Monday, April 30, 2012

Could You BE Any Stupider?

It was a beautiful spring day (finally).  The sky was an amazing shade of blue with huge puffy white clouds.  The grass was rippling in the breeze.  Yes, one of those days that made you glad to be alive…

The Boss decided it was time to put the sheep on “Raspberry Hill” to harvest the grass.  You see, it’s a symbiotic relationship…this farming thing.  We need the grass mowed and the sheep need to eat.  When it works, it is a thing of beauty.  We had just gotten a brand-new roll of electro-net for fencing, so paddock set up was going to be a breeze. (someday I will detail my love-hate relationship with electo-net…)

When I opened the gate, the sheep poured through.  They seemed overwhelmed…which good stuff to eat first?  (I suppose I should qualify here…”raspberry hill” hasn’t had a raspberry in quite a few years…but, the name stuck and we understand where the sheep are by the name…)  But, this…this is what Spring on the farm should look like.

All went well until…(you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) it was time to bring the sheep back to the barn.  Until the lambs are weaned, the sheep cannot simply STAY out in the paddocks. The lambs need access to the creep feeder at all times.  Access to the creep feeder means access to the barnyard.  Access to the barnyard means keeping the alley open.  Keeping the alley opened means that the sheep go back and forth past the precious hoophouse crops many times during the day.  That makes the Boss REALLY nervous! For now, we are playing “musical paddocks” in the afternoon and limiting the access to the back paddocks.  This should not, and I repeat…should NOT be a big deal.

But…we are dealing with sheep.  The lambs in particular are somewhat deficient in their reasoning capabilities…

This particular paddock has a little section that comes down toward the hoophouses where the grass is lush and beautiful and it would be a horrible shame to waste it.The ewes know the drill, so we were certain they would go through the gate and not the net. But, the Boss worried that the lambs would flip out and come through the net in search of a shortcut to the barn. I shared his concern and made my plans.  I crept down to the barn, hoping that my silence would allow me to put out the feed, walk out to the paddock and lead the flock to the barn. This was not to be.  Apparently, one of the ewes possesses a super-hero kind of power….she knows when I am going to the barn (before I do) AND she can hear a grain of corn/oats fall into the bucket.  I have yet to ascertain which one possesses these amazing abilities. However, she alerted all the others and chaos ensued.  As I dumped the feed in the feeders, the flock came thundering, screaming down the alley…

…except for the “gang of stupidity”…

The “gang of stupidity” consists of 3 to 8 lambs who invariably go the wrong way, get lost, get stuck, and/or make my shepherding duties a general pain in the …

Their leader is Habeebibeebi...…who has developed this horrific voice that could possibly wake the dead.  When she is frightened, she screams, not bleats, not baas….screams. The sound indicates that she is being throttled, ripped limb from limb AND fleeing attack from Sasquatch all at the same time.  I have gone running out into the darkness numerous times to find her just standing there, looking for her mother and screaming.  ARGH!

There they were, running around in circles, screaming out what little bits of brains they may possess. I admit it…I swore under my breath as I dashed out the barn door.  I really didn’t need them tearing down the fence the Boss had just put up, or eating all those crops we have growing in the hoophouses and gardens.  Even more, I REAALLLLLY didn’t want to chase lambs all over the farm.

I took the feed bucket along, hoping against hope that they would follow it.  I was working against the clock here; as soon as those ewes finished the grain…they were going to be off to those green pastures…

I used the bucket to push down the electro-net, so I could hop over since I hadn’t turned off the “juice”.  I banged the bucket, called “sheep” and waited…they looked at me.

I tried again…this time they exchanged glances as if to say “I dunno…whatcha think SHE wants?”

Since leading them was not going to work, I quickly decided I would have to herd them.  Herding prey animals is all about working the angles.  If you push (approach) from the right angle, the flock will head in a certain direction.  If you push harder, they will move faster.  Working by yourself can make this tricky, but I have done it countless times, and with the woven wire fence running along one side of the paddock…it should be a breeze.  Push them up along the fence, they’ll see the gate opening, go through and run to the barn. Right?

Wrong.  When I went to push, I set the bucket down in the middle of the paddock.  My intent was to keep them from running beyond me into the upper portion of the paddock and around all the edges.  We would end up doing a ring-around-the-rosie thing.  They headed up the hill…saw the bucket and panicked. Ordinarily they are all trying to get the tasty tidbits from the bucket, but I suppose it looked strange in this environment.  They ran back to their little corner.  I could see the ewes finishing up and beginning to head back out…

“oh, come on guys….”  I began the push again. (after moving the bucket).  The angle was right, the lambs moved up the fenceline…they found the gate…they ran through…HOORA…

Wait a minute!  WHAT is this wether lamb still doing in the paddock?

Somehow, he missed the cue…there he was, back in the corner, screaming with all his might.  He tried to go after his buddies and hit the woven wire.  BOING!  BAAA!  He tried again.

