Thursday, June 30, 2016


Nothing like a Jersey milk cow on the homestead

As a shepherd, Dairy Month is little more than an excuse to enjoy free icecream at the Market.

I’ve been spending my time thinking about lambchops, marketing lambchops and selling lambchops. Hey, I wonder when it will be lambchop month?

Anyway, Dairy Month had nearly escaped me…until I saw a couple of familiar faces smiling back at me from Lancaster Farming when I was in the feedstore. Yay for the Pyles!

Blondie's best friend
and owners of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy
Union Bridge, MD

It's Dairy Month! How could I forget Dairy month?

June has been Dairy month for many years, (since 1937) chosen to heighten the demand for milk and milk products when the lush Spring grasses traditionally brought on the highest yields. It’s been a long time since I wrote a post about Dairy Month. click to read And, it's been even longer since any sort of dairying was a part of my life.

It’s been seven summers since we saw our last brown-eyed beauty leave the hill and we said good-bye to home dairying forever. And, I find myself missing those old girls far more often than you may think.  Because while we’ve become shepherds…and mighty fine ones (if I do say so myself) I am first and foremost a “cow-person”. Honestly, if I found myself in need of work, I would seriously consider heading to the nearest dairy.

I had dreamed of having a cow ever since I looked deep into a set of Jersey-brown eyes and lost my heart at the county fair when I was just a little girl. My ever indulgent husband saw to the fulfillment of that dream when we found ourselves on the hill. It’s safe to say dairy cows changed my life.

Some of our best stories are because we had dairy cows. 

Kuh and the Massai
How many people can say they had Massai sing to their milk cows? This post doesn’t do that experience justice.  

We met some of our favorite folks ever due to those milk cows. Shout out to Doc Snowdy, Dr. CJ and Sam, among others. Here's a funny farm story.  We had more than a few adventures, some tear-jerking moments, great conversations and amazing icecream.  This post  is the short version of our dairying adventures.

But, farming is not unlike gambling. And taking a cue from Kenny Rogers,

“you got to know when to hold ‘em, You got to know when to fold ‘em…”

new meaning to COW-GIRL

Living/farming on twelve acres of hill and rock, in a state that doesn’t allow raw milk sales…a home milk-cow is not at all a profitable (or wise) venture. The land is too small and not truly suitable for cattle and we cannot produce our own hay and feed.  (I know there are folks that have cow shares and/or sell “pet milk” to get around regulations…those options weren’t for me) It was time to move on. We sold the last cow and began to focus our complete attention on the sheep.  

In the ten years we had our cows, I learned more than you can ever imagine…about breeding, animal husbandry and milk products. I worried and fussed more than you might think humanly possible, mainly about breeding, animal husbandry and milk products.

I realized during that time that honestly home dairying just cannot pay its way on an operation of our size. When you figure in the feed and vet bills…I’m guessing that each gallon of milk was worth about $50. (I may be exaggerating) We lost SO much money on that venture, it wasn’t even funny. Definitely NOT a sustainable practice. And, I gained a whole new appreciation for those in the dairy industry.

But, I did love those cows!

Those dairy farmers who produce the milk, cheese, butter and icecream for the rest of us, REALLY, REALLY deserve some positive recognition. It’s the most demanding type of farming out there. You can’t simply turn off the supply…it’s twice a day commitment EVERY DAY. (and some dairies milk THREE times a day) Dairy farmers catch a whole lot of negative publicity needlessly. Milk prices are at an all-time low for dairies around the world. And, while I can’t do much about that…I can say THANK YOU…and keep buying milk, cheese and of course, icecream.

And, be sure to point out that…Dairy farmers rock!

Now, back to thinking about national lambchop month…wonder who I lobby about that one?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 6-26

grazing lambs on a June day
It’s that time of year when a status update of “the same old, same old” would probably be sufficient.

I can assure you I am not kidding.

Do you get those Facebook memory things? It’s called On This Day…and every time I take the time to read one, it is always uncanny how very similar it is to the present. And, if you review the history of this blog (back to 2009) it’s pretty much on constant repeat, too.
heading out to do chores
every morning
every afternoon

So, if it’s June, we’re picking up that first batch of lamb, digging the first of the potatoes and anxiously awaiting the first green bean. (tomato, cucumber, onion…well, you get the picture)
tomatoes are coming...

