Monday, October 31, 2011

The Sheepdog Training Update

That screeching sound that you hear when driving near a red Honda is me.

I'm still attempting to learn the sheepdog whistles. Training books say it's best to practice where the dog can't hear.... So anywhere within a mile of the farm is out.

I haven't had friends and family inviting me over to practice my whistling. So that leaves the car.

In the comfort of my car, I practice scales. And in the back of my mind, I hear my high school band director talking about tone and quality of sound. Squeaks come from the whistle. And then, no sound comes at all.

I toss the whistle on the dashboard, turn on the radio and begin singing.

The sound, I'm sure, is just as bad.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Glove Goblin

A glove goblin invaded the farm.

Behind my back, he eats women's gloves. The leather work gloves and insulated winter gloves must be the tastiest. Those are the ones that are disappearing.

The pink and purple gloves he leaves behind. Do they taste like grape or cotton candy or cherry? Are they too frivolous for his taste?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pedicure Day

The ewes have a date with the ram.

In preperation for breeding season, the spouse and I trimmed their hooves. He held the ewe while I trimmed. Soon the ewes were sporting trimmed, balanced nails.

The romantic would say they wanted to look their best for their suitor.

Others would say it allows them to run away from him faster.

Practical me says that it's easier to trim a ewe when she's not pregnant or nursing lambs.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pet Psychology

Should I try to find meaning in my cat's actions?

I wonder this when I hear Dewey Kitty growling in the dining room.

He is crouched over the stuffed Border Collie, biting it and pulling at its fur.

The stuffed lamb -- that moments earlier had been sitting on a shelf with the stuffed dog -- lies on the floor next to the dog.

Is it the next victim?

I don't wait to find out. I toss Dewey Kitty in the laundry room and remove his victims from the floor.

The First Fall Frost

The first fall frost hit this weekend.

When I stepped outside, the wind was calm. White crystals covered the grass, the tree limbs, the fences. White stars dotted the sky.

The air smelled of basil.

I hadn't covered the prolific plants overnight, and the frost killed those plants that so love a warm climate.

But in their dying gasps, they emitted the sweet scent of summer that hung in the frosty air.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Out of Place

When I pull into the driveway, my eyes focus on the white spot in the far pasture.

It's a 75-acre farm, with fields, pastures, a house, trees, barns, sheep, chickens, horses. On this sunny afternoon, I only see the white spot with the sheep flock grazing nearby.

I suspect it is a ewe. But why is she lying down away from the others? Sheep are flock animals. Usually the only time they leave the safety of the group is to give birth or to die.

It is fall, and none of the ewes are bred. In times of lush pastures, like now, bloat is a concern in pastures heavy with legumes like alfalfa and clover. But the sheep are in the safe pasture -- the one with grass, the one that has at least two rows of fence between it and outside predators.

After parking the car, I go inside and change from my dress clothes to my farm clothes.

I am stalling.

Sick and injured animals are some of the downsides of farm life.

I look out the upstairs window.

The white spot is gone. Apparently, after two days of rain, the ewe was just basking in the sunshiny day.

I go outside to do the same.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Farm Pockets

When cleaning out my jeans and jacket pockets, I find:

Earplugs, one yellow, one green, never a matched set.

Hay chaff.

Peppermint treats for the horses.

A yellow grease marker for the sheep.

A rusted fence staple that I found in the chicken yard.

A penny, a dirty nickel, a crumpled dollar bill.

A pen.

What I don't find are my gloves that have gone missing during this fall season. They were placed somewhere when I determined it was too warm for gloves.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Realization

As I stood in the garden, wearing long underwear, a sweatshirt, a jacket and gloves, digging potatoes, I realized that winter was coming, whether I left potatoes in the ground or not.

The tomatoes that I was still picking would succumb to frost, as would the lettuce and basil.

I could capture these whispers of summer, but I need to finish up the chores of fall -- the final grass mowing, the cleaning out of the garden, the barn cleaning.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why I Don't Buy Cat Toys

When offered cat toys at a dog event, I accepted. Surely Dewey Kitty would enjoy playing with them. Maybe I could even entice Louie Cat to play.

