Saturday, December 23, 2017

Visiting Old Friends

     Now you might think, with a title like that, that this is about  meeting up with people I have not seen in a while.  You are right, to a degree.  This past year has been filled with visits and talks with old friends; students who graduated years ago, teachers from my own school days, people I grew up with.  However, I am referring to friends I have made through books. This is the time of year I pull out some of my well-loved books and revisit the friends there.
       I just finished Daddy-Long_Legs, written in 1912 by Jean Webster, and Judy Abbott is just as lovely and sweet today as she was when I first read it at age 12.  I love revisiting books I have known since childhood because we often read just "the story" as a child and then as an adult, we appreciate the witticisms, the social commentary, and the allegory that was over our heads when we first turned their pages.  The Chronicles of Narnia is my perfect example.
       I hope you, too,  have some time to visit some old friends in between the caroling and the snow ball fights!

Monday, December 11, 2017

To breed or not to breed, that is the question

   This year we may be light on lambs, or swimming in them.  We usually put breeding groups together at the end of November, beginning of December.  This year as we were plotting who should go with whom to  try for which genetic traits, which possible fleece colour outcomes, we stopped and too a good hard look at a couple of our girls - they seemed a big too large for this time of year.  My son described one of our older ewes as looking a bit like an eggplant, and indeed, she does.  We now suspect (and it is just that as we cannot afford ultrasounds for sheep) that possibly four or five of our girls might be pregnant. 
    How does this happen when we keep the rams and the ewes in separate enclosures, you ask?  Well...we may have left the ram lambs in with the ewe lambs a bit too long...maybe.  Rather than forcing weaning, we have always let the ewes wean the lambs.  They do a pretty good job of letting the babies know when enough is enough.  However, we may not have gotten the message.  Finn rams are sexually mature at 4 - 8 months.  It is very possible we had an early bloomer or two, and now may have lambs in February!  These  will be wonderful as a spinner's flock, to increase the prolificacy of a flock, but we will not be able to register them as we have no idea who the sire is. 
    sigh.  It has been that kind of a sheep year, so why not have one more lesson learned before the year's end?  Soooo,  yesterday we put the one white ewe with the best fleece together with our older white ram, and we are hoping for a May lambing from her.  We may put our light brown ewe together with a young light brown piebald ram to try to continue that colour in the flock.  Beyond that - we may be done.   Keep ya posted about the others!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

some weeks are not good weeks

   As many of you know,  one of our ewes went missing. Maxine is big, and brown, and sweet. She has not been found, so we are not hopeful.  I have followed several leads which found me trolling the streets of a village some 15 - 20  miles from our farm on the tip that a brown sheep was roaming the streets there.  No luck.  After more photographic evidence appeared, I could see that the markings were wrong and it was not our sheep. 
    This weekend we started coordinating the lists for breeding groups.  This is when we really took notice of some inconsistencies in the udders on one of our other first group of sheep, a ewe named Arwen.  She is a big, beautiful white ewe who has given us three generations of lovely white lambs.  She was skittish to start with, and had a tough time settling into motherhood on her first lambing, but has been very attentive and giving us strong lambs, ever since.  Last season she gave us our first quadruplets - all white, and all did well.  It appears, however, that she developed a form of sub-clinical mastitis - an infection in the udders.  It can return, spread to others in the flock, so we will have to cull her. 
Arwen, just before giving birth to quads. 

  I am not very good at this part of farming.  The selling, the culling; nope, not good at all.  However, we cannot have infection in the flock, so if a chronic condition develops, this is the answer.  So breeding lists will have to be re-worked, and we will have to say goodbye to another friend.  Next year will mean selling at least one of our original rams, as we need to introduce new genetics to the flock, and I am steeling myself for that by talking about it early.  

Friday, November 3, 2017

Halloween - no pithy title, really, just Halloween!

      Halloween has never been my favorite  holiday.  I loved it as a kid, of course, but had no real attachment as an adult.  Until I had children.  While a bit of a busman's holiday, making costumes for my children for Halloween has always been a joy. I spend far too much to create costumes they will wear for a few hours, but they love it and so do I. 
     This year, my son wanted to be Captain Jack Sparrow.  Okay, but I was determined NOT to spend a bunch of money on this one.  He had pants that would work, and I had a poet shirt from my grad school days (don't ask me why - I have no idea!),  a vest was easy from the remnant of some random upholstery fabric, as was the  sash and the head wrap.  Bought new rain boots in brown, as he had outgrown his old ones, and just made felt cuffs for them.  Easy Peasy.   The tricky parts?  Wig, mustache and tricorn hat.  I had a hat from my college days that looks like something Zorro might wear (again - no idea why),
and I have not even had the thing on my head in 20 years, so a few quick pinches and I bent the brim into a tricorn.  Problem 1 solved. 
   I started to ventilate a beard - far too late, as this takes a bit of time an patience and I am out of practice.  I stared at so many photos of Johnny Depp my eyes were crossing before I thought of the obvious solution - chunky yarn.  Captain Jack has awful hair - dirty, dreadlocks, tangles and braids.  Yarn would do quite well.  So a quick machine stitching of two tones of brown yarn, and some beads and braids and we had a wig, and a mustache. Problems solved. Trick or treating would happen before the Halloween parade, and before I got off of work, so it was up to my darling husband to  apply the facial hair and makeup.  Final results were good, and the child won Best Character costume in the band's costume competition.   Another year, another costume.  Next year?  Who knows?

