Monday, January 31, 2011

Preparations for an Ice Storm

Several years ago, we lost electricity for five days in January. Our house is better prepared now. We have storage jugs and tanks with water. Human and critter food supplies aren't allowed to run low. We have the emergancy stash of flashlights, batterieis, candles, matches and corded telephone. We have firewood in the shed. But when an ice storm is predicted, we also fill extra buckets and the bathtub with water -- for the well pump needs electricity to work. We bring in extra loads of firewood. We take the dogs for longer walks in hopes they won't get too squirrelly if their exercise is limited for a few days. We watch the electricity flicker and wonder if it will go out for minutes, hours or days.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

January Egg Production

The hens' egg production for the past two weeks equals zero. They collectively decided that egg-laying is a silly, unnecessary enterprise when temperatures don't climb above freezing and snow remains on the ground. Who would want to hatch chicks in this weather? The pullets, though, are faithfully giving me two eggs a day. Egg-laying is still a novelty for them.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Looking Back

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever get the perfect outrun or the sheep to go into the pen. Then, I remember what I was doing last year at this time. When I wouldn't let Caeli work our sheep because I was afraid she'd run them into a fence. When my instructor said the one-acre paddock was too small for work and I thought it was too big. When my instructor looked out onto the unfenced 15-acre hayfields and said that would be a good place to work, and I could never imagine doing that. I'm working Caeli on our sheep now and using her for farm work. I think the one-acre paddock is too small and am beginning to think the five-acre field is too small. I haven't tried the open 15-acre field, but I expect that will happen in the next few months.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Car is Shedding

For the past week, my car has collected snow, ice, crushed gravel, as it crawled up the driveway and pulled through snow-covered roads. Like a chipmunk stashing food, the car stored the snow in its wheel wells, where it stayed, unmelted in the unheated garage. Temperatures climbed one degree above freezing today. As I drove to appointments, chunks of snow broke free from the wheel wells. Some are still there. The car must be saving them for later.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Favorite Blankets

I love the polar fleece one I carry from room to room, the cotton one I use in spring and fall, the down one (more a comforter than a blanket) that provides pockets of warm air at night. I also love the blanket of snow that lightens and brightens the winter days. We've had 35 days where snow has been on the ground this winter. For an average winter in our part of Ohio, it's 23 days. Because snowfall has never been more than five inches, and drifting hasn't been too bad, that blanket of snow has made for easy living on the farm. There has been little mud and little waste of hay, as the sheep and horses eat most everything they're given. Frozen ground means the animals can wander the pastures instead of being cooped up in paddocks. And, on nights when there are clear skies and even a partial moon, it means I can wander the farm without a flashlight.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

If you have a cat

You can convince yourself the house is not haunted. That it is the cat leaving the toothpaste on the floor, the drawers open, the sock on top of the ladder, the tissue in the bathtub, and the water running in the sink.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

We Have Hit that January Cold

When I have to squint to see the mercury that reads minus-five, and ice forms on top of water buckets within an hour, and I'm instantly aware of exposed cheeks and wrists when I step outside, and only the center of rooms, away from outside walls, seem warm. I want to spend my time in front of the woodstove, watching the fire. But I find myself going outside every few hours, to retrieve wood for the fire, to haul warm water to the chickens and ram and cats, to take out the Border collies, who would rather play than watch me sit by the fire.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Icicles and Snow Caps

Icicles clung to the horses' coats when they came into the barn this morning.
It was 1 degree, and we'd received four inches of snow yesterday.
Many of the ewes were still wearing the snow from the day before.
I wanted to stop and gawk and be amazed at how well-insulated these animals are. The sheep were baaing and the horses were whinnying for their breakfast. In cold weather, insulation and woolly coats are nice, but they still need lots of calories to stay warm.
With temperatures expected to reach nine degrees today, they will all receive an extra feeding and extra hay today.
PHOTOS: By noon, many of the icicles melted or fell off, thanks to sunning, running and rolling.
The ewes eat their hay with gusto when temperatures fall below 20 degrees.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Basic Tools

