Friday, December 28, 2012

Old Ewe, Old Tricks

When I walk to the chicken shed, all the ewes, but one, have their heads in the hay feeders.

The old ewe watches me.

The old ewe is the last remaining ewe from the foundation stock that we bought years ago. A few years ago,  she remained thin a few months after weaning twin lambs, so I didn't breed her again. I should have culled her.

But there was something about the soft, wise eyes, the determined spirit, that kept me from doing that.

For the past few years, she's been the lead ewe in the "dog training flock."

She's the ewe that stomps at me.

She's the ewe that knows the morning routine: feed the horses, then the rams, then the ewes, then the chickens.

She's the ewe that has a weakness for grain.

When she sees me spread the scratch grain for the chickens, she leaves the flock and inspects the ground around the chickens, hoping to find a few piles of chopped corn.

She's the ewe that knows that on some mornings, I relent, and leave a little pile of grain for her.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hay, Hershey's bars and filet mignon

This is 2011, first cutting, grass/alfalfa mix hay. For meat lovers, it's the ground chuck of the hay world. For chocolate lovers, it's the equivalent of a Hershey bar.

It is the hay that I feed the ewes in early winter, the hay that Lily the Haflinger always eats, the hay that Jet the Haflinger eats slowly on most days.

This is 2012, third cutting, grass/alfalfa mix (drought year) hay. For meat lovers, it is the filet mignon of the hay world. For chocolate lovers, it's the equivalent of Godiva chocolate.

The farmer calls it "milking hay." It's the hay he would feed dairy cows when he wants to increase milk production. It is the hay that I feed to the pregnant ewes during late pregnancy and lactation. It is the hay that I feed Jet the Haflinger when I want her to finish her meal fast. It is the hay that Lily wants and never gets.

And, it is the hay that I use to entice the sheep to walk through belly-deep snow drifts.

Friday, December 21, 2012

First Day of Winter

Signs that winter is finally here:

Horse water heaters plugged in (love that initial burning smell)

Long underwear pulled from storage.

Muck boots in the front-and-center location.

Winter gloves and wool socks lined in front of the wood-burning stove.

A cat that is no longer insisting on going outside.


(Yes... that is a snow drift in the yard. We didn't get much snow, but the wind has been gusting all day and building a little snow mountain for Christmas.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why I love the Border Collies

It is gray and windy and cold, and I want to sit by the fire and eat Christmas cookies.

The Border collies have other plans.

It is time for the afternoon walk.

They are Border collies, and do not mind the rain, the snow, the wind, the heat. They need to exercise, to run, to circle, to chase, to roll. When exercised and worked, they are quite lovely dogs, hanging out in the house while I work. When not worked, well, I don't want to think about that.

So I pull on the boots, put on the winter coat, the hat, the gloves, and step with three very excited dogs into the cold, windy afternoon.

Pulling my collar around my face, I look down, hoping that will provide some protection from the wind.

In my peripheral vision, I see the black and white streaks. Caeli is doing 200-yard wind sprints and Tag is keeping pace. Mickey is circling and bouncing and hoping for sheep.

Five minutes into the walk, I stop thinking about my jeans that are getting wet from the grass, my face that is stinging from the wind.

Ten minutes into the walk, I watch the dogs as they hunt for mice and roll in something I hope isn't too stinky.

At 15 minutes, I stop moping about the gray and enjoy the cold, brisk walk, and the dogs as they circle and chase, run and trot, and pounce.

When we return, the dogs are smiling, and so am I.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Trimming the Yaks

The hair got to me today.

The Haflingers have this amazing ability to grow more than an inch of hair a month.

So, every morning, I was greeted by the mohawks.

(Jet, pictured above, and Lily, below)

The girls look like they're ready for an Arctic winter.

"At least you can be pretty when you greet the snow," I tell them as I cut, cut, cut and watch mane hair, ear tufts and chin hair fall to the ground.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cleaning the Garden

In late fall, after I have pulled the plants and weeds from the garden, mulched part of it, and declared it done for the season, I let the chickens in.

From their interest, I gather that my cleaning was subpar.

They scratched and hunted for seeds and sprouts of green.

