the stirring fans.

After the first big snow during the Winter of ’09, the Boss and I were slightly overwhelmed. He began the big dig-out with the tractor, while I attempted to shovel paths hither and thither. This was pre-snowblower days. He was most relieved when our neighbor showed up with his BIG equipment. Our neighbor has taken preparedness to an art form. If he doesn’t have the equipment, he has some kin who does. Tractors, backhoe, dump trucks… We never have to worry about being stranded. Despite the tractor power, it was still a BIG job.

Once the main lane was cleared, Tom started in on paths to the various animals. With over two feet of snow, which had drifted much higher in places, this job was enormous.

I continued to shovel, clearing the porches and paths, and working my way to the greenhouses.

Upon finally reaching the door to the “house greenhouse”, I attempted to open it. It stuck. I tried again. I may have tried a third time. In that moment, my yet undiscovered superhuman strength kicked in, I pulled on the door again…and… broke it neatly in two! I pulled the hinge clear off and irreparably bent the door frame. Wow! I’m strong. Wow! That door is done-for. Wow! This is BAD! These thoughts were followed by a few choice words… although, I did make it inside and check on my seedlings.

I pushed it closed as best I could, later revealing my problem to the Boss. Needless to say, he was less than thrilled about my discovery of superhuman strength. A new door would have to be purchased, a repair job would have to be completed, it was the middle of winter, right after a blizzard, and money was not free-flowing. Blasted superhuman strength!

We use storm doors on the greenhouses because we need light AND ventilation. The storm doors have screens in the bottoms so we can get cross-ventilation in the houses in combination with the fan units.

A trip to the Habitat store provided a “new” storm door for $10. This was in stark contrast to the one he had seen at the home improvement store for over one hundred dollars. He found the door to the other greenhouse in the Bulletin Board (think Craigslist pre-internet) for $15.00 years ago. We try to work on the budget plan around here.

The $10 door seemed a God-send. I mean… look how much money we saved! My door disaster was solved.


The door just never seemed quite right. It didn’t seem to close securely. Every time I opened the screen portion, something seemed a little “off”. Since it is only necessary to use the screen AND the window during the winter months and very early spring, it didn’t seem a real big deal. Although every incident with the door only served to remind me of my own stupidity. (man, I hate that!)

During the summer, I take the windowpane out entirely to get as much cool breeze flowing as is possible. The “issues” with the windowpane became a non-issue.

When winter came ‘round again, the windowpane seemed a little more cantankerous. The cycle of life and work continued; there were other things far more pressing and I learned to work around it.

Then this winter the window refused to slide. The window refused to stay in the door. The window fell out on my head! Thankfully, it did not break, but this was getting frustrating.

Further examination of the door showed that the track was in backwards, and short of re-building the door, it could not be corrected. No wonder it had been such a problem all this time! No wonder the door had been in the $10 bin!

A trip to Lowes was planned.
A new door installed. …and all is right with the greenhouse.

Leaving me to wonder….was it a case of “you get what you pay for”?

…or do I just need to learn to control those random occurrences of superhuman strength?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Slip, Slidin' Away

Everyone is talking about the “winter that wasn’t”. This past January was ranked the third warmest in recorded history. While those of us who don’t like winter weather are quite happy, there is a down side to the warmth. “MUD SEASON” is here! As a matter of fact, it has been MUD SEASON all winter.

I know I have written about mud before,
but I am not sure if mere words can impart the true effect of the slippery, slimy, smelly stuff. Each of the inhabitants here on the hill has their own issues with the goo. The Boss abhors the “wet sock” issues that come with all the moisture. I don’t care for the muddy tracks all over….and a whole entry could be written about Booooyyy’s perilous treks from hunting ground to napping spot. Some of the antics are amusing, although the human inhabitants find absolutely no redemptive qualities in “mud-skating”!

The eight inches of snow we had at the beginning of the week only served to make the mess bigger and grosser. The lambs began to use the little “bridges” behind the barn with increased regularity. The hens were standing in quicksand while they ate. The muddy tracks and sloppy coveralls made their way into the house again.

