Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Five Virgins

Just like a beginner skier starts on the bunny hill, a beginner herding dog starts with easy, or dog-broke, sheep. In other words, the sheep must be somewhat used to people, know how to flock together, and be used to dogs working them. I don’t have dog-broke sheep. So, not only do we have to teach the dog to herd sheep, we have to train the sheep so that they are used to dogs. I’ve received all kind of advice on how to dog-break sheep, and even been told to just buy some trained sheep. I’m going with my trainer’s advice. She, a very experienced handler, is going to take her very experienced dog and work our very inexperienced sheep. Then, once the sheep are working well, she’ll work my dog on the sheep. In an ideal world, I’d used our older ewes for this project because older sheep are easier to work than younger ones. The problem, though, is that my older ewes are pregnant, and I don’t want to stress them. So, I’m left with the Five Virgins – 10-month-old ewe lambs that we didn’t breed this year.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Raising Dewey

I'd like to think that I learn from past experiences. Fifteen years ago, when my first housecat, Blotto, was a kitten, I let him sleep on my lap during mealtimes and in the crook of my arm at night. How was I to know he'd grow into a 17-pound cat? When he reached adulthood, his habits were set. I slid my chair back to accommodate his bulk in my lap at dinnertime. At night, when he took up a good chunk of the bed, I considered getting a king bed rather than booting him out. Now, I'm raising Dewey. The four-month-old kitten sleeps on my lap when I work at the computer, when I talk on the phone. At night, I lift the covers and let him sleep in the crook of my arm. And I think, if he turns into a Blotto-kitty, that may not be so bad.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sources of Light

On a cold winter's night, when darkness stretches longer than daylight, I notice, the cool white moon shining overhead, the warm orange embers nestled in wood-burning stove, the green static popping when I pet the cats.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Kitten's Project

My socks used to run in pairs. Dewey's arrival scattered them. He especially likes catching the fuzzy and wool ones, dragging them about the house, occasionally beating them into submission. This morning, two woolies, a tan and a black one, are huddled in my office corner. I must search for their mates. Or, maybe, I'll make them a new pair.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New website!

I finally go the farm website up and running. Check it out at

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An Ohio Winter

Rain washed away the last bits of the early January snows today. We've been above freezing for a week now. The ground is swollen, saturated, muddy. We take no joy in this winter warm-up. The dogs are muddy. The horse, confined to the excercise paddock, is bored. The sheep and chickens, and the humans, are tired of slogging through mud. The freeze comes tomorrow. Days of subfreezing temperatures will harden the mud, and hopefully lay the foundation for another round of snow.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cat or Coon?

I wish we had white barn cats, I think as I watch a dark figure bound from the house to the barn. In the darkness, I can't tell if it's a tabby cat or a raccoon. Two of the three barn cats are tabbies, a color that blends into the landscape. The cats came to us as strays. I'm sure their color helped them survive. A white kitten would be an easy mark for a hawk, a dog, a coyote. Maybe that's why so many barn cats lack the flash of their indoor cousins.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Taskmaster

My herding instructor and I were standing in the middle of the sheep pasture and talking about horses. My Border collie was lying nearby, waiting for a command. She had one eye on the sheep in a far-off corner and the other eye on us. When were we going to stop talking and focus on the task at hand?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Unwelcome Visitor

Holding the gun, my husband hands me the spotlight. It is 5:50 in the morning. My predawn walk with the three Border collies turned out badly. Those predawn walks can be delightful when the meteors shower, snow falls, or sweet curing hay hangs in the air. Sometimes, when rain pounds or the cold wind bites, they are miserable. Sometimes, like when Tag met the skunk or when I walked into the snowdrift blocking the driveway, they bring unpleasant surprises. The three dogs and I were several hundred feet from the house when we heard the panicked cries. My two Border collies darted toward the house. The foster dog, who was on leash, had no choice but to wait as I picked my way over the ice-covered driveway. When I came into the yard, the dogs were circling a dark figure on the ground. I called off the dogs, and the raccoon hobbled away to the safety of trees. After sending the dogs to their crates, I gave my husband his morning wake-up call. “There’s a coon in the yard,” I say. Live on a farm long enough and you dismiss the notion that all critters can live in harmony. If the coon stayed, the chickens were in danger. Minutes later, we are standing in the freezing drizzle. “Hold the spotlight behind me so I can see the sights,” my husband said. The gun pops. The coon twitches and falls to its side. I forget my husband’s instructions and let my finger slip off the “on” button. Darkness surrounds us.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Beautician, I am not

