Sunday, February 28, 2010

Incubating Eggs

Sometimes nature gives conflicting signals. The three-foot snow drifts that dot our yard and freezing temperatures say that winter is hanging on. But the calendar, longer days, noisy chicken activity and increased egg production say it's time to incubate eggs. We usually incubate two batches of eggs each spring. We keep a few dozen chicks for ourselves and sell the others. We plan the first hatch for late March. For our little flock, incubation is a month-long process. It takes about a week to collect and select enough eggs for the 42-egg incubator. While the hens will produce more than 42 eggs in a week, we select eggs that are uniform in shape and clean. Cracked, dirty, over- or undersized eggs are kept for dog and human consumption. I place the eggs for incubation in separate cartons on a shelf where they will remain at room temperature until being placed in the incubator. A few days before incubation, I will get out the incubator and turn it on. Ideally, the incubator should be at 100 degrees and 58-60 percent humidity before placing the eggs inside. Once inside the incubator, it takes 21 days for the chicks to hatch. Although there is snow on the ground and temperatures are set to remain below normal for the next week, I proceed with the incubation process. I have to believe that the grass will green and the weather will warm when chicks peep and crack shells at the end of March.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ohio Olympics

Man created the ski jumps, and now the wind and snow are making the moguls. Several days of above-freezing temperatures melted enough snow to uncover grass and dirt, but they weren’t enough to melt the snow piled along the driveways, roads and paths. When we received almost an inch of snow, Mother Nature used those piles of snow to create her perfect playground. The afternoon and evening wind carried the snow up and over the drifts. But unlike the Olympic skiers who gracefully soared and floated over the jumps, the snow fell and piled on the other side. Our driveway, which had been a halfpipe days ago, is now a moguls course.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Foster Pup Arrives

His name is Willis, but it might as well be Rudolph.
Caley, my Border collie, is quite unimpressed with the 14-week-old pup's skills. She finds him slow and uncoordinated, but then again, she's the overachiever.
So, for now, Willis is content to toss his own tennis ball and chase after it, squeak his own toys, and watch the big dogs do all that big dog stuff.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dogs versus Humans

Bring a baby into a room full of people and most people smile. Not so when a pup is introduced to an adult dog pack. When I brought a foster puppy home, Tag and Caeli gave me a disgusted look. They're realists. They know a puppy robs me of time that I could spend with them, that a pup could never keep up with their running and playing, and that pups whine and cry.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Snow Cone Days

Two days of above-freezing weather turns the snow into snow cone consistency. It's wet and granular, but still capable of cleaning the white dog that ran through the mud. As the snow recedes on the hill tops and along the paths, the mud and blades of grass emerge. I stop and study that grass and find blades of green, and I know that the signs of spring will multiply in the coming weeks.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Snowstorms in February

Three snowstorms in February kept us snowbound more than any winter we've lived on the farm. But, it hasn't been too bad for a number of reasons: 1. Temperatures. Snowstorms in February are preferable to ones in January. In February temperatures rarely dip into the feet-numbing single digits. Temperatures in the teens and twenties make it easy living for the animals and us. 2. Attitude. During our early years on the farm, being snowbound was a new concept for us, and we fought it. Now, we've come to accept it.... though I still get squirrelly. 3. The Olympics. I love the Winter Olympics... and being snowbound gives me an excuse to indulge in them... though the husband says he can do without the Winter Olympic commentary I provide when we're hiking through drifts to get to our vehicles parked at the end of the driveway.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Not Quite Five Miles, Uphill, Both Ways

It has taken decades, but I can finally say that I post-holed through the snow to get to school. After a heavy-duty tractor and snow-blower came through and cleared our driveway, I knew this was my opportunity to get out. The winds were already dumping snow into the driveway. I drove my car to the end of the driveway and parked it near the road. This morning, I stuffed my supplies into a backpack, grabbed my lunch and began the quarter-mile walk through snow that sometimes reached my knees. The driveway was, once again, impassable by car or truck. When I finally reached my car, it had to warm up. I didn’t.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Calling in the Heavy Equipment