The toy was one of the classics: a wand with an elastic string attached to a feathered, stuffed, pink and green creature. I'm sure it was designed to provide hours of fun and stimulate the cat's hunting instinct. 

When I dangled the creature in front of Dewey Kitty, he snagged it with his paw and I quickly pulled it away from him.

The second time I cast the creature toward him, he grabbed the creature and bit the elastic string. Within seconds, he'd chewed the string in two and was trotting away with the creature in his mouth.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sounds of a Autumn

The drones of diesels surround our farm.

To the south, east and west, combines crawl up and down the fields, cutting and sorting soybeans, only taking a break to dump the harvest into awaiting bins and trucks.

From the north comes the rhythmic sound of the hay baler as it collects dried grass and alfalfa from the field.

As dusk approaches and dew falls, the hay-making stops, but the harvest continues into the night.

Soon, the combines, tractors and trucks are joined by the howls of coyotes and barks of neighboring dogs.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Leg Shaving Day

Lily's ancestors come from the mountains of Austria and Northern Italy.

They needed leg hair to protect them from the cold winters and rough terrain.

Lily lives in Ohio.

Her excessive leg hair collects dirt, burrs, mud balls and ice chunks.

Twice a year, once in the spring before fly season starts and once in the fall when fly season ends, I trim the long hairs from her legs.

I use hand scissors instead of the electric clippers. I'm going for practical, not pretty. The scissors don't overheat nor do they gum up when trimming unwashed legs.

Soon, I am covered with hair. The floor is littered with hair.

Lily, too, remains quite hairy.

Friday, October 7, 2011


I'm watching where I walk these days.

It's the spiderweb time of year.

In the morning light, I admire the intricate webs stretching between fence panels, between weeds, from tree limbs. They hold dewdrops and give the morning a magical sparkle.

By afternoon, my love affair with the webs wears. The Border collie returns from the pasture with sheep and webs clinging to her fur.

As I work at my computer, a web creator, falls from the ceiling, swings once, twice from her silken thread, lands next to my keyboard and scurries away.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Driving Practice

The  ewe faced me and stomped her front foot.

I laughed.

It had been a stressful day at work, and I was happy to be outside where the sun was still shining and the air still warm enough for a T-shirt, where the grass is collecting moisture for a morning dew, and where I can walk with a Border collie and practice moving the sheep away from me.

Within minutes, the sheep are breathing heavy, the dog is panting, and I am smiling.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

USDA Inspection Day

I smell of sheep, and coarse white fiber clings to my jeans.

Today the United States Department of Agriculture vet visited the farm to inspect the flock. This meant that, unlike most days, I touched the sheep.

The sheep weren't happy. They don't care to be touched by humans with predatory eyes.

For the inspection, we put the 18 ewes in a stall measuring 8 x 8 feet. Packing them in a tight area makes them less likely to run and jump. The red ewe lamb, though, shows her athleticism when she leaps atop the others.

"It's the sheep mosh pit," I say to the vet.

The vet checks each ewe's ear tag and matches it with our records. Our sheep are enrolled in the Scrapies Eradication program. Scrapies is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. Because sheep don't exhibit the disease until well into adulthood, it's a difficult disease to identify and track.

Those in the program tag their sheep with federal scrapies identification numbers. Our records show what happens to each of our sheep. If one is sent to slaughter, the date and location is noted. If someone buys one, the buyer's name and address is recorded. This provides a tracking record if one of our sheep is found to have scrapies.

The scrapies eradication program has drastically reduced the number of scrapies cases in the U.S. sheep flocks. However, cases still exist. As with most diseases, the challenge is eliminating those last cases.

As with most challenges, it requires time and commitment, and, in my case, a little bit of sheep fuzz.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The In-Between Season

This morning, I put on my wool socks and long underwear before building a fire in the wood-burning stove.

A north wind was blowing cold air, and the inside temperature had fallen into the 50s.

But it didn't frost overnight. My tomatoes, eggplant, herbs and lettuce were spared.

So, for dinner tonight, we enjoyed some of the last tastes of summer when I topped the pizza with tomatoes and basil.