But what they loved best was the chard, that I thought was frozen and done for the season. Poking around among the shoots, they found bits of green -- a real delicacy at this time of the year.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Where's Jolly? Walking with Caeli.

When I take the three Border collies on a walk, I'm usually accompanied by a Frisbee or Jolly ball.

Caeli insists on bringing a toy with her on the treks through the hay fields.

But, then she gets distracted -- by a mouse or mole or rabbit in the fence row.

And she leaves the ball behind.

And the ball sits in the 10-acre field, awaiting someone to find it.

You'd think it'd be easy to find a pink ball in a field of brown and green. But I walk back and forth until I spot it. Turning to it, I yell, "Caeli, get your ball."

The Border collie sprints toward me, and upon spotting the ball, zeroes in on it (something my camera can't do with fast-moving objects).

She picks up the ball and returns it to the yard where it awaits its next walk with the Border collies.

December conversation with Hens

Dear hens. I know the days are short, the weather is soggy, that not even a bird brain would think it's a good idea to hatch chicks in December. But is there any way you can produce more than one egg a day?

I'm not asking for a dozen. I'm thinking four would be adequate. There are 20 of you, so that would mean you'd each only have to lay two eggs a week.

I'm not just thinking of myself here. Though, I am growing tired of oatmeal in the morning, and well, I miss having eggs on that one night a week that I don't feel like cooking. But there are others to think about. You've got fans that believe your eggs are the best. Who am I to disagree?

Anyway, those fans sure would like to have eggs for Christmas morning.

And then there's the baking. All those cookies require eggs.

So what do you think? Four eggs a day?

The hens fluff their feathers and hunker deeper into their nesting boxes.

"How about lights?" they murmur. "Strings of Christmas lights both in and out of the coop would brighten things up."

"Bah humbug," I say.

"Bah humbug," they reply.

I eat my toast for breakfast, thinking how much better it'd be with an egg.

Friday, December 7, 2012

No One is Happy

When the soggy rains of December hit, I keep the sheep and horses in the paddocks so they don't tear up the turf.

They would rather graze in the rain than eat hay in the shelter.

The dogs get limited walks because I don't like slogging through wet hay fields that soak my pant legs up to the knees.

Dewey Kitty doesn't want to sit on the back porch and watch the rain, and he definitely doesn't want to venture out and get his paws wet.

I am not happy about all of the mud that comes inside on shoes, feet, and fur.

I try to tell myself that at least I don't have to break ice from water buckets, and that we aren't burning much wood.

But I find myself looking at the weather forecast, searching for temperatures in the 20s.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pretty in Brown

"They were out of brown," my  husband said when I opened the box containing the fleece-lined, sweatshirt jacket. "All they had left were pink and purple. I figured the purple was the least offensive."

"I'll check the Greenville TSC," I said.

Unless ordering from a catalog, farm clothes come from TSC. But not all Tractor Supply Company stores are equal. Those near populated areas are small. Those in rural areas are usually twice the size. If a brown sweatshirt was to be found, it'd be at the Greenville TSC.

When I entered the Greenville TSC, I found the sweatshirts hanging on a round rack. Of the dozens of sweatshirts, most were pink and purple. Five were brown. I found the only medium one and grabbed it.

On the way to the register, I walked by the women's coveralls. Again, lots of pinks and purples, and a few browns and tans.

Don't clothing designers realize that few things on the farm are pink? That the blood, manure, mud, grass stains, snot, hay chaff, and dirt, blend much better with the brown?

Monday, November 26, 2012

What were they thinking?

I'm sure that's what the animals say when they walk into the dining room and find a Christmas tree.

Dewey Kitty sniffs it and upon realizing that, unlike the pines outside, it has no birds nesting in it, dismisses the tree.

Caeli, the Border collie, though, questions the fairness.

She must follow the "clean mouth" rule, dropping all balls, sticks, and varmints before coming inside. The humans propped open the door and carried in a tree.

Then she turns hopeful. Will sheep soon follow?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What I find in the pockets

As the weather transitions from summer to winter, the heavy barn coats move from the back of the pegs to the front, and the seasonal surprises begin.

