Friday, July 30, 2010


For the first time in weeks, I donned a sweatshirt for my morning walk. Temperatures dropped to nearly sixty degrees overnight. I walked into the richness of dawn -- the sky bathed in pink, the heavy green alfalfa fields, the golden wheat stubble, and the black and white Border collies romping in front of me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The morning groom

"I haven't ridden this month," I confess to a horsey friend. Heat and biting insects make riding unenjoyable. "Lily seems quite content with her daily grooming," I say. My friend looks at me. "You groom her every day?" Now that she's an only, I do. When horses are together, they groom each other. They'll nibble and scratch on each other's withers and backs. Lily has to rely on me for her morning grooming. As I curry her neck, she stretches out her neck and her lips quiver. On those muggy, hot days, she'll sometimes return the favor and scratch my back and shoulders. After a good brushing, I spray on coat conditioner and fly repellent and put on her face mask. If she had a buddy, he'd help keep the flies at bay. "I'm looking for a friend for you," I promise her every morning. I give her a treat and going on with my day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Teen-aged Lambs

When I was walking home from berry picking last night, I saw a few lambs running, jumping and twisting in the field.
The heat finally broke yesterday, and while I won't say it's cool, the change has many critters kicking up their heels.
I stopped and watched the lambs perform their evening zoomies. They seldom do that any more. The amount of evening play seems to correlate with their nursing.
When they relied on their moms for most of their nutrition, they had more time to play. Now, most of their calories come from grazing.
Now, the ewes' role is to provide comfort when sleeping and ruminating, and limited nursing. The lambs are getting too big for nursing, but they aren't quite ready to give it up completely.
They are about 100 days old and could easily be weaned by now.
Some farmers wean lambs at 60 days. However, to reduce chances of mastitis in the ewes, many opt for 90 days. Some wait until 120 days.
Last year, we weaned at 120 days (four months) because we didn't want to chance a ram lamb breeding with a ewe. Then, we only separated the ram lambs from their mothers. The ewe lambs were left to nurse. By five months (150 days), the ewe lambs had weaned themselves.
Because the ram lambs are castrated, they will be left with the flock this year.
(Pictured are the lambs nursing this past week.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rolling in the Clover

Sometimes the critters are smarter than the humans. We're in high summer now, with temperatures reaching into the 90s during the days and not cooling much below 70 at night. This week, I've heard quite a few humans complaining about the clover. When temperatures get hot, the grass goes dormant, but the clover keeps growing. Humans complain that it makes their yards look bad, that it messes up their golf game. Many are out to kill the clover. But the clover is fertilizing their yards and pastures. It's putting nitrogen into the soil -- for free. The animals love the clover. It's tastier than dormant grass and packs a lot more nutrients. Plus, it provides some relief from the heat. The clover is sucking water from the soil, and the water is cooler than the air temperatures. That's why the dogs lay in the clover patch, why the sheep graze there during the day. That's why I sometimes take off my shoes and walk through the yard, marveling at the coolness when walking through the clover.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mid-Summer Discoveries

When the birds are in full chorus, the insects are buzzing, the lambs birthed and on their own, the garden producing, and the grass growing, I sometimes fail to notice the changes around me.
But this morning, I heard an adolescent squeak coming from the young chick house. The chicks are nine weeks old now, and in full feather. One tried to crow this morning. It came out a pathetic two-syllable squeak. But it put me on notice. They're no longer chicks. It's pullets and cockerels from now on.
In the garden, too, I found changes. Among the green tomatoes, I found a hint of pink. Tomato season is coming.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Sunflowers

The sunflowers are the bright spot in my garden right now.
They reach six-feet tall, maybe higher, and greet the morning sun. I can't help smiling when I see them, and I wonder if the chickens and humans will fight over the seeds come fall.
Everything else demands my attention. I harvest the cucumbers, green beans, and onions. I pull weeds and squish the cabbage worms that seem intent on devouring my plants.
While holding seven summer squashes, I wonder why I planted them. I enjoy the occasionally squash, and the harvest is far more than that. I throw the squash to the ground and stomp on it. Picking up the flattened squash, I toss it to the chickens who eat it greedily.
"You can't have the sunflowers," I tell them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Three-Fan Night

Alaskans may brag about those three dog nights -- when winter temperatures plummet and three dogs are needed to keep a human warm. In Ohio this summer, we've had many three-fan nights -- when temperatures don't drop below 70 degrees and the house doesn't cool off in the evenings. So, each night before bedtime, I turn on the two fans in the windows and the ceiling fan. It moves the warm air around enough to make it bearable to sleep.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Beans and Berries

I've been thinking about child labor.
We have a bumper crop of wild blackberries, green beans, heat and humidity.
As I swat mosquitoes and pull a thorn from my thumb, I think $5.50 for a quart of picked blackberries is a pretty good deal.
As I pull beans from the vines, I think this is only the first step. Snapping, washing and freezing the beans will come later in the day or week.
But then I consider the whining that comes with child labor, and resume my picking in silence.
I could have had silence this afternoon as I snapped the beans. Instead, I opted to listen to an audio book, with no interruptions. But a few hours into it, I again found myself considering the merits of child labor.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July Harvest

In the mornings, I pick the cucumbers, summer squash and green beans for the humans. For the chickens, I pluck the tomato worms from the plants. I squirm as I drop the plump, green slugs into the can of scratch grain. If I were into equality and fairness, I would search the plants until I had 13 worms -- one for each hen. But the sun is rising and work beckons. Six worms will have to do. I let the hens out of their shed and dump the scratch grain and worms onto the ground. A hen spots the green worm, snatches it in her beak and runs from the group. As she slurps the worm and clacks her beak, I note that she eats the worm with much more gusto than I eat my harvest of cucumbers and beans.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Life without Dogs

It's "I gotta go close in the chickens for the night" instead of "Let's go do the evening chores," and "I should check the pastures" instead of "Let's go exploring." We returned from vacation late Saturday night and couldn't pick up the two Border collies at the kennel until Monday morning. So, we had a day without dogs, a day when the farm was quiet and lonely. Chores went quickly though. I fed and watered the chickens and sheep without having to pause to watch the dogs run hot laps around the house and play tug with the Frisbee. I didn't have to remind Caeli to stop harassing the ram and the rooster, to get out of the garden. The wildlife enjoyed the respite from dogs. Bunnies munched brazenly in the yard. I found raccoon scat while mowing. I imagine the bunnies and coons will be moving on now. Most don't like the daily herding or harassment of dogs. I, though, like the dogs tagging along, the excitement about going out to do the chores, to take a walk, to work in the garden. I smile as I listen to the eight dog feet and four cat paws padding after me as I go to my office to work.