After the third BOING! BAA! sequence,  he turned the other way toward the electro-net.  This was exactly what the Boss had been trying to avoid.  The lamb nosed the net “BAAA-AAA!” That shock on the nose hurt!  He ran the other direction…finally heading up the hill.

By this point, time was getting short…here come the ewes…

YAY!   He ran through the gate.  I stopped to latch it. No point in going through THAT again.  When I looked up, he hadn’t turned left to join the other sheep.  No..he turned right and headed for the far point of the farm, BAAAA-ing all the way.

It was then I found myself on the high point of the farm, saying in my best “Chandler Bing” voice (remember the show “Friends”?) “Could you BE any stupider?”  before trudging after him, feed bucket in hand. He made it to the far corner…

This was getting ridiculous!  I got him turned toward the barn, but all his screaming alerted the ram to sheep in his general vicinity, and he began running around and hollering as well.  The lamb saw another sheep and attempted to go through the wire that way.  There are 4 or 5 electrified strands separating the paddocks out back.  The ram and lamb had a number of paddocks between them, but apparently sheep can’t count and have little or no depth perception or sense of distance.  Lamb hit the electric strand, shocked his nose (again) and ran a little further down the fenceline before trying again. (mentally, I am seeing myself making the M’brook  “news” once again…)

Finally, he made the turn!  As he entered the alley from one direction…the ewes were coming from the other direction.  Now I had to hurry! With all of them following, I made my way to the barn…locked the back gate and turned them out front.

There was much complaining among the flock, but they seemed to settle down fairly quickly, the excitement of the afternoon a forgotten thing.

Until, of course, the following afternoon when the “gang of stupidity” once again found themselves separated from everyone else.  This time the herding worked and they went to the barn as a cohesive group.

But, by day three on this venture…they were STILL getting separated…causing me to do the “Chandler Bing” thing to the whole flock.

                             Seriously…..could you BE any stupider? 

 …only to realize I was indeed talking out loud to the sheep.

                                                             Hmm, perhaps I should re-direct the question!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lucky Growin' Up Like 'at

Life in the country is unlike life anywhere else…

Those of us who have grown up out here take a lot for granted, as pointed out in this Rodney Atkins song.

I was 12 years old with some bolts and a wrench,
a piece of plywood that was 3/4 inch
and daddy said son once your chores are one I'll give you one of them creosote barn poles.
I went out in the pasture with no cow patties,
Got some post hole diggers, and I got after it.
Had some sun on my back and a blister on my hand, but man I had myself a goal!
I dribbled that ball till the grass was gone and the ground was brown and flat.
Me and Daddy played horse and the cows all "mooed" and we laughed.
I was lucky and I didn't even know it growing up like 'at.

I learned the birds and the bees from the cats and the dogs,
 And a frog starts out as a pollywog.
The best blackberry cobbler is made from scratch,
And worth every one you get from the briar patch.
I found out firewood will warm you twice,
once when you cut it and once when you light it.
and I can't help but smile when I look back,
cause I was lucky and I didn't even know it
growin' up like 'at.
There was an old wooden barrel hind my grandpa's house
where we threw our tater peels and coffee grounds,
if you want to catch catfish long as your arm,
son you gotta have a night crawler farm.
Well we'd sit on the dock and share a bottle of pop
and catch a few and then head on back.
Me and Daddy cleaned fish while the cats "meowed" and we laughed,
 I was lucky and I didn't even know it growing up like 'at…                    
                                                                               -Rodney Atkins

Not only is life different out here…we all like it that way and don’t want to see it change.  We like our trucks and tractors and livestock shows.  Families, little kids included, work the land together and prize this rural lifestyle.  Despite the fact that lots of the kids head off to college and lives elsewhere, you can take the kid out of the country, but you will never take the country out of the kid.  That might explain the near palpable sense of relief that the administration’s Youth Farm Labor rule was rescinded.

There had been a lot of talk and concern in the Ag community regarding the Department of Labor’s proposed ruling concerning young people employed in agriculture. There was concern that this far-reaching proposal would indeed change everything by severely restricting, and in some cases, prohibiting the participation of youth in a variety of agricultural activities.  This was a BIG deal in the Ag world.

This story originally made headlines back in September. I remember hearing about it but didn’t understand the scope of the situation, so I was a “Johnny-come-lately” to the recent conversation and spent the last couple of days trying to verify the story and its ramifications. If the rumors were true, life in rural America was in for a big change that could have had dire effects. I wondered what I could/should do….whether or not “someone” was doing "something". It was with great relief that I read that the DoL had backed off completely.  
Gratitude goes out to the Farm Bureau, local representatives and all those farm families and youth in agriculture who worked so hard to keep this intrusive rule from coming to fruition.

As a former kid who deeply appreciates that I was farm fed and rural raised, I was heartened to see that farm kids were vocal about protecting their way of life.
As the parent of farm kids who relied on the hard work and tenacity of some of those kids to keep the small family farm a thriving entity, I was thankful to see that farm-related businesses and our local representatives stepped to the front to protect our way of life.
As a farmer looking toward the future of agriculture with great concern, I was incredibly relieved to see the DoL respond to the comments and concern of the American agricultural community!

