Thursday, December 24, 2015

Earthworms on Christmas Eve

I'm singing Christmas carols to remind myself that it's Christmas Eve.

Ma Nature is telling me otherwise.

It's been a warm winter, so far, with several 60-degree days. We have yet to turn on the furnace. Fires in the wood-burning stove keep the house plenty warm.

We still have lots of wood in the shed--and lots of hay in the barn. The horses and sheep are still relying on pasture for most of their calories. It takes little effort for them to find green grass.

This morning, thanks to yesterday's thunderstorms, I saw hundreds of earthworms while walking the dogs.

But I miss the cold weather that encourages me to spend evenings reading by the fire.

And I miss the frozen ground that keeps the horses and dogs mud-free.

And I miss wearing Christmas sweaters.

But I'll keep singing Christmas carols and dreaming of a White January.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Bad Boy Returns

For a day, Dewey Kitty lounged in his chair and slept.

He didn't eat; he didn't follow me around the house; he didn't shred tissue paper.

So off to the vet he went.

"There's something seriously wrong with my cat," I told the vet. "He's being a good kitty."

One look at his mouth revealed inflamed gums and throat.

"Once this clears up, a dental is in his future," she said, giving him a few injections and sending him on his way.

A day later, he awoke me at 5 in the morning.

He demanded to sit on my lap and pay attention to him.

When I ignored him, he walked on my keyboard and sat in front of the monitor.

He perched atop the scanner and stared, stared, stared at me.

When noontime approached, he reminded me of his 3 p.m. feeding. And, when I eventually gave into his demands, he ate all of his food.

I was so happy to have my bad kitty back.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

All He Wants for Christmas is...

Tag was born with a charming personality and a bad teeth. He's one of the few Border collies I've seen that has an underbite.

Over the years, he's lost a few bottom incisors while playing tug games with the other dogs. Last week, the now 10-year-old Tag was down to two bottom incisors and a nub.

Yesterday, during his dental cleaning, the last of the bottom incisors were extracted.

But he still remains a charming, manipulative Border collie who knows how to make the best of a situation. He walked over to me and whined, and I prepared some rice with butter for his dinner; and I sat with him on the couch.

And he started to feel better.

Though I'm pretty sure I heard him whisper that some chicken would surely lift his spirits.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Sunny Day in December

Christmas comes every year, but not so sunny days in December.

When those warm days come on a weekend, I say the Christmas stuff can wait.

The horses' ears perked up when I brought the saddle into the barn; and they watched with interest as I left the barn to retrieve a second saddle with a longer girth.

Roxie, the barn cat, joined in the action. Winters get boring for the barn cats who find great amusement in harassing their humans.

After working the horses, I headed to the sheep pasture where Raven and I continue to work on shedding, or splitting, the flock of sheep. No photos were taken because I have yet to master watching the dog, watching the sheep and taking a photo.

Then it was off to the garden, where I cleaned up the asparagus bed--and marveled at the weeds that never give up. The garden's fall chores aren't quite done, but I still have another week until winter officially begins.

And I studied the radish cover crop that I planted in the garden in late spring. Some of the radishes are rotting--and some may still be growing. I have yet to decide if this was a success or not.

Before the sun sets, I'll take the Border collies on a walk through a few fields that we seldom walk. Then I'll turn my thoughts toward Christmas gifts--and wonder if others consider a sunny day in December a fine gift indeed.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

No Slumber Parties for Him

When I returned from the early morning dog walk, Trick the Cat was not perched on the picnic table and awaiting his morning meal.

Now 8 years old, the muscular tabby is a man of routine. He comes to the house for breakfast, takes a nap in the barn, then hunts the fields and barns for mice, birds and rabbits.

I didn't think much of his absence until a few hours later when I went outside to do the morning chores.

His cat food was untouched and he was not in the barn. I hoped he'd gotten locked in a building--and made a note to look for him.

But I didn't need to do that. As I approached the chicken house, I heard his insistent cry. He marched out when I opened the door.

