Monday, March 29, 2010

A Yard in Transition

When the snow melts, the Jolly balls and Frisbees sprout in the yard, coloring it, much like the crocuses and daffodils of spring. I take note of the Jolly balls. A few are deflated. All are missing their handles, chewed off years ago. A Frisbee is torn nearly in half. Another has bite marks. I consider throwing away the worst ones, but they are the ones the dogs like best. So they stay. Soon, clumps of feather and hair join the toys. The ram, who rubs against the wire fence, sheds clumps of red. The ewes match that with clumps of white. Although the pony is at camp, I still find strands of her white mane and tail. And, of course, we have chicken feathers -- down and tail and wing. All these will become less noticable in the coming week, when the green grass of spring grows, covering some, muting others.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Nature is a tough mom...

When incubating eggs, it's always distressing to see the eggs, still intact, but for a little lifeless beak protruding from a little hole. The chick was so close to birth, but just couldn't get out of the shell. While I'm tempted to give that chick some help, I don't. Over the years, we've learned that if a chick isn't strong enough to emerge from its shell, it has little chance of survival. We had a dismal hatch rate this time. We either incubated too early -- I wasn't seeing a lot of rooster tracks on the hens' backs when I was collecting eggs. But most likely, we have a bum rooster. We keep two flocks, side by side, and collect eggs from each. We do this to keep some genetic diversity in the flock. So, for this next hatch, we are marking the eggs by the flock.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Awaking to Peeps

This morning, the two cats gathered around the incubator. They did not wear the look of expectant parents. Instead, they looked like expectant diners. Inside the incubator, four chicks cheeped, announcing their arrival in the world and telling the chicks still in their eggs to hurry up. The world awaits them.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Hatch

I can't stop looking in the incubator. The chicks are scheduled to hatch in a few days. This morning, I moved the eggs from the automatic egg turner and placed them on the flat screen inside the incubator. Chicks emerging from shells can get caught and injured in the turner. While moving the eggs, I found a tiny triangular piece missing from one egg. That's the first sign that a chick is ready to hatch. I listen for peeps, as chicks will chirp inside the egg. Nothing. I practice my mama hen sounds. Was that one, maybe two, muffled cheeps? I look for more cracks. Nothing. I don't expect a fully-hatched chick until tomorrow. But that still doesn't stop me from peering through the window and checking their progress.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Impatience or Stubborness?

Sometimes when I go into the hen house, I find an egg on the floor in front of the nesting boxes. Had the hen gone into the hen house and found another hen in her favorite nest? They have favorite nests, as I'll sometimes find five eggs in one box, one in another, and none in the other three. Determined hens will sometimes double up in the boxes. Sometimes I'll find two hens in one box, one each in a few others, and a few that are empty. Or, was the hen enjoying the spring day, the feast of worms and grass? Was she finding this whole egg-laying thing a bother? Did she come inside, lay her egg, and head outdoors to more exciting things?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Little Trickery

After trying out the sheep's hay feeder for a few days, the renegade hen decided it wasn't the best place to raise a family. Those sheep noses can be unnerving. Instead, she chose the corner of the sheep stall. In the past few days, she has made a nest and laid two eggs. A broody hen will lay an egg a day until she has a clutch of six or eight eggs. Then, she'll sit on the eggs until they hatch 21 days later. That is, of course, if the eggs are fertile. If they aren't, she will sit and sit and sit. After 30 or 40 days, she may give up and leave the nest. So, I, being the meddler, want to increase her chances of hatching chicks. Today, when she returns to the nest to lay her egg, I imagine she will look at it cock-eyed and wonder if her math is poor or if she's suffering from amnesia. She will wonder why there are eight eggs in her clutch.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What birth date would you choose?

Would you want to be born in early spring? To feel the first rays of spring sun? To taste the first sprouts of green grass? To romp in the last wet snowfall of the season? Or would you choose late spring, when the pastures provide a soft warm blanket of green, when the ground is firm, and much of the mud gone? Last year, we chose early spring -- March 25 -- as the beginning of lambing season. Esther, the ewe, either ignored the calendar or became impatient or, like her mother, was contrary, and delivered a few days earlier. This year, hoping for a little less mud and a little more pasture, we selected April 16. We know there's no guarantee that nature will give those lambs a sunny, warm welcome. After years of planning birth dates, we know that nature, as always, has the final say.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Submissive to everything but...