I have lived most of my life in rural America, where the animal population often outnumbers the humans…where tractors share the roads with other vehicles…where the kids work in the fields alongside their parents and sometimes even their grandparents.  This place I live marks the passage of time in planting and harvest, breeding and birthing season, parade and fair schedules.  The school year hearkens back to the days when the children were needed on the farm in the summertime because the workload demanded all hands.  To say that life “out here” is different from life in urban areas is a huge understatement.  It is a place where change does not come easy, and when change does come, its effects are felt far and wide. To have people making decisions for us who have never experienced this type of life, in some cases never even VISITED a farm is appalling.

This is a place where kids identify themselves by family farm, tractor brand and/or farm product.  Most everybody knows everyone else and looks out for each other.  Summer vacations are spent running the livestock show circuit, possibly cutting hay or doing some sort of fieldwork, making some extra cash working for a neighboring farmer and/or preparing for the county fairs.  Despite the fierce competition in the show ring, I have seen some outstanding examples of graciousness displayed by some of the young competitors.  Overlooking disabilities and/or injury, competitors help one another, graciously congratulate the winners and console those who lost.  The parents could learn a lot from these young people!

The Department of Labor purportedly was concerned about safety of the young folks doing farm work. I understand that children’s safety is a big concern.  Farmers understand safety…perhaps better than anyone else.  Farming is a very dangerous occupation.  We know numerous folks missing digits or even limbs from accidents on the farm.  It takes just one moment of inattention to cause a lifetime of disability.  Many of the activities deemed “dangerous” by DoL seemed silly to farm kids.  Remember, these are kids who have grown up knowing how to handle themselves in the barn, in the field, on farm equipment.  There are rules of conduct that these country kids know instinctively. (and because farm parents teach them constantly)

To keep children completely away from farming activities might prevent accidents, but it also keeps them from a way of life and experiences that could affect their life choices…and the very future of agriculture. The young people would miss out on the richness that farm life affords its residents When I wrote about farm kids in the past…  and noted the life lessons learned in the barn, I only scratched the surface of the astounding number of lessons that farm life teaches on countless topics. Farm life is full of amazing experiences and awesome opportunities found nowhere else on earth. Educators would be hard-pressed to replicate these experiences in the classroom.

The farming population is dwindling…2% of the population is working to provide the agricultural products for the other 98%.  The farming population is aging…depending on the source, the average farmer is somewhere between 50 and 62.  If young folks are denied access to this possibility for a career path/way of life, the world is going to be a very hungry place in short order. Any youth interested in agriculture should be encouraged not excluded. The continuity of farm life is crucial to the continuity of the agricultural community. The continuity of the agricultural community is crucial to the continuation of the rest of society. 

If we were to keep kids from Agricultural activities, we’d have no Future Farmers…no 4-H…no real hope for innovations in Agriculture in the next decade, century and beyond. Life out here wouldn’t be the same without the FFA and the 4-H.  Both groups encourage leadership, teamwork and community-mindedness.  The many competitions that they sponsor help to develop these qualities in the young people. Interaction with business and community leaders create networks for later life.  All this hard work makes for a level of maturity among many young farm kids that is not seen elsewhere.  These young people give me great hope for the future of agriculture…and the country.

Despite the fact that I’ve never been a show-kid, a member of 4-H/FFA, or a even participant in the county fair, those kids who have are very special to me, and I am so thankful that this way of life can continue without interruption. Country kids rock…and I can prove it!

Back when B was injured so very badly, a lot of folks in the community reached out to her and J in a multitude of ways.  When word started getting around about the scope of her injuries and the astronomical bills that they might face, contributions began to come in.  That was a humbling experience!  One of the first groups to contribute was the local 4-H.  B had never been a member, but her younger sister had.  B was the cool older sister who acted as chauffeur for her younger sibling and always had a kind word for the little kids.  The donation was generous. 

The 4-H leaders said the kids wanted to do more.  The leaders tried to temper the kids’ enthusiasm.  The budget was tight…they had already helped…

When one of the leaders told me the story later, he got a little choked up.  “But, it’s B!” they said “We have to do more!  If we figure out a way…will you let us?”  The leaders acquiesced, thinking…what can a bunch of kids do?

Those farm kids put their heads together.  One of them had some hogs…they would raise a hog…sell raffle tickets at the fair…pay for the hog…and give the rest to B!  They analyzed their costs, figured out what they hoped to donate, arranged for tickets and advertising. The leaders were floored.  Who woulda thunk?  B & J were touched by the thought, but imagine their surprise when there was a sizeable check in the mail come the end of the fair! 

Farm kids rock!

This kind of generosity would be impossible elsewhere.  This is not to say that generosity is a farm thing…not by a long shot.  But, my kids…no…our whole family…was touched deeply by these young folks, all of whom were under 17 at the time, who put their heads together, pooled their talents and helped someone in need in a way that had escaped more “mature minds”, utilizing the skills and opportunities offered by the farm. Yeah…the FARM!

