Saturday, December 31, 2011

Old Animals

The New York Times recently ran an article, "What We Can Learn From Old Animals." In an effort to cope with her mother's Alzheimers, a photographer captured images of old horses, dogs, sheep, hogs and fowl.

Those photographs remind me that animals don't fret about their age, their slowing steps. They live in the moment.

Right now, we don't have any old animals. We went through a rough few years when a few senior horses, dogs, cats, and pet hen died.

The animal closest to being a senior citizen on the farm is our 10-year-old Border collie, Mickey. She might be a step or two slower than she was in her youth, but she still gets the puppy zoomies. She still eagerly goes on the morning and evening walks, and she still herds the sheep.

I'll be spending the weekend with her at a herding trial, where the sheep won't dare utter the word "old" to her. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Showered. Really, I Did.

I visited Caeli today.

It's the first time I've seen my Border collie in six weeks. She's been kenneled at the herding trainer's farm where she's advancing her herding skills.

I wanted to see how she was progressing. Because owners can sometimes distract dogs-in-training, I stood at the house -- forty or so yards from the practice field. There, I watched as she walked from the kennel, drove the sheep a few hundred yards away, came back to her handler, then gathered the sheep again.

After several minutes, I walked from the house to the observation area adjacent to the field. There, I hoped to get a better look at her working sheep and to better hear the trainer's commands.

As Caeli moved around the sheep, she glanced at me, paused and took a longer look. The trainer told her to keep moving. Once done with the exercise, he gave the "that'll do" command and Caeli, tail wagging, came running to me.

How did she know that person, bundled and standing still, was her owner? I hadn't said a word or gestured to her. The wind was blowing my scent away from her, not toward her.

These Border collies have long memories. After spending hours working sheep with their handlers, I suspect they know more about us, our stances, our gestures, than we'll ever know about them.

I gave Ms. Caeli several pats and rubs and told her I was happy to see her. Then, she resumed her work for her master of the month.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

While I'm Thinking of Hibernating

The temperatures dropped below freezing and the wind speeds increased overnight.

I dressed in layers for my morning walk around the crusty fields. My thoughts were of finishing chores and returning to the warmth of the wood-burning stove.

Tag's barks interrupted those thoughts.

I looked up to see the Border collie dashing through the soybean stubble and toward the woods.

A raccoon had emerged from the woods and was running across the field.

"That'll do," I called to Tag. I don't encourage dog-raccoon encounters.

Tag returned to me, and I expected the raccoon to return to the woods. It didn't. Instead, another raccoon came ambling into the field.

I mentally calculated dates and gestation periods and birthing seasons, and realized that while we humans are thinking of hibernating, the raccoons are thinking of mating.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Early Christmas Present

After weeks of rain and mud, Mother Nature (or was it Santa?) delivered an early Christmas present: sun and frozen ground.

I'm a fan of winter. I welcome snow. I seldom complain of the cold. But this year, we haven't had a typical winter. Temperatures have lingered above freezing. Rain has fallen in amounts measured by whole inches, not tenths. The skies have remained gray.

This morning, though, the sun came out. Temperatures dipped into the 20s -- enough to freeze the ground for a few hours.

I worked the dog on sheep. I removed weeks of horse manure from the barn. I moved hay from the storage barn to the livestock barn.

The horses and sheep went out on pastures. The cat took joy in pouncing the working Border collie. Tag, the non-working Border collie, rolled in the grass. I smiled.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chicken Treasures

My chickens don't need urging to eat their fruits and vegetables.

The birds delight in clover, dandelion greens, apple cores and potato peelings. At this time of year, foraging produces fewer tasty morsels.

But yesterday, they received a tasty treat.

My mother was cleaning her garden for the year and trimmed the last pieces of chard. She gave me a bag full of the thick, green leaves. I tossed it to the eager chickens.

The chickens munched the leaves, licked their lips, and said, "Bring on the kale."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It Finally Felt Like Christmas

At twilight, as happens often in the in the darkest days of December, I found myself in the barn doing evening chores.

Keeping me company were hungry horses, weary sheep, dogs, cats, a watchful llama and a barn radio that played tinny tunes.

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum

The falling rain softly accompanied the song.

A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum

Outside, smoke from the bonfire hung low to the ground.

Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum

Inside the barn, I swept out the horse stalls.
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,

rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

The two Haflingers, wet and muddy from days of rain, hung their heads over the stall doors, waiting for their evening hay.

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,

When we come.

I carried flakes of hay, green and holding the lingering scent of summer, to the horse stalls.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum

I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum

The horses nickered their approval as I dropped the hay into the stalls and let them in for their evening meal.

I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum

That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Next, I turned to the sheep and llama. Heavy rains and mud have kept them confined to the barn area for the past several days.

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,

On my drum?

The sheep and I kept rhythm with puffs of air.

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum

The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum

The temperature dropped. I wished I'd worn gloves, but the barn work kept me warm.

I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum

I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

The Border collies dug through the hay, searching for morsels, and possibly a mouse? The horses, sheep and llama chewed hay.

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum

Me and my drum.

I turned out the barn lights, turned off the radio, and stepped into the December darkness.

("The Little Drummer Boy" - words and music by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati, and Harry Simeone.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Mud

I've had few blog posts in December.

Don't blame the approaching holidays. Blame the mud.

Late fall brought rain, rain, and more rain. Warm weather meant no frozen ground.

Walking on turf and in the hayfields is like walking on a sponge. If I want dry feet, I must wear my tall Muck boots. So I don't trek the fields often these days.

The horses and sheep are spending very little time in the pastures. Their hooves will churn the ground into mud, leaving no grass for winter time and spring.

But corralling them doesn't save the paddocks. The paddocks are filled with mud that sucks at boots, discourages the sheep, and provides little inspiration for prose.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Pen

This makes me smile.

When working the dog on sheep, I find guiding the sheep into the pen to be one of the hardest tasks.

My sheep do not like to go into the pen. They will bolt, leap and scatter to avoid it.

But Mickey is patient.

She creeps. She tiptoes. She takes her time.

This morning, for the second time this week, we gathered the sheep into the pen.