The muck is mostly just a nuisance. A few hours of drying wind and sunshine, and the mud is much more manageable. But, it is when the mud begins to dry and freeze that a bigger problem starts.

The gooey mud collects hay, rocks and twigs. This in turn gets caught up in the sheep’s hooves. If left unchecked, the pain caused by the mud in the hoof will cause the sheep to go lame. Sometimes a lame sheep will give up on life rather quickly. A friend once said that a sheep would probably die of a hang-nail. She may have been right.

There is a little gland between the hooves that must be kept clean and clear, or foot ailments can ensue. It seems that this gland should have some scientific sounding Latin name, but the best I can do (and I have researched this extensively) is…foot gland. It secretes a lubricating substance that keeps the hoof healthy. If it is plugged, the hoof begins to dry; opening it to possible infection and the sheep will limp most pathetically.

So, one of the shepherding jobs this time of year is to watch intently for any limping sheep. If one of the ewes is limping, it is my job to catch her, clean her hoof and check for any injury. This sounds simple in theory, but sheep are prey animals, and don’t take kindly to being grabbed by their legs…especially their hind legs. Sometimes a small rodeo ensues. Those big girls outweigh me by a fair amount, so I usually distract them with food, grab the offending foot, slide my fingers into the mud and crud between their toes, pull out the offending substance and allow them to go on their way. Generally, this can occur without incident.

So far, no horrible foot ailments among the sheep….and just a few bumps and bruises for me.

…and today the wind is BLOWING, so good-bye mud! (for now)

Friday, February 24, 2012

His Cow is in YOUR Barn

Please bear with me…I’ve got cow stories on the brain!

It was an early Spring Saturday evening several years ago and we were enjoying an episode of “All Creatures Great and Small” as a family. If you haven’t seen this show, you should, you really should. It is based on the stories of James Herriot, a Scottish vet in World War II era England. Incredible scenery, amazing stories and interesting characters make this show one of a kind.

During the show, I got up to get a glass of water and noticed that B’s new puppy was having a fit in the backyard. She was barking furiously at something, so I went to check it out.

As I neared her pen, I noticed a strange young man walking up the cow path. I didn’t recognize him, but he was wearing the “official county farmer outfit”, and his ball cap indicated he was local, so I figured he was harmless and I should probably know who he was.

“Uh…can I help you?” He looked up when I spoke…nope, didn’t recognize him. He started to say something when I heard a commotion from the barn.

“HEY! BARBARA! HEY!” A voice was coming from the barnyard, where some other man was standing on tip-toes waving his fingers at me. “His cow is in your barn!” My brain wasn’t grasping this one…and WHO was that shirtless guy in my barnyard? As I walked closer, I recognized Mr. A-I and realized the “shirtless guy” was one of the M’brook neighbors. I still didn’t know the young guy, but I knew the whole story was coming if I was willing to wait. I learned a LONG time ago…you can’t rush these things.

“G”, the cow guy, was weaning calves. He had been taking the calves to another location, but his cows (the mamas) were right behind Popsie’s house down in town. Apparently one Mama-Cow did NOT like the arrangement. Somehow she got loose (it was assumed she JUMPED the fence) and was walking/running down M’brook Road, looking for her calf. Mr. A-I was on his way home from somewhere south of the village and rather than make hamburger out of Mama-Cow with his truck, he parked on the roadside and started running after her.

The shirtless neighbor was out in his yard watching the proceedings and he knew that our cows had been grazing the field between town and our farm…and thus, we MUST have a gate somewhere, so they ran Mama-Cow up the hill, opened the gate…and she ran inside our barn.

…and that’s when I came outside, unfortunately having missed the show up to this point.

“G” was trying to figure out how to get his trailer in and load up Mama-Cow. He wanted to know what I thought…

Wait a minute! Wait a minute! The Boss is missing a good one! Let me go inside and get everyone.

While I went inside to apprise the family of the amazing situation, Popsie had driven up the hill. Never one to miss out on the action; he ambled over to give his assessment of the situation. A short discussion ensued, involving many opinions and much hilarity. The Boss and I were thankful that our own cows were grazing elsewhere and didn’t wander in to “help”.

