Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Love of Work

As I take Caeli, the Border collie to the pasture, I wonder if there are any humans who love work as much as she. The dog doesn't care about the weather or whether she's spent the day working sheep. When she gets reprimanded for working too closely to the sheep, she doesn't sulk or pout or seek revenge. She figures out what she did wrong and gets back to work.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Conversations in the sheep stall at 4:30 in the morning

The ewe eyes me warily as I squat down next to her and hook my elbow under her neck.
"It doesn't have to be this way," I tell her. Her red ewe lamb dives for a teat and sucks furiously.
She sighs.
"You're not making this easy." The lamb's tail is wagging in double time -- a sure sign that she's getting food.
The ewe gave birth two days ago to twin red lambs. The ram lamb she accepted, the ewe lamb, she did not. Shortly after her birth, the ewe lamb slipped through the gate and into the other pasture. So, the ewe missed that crucial bonding that happens minutes after birth.
My husband and I hopeto re-establish that bond. Ewes identify their young by smell. If a rejected lamb nurses from its mother, then it will begin to smell like her, and the mother may accept it.
We figure it's worth a shot. Better that than have a bottle baby. So, every few hours, either my husband and I go into the ewe's stall and hold her so that the lamb can nurse without being pushed away.
The nursing process takes five to ten minutes, enough time to talk and think and utter that four-letter word: cull.
A ewe is culled for a variety of reasons -- confirmation and lack of mothering ability are the usual suspects. Because these are hair sheep, those ewes with a non-shedding coat are also culled. In the Katahdins, horns are an undesirable trait.
This ewe has horns. Yet, she's gone through four lambing seasons, and we've never found it a reason to cull her.
In the last four seasons, she's produced nine lambs -- a single, triplets, triplets, and now twins. Yet, this is the third year that we've held her so that a lamb can nurse. I gave her the benefit of the doubt the last two years. When a ewe has triplets, they often can't feed all three. And, as I hold her, I find myself giving her the benefit of the doubt this year.
"If you weren't such a nice girl," I tell her as I scratch between her horns. Most ewes would never stand this quietly for me.
The ewe tilts her head so I can scratch behind her horn.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Back Story

When I moved the spotlight over the pasture at 4:30 yesterday morning, I found a ewe standing alone, bleating. She'd obviously lambed, but I found no lambs by her side. Another swipe of the spotlight revealed the problem. Her lamb was in the other pasture. Apparently, it had slipped through the slats in the gate. I retrieved the lamb and, carrying it low to the ground, walked backward toward the barn. Most ewes follow when I carry their lambs like this. This one stood in the pasture and called. After depositing that lamb in a stall in the barn, I went back to the ewe who continued to bleat and call. Again I spotlighted the field. There must be another lamb out there, but it wasn't responding to its mom. Then, I saw Llambert, the guard llama. He was lying in the pasture, looking quite unconcerned by the night's events. Then I spotted it. Two eyes reflected from Llambert's barrel. When I went to him, I found the missing lamb. It was curled up on Llambert's coat, warm and dry and contented. Apparently he saw no need to respond to his mom's calls. I scooped up the lamb and carried it to its mom. Satisfied, the ewe followed me and the lamb back to the barn. As I looked at the two lambs, I wondered what had happened in the night to separate the ewe from her babies. The ewe was no novice to motherhood. This is her fourth lambing season. Drinking and eating hay, the ewe offered no response to my queries. I would have to make up my own tale of her nighttime adventure.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Gee Away to Me Come Bye Left Haw Right!

