Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 6-25

Sunday morning on the farm
Since the broilers got our attention last week, it seems only fair that the sheep dominated this week’s news cycle. Although, unfortunately, it wasn’t all good coverage.

this one isn't sick
just stuck in the fence

First thing Monday morning, we had to deal with a dying lamb. Seriously not the best way to start the week.

The heat and humidity are not kind to the lambs. They are stressed by the heat and the damp conditions allow the parasites in the soil to flourish. Grazing exposes the sheep to ingesting these microscopic organisms. Once inside, the parasites rob their hosts of crucial nutrients. Small lambs just do not have the body mass to withstand the anemia (and other problems) caused by parasitic overload. One of the reasons we feed the lambs is so that we have close contact with them on a regular basis and can be aware of any health issues. One lamb seemed a little “off” at afternoon chores, but ate with the others. Since there were no specific symptoms, I made a mental note to check her in the morning. However, by that point, she was literally breathing her last breath. Yes, it happens that quickly. And, that’s another reason that we generally don’t like to have late season lambs.   I left the unpleasant job of disposal to the Boss and headed into town for an abbreviated feed-food trip.

I say abbreviated because we needed to hurry to get on our way. The priority job for Monday was a trip up to the processor’s to pick up the first batch of retail cuts for the season. This is always an eagerly anticipated trip since demand for many of the cuts far exceeds supply. We had customers waiting anxiously and meat sales promised to be brisk. In addition, we had just received a new selection of lamb recipes from the American Lamb Board.
fresh inventory

We pay a small fee to the Lamb Board for each lamb that goes to the processor or through the stockyard. Payment of this fee entitles us to use the publications put out by the Lamb Board. This year the recipes have a global theme and utilize some interesting spices that aren’t real common in our Valley of the Shenandoah, so I’m rather excited. I like having these resources for our customers, but I really like trying new things for our table as well.

rainy interstate travel

No sooner had we gotten on the interstate to head home home, we got caught in the middle of a torrential downpour. The words torrential and downpour are not used lightly. It was nearly impossible to see anything, despite the fact that the brand-new windshield wipers were flipping away on high speed. And, then as quickly as it started, it was over. We encountered no other delays and got the lamb safely stowed in the freezer ready for Market.

sick lamb

Back on the hill, it became obvious that the parasite problem had not been limited to the one small lamb. The other small lambs were looking a bit poorly. And, one of the bigger ones had serious case of bottlejaw. It was quite possible that we were going to lose a few more if we didn’t do something immediately. Time to de-worm the whole bunch! We have been concerned that this season was going to be bad since it has been so hot and humid. (it’s looking like we were right) Closer observation was going to be required.

While I think we’re finally beyond the crisis and it’s safe to say that the rest of the lambs indeed survive and thrive, it is only because we took charge of the situation and treated the problem. There are times when animals need to be medicated (just like humans) or they will die. To do anything less is actually inhumane treatment and bad husbandry. However, I know consumers are concerned. You can rest assured than any medications have cleared the animal before processing (processing facilities actually test for residues). So, ALL meat is indeed “anti-biotic free” when it is consumed. It aggravates me that this has become a “thing” despite the fact that few consumers truly understand the subject. However, I guess that little rant should be a post for another day.
looking healthy once more
although they need to gain back the weight they lost

headin' to the hay barn

In what proved to be one of the bigger challenges of the season, we finally managed to coordinate schedules and the weather in order to get the winter supply of hay.  The Boss and I headed out early and picked up the first wagonload. Then the  “best hay unloaders ever” worked incredibly quickly and the barn was filled to the rafters before lunchtime. The Boss, Josh, and Blondie are an awesome team.

Now, the sheep are set for winter.

 Thanks, y’all!

I just realized it was a good thing that MrB was here to keep us all headed in the right direction.

directing mommy

more directing

directing Uncle
helping grandpa

hay helpers

hay piled high

The rest of the week was taken up with more of the same old, same old…including more rain.

another rainy day

you know what they say about a red sky at morning

the grapes are looking good under the netting

winter squash recovered from the varmint attack

broccoli ready for harvest

it's wet!

wet rosebud

With eyes on Tropical Storm Cindy, we started making preparations for Saturday Market. Early in the week, it looked as if the Market would be a wash-out. This was a little concerning as downtown Staunton had flooding last week and all the rain led to a sink-hole out on the interstate.  To say that the ground is saturated is no understatement. But, thankfully, the storm skirted our area and the weather for the Market was gorgeous.
ready for business 6-24