Instead of "thank you," he said, "what took you so long?"

On his evening patrol, he must have gone hunting in the chicken house.

Because chicken food attracts sparrows and mice, Trick
routinely patrols the chicken yard and house.

 When closing the chicken door at dark, I didn't see him so he spent the night with the hens, a few roosters and probably a few unlucky mice.

Did he curl up in a nesting box, snug and secure? Did he stay up talking to the murmuring hens? Did he bat at the roosters' tail feathers?

He is not saying.

But when I took the dogs on their early walk this morning, he was perched at the picnic table, awaiting his morning meal.

Friday, December 4, 2015

When the Border Collie goes to the Office...

While I love my job, it often interferes with fun--like sheepdog trials. I'm constantly balancing and scheming to make them work.

On some days that means Raven, my Border collie, comes to work with me so that we can leave afterwards for a dog trial. If the weather is cool, she snoozes in a crate in the car.

But on a recent day, I brought her to the office so that she could meet my co-workers.

She scanned the room, stuck her nose in the air, and looked at me.

Where were the sheep?

Now 4 years old, Raven has been doing the dog trial and dog clinic circuit so long that she associates my overnight bag with sheep and fun. And my office had no sheep, and was thus no fun.

I encouraged her to walk from cubicle to cubicle to visit my co-workers. But I could see the thought bubbles above her head: Boring, boring, boring.

In mid yawn, a co-worker walked by carrying her lunch. Raven's ears perked and her eyes locked in on the food. Sticking her nose in the air, she turned to stare at the cafeteria door.

For if a Border collie cannot have sheep, food is a nice second option.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Perfecting the Stalk

Roxie, aka Little One, aka The New Barn Cat, is honing her stalking skills. Whenever I looked up on this bright November day, I found the 7-month-old cat.

She perched on a tree limb as I gathered kindling. When hanging blankets on the line, she watched with interest.

When returning with the Border collie from the sheep pastures, I looked up and spotted her atop the chicken coop.

Is this climbing and perching a new phase for her? Or does she realize how precious sun in November can be? Was she forever climbing higher, hoping to meet the blue sky and sun?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gratitude--Morning Walks with Dogs

I am grateful for frost-covered mornings in November and remaining bits of fall color.

And for Border collies who insist on the morning walk, no matter the weather.

Ice crystals formed on the pond overnight, but calm winds and a rising sun make it pleasant for walking.

As always, the dogs inspect the pond.

But, unlike me, they aren't mesmerized by the reflections.

They don't stop to ponder how every side of the pond throws a reflection.

We return home to a fire in the wood stove.

And delight in its warmth.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Star-Filled Walks: Part 2, Intruders

The stars and sliver of moon drew my eyes skyward during my early morning dog walk.

How can just a slice of moon throw out that much light? Would a star fall from the sky?

The Border collie standing in the middle of the driveway interrupted my thoughts. Hackles up, Caeli was staring at the waterway that stretches across the fields in front of our house.

My eyes followed her stare.

The moon illuminated black shapes.

Calling the dogs, I hustled them back to the house and retrieved the spotlight. From the safety behind the fence in the yard, I shone the light across the waterway.


In the fall, the neighbor lets his cows graze the harvested fields. The cows found our alfalfa field more tempting and escaped in the night.

Returning to the house, I looked at the oven clock glowing in the darkness.


No one wants to call their neighbors at 5 in the morning.

I took the spotlight back outside and illuminated the waterway.

Yep, they were definitely cows and they were definitely on the amble away from their farm.

And so I made the call--revealing to the neighbor that his cows were on the loose and letting him assume that it was a barking dog that awoke me from my sleep.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Star-Filled Walks: Part 1

In November, I mourn the lack of sunlight for dog walks.

Now, most of our walks are under a lightening sky, a darkening sky, a dark sky.

Our 5 a.m. greet-the-morning walk, though, always takes place under a dark sky. At this time, the world seems the quietest.