Good barn coats have lots of pockets. Those pockets contain a history of the past year. Here is what I find:

Hand warmers still in the package.
Wrappers from hand warmers used.

Tissues, a package of new, and a few used.

Horse treats and hay chaff, lots of hay chaff.

A clicker for dog and horse training.
The running order from a sheepdog trial.


A livestock grease pencil.


A package of lettuce seeds, that doesn't surprise me.
A package of bean seeds, that does. Was it that cold when I was planting beans?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Farmer's Almanac

While I was at Tractor Supply, loading up on kitty litter, shavings and cat food, two older women were studying the Old Farmers' Almanac.

"We're due for a big snow," one says.

"Ten or twelve inches," the other adds.

I don't know if they were getting their information from the Almanac, a meteorologist's long-term forecast, or just a knowledge of weather's history.

But I'm betting they'll buy the Farmers' Almanac, just like I'll probably pick up a copy for myself.

Throughout the winter, I'll check it to see what upcoming weather is predicted, and if past predictions were correct.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sidetrack Surprise

All too often my curiosity gets me sidetracked.

This morning, while I was researching, I stumbled across this.

This was our farm sometime before 1992.

When we bought the farm in 1998, the one-and-a-half story structure to the left was not there. Neither was the garage to the right of the house.

But now I understand why some records list our house as being built in 1920. Maybe the structure to the right was the original house.

In 1998, the spouse took off the single-story connector -- with a hammer and crowbar.

Here is the house today -- with new roof, new siding, fence, more trees, and a new barn.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A November walk

 The horses were taking their mid-morning nap. So rather than ride, I took the three Border collies on a trek through the harvested corn and soybean fields, the hay fields and around the pond.

 Caeli forgot she was a Border collie, and went into Mighty Coyote Huntress mode.

 Tag became a pointer.

 And Mickey trotted across the fields of green.

 I took time to smell the flowers... even if they were dandelions.

 Dandelions seem to thrive most months in Ohio.

Toward the end of the walk, we headed to the pond so the dogs could get a drink.

 The drought this summer left the pond low. But it makes it easier for the raccoons to dig up the fresh water clams (notice the shells behind Tag).

Caeli wrapped up the morning by giving her roll of gratitude.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Twenty-two tons of beauty

Live in the country and you find yourself swooning over big trucks: the UPS truck, snow plows, the gravel truck.

Christmas came early this morning when the gravel truck arrived and dumped 22 tons of gravel between the house and barn.

In the coming days, the husband and I -- along with the tractor (another vehicle that makes me swoon) -- will dump that gravel under gates that separate pastures and paddocks.

These high traffic areas turn to mud in spring, fall and winter.

While the gravel won't eliminate the mud, it will lessen its depth -- from six or eight inches to two or three.

And, for me, that's the difference between being mildly annoying and sucking off my boots.

Yes, I still have vivid memories of the childhood day when the mud sucked my boot and sock from my foot while I was walking through a muddy horse paddock.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Morning Lights

My early morning walks are no longer sunlit.

Yet, I still have so much to see.

The million stars in the sky remind me how small I am.

All around me -- a quarter mile, a mile, two miles away -- are night lights on homes and barns, staking their spot in this world.

And sometimes, I see moving headlights, reminding me that time never stands still.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dewey Kitty is an optimist

Dewey Kitty rang the bell this morning, and I let him outside.

A few minutes later, when I opened the door to take the dogs out, Dewey Kitty darted inside.

It was raining, not the sit-on-the-back-porch-and-listen-rain, but the cold, windy rain of November.

When the dogs and I returned to the house, Dewey Kitty glanced outside and retreated into the hallway.

Ten minutes later, he rang the bell again. Surely it had stopped raining.

After that glance outside, he turned into the make-lemonade type guy.

He curled up in my lap and went to sleep.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Sunny Day in November

We are entering the time of year in Ohio when sunlight is counted in hours instead of days.

So when the sun shines on a Saturday, I take full advantage.

I ride Lily, who acted like an old pro. She loves working in open fields where it's easy to spot those mountain lions.

And Jet, who scouted the nearby woods for mountain lions, but finally was convinced they weren't lying in wait.

