Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 5-14

tiny mulberries in the sunlight
Living in the country, you quickly understand why “good fences make good neighbors” and how it is far more than simply proper etiquette to always SHUT the farm gate.

Over the years, we’ve amassed a great deal of personal experience with animals...and not just our own. To say we’ve had some “interesting” encounters would be putting it mildly. A trip to town used to involve a herd of goats that either had to be “un-stuck” from the fence or herded back across the road. More than once, we’ve joined in an impromptu cattle round-up (I only wish I could do a better job telling THIS story! ) On a spring day years ago, the Boss and our daughters rounded up some escaped pigs and accompanied them to their home...right past the “pig-hating” neighbor’s house. At one time a good portion of the neighborhood was involved in a three-day search for an escaped parrot. Yes, I did say parrot. Sadly, he was never captured. It is unclear whether he soared with the eagles or ended up as their supper. In addition, there have been stories of bears and foxes and even a three-legged skunk.

All that to say, you should probably be prepared for anything...

The week started in a fairly unremarkable, albeit chilly, fashion. That cold snap I mentioned last week was really cold. The potato plants were frozen solid! Knowing that everything would recover, we could focus on other things, like “flipping” the farm.

frozen potato plant

frosty grass

frozen berries

part of morning chores includes a crop check
...broccoli looks FINE!

The recent repeated rains have made for abundant grass growth. Such abundant growth that the sheep, particularly the lambs, cannot keep up with it all. It was time to shift the voracious ewes from the small, back paddocks to the large front paddocks. We limit their grass intake right after weaning to reduce any chances of mastitis. But, once they are “dry”, they need to regain their body condition prior to breeding, so they head to greener pastures.

This switch went off with little difficulty. Put the lambs in the barn, show the ewes the lush, green grass...and that job is done!

this is the darkest "black sheep" ever!
However, we removed the two late lambs from the ewe flock, and put them in with the rest of the lambs. No big deal, they cried a little and returned to grazing. Their mothers, on the other hand, stood in the alleyway (outside the office window) and yelled for the better part of two days. I had been having second thoughts about my whole late season breeding experiment and that pretty much clinched it. The problems of late season lambs far outweigh any benefits. I’ll be sticking with the tried and true methods that have worked for us in the past.

It was beautiful and clear and the Boss was eager to return to his normal farm duties. The further we get from that scary date in March, the closer we get to our regular rhythm and routine. He had been talking about using his new electric weed-whacker for some time. And, he really wanted to get in hoophouse #2 to pull weeds. You know you’ve been out of action for far too long if you’re looking forward to WEEDS.

braving the hoophouse

weeding the onions

newly weeded onion bed

I can’t say that I was looking forward to weeds...but, the bright, dry weather was perfect for some very necessary weed eradication. There are huge patches of stinging nettles in odd and random places around the farm. Stinging nettles are a fairly nasty plant. None of the animals will eat them, as they STING when touched. the burning, itching sensation lasts for hours and in some cases, causes big red welts and blisters.
stinging nettles

I feel oddly responsible for this invasion. Years ago, while studying herbalism, I amassed a great variety of plants to treat various and sundry ailments. Stinging nettles are actually quite nutritious and offer a great number of healing properties (if you can get past the whole stinging thing) I planted a small patch next to the house in hopes of eventually addressing any and all our health concerns herbally. However, life concerns took my attention elsewhere and the nettles were forgotten.
Now there are nettles everywhere. Yet another good thing gone wrong.

Since nothing (and I mean nothing) eats nettles, we cannot leave them to take over the fields. Weed eradication is a time-consuming task with little reward. Your choices are simple, either physical or chemical. Physical eradication may take the form of hoeing, tilling, chopping. Sometimes this actually perpetuates the problem as you spread seeds and/or viable rootstock/rhizomes. Chemical weed eradication means the spraying some sort of chemical solution that some folks seem to equate with drenching the environment with poisons. While this post isn’t the place to get into a deep explanation, I can assure "drenching the environment in poisons" is NOT the case, no matter the operation.
weed killer

To eradicate the nettles (and thistles) in the fields where the animals graze, their welfare is our first concern. Many herbicides can cause digestive upset, among other things, so we generally avoid their usage where food (for animals or humans) is grown, although they do have their place on the farm. We have found that using a strong vinegar solution (which for the record IS a chemical), then sprinkling with salt will take care of the issue (at least for the season). Interestingly, the sheep seem to like the slightly wilted, vinegar-salted plants.

after treating with vinegar and salt

Since the sprayer is fairly heavy I really didn’t think the Boss should tackle that job until his core muscles recover, so I spent a fair amount of time tramping around the farm with the backpack sprayer full of vinegar and a bucket of salt, doing battle with the nettles invasion. By the end of the day, my feet and back were sore (the sprayer weighs about 40 pounds fully loaded) my hand had dried out from the salt...and I’m pretty sure I smelled like a pickle. But, the job was completed and the strong Spring sunshine would make short work of the weeds. However, it felt good to take off my boots, clean up and focus on making supper.