Friday, September 22, 2017

The faster I run...

This is one of those busy days when I have to slow down for a minute. I went to the farm to water/feed animals and got four eggs from four chickens! Yeah! Found one ram lamb completely tangled in the electro-netting - which had snapped a wire so he was not getting zapped, but his leg was so wrapped up that it took 15 minutes to get him free. I sent my son to car to grab my knife - he returned 15 minutes later - he had sat on two of the eggs in the van, then tried to clean it up by hosing the inside of the vehicle (the carpeted floor, the fabric seats- you get the picture?) and still came back with no knife. But, the ram was freed, the netting set up as a physical if not electric barrier, so, no harm no foul. We had no rags, nor paper towels in the barn, so I cleaned the remaining egg goo from the seat with disinfecting hand wipes - several of them!
Now I am home and instead of racing off to get things for the show I am working on, perhaps I should stop and eat lunch and sit for a minute, because sometimes the faster I run, the slower I go.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Teaching myself to tan

     My third show of the summer is completed. My syllabi are done.  I know have about 6 hours that are not appointed to something else, so I am going to try to tan my first sheepskin.  The lamb was injured, so we sent him to the abattoir rather than have him become supper for the coyotes. We asked for his hide back, and salted it well, folded it and put it in a plastic bag to hold it until Spring.  And of course now that it is the end of August, I finally have the time to start the process.
     I unfolded the hide, and it was a bit stiff and pretty dry, so I ran the hose over it to rinse off the salt and soften things up before trying to remove some of the fat.  Although last year I purchased a fleshing knife - I put it somewhere safe - I cannot find it, so I grabbed one of the Cutco knives from the kitchen and used that to help remove the effluvium.
    Next I mixed two pounds of salt and a cup of oxalic acid in a large plastic storage bin, mixed it up and submerged the hide.  For the next three days, it will soak with the occasional stir, and then be washed and softened.  More about that as it happens

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

    The best friend and worst enemy of the farmer is the weather.  We pray for rain,  long for dry weather, hope the rains hold off in time for hay to be cut and gathered.  It's a complicated farucca with tempo shifts and changing moves, this dance of the farmer and the weather.
     Thus is was with us last week.  We were late getting the hay cut this year, as we had been out of the country,  and the rain came daily upon our return.  We finally got a break, and got some of the pasture cut, then we got the hay rake hooked up to our old Ford tractor, only to have the tractor randomly stall and need half an hour to cool off before starting up again.
  The next day we were ready to bale. Ancient bailer hooked up - check.  Knotter working - check.  gas in the tractor - check, check.  My husband started bailing, and it clogged - our wind rows were too wide.  So we raked them out into thinner  rows and started again.
  Aa-aa-nd the  tractor stalled.  We needed to wait until the following day to try again.
    Things started to go well, then another issue.  This is when things started to change. Other farmers are your bullpen in tricky times, or so we have found.   A friend (the gentleman who helped to build the barn) just stopped by because he was in town, and he and  my husband  greased the bailer and suddenly it worked.   Another friend - the one who created our pond on the farm - also just popped by.  We were all watching the thunder clouds rolling in, so once the bailer started working, we were all throwing bales into the back of our truck, and Brian's truck, and Tom's truck and getting them down the hill to the barn.  Still, there was a lot of un-baled hay when the PTO on the baler broke. Without this part intact, no baling happens.  Our ancient tractor has parts that cannot always be picked up easily at the Tractor Supply Store, so we had to come up with some other way to get the remaining hay in.    Call to the bullpen.
        A neighboring farmer, whom we had never met, but wave to daily as he drives past with his huge newer tractor and round baler, happened past, and my husband flagged him down.  He pulled in and after some "getting to know you chat",  mostly about equipment,  he agreed to get his "baling guy" to swing by at the end of the day and  bale up the rest of the field.  No charge, no trade, just a neighbor helping out a neighbor.  So we had four round bales in the field that evening, and managed to get them in the barn before the rain came.
     If you want to make friends, buy a farm.  Seriously, when the chips are down, farmers have your back.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

All in good time

   Forever ago was the last time I had a minute to put up a blog post.  We are now in June of 2017, and the weather still feels like early Spring in most places.  Things have greened up, but it is prudent to keep a jacket handy.
    We have been knee deep in sheep, as we intentionally bred our ewes later last year so births would happen in late April and early May rather than march and early April.  DUMB!  We had lambs being born during our show opening, during rehearsals for another show, during finals at the college: not helpful.  next year we go back to our earlier schedule!  We had a rough go of things - twenty  lambs are currently frolicking in the fields, but of three pair of triplets, born, there are only two of each grouping that lived.  One set had the remaining two needing lots of extra care. The ram lamb from that group is now huge, but his sister is still tiny and a bottle lamb.  She comes running to the gate when we arrive, and will follow us around the barn when we let her out.  We were lucky enough to have our first quadruplets, and our first quintuplets born on the farm from our seasoned mothers. They are all adorable,  but as there are so many of them, we are supplementing them with bottles as well.

     Today we had perfect weather, and after finally getting the septic guys out to locate the drainage field, I was able to plant a tree near the farm house.  I grew up with weeping willows in our yard, and in our neighborhood, and I love them.  So now that I knew where to avoid planting,  I was able to buy a weeping willow and put it in the ground.  Now the farm seems like home.  I look forward to the  tree shading the house, and giving another generation of children a place to climb, play, read, and dream.