Temperatures reach 30 degrees, and I grab my light winter gloves for morning chores. I encounter my first obstacle when I attempt to unlatch the pasture gate. The ongoing freezing rain encased it in ice. I pull off my glove and wrap my hand around the latch. Within seconds the ice melts and I'm able to move the latch. As I go the chicken houses, I repeat this process twice more. By the time I finish chores, my right hand is cold. It has nothing to do with the gloves I selected, and everything to do with the choosing body heat over a hair dryer to thaw frozen latches.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January Rain

The rain begins before dawn and continues throughout the day. A day that started overcast and gray becomes grayer as the rain melts and washes the snow. Today, the landscape is almost clear of snow. The canvas, cleansed. We await today's freeze and tomorrow's snow.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Pre-Dawn Shadow

When I walk to the chicken shed in the morning, I hear my breathing and my boots crushing the snow. I don't hear Trick the Cat padding beside me. When I open the chicken house door, Trick steps inside, walks near the walls and hops onto the roost. A few hens wake and grumble, but they don't get up. They're used to the cat's pre-dawn hunt. I go to the next chicken shed, and the cat follows. I can barely make out his figure in the darkness. As I give the hens their breakfast, he's sometimes catches his -- a mouse or sparrow. I am grateful for his prowess, just like he appreciates me for opening doors and stirring up his prey.

Monday, January 17, 2011

She Brakes for Horse Hooves

Because rain is in the forecast for the next 24 hours, I send Caeli out to fetch the pregnant ewes from the pasture. It's been a week since she worked sheep, and she quivers with excitement. In less than a minute she has brought the sheep in and moved them to their stall. Finished, I say, "that'll do," and she trots alongside me as I walk through the horse stall. Then, she brakes, u-turns, and goes back to the stall. She snatches a hoof trimming left from the morning farrier visit and trots on. Even working dogs enjoy the occasional treat.

When I Feed Alfalfa Hay

The sheep forget their manners. They crowd me around the hay feeder and bite at the intact bale. When I cut the strings, they refuse to step back and allow me to take half of the bale and place flakes in the other feeders. They are not scared of me on alfalfa mornings. When I feed alfalfa, Good Mom doesn't follow me to the chicken shed. She prefers alfalfa over the bits of grain. On alfalfa hay mornings, the sheep don't pick at the hay. They gobble. They don't leave some for later. They eat every stem and leaf. Once finished, they return to the barn to drink water, lots of water, and then to loaf and ruminate and wonder when I'll do that again.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Alone in the Barn

In the barn, I was under the watchful eyes of Llambert the Llama, Lindsey the Bottle Lamb and her ewe lamb posse, a half dozen chickens, and two Haflingers. Yet, I felt alone. Gone was Mandy the Foster Dog, who has been my barn companion for nearly six months. Because my dog herded and snarled at Mandy, I kept Mandy in the barn with me while I fed the sheep, chickens, and horses. She was fine with that. She preferred being by my side. I became accustomed to latching stall doors so she wouldn't follow me to the chicken yard or horse pasture. But tonight, there was no need. I had no dog at my side. In a few days, Mandy will bond with her new person and fall into his routine, and I will develop a new routine that incorporates the foster puppy a little more. While happy that Mandy has a new home where she'll be the queen, I find the barn a little quiet and sad tonight as I go about the chores.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


It usually happens in January, when the ground has been frozen for weeks, when breaking ice from buckets is part of the morning and evening routine. There comes the day when I realize that 25 degrees no longer feels cold. That happened this afternoon, when the sun was shining, the wind died to 8 m.p.h., and the temperatures climbed to 23 degrees. After walking 100 yards through snow and carrying six flakes of hay to the horses, I noticed it was warm. After carrying three 50-pound bags of grain from the garage to the barn, I removed my hat. The gloves came off after hauling the bale of hay to the sheep. And, finally, the coat came off after moving firewood from the shed to the house. I've become used to winter, which means the tired of winter phase must be approaching.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Herding Put on Hold