I stepped away and performed a victory dance and whoop, before returning to the task at hand: documenting that I finally got those squirrelly sheep into a pen.

Mickey, as always, waited patiently for her next task.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Harvesting Under the Christmas Moon

I fell asleep last night to the almost full Christmas moon and the churning sound of a combine harvesting the corn field.

An unusually wet spring meant a late planting for the corn. That delayed harvest. Heavy fall rains kept farmers out of fields. After Thanksgiving, some corn fields were still standing, unharvested.

The ground finally froze over the weekend, and farmers returned to the fields.

Last night, the headlights of the combine twinkled among the Christmas lights. Along with the Christmas carols was the sound of a hungry combine gobbling the corn and spitting out the stalks.

The Christmas moon -- white, cool and distant -- provided a guiding light.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Winter afternoon break

I had a story to write, and another to edit.

A friend wanted a letter of recommendation.

I needed to renew my driver's license.

But the sun was shining after three days of rain.

The first snow of the season was melting.

A break would be good for the soul.

Mickey, the Border Collie, didn't mind.

Even if it meant rough-going through the snow, the puddles, the mud.

When she was finished, she was content to rest.

And, I was content to go back to work.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chicken Snatching

In the pre-dawn hours, I delivered 13 chickens to the poultry processing house. As I was transferring the hens from a dog crate to a chicken crate, a hen escaped.

Being a chicken, she ran toward the light in the building rather into the darkness of the parking lot and open fields.

The worker looked toward the hen and then at a chicken hook -- a four-foot metal pole with a hook on the end. That's what I use to catch chickens. If I can hook her foot, then I can get close enough to grab the bird.

He opted not to use the hook.

Instead he walked sideways toward the hen. When within a few feet, his arm shot from his side like a snake's tongue. He grabbed the hen by the leg, swung her off the ground and deposited her in the crate.

Neither the hen nor I said a thing.

I want to learn the fine art of chicken snatching. I will practice, once it stops raining and isn't so muddy. When I get good, I will move on to the art of fly snatching.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Afternoon Eyes

I was late getting home. As I walked from the garage to the house, I felt the eyes.

The familiar set of Border Collie eyes stared at me from the bathroom window. But on this day, they were joined by the hungry eyes of the caramel-colored cat. I was 90 minutes late for his dinner.

In the paddock were two sets of Haflinger eyes that were anxious to get to the pasture and scout out some grass.

In the young chicken yard, pullets and cockerels tilted their heads and gave me the one-eyed stare. Was I going to pluck dandelion greens for them today?

Debating sheep eyes peered at me from the side pasture. Should they trek to the front pasture or wait for me to open the gate to the lush five-acre field? The llama extended his head above the fence to observe me so that he could weigh in on that decision.

I hurried inside and changed into barn clothes. Feeding time would soften those eyes.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Power of Water

Years ago, when I was novice to animal husbandry, a friend taught me about the power of water.

Have a barking dog? A bucket of water will make them stop.

Have a Border collie showing an interest in cars? There's nothing like a bucket of water to dissuade her.

When the ram developed an interest in ramming, which rams are prone to do, I turned to the bucket of water.

This guy doesn't miss an opportunity to charge. So, I've made it a point to avoid going into his pen except to give him hay and water. When I enter the pen, I always have a bucket of water. If he charges, I toss it on him. After getting soaked a dozen times, he learned to give me my space.

But an open pasture changes things.

Being a kind-hearted person, I decided to bring the ewes and ram in from the pasture when I saw an approaching storm.

He challenged that decision.

As he approached me, I held out the bucket of water.

He gave me space as I walked backwards toward the barn.

Then, he charged the bucket.

We both got soaked.

He stood and licked his lips, pondering another charge.

I used my "don't-you-think-about-it" growl. That made him pause and bought me a few more steps.

He charged again and was rewarded with the last few drops of water.

By then, I was to the barn and safety. Though, I was wet and cold and counting the days until the end of breeding season and his trip to the butcher shop.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Llama Lessons

When I moved Llambert the Llama into the unused ram pen, I didn't notice the water bucket.

Neither did he. Until he stepped in it.

Then, he refused to take one more step into the stall.

I put a rope around his neck.

He planted his feet and stretched his neck, and I learned how long a llama neck is.

With a horse, a turn of the neck is enough to force them to take a step to re-balance. A llama neck bends and contorts, and the feet stay planted.

I gave his rump a push. His 340-pound body didn't budge.

Sighing, I opened the horse stall door and put his grain in there. His neck swung around to sniff the grain, and the feet followed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Kind Gesture?

The husband says he feels sorry for the ewes. "It's raining and they have no shelter."

I point to the horses who could go into the barn. Instead, they are grazing in the pasture. Their coats are soaked from the rain.

"They have a choice," he says.

When I saw heavy rains in the forecast, I brought the ram and ewes in from the far pasture. For the past several weeks, we've had two separate flocks of sheep: the ones used for breeding and the lambs and a few others that I'm using for herding practice. The lamb group I see several times a day. The ewes and ram group I see from a distance when I bring them a fresh bucket of water.

The other night, I got a close-up view of the ewes and ram. They've all been eating for three, or maybe four. Without a dog working them around the pastures, they haven't been getting enough exercise. In other words, they're fat.

They enjoyed the shelter for the night.

The next day, I took the Border collie to their pasture and worked them.

They said they don't mind the rain so much.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall Wood Cutting

As I repeatedly carry logs the 24 steps from the downed tree to the wagon, I imagine carrying split wood the 32 steps from the wood shed to the house in winter.

I calculate how many trips equals one heating day. That's a tricky calculation. To heat a house in November, I only need four armloads of wood. In January, the number jumps to eight.

I notice the path that my numerous log-carrying trips make in the woods. It's a winding path that curves around trees and briar bushes. By day's end, the leaves are flattened and it is well-worn.

I listen to the roar of the chainsaw and wonder if the squirrels, deer, raccoons and other wildlife are disturbed by the rumble. Do they find my whistling equally disturbing?

I think how easily poison ivy oils can attach to the skin, even though I wear jeans, long-sleeved shirt, hat and gloves.

