Monday, August 31, 2009


A listing of the animals on the farm, from easiest to hardest to catch. [Composed while trying to move the ram lambs to a new pasture]
Dogs Horses Cats Chickens Mature Ewes Ewe lambs Ram lambs The llama

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sizing Up

How fast does a dog decide if another is friend or foe, playmate or just-another-pack member? In seconds. When Lucy, the foster puppy arrived, she looked at my male Border Collie, and said, "Oh, I'll have someone to keep me company." When she saw my female Border Collie, her ears perked. "Oh, I have a new best friend."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Science behind the Eggs

Turns out that eggs from free-range chickens that eat a varied diet not only look different than their factory-farmed sisters; they also have different nutritional values. Tests show those free-range eggs have more Vitamin E, folic acid, beta carotene, Omega-3s -- and less cholesterol.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Dandelion Experiment

When I cracked the egg and let it fall in the skillet, I started. Instead of the vibrant orange-yellow yolks of summer, I found a yolk that was fading with the warm weather. I went to hen yard. "Eat your vegetables," I scolded the birds. The hens gave me their tilted-head, one-eyed stares. Looking around their hen yard, I noticed sparse, browning grass. They didn't have any vegetables. I grabbed a bucket, went to a nearby field and plucked dandelion greens, one of the few greens still found in late fall. The chickens ate them with delight, and in the coming weeks, the yolks returned to the vibrant color of summer.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Hens Eat

What our free-range hens eat: Melon rinds Lettuce Cucumbers Pumpkins Moths Zucchini Earthworms Tomato worms Dandelions and other weeds Clover Insects Tomatoes Apples and pear cores Potato and carrot peelings Scratch grain Laying mash (ground grains like corn, oats, wheat, and other supplements) What most American laying hens eat: Laying mash (ground corn, oats, wheat, and other grains)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The diet difference

When I made a lemon meringue pie, I smiled at the recipe’s ingredients. Yellow food coloring (optional). Now why would I add color to the lemon filling? No artificial color could top the rich deep yellow-orange of my filling. My secret? The eggs. I use eggs from our free-range chickens. The eggs – with their bright yellow-orange yolks – look nothing like factory-farmed eggs that have pale yellow yolks. The color difference has nothing to do with the chicken breed, egg shell color, or stress levels, and everything to do with the hens’ diets.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tag's Facial

Sometimes the time it takes to realize something bad is happening, process it, call out a command, have the dog hear it, process it, and react is just too long. I saw the dogs key in on something in the waterway. They're always popping up rabbits, groundhogs, raccoons, deer and mice. But by the time I realize that Tag was chasing a black and white critter, it was too late. Poor Tag does not realize why I don't welcome his cuddles and loving this week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Additions on the Farm

The foster dog has a name – Lucy!
She’s named after the main character in my novel. Hopefully it will remind me to keep writing. But if my main character starts chewing socks and barking in the middle of the night, I might have to reconsider the dog name.
Meet our new ram lamb!
He’s four months old and just thinking about puberty. I don’t know if 20 ewes staring at him will hasten or delay it. Around Thanksgiving time, he will be turned out with the ewes for breeding season.
When it comes to selecting livestock for breeding, I like to look at the whole package – conformation, mothering ability, temperament, and so on. Some say that temperament shouldn’t matter for livestock – but it matters to me. I want this to be an enjoyable experience. I usually don’t let color play too much into my decision. But this time I made an exception. Katahdins can come in a variety of colors – though most are white or white with freckles. When given the choice of several nice ram lambs, I chose the one with color.
In the meantime, he needs a name – other than Hottie or Handsome.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chicken Catching: Part 3

My husband was skeptical when the $10.99 chicken hook arrived. I’ll admit, it was low-tech – a four-foot think metal rod with a wooden handle on one end and a curved j-hook on the other. But it quickly fell into the Top Ten Essential Farm Implements category. When we needed to catch a chicken during daylight hours, we only had to use the hook to grab a chicken by the leg. No more chasing, cornering, and flapping wings.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Catching Chickens: Part 2