As I write this, the kitten has his front paws wrapped around the Border collie's nose and is chewing on Caeli's face. The dog is fast and has a high prey drive. Yet, the cats size her up in minutes. Caeli is no threat. Humans describe Caeli as high drive, quite quirky, very driven and energetic... and also submissive. Look at her cross-eyed, and she'll roll onto her back. Caeli's pack sees her as an alpha-wannabe. Alpha, she is not. Yet, when the 32-pound dog steps into the sheep pasture, she commands respect from the sheep. They are the only critters that don't call her submissive, a push-over. I don't pretend to understand Caeli's personality, her quirks. I am only thankful that she's submissive to the cats and humans... and that she makes the sheep move with just her eyes.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Next to the kitten's water bowl is...

A key on a rope key chain that he stole from the countertop. A ribbon of unknown origins. A hairband that looks good on him, but better on me. A shredded tissue that he snagged from the tissue box in the bathroom. A pen from my desk. Inside the water bowl floats my fuzzy sock that he carried around, attacked, and drowned.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Be Wary of the Birds of Spring

Don't believe all that nonsense about happy bird songs of spring. Today, I was reminded of the more startling bird sounds. As I was walking near the corn field, I was looking at the ground below. Had it dried enough so I tractor pulling a manure spreader didn't leave tracks? The rustling six feet away caused me to jump sideways. Two Canada geese were resting or nesting, and when I was too close, they took flight. Birds that size taking off from among dried corn stalks can make quite a sound. After my heart returned to normal, I resumed my walk. Later, after working my Border collie on sheep, I exited through a sheep stall. As I walked by the hay bin, a hen emerged squawking. Apparently, she had decided the hay feeder was a good place for a nest, and I was too close.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A New St. Patrick's Day Tradition?

Growing up, I heard my parents and grandparents talk of planting peas and potatoes on St. Patrick's Day. As a young adult, I spent many St. Patrick's Days in bars listening to my favorate Irish band, Fannigan's Isle. Today, I spent it in a pasture, with a Border collie and sheep. Standing in sunshine among shaggy sheep, bits of green grass, and, yes, still some mud, I thought this is not such a bad way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It Wasn't a Puddle

Caeli spotted the Canada geese before we reached the pond. One floated on the water, another sat on the far shore. The Border collie considered her options. With a burst, she sprinted full speed around the pond toward the geese. Upon seeing her coming, the one on shore rose and sped toward the water. Caeli pursued them onto the water, for one stride. When she splashed into the pond, she turned back, lay down and stared at the geese. Or, at least, that's what I thought she was doing. When I reached her, I called her to me, and we continued around the pond. When we reached the cattails, she executed Plan B. I'm sure she reasoned the cattails were in ankle deep water. She was three strides in when she discovered differently. She couldn't touch the mucky bottom and looked at me. I looked at her. Resigned, she came back to shore. Tonight, I'm sure she's plotting Plan C.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Looking for the Green

I look at the weekly weather forecast, and note that four days of sunny weather and temperatures in the 50s will surely firm up the ground and turn the grass green. But four days seems like forever as I walk through mud that tries to suck off my boots, as I wrap myself in a winter coat to protect myself from the north wind, as I cover my face from the misting rain.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

High Tech Goes Country

After moving to the farmhouse more than a decade ago, I spent three days calling the newspaper circulation line and complaining that we hadn't received the newspaper. The mystery was solved on the fourth day when the woman on the other end of the line said, "You're not getting daily delivery because we don't deliver out there. You can only get the Sunday paper." I understood why it was -- it's simply not cost effective for a carrier to drive a mile or two to deliver one paper. Over the years, I tried to change it. "I write for the paper," I said. "Can't you make an exception for me?" Apparently not. When we moved to the farmhouse, I knew we'd had to provide our own water (from a well) and our own heat (oil trucked in and put in a tank), and that cable television was non-existent. I wasn't surprised to discover that we're last on the route when it comes to snow removal nor that our phone line is often static-filled (there's a lot of places that mice can wreak havoc on lines). When power outage blanket the area, we expect to be last on the list for repairs because repairmen will fix the higher population areas first. For the most part, I was fine with all that. But, I wasn't fine with a dial-up Internet connection. For years, I've made phone calls, requests, pleadings... And the truth was that there were few high-speed options, and none if we wanted reliability. I understood the reasoning -- who wants to invest those infrasructure dollars for a few houses? I am happy to say that that has finally changed. I think I've found an option that works. So, dear readers, I have finally entered the 21st century... and I can't stop looking at horses.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Spaghetti Morning

