Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Prize Winning Specimen?

this buckle represents an amazing amount of hard work
and a great animal
(and NOT the subject of this story)
I truly enjoy the odd and random insights from our somewhat infrequent conversations with our agricultural neighbors. I almost always learn something. There is one fella I particularly like to listen to, partly because of his interesting stories and funny commentary on farming and life in general (he's a fellow shepherd)

And, partly because…

EVERY conversation is bound to include his pronouncement that “y’all got the best damn sheep in Augusta County!”

Now, seriously, I will make no claims to the actual truth of this comment. And, I don’t honestly believe it. (there are far too many good shepherds with far too many good sheep---he even has sheep, lots of sheep) But, it makes me laugh. And, it does acknowledge that we’ve come a long way since we met this particular fella. The first time we met him, we were buying our first ram (and honestly didn’t have a clue about being shepherds) And, I knew that he KNEW sheep. Over the years, our own knowledge has increased (greatly) and our flock shows evidence of this.

However, he hasn’t been by lately.

Which is probably a good thing.

Because, I’m pretty sure if he saw “Beebi” he would change his mind.

even at the beginning
the odds were stacked against her

Real fast.

Best damn sheep? Prize-winning specimen?

Not hardly.

She’s certainly in a class all by herself. (thankfully!)

Now, after 15+ years of shepherding, I can honestly say I know sheep. I understand the value of good genetics, I appreciate good confirmation and I know a thing or two about veterinarian care, too.

this is a glorious sight when you're raising lambs for the plate

I owe a lot of my knowledge to spending hours and hours (days, weeks) listening to Blondie when she participated in the sheep showing circuit. Because when Blondie decides to do something, she gives it at least 150%. As mama/chauffeur/chaperone/photographer, I got dragged along to shows and farms and listened to conversations revolving around sheep on a constant 24/7 loop. That buckle at the beginning of this article is just part of the tangible evidence of Blondie's hard work and determination.

I have taken hundreds (thousands?) of photographs of lambs that are set for the show ring. Listened as she explained what the judge was looking for. Saw what the judge was looking for. Rejoiced with her. Lamented with her. Learned about sheep nutrition and vetting procedures. We’ve sheared sheep, shopped sheep and shared countless experiences in many a barn. And despite the fact that the sheep raised here on the hill are bound for the plate and not the show ring, she usually has something good to say about the flock when she comes home to visit.

Until she saw “Beebi”.

Her only comment…

WHAT happened to that one?

No “best damn sheep” No “they look good, Mama!” …no visions of the show ring.

she certainly stands out!

Just “Beebi” in her little hot pink lamb tube.

I guess that does need a little explanation.

drinking her bottle

One of the bottle babies has been a challenge ever since the beginning. (and if you’re wondering about her name…it’s a LONG story that goes back even further…read this THIS)

And, I can honestly say…I’ve never seen anything like this one before! (and hopefully I never will again)

She’s the smallest of triplets. Since her mother didn’t have enough milk for the lambs, I began supplementing them. What she lacked in size, she made up for in determination. She was always first to eat. She must have gotten chilled and contracted pneumonia. And then, all her wool fell out. Not just a little bit… ALL of it.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Pneumonia kills sheep fairly easily. The fact that Beebi is still alive is a testament to…well, honestly I don’t know what it’s testament to. I could claim good nursing and veterinary care on my part. But, I just did what I knew the veterinarian would suggest. And, honestly I expected her to die countless times over the past couple of months. So, it would be more than a little hypocritical to claim any sort of faith.

We have another shepherd friend who insists that if sheep could get hangnails, they would indeed die of the injury. I would heartily concur with this assessment. Sheep just aren’t known for their will to live.

Except, apparently, Beebie.

sick lamb
see the bare spot on her side?

After she started to recover from her bout with pneumonia, her wool began to fall out. Any sort of stress will make a sheep’s wool “break”. Generally, it is just a weak place in the fleece and impacts the spinning of the fiber more than anything. This time, it actually broke. And fell out. More and more wool fell out, until she looked like a cross between a close-clipped show lamb and a well-worn teddy bear. And a very skinny close-clipped show lamb at that. All her little rib bones stuck out. It was a disturbing sight.
she lost nearly a quarter of her body weight

...and ALL her wool

At first, I put a little dog sweater on her. Without her wool, she was going to be cold. However, warmer weather was coming and I didn’t want to risk another bout with pneumonia by over-heating her. And, the sweater didn’t cover her entirely so there was going to be the issue of sunburn. My to-do list is far too long to add slathering sunscreen on a lamb to it on a daily basis. I would have to come up with something else.

