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.

Lamb Brains

How many sheep does it take to make an entire brain?

I wondered this yesterday as I tried to reunite a wayward lamb with her flock.

Lambs are like mice and find ways to slip through openings that humans can't see. I'm not sure how the lamb ended up in a pasture next to her flock. I only knew that she did, and, judging by her wails, she wasn't happy about it.

She was standing within 15 feet of a closed gate. If I opened it, she could reunite with her flock.

When she saw me, she pronged in a big circle, and her brain could not register an open gate. The brain part that registered "open gate" must belong to another ewe.

I opened another gate. She pronged to another corner.

I attempted to herd her toward the open gate.

She wanted to take a direct path to her buddies. That would involve me cutting a hole in the fence.

After 10 minutes of chasing the lamb, my brain kicked in.

I moved the flock into the pasture with the lamb, then moved the flock back to their pasture.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Morning Exercise

One of the greatest joys of summer is eating breakfast on the back porch, reading the newspaper and watching the animals graze.

Obtaining a newspaper is the difficult part.

Because we live in the country, we cannot receive daily newspaper delivery. But on Sundays, we receive home delivery of two papers -- one, surprisingly, being the New York Times.

However, the delivery has been spotty at best in the past six months.

Checking to see if the newspaper has arrived is a half-mile round trip -- each time. Lately, the dogs and I have been logging two to two and a half miles each Sunday as we walk down the driveway in search of a newspaper.

If I want a morning newspaper on other days, I sometimes bike to the nearest village and buy one. That's a 10 or 12 mile round trip, depending on the village I choose.

This morning, I pedaled to Russia.

When I coasted to the newspaper box, it was empty.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gates and Windows

In the mornings, I close most of the 26 windows that I opened the previous evening.

In a house without air conditioning, I rely on this simple act and fans to stay comfortable in the summer heat.

From there, I move outside where I open a few of the 25 gates that give sheep and horses access to pastures. Instead of staying inside and eating hay and grain, the animals wander the fields picking their own dinner.

I suppose it'd be easier to turn on air conditioning and throw the animals some grain.

But opening and closing gates and windows gives me fresh air, exercise, space, so much space.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Late Night Task

Someone who is watching television or at a bar with friends may hear of my late night task, and think, "Poor You."

As darkness falls, I move the eleven young hens from their house to the old hen house. This annual early summer ritual must be done to make room for the chicks.

With an almost-full moon in the clear sky, I need no flashlight to illuminate the hens as they snooze in the nesting boxes and on their roost.

Picking up one, I nestle her in the crook of my arm and pet her soft feathers. She chirps softly in her semi-slumber. I run my fingers down her scaly leg, checking for an identifying yellow band. I admire her heft.

I carry the hens, one by one, from the young hen house to the old hen house. There, I place them on the roost. My pace is neither hurried nor slow as I watch the sky fall into darkness.

As darkness falls on the farm, the crickets sing their lullaby. An owl hoots. I smell the lingering smoke from the brush fire. I admire the moon and enjoy the still, cool June air, and think, "How lucky am I?"

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Imposter

Fifteen years ago, my mother planted oak seedlings along the driveway.

Some of them thrived.

Others struggled.

It's a tough life, living by the driveway. Sometimes deer nibbled the branches. Others fell victim to overspray of pesticides and herbicides in the fields. A bull mangled another.

We replaced the ones that died with seedlings that we found in gardens and along the edge of the woods.

One was not oak. For years, it developed root systems and struggled to survive, and finally thrived.

This year, it revealed its true identity.

I'm okay with a mulberry among oaks.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Watching Lambs on a June evening

It is dusk, and I sit on the back porch watching the lambs.

In human years, they'd be teen-agers. They're old enough to survive without their moms, but they want their moms around.

The ewes graze nearby and ignore the lambs who play games, like head-butt, wheelbarrow, and king of the feed trough.

