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?