Overnight rains soaked an already saturated ground. When I walk, the ground squishes, except when I go through puddles. Then I splash. The only critters enjoying the morning are the chickens. They see past the standing water, the saturated grounds -- to the worms seeking refuge. They notice the greening grass and clover. To them, the morning is a feast. They slurp up the worms and pluck the emerging bits of clover. I retreat indoors and start a fire in the wood-burning stove. On mornings like this, it’s easier to flip the switch that fires up the oil-burning furnace. But I know the wood heat may take a little of the dampness from this wet spring morning.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friends Again

When Dewey went to the vet for his neutering surgery, Louie moped.
When Dewey returned, Louie hissed.
The little guy smelled like other cats, dogs, medication.
Dewey rolled around, groomed himself, ate.
His old smell must have returned. Louie must have forgiven Dewey's transgressions.
They are old friends again.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Upcoming Herding Clinic

Okay, so this is off-topic. But I'm a big supporter of Buckeye Border Collie Rescue -- and quite fascinated with herding.
Buckeye Border Collie Rescue is sponsoring an Introduction to Herding Clinic on Saturday, April 24, at Hado-Bar Farm in northeastern Ohio. If you’ve ever wondered if your herding breed dog has what it takes to herd sheep, then you may want to check out this clinic. I’ve gone to several of the Introduction to Herding Clinics at this farm, and had a great time and always learned something new. What I love to watch is the different herding styles with the dogs. Because this clinic is open to all breeds, you can see how an Aussie works differently than a Border collie, and how sheep respond differently to a dog with a lot of eye and a loose-eyed dog. As you can imagine, the sheep will get a lot closer to those loose-eyed dogs. For the record, my Border collie Caeli would NEVER be described as loose-eyed. If you’re interested in learning more about the clinic, go to

Monday, March 8, 2010

Manure Management

The weekend sun and warm weather screamed for barn cleaning. The frozen manure in the spreader and the snow in the garden said wait. Live on a farm and you learn the challenges of manure in winter. In an ideal world, the sheep and horses graze and deposit their manure in the pastures where it breaks down and fertilizes the soil. In reality, the animals like to congregate at the barn that offers shade on sunny days and protection from the wind and rain. Where they congregate, they also defecate. During the non-frozen months, we dump the chicken, horse and sheep manure into the spreader. When it fills – about once a month – my husband empties it. The manure is either dumped onto a manure pile quite a distance from the barn. There, it breaks down and we and others use it on gardens. The other option is to spread onto pastures, hay fields and crop fields. In November, the manure in the spreader froze. Ever since, we’ve been awaiting it to thaw. Live on a farm, and you learn to develop Plan B, Plan C, and so forth. In the past, Plan B usually involved spreading the horse manure in a thin layer on the nearby garden. Come spring, we worked it into the soil. As for the chicken house and sheep stalls, we used the European method of bedding – where we periodically spread a fresh layer of straw or shavings on top of the existing bedding and manure. Come spring, the bottom layer was usually composted. Plan C, in the past, was creating a manure pile near the barns. Snow changed those plans. Drifts still block access to the garden and nearby manure pile. The manure spreader is still frozen. And so we wait, knowing that in a few weeks the manure will thaw, the ground will firm up, and we’ll be in a mad rush to spring clean the barn.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lily Goes to Camp