How hard can it be to catch an eight-pound bird that's not a particularly gifted flyer? In our early years of chicken rearing, my husband and I tried herding the chickens into a corner then grabbing one. Chickens flapped and climbed the fence. They darted between our legs. Feathers and tempers flew. Then we got smart. At night, chickens go into the hen house to roost. It's quite easy to sneak in, grab one from the roost and tiptoe outside again. It's so much less stressful for both humans and hens. But sometimes, we couldn't wait for nighttime to catch the bird. Sometimes a hen escaped into the yard or garden. Leaving her there might endanger herself -- or worse yet, my garden. In our third year of chicken-rearing, we discovered the solution: a chicken hook.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Catching Chickens: Part I

When children visit the farm, a few want to catch a chicken. We shake our heads as they zig and zag through the yard and pastures trying to catch a free-range bird. The hens squawk and flap their wings and always stay several steps ahead of the children. In all of our years of chicken keeping, a child has not caught a chicken.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Essential Equipment

Shortly after buying horses, we were looking for a way to haul them places. "Buy a livestock trailer instead of a horse trailer," a farmer and horse friend suggested. "They don't mind riding in one -- and you can use it for so much more." That was 10 years ago. And it was one of the best buys on the farm. While not as nice looking as a horse trailer, it was cheaper, and no horse has refused to go in it. Over the years, we've hauled: A motorcycle Gates A lawn mower Furniture A llama Firewood Sheep Fencing and building supplies and horses.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Life without Air Conditioning

I say that I don’t care for air conditioning. That I hate the feeling of being sealed into a house, unable to hear the crickets, the rooster crows. That air conditioning makes it so much harder to go outside to feed the animals, to work in the garden. Without air conditioning, I let the weather dictate the day. I rise early and work outside until the heat forces me indoors to the shade. When the heat and humidity is stifling, I take naps in the afternoon. In the evenings I return to working before falling into bed exhausted. Our farmhouse was built before air conditioning. It allows the breeze to come through the house, for air to flow. On most days, I can keep it cool by opening the windows at night and closing them and the shades during the day. Ceiling fans keep the air moving. Life without air conditioning is quite tolerable, I say. Until those few weeks of summer hit, when temperatures hit the 90s during the days and refuse to fall below 70 at night. On those days, I can’t cool the house, and I imagine life with air conditioning.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Foster Dog Needs a Name!

Meet our newest foster dog! She's about 5-6 months old. She visited us for a few days before going to have her vet work done. After she's spayed, vaccinated, and had her rear double dew claws removed, she'll return to the farm. In the meantime, she needs a name other than "Puppy." Naming foster dogs becomes tougher the more and more I do rescue. We try not to have repeat names... and the organization I work with has had hundreds of dogs go through the program. A little more about this pup... She loves to chase butterflies and cuddle. She's a curious girl, as most pups are. She can be quite brave and stand up to the rooster... as long as he's on the other side of the fence. She's going to be a petite girl -- probably no more than 35 pounds tops. She has that Border Collie tail, but she's mixed with something else. We're not sure what.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Meteor Showers

I walk in darkness along the gravel driveway. It’s that predawn hour when the critters of the night have gone to bed, and the critters of the day have yet to awake. Silence engulfs me as I take in the stars above, to the sides, in front of me. In my peripheral vision, I catch a star slip silently from the sky. There is no warning of its fall, and no boom or crackle announcing it. Just silence. Moments later, I see another, and another. This light show beats any fireworks display I’ve seen.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What I Don't Say in a Job Interview...

Hire me because I can walk among a flock of sheep and instantly notice the one who is lame, has diarrhea, is lethargic. I know how to check a horse’s vital signs. I can make a dog bark – and shut up. I know the difference between alfalfa, timothy and orchardgrass. I ’ve sheared a llama, trimmed sheep's hooves and assisted in birthing lambs. I know the correct temperature and humidity levels to incubate chicken eggs. Cleaning manure from stalls does not freak me out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saying Good-Bye

Jack died earlier this month. Without him, The house is quieter Cleaner Lonelier As time goes on, Thoughts of him bring smiles.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Seize the Day

I called him Jack. So many visitors called the Border collie "Poor Jack." Jack had a tough life. He came from a shelter full of buckshot and worms. A few years after we adopted him, he developed cataracts. But he never thought of himself as Poor Jack. He delighted in being groomed, having his ears rubbed and his butt scratched, eating green beans, herding his green ball, going for a hike. On sunny days, he loved to bury his head in the grass, somersault onto his back, stick all four feet in the air, and scratch his back. He appreciated life, and reminded me to take joy in it every day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What a Sensitive Dog Teaches: Part 2