After 20-plus inches of snow and three snowstorms, our driveway looked like a halfpipe. Each day the husband scraped snow to either side. By Monday evening, the path had become too narrow for a car. On Tuesday, more snow and wind came. Today, we called in the big guns -- a full-sized tractor with an eight-foot snowblower. There's still snow on the driveway. Afterall, it is gravel. Scraping too deep would throw the gravel into the hayfield. But we have a somewhat fresh start as we watch the forecast for another storm that could come this weekend.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Math Lessons in Winter

1 snowstorm = joy 2 snowstorms = resignation 3 snowstorms = frustration 4 additional inches of snow + 30 mph winds = filled in snow paths in the yard 20+ inches of snow + 11 days of sub-freezing weather = clean Border collies If it snows four inches and the wind blows at 30 mph and the husband works for 50 minutes to clear the quarter-mile lane, how long will it stay passable?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Moving Hay

The sun came out and temperatures reached into the high 20s yesterday. In other words, it was a perfect day for moving hay. We store our hay in The Big Barn on the farm. The loft there easily holds a few thousands bales of hay. Periodically, we move 30-40 bales to our small barn where the sheep and horse live. Before Christmas we moved nearly 50 bales of hay there, thinking that would get us through January and the worst of the winter weather. In most years, it would. However, we received heavy snow in February. By this weekend, I was down to the last few bales in the small barn. Moving hay was a two-step process. On Saturday, the husband used the tractor to clear a path between the barns and to clear the snow from in front of the sliding barns doors. While temperatures never reached above freezing this weekend, the sun melted some of the snow around the doors so we could open them. On Sunday, we moved hay, and soon remembered what a hot job it was. By the end, we had shed the winter coats and were wearing sweatshirts and getting sunburned on the snowy, sunny February afternoon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Snow Paths

Snow paths criss-cross our yard. After the winds died down, my husband used the snow blower to carve a triangular path from the house to the barn to the woodshed and back to the house. Then he created a spur path that went to the chicken house. Not stopping there, he carved a path so the chickens could come outside without getting stuck in a snow drift.
With the exception of Caeli, the high drive Border collie, the fowl, livestock and humans select the easiest path through the snow.
The chickens, with their heavy bodies, claw feet, and wings, have the toughest time going through the snow. They attempt to fly from one clear spot to another, but when they land in a drift, they flap and swim and squawk until they become unstuck. Give them a clear path, and they love to be outside moving around.
When the snow reaches depths of about 12 inches, the ewes' bellies hit the snow. Each day, I move the hay feeders a little further into the pasture, hoping to entice them to dig in the snow for grass. Over the past several days, they've created a meandering path that avoids the drifts, but haven't ventured far from home.
The llama, with his longer legs, is more adventurous. Though, he seems disappointed the sheep won't follow.
The pony follows her belly. She's willing to jump through the drifts if the promise of grass awaits on the other side. At night, she comes to the barn with snow balls clinging to her legs and face.
Because the dogs too prefer the paths, exercise consists of running along the paths in the back yard and up and down the quarter-mile lane. The exception to this is Caeli who doesn't mind swimming through the drifts in pursuit of a ball.
As for me, I stick to the paths, unless I strap on my skis and create my own way.

Happy Valentine's Day

When we brought them home from the shelter in December, they seemed like the odd couple.
Louie was the sophisticated, well-mannered adult.
Dewey was an 8-week-old kitten who loved to pounce, wrestle, attack, and climb people.
But it didn't take them long to learn to play and wrestle and snuggle with each other.
Now, when one cries, the other comes running. When it's nap time, they find each other.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


The culture shock hits as I near town. It's been nearly three days since I've left the farm. Snow, wind, and drifts kept my husband and me holed up at home. As the hours wore on, our movements slowed. We fed the animals, we read, and ate. We slept, talked on the phone, surfed the Internet. Once, I skied. The winds died down this morning, and my husband fired up the tractor and began the multi-hour task of clearing the lane. The road near our house showed patches of pavement. But snow and ice still kept trucks and the occasional car under 40 mph. When I hit town, that changed. The roads were clear of snow. Some were even dry. Cars zipped along. People rushed from stores, groceries, gas stations. I took care of business, and then retreated to the quiet world of the snowbound.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowbound-Part 2