I made apple crisp, a treat in this year when apples are scarce.

Then, it was off to visit Raven and seeing what she's been learning for the past few weeks. While there, Mickey worked the sheep and showed that she didn't lose her sheep-sense in her two-month layoff.

Then it was off a visit and dinner with friends.

Undone were all those indoor chores that could wait for a windy or rainy day, which seem to come more often as winter approaches.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Standing in the Country Line on Election Day

I've been voting at the village fire station for 14 years now -- long enough to know that when the line divides, I turn right.

I didn't know that my first election there, and a gray-haired lady asked, "Country or City?"

The firehouse houses two voting precincts -- one for half of the village of 2,000 people and one for the western, sparsely populated half of a township.

Standing in line on the country side this morning, I realized that I was the youngest one there.

"Have you had a change of residence?" the poll worker asked the man in front of me.

"Nope," he said. "I've lived there for 38 years."

Glancing at the four grey heads at the voting booths, I wagered that they would say something similar.

As I waited, I wondered if the abundance of grey hair just proved that older people vote more than the younger generations-- or, if there just aren't very many younger people opting to live in the country.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Job #1 Done. Now onto the Next.

The ram is no longer looking for love.

He's looking for food.

I discovered this when I stepped inside the chicken house and confronted the ram who had his head in the chicken feeder.

He'd squeezed in through the chicken door and was licking the remaining feed from the chicken feeder.

When turned out with the ewes a few weeks ago, he hadn't done much eating. Now, that the ewes are bred, he's turning his thoughts to food.

But chicken grain is not acceptable. I shooed him outside through the people door and adjusted the feeder. Turning, I see the ram squeezing through the door again.

So I banished him -- and the ewes and llama -- to the pasture and away from the chicken house and the barn.

"He can stay out there until he gets too big for the chicken door," I said.

The husband had other ideas. This morning, he put a chain on the chicken door so the door can't lift high enough for the ram to squeeze through.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Answer is Five

Living with Border collies can be a joy -- provided you give them lots of structure and activity.

The structure they get every day. But some days -- if it's too windy or I'm working late -- they don't get their long run or herding.

We've now hit Day Five of windy, rainy and snowy weather. For the most part, I can deal with the heat and cold. The wind, though, just makes walking miserable... and herding less than enjoyable -- especially with the dog that's not trained to whistles.

For the first few days, the dogs were okay with hanging out inside and just going outside for quick trips to the barn or wood pile.

But today, Caeli let it be known she's had enough.

She's growling and showing lip at Mickey. She's pawing at me.

So, I'm putting on the rain gear and walking.

And, just for good measure, I'm giving them Bully Sticks to chew on tonight.

The Cats Get a Job

The husband is not happy with the indoor cats' work ethic.

When the cold weather hit, the field mice went scurrying for shelter. Unfortunately, a few chose our house.

Dewey Kitty alerted us to this by sitting by the cabinet under the sink.

The husband opened the cabinet and let Dewey inside. Kitty emerged with mouse in mouth.

What he did next annoyed the husband.

The kitty ran upstairs where he proceeded to play with the mouse for an hour or so.

"I don't know if he killed the mouse or it got away," the husband grumbled.

I had the answer when I found the partially-eaten carcass.

Not one to let his brother have all the glory, Louie Kitty caught a mouse. Considering the boy is declawed and spent his early life in a household where he was expected to cuddle and look cute, that's quite an achievement.

But he didn't eat the mouse right away.

"These cats are no Blotto," the husband said.

Blotto, one of our first cats, was both a hunter and an eater. He could catch and eat a mouse in under a minute; a rabbit took five minutes from catch to devouring.

Blotto, I pointed out, had a mother who spent months teaching him to hunt. And, then he had to contend with Rambles, the Border collie, who liked to steal his mice and rabbits. Blotto learned to eat fast.

"Maybe you can teach the kitties to eat fast," I say.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sharing or Spreading the Blame

When I brought the horses in from the front field this afternoon, I thought they'd doze in the paddock.

I was wrong.

Was it a butt scratch against the stall door? Or was it an active attempt to dislodge the latch? I don't know.