How I saw training the weave poles: With treat in hand, I give the hand signals. Jack enters the weave poles. Half way through he misses one. I sigh. He looks and me, sulks off and hides under a chair. How Jack saw training on weave poles: Hand signal says to enter the weave poles. Was that a slight twitch of the leg? Surely she wants me to follow. Why is she yelling at me? I give up. I’d better hide before it escalates. Jack taught me the power of body language. Jack taught me that with some dogs, a sigh is a slap. Jack taught me to reward positive behaviors, and to use corrections with care.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What a Sensitve Dog Teaches: Part I

Get shot and you become hyper-sensitive to gunshots. When Jack heard gunshots roll across the cornfields, he put his head down and trotted in the other direction until he found a bunker – a fence row, a building, someplace – where he could hide. No amounts of shouting, cajoling, happy voices, commands, could stop him. I became hyper-sensitive to gunshots. Did everyone in a two-mile radius own guns? I walked him on leash. I continued loving him. And, I discovered something about him and me. When the shots barked in the distance, he looked at me for my reaction. If I didn’t react, he resumed walking. If I flinched, if I told him it was okay, he pulled on the leash, trying to escape, to find a safe zone. I learned to become the confident leader, and over time, he gained more confidence in himself.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cruelty and Forgiveness

When Jack arrived, we learned quickly he was a sensitive soul. Gunshots and thunderstorms sent the Border collie into hiding. His X-rays showed the source of his fears. Sometime in his past, someone had shot him multiple times. Every limb of his body, his head, his core, carried buckshot – a reminder of how cruel people can be. Yet, he was willing to try loving again. That cruel treatment didn’t alter his goodness toward people, his willingness to try and please them.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What Animals Teach

Working with animals humbles me. When I begin to think I’ve mastered handling sheep, training a dog, working with horses, one of them is sure to step in and remind me that I have much more to learn. Jack did that. After training our first Border Collie to run agility, I considered myself knowledgeable about the dogs and the breed. We adopted Jack, a Border collie, from Buckeye Border Collie Rescue, and he began teaching me.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The B-52s Arrive

The horseflies arrive in early August. I call them B-52s. They are large, loud and lumbering. They laugh at insect repellent. Their bite leaves a golf ball sized lump. Horses, humans and sheep fear them. Chickens do not. One Buckeye hen spots a horsefly and gives chase, waddling after it as it circles around the ewes’ watering trough. The horsefly cannot ascend fast enough to escape the chicken’s beak.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Nighttime on the Farm

I am a morning person. I seldom am outside for hard dark in early August. But chores go into the night, and I notice the lights over the bean field. The fireflies rise above the plants, their blinking lights blanketing the air. When I look at the field in the following morning's early dawn, the fireflies and their lights are gone, replaced by the hovering fog.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Garden: Tomato Dawn

The first ripe tomatoes never make it out of the garden. I pluck them from the vine, wipe them off, and pop their warm, sweetness into my mouth. As I celebrate the start of tomato season, I try not to think of its violent end, when, tired of tomatoes, I throw the orbs into the chicken yard, and then finally, yank up the plants and throw them on the burn pile. That time seems so far away.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Farm Friends

If you move to a farm, it’s best to seek out a few human farm friends – those people who can commiserate about frozen pipes in the winter, ignore the muddy paw prints of spring, and will celebrate when you find a piece of rusty sheep handling equipment. This week we brought home a used sheep tilt-table. When the sheep walk into it, the metal contraption squeezes them so they can't move forward, backward or sideways. A still sheep is easier to vaccinate and deworm. Once squeezed in place, the handler also can tilt the sheep on its side, making the twice-a-year hoof-trimming ritual easier. A sheep-owning friend is in awe. "I want one," she says.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Trade-Off

Five-and-a-half inches of rain and cool weather in July mean green pastures and plenty of forage for the sheep and horses. I no longer must carry hay to them. Their water consumption drops because they get some water from the grass and need less to stay cool. I am spending less time on chores. I’m spending that extra time on mowing the grass in the yard and weeding the garden, as rain and cool temperatures makes the yard grass and weeds grow.