As I feel the sun, and listen to the leaves, and breathe in the fall air, and feel the sweat trickle down my back, I am thankful for the time to work and wonder.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Working with It

I've renamed my old Border collie, Saint Mickey.

Mickey's a nine-year-old who recently retired from open, or the highest level of Border collie competition. Up until six weeks ago, she was being handled by a 20-year veteran of sheepdog herding.

Now, she has me as my handler.

Her new job is to make me a better sheepdog handler. She takes it quite seriously.

She does what I ask -- even if it's wrong. If I say "Come bye" when I mean "away," she goes "come bye," or clockwise. If I forget to say "down," she continues circling the sheep.

Now, she's mastering my whistling.

When a dog is working at a distance or if it's windy, she often can't hear voice commands as well as whistle commands. Also, whistles are more precise and carry less emotion than the voice.

I've been practicing whistling in the car for several months.

"You've got to go out in the field and use them," my instructor says. "The dog will learn to adjust."

Mickey is still tuned into her previous handler's whistles. At the trial this past weekend, her ears perked up when she heard her previous handler whistling to another dog.

But Mickey is also tuning into mine and learning them.

My whistles still sound like an adolescent rooster at times. Sometimes the tone is bad. But Mickey is trying her darndest to learn them and follow them.

And I'm continuing to call her a saint.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dear Hens

I thought we had a deal.

I provide you with grain, water, and tasty treats like apple cores, potato peelings, and garden leftovers. Rather than keeping you cooped up, I allow you to roam the pastures and investigate the barn.

In return, I want eggs.

There are 14 of you. I think it's reasonable to expect more than one egg a day.

You say it gets dark early. That it's cold. That you want to hibernate.

So do I. But I still feed you, provide you with fresh water, keep you safe from predators.

Lately, though, I've been dreaming of chicken soup.

You may want to have a meeting.

Surely you could double your production, maybe triple it.

Then, I could dream of egg drop soup.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cat Language

I am learning the difference between "toss the milk cap" and "I want a hug."

When I'm working at my desk, Dewey Kitty often taps his front paw on my thigh. When he was a kitty, that always meant he wanted a hug.

I'd pick him up and hold him tight against me. After five seconds, he'd hop down and proceed to torment Louie.

Now two, Dewey still likes his hugs. They're still usually short. Though sometimes, if I've been gone a lot or it's cold, he may want one that lasts a minute.

But in the past week, he's taken up a new game: fetch.

He brings a milk cap to me and taps my thigh. I toss the cap. He hunts it and brings it back to me. The game requires more attention on my part.

I must learn to look for the cap. This weekend, I mistook the tap as "I want a hug." He squealed and squirmed. Once I put him down, he tapped me again.

I spotted the cap and tossed it.

A tap and a milk cap means fetch. A tap and no milk cap means hug.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Sheepdog Training Update

That screeching sound that you hear when driving near a red Honda is me.

I'm still attempting to learn the sheepdog whistles. Training books say it's best to practice where the dog can't hear.... So anywhere within a mile of the farm is out.

I haven't had friends and family inviting me over to practice my whistling. So that leaves the car.

In the comfort of my car, I practice scales. And in the back of my mind, I hear my high school band director talking about tone and quality of sound. Squeaks come from the whistle. And then, no sound comes at all.

I toss the whistle on the dashboard, turn on the radio and begin singing.

The sound, I'm sure, is just as bad.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Glove Goblin

A glove goblin invaded the farm.

Behind my back, he eats women's gloves. The leather work gloves and insulated winter gloves must be the tastiest. Those are the ones that are disappearing.

The pink and purple gloves he leaves behind. Do they taste like grape or cotton candy or cherry? Are they too frivolous for his taste?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pedicure Day

The ewes have a date with the ram.

In preperation for breeding season, the spouse and I trimmed their hooves. He held the ewe while I trimmed. Soon the ewes were sporting trimmed, balanced nails.

The romantic would say they wanted to look their best for their suitor.

Others would say it allows them to run away from him faster.

Practical me says that it's easier to trim a ewe when she's not pregnant or nursing lambs.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pet Psychology

Should I try to find meaning in my cat's actions?

I wonder this when I hear Dewey Kitty growling in the dining room.

He is crouched over the stuffed Border Collie, biting it and pulling at its fur.

The stuffed lamb -- that moments earlier had been sitting on a shelf with the stuffed dog -- lies on the floor next to the dog.

Is it the next victim?

I don't wait to find out. I toss Dewey Kitty in the laundry room and remove his victims from the floor.

The First Fall Frost

The first fall frost hit this weekend.

When I stepped outside, the wind was calm. White crystals covered the grass, the tree limbs, the fences. White stars dotted the sky.

The air smelled of basil.

I hadn't covered the prolific plants overnight, and the frost killed those plants that so love a warm climate.

But in their dying gasps, they emitted the sweet scent of summer that hung in the frosty air.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Out of Place

When I pull into the driveway, my eyes focus on the white spot in the far pasture.

It's a 75-acre farm, with fields, pastures, a house, trees, barns, sheep, chickens, horses. On this sunny afternoon, I only see the white spot with the sheep flock grazing nearby.

I suspect it is a ewe. But why is she lying down away from the others? Sheep are flock animals. Usually the only time they leave the safety of the group is to give birth or to die.

It is fall, and none of the ewes are bred. In times of lush pastures, like now, bloat is a concern in pastures heavy with legumes like alfalfa and clover. But the sheep are in the safe pasture -- the one with grass, the one that has at least two rows of fence between it and outside predators.

After parking the car, I go inside and change from my dress clothes to my farm clothes.

I am stalling.

Sick and injured animals are some of the downsides of farm life.

I look out the upstairs window.

The white spot is gone. Apparently, after two days of rain, the ewe was just basking in the sunshiny day.

I go outside to do the same.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Farm Pockets

When cleaning out my jeans and jacket pockets, I find:

Earplugs, one yellow, one green, never a matched set.

Hay chaff.

Peppermint treats for the horses.

A yellow grease marker for the sheep.

A rusted fence staple that I found in the chicken yard.

A penny, a dirty nickel, a crumpled dollar bill.

A pen.

