Thursday, August 30, 2012

A cat, a lamb, and a childhood memory

I peak into the sheep stall and see Trick the Cat sitting, tilting his neck, so the five-month-old lamb could give him a good nuzzle.

As the lamb nestles his nose into the cat fur, I think of spending nights at my grandma's house during my childhood. She had a blanket, trimmed in satin -- or some satin-like material. I fell asleep, sucking my thumb and rubbing the satin under my nose.

Does the cat's fur feel like satin? Is that why the lamb keeps rubbing his nose against the cat?

Or maybe the lamb nose feels like satin, and Trick takes comfort in that.

After a few minutes, Trick rolls onto his back and bats the lamb's nose. The lamb steps closer, and rubs his nose on the cat's belly.

Somehow, this 70-pound lamb that could step on the cat and this cat who could scratch the lamb's nose have worked out this morning routine that they both take comfort in.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mutterings from Late August

Corn on the cob.

Sliced tomatoes.

Tomato sandwiches.


More corn on the cob.

Frozen corn.

Tomato sauce.


Still more corn.

Frozen corn.

Minestrone soup.

Tomato sauce.

Pasta and fresh tomatoes.

More corn on the cob.

Freeze corn.

Freeze tomato sauce.


Toss corn and tomatoes to the chickens.

Happy me. Happy chickens.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Art of Hay-making

The farmer dropped a bale of hay on the back porch this weekend.

The bale was green, tightly packed, and smelled oh so sweet.

"The second best hay I've made this year," he said.

His best bales came from a first-year alfalfa field and baled under ideal conditions.

"I didn't lose a leaf when baling," he said.

Living among hay fields, I've learned that hay making is both an art and science. A good bale doesn't just depend on sunny weather. It depends on daytime and nighttime temperatures, humidity, ground moisture, when it is raked, how long it is on the ground, and little bit of luck. Once out of the field, it is still curing, and storage becomes key.

The farmer, who has been making hay all of his life, can look at hay on the ground, and determine moisture levels. He can look at a bale and tell protein content. He knows without testing, that hay grown during times of great rainfall lacks the mineral content, and that drought hay packs in the minerals.

He talks of milking-making hay, and dry cow hay, and hay that is good for my fat ponies, and sheep hay.

I wonder if I can possibly gain all of this hay knowledge in my lifetime, or if I will just appreciate a bale that smells oh so sweet.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Man on the Moon

I don't remember Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon.

I wasn't quite two years old at the time.

But I grew up at a time that people were fascinated with space and astronauts and the moon. I spent so many nights studying the moon, looking for the man in the moon, gazing at the stars and moon in amazement.

In the 1990s, I married, moved to Lebanon, Ohio, and worked at a newspaper near there. One day, a co-worker pointed out a farm with rolling fields and cattle.

"That's where Neil Armstrong lives," she said.

I looked at the farm in wonder -- that a man could go to the moon, return to earth, and choose to live among the trees, grass and livestock.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Chicks Grow Up

While stringing electric fence in the horse paddock last weekend, the spouse bent a piece of wire mesh fencing back in place.

About three minutes later, the squawking began.

The chicks could easily slip through the fence from the sheep paddock to the horse paddock. Now that the spouse "fixed" the fence, the hens could not follow the chicks to the horse paddock.

The squawking ensued.

Putting down my fencing tools, I "unfixed" the fence and the hens joined the chicks.

Although the chicks have feathers, they are still vulnerable to cats and hawks... mostly hawks. The cats decided weeks ago that there was easier prey.

To protect themselves from hawks, the hens and chicks nest in the weeds during the day. This hen is not happy that I want to photograph the nest.

At night and at nap time, the chicks sleep with the hens.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Scenes from a Late Summer Morning

The smells of curing hay hanging in the damp dark air.
Stillness, stars in the clear pre-dawn sky.
The Big Dipper sparkling.
Crickets chirping.
The smell of skunk wafting closer, closer.
Lining up the black and white dogs,
To test for smells of black and white cat.
Tag, okay.
Mickey, okay.
Caeli, To The Outside Kennel.
Getting out the dish detergent, the vinegar, the old towels.
To wash away the smells of a late summer morning.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sounds of Late Summer

The insects and heavy fowl are the stars of the August summer orchestra.

The song birds have stepped aside. Now the bird song consists of the geese honking overhead, the roosters and chickens chasing moths and flies, the owls hooting in the darkness.

The birds are no match for the undulating hum of cicadas. When the cicadas trill, they overwhelm other farm sounds, even, at times, human voices.

But when the cicadas rest at night, the chirping crickets carry the summer tunes. When the cicadas rest during the day, I notice another buzzing coming from the elm tree in the yard.Upon closer inspection, I see honey bees are swarming around it.

I don't know why they're there.

Even after 14-plus years on the farm, I find myself in a state of wonder.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Mom in Training

The five-month-old red ewe lamb lay under the overhang with the other lambs, ewes and llama.It was late afternoon, partly sunny and in the 70s -- perfect conditions for cud-chewing and ruminating.

The chicks, though, with their only partially-feathered bodies, found the day chilly, and had to take frequent breaks to dive under a hen's downy feathers and warm up.

Then, a chick found another warm spot. It hopped atop the red lamb and flapped its wings.

The lamb didn't react, just like five months ago, the lamb's mother didn't react when she climbed atop her.

Maybe it's in the sheep's genetic make-up that they, at some time in life, will be used as a mattress, as a springboard, for the young, and that they will accept it, and continue ruminating on sunny afternoons.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Swallows on a Late Summer Afternoon

The barn swallows were delighted when I worked the dogs and sheep in the hay field on an overcast summer afternoon.

Little sheep hooves stir up insects and leave a bug buffet in their wake.

Neither the sheep nor the Border collie seemed to mind the aerial show going on around them.

I loved it.

The barn swallows, with their orange-tinted breasts, forked tails, stylish aerobatics, and bug-eating capabilities are my favorite birds.

It turns out that trailing the sheep was only the first act of the swallows' show.

After kenneling the dogs, I climbed aboard the tractor to mow a pasture. Within minutes, a dozen swallows swooped around me. They didn't seem to mind the diesel engine. They only cared about the bugs.

Their swallow friends noticed, and soon, dozen of birds swooped above the pasture. Some flew east; others to the west. Some dove within a few feet of the ground, while others cruised at altitudes of 10 feet. Often they came within inches of each other before one veered to the side or ascended. Do they ever crash?

The barn swallow population on the farm is at its peak now. The fledglings have joined their parents -- and all are flying and feasting on bugs.

But as I mowed, I realized that they'd soon be gone. It's already the second week in August. One day in late August, while doing the chores, or playing with the dogs, or herding sheep, I will notice the air space is empty, that the swallows have departed for warmer climates, and that I will have to wait eight months for their return.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sharing the Harvest

A few days after the rains, I peaked underneath the leaves in the garden. I found beans, tomatoes and plump cucumbers and squash.

I also found a few over-ripe cantaloupe that I should have harvested days ago. To the delight of the chickens, I smashed those in the chicken yards. They clucked about the addition of fresh fruit to their diet of bugs, corn. leaves and seeds.

The one perfect cantaloupe, ripe and ready for eating, I sat aside with the other produce.

But apparently humans and chickens aren't the only ones who like cantaloupe.

As I was bringing the horses in from the pasture, a Border collie (none of the three are fessing up) found the cantaloupe and engaged in an evening snack.

The dog, though, was kind enough to leave me half.... that I tossed to the chickens.