Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The One Bright Spot

It was one of those days when the grass is brown, the sky, grey, and the weather, rainy.

As I walked the dogs, I watched them roll so that their top sides matched their muddy undersides. Even the usually clean Mickey wore a smudge on the white stripe of her forehead.

The horses got into the act, repeatedly rolling and grinding sand, mud and water into their thick winter coats.

It's not supposed to be 60 degrees in January.

At the barn, I walked through mud as I did the evening chores.

That's when I found the one bright spot: a brown, mud-streaked egg in the chicken yard.

It was cracked, so it becomes a dog egg. The three Border collies are playing Paper, Paper, Paper to determine who gets it. But it was an egg, the first egg in over a month. Maybe I'll soon be eating eggs again.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Books I Have Read - 2013

   Some of the greatest readers I know are people who live in rural areas. Maybe it's because reading is a great way to spend winter evenings or hot summer afternoons. Or maybe it's because those readers have a great appreciation for the beauty -- whether it's nature or the written word. Or maybe it's a way to escape the never-ending chore list.

So, I"m going to try and record what I read in 2013.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz -- A fascinating, if not lengthy biography. Her story is told against the backdrop of many social and technological changes in the 20th century.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. A highly recommended, though sometimes tough read.

The Best American Short Stories 2012, Tom Perrotta editor. I read this series every year. While always an interesting read, some years are better than others. This year's was one of the better collections.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and this novel delivers -- great story, beautiful language, and leaves me thinking long after I finished reading it.

Ride, Cowboy, Ride: 8 Seconds Ain't That Long by Baxter Black. I thought two things when reading this: I kept wishing that I was listening to the author read it, and Black must have had a great time writing it.

The Mold in Dr. Florey's Coat: The Story of the Penicillin Miracle by Eric Lax. For me it's hard to imagine a world without antibiotics. A slow read but worth it.

The Buzzard Table by Margaret Maron. Having a cold is no fun. Having a good book to read while curled up near the fire makes it bearable. Maron is one of my favorite mystery writers.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

When the sheep don't come in from pasture

As the light fades, Llambert the Llama lifts his head and walks north toward the gate opening.

Just a yard behind him is the Lead Ewe, aka Good Mom. Behind her is a single-file line of twenty ewes that stretches fifty yards or more.

Slowly, methodically, they march north.

Then, the Lead Ewe stops. The other ewes keep moving until they reach the Lead Ewe. None pass her.

Within a minute, the ewes form a tight flock. Their heads point north, south, east, west.

Lambert continues his northward trek toward the gate. Once there, he moseys to the barn.

The swarm of sheep goes into "group think" mode, and that mode moves them south toward a closed gate that gives them a view of the barn, but not access.

There they remain until darkness falls and I call a Border collie who circles and moves them northward toward the gate that leads to the barn.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hunger: The Great Motivator

I want the sheep to use a different gate to access the hay field.

On the first day, I showed them the gate. After that, they had no problem finding that gate when they wanted to graze the hay field.

However, teaching them to use that gate to come back to the barn took three days.

In late afternoons, when they wanted to come back to the barn, they stood by the old gate (now closed) and cried.

Twice, with the help of a Border collie, I drove them through the new gate so they could get back to the barn.

Finally, on the third afternoon, I went to the barn and found this:

They figured it out.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Don't like the temp? Go to another room!

The great thing about a wood-burning stove is there is a warm, toasty spot in the house. The downside is that it doesn't distribute the heat evenly like the furnace.

On a January day, when the wind was blowing from the west and the furnace was not in use, I measured room temperatures.

My upstairs office - 61 degrees. Not bad for a room that has three outside walls. It sits above the downstairs room that houses the wood-burning stove.

Upstairs bedroom - 61 degrees. On the east side of the house.

The spouse's upstairs den - 65 degrees. Has two outside walls -- a south and west one. Also has a space heater.

Downstairs interior hallway -- 64 degrees.

Downstairs bathroom -- 59 degrees. Has west exterior wall and is farthest from the wood-burning stove.

The recliner in the living room (with the wood-burning stove) - 67 degrees.

Guess where I spend my winter evenings?

Check out my new blog! Cheeps and Bleats: Animals Tales.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Egg Mystery Continues

While others were nestled in their homes, watching television, reading, sleeping, I was moving chickens from one hen house to the other.

For the past several months, I've had a merged flock of 19 hens and three roosters. Last night, I moved seven hens and one rooster to the new house.

Late this morning, I checked both houses for eggs. None.

Returning to the house, I ate chicken noodle soup and thought how much more I prefer eggs to chicken.


Check out my new blog Cheeps and Bleats!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Life with Animals (Introducing New Blog)

I can't imagine life without animals.

In my earliest childhood memories, I'm carrying Tigger, a tolerant male cat, dressing him in scraps of material, whispering secrets in his furry ears.

At age six, a teary-eyed me is looking at a dead chick as my parents explain that sometimes animals die and there is nothing we can do about it.

My first pony, Rocky, carried an eight-year-old me through woods and creeks and fields. Atop a pony, I was tall and fast and, sometimes, in control.

Hours of childhood were spent observing animals, how a hen laid an egg, how the horses interacted, what a chicken leg felt like. Those animals -- the horses, the dog, the chickens and the cats, especially the cats -- listened as I told them my frustrations and dreams and secrets.

My body wears the scars from animals: the cat scratch to the lip, the gashed eyebrow from the horse, the shiny skin from the horse bite, the two-inch scar incision from a repaired broken finger.

But those were a small price to pay for the rewards animals brought me -- the friends I met through horses and dogs, the confidence I gained as I learned to train, to communicate, and to tend to animals, the discoveries I've made, and the comfort I've found being among them.