“G” backed the trailer to the barn. Everyone else, eager to say they helped, stood on the sides of the door, in an attempt to get Mama-Cow on the trailer. “Shirtless” said to the girls….”now, girls…if that old cow comes at ya…just punch her in the nose! HAHAHAHA!”

Mama-Cow got on the trailer, “G” drove away, Popsie headed to his truck, Mr. A-I and “Shirtless” wandered back to the village. The big excitement was over. It was now a forgotten episode in M’brook history.

Well, that’s what I thought.

Months later when it came time for the county fair, I was standing in the show lamb barn, assisting A in settling her lambs for the night when a young family walked by. I greeted them in the usual fashion, and was surprised when they stopped and the dad said, “Chase any cows into your barn lately? HAHAHA!” There was “G”, still trying to live down the fact that his cow went gallivanting through the village and ended up in our barn! His wife and children had apparently heard the story and were laughing along with him.

You just never know what will happen when you live in the country…

We’re still getting’ a laugh from…


Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Different Sort

Once, I found myself leaning on the hood of a majorly dilapidated old pick-up, talking about farming, food and other things with one of my favorite of the neighborhood farmers. He had come over to AI our milk cow. (for the uninitiated…that’s artificial insemination, yes, that means what you think…that’s how we got our calves most times….when done right it’s MUCH easier than keeping a bull around!) This fellow is the best there is! Over 10,000 bovine births here in the county and elsewhere are direct results of Mr. A-I’s expertise and dedication.

We were having difficulties getting this cow bred. Well, this was only the second attempt, but his reputation was at stake, he claimed to get it the first time….EVERY time. I thought there were mitigating circumstances. The weather had been atrociously hot, and the timing had been slightly off… I wasn’t real worried (yet.) There is a science to the whole ordeal and I had garnered enough knowledge in our years of dairy cows that I felt pretty confident in our current arrangement. (This was a major leap on my part…the cows had caused me more worry than perhaps ANYTHING in my life up to this point) He suggested that if it didn’t work this time, that I call Dr. Supervet. He asked if I knew him. Before I could answer, he said “he’s the BEST source of knowledge when it comes to cows and reproduction….but, he’s a different sort!” I looked sideways at him…I was afraid if I looked at him full on he would see my open-mouthed gape. “A DIFFERENT SORT? Had this guy looked in a mirror….in years?

The last time he had been out to the farm, I was more than startled as he hollered his greeting when I walked out the backdoor to the barn …“Hey! Ain’t ya glad I DRESSED for the occasion?”and he turned around and around so I could get the full effect. To say the outfit he was wearing was noteworthy would have been an understatement. Starting at his feet, he had on what may have been (once long, long ago) white sneakers, very long, sorta white gym socks, cut-off jean shorts with un-even length legs, a western shirt that may have been nice at one time…now, it was minus its sleeves and missing more than one snap. To top off this lovely ensemble, he had been working calves all day and was covered head to toe in splatters of cow manure. His hair and ball cap were filthy. I wouldn’t have wagered a guess as to when he had last shaved. Yeah, he had certainly DRESSED for the occasion. But, the absolute best part of the story….he’d been to town in that outfit….and he hadn’t even thought of cleaning up first!

…and this guy was sayin’ someone else was a “different sort”? Seriously?

It’s not just his clothing choices. He had called the night before to confirm his arrival in the morning. “Hey, I’m standing by the ferris wheel ” he said, “had to take the wife to the fair, ya know. I think the morning will be a good time…whatcha think?” an answer to this query completely failed me. Once he had worried that he might be too late, so he called with the explanation that he and his brother were eating sausage biscuits! Another time he had appeared out of the blue, on a rag-tag old motorcycle that he had just been given, only to say, “haha, can’t fit the tank on this thing…I’ll be back with the truck in a bit!” and he roared off. Later he arrived in an equally rag-tag truck, his dog companion sitting in the front seat, for the “cow appointment”. Needless to say, the cows did NOT approve of his little friend. To describe this fellow farmer as a colorful character is somewhat of an understatement. But, for him to call someone else a “different sort”…Oh, my word! What did that mean? What in the world was he thinking?

