Saturday, February 26, 2011

Selecting Sheep

Before we bought sheep, we bought books on sheep rearing. The chapters on lambing gave me pause. In them were illustrations of everything that could go wrong. Those chapters, as well as tales from farmers about living in the barns and assisting ewes made me wonder if I was up to sheep-rearing. Then I talked with Katahdin owners, and they said they rarely assisted at lambing. That's been my experience too. In my years of sheep rearing, I've had one breach birth and one where twins were coming at the same time. Normal lambing is for me to go to the barn or pasture and notice newborn lambs tagging after their moms. Humans can select their ewes for good mothering instincts. If a ewe births with no incidence and feeds her lambs, she's a keeper. If she rejects her lambs or has difficulty with birthing, she's not -- even if she has the most beautiful lambs in the flock. The 10-month-old ewe lamb that launched herself into the air and head-butted me is a keeper. She is out of a ewe lamb that birthed in the pasture and raised two healthy ewe lambs. She's wild as can be, but my bet is that she's going to be a good mother.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Rules of Sheep

As I sort sheep, I keep the Sheep Behavioral Rules in mind:
1. Sheep prefer going to light places rather than into dark places.
2. Sheep see people as predators.
3. Young sheep are unpredictable.
The sheep I want to keep, I put in one horse stall. The "for sale" sheep, I place in another.
When I carry the hay into the "keeper" stall, I assume the sheep will follow Rule #2.
Instead, a young ewe follows Rules 1 and 3. When the door opens, she launches herself toward the light. Head down and sailing through the air, she head butts me squarely in the chest.
As I sit on the hay bale, moments later, I am considering the Human Rules of Sheep Sorting.
1. My enthusiasm for sorting wanes when sheep launch themselves.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Haflingers and the Jolly Ball

Ripley the Foster Puppy plays with my first-ever Jolly ball.
Bought years ago when I had Quarter-type horses, the ball is now a remnant, faded purple and pockmarked.
The horses never cared for the ball. Scuba, my old mare, bit in once. Deciding it wasn't something to eat, she never touched it again.
The Quarter-type horses have now passed, and I have two Haflingers. I never offered them a Jolly ball.
I'm reconsidering.
My friend sent me photos of them at camp. Obviously the Jolly ball is a hit.
PHOTO: Jet playing with the Jolly ball.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Trick's Gift

Before dawn and after dusk, I offer Trick the Barncat a bowl of cat food. In exchange, he roams the rafters, catching sparrows. He sneaks around the chicken houses snagging mice. He does his job so well, I seldom see a rodent. Though this morning, when I turned on the barn lights and went to the feed area, I paused. There before me was a half-eaten full-grown rabbit. I told him, "Good Kitty," and removed the cat food. He wouldn't be needing that this morning.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spring Training

February always provides a few sunny, warm days that make me believe spring is here. The grass plays along with the trickery and shows a bit of green. I fall for it every year, and jump into spring training. Yesterday, I hauled the Border collie to my instructor's farm for a lesson where we spent the first 15 minutes working on the dog's attitude. Unfortunately for me, that meant several sprints down the eight-acre field. Then, I went to the horse barn and trimmed the horses' bridle paths, as well as some of the facial and leg hairs. After a good currying, my husband and I loaded them into the trailer and we took them to my friend's barn. She has an indoor arena -- so I have no excuses for not working them every day. Last night, I was sore and smiling when I sat down to read the weather forecast. Snow, sleet, rain and temperatures in the teens are predicted for the week.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Rooster Removal

More sunshine and warmer weather means the songbirds are singing more this week. But I hear less music coming from the chicken yards. In most years, I send the young roosters to the butchers in late November or early December. But a combination of winter weather and busy Wednesdays kept delaying their trip. When the days lengthened, the roosters became more active. That meant more mating and fighting in the chicken yard. In the early morning light, I loaded six roosters and delivered them to the butchers. We now have one rooster and 10 hens in each chicken yard. The hens are breathing a sigh of relief. I'm becoming accustomed to enjoying the rooster solo instead of the rooster choir.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Signs of Spring: The House Cats

Dewey and Louie are spending more time in the window sills this past week. Their favorites are the upstairs windows that overlook the newly-arrived birds in the yard. Sometimes the cats' ears are perked forward. Sometimes they are flattened against their heads. Their bodies are motionless, except for the tails. Always, the tails are flicking back and forth, back and forth, awaiting an opportunity to pounce.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Melt