But when I went out to feed this evening, I found an open door to the extra stall - the one we use to store 30 bales of hay. Both horses were standing outside the stall door. Each had a bale of hay in front of them. Neither looked guilty.

Even though I didn't witness the caper, I blame Lily, the busy body.

Some may say that she pulled two bales out, one for her and one to share with Jet.

Some may say that she was sharing the blame.

I suspect she was systematically going through the hay stall bale by bale until she found that bale with a little extra alfalfa.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Clucking over Leftovers

What falls to the ground, what is missed after the initial picking, what is leftover after harvest, goes to the chickens, who await the fallen tomato, the half-buried potato that I find as I clean the garden.

In the overgrown grass, I find a rotting squash. The lawnmower slices a hiding watermelon. I offer both to the chickens who gobble up the flesh and seeds.

But what those birds really love are the overgrown beets. They eat the greens and peck out the flash, leaving only the tough, sun-burned skin.

Will the evidence of their beet indulgence show up in their eggs? I remind myself to check for pink-tinged eggs in the coming days.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Working Sheep -- All Day Long

With a small farm flock of sheep, a dog is handy, but not necessary.

I'll use the Border collies to bring the sheep into the barn or to move them to a pasture, but for the most part the dog work on sheep is training for competition.

This week, Caeli got to do hours and hours of farm work -- and she's still smiling.

Our task was to sort eight sheep from a flock of 80 ewes, then move them to a spot in the 10-acre field where a dog in training would then fetch them.

Sorting out the eight sheep, I do by myself. Having a Border collie in the pen would stir up the sheep.

Caeli then moved the sheep to a certain spot in the pasture. (The sheep are just to the right of the barn.)
Then Caeli moved a distance from the sheep. But she had to be there in case the sheep tried to run back to the set-out pen.

She also had to stay in a down position as the dog-in-training ran past her to pick up the sheep.

That can be hard. Just like kids have to learn to share, Border collies have to learn that they must give up the their sheep to another dog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Releasing the Ram Lamb

Rico Suave was anything but suave when we released him with the 10 ewes yesterday.

Imagine a 14-year-old boy trying to woo a group of women in their 20s and 30s.

He chased after the Bob Marley ewe. Round and round the pasture they went until the Bob Marley ewe joined a three or four other ewes.

Next, he chose the Neck Roll ewe. Did he think the chunky girl couldn't run? Run she did.

After a few minutes, he moved onto the Red ewe, who outsprinted him with ease.

"He's got to work on his technique," I said to the spouse.

"He'll figure it out," the spouse replied.

Or else get tired.

Within an hour, he was grazing next to a yearling ewe.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Corn -- It's not just for shooting

The husband and I helped at the local Farm Fest this weekend.

In the morning, I supervised the corn ring toss game. In the afternoon, we worked at the corn shooter.

At both places, lots of kids put ears of corn in their mouths.

Lots of parents said, "Don't put that in your mouth."

I was good, and didn't say, "Oh, they do every day."

Instead, I asked, "Do you know what this kind of corn is used for?"

Most guessed animal feed.

But, I pointed out, that it's also people feed.

It goes in their cornbread, their corn flakes, their vegetable oils, and sweeteners.

Okay, I admit, that I found shooting corn cobs a lot more fun than tossing them through rings...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Naming Sheep

     "Do you name your sheep?" the USDA vet asked during her visit to the farm for the annual inspection. She'd been at a farm earlier this month where every ewe and ram was named.

    "Not any more," I said. For the first few years, we did. Then, the numbers grew.

Then, I went into the stall and began reading ear tag numbers.

And I read the number for:

The Red Ewe

Stomper Mom

The Broken Legged Ewe

The Bob Marley Ewe

The Neck Roll Ewe

The Up-headed Ewe

Good Mom

The Blood Spot Ewe.

The Survivor Ewe.

PHOTOS: The top photo shows Hershey, front and center. She's an older ewe who was named when we still gave the lambs named.

The bottom photo, far right, shows the Bob Marley Ewe, who sheds in dreadlocks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Retiring a Herding Dog

Mickey, my nearly 11-year-old Border collie, has a stress fracture that may end her competitive herding career.

So, we talk about retirement.