As soon as I had the thought, a vague feeling of discomfort washed over me…whoa, there…I can’t say a thing!

What about that time I went tearing through the back field after a piglet (that had been traumatized by a very angry cow), back in the days of dressing “plain”…long skirt and headcovering flying , only to find myself face to face with the electric fence? No worries…stop, drop and roll….right under that fence! Got the pig, too! I walked him back to the barn just like I was pushing a wheelbarrow. The little old lady that lives behind us saw that one…and told one of the other neighbors. I heard about myself secondhand. ugh

Then there was the time the dog escaped….I ran after him, shedding boots and then glasses on the side of the road in an effort to keep up. The neighbor who met me at the end of the lane to help laughingly said he was wondering what was coming off next! That was after it had occurred to me that I was standing barefoot in the middle of the road, unable to truly see the dog I was screaming after…and yes, there were witnesses. Now, THAT was embarrassing!

I’ve startled the UPS man by cheering when we got a livestock scale.

I frightened another when I yelled at him for letting the dog out as I went bulleting off after the escaped canine. But, I ask you….if a gate is closed….?

I’ve been to town, only to find that I, too, am splattered in sheep or cow manure. I have called the vet and ask for him by his nickname that none of the office staff knows, I haven’t hesitated to discuss farm issues (including animal reproduction) with strangers, the packages I pick up at the post office nearly always have some odd story to go along with them, my wardrobe...for years I combined long denim skirts and workboots(to this day, they are my footwear of choice), my fridge had multiple animal medications in the storage compartments….the list could go on.

In that brief moment, I realized that while the Super-vet might be a “different sort”(For the record, I know him well and I have yet to figure out what makes him a “different sort”…maybe ‘cause he’s NOT) , and Mr. A-I most certainly is…I may well take the prize.

I think I’ve known that ever since I looked in the mirror…all those years ago!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Like a Good Shepherd

The Biblical references to shepherds and sheep are multitude.

Before you think I’m gonna go all theological on you…I’m not. But, just let me say this: The Bible was the first book of which I purchased my very own copy, it was the first “grown-up” book I ever read cover to cover, and…it has had a profound impact on my life.

Nearly everyone has heard the 23rd Psalm. Many of us have longed for the green pastures and quiet streams. The flock mentality has been applied to humankind for many, many years. The parallels are uncanny. It wasn’t until we became shepherds that some of the repeated references to sheep and shepherds began to have deeper meaning from personal experience.

There are stories of young David the shepherd boy who killed a bear and a lion in an effort to protect his sheep. When you have to learn about predators, parasites and disease to protect your flock…this becomes personal.

To hear that the “shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep” sounds noble and shows dedication. When you’re walking to the barn for the fourth time in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain, snow or icy temperatures to check on lambing ewes…this becomes personal.

To read the passage where “he left the 90 and 9 and went out to look for the ONE lost lamb” again speaks of responsibility and commitment. When you know there are coyotes and other predators in the area, and the headcount comes up short…this becomes personal.

The sheep know “the shepherd’s voice” and I also know each of theirs. Even the little lambs respond to my voice, as well as their mothers. This is yet another reference proven by personal experience.

The literary references are myriad, and suffice it to say…I know I will never be “THE Good Shepherd”, and these are analogies to teach another type of lesson…but, they all serve to make me a BETTER shepherd.

…and maybe a better person.

Monday, February 20, 2012

It Sure Was Pretty!

When I tell folks I don’t care for wintry weather, and I just don’t like snow…I usually make some of the snow lovers mad. I don’t want to do that.

If I explain that it makes our farm work harder, it sounds like I am complaining. I don’t want to do that.

After I point out that the cold weather is hard on the animals, the hens’ little bare chicken feet get very cold, and the sheep have nothing on which to graze, it sounds as if I might be exaggerating. I don’t want to do that.

So, I guess I’ll stick with the safe course…

It sure was pretty!