My Border collies are almost perfectly designed for farm life. The tail is the exception. Both Border collies have semi-rough coats that shed the dirt and mud they pick up on their daily rambles through the fields. Their tails, though, are both a broom and a sponge. The six-inch long hair sweeps across a surface, picks up the mud and carries it inside. When given the choice between beauty and the practical, I'll choose the practical. I get the scissors and thinning shears and cut. The long wisps are reduced to two inches in length. Much of the hair is thinned. They don't look like show dogs. But they are happy dogs to be roaming the fields, hunting for mice, and snuggling inside with their humans and cats.

Monday, January 18, 2010

When the weather warms

The sheep look at the first cutting hay that I give them, then look at me. "Don't you have anything better?" they baa. When the temperatures were in the teens, they greedily ate that first cutting hay. I respond to their protests by giving them less. After bleating and grumbling, they pick through it, eventually finishing it. When the temperature reaches 40 degrees, they eat less. Just like the fire and furnace eat less. Just like we humans should too.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mid-Winter Mud

The sheep and llama are upset with me. The horse is ticked. I am no Merry Sunshine. We've had above freezing temperatures for several days now. The snow is almost melted, and rains are expected today. It's the perfect recipe for mud. Hooves on saturated ground churn the ground, kill the grass, create a muddy mess. So, to preserve pastures, the horse and sheep are moved to the barn and paddocks. For them, it means less exercise, less room to roam, more boredom. For me, it means more manure, more maintenance. I watch the weather forecast for freezing temperatures. They watch me for a cue that they can return to their pastures.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Looking the Llama in the Eye

Sitting on a horse gives me a perch to view the world. When I ride my mare Lily in the pastures and hay fields, the only thing above me is the sky. That is, unless I ride in the pastures with the Llambert the Llama. As the llama walks toward me, his neck extends higher and higher. My horse may outweigh him, but the llama has the height advantage. As he looks me in the eye, I no longer feel as comfortable on my perch. Does he find a rider on horseback threatening? Will he spit? Can a horse outrun a llama? In a fight between horse and llama, who would win? These are questions I ask myself as he moves closer, and questions I dismiss as he looks at me and walks by.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Thaw

The sun and temperatures that reach above freezing for the first time this year beckon me outside. The cold winds slap my face and remind me that it is still January.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Culture Shock

Louie stared at the faucet and whined repeatedly after we brought him home from the shelter. A week later, we figured out what the two-year-old cat wanted. By accident, one day. Ignoring the cat, I turned on the faucet and he stuck his head under the stream and licked. Apparently, that's how he drank water in his old home, and that's how he drinks now. When he stands at the sink, we turn on the faucet, letting out a very thin stream of water. We might find his habit a little odd, but I'm sure that he finds our house a little odd. We suspect he came from a suburban home and was an only pet. Now, he lives with a kitten and three Border collies and looks out onto a landscape that seems to stretch forever. If he finds comfort in a dripping faucet, we are happy to oblige.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cross Country Skiing

I am five minutes into my journey and regret wearing my light winter coat. The first half-mile of my trek is straight into a north wind. When I finally reach the woods, my fingers are numb. No part of me is warm. That changes after five minutes in the woods. I no longer am aware of the cold. Instead, I'm lost in the swish, swish of skis, the distant train horn, the occasional bird. Soon, I am sweating in the stillness of the woods. Looking at the deer and rabbit tracks, I realize they too are engulfed in the stillness of the snow. The critters, like me, move at a leisurely pace. As I leave the woods, I again feel the wind, but it is at my back this time and I am warm from skiing. And I have no regrets about my winter dress nor the day.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bred for Snow

