Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Forget the Groundhog, Listen to the Trees

February's the month when many Northerners, tired of cold and gray days, flee to the South, for a weekend, a week, a month or longer.

Those left behind gripe about the seemingly endless cycle of freeze, thaw, mud and more mud. Or, they look for any signs of spring: a few loose hairs on the horses, a yellow dandelion, bird song, a groundhog who doesn't see his shadow.

I slog out the late winter months in Ohio, griping and searching--and also heading to the woods to visit the maple trees.

A local park taps about 40 maple trees each year and relies on volunteers to collect the sap. The sap runs for about six weeks in late winter when nights are cold and days warm above freezing.

This year's cold weather means maple syrup season is getting off to a slow start.

During my first two visits, temperatures remained near freezing and there was no sap to collect.

The woods are quiet at this time of year. Few people visit the park in winter; the leaves have lost their crunch, and gray days do not entice the birds to sing.

Today, though, I heard another sound that lifted my spirits.

Drip, long pause, drip, pause, drip. The sap was flowing.

The ice on the river was melting.

The wild flowers are awakening.

In the coming weeks, I expect the dripping of the maple sap will increase, until one day, when the sap turns a yellow or cloudy hue.

Those colors indicate the trees are ready to bud--and spring is finally here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Discovery at the IGA

As a child, my grandparents took me to Young's Dairy in Yellow Springs, Ohio, for pony rides, ice cream and milk.

For me, riding a pony and looking at the fawn-colored cows with the huge soft eyes and brown muzzles were the highlights of the visit. For them, it was probably the milk, non-homogenized and with cream on top.

It's hard to find milk like that today.

Most milk comes from Holstein cows and is homogenized, with the cream removed.

But, on a trip to the local IGA, I found something that stopped me in my tracks: organic milk from grass-fed Jersey cows, with the cream on top.

So, I'm now making a weekly stop to the IGA--and I don't need the promise of a pony ride to entice me.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Set Free: The Broken Legged Hen Saga Continues

We had no release party.

But the sun was shining, the snow was melting, and temperatures were climbing into the 30's. Even our fair-weather Wyandottes chickens ventured outside the hen house.

Now in approximately week six of her confinement, the Broken Legged Hen was tired of her 8 by 8-foot stall, and I was tired of feeding her separately from the others.

"Be free," I said, opening her stall door.

Then I left the barn and took the Border collies on their morning dog walk. When I returned, the stall was empty.

From a distance, the Broken Legged Hen looks no different than the other Buckeye hens. Up close, her now-healed broken leg is thicker--and she walks with a limp.

She settled back into her routine of hanging out with the two Haflinger horses. Either she'd forgotten that a horse hoof broke her leg, or she didn't care.

At night, rather than joining the other hens in the hen house, she settled into the corner of the horse stall.

When the horses were fed, she was there to snatch up loose bits of grain.

I've given up arguing with her.

The horse stall is where she wants to be.

And I will let it be.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Preparing for Act 2

The snow gave way to mud today, and I prepared for Winter: Act 2.

The only certainty about Ohio winters is that just when you think you can't stand another day of mud, or snow, or freezing temperatures, it gives you something else.

So, after a few weeks of below freezing temperatures, it gave overcast skies, 53-degree temperatures, and mud.

I spent the day cleaning up from The Freeze and preparing for The Snowstorm.

That involved moving more hay from the storage barn to the sheep and horse barn.

And removing 2+ weeks of manure from the horse stalls and loafing shed.

And musing at the chickens. The Buckeyes ventured out and about during The Freeze. The Silver Laced Wyandottes opted to hang out in the hen house until the snow melted.

I moved more firewood indoors and cleaned out the wood-burning stove. And, of course, I worked the Border  collies, who think The Freeze or The Snowstorm is a silly excuse to spend time indoors.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Haunted Chicken House?

Winter in Ohio means doing chores in the grey and the dark.

The grey was darkening as I closed the sheep gate a few days ago, and heard the pounding on a window. Glancing at the old chicken house, I saw a shadow.

The chickens moved out of the old chicken house months ago. They are now living in a house with windows that close and few, if any, drafts. After their departure, we closed the windows and doors of the old chicken house.

Pound, pound.

Something was definitely in the chicken house. I stopped and looked at the dust-covered window.

A bird, big and pale, with long tail feathers, flapped against the window.

A hawk? Could a hawk get into the chicken house?

Pound, pound.

He definitely couldn't get out.

I walked around to the chicken house door and debated my next move. If I opened the door, would he come flying at the opening and my face?

Approaching the door sideways, I unlatched it, stepped to the side and kicked it open.


I peeked inside.

The Cooper's hawk, or chicken hawk, sat on the perch, staring. He was neither going to thank me nor scold me for coming to his aid.

I left the door open for him and finished the evening chores. When I returned to the chicken house, he was gone. So, too, I realized, were the huge flocks of starlings and sparrows who had made the chicken house their home.

For more info on the Cooper's hawk, click here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Trickster Goes Herding

Cold weather and short days make for a bored barn cat.

When Trick the Cat spotted Emma the Border Collie and me trekking toward the sheep pasture, he fell into line behind us. And when Emma brought the sheep to the gate, he stood smack dab in the middle and dared the sheep to walk by.

The ewes gathered around the 12-pound cat and sniffed him. One rubbed her nose against his back. The cat purred in delight.

Emma looked at me. I shooed the cat aside so that the sheep could pass and Emma could work.

As Emma drove the sheep around the wheat field, I walked behind her, and Trick behind me.

"You are so in the way," I told the cat who happily ambled along, enjoying his break from snoozing on top of the hay bales.

"You could spend more time catching mice," I told him.

Yesterday I spotted a mouse feasting on the Broken-Legged Hen's food. I scooped Trick up from his the hay bale and tried to place him in the stall with Broken-Legged Hen and the mouse.

He yowled and braced, claws extended. No way was he stepping one paw into the pen with Broken-Legged Hen.

I relented.

Trick the Cat has survived 10-plus years on the farm. No barn cat gets to be that old without being an excellent judge of character.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Things We Do...

For weeks we had our nightly ritual. After dark, I'd step into the horse stall, walk around the two Haflingers, scoop up the hen and carry her to the hen house.

"You are a chicken. You live in the chicken house," I told her.

She ruffled her feathers and returned to the horse stall every morning.

"Fine. Live in the horse stall," I said.

And, then the horse stepped on her and injured her leg.

"A horse stall is no place for an injured chicken," I said, scooping her up and carrying her to the hen house.

She stayed there for two days before she walked one-legged back to the horse stall.

So we compromised.

I put her in a horse stall without a horse, and agreed to bring her food and water every morning and night. She agreed to be waited on and to squawk her disapproval with me daily.

We're week 2 into the agreement and it seems to be working so far.