Weather Breeder

Saturday’s balmy temperatures and clear, bright sky had a lot of folks thinking the weather forecast was crazy. Snow? NO WAY…It can’t SNOW! But, I was wondering if the weather would prove my Granny to be right. Despite the fact that she’s been gone for a very long time, I find myself remembering little tidbits from her vast repertoire from time to time.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother was a fount of wisdom. She knew all sorts of things, poetry, scripture, tall tales and family lore. She remembered all the things her parents had taught her about the natural world and a great number of rather odd and random facts. On a clear, warm winter day, she would insist it was a “weather breeder” and we had better look out for an upcoming storm. I don’t believe anyone else used the term, so she wasn’t given a whole lot of credence.

She was staying with us once and intoned this dire prediction. No one paid much attention to her as it was a warm and beautiful day that seemed as if Spring was around the corner. Imagine our surprise when school was cancelled the next day (and the next and the next…) due to a tremendous snowfall in the night. She didn’t say “I told you so”…as I recall, she didn’t say anything. She just sat with her coffee and played games with us and told stories as we were all stuck in the house.

For this weekend storm, the weather forecasters kept changing the forecast. 6 inches, 12 inches, 2 inches….rain, rain and snow, snow…lots of snow…maybe it would miss us entirely…Okay, that was wishful thinking on my part…

The snow was supposed to have started in the night, but then they changed the forecast. We awoke to a raw, grey day with the promise of snow later…and later…and later… It was about two when the flakes began falling heavily. More and more and more…suddenly, we couldn’t see the road, then the lane. We couldn’t see the end of the driveway. Chores were done in heavy snow.

The snow continues and now that it is dark, we can only wait until morning to see what happens overnight. My guess is that the original prediction of at least six inches is going to be right.

So, next time we have a gorgeous day in mid-winter…you better beware…it’s a WEATHER BREEDER…you mark my Granny’s words!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Welcome to the Future

I hate change.

I was perfectly content to hand-milk the cows, to use a hoe in the garden and correspond with pen and ink. Yep…seriously!

“Back in the day”, a friend came by and exclaimed, “oh my! I thought I had actually entered Little House on the Prairie”! Yeah, that was here….that was me...
…and it was great.

Once I learn how to do something and it works, I would be completely happy to perform that task in that manner forever. To my mind, the old ways are the best ways. Unfortunately for me, this is not the way of the world and PROGRESS is the name of the game. I am learning to adjust, although I usually go kicking and screaming.

For years when I did the farm bookwork, it was with a pencil, an eraser, green ledger paper and my trusty adding machine. I loved that adding machine! At the end of a session of paperwork, it was satisfying to see that long coil of adding machine tape rolling around the chair leg, onto the floor and across the room. It was tangible evidence of my hard work.

Eventually, our accountant convinced us to try Quickbooks and do our accounting on the computer. I wasn’t certain…committing all those numbers to “cyber-space” where I might never see them again was a real stretch for me. That actually happened once. EVERYTHING…and I mean EVERYTHING disappeared into thin air. Despite my complete mental melt-down at that point, the situation was corrected and order was restored to the universe.

Today, I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. I get that same sense of satisfaction when I hit the “reconcile” button and instantaneously the columns of numbers check themselves, or I generate a report with another button…and think of all the trees we are saving! I do miss my adding machine tape, though.

Eventually, we went a similar route with the tax preparation, and I learned to do that as well. I gained confidence and we no longer have an accountant. All our Winter sales are done on-line, too. I never intended to use the computer on a daily basis…but, here I am.

Gone are the days of the little bits of paper and a stubby pencil that noted my sheep records at the barn. All too often that piece of paper went through the laundry and was rendered useless by the washing and I had to depend on my recollections. Now, I have a computer program where I can input the information with a few simple steps and can trace genealogy and growth records without searching my pockets for lint. I can even put a photo of the sheep on the file with relative ease. Once I learned this program, it has made tracking the sheep much easier, and far more accurate than my somewhat faulty memory. The successes and failures will be part of the record, hopefully eliminating the possibility of repeating mistakes!