What I don't find are my gloves that have gone missing during this fall season. They were placed somewhere when I determined it was too warm for gloves.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Realization

As I stood in the garden, wearing long underwear, a sweatshirt, a jacket and gloves, digging potatoes, I realized that winter was coming, whether I left potatoes in the ground or not.

The tomatoes that I was still picking would succumb to frost, as would the lettuce and basil.

I could capture these whispers of summer, but I need to finish up the chores of fall -- the final grass mowing, the cleaning out of the garden, the barn cleaning.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why I Don't Buy Cat Toys

When offered cat toys at a dog event, I accepted. Surely Dewey Kitty would enjoy playing with them. Maybe I could even entice Louie Cat to play.

The toy was one of the classics: a wand with an elastic string attached to a feathered, stuffed, pink and green creature. I'm sure it was designed to provide hours of fun and stimulate the cat's hunting instinct. 

When I dangled the creature in front of Dewey Kitty, he snagged it with his paw and I quickly pulled it away from him.

The second time I cast the creature toward him, he grabbed the creature and bit the elastic string. Within seconds, he'd chewed the string in two and was trotting away with the creature in his mouth.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sounds of a Autumn

The drones of diesels surround our farm.

To the south, east and west, combines crawl up and down the fields, cutting and sorting soybeans, only taking a break to dump the harvest into awaiting bins and trucks.

From the north comes the rhythmic sound of the hay baler as it collects dried grass and alfalfa from the field.

As dusk approaches and dew falls, the hay-making stops, but the harvest continues into the night.

Soon, the combines, tractors and trucks are joined by the howls of coyotes and barks of neighboring dogs.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Leg Shaving Day

Lily's ancestors come from the mountains of Austria and Northern Italy.

They needed leg hair to protect them from the cold winters and rough terrain.

Lily lives in Ohio.

Her excessive leg hair collects dirt, burrs, mud balls and ice chunks.

Twice a year, once in the spring before fly season starts and once in the fall when fly season ends, I trim the long hairs from her legs.

I use hand scissors instead of the electric clippers. I'm going for practical, not pretty. The scissors don't overheat nor do they gum up when trimming unwashed legs.

Soon, I am covered with hair. The floor is littered with hair.

Lily, too, remains quite hairy.

Friday, October 7, 2011


I'm watching where I walk these days.

It's the spiderweb time of year.

In the morning light, I admire the intricate webs stretching between fence panels, between weeds, from tree limbs. They hold dewdrops and give the morning a magical sparkle.

By afternoon, my love affair with the webs wears. The Border collie returns from the pasture with sheep and webs clinging to her fur.

As I work at my computer, a web creator, falls from the ceiling, swings once, twice from her silken thread, lands next to my keyboard and scurries away.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Driving Practice

The  ewe faced me and stomped her front foot.

I laughed.

It had been a stressful day at work, and I was happy to be outside where the sun was still shining and the air still warm enough for a T-shirt, where the grass is collecting moisture for a morning dew, and where I can walk with a Border collie and practice moving the sheep away from me.

Within minutes, the sheep are breathing heavy, the dog is panting, and I am smiling.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

USDA Inspection Day

I smell of sheep, and coarse white fiber clings to my jeans.

Today the United States Department of Agriculture vet visited the farm to inspect the flock. This meant that, unlike most days, I touched the sheep.

The sheep weren't happy. They don't care to be touched by humans with predatory eyes.

For the inspection, we put the 18 ewes in a stall measuring 8 x 8 feet. Packing them in a tight area makes them less likely to run and jump. The red ewe lamb, though, shows her athleticism when she leaps atop the others.

"It's the sheep mosh pit," I say to the vet.

The vet checks each ewe's ear tag and matches it with our records. Our sheep are enrolled in the Scrapies Eradication program. Scrapies is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. Because sheep don't exhibit the disease until well into adulthood, it's a difficult disease to identify and track.

Those in the program tag their sheep with federal scrapies identification numbers. Our records show what happens to each of our sheep. If one is sent to slaughter, the date and location is noted. If someone buys one, the buyer's name and address is recorded. This provides a tracking record if one of our sheep is found to have scrapies.

The scrapies eradication program has drastically reduced the number of scrapies cases in the U.S. sheep flocks. However, cases still exist. As with most diseases, the challenge is eliminating those last cases.

As with most challenges, it requires time and commitment, and, in my case, a little bit of sheep fuzz.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The In-Between Season

This morning, I put on my wool socks and long underwear before building a fire in the wood-burning stove.

A north wind was blowing cold air, and the inside temperature had fallen into the 50s.

But it didn't frost overnight. My tomatoes, eggplant, herbs and lettuce were spared.

So, for dinner tonight, we enjoyed some of the last tastes of summer when I topped the pizza with tomatoes and basil.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sweet Potato Ponderings

Forecasts of weekend frost forced me into the garden last night.

After picking a few dozen tomatoes, I turned to the sweet potato patch.

Soon, I was into the dig, dig, root, root, pull, and occasional snap rhythm of harvest.
If I were relying on my own produce to feed us this year, I would not be looking forward to winter.

A wet, cold spring meant a lousy fruit crop and a delayed vegetable planting.  Planting red potatoes in May reduced yields. A dry July and August reduced yields further. I'm not sure what the summer weather did to the sweet potato crop.

This was my first attempt. So, for now, I'm calling it sweet.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Our New Dog Mickey

I went to get a dog license for Mickey today.

"Dog's age?" the shelter worker asks.

"Nine," I say.

"Nine months?"

"Nine years," I say.

The shelter worker looks at me.

She doesn't ask why I would take in a nine year old dog.

Mickey is grey around the muzzle. She's a few steps slower than some of the younger Border collies.

But our sheep don't see her as an old lady.

I see her as a wise lady, better trained than any dog I've every owned.

She's very capable of herding sheep.

Tonight, while my younger dogs were snoozing in the living room, she also showed, that she's still young enough to get the zoomies.

How I wish I had a camera to capture the look on Tag and Caeli's faces as they watched Mickey run from room to room.

Signs of Fall

I awoke without a cat alarm this morning.

As I made my way to my office (also known as the cat feeding station), I wondered why Dewey Kitty wasn't his annoying self. I'd been away the previous day so I didn't have a chance to wear him out.