It was a great market morning. More than one customer commented that our vegetable stand was finally looking like they’ve come to expect. Sales were brisk and we finally hit that total that we’ve come to expect that has eluded us all season. It's been a long, hard struggle, but maybe we can finally put the rocky start to the season behind us. Here’s hopin’!
we had a little "help" with Saturday's Market

It seems fitting for the last post of June (which is Dairy month) to note that I looked out across the way and spotted a herd of Jersey cows grazing along the ridge. In an area where black beef critters far out-number any other breed (heck, there are even more Angus cows than there are people in our “neighborhood”!) something different is newsworthy. In case you don’t know, Jerseys are pretty, brown DAIRY cows.

Jersey girls across the road

While some of the neighbors speculate as to how the new owners of the farm down the road can possibly make a go of a start-up dairy operation in today’s somewhat tumultuous agricultural market, I was thinking other thoughts. The sight of those brown-eyed beauties left me sadly nostalgic and doing a lot of “over-existentializin’ “(I realize that is not even a word. I borrowed it from a Kenny Chesney song and believe me, it fits)

When we moved to the hill and the Boss got me my first Jersey cow, it was the realization of a lifelong dream. At the time, I thought I’d have my Jersey girls forever. You can read about my long love affair here.   Or here.

But, time moves on…things change.

While the decision to sell that last cow, to leave home-dairying behind and move on to other things was ultimately mine (and it was indeed sensible, logical and the absolutely right thing to do), not a day goes by that I don’t miss those old girls and the way of life they represented. Honestly, I haven’t been able to look across the way all week without feeling a little sad. 

My nostalgic over-thinking may have been precipitated by the fact that we are rapidly approaching our twentieth anniversary here on the hill. That’s a milestone that almost demands some sort of analysis and recognition. (which I’ll get to writing about soon)  

Twenty years is a long time to do the same thing…and finding a way to keep the sense of enthusiasm and creativity to continue sometimes proves difficult.

Here’s to re-charging and refocusing and pressing onward.

Happy Sunday! 

new day, new possibilities

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

Don’t miss your chance to virtually visit the Staunton Farmers’ Market. Here’s the link to the Boss’ weekly photo post.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 6-18

hawk in the morning sky
(keep on flying...away from our chickens!)

The dogs spent the night doing battle with a fox.

 Well, now, to be perfectly honest, it was more of a yelling match than a battle. The cat-sized fox obviously knew better than to get too close, so it stayed just the other side of the fence, since it’s only defense was a horrible shriek. Over and over it shrieked and over and over the dogs barked, their deep voices thundering through the darkness. I love our Pyrs, but their barking does nothing for a good night’s sleep!

At one point, I went out with my big flashlight, hoping to restore peace and tranquility. I could hear another fox calling from the backside of the farm, so I thought perhaps the show-down was over. However, Gus and Ellie were intent on something just beyond the front yard. They greeted me joyously, seeming certain that I was joining the fight.  The fox looked directly at me, ran a little closer, shrieked then dashed across the field. (I hoped it was off to join the one out back, far from the dogs) Thinking the disruption was finally over, I went back to bed. Only to find that apparently the confrontation was NOT over and the woofing and the shrieking resumed. For the rest of the night.
The entire rest of the night.

Quiet life in the country, this is not.

All that to say this...this post may be a little incoherent and I am beginning to think I should start writing Sunday’s Walkabout on a different day of the week.

big broiler

For those of you who follow us on Instagram and Facebook, you know that it was “broiler week” here on the hill. (and, if you’re not following us on Instagram and should!) I’m pretty sure I have written about “Broiler week” before, but just in case you missed it. Here’s how it works.

baby broiler

“Broiler week” happens once a month. To keep the supply of chicken consistent throughout the growing season, we get chicks every four weeks from February to September. It takes just eight weeks for a broiler to go from a tiny marshmallow-sized chick to a big, meaty bird ready for the dinner plate. (it also takes a fair amount of work on our part, but that’s another story)

Over the years, we have developed a certain choreography that keeps the whole thing running quite smoothly.  Monday of broiler week is processing day. The chickens in the field pen are caught, hauled to the backyard and processed. We can generally get this job completed by lunchtime, leaving the rest of the day for other things.
broiler processing day