Now, technology has taken another great leap forward here on the farm. We entered the 21st century and got a smartphone.

With my new smartphone and the Square app., we can accept credit cards. This app. will be incredibly handy at the Market, where we are hoping to dramatically increase sales of our items with higher pricetags. Customers won’t have to root around for cash or make a special trip to the bank.

With every change, there is a learning curve. It took far longer to make the first sale with the card reader than I thought necessary. However, that will become easier given time and practice. We will be grateful for patient customers and hope we learn quickly.

The more research I do, the more apps I explore, the more I realize that this new phone may have changed our operation forever. Did you know I can now check the weather without ever leaving the greenhouse? I can research plants or sheep illnesses while standing the barn. I can even order things while I am walking back to the house. Oh, man…this thing is COOL! Yes, I hear the Boss laughing…he thinks it’s SO funny when I get even the least bit “geeky”.

I never would have predicted these changes when we started doing this “way back when”. I would have never anticipated my own acceptance. Nope, I figured we stay with the “old ways” forever. Boy, was I wrong.

Wonder what changes the future holds?

…and ya think can I get an app for it?

Friday, February 17, 2012

I Smell Like a Cow...

…and I am happy!

Recently, I bought a new leather bomber jacket to replace the one the Boss bought me more than 20 years ago. I loved that jacket. It was the perfect weight, it looked cool, and it felt good when I wore it. However, when we moved to the Valley, it became my “chore coat” and saw some pretty rough times.

After four zipper repairs and countless leather treatments, the cuffs finally wore through and the leather cracked beyond repair. It was time to retire my favorite jacket. Words cannot convey the sense of loss that I felt about that dumb jacket.

For several years, I hesitated to replace it. I sorta knew a new one would never be the same. When I finally made the leap, I was unprepared for the total unfamiliarity of what looked like the same jacket. But, why?

Then it hit me. It had no lived in feel…it had no ambience…the very essence of the jacket was missing.

That, in turn, reminded me of a farm visit that will never be forgotten.

Back in ’04, one of our customer-friends asked to bring a group of visitors to the farm. There was a Kenyan educational troupe visiting one of the universities and they wanted to visit some small farms while touring the US. It sounded quite interesting, so the Boss and I obliged.

Later, about 10 Kenyans arrived, along with the Professor, to do the “farm tour thing” and eat some freshly made icecream on the porch. We had not anticipated that the Kenyans were indeed Maasai tribesmen and some would be wearing their traditional garb. Oh, and speaking Swahili. Things went well, although it was more than slightly unsettling to attempt to speak to folks who had NO clue what we were saying (and vice versa). They checked out the barn and exclaimed over our hoophouse full of greens. Coming from a farming community, they were very interested in the aspects of small-scale American farming.

Then, they spotted Kuh, our Jersey milk cow. Cows are highly valued among the Maasai, and they had never, ever seen a specimen quite like our Kuh. In their society, wealth is measured by one’s cattle…and Kuh…well, she was so old and fat that I suppose she looked to them like she was worth a fortune! In reality, she was an old, old somewhat spent dairy cow enjoying the last of her productive days and providing us some awesome dairy products.

Kuh was already old when she joined an Amish community in SW Virginia, and even older when she became our cow. The vet couldn’t begin to guess her age; her teeth were so worn down. She was by far the most personable of cows I have ever met. She rode all the way up I-81 from Pearisburg in the back of our pick-up, chewing her cud. When she arrived at the farm, she proceeded to get her nose stuck in a feed scoop and then butt the current cow out of the barn. Yes, Kuh had arrived. She was a hoot! She was loved by all, and mourned when it was time for her to leave the farm.

She endured the Kenyans with the same attitude she approached everything.
“aaaah, whatever…but, if you feed me….I’ll love you forever.”

They stroked her, handed her grass, pretended to milk her and sang a song to her. That was an unforgettable experience. They sounded like “Ladysmith Black Mambazo” who recorded with Paul Simon during the eighties. It was amazing. I’m fairly certain M’brook had never seen the likes of it.

