Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chasing Markets

An article in this week's New York Times tells how farmers are planting more cotton this year because cotton prices are high. This winter, ewes sold for a premium as farmers rushed to breed more sheep in response to high lamb prices. Is it good business sense or a case of foolishly chasing the dollar? For us, farming is a supplemental income, and we don't try to wring every ounce of profit from the land. Instead we make farming decisions based on our customer base and what the land will sustain. But like larger farmers, we are at the mercy of unpredictable weather. Last year's dry weather in summer and fall meant fewer sheep could graze on the pastures and we had to supplement with hay. But if we have too few sheep grazing, then we have to mow more. We also have to make breeding and production decisions a year in advance. The gestation period for sheep is five months, and lambs go to market between seven and 12 months of age.

If we produce a large lamb crop this year, we might have to supplement pastures with hay. If lamb prices go down, then we might have a loss.

Instead of producing more lambs this spring, we are opting for having a small number of lambs available for market year-round.

Unlike some sheep breeds, Katahdins can be bred year-round. This year, we bred some ewes for spring lambing, and we'll breed some for fall. This will give us lambs to butcher year-round. While it may not produce the greatest profits, it won't mean great losses if the market crashes. More importantly, it meets our goals of providing humanely-raised meat and being kind to the land.

Sometimes It's Best Not to Ask

When I turn on the barn lights this morning, the rooster glares at me from the hay stall. He is perched on the sheep panels we have leaning against the wall. I don't ask how he became separated from the hens, nor why he was in the hay stall, nor how he got there. I don't ask if the llama chased him nor if he hopped on a ewe's back before flying over the fence. Instead, I grab him and toss him over the fence so that he can be with his hens.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Twenty Degrees at the end of March

This morning felt like the coldest day of the year. It dipped to 20 degrees overnight and winds made it feel even colder. Before doing chores, I had to look for the heavy winter gloves and hat that I abandoned a month ago. Frozen chicken waterers and icy buckets awaited me during chore time. During winter, I have a routine where I defrost buckets overnight so there are always empty, unfrozen buckets and waterers to fill. I have gotten out of that routine and had to haul them to the mud room and run hot water over them to melt the ice. A few weeks of warmer weather, green grass and sunshine make me think of spring, and so I experience the cold shock when winter weather dips its icy fingers onto the landscape before waving bye-bye.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Garden Planting: First Seeds

As I dropped pea and spinach seeds into the cool, damp earth on Saturday, I thought of how I'd welcome the first taste of homegrown garden greens in late spring. But I'm sure I'll never greet them with the anticipation my ancestors did a century ago. By the time the greens and peas were ready for harvest, they would have gone months without fresh green vegetables.

What were their thoughts as they dropped the seeds into the earth, covered and watered them, and waited? Did they approach the task with joy, anticipation, hope or worry?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Caeli: Before and After

The pictures show what a little food, conditioning, training and confidence can do for a dog.
The first picture shows Caeli in December, 2007, when she was pulled from a shelter and came to Buckeye Border Collie Rescue. She weighed 28 pounds and was pretty traumatized.
The second photo was taken this month when Caeli was working sheep. She's up to 33 pounds now, and has prick ears! Socially, she's still a little backwards, and probably always will be. But she's learned how to play ball and herd sheep!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Night Sounds

Although I knew it may be premature, I opened the bedroom window last night. If it became too cold, I could always bury myself under the flannel sheets, the quilt, and a couple of cats. What surprised me was the silence. Nights in March are not filled with cricket and insect and bullfrog sounds. I heard no animals foraging, nor coyotes howling, nor cats fighting. If it weren't for the occasional lifting of the curtain, I might have forgotten the window was open.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Does Two Years in a Row make a Tradition?