When I turned on the light, I had my answer.

There, on the floor, near my computer lay a dead mouse.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Color Green

"Maybe we're getting too much green in the house," the husband says when I finish painting the bedroom.

"Do you think?" I ask.

"The main rooms downstairs are green, my den is green, the walk-in closet floor is green, your office floor is green," he says.

I ponder this comment as I take the dogs outside for their evening walk through the fields.

The recent rains and cooler weather revitalized the grass.

I admire the patchwork of greens.

The rich green of the alfalfa fields,

The yellow green of the winter wheat field,

The lighter greens of the pastures,

The fading green of the corn and soybean fields.

Coming inside, I return to work in my upstairs office. The trees in the yard have grown so tall that they now block the red barn from view. I notice, though, that the green leaves from the ash tree are beginning to turn purple.

Soon, cold weather will come, the leaves will fall, the grass will go dormant and turn tan. But inside the house, I'll always have some green.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Last Bit of Daylight

Darkness was fast approaching.

The chickens roosted. The sheep had come in from the pasture.

Temperatures were in the high sixties and the wind, calm.

I had planned to work my mare, Jet. A little lunging, a little ring work in the paddock, some work in the adjacent pasture.

With daylight running out, I scrapped those plans.

I threw the western saddle on Lily, the pony, and led her to the fields.

Lily didn't mind the darkness. The sliver of moon provided just enough light.

Letting Lily pick her way, I listened to the frogs croaking, the crickets chirping, the rustles in the fencerows. I relaxed to the four-beat rhythm of her walk. I thought of my younger days when darkness was never an excuse to not ride.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Construction Assistant

The contractors finished repairing the ceiling and walls in the bedroom.

Now, it is time for me to wash the walls and ceiling and paint primer on them.

As I'm washing the door, I notice the paws.

I let Dewey Kitty into the bedroom, and he immediately climbs onto the ladder.

"I have to wash the ceiling," I tell him.

He looks down on me.

I wash the walls. Surely he'll get down soon.

Eventually he does, thanks to a slow September fly.

When he spots the fly, the leaps from the ladder and slaps it with his paw.

With the fly dead, he climbs back atop the ladder.

I still have to wash the ceiling.

Next up: Dewey Helps with Painting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

September Mornings

The music of songbirds and crickets is gone now.

Instead, horse whinnies greet me in the mornings. The whinnies are for food, not me. I'm trying to make the pastures last. So they get a few hours of grazing and hay each day.

Overhead, the southbound geese honk.

But my favorite September morning sound comes from the chicken house where the four-month-old cockerels are attempting to crow.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Counting to Five

I've been counting on my fingers a lot these days.

If I want lambs on April 1, when do I need to let the ram out with the ewes? I count to five backwards and come up with Nov. 1.

When I saw twin lambs, on their knees and contorted so that they could nurse, I paused.

Because we castrate the ram lambs, we no longer separate the lambs from the ewes. We let the lambs wean themselves -- a quieter, less stressful option. Surely they can't still be nursing. Most give it up at four months. These lambs are almost as tall as their mothers.

I count months on my fingers. When I reach five, I wag my finger at them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Planting Buckeyes

We have Buckeye chickens roaming our yard, but no Buckeye tree.

I hope to remedy that today.

I've collected Buckeyes from a tree on a neighboring farm. Now, I plan to dig two holes and plant the seeds. I'll mulch them and water them, and then wait.

In spring, I'll know if any seeds germinated.

If all goes well, I'll have my own lucky Buckeyes in five years.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Mystery Corn

When I returned from work on Friday afternoon, I found a note from my mother, a few bunches of grapes, and three dozen ears of corn.

I was expecting the grapes. My mother said she was harvesting that day.

The corn perplexed me.

My parents don't grow corn. Why would she leave three dozen ears for my husband and me?

On Saturday morning, I saved a few ears for eating and froze the rest.

Thoughts of eating a taste of summer during the winter months made me smile.

That afternoon, I thanked my mother for the corn.

"It's not from me," she says. "It was there when I dropped off the grapes. It looked so good, I thought about taking a few ears."

The corn mystery was solved when the man who farms for us stopped by to deliver corn.

"I never knew you grew sweet corn," I commented to the bachelor farmer.

He says his family has usually planted a plot near the farmhouse.

"I planted it on the Fourth of July," he said. In our area, the Fourth of July is the date most sweet corn farmers want to have ears for sale. "I told my brother it would be Labor Day corn."

He watered it weekly through the dry summer. When ears formed, he played the radio to keep raccoons away from the ears.

In the past week or so, he's harvested about 100 dozen ears.

He gives it to friends and family, and only hopes for a thank you and smile in return.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Finally -- Rain!

The rain came.

The ground softened.

The sheep ran laps in the field.

The temperatures cooled to the 50s. The winds picked up speed.

The ponies, who were compliant and mellow under saddle last week, now pranced and hopped.

Grass that turned brown weeks ago showed hints of green.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Life without Dogs

I look at the house and expect to see two black noses, two white stripes, and four eyes peaking through the screen door. When I enter the house, I await wagging tails and a Tag whine.

But there is none of that.

We were gone for part of the weekend, and Tag and Caeli went to a boarding kennel. I'm discovering that life is not as fun without my two cheerleading Border collies.

They are much more excited about chore time and walk time than me. But after an eight-hour car ride, I needed to take a walk and stretch my legs.

I had no dogs circling as I walked down the driveway. There was no Caeli pouncing mice in the grass or twirling her Jolly ball around her head. But after several yards, I discovered I had company.

Trick the Cat was tagging along behind me, and every few strides, he was scanning the landscape, looking for dogs.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What the Elders Teach

Early one spring years ago, I sprayed the thistles with molasses water.

I saw the fruits of my efforts this afternoon.

The sheep nibbled down the thistle patch in the side pasture.

I was a newbie to farming when a grazing specialist asked why certain sheep don't eat thistles. His answer? Because their moms don't eat thistles. By spraying the young tender plants with molasses, I encouraged the ewes to eat the thistles. When they did, their young followed their lead.

But what ewes teach the young isn't always good.