This was the first time this season that we were going to attempt the job without help from the girls. I was a little apprehensive about the job, since it’s been less than 3 months from the Boss’ big surgery. But, his recovery has been amazing and he’s back to all his normal activities and he seems to have more energy than before. (some days I have a hard time keeping up with him) Maybe that’s why the job went so smoothly.

moving the broilers to the field pen
On Tuesday morning during broiler week, we move the mid-sized chicks out of the brooder to the field pen where they grow out until it’s time for them to make the trip to the backyard. Then, the Boss cleans all the old bedding out of the brooder, hoses it down and once it’s dry, gets it ready for the next batch of babies due to arrive from the hatchery on Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday of broiler week, I get a phonecall from the Post Office telling me when the chicks arrive. After a short road-trip, the tiny birds are given a drink and tucked into the brooder and the dance continues.

Except when it doesn’t.

I had a bad feeling about this batch. I couldn’t put my finger on why. I just did. The incredibly hot, steamy weather did nothing to ease my worries.

When I got to the post office, the postal employee scanned the box and handed it to me, but, something just didn’t seem right. The box seemed far too still. Even though it was quite chaotic with all the contract trucks delivering heaps and heaps of mail, I should have heard some peeping from the box.
an awful sight

Once I got to the car, I opened the box and was horrified to find dead chicks. Not just one or two, but lots of dead chicks. Mostly dead or dying chicks. One lonely little chick was bobbing about and peeping piteously. I felt ill and my hands began shaking.

I tried calling the Boss although there was nothing he could do. (at that point, I really needed a little reassurance, but he didn’t answer) I didn’t think to go back in the Post Office. But, there wasn’t much they could have done at that point anyway.

The only thing to do was go home.

That was perhaps the longest drive from town ever.

Every time that lonely chick would peep, I could feel the bile rise.

the label on the box is cruel irony

Now, living on a farm, we are faced with the messiness of life and death on a daily basis. I've been doing this a long time and it takes a whole lot to gross me out, but that box of dead and dying baby chicks did it. I really thought that I might have to pull over and throw up somewhere on the trip home. I was a wreck by the time I got back to the hill.

In the end, there were four living chicks to go in the brooder. (one of them succumbed by the end of the day) The hatchery was just as horrified by the situation as I was and promised to ship replacements that afternoon.

So, life goes on.

Except, I couldn’t quite get my groove back. Nothing I had planned for the day seemed to be working. And, I kept thinking about the replacement chicks. What if the same thing happened? ...and WHAT had happened anyhow?

In twenty years of getting chicks through the mail, this had never happened before. (our daughter had a batch with great losses once during very cold weather, but still, nothing like this)

Hatcheries across the country have shipped chicks via the US Mail for years. Most of the time this goes without incident. Tiny chicks have the ability to survive for up to three days as their bodies absorb the nourishment from their egg. Generally, the trip is far shorter and all is well. Yes, occasionally one or two may not survive, and with that in mind, the hatchery always includes at least one extra. This is the most efficient and economical way to get chicks and ordinarily works incredibly well. The hot weather of summer isn’t generally a problem as the babies need to be kept at a temperature of 90* for the first week or so.

But, somewhere in transit a tragic mistake was made. Maybe the chicks got left in the hot sun, maybe it was too cold in another postal facility. Maybe, perhaps…there was no way to know. And, no way to correct it at this late date.

There was no point in being angry. No reason to raise a ruckus. It was just sad.  The loss of life and any suffering on the part of the tiny creatures was overwhelming and deeply disturbing.

I was just hoping it wouldn’t happen again. The proposed Friday trip to the Post Office worried at me for the rest of Wednesday and all of Thursday.

In the meantime, we planted and harvested and continued on…

planting and mulching


The Boss started harvesting potatoes this week!

The corn is beginning to pop up!

We can begin the count-down to abundant veggie harvest! 

bean blossom

baby squash

…and something is eating the winter squash.

there should be leaves on all those stems

Seriously? I tell you when it rains, it pours.

As I started supper, the Boss headed out to do something to protect the squash crop. except the fence is a little too short and he needed to order another piece. (which, of course, it back-ordered) He made do with some bits and pieces.
heading out to save the squash

fenced in squash

red pepper for added protection
(hope the rabbits don't like spicy!)