Today was the warmest day of the year -- in the high 60's, sunny and breezy. After work, I took Caeli to the five-acre pasture to work sheep. The ground was damp and soft, and the grass beginning to green. The sheep still wore their winter coats. I, though, quickly took off my jacket, and worked in a t-shirt and jeans. It's the second year in a row that I've spent St. Patrick's Day outside with sheep and the Border collie. Now, if only I could get a bag piper to play an Irish tune and someone to serve me a Guinness, it would be perfect.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lessons of Sheep

The five-acre field finally dried enough so that I could work Caeli and the sheep in it. We were reminded of the lessons of sheep. Good Mom will turn, face danger and stomp. Her daughter, not quite a year old, will do the same. Sheep drift toward the barn. Sheep have long memories. Among the eight ewes was a ewe that I'd used for practice most of last year. By the end of the year, she and her four buddies learned that if they came to me, the dog left them alone. When I brought the sheep to me for a spring photo, the others were weary of me. She relaxed and ate.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Experiencing the Four Seasons

The warm breeze and greening grass felt like spring. Yet, on that breeze, I still felt hints of winter dampness. It was the first day of Daylight Savings Time, and I was opening a bale of third cutting alfalfa hay for the sheep. The rich, dense hay transported me to the time in October when it was made. It smelled of October frosty nights and the lingering summer days.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Swallows are Back

One of my favorite signs of spring arrived this week.
The cats' twitching tails and craned necks alerted me to the swallows' arrival.
For the past few years, they've built nests between the upstairs window trim and overhang. They raise their young and spend the summer months hunting insects. Then, in late summer, they leave for their journey south.
I'm always amazed and delighted that they find their way back and choose to spend the summer with us.
PHOTO: Dewey (foreground) and Louie watch for the swallows.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Twinkle Toes and Ripley

If Tag and Ripley were to race through a flooded field, Ripley, the foster pup, would win. But Tag would be the one I'd want to hug. Spring rains produced lots of standing water in the past week or so. The three Border collies have their own approache to water obstacles. Ripley goes out of his way to run through the puddles. Caeli, the true working dog, takes the straightest path to her prey. Tag, my pretty boy, runs around the puddles. He doesn't want to get his white feet wet. After walks these days, Ripley and Caeli are spending time drying off in their crates while Tag is cuddling with me on the couch.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Surviving Late Winter in Ohio

When winter hangs on, some people go South. They hope a week's worth of sunshine can get them through the last days of winter. I skip the trip South, and instead rely on the Golden Girls for my daily dose of sunshine. The Haflinger horses are spending a few months at a friend's house, and I'm taking advantage of an indoor arena. Today, when the temperatures were in the 30's and the air was brisk, damp and cold, I rode. After five minutes on horseback, I wasn't cold. After ten, I forget about the weather, and then, as Jet cantered around the arena, I couldn't stop smiling.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I Miss the Snow

For the second time this week, our driveway is impassable.
Water is too blame.
A waterway runs in front of our house. Runoff from acres of fields drains into it, through culverts under the driveway, and eventually into the Stillwater River.
When we receive several inches of rain, on frozen or saturated ground, the waterway and culverts aren't big enough to contain all of the water, and it backs up and eventually goes over the driveway.
Then, we must wait until it recedes.
This morning, as the rain still falls, I watch the rushing water and miss the snow.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Groundhog, the Lamb and the Lion

On this lamb-like first day of March, I think of the groundhog. Groundhog's Day arrived cold, snowy and icy, and the groundhog didn't see his shadow. That means spring must be on its way. We've had a few spring-like days since, but the windy, snowy winter days outnumbered them. Today it's in the 40s and sunny, and the grass is really trying to turn green. If March comes in like a lamb, it leaves like a lion. Does that mean more snow? Or that the groundhog is wrong? Or maybe it means I should forget about the groundhog, lamb and the lion, as well as the cold winds and snow, and only focus on the signs of spring. As I walked the dogs today, I listened to the Canada geese overhead and joyous birds, and watched the sheep search for those blades of green.