But, she's a working dog. She doesn't want to give up racing around the fields, chasing other dogs, herding sheep. Retirement is not a word she wants to hear.

So, we work on compromises.

The splint must be worn outside. (She won the indoor argument when she very carefully pulled the Velcro tabs and removed the splint).

A leash is not required. (As she spun in circles and hopped around me, I realized the leash was doing more harm than good).

But she and Caeli do not go on treks together. (If she can't herd sheep, she will try and herd Caeli).

When I'm outside working in the garden and cleaning the barn, she can hang out with me.

Inside, too, she can hang out with me, even if that means sleeping on futons and couches.

I will still encourage her puppy-like, goofy behavior.

I will still brush her and pet her and tell her she's beautiful.

And, I will still encourage her to roll in the grass, four paws stretched to the sun.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Alpha Dog vs. the Alpha Cat

Caeli, the Border collie, walks into the living room and sees Dewey Kitty sleeping on her chair.

She trots to the couch.

Upon seeing Caeli on her couch, Mickey, the Border collie, glances at me before jumping next to me in the snuggler.

Tag, the Border collie, gets a worried look in his eyes. Mickey is in his snuggler.

Caeli, seeing Mickey getting attention, jumps from the couch to the snuggler.

Mickey leaps onto the couch and settles in for the evening.

Caeli, never much into snuggling, jumps from the snuggler and walks over to her chair.

Tag jumps on the snuggler.

Caeli noses Dewey Kitty.

The cat refuses to move.

Caeli paces, then jumps into the chair.

Realizing there is not enough room, she steps down from the chair.

She paces some more.

Again, she jumps into the chair, partially sits on Dewey Kitty, then lies down.

She is not comfortable.

Finally, I intercede.

I remove Dewey Kitty from the chair and put him on the arm of the snuggler. Caeli sits in her chair. Tag snuggles in the snuggler. Mickey sleeps on the couch.

Finally, I'm able to read my book.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Evacuating the Garden

When the National Weather Service issued a freeze warning, I must decide what to leave behind, what to cover, what to save.

The eggplants and melons make the cut.

I ponder over the lettuce. Should I cover it and hope it survives? Or should I harvest it all and eat lettuce for the next week? I harvest.

With the basil, I hedge my bets. After harvesting most of it, I cover the remaining plants.

The tomatoes make me feel guilty.

I fill a five-gallon bucket -- and could easily fill two more. But, I have neither the time nor the desire to make tomato sauce or can tomatoes. Nor, do I need to store any more tomatoes. Canned tomatoes have already encroached on the spouse's beer collection.

"I don't even like tomatoes," he says.

My mother-in-law eases the guilt and takes pounds of tomatoes.

I toss some to the chickens who, like me, have lost enthusiasm for tomatoes.

But even after that, there are tomatoes on the ground.

I decide to let them freeze.

Then, I grab a blanket and cover two heirloom tomato plants that are green and still producing.

Who knows. Maybe I'll crave tomatoes in November.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What Dogs Decide

As I cleaned the barn and worked in the garden, I let the dogs outside to do as they please.

Mickey and Tag sniffed and nibbled on manure.

Caeli continued her quest to catch that mole that lives at least two feet underground.

All rolled -- in the grass, manure, sand.

Caeli and Tag played tug and chase, until Tag was so tired, he dozed in the sun.

Mickey found the hole in the horse paddock fence, and wiggled her way into the sheep paddock.

Judging by the squawking and feather hanging from Caeli's mouth, Caeli found the wayward hen and attempted to herd it.

By late afternoon, we all were tired and retreated to the porch where we soaked in the rays and the dogs slept, sighed and smiled.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Chicken Rules -- and The Merge

After years of being around chickens, I know:

- They don't like change.
- They don't like newcomers, as this disrupts their pecking order.
- Roosters create havoc.

So, when it came time to merge the two flocks -- I only have six pullets, so why keep them in a separate hen house for winter -- I kept these truths in mind.

At dark, I moved the pullets to the old hen house and placed them on the roost. In the morning, they'd awake and wonder about their surroundings and the other hens.