I discovered this during a herding lesson yesterday when I watched an old white ewe jump the fence to another pasture. Other ewes followed two by two, until there was one ewe left.

Maybe I should spray the practice field with molasses water.

Monday, August 29, 2011

And then there were two....

Barney the Beagle was adopted this weekend.

For the first time in eight months, we have no puppy -- neither Border collie nor beagle -- in the house.

I notice the quiet.

Then I kick off my shoes and leave them in the middle of the floor. There is no puppy to chew or move them.

I leave the baby gate leading to the upstairs open.

Then, I take Tag and Caeli, ages 5 and 6, on a trek across the road, around the pond, through the fields. They romp and sniff and chase each other.

In a few weeks, we'll tire of the quiet. For now, I enjoy the romps and sharing popcorn with only two dogs and Dewey Kitty.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Harvest Time

Before beginning my garden work, I let Jet out to graze in the yard. The dry weather made the pasture grass go dormant. There's still some green grass near downspouts in the yard.

Lily the Pony and the ram provide music while I pull up bean plants and pick the beans. Lily is calling to her pasture buddy. The ram just wants some of the harvest.

I oblige and give him the bean plants.

He burps his appreciation.

My tomato crop is just getting started. I've harvested twice and made two small batches of sauce. As I harvest, I marvel at the plants' ability to suck moisture from cracked and parched ground and then to produce tomatoes -- lots of them.

The chickens are great fans of harvest. I toss the rotten and damaged tomatoes to them.

They cluck and call their friends.

Wet weather delayed the start of garden season, and now, dry weather is hastening its end.

But, a typical gardener, I remain hopeful. I have fall lettuce that's about an inch high. Sweet potatoes and white potatoes are still in the ground. And then there's tomatoes... lots of tomatoes that will keep me making sauce well into sweatshirt weather.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Hunter's Morning

A cold front moved in overnight.

So did the cats' desire to hunt.

Dewey the Indoor Cat quickly stalked and killed a moth in the hallway.

Not to be outdone, Trick the Outdoor Cat crept into the chicken house where he snatched a sparrow.

I found myself hoping for many cool mornings for my hunters.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Visiting the County Fair

We go to the beef barn first, and I marvel at the steers' size, which we discover is small compared to the Holstein cows in the dairy barn. I prefer the smaller Jerseys.

The spouse wants to visit the swine barn where the market hogs snooze two by two on sawdust in pens.

"It'd be nice to see some variety in breeds," he says as we leave.

We find some variety in the sheep barn where the size varies from the waist-high Corriedales to the just-above-the-knee Shetlands.

In the goat barn, I was happy to see more dairy goat breeds this year. When I saw one goat leaning over the pen and chewing an unattended lawn chair, I was glad we no longer had goats.

When walking through the rabbit barn, I comment, "Maybe we should bring Barney the Beagle here and teach him to track rabbits, not cats."

In the horse barns, I wondered why kids no longer ride ponies. Instead, they're opting for the 15 and 16-hand horses. And I cringed when I saw the kids imitating their elders and jerking on the reins.

We lingered in the poultry barn where breed variety is alive and well. I admired the Old English Game rooster's black and white plumage and imagined him walking around the farm... until I saw his spurs.

"Those could really rip the jeans," the husband says.

I studied the colors and heft of the Cochins, Jersey Giants, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orphingtons, and more. I noticed that the ducks I'd always called Indian Runners were now Black Runners, Tan Runners, White Runners. Their upright posture still makes me laugh. We checked out the heritage turkeys with their red, black and bronze feathers.

We skipped most of the youth projects -- the white, commercial market chickens and turkeys whose out-of-proportion bodies make it difficult to walk.

And we watched the people...

The woman crowing at a rooster.

The father and tween daughter in matching Batman t-shirts.

The five-year-old girl in a pink pageant dress.

People pushing strollers, pulling wagons, pushing wheelchairs, riding scooters. Tattoos, piercings, jeans, boots.

The fair still attracts varieties in people.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Barn Swallows Depart

Does it take barn swallows departure to make me notice the bats?

For months now, the swallows' swooping flights were part of the landscape. When they fly south in August, the yard seems empty and lonely.

That's when I also notice the bats in the twilight.

Had they been there all summer? When the swallows were here, had they waited until hard dark to come out? Or, with shortening days, am I spending more time outside in the darkness?

As I walk in the darkness, admiring the bats and feeling a little uneasy, I wonder if this is how the cats feel when the swallows are here and swooping near them.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Straggler-Part II

I no longer expect to find him missing or dead in the mornings.

When we first let the young chickens outside, I expected the cat to deem the little runt chicken an easy target.

The photo above shows him around six weeks old. The photo below shows him at 12 weeks (he's the little guy in the center).

Yet, he's finding ways to survive.

When I throw corn cobs, squash and tomatoes into the chicken yard, he's battling with the other chickens to get his share. In the morning, he participates in the chest bump games.

I call him "he" and "Napoleon," but he may be a she.

I sit and watch and wait for the story to develop.

Remembering the Mud

Staring at the gravel pile near the barn, I try to remember the mud.

The grass is dormant, the earth, cracked and hard. The boot-sucking mud of spring is gone.

I remember where the mud was deepest and direct the tractor and its bucket load of gravel to those areas.

Each gate area receives a bucket load of gravel. It is clean and white and loose.

But with rainfall and the tamping of thousands of sheep hooves, it will work into the earth and make for easier going next spring.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It Felt Like Ireland

Dog at my side, I stood atop the hill pasture and watched the early morning fog envelop the sheep. The chilly air raised goosebumps on my arm.

Wasn't it mornings like this that inspired people to buy Border collies and sheep?

But foggy mornings aren't the best for training dogs.

I gave Caeli a come-bye command and watched her disappear into the fog. Then, I looked for a moving white patch that might indicate a dog or sheep. I found none. Both sheep and dog were lost in the fog.

Standing on the hill, I waited and hoped for the best.

In a minute, six sheep trotted toward me. Behind them was a happy Border collie.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Food Preservation -- Beagle Style

It's harvest time. I dig up potatoes, pull onions and trim their tops, harvest squash, pluck tomatoes, pick green beans.