It is quite possible that if this invasive ruling by the DoL had actually been enacted that experiences like the one I just noted would have ceased to happen.  Young people could have been banned from so many agricultural activities deemed “dangerous” by the Department that the opportunities would have ceased to exist. That would be a shame…we would be so much poorer as a nation without the gracious, creative, and caring young folks that represent the next generation of agriculture in this country. They should be afforded all the rich educational opportunities that farming offers and encouraged in their endeavors!

Agriculture has been taken for granted for a long time.  Those of us in agriculture have long taken for granted that we can raise our kids like we want, teaching them as we go.  Maybe this should serve as a wake-up call. No longer should we take for granted

                                                           …growin’  up like ‘at!

(The song is actually sung like ‘at…leaving off the “th”.  If you listen real close…’at is how we sound out here, too!)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Our Baby Huey

Baby Huey of cartoon fame

(or how I ended up with a chicken living in the greenhouse)

Sometimes, life just gets the better of you.  Sometimes, you just need to learn to laugh and accept things rather than go all crazy trying to control it all.  Yeah, well…that’s what the Boss keeps telling me.  This is a foreign concept to me.

Tuesday was one of those “laugh or go crazy” days.   …and yes, I admit…laughing was NOT my first option. The weather issues of late have done a number on my outlook.

Tuesday was scheduled to be the first “broiler processing” day for the 2012 season.  The Boss' new position as Market Manager for the Staunton/Augusta Farmers’ Market WEDNESDAY market changes the logistics of our operation so we had to go with the matter what the weather looked like…or we how we felt.  Any small change to “the plan” can have a ripple effect and somehow complicate things far into the future.

Tuesday was COLD and windy.  Ugh!  Not the kind of weather you would pick for “processing” broilers.  The cold water used in processing and the cold wind made for a mind and body numbing combination that made what is usually a fairly short job into a slow, torturous process that seemed to have no end.  My fingers were cold and didn’t seem to work correctly.  The scalder seemed to have trouble staying on temperature…and the chickens seemed to have a million pin-feathers…EACH!  It was not one of our more enjoyable mornings.  However, we finally finished and ate lunch.

After lunch, the clean-up began.  Ordinarily, we get everything completed BEFORE lunch.  The very fact of the late clean-up speaks volumes as to the length of the morning’s activities. 

Once the clean-up was finished, I headed down to the hoophouses to start the irrigation for the day.  As I approached the now empty broiler pen, I spotted something round and white in the middle of the pen.  At first I thought that somehow one of the rowcovers had blown inside.   Maybe it was a bucket. I looked closer.  …NO…it can’t be!  Really?


He had no idea why I was bellowing, and assumed the sheep were out and up to some mischief, so he came running.  No, the sheep weren’t out.  But, here in the middle of the pen was a broiler! Somehow, in the morning round-up we had overlooked her. Neither one of us could figure how it happened. Now, what?

Neither of us wanted to start the whole “processing” deal for one chicken…but, what to do with her?  It seemed a waste to just “do her in.”  She couldn’t stay by herself and the hens would probably kill her if we put her in the henhouse.  Oh, bother!

I figured I should go ahead and water the greens. It would be too easy to get distracted and forget entirely.  We could worry about the chicken later.  I handed her to the Boss and headed off to the hoophouse.  I suppose I was hoping that he would miraculously solve the problem while I turned on the water.

When I got done, I headed up toward the house.  Not so fast.  Why is the Boss crouching in front of the brooder?  No!  He wouldn’t have…

Me:  “you didn’t….”

Boss: “didn’t what?”

Me: “you didn’t put that broiler hen in with the chicks…did you?”

As I finished the question, I noticed him chuckling to himself.  “yeah…and it’s SO funny! She looks like Baby Huey!”

I glanced in the brooder.  There she was in the middle, looking very “Baby Huey-like” among the much smaller chicks. I think I growled.  “WHY?  WHY did you do that?  She doesn’t belong in there!”

He just laughed harder.  “well, what else we gonna do with her?  It will be okay.”

Oh bother!  I continued to growl…and do the wife-eye-roll…all to no avail. 

The Boss has wanted to raise a broiler out to some huge weight for a long time.  He wants to see just how big a broiler will get.  We saw one at the fair that supposedly tipped the scales at over 15 pounds.  The Boss has no poultry show ambition, he just wants bragging rights come Thanksgiving supper!  (sorry, vegetarian folks!)

With brains the size of large peas, none of the broilers seemed to notice.  Baby Huey was just intent on eating; she didn’t seem to care where.  Okay, so issue solved.  On to other things.