Our lunchtime walk ends abruptly at the edge of the yard. There, a three-foot drift blocks the driveway, and the foster dog turns to look at me and whines. Twelve-plus inches of snow over the weekend kept us snowbound for 48 hours. On Tuesday, more snow arrived. The winds soon followed. With 30 mph wind gusts and light, fluffy snow, I know we aren't going anywhere today, and maybe tomorrow. The winds will keep me from taking photos and skiing. Like the animals, I retreat to my shelter to wait.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Ski Lodge

Our living room looks like a ski lodge this week. Gloves in various stages of drying sit in front of the wood-burning stove. Wool socks, hats, and pants hang on the drying rack. Boots fight the dogs for floor space. My cross country skis sit on the back porch. They're getting used less than the barn boots these days, as I spend more time walking through the snow to deliver feed and water to the animals.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


The winds died down overnight, leaving the farm white, crisp, and cold. Temperatures were in the single digits as I passed out hay to the llama, sheep and horse.
On the radio, Jimmy Buffett sang "Margaritaville" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise," and I couldn't help but smile.
At this time of year, so many northerners head south for a warm breeze and sun. I may welcome that in another week or two. But for now, I'd miss the snow, and hanging out by the woodburning stove, and drinking the growler of stout my husband brought home just before the storm.
Today's goal includes reuniting the flocks.
Two hens and a rooster became separated from their flock when the storm hit. They ended up in in the sheep stall, and they act like they really enjoy the arrangement. I do not. Today, I'm clearing a path through the three-foot drift that separates them from the chicken house.
The llama and ram are reuniting with the ewes today. Our farm is designed for storms that come from the west. When a storm comes from the east, like this one did, the lean-to offers little protection and the sheep retreat to inside the barn. To free up space in the sheep stall, I moved the llama and ram to an empty horse stall.
As I do this, I imagine the dogs will be bouncing around in the snow, and Caeli, the herding dog, will be watching from her snow bunker.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Live on a farm, back a quarter-mile lane, in the flatlands of Ohio, and you learn to hunker down and wait when the snow falls and blows. We received twelve inches of snow yesterday afternoon and overnight. That's not the most we've had since living on the farm. But the northeast winds gusts are creating drifts that reach over the four-foot fence between the chicken yards. When we first moved to the farm, we went into shoveling mode as the snow fell and wind blew. I like to think we've become smarter over the years. Last evening, as the snow fell and the electricity flickered on and off, we filled buckets with water, retrieved the corded phone, gathered the flashlights and candles. We stoked the fire in the wood-burning stove. As nighttime fell, the two humans, two cats and three dogs gathered around the fire, read and talked. I was grateful for the electricity, the warmth, and that I had a Dana Stabenow novel to read.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Virgins Meet the Dogs

When my instructor brought her experienced dogs to work my inexperienced sheep, I was reminded of a video game. Working with experienced sheep is like playing at the beginner level. Everything moves so much slower. Inexperienced sheep require faster reaction time as the sheep are more sensitive and move faster. The sheep learned quickly to move together and away from the dog, and my instructor soon had Caeli working the sheep. However, when I tried to work Caeli, she seemed to have hearing problems. She and I will be working on obedience this week.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Horses versus Sheep

When the ewe lambs saw me enter the pasture, they ran to the far corner. I had to use the zoom lens to photograph them.
Not so for Miss Lily, the Haflinger. Upon seeing me, she came over to investigate.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Virgins Venture Out

During the winter months, we're always juggling pastures. When the ground is soft, the sheep are limited to certain pastures because I don't want them churning the ground into mud. Lily, the Haflinger, is confined to the paddock when the ground is soft. As for the Five Virgins, they spend much of their time in the barn and small paddock. Because I plan to use the five ewe lambs for herding practice later this week, I let them out into a pasture. I figured they'd better get used to the pasture before we introduced them to a dog. They reacted by kicking up their heels, pronging around, and chasing each other in circles around the portable shed. Then, like most animals, they got down to business -- and searched the fencerows for bits of green grass.