Seeing the ram nearby, I pull weeds and toss him some.

I survey the harvest and am pleased considering the delayed planting due to a wet spring and the dry summer. I'll have plenty to store into fall and winter.

Barney the Beagle is thinking of storage, too.
Onion in mouth, he trots to the other side of the garden, digs a hole, and places the onion in the ground. Satisfied with his project, he uses his nose to push the dirt over the onion, covering it.

I leave it there. Maybe this fall we'll test storage methods -- and determine whose is better, mine or the dog's.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Learning to Whistle

The plastic whistle stymied me.

No matter how I blew into it, it wouldn't make a sound.

I went to the Internet. Surely, it would unlock the secrets of the sheepdog whistle. It gave some suggestions.

Still no sound.

Learning to use the sheepdog whistle is like learning to whistle. You just have to experiment.

Whistle in mouth, I walked around the house, trying different things - blowing light puffs of air, repositioning the whistle.

A squeak came out. I tried to duplicate it.


The morning wore on. I got more squeaks. Then tones.

You can go back to your childhood. All that you need is a sheepdog whistle.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chicks Against Drugs

Raising chickens gave me a quick education in the use of antibiotics in livestock feed.

If I didn't specifically request "non-medicated feed, please," there was a good chance I'd get feed pre-loaded with antibiotics.

I'm not opposed to using antibiotics -- if I have a sick animal or human that needs them. I'm opposed to feeding antibiotics to healthy animals.

You should be too. Feeding antibiotics to healthy animals and humans leads to antibiotic resistance.

But the good news is that we can make changes and reduce antibiotic resistance. I found this article on NPR about antibiotic resistance in chicken flocks particularly hopeful.

Sheep Camping

The sheep were not in the barn this morning.

Scouting the pastures, I found them snoozing on a rise in the early morning light.

Temperatures dipped into the 50s overnight and there were no mosquitoes.

Who could blame the sheep for wanting to sleep under the stars and moon?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Humor Returns

Cool air returned to the farm last night, and the animals played.

The horses bucked and galloped in the pasture.

The dogs ran laps in the yard.

Trick the Cat walked among the lambs enticing them to play Follow the Leader.

The human planted the fall garden and worked the dog on sheep.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Chicken's Essential Nature

Chickens don't need to be taught to scratch, to look skyward and flap their wings, to love the outdoors.

The annual "release of the birds" reminds me of this.

The chicks spend the first 10-12 weeks of their lives confined indoors, safe from cats and hawks.

When I deem them big enough to fend for themselves, I open the door.

For a few minutes, they stand in the doorway looking. Then, one hops outside, pecks at some grain, and hops back inside.

She tries again a few minutes later. This time, a few others follow then rush back inside.

Within a few hours, they are all outside, scanning the ground for grain and bugs, flapping their wings, running, and gulping in the summer sun.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Tomato

In April and through most of May, I watched the ground and wondered if it would ever dry.

When it finally did, I tilled it and dug holes.

I bought tomato plants and transplanted them.

In June, I weeded around the plants, staked them, weeded some more, and waited.

In July, I plucked tomato worms from the plants and weeded.

This week, I plucked a red fruit from the plant.

I toasted bread, spread a little mayonaise over it, and sliced a tomato.

Eating the sandwich, with a tomato still warm from the sun, I deemed the tomato worth the effort.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Animal Boxes

At dinnertime, Dewey Kitty must go to his box and sit.

At 60+ pounds, the ewe lamb is too big for her box, the hay feeder. Yet, sometimes I catch her napping inside of it on hot afternoons. She jumps out as I approach.

I filled the water tank so that Caeli the Border Collie could cool off after working sheep. Barney the Beagle hops in for a quick swim several times a day.

I'm hesitant to reach into the hen box. Some hens, like this one, do not like to be disturbed while in the nesting box.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Beyond the Comfort Zone

When temperatures dip below 20 degrees, I give the livestock extra hay. When temperatures climb toward 90, I give them extra water.

The sheep and horses are on pasture now and getting some water from the grass.

But they need so much more water when temperatures climb.

On an average summer day, when temperatures are in the 80s, the Haflingers drink about eight gallons of water each. Add 10 degrees, and their water consumption jumps to about 12 gallons each.

Because they are close to the ground, which is cooler than the air these days, the sheep do better in the summer heat than the horses. When eating grass and when temperatures are 70 degrees or below, they seldom drink water. When temperatures climb into the 80s, they sip water. During the heat wave, they've been drinking it.

I, too, am out of my comfort zone.

Even during morning chores these days, I feel the sweat running down my face and back and long for a return to days in the 70s or low 80s.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Conversations between the Beagle and the Border Collies

Barney the Beagle: "Surely you knew that was a skunk. I could smell him from the house."
Caeli the Border Collie: "I saw movement. I reacted. I don't think I smell that bad, do I?"
Barney: "Maybe you should rent a motel room tonight."

Tag the Border Collie: "Just look at that silly beagle. He's trying to get outside to bury a bone."
Caeli gives an eyeroll. "Aren't you so glad we Border collies have evolved beyond that?"

Things all three agree on:
Going for a walk.
Checking out the smells.
Zoomies and wrestling in the yard.
The couch. It's not just for humans.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Outside the Office Window

My office has three windows.

To the west, I see tree leaves and pine needles. To the north is our front pasture that no animals are grazing now. To the east are the sheep pastures.

I paused this morning when my peripheral vision caught a Haflinger trotting outside the east window. The horses were supposed to be in the south pasture. Last night, when I fed them, they were in the south pasture.

So much for my relaxing reading and coffee in the early dawn hours of a Sunday morning.

I venture outside to assess the mayhem.

The sheep and llama, who usually stay in the barn until 6:30 a.m., are grazing on the pasture. The two Haflingers are standing in the sheep paddock.

Had a gate been left open? I check one, two, three, four gates, and they are all closed and latched. So are all stall doors.

The caffeine is working slowly this morning.

I stand in the horse pasture trying to figure out how the horses escaped.

Then I see it.

A six-foot hog panel that separates the horse pasture from the sheep pasture is no longer in place. Had the bugs and heat driven the horses to scratching on the panel and, eventually, pushing it over?