Everything seemed to be going well until evening.  When I did the night-time rounds to ready everything and everyone up for yet another frigid overnight, things were testy in the brooder.  Apparently, Baby Huey had overcome her trauma and had begun pecking all the smaller chicks anytime they came near her.  Actually, she was pecking them when they were NOT near her.  She was beginning to “rule the roost”.  That wouldn’t do.  The young broilers are entering the stage of their lives where they need to eat pretty much ALL the time.  They certainly couldn’t do this with Baby Huey attacking them.  …and she had a mouthful of feathers…

I captured her, but couldn’t come up with a good solution for housing.  The cats and dogs all joined in the parade to the house.  AH, suddenly the solution hit me!

The greenhouse would be safe, convenient and she couldn’t harm the plants.  Voila!

Not so fast…

Earlier, we had thought that her crop looked rather distended.  Handling her made me realize that not only was it distended…it needed some sort of attention.  But, it was getting dark, it was still windy and cold, and I was in no better mood than earlier, so I put her in the greenhouse, gave her food and water and decided to hope for the best.

This morning, she was still perking along in the greenhouse.  But, the distended crop really needed some attention.  A chicken’s crop is sort of like an extension of the esophagus where food collects, breaks down slightly and then proceeds to the gizzard where it is ground into a paste and proceeds through the digestive system.  Occasionally, it gets backed up and digestive difficulties ensue.  Hence, the old expression…”got something stuck in your craw…”

Research indicated that she needed a crop massage and some oil, no some vinegar, no some probiotics (internet research often has too many options)…I decided to go with a “probiotic vinaigrette” …a little of each.  The crop massage seemed to help her some, the distention lessened almost immediately.  She wasn’t too impressed with the oil and vinegar, but she tolerated it and when back to clucking under the propagation tables.

As of this afternoon, she has had two doses, and she seems a little perkier. The plan is to put her back with the younger chicks when they go out on grass next week and process them all in about a month.  Perhaps the addition food source will keep her from pecking the other chickens.

At that time, the science experiment will continue.  It remains to be seen if the Boss will get his “turkey-sized” broiler for T’giving. I’ll have to keep you posted.

I never thought we would have a chicken in the greenhouse, let alone a chicken that smells like salad dressing in the greenhouse.  This place has taken another step toward being the FUNNY FARM.  I’m trying to embrace the old adage….”if you can’t beat ‘em….join ‘em!” 

So, ……I’m laughing….I’m laughing!

 (and, yes, I know Baby Huey was a “duck” and a "boy" at that….but, you really think a chicken will know the difference?)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It Takes a Real Stud

Waylon is at least 250 pounds of wool and testosterone.  He is quite magnificent.

Despite my early misgivings, he indeed developed into a great ram, and throws some real nice lambs.

Ever since we got Waylon, I have made a real effort to gentle him, to get him to eat from my hand.  I do this with all the breeder sheep, not to have pets, but as a management tool.  If they know and trust me, they are considerably easier to handle. (well, most of the time)Waylon was having no part of it, although his female counterpart, Jessie, is one now one of the friendlier ewes in the flock.

You would never want to attempt to make a pet of a ram, anyway.  They can be somewhat unpredictable and grumpy and more than a little dangerous…and if you let down your guard, get a little too comfortable…wham!  To the moon!  Just ask the Boss, he had a big Dorset ram knock him over once for a feed bucket.   Ye-ouch! I have heard that a full-size ram can kill a man given the right (or wrong) circumstances. I had a ram lamb ram me from behind one time.  He was quite small and instinctively I whirled around and threw him on the ground.  He didn’t mess with Mama after that!

But, back to Waylon.  I’ve tried clover and grass, hay and green onions, all to no avail. But, I finally found something he will eat every time I offer it.  He will even stick his ginormous head through the fence to get this!

Dandelion bouquets! 

It would appear that his favorite plant in his paddock is the dandelion. (they are all gone from his feasting).  He particularly likes the yellow flowers, and he particularly likes bunches at a time.  His huge mouth can envelop the entire bouquet with room to spare. He is instantly back, looking for more!

It takes a real stud to show his weakness for bouquets…even if they are for eating!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Which Came First?

Personally, I have always thought this a very silly argument.  Has an egg EVER just appeared?

Well…in fact…YES!

The other morning, as I did the dishes, I gazed out the window, surveying the bit of the world in the backyard.  It was a lovely Spring day: flowers blooming, trees budding, birds singing…and an egg on top of the grape arbor.  WHAT?  I looked again.  Yep, there really was an egg on the grape arbor.

I questioned the Boss.  I thought perhaps he thought it would be funny to see if I would notice. He occasionally likes to tease me all the time. His bewildered WHAT?   only proved that he had NO idea what I was talking about. 

When I investigated further, the “egg” was just a shell.  THE RAVEN ( Ellie’s nemesis) must have stolen one of Ellie’s treasures, taken it to safer ground for feasting  without cleaning up after himself. At least that is my hypothesis. THE RAVEN has been observed repeatedly in the backyard scooping up “treasures” and flying away with them.  Short of installing a “farm-cam” we will never know some of the strange things that happen around here.