Lily's ancestors came from the mountains of Austria and northern Italy.
Our Katahdin sheep were developed in Maine.
As for the llama, his kin came from the Andes mountains.
This handsome Buckeye rooster comes from a line developed to withstand Ohio winters. This guy, with his pea comb, doesn't have to worry too much about frostbite.
And so today, all of the critters said, "Cool, snow," and went about their daily living.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Noticing the Absence

When traveling to Wyoming, I remember seeing rock that wind wore and carved over the years. For the past six days, I've felt like those rocks. The wind has gone non-stop, never howling, just a steady 10 or 20 mph that makes me scrunch my shoulders and hide my face, that makes me want to escape to the indoors, only to find there is no escape. The wind pushes the cold into the farmhouse. The wood burning stove, which usually keeps the house warm, can't keep up with the wind and freezing temperatures. The furnace kicks on frequently day and night. I never feel warm. Until this morning, when the wind stopped. I walked outside and threw my shoulders back and held my head up and enjoyed the snow and stillness that surrounded me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Recipe for a Drift

We don't have enough snow to completely cover the grass in our yard, yet we have a two-foot snowdrift blocking the path from the house to the woodshed. It's been five days in the making. The non-stop races from the west, picks up the fine snow particles, hits the fence at the edge of the yard, and drops the flakes, over and over and over again.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Musical Buckets

Three times a day, I set out water for the outdoor cats, who follow me to the barn where they drink water from the heated sheep bucket. The chickens, too, drink from the heated sheep bucket and ignore the water I set out for them. The sheep drink from the chicken water bucket, which I take inside when it freezes. Both the indoor cats and the dogs drink from the livestock water buckets thawing inside. But the dogs won't drink from the bucket of water that I offer them. Instead, they go upstairs to the indoor cats' water bowl and drink it dry several times a day.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Easy Living

The sheep and pony are better built for this weather than me. Temperatures haven’t reached 20 degrees for days. Winds are constant. My time outside is limited to morning and afternoon chores, trips to the woodshed, and quick potty walks for the dogs. The livestock go about their daily routine, munching hay and grazing. Give them a windbreak, plenty of hay and water, and it’s easy living for them. There are no pesky flies nor mud to bother them.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Deep Freeze

About 100 yards into my quarter-mile trek to the road to retrieve the morning paper, I regret not wearing a scarf. The cold wind races across the fields and the driveway and numbs my nose. Pulling my hair over my nose, I hope it provides some insulation. It doesn't. I use a gloved hand to shield my face and feel my fingers go from warm to cold to numb. It is only when I return from my walk that I bother to check the temperature, which is a perfect zero. Wind speeds though are in the teens. The January freeze has officially arrived.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dog at Large

I saw the dog on Christmas Day. He was running east down the road. At a quarter mile away, I could not tell his breed – only that he was big and black or dark brown. I saw him again a few days later. I, along with the Border collies, were returning from a afternoon walk. Again the dog was a quarter mile away, but this time he was romping through our yard. My stomach clenched. When you have free-range chickens and sheep, the last thing you want to see if a strange dog in the area. By the time we reached the farmhouse, the dog was gone, and I was relieved to see that no blood stained the snow. But the next day, when I was doing afternoon chores, I heard gunshots, and again saw the dog running eastward down the road. Did the dog's owner know the dog was running at large, subject to being chased by other dogs, to being shot at? Did they care?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcoming the New Year

I usually greet the New Year with a romp through the fields with the dogs and a horseback ride. What better way to greet the year – by doing activities I love. Biting winds and sub-freezing temperatures changed those plans. And I settled for greeting the New Year while indoors by a fire and surrounded by two cats, three Border collies and a tolerant husband.