For the first time in 12 years, we have no horse on the farm. Yesterday, we loaded Ms. Lily and took her to a barn with an indoor arena. For the past several years, I've boarded Lily during the late winter and spring months because Ohio winters just aren't conducive to consistent riding outdoors (at least not for wimps like me). It seems like we're always battling mud or cold winds or snow. Regular horseback riding is a great way to get through those late winter days that seem to drag on forever. Originally, the plan was to move Lily in early February. But persistent snow kept us from getting the trailer out of storage and Lily to the boarding barn. Yesterday, she finally went. Taking Lily to camp reminded me of packing for college. We loaded hay in the bed of the pickup. In the front of the livestock trailer went the cart, harness, saddles, grain, and other tack. Then in the back of the trailer went Lily. Lily has been living as an only horse since Christmas when her pasturemate died, so we didn't know how she'd react to seeing other equines. Because she's stayed at the boarding barn numerous times over the years and I've taken riding lessons there, she's quite familiar with the layout and the horses. Even though it had been months since she'd last visited, she didn't forget. She stepped out of the trailer, said her greetings, and then went about being a pony. She looked for any piece of hay that might have fallen in the aisle and inspected every inch of her grain bin, just in case a morsel was left. I, though, don't make the adjustment as easily. For the first time in 12 years, I've stepped outside in the morning and haven't been greeted by the hearty mare nicker. Instead, I hear chickens clucking and an occasional baa from a ewe.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Walking in Sunshine, on the Snow

Lately, I’ve envied the dogs. They’re lightweight enough that often, they run atop the snowdrifts. If I tried to follow them, my feet sunk a foot or deeper into the snow. Yesterday morning, the elements -- freezing temperatures, sunshine, and time -- fell into place, and I joined them on top of the ice-crusted snow. The two Border collies and I walked the wildlife area that borders our pasture and farm, and I saw the farm from a different perspective. Often, I was a foot higher than had I been walking on bare ground. Sometimes, I grew another two feet. The snow covered most of the grasses and weeds, giving the wildlife area a bare, clean look. However, some saplings, taller weeds, and grasses poked through, revealing the wildlife activity that continues through winter. Critters had eaten the bark of a sapling. Others had eaten the seeds from a plant. Tracks showed where the little critters, mice, found openings in the snow and burrowed under to the air pockets and ground below. Every once in a while, I was reminded of how fragile that snow was. Occasionally, the icy snow crust collapsed and my foot sunk into the snow.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Shredded Life

When I walk into the work area, it looks like it snowed. Bits of paper are spread over the laminate flooring. I find notes, mail, manuscripts with shredded edges. A check has teeth marks in it. The foster puppy looks at me, then sighs. If only he could reach the counter top, he could join the kitten in the shredding game.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Farm Lane

A few years ago, the volunteer fire department went through the township and marked houses that sat at least 1,000 feet from the road. In rural areas, getting water isn't as simple as hooking a hose to a fire hydrant. Water must be hauled in with a tanker truck and is usually dumped into a portable holding tank. If measurements are marked, then firefighters know where to put holding tanks. A green sign with the numbers 1,300 shows that our house sits 1,300 feet – more than a quarter-mile from the road. Another sign marks the 1,000-foot mark. After they did this, I – and probably countless others – noted the length of people’s lanes. Ours, my husband and I noted, was not the longest. Our neighbor’s is 2,300 feet. Another is 2,600 feet. I'm sure that delivery drivers and mail carriers also noted the signs. Adding another half-mile to a delivery can throw off one's delivery time. Because most of our packages arrive by UPS, the delivery driver knows my husband and I and knows what types of cars we drive. If we spot each other on the country road, he's been known to stop and make the delivery roadside -- or at the end of the driveway. Because of the length of our lane, delivery drivers can't see if there is a turnaround near the house. I've had one driver, unfamiliar with the farm, call from the road and ask if there was room for a semi to turn around. I assured him he could. Another driver, unsure of a turnaround, backed all of the way back the driveway. Yesterday’s driver, though, wins the award for tenacity. He had, as per company policy, parked his semi-truck at the end of the lane, put the freight on a dolly, and pulled the 250-pound box through slush and gravel all 1,300 feet back our lane.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lion or Lamb?

As I walked this morning, I listened to the birds and looked at the receding snow. I noted that with the lighter winds and 30 degree weather, I could walk comfortably with just a winter coat and lightweight gloves – no hat. I wondered whether the weather was more like a lamb or a lion. Compared to the February of multiple snowstorms, high winds, and drifts, I’d say this first day of March seems lamb-like. But most other years, I’d look at the snow surrounding me and below-normal temperatures and call it lion-like. For the sake of the saying, I call the morning lion-like, and look and find signs -- lengthening days, warmer temperatures, bits of green, joyous bird song -- that spring is coming.