The Spring of the year is the height of egg production.  The hens are laying an enormous amount of eggs and they cannot be counted on to lay all those eggs in the nest boxes.  They occasionally lay on the ground, in the feeders, and by the feeders.  Much to the Boss’ frustration, a good number of the pullets lay their eggs on the floor of the henhouse. He is very discriminating in his selection for the Market. The very dirty or questionable eggs are never offered for sale.
When he gathers and then washes the eggs, any cracks or undesirable eggs are discarded.  This is Ellie Mae’s favorite part of the day. To say Ellie loves her eggs is a somewhat of an understatement.

She will take an intact egg gently in her mouth and carry it around for a long time, searching for just the right spot.  She will then lick the entire egg clean, savoring each morsel of dirt and grime.  Then, she will carry it from place to place, trying to find the perfect place to eat it.  Once she finds the perfect spot, she will gently crack it open and eat the yolk and white.  Occasionally, she will eat the shell as well.

Ellie often tries to get Jed to participate.  He does not seem appreciate the great egg treat.  She will show him the egg and attempt to tease him into playing with her.  He is generally uninterested in her “doggie-gourmet” offerings, he would rather eat sheep feed or wait for the occasional dog cookie. The eggshells don’t seem to agree with him at all.

The crows and the RAVEN seem to enjoy the eggs as well, much to Ellie’s displeasure.  They have been observed swooping in among the chickens to steal the eggs laid on the ground.  We have seen them fly down into the compost pile and root around for eggs as well.  Ellie’s crow battles are legendary.  You need to read THIS. But, the crows and the RAVEN are cagey creatures.  I have yet to photograph them in the act of egg stealing.  The only evidence I have is circumstantial at best…and the fact that the crows will sit up in the trees laughing raucously at Ellie’s displays of annoyance at their blatant thievery.

So, I am left to my theorizing about the egg on the grape arbor…

Yesterday, I found an eggshell in the haystack in the barn…  Maybe we should invest in a “farm cam”! 

In the meantime, this is what Ellie thinks of the crows and THE RAVEN!

Monday, April 23, 2012

In Pastures Green

The sheep were beginning to complain.  The sheep were beginning to complain LOUDLY!  They were complaining about the lack of lush green grass in the north-facing paddocks. The truth of the matter was…there wasn’t any grass out front…lush or not.  The combination of cold and wind and forty hungry sheep had pretty much decimated what little grass had been growing in those paddocks.

At my insistence, the Boss finally said we could move them out back.  I figured I could simply open the back gate and out they would go.  He figured I would lock them out there with no access to the barn.  I had forgotten there was no fence to protect the precious hoophouse crops, and he had forgotten that the lambs still needed access to the creep feeder.  Suddenly, we needed to re-think the whole project.

We took a short while to re-group and discuss.  While it has been said that most couples argue over money and sex….most of our “discussions” involve hay and/or grass. Yes, we are indeed that “unique”!

The Boss pulled out the garden tractor, trimmed some grass, put up some electric net, and we ran the sheep down the alley.  We decided they could only stay out back in the daylight hours when we were on hand to divert any disasters involving the hoophouses. The Boss’ great fear is that they would somehow get out and eat up all our profits.

My great fear is that they will eat themselves sick.  The grass out back is SO green and lush, we cannot allow them to graze without some type of restriction, or they would indeed make themselves sick. Grass tetany is a very real concern this time of year. This is caused by a magnesium deficiency and exacerbated by rich grass.  By keeping the sheep somewhat confined and allowing access to hay and minerals, we can keep this risk to a minimum.

It looked as if they had entered sheep paradise, nirvana…or whatever you would call it.  With grass up over their eyeballs, they acted as if they couldn’t decide what to eat first.  The lambs nipped the seedpods off the grass, while the older ewes gobbled huge mouths full of broad-leafed weeds.  They wandered and munched for hours before they headed back to the barn to lounge and ruminate.

There is nothing quite as picturesque as sheep on fresh green pasture.  The bucolic scene is both relaxing and comforting.  …and wonder of wonders, they are no longer complaining!

Now that the rains have come, the front paddocks are already beginning their regrowth.  This is a wonderful thing, because it is nearly time to wean the lambs. We need lots of grass and lots of distance to work on that project. …and earplugs!  The whole county may need earplugs.

But, for the time being…the sheep and the shepherds are enjoying those green pastures out back.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

On Earth (to)Day

Earth Day had its beginning on April 22, 1970.  I didn’t know about it then, nor do I think I have ever knowingly observed it despite the fact that this seems odd for someone so closely connected to the land. Earth Day has always been just another day.  However, April 22 is etched in my mind, my heart…my very being.

On the fortieth anniversary of the first Earth Day (I remember hearing the mention on the news), our eldest daughter, her husband of just 7 months and their dogs were nearly snatched from us forever by another person’s reckless behavior.  As they returned from a pleasant evening of errands, a juvenile driver, reportedly under the influence and definitely over the speed limit, passed another car on a blind hill, in the dark on a country road and hit them HEAD-ON with an impact estimated in excess of 100 mph.  It took the rescue squad an hour to extricate her from the wreckage and they gave hear about a 5% chance of survival as the helicopter lifted off to transport her to UVA. I will skip the details…but, to say that the situation was grim would have been an understatement.