Later, as we wandered out front to look at lambs, one of the chaperones pulled one of the young fellas aside. She indicated that he had little white cow hairs in his own hair. He grinned and began to pick them out. Then he hesitated, sniffed and made some exclamation in Swahili. He looked so genuinely happy that I had to ask what he said. The chaperone hesitated, and then laughingly said, “I smell like a cow…and I am happy!” Oh my goodness…I had found a kindred spirit! There is something comforting about the pleasant (yes, pleasant) smells of the barnyard.

When I chuckled and said “wow, I thought I was the only one who ever thought that!” the chaperone laughed and translated. Then, I attempted to tell him how I just loved my cows. He tried and tried to say “jersey cows”.

It was an odd and amazing visit…we discovered just how small our world really is.

The professor tells me that Massai still speak of the “sweet icecream” on our front porch.

…and now I realize what is wrong with my new jacket.

It needs to smell like a cow!

…and I will be happy.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Mid-Winter Day

Mid-winter is hard. Actually “mid-anything” is hard. The newness has worn off and the end seems too far in the future to consider.

That’s the problem with mid-winter. The excitement of lambing season is over. Any shepherding tasks are simply a matter of maintenance at this point. The monochromatic landscape is somewhat depressing. The weather is cold and grey and I am constantly fighting the urge to hibernate. The warm days of spring are too far off to give into the desire to start working in the garden.

So, what to do?

My solution is to head to the hoophouse. The relative warmth of the hoophouse allows year-round planting. The shelter from the winter wind means I can take off my coat and dig in the dirt as much as I like. I can even pull weeds! Okay, the weed part is not that fun, but the chickens sure enjoy the green treat.

Everywhere I look in the hoophouse there are signs of life and growth.
Everything is green! Honestly, even the weeds are pretty.
There is the added bonus of knowing that any work I do will have a positive effect on Market sales come Opening Day.

After a while of working in the hoophouse in mid-winter, I have the satisfaction of job completion AND a little taste of “Spring”.
That changes my perspective on mid-winter dramatically!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Seems Like Only Yesterday

It seems like only yesterday that “Shirley the postoffice lady” called to tell us the chicks had arrived and could we PLEASE come get them before the village was deafened forever by their very vocal complaining. That small box was making an uncanny amount of noise.

It seems only yesterday that we settled the little golden balls of fluff in the brooder where they would live and grow in warmth and safety until time to move in with the hens to begin the egg production part of their lives.

In reality, it was the first week of October, and they’ve been eating and growing and thriving in the brooder house all this time. It takes about 18 to 22 weeks for a chicken to go from being IN an egg to LAYING eggs. Another wonder of nature.

Time for the big move and their introduction to the henhouse arrived last week. As they were nearly grown, the brooder had become cramped and distasteful. (okay, okay….REALLY, REALLY gross!) Once the Boss discovered there was a rat living IN the brooder, the moving became a priority.

Since I am shorter, I got the job of catching the pullets. It’s a dusty, frustrating, and loud job. If you have ever wondered why we use the expression “chicken” to describe when someone if fearful of doing something…try to catch a few chickens…then you’ll understand. They run and fly and squawk and flap around. They don’t seem to realize if they would just cooperate it would be easier for everyone.

Each pullet was caught individually. Then, we trimmed the wing feathers on ONE wing…this is supposed to prevent flying. The jury is still out on that one…occasionally they still find a way to escape.

Each one of the girls also got a “pretty blue anklet”. This leg band identifies the hens as this year’s birds. In order to keep egg production at a high level, the birds are culled after a period of time.

We crated them and transported them to be housed with the rest of the layers.

To ease the pains of introduction, the Boss devised a small pen within the super-duper henhouse where the pullets spent a few days (with food and water) acclimating to their new home.

After a couple of days, they began to venture out and mingle with the older birds. So far, there has not been a lot of pecking and shrieking like there has been in the past.

Very soon, the new girls will start laying eggs as well. That means we should have LOTS of eggs for Opening Day of the Market. This is just another example of the amount of planning and effort that go into farm products.

..and it seems like only yesterday…