The next day, I didn't let the hens outside. After a few nights in one place, the young ones will establish the old hen house as their new home.

Today, I let the chickens outside and hope they return to the old hen house roost.

Then, if all goes well, I'll move the two young roosters in with the flock. I don't worry about them finding their roost, for they are roosters, and roosters follow the hens.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Our barn is ready for Halloween.

Cobwebs cling to the metal sides, the rafters, a recently-cleaned halter.

Maybe I should make a Haunted Barn sign and charge admission.

But I don't.

Instead, I begin the Cobweb Eradication Program.

Each day, I tackle a section of the barn. Grabbing a broom, sometimes two, I climb a ladder and begin at the roof line and work my way down, sweeping and knocking down cobwebs. I remove items from shelves and marvel at the dust and dirt.

And I look behind me... to see if the spiders are building again.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Changing Season, Changing Routine

Darkness comes earlier now, and so I must move my evening reading routine from the back porch to the living room.

The dogs follow: Mickey to the couch, Caeli to the chair, Tag next to me on the recliner. Dewey Kitty perches on the recliner's headrest.

I'm reading more pages now, as there are no lambs, horses, chickens, wrestling dogs, to distract me.

For now, until the weather gets colder, there also is no fire to lull me to sleep.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's Raining, Dogs

When I open up the back door, I hear, before I see the shirt-soaking rain.

Caeli, the Border collie, doesn't pause. She circles the house, the garage, the manure spreader, looking for any intruder that visited in the night. A lot of rain isn't going to stop her.

Mickey, the Border collie, stands on the back porch and looks up at me. When I step into the rain, she follows. We are a team, after all.

Tag, the Border collie, sits on the back porch and wags his tail. My neat boy doesn't want to get wet or muddy. But, he is obedient. When I call, he comes on the morning walk in the rain.

Pearl Squirrel, the visiting little dog, sits on the back porch and refuses to budge no matter how I call her. She is not walking in the rain.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Observations after Hoof Trimming, De-worming, Ear-Tagging

1. A sheepdog is invaluable. In less than a minute, Caeli had the sheep rounded up and in the stall.

2. Our sheep are fat. I ponder how this happens when our pastures look sparse after a drought year.

3. Twenty-two sheep = 176 nails to trim. Remember sheep are animals with cloven hooves.

4. Hoof growth varies. Some hooves were so long they bent over the pad. Others barely needed a snip.

5. My hamstrings are sore. Sheep are not ergonomically designed for hoof trimming.

6. I wish a Border collie could be trained to trim sheep hooves.

7. A mother's behavior often predicts the behavior of the offspring. We have a family line of stompers and another of high-headed, runners.

8. A mother's build often predicts that of the offspring. We have quite the contingent of Choco-Butt Linebackers. They're our Solid Girls.

9. Throwbacks happen. Where did the Bob Marley ewe get her size and build? She stands three inches taller than any other sheep on the farm.

10. I'd rather give shots than punch ear tags. Yes, hard to believe for a needle-phobe.

11. Lambs change. A set of ewe lambs I didn't give much of a look at when born (their mom's the high-headed runner) are two of my best-looking lambs at age six months.

12. An afternoon spent in the sheep barn gives me lots of time to ponder farm life.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pullets and kids

At dusk, I open the door to the chicken yard.

Before I reach the chicken house door, the pullets come running outside. Maybe I'm bringing tomato scraps, or melon rinds, or scratch grain. They don't want to miss a treat.

I return to the house and wait for the birds to go back to roost in the chicken house.

Five minutes later, I return to the chicken yard.

It's darker now, but the hens still insist on running outside.

They don't want to miss a thing.

And I am reminded of the recent overnight visit by my niece and nephew.

At 6:15 a.m., I hear the boy's alarm go off. At 6:17 a.m., both niece and nephew are in the kitchen, awaiting the activities for the day.

Transitioning to Fall

The thermometer reads 45 degrees.

I have to search for a jacket that I haven't worn in months.

I don't have to search for the cat.

For the first time in months, the cat crawls into my lap instead of asking to go outside.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Perfect September Evening

Mowing the grass,
Shoveling manure,
Administering vaccinations,
Walking dogs,
Weeding the garden,
Grooming dogs and horses,
Canning tomatoes,
Leading horses to pastures,
Monitoring pastures,
Catching roosters,
Disinfecting water buckets.