The coyotes and other night creatures have gone to bed; and most humans and day creatures have yet to awake. I hear very little engine noise and see fewer, if any headlights.

Warmer-than-usual temperatures and calm winds have made these walks pleasant and unhurried this fall, and I find myself looking up at the sky, the clusters of stars, the stars that outshine the others.

On so many mornings, I've watched a star shake loose from its moorings, fall and fade.

As I wish on those shooting stars, I think how lucky I am and wonder if someone, somewhere, is doing the same.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

That Sweet Spot

Walking into the barnyard in the morning light, I hear bleating--softer and higher pitched than the demanding ewes.

Lambs! Four of them, scattered around the barnyard.

But that can't be, I argued with myself.

October, September, August, July, June...

Counting the months backwards finally rouses me awake. But it took me a few more minutes to settle from the nightmare.

I love lambing season--but I also am reveling in these carefree November days.

We are in that sweet spot of the year when our livestock numbers are down--and I'm carrying very little hay and water.

The lambs went to market last month, and we sold the two rams earlier this month. No longer do we deliver water to the lamb pasture, the breeding ewe pasture, the ram pen, the dry ewe pasture.

The 15 remaining ewes and the llama all hang out together. With pasture still available and a warmer-than-usual fall, that means I deliver one five-gallon bucket of water to the sheep daily.

The winter flock. No, the one playing the wheelbarrow game is not a ram; she's a ewe. I checked--multiple times.

The horses, too, are able to graze the pasture at night. During the day, they receive only one flake of hay each.

Earlier this fall, we sent the young roosters to the butcher and merged the young chicken flock with the old chicken flock. We're only delivering food and water to one group.

That means chores take 15 minutes, morning and night. And most of that time is spent playing with the barn kitty.

These carefree days will end soon, when freezing temperatures arrive and I become the ice breaker. Eventually pastures will be grazed down and I'll become the hay hauler. And the 15 minutes will become 20, then 25 and 30.

For now, though, I'll enjoy it--and try to avoid those sheep dreams.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Better--Without the Dog

For many farm tasks with the sheep, I rely on a Border collie for help.

Need to move sheep to another pasture? I call a dog to assist. Need to persuade sheep to go into the barn? I call the dog.

But just because I have a dog trained to work sheep doesn't mean that the dog is always the best tool for the job.

When sorting sheep in a stall or close quarters, I prefer to work alone, without the dog. Why add a dog to the close space and risk the dog or me getting hurt?

The one task that I've always struggled with is the trailer load.

Sheep fear dark, enclosed spaces--and they don't care for the rattle of the trailer. Dogs and people cannot persuade sheep that it's a good idea to go inside a trailer. My husband and I get the task accomplished, but not without high anxiety for sheep and people.

Until this year.

This fall, we parked the trailer in the pasture where the market lambs were living. Once a day, I'd put some hay in tubs inside the trailer. Within hours the sheep figured out the trailer was a place for food. They jumped in and out of it throughout the day.

On the morning they were to go to the butcher, I put some hay inside the trailer. The lambs jumped inside to snack on their morning meal. I slid the trailer door shut.

"Lambs are loaded and ready to go," I told my husband.

Neither of us had touched a lamb during the loading process.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

It Rained and Rained--Until it Didn't

I carried more buckets of water to the sheep yesterday than I did any day this past summer.

This summer it rained and rained and rained, until fall came, and it didn't.

The sheep ingest much of their water through grass which grew instead of going dormant in July and August. Even when temperatures rose into the 90s, the sheep drank little water.

The rains stopped this fall, and the grass stopped growing and turned brown. While the sheep are still grazing grass in the pasture, its water content is low. Dew no longer coats it in the morning.

The temperatures rose into the 70s yesterday and the winds picked up speed. The sheep, sporting their light winter coats, drank and drank and drank.

And I carried and carried and carried.

And I told myself it was better than carrying buckets and buckets of water in 90 degree weather--or hauling hay through the snow.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My Green Thumb Turns Red

Among the new tries for this year's garden was popcorn.