The sheep are four-hooved drive, built to go over rugged terrain. They're also low-riders, and deep snow stops them. Herding practice drifted to a stop this week, thanks to five inches of snow and foot-deep snow drifts. I had hoped it would be a temporary work stoppage. That's why I put the practice sheep in a horse stall, rather than reunite them with the flock when the storm approached. There is no thaw in sight, so I let the practice sheep out with the rest of the flock today. They are happy to be reunited with their buddies. Caeli, the Border collie, is not happy with the situation. She doesn't believe in snow days, days of rest, or vacation. She says I should look into getting longer-legged sheep.

A Snow Day

Oh, the joys of a snow day, or, a snow afternoon, when one receives a few hours off from work. I take advantage of those blissful few hours. I play with the dogs. I strap on the cross country skis, and admire the trackless snow-covered landscape and the silence. I tilt my head skyward and let the snowflakes fall on my tongue. For after those few hours of glee, I must return to the adult world, of work and chores and battling the snow.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Good Mom, Lindsey and her Posse

Feed sheep twice a day and you learn their individual quirks and personality. The sheep are eating mostly hay now. So, morning and night, I carry of bale of hay to them. When I step into the sheep paddock with a bale of hay, I expect Lindsey, the nine-month-old bottle lamb, to await me. In the past few months, she's recruited two more ewe lambs -- a spotted one and a chocolate one -- to join her. They'll watch as I place hay in the three outside feeders, but they'll follow me back to the barn. When I place a few flakes of hay in the llama's feeder, they'll join the llama for breakfast or dinner. Good Mom, our oldest ewe, stays with the flock, but she always has an eye on me. When I throw scratch grain to the chickens, she investigates. She's always hopeful that I won't spread it evenly and drop some in a little pile for her. On some mornings, when she gives me her look, I drop a little for my soft-eyed ewe.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

When the Winter Wind Blows

I want to curl up by the wood-burning stove, and read, or chat on the phone. I find myself outside doing endless chores. When temperatures and wind speeds are in the teens, water freezes quickly. The chickens, sheep and horses need more calories to stay warm. At noon, I carried warm water to the chicken houses and brought in the frozen waterers. I marveled at how much grain the chickens had eaten for breakfast. The sheep's hay feeders were empty. The grass hay that they usually pick through was eaten, and the sheep awaited more. After refilling hay feeders and water buckets, I carried wood inside. Like the critters, the wood-burning stove seems to need more fuel when those temperatures drop.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Temperament and Training

As I'm teaching Dewey Kitty his next command - the sit, my husband asks, "Why aren't you training Louie?" "Because he's not a pain," I say. Louie is the other house cat, the docile kitty, who enjoys his occasional pet and seldom makes a sound. He's the cat that never gets in trouble. The traits that make Dewey Kitty easy to train -- curiosity, socialability, high food drive -- also make him difficult to live with at times.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Built for Cold

In the pre-dawn hours, the air was still and the stars were visible. It seemed a perfect day to let the practice sheep and horses out to pasture. The sheep didn't complain as they trotted to the pasture that still has quite a bit of grass. When I returned home in the afternoon, the snow was blowing sideways, and the sheep were waiting at the gate. They wanted to return to the barn now. The Haflingers, though, were standing, snow-covered in the pasture. While they could have returned to the barn, they didn't. The snow and wind does't seem to bother these hairy beasts.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Chores in Winter

I have no grass to mow nor garden to tend. Instead, I haul wood to the wood-burning stove that I must light every morning. I carry hay to sheep and horses who have little grass to graze. I break up ice in water buckets and carry chicken waterers inside to thaw. But I do these chores with efficiency and speed, as it is too cold to linger and wonder outside for long.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

January Morning

As I exercuse inside in the predawn darkness, I listen to the radio and hear advertisements for: Eyelash enhancers Spider vein cures Tanning for younger skin Solutions for bags under the eyes And I long for more daylight and outside workouts where I can listen to: Birdsong Rustling leaves A cow's low A horse's whinny.