The chore list doesn't seem that bad,
as I sit on the back porch,
wearing jeans, sweatshirt and wool socks,
reading a book,
drinking a beer,
surrounded by three dogs and three cats,
watching sheep and horses graze,
and listening to the chickens murmur as they catch the last moths of evening.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The School Lunch Menu -- circa 1970s

In my grandmother's Ball Home Canning book, I found a folded piece of paper.

On one side was a handwritten recipe for grape jelly. On the other, was a mimeographed school lunch menu.

Was it a menu from St. Pat's in Troy where I went to elementary school or was it a menu from St. Mary's in Springfield, where my grandmother was a school cook?

I consulted my sister.

It must be St. Mary's; there are no no-bake cookies on the menu, she responded.

There are some similarities at both schools. Both served fish on Friday. Both charged 15 cent for an extra pizza. Both served chocolate milk one day a week.

But, I think my sister's right. At St. Pat's, we always had peas with tuna noodle casserole; and we NEVER had prunes; and St. Pat's also served Heavenly Hash.

At both places, I'm willing to bet that the students ate what they were served.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Canning Tomatoes

After freezing 10 quarts of tomato sauce, I returned to the garden to pick more tomatoes. In less than 20 minutes, I had two five-gallon buckets full of tomatoes.

Canning time!

For the past few years, I avoided canning and just froze tomato sauce. However, with a bumper crop of tomatoes (and the recent chicken massacre), I am running out of freezer space.

So I dug through the cookbooks until I found the "canning Bible."

This is the Ball Blue Book -- circa 1944, that belonged to my grandmother.

I studied the picture, then I looked at myself, decked out in tattered jeans and t-shirt, and hair pulled into a pony tail. I don't own anything with ruffles.

When I'm finished canning, I'm pretty sure I won't be smiling so serenely. I'm sure I'll be a little sweaty and a lot covered in tomato juice.

But, I'm also sure I'll have found memories of canning tomatoes with my mother and grandmother.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Diminishing Evening Sounds

Only the cicada song fills the evening air now.

No longer do I hear the roosters' crows, the squawks as a rooster protects the roost, the cries of a young, smaller rooster being chased by a larger one, the flapping wings of roosters flying over the fence to escape the more dominant birds.

The ratio in the young chicken house was all wrong: five young females to six young males. When puberty hit, the cock fighting began. For the past two weeks, it had gotten worse, and I'd found a few roosters with bloody combs.

So, I made the phone call and scheduled an appointment to send six roosters - four young and two old -- to the butcher.

We now have 17 hens, two cockerels and two chicks (one whom I suspect may be a male).

The crowing is seldom now.

So, I sit on the back porch reading in the quickly fading light, listening to the cicadas' song, knowing that that too will soon be gone.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Digging Potatoes

I removed the layers of straw and discovered that periodic rains during the last several weeks does not make up for a hot, dry summer.

The potatoes were the size of marbles and golf balls. A few, not many, reached tennis ball size. While the ground held moisture and worms, it was not easy digging.

But, my efforts produced potatoes.

Apparently, I'm not the only one enjoying the produce from the garden.

This toad has been eating well in this summer of drought and insects.

I, though, passed on the insects.

When lunchtime approached, I looked around the garden and found fall lettuce and tomatoes, lots of tomatoes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Spiderwebs... A sure sign of fall

Most times, I feel, rather than see, the spiderwebs.

This morning, the fog rolled in and I saw how busy the spiders have been.


One web covered the garden gate.

This one looked like it was floating free in the yard. Upon closer inspection, I found the support threads attached to nearby pine trees and to tree limbs above.

Caeli, the Border collie, was only momentarily caught in the web. Then, she was on to watch chickens and find her red ball.

The spiders love making nest in the little pine trees. Maybe the pines are good trees for the beginning web builder.

I found this girl in the garden. I love how she makes a zigzag stitch. I'm not sure what kind of spider she is, but as a kid, I was convinced this was a black widow because I'd never seen a spider so big.