Every. Single. Year.

While I do indeed find it somewhat comforting, it certainly creates a challenge for writing new and interesting copy about the farm.

So, you’ll have to bear with me as I try to come up with something other than “ditto”.

The week started off with a family get-together in the Draft. Toughchick made supper for the rest of us in a combo-celebration of Fathers’ Day and the Man’s birthday. There was also cake and icecream and lots of baby snuggles. I can’t believe how our family has grown!
Father's Day 2016

look at these big boys!

Monday afternoon we did indeed head to Edinburg to pick up the first installment of the 2016 lambchop crop. The freezer is well stocked once more. Some customers had been requesting L’il Links since Opening Day!  Li’l Links are indeed lamb sausage…seasoned with traditional breakfast link seasoning. YUM! …and oddly, enough, lamb sausage is what got us going in the retail lamb business nearly 10 years ago.  
Good eating!

We didn’t become shepherds to be trendy or adventurous. We were actually looking to add some variety in the protein portion of our diet after giving up pork.  (did you read this one?) We were thinking a couple lambs to put in the freezer every year. But, borrowing a line from Kenny Chesney…“Life has its way of movin’ ya on, don’t it?”  ("Don't It" by Kenny Chesney)

 And, now, we find ourselves scrambling around looking for more sheep to make more lambs. But, that’s going to be next week’s story…

Nothing finer than home-grown
Lambchops, new potatoes and cabbage
(ok, so we didn't raise the wine...)
Speaking of variety on our plates…this is the time of year that our “foodie” selves live for. It’s difficult to say just what we like best. Every night we have some new seasonal delight.  Honestly, THIS is why we farm. It’s certainly not money or notoriety…it is quite simply…THE FOOD.  Which is a good thing, because very few farmers ever attain huge financial success or any sort of fame.

I admit it...
green beans are probably my favorite
Next week!

And, raising food for yourself (and others) means that you must be constantly thinking ahead at least one season, quite often two or three. To that end, I spent some time seeding the fall crop of broccoli, cauliflower, etc… 
newly seeded flats

5 days later
look at all the seedlings!

When I finished that, the Boss and I spent a couple of hours processing the leftovers from last week’s Market for Winter Sales. In short order, we had trimmed, blanched and frozen more than 75 pounds of broccoli. This will go a long way toward feeding us (and our customers) and providing some much needed cash-flow during the off-season from the Market. See what I mean about thinking ahead?

trimming broccoli

broccoli ready for blanching

packing to freeze

With the threat of thunderstorms every day, and two entire days of rain, it’s safe to say that our outdoor activities were greatly impacted. that gave us a chance to work in the hoophouses, which were in desperate need of re-planting. The Boss did some pulling and tilling and I did some planting. (yep, back to “same old, same old”) While things are looking neater, there is still a lot of work to do. And, the spinach is just NOT cooperating…the constantly changing weather caused the early plantings to bolt and slowed germination of the succession plantings. But, currently, there are hundreds, if not thousands of tiny seedlings coming up in the greenhouse and we received the order for the winter crop just yesterday. We will have spinach again, soon!
spinach seedlings

I guess he's still guarding the lambs
the freezer is full of lambCHOPS!
The constant threat of thunderstorms brought a new concern. No, not storm damage. Gus control. Gus has developed a complete and debilitating fear of thunder. (apparently this is common in male Pyrs…our first dog, Jed, would attempt to run in the house and hide behind the couch!) so, every time we went outside, there was Gus, clinging to us. He tried to open the back gate in order to stay with us when we went to the hoophouse. He hid out in the shop if he could get in the door. He even followed me INSIDE the cooler! Needless to say, we’re all hoping for better weather this week.
yes, he DID follow me into the cooler
(I don't think I was supposed to notice)

The storms did indeed cause real troubles in the surrounding area. Parts of West Virginia have been devastated by the flooding and many lives have been lost. It’s just awful.