The slow melt has begun. Daytime temperatures are expected to rise above freezing all week, with temperatures even reaching the 50s. That's warm enough to melt the layer of ice that covers the landscape and reveal bits of green grass. But I am looking overhead. Each day, I knock down the icicles hanging from the lean-to and chicken sheds. But I can't reach those hanging from the north side of the horse barn. That ice-covered metal rooftop makes me pause. At some point, the temperatures will warm it enough to loosen the ice and send the sheet of ice sliding toward the ground.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Signs of Spring: The Rooster

In the winter, the rooster eats, drinks and hangs out with the hens. Some instinct, deep within him, makes him belt out the occasional crow. As spring approaches, his behavior changes. He becomes more protective of his harem. For the first time in months, I felt rooster nails on the back of my legs. It was a half-hearted attempt, and I just raised my eyebrows at him.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chore Time: What Trick Knows

Whip in hand, I carry flakes of hay to the horses in the snow-covered pasture. On my walk back through the stalls, I check waterers to make sure they haven't frozen. For this part of the winter routine, I must remove my gloves. As I do, the whip, clutched under my arm, waves in the air. Trick the Cat climbs the stall wall so that he can reach the whip tassel. Clutching the tassel in his mouth, he grins. After freeing the whip, I go to my next chore: carrying a bale of hay to the sheep. The young ewes eye me through the slats in the stall door. Trick the Cat reaches up and bats each of their noses with his paw. The sheep gather around and bump me as I carry the hay to the feeders in the pasture. With the cold weather and snow-covered pastures, I'm doing this three times a day now. On the way back from the feeders, I stop in the chicken house to pick up the chicken waterer that is now frozen. In the barn, Trick the Cat is running hot laps. He darts from the sheep stall, down the aisle, and then up onto the hay bales. He rolls twice, then repeats the routine. Although I am seeing a cold, snow-covered winter of endless chores, Trick the Cat knows and feels the approaching spring.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Meandering Paths

The sheep reached their feeders in the pasture yesterday.
While ice still covers the landscape, the areas where snow sits atop the ice are less slick. For the sheep, discarded hay provides traction down the icy slope that leads from the barn to the pasture. From there, they made a circuitous path to the feeders.
My footprints down the driveway to the road follow a meandering path. I zigged and zagged in my attempts to walk on the snow instead of ice.
When I reached the roadway, I noticed drivers did the same thing.
Two meandering ruts are carved on the icy roads. Sometime during the sleet, before the layer of ice, a driver must have picked his way through in the night. For the past few days, drivers have followed in his tire tracks down the center of the road.
The husband and I followed those tracks last night, when, for the first time in four days we left the farm, and realized, as we always do, that it's rougher living in the hinterlands. After a few miles of single track, ice-covered roads, we reached a state route where all of the snow and ice was cleared, and people were driving in straight paths.
(The photo is of our road on Friday afternoon.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Ice Storm-Day 2

In twelve hours, the yard went from ice to loose ice pellets and back to ice. The sheep used the occasion to remind me that they aren't stupid. Because of westerly wind and snow this morning, I opted to feed the sheep closer to the barn. With bale of hay in front of me, I slid down the slope away from the barn, opened the bale, and looked back. Where were the sheep that usually mobbed me? The ewes, standing on the dirt underneath the overhang, stared at me. They weren't risking a fall by going onto the ice. I'd have to carry the bale back to them.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Photos from the Ice Storm-Part 1

This morning, I awoke to ice. Ice on the windows. Ice on the trees. Ice on the ground. Ice on top of the water buckets. The horses didn't seem to mind. I let them out into the "good" pasture -- the one that has grass underneath the snow and ice. Lily, background, and Jet were covered in ice this morning. They didnt' care. They were too busy digging for those blades of green underneath the snow and ice. A layer of ice stretched from the barn to the sheep's hay feeders. Strangely enough, a bale of hay provides balance. There were no worries about falling on my butt. The sheep pellets that now dot the ice provide no traction. No one told the dogs that ice was a problem. Caeli continues to stare at me, wondering when she gets to work the sheep. She says her toenails will provide traction. Ripley the Puppy wants to play ball. I directed Tag not to stand underneath the trees. With just a little breeze, they creak. I'm not looking forward to the winds picking up and another round of ice.