I wish that everyone could watch a hen scratch and peck, a lamb leap and twist, a cat pounce a Border collie; I wish they could feel horse breath on their cheeks and the warmth of a just-laid egg; and I wish they could step outside and hear rooster crows and horse whinnies.

With my new blog, Cheeps and Bleats, I hope to capture the magic of animals. This blog focuses on animal tales, as told from the point of view of the animals. I'll still blog at Ewe Chicks and a Llama, but Ewe Chicks will focus more on life on a Midwestern farm.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

For years, we've kept two hen houses. One for the young hens and one for the old ones.

This provides some genetic diversity at breeding time -- and it gives us a little insurance on one flock surviving a predator attack.

However, in an effort to save time -- and feed, I combined the flocks in late fall and put them all -- 19 hens and three roosters -- in one hen house. They still have room to roam. I figured they'd be fine.

Maybe a break-up will inspire some egg laying.

So, this week, I'm opening up the young hen house and then moving some hens to it. (So it may be a few days before I write another egg mystery report... unless of course, I find an egg!)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Egg Mystery-Day 2

Maybe the hens need new bedding. I like freshly-laundered, air-dried sheets. Shouldn't they?

The nesting boxes are lined with wood shavings. Over time, the shavings collect dirt and crumble.

I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning out the chicken house and spreading new bedding on the floor and in the nesting box.

When finished, the chicken house smelled like a pine forest on a spring day.

The nesting boxes were filled with fluffy shavings, awaiting hens. Surely, they'd lay eggs now.

Again this morning, I locked the chickens in the hen house and checked it frequently.

By noon, there was no hen butt imprints in the freshly-fluffed nest boxes. I'm debating my next step.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Egg Mystery-Day 1 (and 60 degrees in January)

During the winter months, egg production drops off, but I've never had it stop for more than a few days. So, today my quest was to determine if the hens were laying eggs.

Before laying an egg, a hen will settle into a nest for 15 or 30 minutes or so.

Today, I didn't let the chickens out of the hen house, but I checked in on them every 30 minutes or so.

Never did I see one in a nesting box.

Tomorrow, we will proceed to plan B.

60 Degrees in January
Last year, a sheep farmer told me that he spotted a dandelion during every month of the year.

I can't stop noticing the dandelions.

They didn't take long to bloom once the snow melted this week.

I spent the day cleaning the barn and moving hay, for the freezing weather is supposed to return. The ram was eager to check out the new straw. When grazing is limited, the critters get bored.

The horses would like to have the 20-degree days back. For when the ground is frozen, I let them onto the pastures. These two are built for the cold. They seemed warm today.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Not following the the rules

A good trial lawyer never asks a question that she doesn't know the answer.

Likewise, I don't blog about an event that is evolving where the outcome is uncertain. When the lamb broke her leg, I didn't blog about it until I knew she'd live, likewise the neurological ewe, the sick horse, etc.

Well, because it is January, and I'm tired of writing about mud and rain, and it's the season when the daily routine consists of cleaning, feeding, and wishing for sunlight, I'm breaking my blog rule.

Yep, that's right. You're going to get updates on my quest to solve the missing chicken egg mystery.

I'm hoping it's a short mystery, and one that doesn't stretch from A to Z, or 1 to 15. I'm also hoping it's one that doesn't end in feathers and chicken dinners. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In search of the golden egg

When I found no eggs a few days before Christmas, I thought nothing about it.

The egg production had dropped to one every other day. Days were short, skies were gray, the air was cold. Who could blame the chickens for taking a holiday?

But when a few days stretched to two weeks, I began to wonder: where are the eggs?

I think I have an egg thief. I do not know if it's feathered or furry or scaly, but I intend to find out.

I'm going to watch a sitting hen and wait for her to lay an egg and observe what happens.

At 8 o'clock this morning, I tiptoed to the hen house. Three hens and a rooster were standing around, gossiping, pecking at their food. No hens were in the nesting boxes.

I returned at 9 o'clock. A lone hen was pecking at food. Again, no hens in the nesting boxes.

I had to go to work.

Sleuthing -- and omelets-- will have to wait for another day.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The hen sitting on the rail

Lately, when I go into the barn, I find a hen perched on the rail dividing the stalls.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it... but I think it means that I need to spread my wings and start a new blog.

I'm keeping Ewe Chicks and a Llama... but another idea seems to have hatched.

More within the next week or so!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sun and snow baths

 I let the horses out into the pasture this morning, and they rolled and rolled and rolled.

 Snow-covered ground means the horses are clean -- or as clean as they can be when wearing heavy coats all the time. I'm sure that if I patted them, they'd emit clouds of dust. So instead of patting, I watch.

 They offer quite the show. Frozen ground means they get to spend all day, every day on the pastures.

Jet, the more athletic of the two, likes to run flat-out.

Lily doesn't miss a chance to show off her Barbie-mane.

Daytime temperatures are expected to climb above freezing this week. That means the snow will melt away, and we'll return to limited pasture time and muddy horses. But for today, we enjoyed the snow and sun.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Skiing in Ohio

When I say I went cross-country skiing, people usually respond with, "Isn't that a lot of work?"

"Not as much as downhill skiing," I say.

I don't have to worry about ski rental, or what I'm wearing, or driving to a ski slope. I just put on my boots, walk outside and snap on the skis.

Wearing my barn coat, hat, and jeans, I make my way around the hay fields, and sometimes venture to the woods.

Of course, the one downside is that the trails aren't groomed.

I ran into some hefty drifts this week, and said, "Cool, moguls."

Except it wasn't cool working through them.

But I did.

And for my troubles, I saw a few squirrels playing among the trees and snow... and saw the red-trails circling overhead and enjoyed the snow and the wind and the quiet of winter.

Happy New Year's!