The mountains to our west (that run along the VA/WVA line) often cause storms to dissipate before they hit our part of the Valley. So, we didn’t see much damage at all. (unless you count the peach tree behind the shop---time has come to give up on that one) And, since we are on top of a hill, flooding is not generally a concern. Although, when we got home, Neighbor was doing some repair work to the lane bridge. And, I must admit, the sight of a backhoe in the middle of the road between me and the only way home freaked me out just a little. (pretty sure that was just a little routine maintenance work)

working on the lane

But, the weather didn’t seem to impact customer flow at the Market. It was incredibly busy and I’m pretty sure we could have sold a WHOLE lot more potatoes. However, the rain meant the garden was too soggy for the tractor, so the Boss dug all the potatoes by hand.  Slogging through the mud on his knees precluded a major harvest. 
Yet another reason to hope for a drier week.

Then there was the message from the hay guy that started, “Tom…I got a real nice load of hay in the barn…”  So, you can guess where we are headed, again!

And, the Boss had a message from Angus’ home farm that said, “the ewe lambs are sheared…you can come look…” That means another fieldtrip of sorts. Yippee! I’d much rather go livestock “shopping” than go to the mall.

Looks like we're going to be off and running in the upcoming seven days. (and just maybe that will give me something new and interesting to write about)

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

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

Oh, wait...We did have a unique event this week. 

The full moon appeared on the Summer Solstice. This won't happen again until 2094! Here is the Boss' shot of the Strawberry moon. 
Strawberry Moon
-TLWomack photo

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 6-19

hayfield in June

 Whew! What a week.

I must say that events of this week have left me (not to mention the rest of the world) shocked, saddened and disheartened. The actions and reactions of people both at home and abroad have been unfathomable.

However, I’m pretty sure you don’t check in with the happenings of the hill to hear me philosophize about world events…or my own personal “issues”.

So, I won’t.
...on the way to town...

The week on the hill was...well, a Summer week on the hill. It was busy, it was hot, it was productive and it was successful. And, I’m quite happy it’s behind us.

Monday morning was broiler processing day for June. Now, I don’t know how many batches of broilers we have done over the years. There have been a lot. We’ve got this thing down-pat. It’s almost like some sort of dance where we each know our part and we go through the motions with little debate and discussion. We can get the entire job (from chicken catching to yard cleanup) done in a couple of hours. It’s definitely not the most pleasant of jobs here on the hill, but it is a necessary one if we want to eat and sell chicken.

All was going well. The chickens were caught, the processing shed was tidied and ready to go. We headed in for breakfast.

When the Boss headed back out the door, he found that it was a good thing it wasn’t a long breakfast break. The hydrostat in the scalder had shorted out and flames were travelling up the side, melting the insulation and licking around the edges of the plywood top. 


fire damage to scalder

He quickly put out the fire (too bad I missed that shot) and had started to assess the damage before I even walked out the backdoor.
not the way to start processing day!

We certainly were not going to start processing broilers right after breakfast like we had planned. And, for a tense few minutes it looked like we weren’t going to process at all. Or we would have to postpone the job until someone made a trip to town…

Thankfully, the Boss is SO handy and can fix so many things. He was able to rewire and get us back on track without a trip to town or a huge delay. YAY for the Boss!

Despite the unexpected excitement and the acrid smell of melted insulation and plastic lingering in the air, we still got the project completed prior to lunch and managed to salvage the day.  …and the chickens are all in the freezer! (just in time, we were nearly sold out...again!)

Later, Tbone, Blondie and Mr. B came over for supper. As we talked and ate, I thought I heard a lot of commotion from the lamb paddock. But, the conversation required my full attention, so I did not head out to check (like I usually do).

After the kids headed back home, I went out to check gates and secure things for the night. The lambs seemed particularly jumpy and noisy, requiring further investigation. The first thing I do whenever there is an “issue” with the lambs is to count heads. We were missing a fair number, so I headed out to hunt for them. Before I could get to the paddock, I noticed that the electro-net gate was opened. No. It wasn’t opened. It wasn’t even there. It was complete gone.  That couldn’t be good! It also meant that the missing lambs could be anywhere on the front half of the farm. I really didn’t feel like a hike down the front hill after a long day. But, thankfully, I could see lambs further down the hill in the tall grass. When I called they came.