Sighing, I grab a halter, put it on Lily and walk her back to the barn. Jet follows.

Then, I grab the muck bucket and pick up horse piles from the sheep paddock. Horses are not stealth animals. They leave horse prints and poo where ever they go.

Tossed Along Our Road This Summer

Beer cans too numerous to count.

A Christmas tree stand.

Plastic bags of household trash that broke open when they fell.

An eight-month-old beagle.

Styrofoam coffee cups.

Soda cans and plastic bottles.

Glass beer bottles.

Paper bags full of fast food wrappers and remains.

A cell phone thrown from a moving car window during an argument and that is still waiting to be found.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Morning in a Small Midwestern Town

It is 8:20 a.m. when I pedal into a small village in western Ohio.

It is 80 degrees and sunny.

I have passed three joggers heading into the countryside and away from the buzz of activity in the village on a Saturday morning.

As I pedal through town, I see:

Three people washing cars.

One mowing the grass.

One picking up bottles from a Friday night porch party.

Another person sitting on the porch.

Two people on bicycles.

Five walking.

One tending to a garden.

A few attending to flowerbeds.

What brings the people out at this hour? Is it forecast of another 90+ degree day? Or, are so many of these folks just generations removed from the farm where it's common to rise when the rooster crows?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bugs of July

When I return from my morning bike ride, I find a praying mantis on the back porch.

"You and the toads have work to do," I say.

The porch is populated with gnats that like to dive bomb my beer, flies that bite, horse flies that buzz and menace, and the occasional mosquito who doesn't seem as pesky as in years past.

The heat makes them meaner, makes them bite harder.

The mantis, though, must realize that his green body stands out against the tan siding. By the time I go inside for breakfast and return, he is gone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The July Heat Wave

I awake sweaty and grumpy. The thermometer reads 82 degrees. The humidity is 69 percent.

I wish I didn't know that 90-plus degree days are forecast for at least the next six days. I can embrace a day of heat when I know cooler weather is coming.

But I don't look forward to enduring sweaty days and the biting insects that come with it.

I'm like the sheep and horses and chickens -- who prefer the cold, when it only takes a windbreak and extra food to endure the weather.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Perfect July Day

Sometimes Mother Nature gives a moment of relief from the summer heat and humidity.

She turns down the temperature and humidity dials, throws in a breeze and partly cloudy skies.

Usually, I'm able to take a break from work to enjoy a few hours of it.

Yesterday, I captured the entire day.

Caeli, the Border collie, and I spent it at a herding clinic. In the early morning, many participants wore sweatshirts in the morning chill. In the afternoon, we worked dogs and sheep without breaking sweating -- much.

Back on our farm in the evening, I admired the pink swirls in the darkening sky.

Mother Nature topped the perfect day with a full moon that highlighted white horse manes and illuminated the horses as they galloped in from pasture.

I stood in the paddock, listening to crickets, admiring the moon, savoring the last bits of a perfect July day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Then the Rains Stopped

For months it was rain and rain and rain.

It was the topic of conversation as farmers waited to plant fields, as I planted potatoes in May, as the hay fields awaited cutting.

Sometime all of the rain stopped.

The garden plants wilt in the afternoon heat. The grass stops growing.

I wonder at what point we switched from fretting about rain to worrying about dryness.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Beagle vs. the Border Collie

My husband said words I didn't want to hear. "The beagle found something the Border collies would never find. Come here, I'll show you."

I didn't want to see.

The stray beagle arrived Saturday evening. He's a different type of working dog. His nose is to the ground while the Border collies are visual. Their instinct is to herd.

The husband led me around to to the lilies by the front porch and pulled back the foliage. There was a nest of seven chicken eggs.

"There were eight," he said. "But that's how I found the nest. He was eating an egg and going for a second."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Bob Marley Ewe

The sheep shed at different rates. By now, most have shed their winter coats. A few are enjoying the mohawk look. A strip of winter coat runs down their back.

My Bob Marley ewe had two chunks of winter coat hanging from her haunches.

She's a wild girl, and won't let me near her.

But on the way out to pasture yesterday afternoon, another ewe stepped on her dreadlocks and set them free.

I picked up the mass of hair and hung it on the garden post.

Maybe it will scare the rabbits from the garden.

It certainly startles me.

Killer Thistles

These thistle plants put the Canadian thistles to shame.

Spray a little molasses water on the Canadian thistle and the sheep will eat them.

These thistles will puncture skin.

Sheep avoid them. So do I.

Last year, we had three of them in our pastures. This year, I counted ten.

A month ago, I mowed them to the ground. They laughed and came back, full and hardy.

The sheep, chickens and horses graze these pastures, so chemical control is out.

I try a mixture of dish detergent, white vinegar and water.

Now, they look like this.

But I doubt that's the end of it. I will walk the pastures weekly this summer and attacking the killer thistles, and expect to continue the battle for years to come.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Solstice on the Farm

A wet, cold spring meant that garden centers were practically giving away plants in mid-June. So, the vegetable garden has an abundance of flowers this year.

The sheep romp in the mowed hay field. Hay making, too, is behind schedule. We keep looking at the weather forecast, trying to find four sunny days.

The birdsong is intense this year. The chorus begins before daylight and goes into the night. I spotted this nest today. When I pushed back the leaves, two bird mouths opened. They delighted me, but I'm sure I disappointed them.

The horses gobble grass by the mouthful. "Step away from the salad bar," I tell them.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Straggler

I noticed him when he was a few days old.

He was smaller than the other chicks. A late hatch, I thought. In a few days, I'd know if he'd live or die.

He lived through that first week, and I gave him no more thought until a week or so later.

While the other chicks developed tail and wing feathers, he remained a fuzzy chick.

The tail and wing feathers eventually came, but the others now are feathered over most of their bodies. They're also twice his size.

I wonder if he has some heart or other developmental ailment. I expect to find him dead one day.

But the other chicks don't think that. He is one of them, to eat with, to huddle with at night, to gather around when the world gets scary.

PHOTO: Shows the chicks at five and a half weeks old. They are enjoying the space in the hen house.