But, the phone rang and the gentleman at the other end wanted some lamb chops. Today. Like right now! He said that some other customer-friends had highly recommended our product and he needed them...he would be passing by on his way to Lexington in about a half hour…

Now, I’m not one to turn down a lamb chop order (particularly a sizeable one), so I told him I’d meet him at the top of the driveway. He said he’d call upon his arrival. I figured I’d grab my flipflops, complete the sale and come back to supper prep.

The Boss spotted him turning in the lane, so we both headed up to the gate prior to his call. As we got closer to the gate, he called to say he was here, but he was not alone. He said there were also two CALVES at the top of the driveway! There they were, wandering down the lane, nibbling the grass as they went. 
out for a stroll

Lambchop delivery completed, the Boss thought we should do something about the calves…supper could wait, right?

Neighbor’s gate was opened, so if we just eased those calves in there...

...and we were off, chasing calves. …before supper…in my flipflops...

It was about now that I wished I had left my boots on, sore feet or not. Because, in case you didn’t know...flipflops are not the proper footwear for cattle herding. They were flipping and flopping and making it hard to hurry as they slipped around under my feet.

“Come ON!”

Unaware of my flipflop dilemma, the Boss wanted me to stand in the gap as the first calf came past and then trot along behind and shut the gate. Herding livestock, particularly someone else’s, with your spouse is a testy proposition at best. I learned a long time ago to just attempt to do what I am told while keeping my mouth shut. (not always the easiest proposition)   I must admit while scrambling over the board fence, I may have been heard to mutter some version of, “I am seriously too old for this stuff!” Leaving my flipflops along the side of neighbor’s drive, I hurried along behind the Boss and the calves.
"right outta my shoes"
I can honestly say I never did any barefoot herding before!

The calves went through the opened gate with no problem. We herded them into the corral by the barn, only to find that there were FOUR more milling about there. WHAT THE HECK? A hurried phone conversation with neighbor hadn’t revealed any info other than we could shut them in his field.

By working the angles (and closing every opened gate on the property) we moved the herd into a small corral by the barn.  We left them there, wondering all the way home where they came from, whose they were. Only then did the Boss notice my bare feet. He simply shook his head when we had to pause to pick up my flipflops at the edge of the driveway.

runaway steers

Later, we found out that they were indeed neighbor’s newest acquisition from the sale barn the day before. Apparently, he missed shutting a few gates, or the calves figured out how to open them… Well, all’s well that ends well.

But if there is any moral of this story, it is that I should definitely leave a different pair of shoes by the kitchen door!

The rest of the week paled in comparison to bare-foot cattle herding. Thankfully.

Rain returned on Thursday. And Friday. And, of course, Saturday. While I know better than to complain about rain…soggy Market days are getting a little tiresome.  
soggy lambs

with nearly four inches of rain in the past week...
MUD is the story 

That didn’t seem to matter to the customers. Mothers’ Day weekend is always a big day for sales, so it was a good thing that we finally had lettuce, spinach, kale and chard. This was the first week all season that we have had enough to set up our entire vegetable stand and some people honestly thought it was the first time we had made it to the Market this year, proving that we are indeed unrecognizable without our farm sign and stand. I find that more than a little amusing after spending twenty years’ worth of Saturdays (minus one) in the same spot.

returning to "normal" at the Market

I need to add a shout-out to my daughters for the Mothers’ Day cards and gifts, to Bonnie for the chocolate…and to Cheri for the CD. My heart is full.

a beautiful morning

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

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

...oops...almost forgot to include the link to the Boss' Market shots...


  1. HAPPY BELATED MOTHER'S DAY BARB!!! I love your stories - they are always full of something interesting happening in your lives! Our neighbor had some run-away horses a few years ago - that coincidentally, they looked just like MY horses! I checked my field - my 2 were happily in there munching grass! I tried to keep them from running into the busy road in front of my house. So glad to see the Boss up and working again! Have a wonderful week! :)

  2. Pretty eventful week it sounds to me Barbara - flip flops or no.