Thursday, February 27, 2014

Candy Hay

I'm feeding fourth cutting alfalfa that smells like sunshine and the warm October day that it was baled. It's leafy and green and makes me momentarily forget the weeks of frozen water buckets.

I usually reserve the rich third and fourth cutting alfalfa hay for the nursing ewes, but weeks of sub-freezing temperatures have meant the sheep need extra calories.

Sheep eat like children, picking out the best morsels of food first, leaving the least desirable pieces behind. When given first cutting hay, they root through and find the alfalfa first, then the tender dried grass. Later, if still hungry, they might eat the tougher pieces -- unless they have walked on it, and then it goes to waste.

Not so with fourth cutting alfalfa hay.

The spouse calls it candy hay.

I sometimes wonder if it melts in their mouths. For an hour after I feed, it is gone. There are no pieces or morsels next to the feeders.

And the sheep are always crying for more, more.

Yesterday, I was feeling generous and gave Jet, the Haflinger, a half flake of the alfalfa hay. I tossed it next to the feed pan, filled with grain.

She left the grain to eat the hay.

Maybe it reminds her, too, of sunshine and warm fall days, and hope for the tender green shoots of spring grass.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

My Spinach is Up!

Sometimes being behind schedule pays.

I looked in the garden today and found this! Yep! My spinach is green and about two inches tall.

I wish I could say it is part of my grand gardening plan. Instead, it's a result of spending too much time with Border collies and sheep. While I was at Border collie trials in the fall, I wasn't preparing my garden for winter.

I left my wire fences in the garden.

I neglected to pick my spinach.

And, because of the fencing, no rabbits or chickens could eat my spinach. And, underneath the snow, my spinach was patiently waiting for the melt.

Chicken Population Explodes!

A taste of spring arrived yesterday.

The snow that's covered the ground for weeks melted; temperatures rose into the 50's, and bits of grass turned green.

The chickens celebrated by going everywhere.

For weeks now, they've spent lots of time in the chicken coop or wandering up to the sheep barn. And, their diet has consisted mostly of chicken feed and scratch grain. But yesterday they had sun and easy walking. Their search for better food began.

When I was moving hay from the hay and equipment barn, I looked over and saw a hen. And I found another hen in the hay stall when I moved bales to the horse barn.

And there were chickens in the young chicken yard, chickens in the garden, chickens in the sheep pasture, chickens in the yard, chickens on the back porch, chickens in the horse paddock, chickens in the horse stalls, chickens in the sheep paddock.

Caeli, the Border collie, just trembled as they ran amok.

Visitors often ask, "How many chickens do you have?"

Last night, I counted. Fourteen hens and two roosters. But yesterday, I was sure that we had fifty.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sometimes You Catch a Moment of Pure Joy

During the afternoon of the second sunny day of the Great Snow Melt, the sheep ventured into the five-acre field.

While snow still covered the field, Llambert the Llama assured them it was passable, that they would not get stuck in a snow drift. So, for the first time in nearly six weeks, the sheep left the area around the barn.

Instead of rooting for grass underneath the melting snow, they ran circles in the snow.

From my office window, I watched as they acted like lambs, chasing each other, leaping and twisting and head-butting. Even the heavily-pregnant ewes joined in the game. Around and around they went. Then, they'd stop for a minute and continue the game.

I considered grabbing a camera and trying to capture the moment.

But instead, I let them be, and just watched from my window, smiling at their pure joy.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

How do they know?

When skiing in the woods, I find a lot of holes dug in the snow.

Judging by the tracks and the proximity to the trees, I assume that a squirrel is making them. Sometimes, but not often, I find shells near the holes.

Because the squirrel is not around, I can't ask him:

How do you know where to dig? Do you follow your nose, your memory, or some pull of the earth's magnetic field.

And, what is your success rate? If I find five holes around the tree, am I to assume you found five nuts? Or did you find just one? Or none -- and you went to bed hungry?

And, did you notice, as I did, that the grass, under all that snow, sometimes shows hints of green?

NOTE: For those who like scientific answers ... Scientists aren't sure how squirrels find their stash -- whether it's scent, landmarks or memory. But grey squirrels scatter their nuts throughout an area while red squirrels create little piles of nuts. Thus, the grey squirrel helps re-seed the forest more than the red squirrel. And squirrel connoisseurs often say that the grey squirrel is better eating -- not as gamy as the red.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Difference Between Cats and Dogs

Snow crusted with a thin layer of ice welcomed me this morning.

And my cats disappeared. I finally found them burrowed under the covers.

The dogs, though, couldn't wait to take their lunchtime walk. They whined and danced as I laced -- and wrapped -- on my cross country ski boots.

They didn't mind that the wind was blowing and it was snowing.

Nor did they mind the crust of ice on top of the snow.

They had mice to hunt and snow angels to make.

But within minutes of coming back indoors, I found them asleep in front of the fire.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

When temperatures hit 40 degrees...

The temperature rises above 40 degrees and the sheep, after spending days in the paddock area, amble toward the pastures.

Snow still covers the grass, so there is no grazing. But there is running and leaping and twisting in the air.

The hens, too, are eager to move about. Several test their wing strength and fly onto the stall rails.

One even lays an egg.

I, too, dressed in just a windbreaker, and no hat or gloves, run about and celebrate the warmth.

But I am reminded that I do not have hooves or exposed toenails, and I slide on the melting snow and go crashing to the ground.