The lambs are totally comfortable being themselves. They don't care about the bits of dung hanging from their coats after their afternoon naps. They aren't embarrassed when Trick the Cat wraps his legs around their neck. They aren't self-conscious about spots and frizzy hair.

They live in the here and now.

And the here and now is a cooler evening, full bellies, and time to play.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Five Minutes

That's how long it takes me to fill sheep, horse and chicken water buckets during lunchtime on a 95-degree day.

It's also the amount of time it takes a foster dog to find the red grease crayon that fell off the counter in the barn and to roll in it.

But it only took me about 15 seconds to realize that the red splotch above Ripley's eyebrow and the red spots on his back were grease pencil, not blood.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Living with a Princess

"This will be cool," I tell Lily as I braid her mane.

This is so uncool. She shakes her head and stomps her foot.

Temperatues climbed into the 80s and 90s during the past week. Each time, I run my hand under her Barbie-doll mane, I feel sweat.

But Lily loves her luscious locks, and doesn't believe that braids fit her personality -- even if it is 90 degrees outside.

When I take off her halter and let her loose, she walks over to a post and rubs her neck against it, undoing what I just did.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Country Rows in June

After a cold and snowy winter and unusually rainy spring, farmers are soaking in the June sunshine and working in the fields at a frantic pace.

I, though, took a break from the barn cleaning, mowing, and gardening to admire the country rows of June.

The grass is so high along the lane that Tag stays on the gravel on our morning and evening walks.

The farmer plowed a test-strip in a field the other day. Earlier this week, several farmers, anxious to begin the planting season, buried their equipment in mud.

The man who farms for us, focused on making hay while he waited for the fields to dry enough for plowing. One of the greatest summer joys is walking through the hay fields -- first when they're cut, then when they're raked and prepared for baling. With dogs in tow, I take in the wide open spaces and inhale deeply the sweet smells of hay.

I, too, made my own country row. The sheep and horses cannot keep the spring pastures under control. The five-acre pasture is made into hay while the other 1-acre paddocks are mowed.

I walk much during these days of June when most mornings are cool and the rows are many.

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Garden Buddies

The ram watches me expectantly as I work in the garden.

He's waiting for me to toss him the weeds that I pull. Dandelion greens are his favorite, though he's not that picky. If hay is your staple, you appreciate variety.

The reason for Trick the Cat's company is less obvious.

Maybe he finds the fenced-in garden a haven where he can roll in dirt and snooze without dog noses.

Last night, when I was planting tomatoes, he wanted a hand in loosening the remains of his winter coat.

Other times, he's content to watch me work.

Sometimes, though, I suspect he's hoping I'll plant another crop of rabbits.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Garden Surprise

For weeks, the squash, melon and tomato plants sat on the back porch. I watered them daily and waited for the soil to dry.

Last night, I began planting.

Midway through planting the vine crops, I reached for a plant and noticed a toad, moist and plump. Then I saw the disturbed soil by one of the plants.

Apparently in the past few weeks, she'd made the melon plant on the back porch her home. Apparently the trip to the garden and movement of plants awoke her, and she emerged from her home in a new place.

I wanted the melon plant, but I wanted toady to have a home.

"Stay there, girlie," I told her as I stuck the melon plant in the ground. I filled a plant container with loose, warm moist soil and returned the toad and cardboard tray to the back porch.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When the Lead Dog Goes Away

Tag runs to the car and whines. Surely I've left his buddy Caeli in the car.

I tell him that Caeli is in training and will be gone for a month, but Tag lives in the here and now and doesn't understand.

Ripley, the Foster Dog, stands by the back porch. How could he possibly go exploring without the Queen Bee?

Trick the Cat walks the roof of the chicken house, looking for the black and white dog that he likes to tackle and torment.

Tag gathers his Jolly Balls and Frisbees in the yard and waits for Caeli to appear and engage in a game of tug.

I mope. Although life is quieter and easier without the wild girl, I find myself missng the black and white streak as she dashes across the field, wrestles with the dogs, comes back dirty and in need of a bath.