I've always had trouble with left and right. Why, then, did I pick two hobbies that rely on directions AND that give them different names? When driving a horse, the left command is "haw" and the right is "gee." When herding, go left is "come bye" and right is "away to me." So, when I get confused, and motion come bye and say "away," Caeli gives me the "why-did-I-get-the-incompetent-handler" look. Maybe my Border collie will teach me directions. Haw! That'll do.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Cheep Lullaby

During the summer months, I fall asleep to crickets chirps that the night air carries through the screens. In last night's darkness, I heard the shrill cheeps of hatching chicks in the mud room downstiars. The chicks didn't care if it was dark, a time of chicken slumber. They were announcing their arrival into the world. When I lifted the incubator lid this morning, I found eight chicks, mostly dry, and ready to join their overachieving siblings under the heat lamp.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Everyday Miracles

As I drop radish, spinach and lettuce seeds into the shallow row, I am amazed to think that sun, rain, dirt, and sixty days will produce a salad. I'm amazed a lot these days. Live on a farm in spring time, and you can't help but live in a state of wonder. From a potato grows a plant that will produce more potatoes. From a seed comes spinach, lettuce, onions and radishes. When I look at the lambs, dry and fuzzy, bouncing in the field. I am amazed how quickly they learn to stand, nurse, and tag after their mother. A flurry of growth and birth surrounds me in the spring, and in it, I find a sense of amazement and calm.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Catching a Lamb

The best time to catch a newborn lamb is when it's less than a few hours old. After about 12 hours, they can outrun humans. So, when a ewe has lambs in the pasture, I have a short window of time to catch them and bring them to the barn to dunk their umbilical cords in iodine and give them a squirt of vitamins and minerals. This morning, Price (Esther's twin sister) had a set of twins in the pasture. Of course, she was in the far section of the pasture. So, I found myself walking backwards with about 18 pounds of cyring lambs and a bleating ewe circling me. No one was happy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Perfect Day

We are now experiencing those days of spring, when we leave the windows open day and night, when we wear sweatshirts in the early morning cool air and wear t-shirts, and no sweat, in the afternoons. We sit on the back porch and watch dogs play in grass that we aren't yet tired of mowing, and we eat meals not bothered by flies, and we look at a garden that still holds seeds of hope instead of weeds. On these days, I find time to take those long walks, to pick a yellow dandelion, and to look overhead at the pair of herons silhouetted against the blue sky.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Caeli has a Fan

When I arrived home, there was a package addressed to Caeli. Apparently a friend read about the ragged state of the dog toys in our yard and sent Caeli two new balls.
I debated whether to give them to Caeli.
I still haven't forgiven her for an incident last week when I failed to latch the crate door and came home to find chewed paddock boots, size.... oh, nevermind.
Anyhow, the dogs are enjoying their new toys and it's nice to have splashes of fresh red toys in the yard again.

Monday, April 12, 2010


"There was a casualty overnight," my husband says.
He goes on to explain how he'd found the toilet paper roll missing from its holder. Some toilet paper ended up in the toilet. Some was streamed around the house. The cardboard roll was missing.
While cleaning under the futon later that day, I found two toilet paper rolls, tissues, shredded toilet paper, hair bands, shredded tissue paper -- all casualities of Dewey, the kitty.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sometimes You Find an Extra Dose of Sunshine

When I went to the barn this morning, I, as always, glanced out at the ewes standing in the paddock.
A brown lamb stared back at me.
Sometime overnight, Esther, the ewe, had given birth to a brown ewe lamb and a white ram lamb. When I saw them around seven this morning, they were dried off and nursing.
Technically, lambing season wasn't supposed to begin until April 16. We let the ram out with the ewes on Nov. 16, and the gestation period for sheep is five months.
However, Esther comes from the "chocolate" line, and Chocobutt's offspring have a mind of their own.
I spread straw in a stall, put hay in the feeder, and filled a shallow pan with warm water and molasses. Then, I scooped up the lambs and lured Esther into the stall or "jug." There, I can watch her for a few days to make sure the lambs are nursing and healthy. I squirt Nutradench into the lambs' mouths and dip their umbilical cords in iodine.
After recording the information in my farm book, I snap a few photos and leave the ewe with her lambs, and note that the season of distraction has begun.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Scheduling Lambing Season

I carry the weather forecast and my calendar to the barn.
"These would be good days to have lambs," I say, pointing to the sunny days when my calendar schedule is light.
The ewes, heavy with lambs, look at me. We sigh.
We both know that I should mark the rainy, windy, cold days and the full-schedule days as the ones in which I'll go to the barn and hear the baas of newborn lambs.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Spring Waltz

At feeding time now, the ewes and I waltz. It's too slow to be called anything else.
Lambing season starts in another week, and each day, I check the ewes. I look at their overall demeanor, check their gait, and inspect their udders.
They are modest ladies, now, and prefer only headshot views.
So I give them their hay and walk wide circles around them.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What about Sunflowers?

