Monday, May 30, 2011

The Scrambled Spring

In normal years, I plant potatoes in March.

In April, I clean the barn and plant lettuce, spinach and beets in the garden.

In mid-May, I plant the rest of the garden.

In late May, I listen to the steady rhythm of the hay baling machines.

In early June, I pluck strawberries from the garden and check the pine trees for worms.

But on this Memorial Day weekend, I'm acclimating to 90 degree heat, mowing the yard, preparing the garden for planting, and treating the pine trees for worms. If the ground dries in a few days, the spouse will spread manure onto unplanted fields, and I'll fill the spreader again -- this time when I clean the ram pen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

When the Power Goes Out

The chicks cheep.

They range in age from 2 days to 2 hours old, and their Mama Hen -- a red heat lamp -- is not working.

Their other Mama Hen -- ME -- frets.

In nature, chicks tag after their mother. When cold, they gather under her for warmth.

They can go a few hours without a heat lamp. The room is 80 degrees, not the 95 or 100 degrees of a Mama Hen, but warm enough.

I open the blinds and let the afternoon sun heat the room.

When the sun sets, I place them in a small box with just a small opening for air. For years, chicks survived air travel from hatchery to post office to home in boxes that kept them huddled together and preserved body heat. Hopefully they could survive the night that way.

They did.

When the power came on at 4:30 this morning, I removed them from their box. They were fuzzy and warm and ready to explore.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Welcome to the World! Now Wait.

When a lamb is born, it's usually standing and nursing within 20 minutes.

A chick can go 72 hours without its first taste of food or drink of water.

This necessity is because a chicken egg's incubation period varies. While the hen may begin sitting on a clutch of eggs at the same time, some chicks may hatch on Day 21. Others wait until Day 22, and the stragglers may hang out in the shell until Day 23.

The hen won't leave the nest until she no longer hears peeping from the unhatched eggs. That means the chicks born on Day 21 must hang out underneath the hen and wait until their siblings hatch.

Our chicks in the incubator began hatching on Monday. Once in the morning and once at night, I remove the chicks from the incubator and put them under the heat lamp in a nearby pen.

Like the mama hen, I listen for peeps when I open the incubator. I hear a few.

Now I must wait and see if they're strong enough to peck their way out of the shell.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Guest Bathroom

A baker's dozen of day-old chicks, an incubator with hatching chicks, and sweet potato plants awaiting planting now occupy the guest bathroom.

In the past, the guest bathroom has housed saddles, dogs and cats.

Yet, people still ask us why we don't have a guest bedroom.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


When I saw the sheep that morning, I had trouble visualizing a good result.

The sheep didn't want to stay in one spot, even with a person and dog attempting to hold them in place. When given a chance, the sheep wanted to bolt back to their buddies in the set out pen.

Caeli and I walked to the post. I took a couple of big breaths and waited for the sheep to settle. Looking down, I see that her eyes are on the sheep and she is trembling.

Taking another deep breath, I sent her.

And at some point, the months of training, the work on a variety of different sheep, the mistakes, paid off.

We didn't have the prettiest run.

But we made it through the course.

When the sheep went into the pen and I closed the gate, I was shaking. I wasn't sure if I was amazed or relieved.

Caeli, though, was smiling and ready to try it again.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Fleecing Moment

About 800 feet down the driveway, I spotted the strands of fleece hanging from the tree brach.

The sheep are shedding now, and their fiber is wrapped around woven wire and sitting in clumps in the pasture. But trees? Surely one didn't escape from the pasture and climb into the tree.

I stepped off the driveway to further inspect the fiber. Some was already woven into a bird's nest. Others hung in strands, awaiting the bird's artistic touch.

Would the birds and their offspring appreciate burrowing into the fleece as much my numb fingers enjoyed that fleece on those many winter mornings?

Photo: The photo is of the in-progress nest. I don't know what bird is building it. I just know I've seen lots of beaks filled with twigs and straw.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Planting Potatoes in May

The calendar reads May instead of March.

But yesterday the ground was finally dry enough to plant potatoes.

Instead of wearing a jacket and dreaming of green grass and warm weather, I wore a t-shirt, worked up a sweat and chopped clumps of grass that had invaded the garden.

I listened to birdsong and buzzing insects.

I admired my audience.

The ram, to the pen north of the garden, waited for me to throw weeds to him.

Trick the Cat lay in a corner snoozing, dreaming that the garden would produce mice and rabbits.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Sun and Warmth Lingered into Evening

The dogs rolled in the grass.

I noticed flies.

Because the air was warm and calm, I burned the sticks and limbs that had fallen over winter.

We grilled outside, sat on the porch and watched the lambs race around the field.

I checked on the strawberry plants, and threw the dogs a ball, a Frisbee, a ball again.

As the sun set and the light faded, I looked up and saw the cats perched behind the screen in the windowsill of the bedroom window. From their indoor spot, they too were capturing the last moments of an early summer evening.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cute, but not Cuddly

In an ideal world, lambs aren't handled much.

After birth, we keep them in the barn for a day or two, just to make sure they are okay and nursing, and that the ewe is okay.

Then, they go out with the flock where they graze, romp, sun themselves, and grow. I watch from afar as they move from barns to pastures, but otherwise, I don't handle them again for about three weeks.

This weekend, we vaccinated them and castrated the ram lambs. It also gave us a chance to see how they were growing and filling out.

The verdict? They're doing quite nicely. They have a little layer of fat under their skin. They're bright-eyed, and quite mobile.

After finishing with the vaccinations, we let them lose, promising to handle them again in four weeks.

PHOTOS: The lambs usually nap with their siblings. In the first photo, are a set of twins snoozing in the sun. In the second photo, the lambs spotted me and hopped out of the hay feeder -- a favorite napping spot.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Sun Came Out

The lambs stretched in the grass and snoozed.

I mowed the lawn.

The dogs romped and rolled in the grass.

The birds sang.

Animals and humans alike basked in the late afternoon heat and light.

At dinnertime, I opened a beer, put steaks on the grill, and we sat on the back porch, enjoying a few hours without rain.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

To my Muck Boots

When you arrived in November, I sung your praises.

You kept my feet warm through December, January, February, and, even in March, when winter lingered.

When the rains came in April, you kept my feet dry as I slopped through puddles and mud.

But Muck Boots, I am so over you.

I long for the day when the ground is firm, the mud and puddles gone. Then I will wear Crocs, and maybe even, tennis shoes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Weeding the Plantless Garden

As I knelt among the thistles and weeds this weekend, I thought how silly it was that I was weeding a garden that had so few plants. It's been too wet to do much gardening this spring.

A corner of the garden dried enough so that I could stick onion sets in the ground. I have a few rows of lettuce, spinach and beets popping through the soil.

The potatoes await planting. I haven't prepared the sweet potato rows. The ground is still too wet to be worked.

Tomato, pepper and squash plants are usually sitting on the back porch awaiting Mothers' Day plantings. This year, I haven't even thought about buying them yet.

Gardening and farming teach patience and flexibility. I'm getting lessons in those by the bucketloads this spring as the rain keeps falling.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Working vs. Companion Dog

Most people who adopt a Border collie from Buckeye Border Collie Rescue want a fluffy, hairy dog.

At the herding trials, I see lots of Border collies that are smoothies, or short-coated.

This spring, I've seen why.

I can't remember the last time Caeli was clean.

On Saturday, I deemed it warm enough to fill the livestock tub with water. I suspect Caeli will be spending a lot of time in it this year.

Pictured is Caeli after working sheep on Saturday.