We’re pretty sure that the pest in the squash is rabbits. I saw three rabbits having a “meeting” in the alley last night. I’m almost certain they were discussing what to eat next. The upcoming week may have to include some time of “hunting wabbits” in a bid for the squash crop’s survival.

rabbits' meeting

meeting adjourned
(off to eat the garden)

By the time the Post Office called on Friday, I was really nervous. There were some other boxes of chicks just coming off the big trucks and they were cheeping loudly. The postal employees recognize me by now and we chatted as we walked to where our chicks were located. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to peek in that box and see all those healthy little babies. The big, burly postal worker got a little misty-eyed when I told him what happened to the others. He said he always worries over the chicks in very hot (and very cold) weather. He wished me well and I headed back to the hill.
box of healthy chicks!

The new batch of chicks seems particularly lively and adjusted to their new home with no difficulties whatsoever. You should check out the video on Facebook/Instagram.

All’s well that ends well, I guess. (and here’s hoping we never face that one again!) A big thanks to Moyer’s Hatchery for getting us back on track right away.

In related news, the hot, steamy weather continues. 

it even LOOKS hot!
Yesterday, I read that over at the base of the mountain they have recorded over 22 inches of rain since the end of April. 22! We’ve only had about 15 inches here. That’s still a lot and while the ground itself is not soggy, the grass stays heavy with dew until afternoon some days, making it difficult to get things done. But, the hay is amazingly thick and heavy, and may make for a record-setting amounts…assuming it dries out enough to harvest it. 

(our hay guy called recently…you can guess what we’re doing in the upcoming week…if it doesn’t rain…)
loading hay at Ruby's next door

I have rambled on for far too long, so it’s time to bring this to a close. My stint at attempting to be a doggie-manicurist will just have to be a separate post---(I know you’ll check back for that one). Then, there’s some good news about honeybees, more than one garden update, a few comments regarding the “gifts” on the back porch, and a look at the goodies we got from the American Lamb Board…(looks like I need to log a lot more keyboard time)

I truly hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 
a hot day in the garden

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

Here’s a link so you can virtually visit our Market. (thanks to the Boss for the great photos!)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 6-11

June means we travel to Edinburg for lamb processing
and one of my favorite views in the Valley
Ordinarily, after shearing, the ewes go back out to pasture and don’t demand much attention (other than feed and water) until late July when we ready them for August breeding season.

But, last Sunday one ewe just wasn’t acting right. She didn’t come with the others. She hung back and stood alone. That might not sound like a problem, but if a prey animal doesn’t stay with the flock in the wild, it can be deadly. While it may not be quite so dire in the barnyard environment, it does indicate a problem.
Can you find the sick sheep?
Are they all sick?
On hot days, sheep stand in groups like this to ward off flies.
It looks a little like a rugby scrum
(the sick one is on the far right)

Since she was stretching in the odd way that a ruminant does when it has a bellyache, we treated her for internal parasites after checking for any other issues. Parasitic overload can cause a whole host of problems. Then, a good dose of probiotics would get the good bugs in her gut working once more.

At that point, there wasn’t much more we could do, so we turned them all out and went on with our day, checking on her repeatedly. She didn’t seem to improve greatly, but she did stay with the flock, so we took that as some sort of progress. But, I must admit, her condition worried at the back of my mind. She’s a nice, young ewe that produced some beautiful lambs this season, and I would truly hate to lose her.

With the ailing ewe still in my thoughts, I was heading out to check the gates when I saw the ram flailing about, with something between his back feet.

"Well, hello Mama...did ya bring me somethin' to eat?"
Now, Angus seems to get bored this time of year, hanging out alone in his bachelor paddock at the back edge of the farm. His idea of entertainment is to butt the water tub around the field. Since climbing fence and retrieving it while he decides if he wants to butt a human doesn’t appeal to either of us as a fun time, we clipped a big stock tank to the fence. Now, he just butts that and splashes in the water. It’s not unusual to hear him banging into the waterer and talking to himself.

But, this time was different. He was stomping about, grumbling in his rammy voice and I could swear I saw something long and black flip up into the air. My first thought was a snake. It’s the time of year when we see a fair number of black snakes and there have been reports of copperheads as well. So... I took a slight detour, hoping that I wasn’t going to have to do any reptile removal.