We thank God that Stuarts Draft Rescue and Aircare 5 were successful in their heroic efforts to save our daughter’s life.  SiL#1 was also injured, but far less severely. He was a rock throughout the entire ordeal. He will probably never appreciate how much he touched this mama’s heart… (and for those who may wonder…yes, the dogs survived as well.)

In survival mode, there was no time to ask the pressing questions.  That was a good thing. We all just “hung on”…did what we could, and held onto each other a little tighter.  If anything, the horrific episode just served to make us all a little more caring and concerned for our fellow humans.

From the moment that the incident occurred, we began to see the work of the “ordinary angels” among us.  First responders, far-flung family members and total strangers impacted all of us in some amazing ways.  At the time, I attempted to chronicle the details to note all those involved…to say thank you to each one…but, I failed miserably...

Many of the “systems” failed our kids and us that night and in the following days…and there was never any possibility for real restitution and NO hope for justice.  But, because of all those “ordinary angels”, a lot of that didn’t matter.  The love and concern that was shown our family will never be forgotten.  Phonecalls, visits, letters, contributions…some from complete and utter strangers…

34 days at UVA (17 of those in ICU) were followed by months of healing and waiting to begin the physical therapy stage. Physical therapy was difficult and was followed by a lot of hard work to get back to “normal”. But, those “ordinary angels” were the folks who got us through the whole, long ordeal. There are some amazing people in this world, and this experience granted us all a new appreciation of those among us who are willing to put others first, to grant encouragement and love to others with little concern for the cost to themselves.

I have always loved this song by Craig Morgan.  The events of the past two years have given it new meaning.  To each of those who reached inside themselves and found that “superman ready to take flight…and save a life”, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I can only hope that when faced with the opportunity to touch another’s life in meaningful way, I will be able to respond in kind.

Two years later, the date gives me pause.  We do not let the day pass without making a point to thank all those who worked so hard to give us the best possible outcome. The passage of time has caused the scars and memories to fade…but, unfortunately, there are still hard parts to work through.  The question as to WHY may remain forever unanswered. There are some things we might never fully understand and the Spring of the year is a bittersweet reminder of the past.   Hopefully, one day it will just be a day for rejoicing.

In the meantime…

We’re so glad these two are still on Earth TODAY!


Friday, April 20, 2012

I Got Friends with Tractors

They’ll grow your groceries, haul a load
Pull you out then fix the road
They’re good at slowin’ speeders down
When they pass through from out of town
I’ll live out in the country
Happily ever after
I got everything I need
‘Cause I got friends with tractors.
                                           -Rodney Atkins

It’s that time of year…the time when field work starts in earnest.  That means all the tractors must be running and ready to do all that tractors do.

There are a number of tractor brands, each with its fiercely loyal fans and owners.  John Deere green is by far the most popular in our part of the world, but there are all sorts of machines to get the job done. The loyalties of brand run deep…don’t try to convince anyone that a “green tractor” is the same as a red one, an orange one…or a blue one.  That’s akin to heresy!

It’s not unusual to see tractors on the road as the farmers move from field to field. When the line of traffic following the tractor gets too long, the farmer will pull over and wave everyone around before continuing on his way.  Occasionally a tractor can even be spotted in the parking lot of the local store or post office…or the tastee-freeze.

While the BIG tractors get the glory (and are cool to ride), the small utility tractors and even garden tractors do a great deal of work on the smaller operations. 

There are tractors for planting and haying and mowing and hauling.  We can recognize the farmer by the tractor...Eddie's is ancient and green, Bill's is small and red, Jason's is always broken down,Dale's is orange...and RG has a whole bunch of green ones.  For every farm job, there is a tractor. I suppose you could say a tractor is to a farmer what a horse is to a cowboy.

Tractors are iconic in the rural landscape.  Farms would be far less productive without them, and farmers can wax poetic about the advantages of their particular machine. I can think of a number of songs about tractors…”International Harvester” and “Big Green Tractor” come to mind. One year at the county fair, I noticed that one of our fellow farmer-friends has “She thinks my TRACTOR is sexy!” (a Kenny Chesney song) tattooed on his shoulder.  Now, whenever I hear the song on the radio, I think of that farmer and his sun-burned tattoo and have to grin to myself.

There are old tractors, new tractors, tractors in need of repair and restored antique tractors.  Everywhere you look, you’ll find a tractor of some sort. County fairs and firemen’s parades wouldn’t be the same without the tractor entries.

When I was a little girl, I remember riding with Dad on his ancient Massey-Harris tractor as he made hay.  I sat up on the fender and watched as he cut with an equally ancient sickle mower. I remember the feel of the sun and the wind on my face as I hung on for dear life.  With no safety equipment as he mowed on the side of a hill, this was a dangerous ride…but, that experience solidified my appreciation for tractors and our agricultural way of life.