While the Boss and I were in town, we stopped by the farm bureau with the intention of buying a lamb tube for her to wear. I was hoping that would camouflage the disturbing sight while protecting her delicate skin from the sun.

lamb tubes at Rham County Fair
A lamb tube is made from lycra spandex, just like a bathing suit. And, like a bathing suit, it is meant to fit snugly. The idea is to keep the freshly shorn show lamb neat and tidy prior to its appearance in the ring. However, show lambs generally weigh anywhere from 90 to 150 pounds. (check out the local  Market Animal Show website) 

The smallest tube I could find was for lambs 80 to 100 pounds. Since “Beebi” in all her wool-less glory weighed in at less than TWENTY pounds, I was going to have to do some alterations.
yes, there is a lamb in a dress in our garage

After taking an enormous tuck in the tube and cutting off a couple of inches from the neck, we were set. 

However, even with the alterations, it was still far too big and it looked like she was wearing a little mini-dress as she raced down the path to the barn and the rest of the flock, the extra fabric flouncing in the breeze. That’s the kind of sight that keeps you humble. ‘cause there’s NO way that was a prize-winning specimen! Sometimes, "ya just gotta laugh"!
headed back to the barn

When the weather turned incredibly cold shortly thereafter, she was shivering so hard that she couldn’t even walk outside to eat with the other sheep. Even the heat lamps couldn’t keep her warm. Back on with the dog sweater. However, she had outgrown the smallest sweater…

At this point, forget even making the on-going joke about a prize winning specimen. This time she looked like a missionary barrel exploded! Although she seemed quite content in her pink leopard spots and royal blue argyle. Any serious shepherd would be embarrassed.  Believe me. I was.

I can honestly say I have NEVER seen anything like THIS before!

I tried not to think about it. As a matter of fact, I never gave the neighbors a single thought when we turned the sheep in the front paddock. Although that changed when the veterinarian who lives behind us called to say she just had to check to make sure the sheep were okay.   Was one wearing a blanket? It wasn’t injured, was it?

I felt a little sorry for the Boss when he had to explain…


It was just “Beebi” in her little hot-pink lamb tube.

she's still small
but, she's starting to fill out her tube

She’s definitely NO prize-winning specimen. Although, she does have prize-winning determination! 

looking for her bottle
(before she got sick)

she gets in there and eats with the big lambs

But, she is growing well and will eventually fulfill her lambchop destiny here on the hill.

And, this is a sheep SUCCESS story! (those can be hard to come by)

headed out to pasture with the big sheep

I’m just hoping the one member of our sheep fanclub doesn't stop by anytime soon!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 4-24

the pollinators are working hard, too

The end of another week…

Or actually, the beginning of a new week…

Whichever view you take, it is indeed Sunday and time for another little farm tour to see just what’s been happening here on the hill in the very recent past.

The “Spring Sprint” seemed to hit with full force this week. There’s never a gradual start to the season or a gentle easing into the workload. Planting season just hits. BAM! The jobs seem to multiply before our eyes, with every job vying for priority status.

tilling for brassica planting

As I left for the town run, the Boss headed out to till the brassica garden. There were over 800 broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants that needed to be planted…the sooner the better. I used to feel bad when I left him working as I headed out for my weekly trip. Then, one day it occurred to me that I was indeed working, too.  Although, I do enjoy my little weekly visits at the feedstore and the bank and my various other stops, I am also doing important work to assure that we are all fed, maintained and financed. Besides, I think it amuses the Lowe’s guys when I come in with my little shopping lists of odd and random parts for the Boss’ odd and random projects.

By the time I got back, he had tilled and fertilized and dug all the holes for all the plants. It was just a matter of plopping them all in place and back-filling. While the job went off without a hitch and we had all the plants in place by afternoon chores, it was incredibly hot (over 82*) and breeeezy. We were not alone in our need for some serious re-hydration, the plants were going to need a drink of water as well.
ready to plant

plants are dipped in a seaweed solution

placing the moistened plants in the garden

ready for back-filling

back-filling the transplants

The rain chances have not been cooperating lately, so we were going to have to set up the sprinkler.
watering in the crop
Ordinarily, we do not irrigate this garden. Spring generally brings more than enough rain, so the extra work is unnecessary. (besides, the wind is an issue with the drip tape and keeping it in place can be next to impossible)

broccoli plants
less than 60 days to harvest!

The lack of rain and the continual winds have provided the perfect climate for an unprecedented situation here in the Valley. There is a huge wildfire burning north of here and firefighters and hotshots from around the country have arrived to get it under control. The pictures that have been posted to social media are truly frightening. Read about the fire here.
Rocky Mount Fire
-washington post image

We are too far south to see, or really experience any effects from the fire. But it just serves as another reminder… We NEED rain!
when the sheep come to the barn, it's like a duststorm

The only other field planting that we did this week was the sweet onions.

onion transplant

There are lots of varieties of onions and many can be started from sets (those little onion bulbs we planted a few weeks ago). But, those big, sweet onions…like the Vidalia and Walla Wallas must be started from seeds.