It loved my garden, and grew and grew, then turned brown, the full ears drying on the stalk. I harvested it last week and had two paper backs full of mahogany red ears.

I could leave the corn on the ears. When I want a snack, all I'd have to do is grab an ear, stick it in a paper bag and zap it in the microwave.

But ears of corn take up a lot of space.

So I opted to save some whole ears for popping and began shelling the rest. Removing the kernels from the cob made by thumb sore. I put on gloves. It helped, somewhat.

After filling two jars, I called it quits. My thumb was quite red and beginning to blister.

Corn shelling will have to wait a few more days.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


I fall asleep to the sound of diesel engines.

Combines are gobbling up bushels and bushels of corns and soybeans and transforming the landscape. Night sounds roll across the bare fields.

I awake in the night to coyotes, howling, barking, yipping, responding to each other.

Are they hunting, gobbling up raccoon, rabbits, mice and groundhogs displaced by harvest? Or are they joyful about the wide, open spaces?

My own harvest is going much slower.

In the afternoon sunshine, I pull an ear of popcorn from a stalk, remove the husk and place it in a bag.

Little One, the new barn kitten, helps with harvest.

I measure my progress by ears husked. When finished, I have two grocery bags filled with popcorn. A fine harvest indeed.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Fall Tree Walk

It is mid-September and time to identify and mark the standing dead trees in the woods. This fall we are cutting and splitting wood to burn in the winter of 2016-17.

Identifying standing dead is easiest when leaves are on the trees, so I schedule this task when the weather cools enough to settle the mosquitoes somewhat.

For the tree identification walk, I prepare to spend a lot of time looking up, looking for trees without any leaves and trees that have shed their tiniest branches.

Of course, I must also watch where I'm walking. For this is the time of year for spiderwebs. Floating leaves are everywhere in the woods--and I know they aren't magical, they're signs of spiderwebs.

It's also the time of year when burrs are best at grabbing clothing and hanging on.

I soon discover that I don't have to spend my walk looking upward. For the emerald ash borer has hit our woods. Many ash trees are dead; many will be dead by next year. I only have to look for the borer's holes in the trunk.

As I walk, I find dozens of dead trees with little effort. But I take no joy in this. I am left to wonder how the woods will change, how it will adapt in the coming years.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Mowing Friends

It's late August and I don't expect to be mowing overgrown pastures--and I certainly don't expect to have guests.

But as I mow during this unusually wet and cool summer, my favorite birds arrive. First there are a few, and within minutes a dozen barn swallows are swooping in front of me, behind me, around me, gobbling up the insects that the mower stirs up.

I try to capture them with my camera, but they are quick, darting in and out of view. And soon I give up, and just enjoy their orange-tinted breasts, their petite frames, their forked tails. Their moves are kinds that stunt pilots try to replicate--and can't.

Any day now, the swallows will gather and leave, flying South to where the weather is warmer and the insects plentiful during the fall and winter months.

But on this late August day, they are still here--and so I mow and mow, listening to the diesel engine, the blades cutting grass, and reveling in being a small part of their aerial acrobatic show.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Geese and Me

When the trained goose dog died last summer, the Canada geese took notice.

For three springs, Mickey, the old Border collie, ran to the pond and harassed any goose she might find. For three springs, no geese made a nest at the pond.

This spring I walked four Border collies around the pond. When the geese saw them, they stepped into the pond, and my four dogs went about their daily sniffing and play games. They never harassed the geese.

Two geese took notice and made a nest. And soon, there were two adults and three goslings.

We continued our walks, and the geese continued stepping into the pond.

In the past few weeks, other geese joined the flock. Now, 23 geese are hanging around the pond--except when they are munching on the newly planted alfalfa.

This week, I decided to train one of my dogs to harass the geese.

While walking through an alfalfa field one morning, I spotted the geese. So did Caeli, my prick-eared Border collie who has some sheep herding training.