Years later, when we first moved to the Valley, I would ride with the Boss in a similar fashion as he went out to feed hay to cows during the winter. It was my job to hop off and open gates and keep the cows at bay as their breakfast was delivered.

There’s just somethin’ about a tractor…

Yeah, man, talkin’ ‘bout
Internationals, and John Deeres
Massey-Fergusons, whatever you got
We don’t discriminate
Front end loaders, bushhogs, post hole diggers
Need ‘em, gotta have ‘em

So, next time you get behind that slow moving vehicle, and you have to putt along until the farmer waves you around…don’t be frustrated at the delay…give him a big ole wave and a smile. That farmer (and the tractor) is an integral part of the food system in this country!

                            I’ll live out in the country
                           happily ever after
                           I got everything I need
                          ‘Cause I got friends w
ith tractors.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Please Tell Me I Didn't...

When Monday rolls around, we are heading out for the feedstore/town run.  This routine with its predictability is one of the constants that I truly appreciate about our life. I just looked back, I’ve written about Mondays before.
 here         ...and here...
When the Spring planting season starts, I take on the task of the town run alone.  This leaves the Boss to till and do prep work with the tractor. Then, we can work together when I get home.  The trip is almost always the same.  Feedstore, bank, Lowes, groceries, farmstore, gas station…

A couple of weeks ago, I headed out fairly early. I had an extra errand to run and it was imperative that I finish my stops quickly, get back, unload and then the Boss and I were heading out together for another stop.  Then, we would come back and get another big planting job finished.

As I drove into town, I was enjoying the trip.  It was quite warm, so I had the windows down and the radio up.  The neighboring farmers were beginning to work outside, so there were new activities to observe and plenty of folks to wave at.

I made great time on my trip, got everything I needed, a few things I really wanted…and even found a couple of great deals!  Then it happened…

As I loaded the groceries in the truck, I noticed that the little “lock-doolie” on the passenger side was loose.  It was actually falling off.  It must be noted that the pick-up has more than a few issues as it is 15 years old and has spent a good portion of that time being a “farm truck”.  The facts that the dashboard is cracked and the gas gauge only works on occasion are just two of its “quirks”.  As I wiggled the little thing back in place, I heard a clunk.

I didn’t give it much thought and swung the door shut with the intention of walking around, hopping in the driver’s seat and finishing up my trip. I had one final stop to make before I could head for home.
But, that clunk meant that the door locked…it meant both doors locked.  No worries…my keys are…my keys are NOT in my pocket!  My keys are…

the disturbing for effect
ON THE SEAT!  …along with my wallet! ...and my PHONE! …and horror of horrors…my mountain dew! No, I couldn’t have locked everything in the hot cab of the truck! Please, please tell me I didn’t lock myself OUT and my stuff IN.   Surely, I could get inside.  I pulled on the door handle again and again.  Just what this was supposed to do I don’t know…but, it didn’t work!

I had left the windows down slightly since I had purchased some plants and wanted to allow them some air.  But, the window opening was too small for my arm.  I walked back in the store, hoping for a phone and maybe a hanger.  The only hanger was plastic and too flimsy and short to reach the “lock-doolie” that started the whole thing.  The phones in the store couldn’t make outside calls…and I had no money for a payphone.  I was getting more than a little perturbed.

I climbed up in the back of the truck, crawling over the half ton of feed, hoping I could slip the blade of my Leatherman between the back windows and pop the latch.  That didn’t work either, and I realized that my activity might be deemed “more than slightly suspicious” by somebody.

I headed back into the store to find someone who could make a phonecall for me.  As an aside here, I think this was the ONLY time I have ever been to town and seen NO ONE that I know…no one that could help me with the current problem. Ordinarily, a trip to town means I see half of my acquaintances and have to stop and talk for a while.

The lady at the bank kindly called the Boss.  I worried he wouldn’t answer his phone because of the odd number.  He answered, he sighed deeply, yes,…he would head to town to rescue me. I thanked the bank lady and she said, “hope your day gets better, sweetie!”

I went back outside and sat on the curb by the truck, mourning the fact that my drink was inSIDE the truck and there was absolutely no shade. I hoped the groceries would stay cold and the plants would not dry out.  The Boss arrived a short time later and opened the door. That was SO anti-climactic!  Now it was lunchtime, the rhythm of the day shot to pieces, so he suggested we go out to eat.  He seemed to enjoy it, although I was too frustrated to appreciate it at all.

Finally, we got the feed back home and unloaded.  But, we had to go back to town for the other errand. That meant that the rest of the “to-do” list for Monday would have to be done on Tuesday, and some of Tuesday’s work would be moved to Wednesday….and so on.

It took three days to get things back on track.

Lessons learned? 

In the future, DO NOT worry about the “little lock doolie” on the farm truck!
                                      Keep keys in pocket!
                                                       ….and hot Mountain Dew is not worth drinking.

**just a note…this week’s trip was successful AND uneventful!