As an aside here, did you know that the name Vidalia is trademarked? True Vidalia onions only grow in a strictly defined area of  Georgia and nowhere else. Needless to say, we grow a different variety.

sweet onions in the garden

Ordinarily, we get our plants from a huge onion farm in Texas that supplies plants to countless farms and seed outlets. But, the ongoing drought in Texas was having an ill effect on the plants and we decided to try starting our own. Someday, I’ll tell you all about this experiment. But, for now, suffice it to say that I’m pretty daggone proud of my little onion plants! And, it looks like they have adjusted well to the garden.  Now, we just have to wait (and weed) for a couple months and they will be ready for the Market!

my view from the hoophouse
If you remember last week’s field trip to the compost producer, you will understand why we had the company bring us a dumptruck load this week.  …and it’s a good thing we did. The driver told us that demand has been so high that they will probably be sold out for the season in short order.
our precious pile of "black gold"

The week rolled along in usual fashion with seeding and planting and farm chores.

lined up for breakfast

batch #3 broilers
(it didn't take them 4 hours to get here from town)

Until the Boss started mowing the gardens…

I walked into the shop to find this.

this can't be good!

The Gravely mower just up and died.

While this may not seem like a big deal, it is huge. In order to deal with our hilly terrain and avoid disastrous erosion, we have the gardens laid out in a grid of beds with grass paths in between them. This system demands that the grass between the plantings be mowed. A mower is a necessity, but our particular model is old and not made any more…so parts are hard to come by. Perhaps it was time to replace it.

Today’s lawnmowers with their enormous cutting widths are totally impractical for our application. The paths between the garden beds are a set distance and the vast majority of today’s mammoth mowers won’t even fit in the small spaces. And, we can’t just re-configure the gardens. We were in a bind as the grass continued to grow. (sometimes, it’s really a pain being a small producer!)

So…the Boss found a used one on Craigslist. Time for another field trip!

However, he had to do a little “modification” to the lamb hauling trailer first. (I honestly think we should have called this place MODIFICATION Hill! I don’t think we have anything that is in its original state or used for its intended purpose)

another modification

That little job completed, we set off.

interstate traffic is always interesting
Neither one of us could believe that we were going to willingly set off into Interstate traffic on a Friday afternoon, but that was the only time that was going to work. We met a really nice lady, and a cute dog…but, didn’t buy the lawnmower.

Next stop, a nearby lawnmower dealer. No offense to the lawnmower dealer, but what a piece of junk! (and expensive, too!)

Since we were already out and about, we might as well stop one more place… (at each stop the price was increasing…I was getting more and more concerned) Nope. They only had one that even the salesman wouldn’t recommend for our purposes.

The Boss was fairly despondent as we headed home in the crazy interstate traffic. (we apparently missed an accident by minutes that would have potentially delayed us for hours!)

But, we did get a little bit of rain in the course of the afternoon...
RAIN on the windshield

just enough rain to get things wet

My hope was that Tbone could work some sort of magic on the old one. (there is a definite UP side to having a mechanic son-in-law) But, even that was going to be a long-shot...

mbrk road at sunrise

Saturday’s market morning dawned bright and beautiful. A drive down Mbrk road is the early morning light is a true pleasure. It doesn’t feel like a commute to WORK at all.

And, quite honestly, the Market is an incredibly special place.

Last week, one of our customers brought us donuts after I mentioned I was hungry. (thank you, again, Sally!) This week, the market’s newest vendor gave us a bottle of handcrafted raw vinegar. I’m always excited to see new products (and vendors) at the Market. The vinegar had lots of people talking , so here’s wishing great success to Joseph and Eva!

isn't this pretty?

All in all, it was a great morning. We sold everything we took with the exception of ONE bag of greens (we had 137 bags) and one bunch of green garlic (guess we will have stir-fry one night this week).

After the Market, the kids all came over for supper and to celebrate Tbone and Blondie’s birthdays. But, before anyone could eat…Tbone was called on to check out the deceased mower.

YAY for TYLER!  He can indeed work magic and the mower is back in business. It didn't involve any parts purchases or a long time in the shop…and the checking account is still intact! (although, I have been informed that we owe him…BIG time)

oreo birthday cake

Wonder if supper and a birthday cake count toward repayment?

All too soon it was time for the babies to head home to go night-night. (the grandparents were pretty worn-out after a long market day, too) It is a true blessing to be able to have the whole family together, enjoying one another…and I am truly thankful for each and every one of them.
Blondie's present was not really a "surprise"

ribbons are the best!

Mr B is "wild-crafting" and eating dandelions

So, it’s time to rest up and make a plan before we get back to it first thing Monday morning.

Hope you’re having a

Happy Sunday! 
prolific late apple blossoms

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

Here's the link to the Boss' Staunton Farmers' Market THIS.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wisdom from the Pyrenees

Sometimes, you're just sitting there...minding your own business.

And, suddenly Life gets out of control...(in this case, a vicious dog-fight ensued for no particular reason)

You get mad...

...a little madder...

...things get really tense and ugly...REALLY tense and ugly...

Then, you isn't worth it.  You should just "let it go"...

And, you do.

 (it's okay to make your opinions known)


You just go back to being you...fabulous YOU.

Well, at least that's how it works out for me.