Spring gardening is a time of possibility. The earth is tilled, fresh, free of weeds. And, so I consider what to plant. There's the practical part of me that will plant potatoes and onions and tomatoes and green beans. Because I love the taste of warm produce, freshly plucked, I'll plant lettuce, spinach, radishes, peas and basil. I have more space this year, and that means vine crops. Should I go with a summer squash, or melon, or pumpkin? And, then, because it's spring, and a time of optimism, I consider sunflowers, growing tall and standing above me and shining as I work in the summer soil.

Monday, April 5, 2010

April Shedding

Handsome knows there’s no way to gracefully remove his winter coat. Katahdin sheep have hair instead of wool. So removing their winter coat involves rubbing against fence posts, wire fence, any stable and preferably rough object. Around the farm, we’re finding clumps of hair in the grass and hair hanging from the wire fence. The ewes are just thinking about shedding this spring. But Handsome’s a macho ram, and is ready to remove the winter hair and show off his sleek red summer coat.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Time to Think About It

By the end of the herding lesson, Caeli's eyes are glazed. Her mind and body are tired.
Caeli and I are learning outruns -- how to go out and fetch the sheep.
As a young dog, Caeli wants to go too close to the sheep. When she does this, I must stop her, push her back on the right path, and give her time to think about it. Then, she proceeds with the outrun.
At the end of the lesson, my instructor tells me take the dog home, put her in a quiet place, and let her think about it. The following day, I'm to get Caeli out and practice on my sheep.
Caeli goes to her crate and sleeps for the night. What she thinks about, I don't know. I replay the day's lesson over and over. I think about my timing, my body language, my corrections, my confidence.
When we practice the following day, the improvement is tremendous.
That night, I think how herding lessons apply to life. When I run into problems at work, on the farm, with writing, I need to take time out, and just think about it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Open Windows in April

We left the windows open last night. In drifted the smell of wet campfire. I fell asleep to memories of singing around the campfire at 4-H camp, working at a Y camp during college summers, gathering around the fire both before and after competitive trail rides, roasting marshmallows, watching the stars.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Vaccinating the Ewes

While the rice is cooking, I fill the syringes, 13 in all. Forty-eight seconds remain on the timer when I'm finished. I set the syringes aside while I finish cooking dinner. "I didn't get the llama separated from the ewes," I tell my husband over dinner. When handling the sheep, we move the guard llama from the flock. We don't want him mistaking us for a predator. Because he's difficult to catch, it's easiest to shut a gate when he's straggling behind the ewes as they move from one paddock to the next. I do that after dinner. The ewes, heavy with winter hair and lambs, are in the pasture. My husband and I move them into the barn. We fall into a routine. He catches one. I pinch the skin behind the armpit and insert the needle. I note the layer of fat, the thickness of skin, the quiet of the animal. We are vaccinating for overeating and tetanus. Once vaccinated, I pull a green grease pencil across their back so we know which ones are done. It takes us less than an half hour to complete the chore. We note how easy it is when they are older, when it is warm, when they are pregnant. I think how much different it will be in a few months when we're trying to catch the lambs for their first shots. How they will jump and prong when we try to catch them, how they will cry for their mothers, how their skin will be thinner and there will be less to pinch. But then I dismiss that thought and enjoy the calm of an early spring evening with 13 ewes as they amble back to pasture.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More of a Casual Dude

I'd never considered putting a tie on a dog. Then, I received a photo of Rio, our recently adopted foster dog. The traditional black and white Border collie looked smashing in a tie. Would a tie dress up Willis, the four-month-old foster pup? He was patient and willing for the dress-up game, but that's because he's a laid-back dude. We both agreed that a tie is not his look, but can't agree on what way best to accessorize him. Suggestions?