He seemed particularly happy to see me as he ambled down the paddock, although he did seem a little disappointed that I didn’t bring treats. He also seemed a little startled when I laughed out loud at the “enemy” in the ram paddock. It was a piece of black soaker hose! It was apparently a piece from last year's winter squash planting. I have no idea how it got broken, how it got in his paddock or why he felt it necessary to do battle with it. But, at least I didn’t have to deal with any snakes! (and I left it there for his future amusement)
you have to look close for the soaker hose

After a rainy day run to town, we were ready for our first lamb hauling trip of the season. This went amazingly well. So well that we had loaded the lambs, hauled the lambs, unloaded the lambs, given our instructions to the processor, and returned from our trip BEFORE lunchtime without a single incident! That’s one for the record books, for sure.
here they come!

there they go!

1st batch headed for processing
maybe it was using the new truck
everything went SO smoothly

So, with that behind us and the sheep out of the barn for the summer, it was time to pull the garlic. 
pulling garlic

The wet weather has not been kind to the garlic crop and the Boss was afraid that if we left it in the ground any longer, we might lose it all.

garlic harvest 2017 is complete

Ordinarily, all irrigation is cut off to the garlic toward the end of its life cycle. As the bulbs swell, any added moisture will cause them to burst open. Not only do they look less attractive, the bulb is now susceptible to disease and rot. However, there is nothing we can do to stop precipitation from the sky and the ten inches of rain in May didn’t do the garlic a bit of good.
these bulbs are way too wet

But, the wet conditions did make it easy to get them out of the ground!
hauling the garlic to the barn

the garlic is put on racks in the barn where it will cure for longer storage

The nice garlic bulbs are beautiful and it was great to have a little more on the produce stand for the Market.

winter squash, planted and mulched

Then it was time to get the winter squash planted. As he hauled load after load of mulch hay, I worked on planting the rest of greens in the hoophouse. The squash planting went off without a hitch and now that he planted some corn seed, that garden is completed for a while. We will have to get some fencing put up very soon to protect it from critters. I saw an enormous rabbit out there and I feel certain that the groundhogs and deer have the area under surveillance.

doesn't look like much now
but, this is newly planted sweet corn
hopefully, we will beat the crows, deer and groundhogs 

Speaking of the deer surveillance, we covered the grape vine at the top of the lane with net in hopes of beating the marauding deer herd to the harvest this year. Last year, they ate every single grape just hours before I got out there to pick them! No exaggeration. At daybreak, the dogs were going off at something.  I looked and saw the deer on the lane and didn’t think any more of it. I went out after breakfast and found...nothing...
deer netting on the grapes
maybe we should cover the whole place!
...except a few shriveled little raisin-like things. 
this is all they left last year

Here’s hoping that the netting does the trick!

During all this other activity, we continued to worry over the ailing sheep. She didn’t make much improvement for a couple of days. We ran them in the barn again and gave her another round of probiotics. At this point, we also marked her back with a bright green crayon. That made it far easier to spot her when doing a field check. 

that little green mark really helped us spot her

Then she was observed eating grass...yay! When she started shoving her way into the feeder among the other ewes, we felt a great sense of relief.

she's shoving hard on that old girl next to her

By the end of the week, she had completely recovered. So much so that she was fighting with another ewe as to which one got to go first down the alley to the front field. They were rearing up in the air and smashing heads with loud thumps and muffled baas. While I have no idea what this was all about, I can only surmise that she lost her flock ranking while she wasn’t feeling well. However, she won the argument and all is now relatively peaceful (and healthy) with the flock once more.
You really never know what will happen around here...
battling ewes at daybreak

The end of the week means that it was time for Market preparations once more. Unfortunately, it seems like we are still in standby mode on much of the produce. There are lots of teeny, tiny vegetables out there, but it will be a while before they are ready.
despite the weeds, I found some asparagus!

teeny, tiny squash
not sure I want to share this!

baby okra plants and peppers were planted this week

definitely NOT sharing this!
sorry, not sorry

lettuce and other greens in the hoophouse
Two weeks…seriously…two weeks and we should have produce rolling in! However, it was a beautiful day for the Market and the folks were out in droves.

Now, it’s time to re-group and relax a little. The upcoming week promises to be rather toasty, they’re predicting the highest temperatures of the year, followed by…you guessed it…rain. (not what the hay guys were hoping to hear) It will be another broiler week here as we process, move and receive chickens, keeping the cycle going.

and just in case you were wondering...
the grass IS greener on the other side of the fence!

So, I hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

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

Here's the link to the Boss' shots from this week's Market. Click THIS.