But, we were still missing one.

Oh…there she is! 

But, what in the world?

Somehow, one ewe lamb had gotten hung up in the electo-net and was now wearing the gate. It was indeed a sight to behold! She was thoroughly tangled in the wire, it was cutting into her wool and hobbling her. She couldn’t even stand upright. And, of course, this was terrifying to all the other lambs who would shriek in terror and run off when she would get anywhere close to them. And, as a flock animal, she needed to be with them. This explained the commotion during suppertime.

Since she still had a gate post attached to her electro-net ensemble, I was able to grab that and subdue her so that I could use my Leatherman and cut all the netting off her. She was none the worse for wear after her adventure. But, we will be needing a new gate!

when she ran, she stepped on the net and down she went

she was tangled in at least 8 feet of net

**Electro-net is a wonderful invention that I love and hate equally. It’s a fairly inexpensive fencing option that we use quite a bit. One of these days I’ll have to do a post on it.**
for the record she is FINE
and she wasn't getting shocked...the fence was turned off
(which probably allowed the incident in the first place)

With the lamb “crisis” solved, it was time to end the day and move on to other things. (thankfully)

On Tuesday, the broccoli/cauliflower harvest began in earnest. But, I really didn’t expect it to take hours…

Last year’s crop was a dismal failure. I think we harvested something like 25 pounds. The weeds and bugs were beyond description. Really. It was horribly depressing and the Boss finally just bush-hogged the whole thing because we couldn’t stand looking at it.

This year is a completely different story!

The plants are gorgeous. The weeds manageable. And, the bug damage minimal. (and for the record…we did everything the same all-natural way we always have)

By Thursday we had harvested nearly 300#! And, there is much more.  Wowee!

Angus before
On Wednesday, the Boss decided to tackle a critical job that neither of us was looking forward to…getting Angus shorn. I can’t imagine that ram shearing ranks as anyone’s favorite farm job. Rams are big and strong and somewhat unpredictable.…the wool is greasy and smelly. And, Angus in particular has been known to have an “attitude problem”.
first blow
and, we're done!

He knows he's handsome!

But, he behaved himself in an exemplary manner. He was shorn without incident. He even had his hooves clipped, de-wormer and vaccine administered. And he is handsome! It is amazing how he filled out in the past year.
look how LONG he is and that WIDE top
he passes these traits to his offspring

Just six weeks until he joins the ewe flock to work on the lamb chop crop of 2017!

The rest of the week was more of the same old, same old. The Boss harvested the garlic, we planted some more, weeded some, seeded some and put up cauliflower for Winter Sales. The beans and squash are blooming. The Boss cleaned out the brooder and the next batch of chicks arrived.
garlic harvest

thirsty chick

potato blossom

storm comin' in
Thursday evening, we were in for a big storm. After our experience with the Derecho, I get concerned any time I hear the term “straight line winds”. There is little you can do to prepare for such a storm and nothing you can to do avoid it. So, you worry and pray…and watch the radar on your phone.

The pictures of the lightning and double rainbow north of here were really cool, but, the reports of hail, downed trees and power outages were not. We were thankful for the rain (nearly an inch) and the fact that all the wild weather split in half as it came over North Mountain and we avoided any damage.
after the storm

Definitely something to be a part of "thankful Thursday".

On to harvest day…and preparation for Market…more picking and packing...


Market day was gorgeous. The air was clear and cool. The customers were in a buying mood and the music was lively. It was a great day.
another great day

beautiful garlic

aren't these beautiful?
One of our customer-friends brought us a box of his hand-crafted chocolates as a gift. They are the most beautiful candies I have ever seen and I don’t know if I can bring myself to eat them. They are truly works of art. You can check them out here. I think we should try to convince him to become an addition to the Market!

 …and, now it’s time to rest, relax and re-group prior to another busy week of Summer. (and maybe make a birthday cake...)

Have a Happy Sunday!
Here's to a new week!

Thanks for stopping by. Come “visit” us again real soon.