"Walk up," I told her.

She did with gusto.

As the geese took flight, I celebrated.


One goose panicked and lifted off a few seconds after the others.

And Caeli was there.

"Lie down," I yelled.

While I wanted the geese gone, I didn't want Caeli mangling one in our front field.

Caeli dropped, her nose inches from the goose that had flattened itself on the ground.

"That'll do."

Caeli looked at me, reluctant to leave.

"That'll do."

She came to me, her eye never leaving the goose.

After attaching her to a leash, I walked over to the goose who appeared uninjured, but on the ground.

As we walked away, the other geese circled back to the field, and the goose stood, ruffled her feathers and joined the flock.

This morning, the 23 geese are still hanging out at the pond and the nearby alfalfa fields.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Late Summer Gift

Every morning this summer, I walked into the barn and found the two Haflingers standing head-to-tail in a stall. All 35 lambs and ewes, as well as the llama, were crowded into another.

During a normal summer, the sheep would be snoozing outside in the pasture or near the barn. The horses--never ones to miss an opportunity to eat--would be grazing.

But this year an overabundance of rain produced a record crop of mosquitoes. Before dusk each night, the horses and sheep sought cover in the barn.

Temperatures dipped into the 50's overnight and a light breeze stirred the air. When I walked into the barn during the pre-dawn hours this morning, I was greeted only by the kitten.

I found the sheep outside in the paddock and the horses in the pasture--and the meteors falling from the star-filled sky.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

We ask, they deliver...

When my brother attended a sheepdog trial earlier this month, he looked around and asked, "How many dogs are here?"

"One hundred and fifty, maybe 200," I guessed. More than 100 were entered in the trial. But people coming to trials often bring retired dogs and pups not yet ready for competition.

"And there are no dogs barking, no dogs fighting, none misbehaving," he said.

I took a moment to think about what I expected of my Border collies--and what they deliver.

My 4-year-old competition dog, Raven, and 1-year-old pup, Niki, have traveled extensively.  Before she was even a year old, Niki had traveled to dog trials in Ohio and Kentucky and made a trek to Texas. She was expected to travel well in a crate, be quiet (though she wasn't always), interact with other dogs and people, and walk nicely on leash.

Raven has traveled to Texas and back several times--as well as trials in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Virginia. She stays overnight in motels--and behaves like a champ. Of course, Raven's expectations are much more than being a good traveler and getting along with people and dogs.

On the trial field--and on the farm, she is expected to listen to her commands, to be nice to the sheep, to leave the chickens and cats alone.

At sheepdog clinics, I ask her to move sheep to designated spots on the field--and lie quietly while another dog comes and takes the sheep. Sometimes, she works off and on for hours. And, when not working, I ask her to lie quietly in a crate or tied to a post or a fence.

During one particularly hot sheepdog clinic, a handler marveled that a half-dozen Border collies were tied along the fenceline in the shade--and on the other side of the fence were the sheep lying in the shade. No dog was harassing the sheep. No dog was barking. The dogs knew they were expected to be quiet until it was their turn.

Those high expectations and hard work make herding dogs some of the happiest, most content dogs I know.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

As if Chores Weren't Hard Enough...

After spending three weekends at sheepdog trials and clinics, I turned my attention to the farm.

The chore list was long: groom the dogs,

 (So glad only two of the Border collies are rough coats)

sort out the ram lambs,

clean up the horse paddock (actually a joy now that it's finally drying out),

mow (it may have stopped raining, but the grass is still looking lush)

weed and mulch the garden...

and watch the kitten.

Between four Border collies and trap/neuter efforts, we've kept stray cats to a minimum on the farm. But this one appeared while I was at a sheepdog clinic. And so far, I've found no one who wants an adorable kitten--so, for now she's staying.

She thanks me constantly by being underfoot. So, I've resorted to holding her while I'm moving ram lambs, feeding the chickens, dragging around the muck bucket.

She purrs, delighted with the arrangement.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Finding Beauty in Hot & Soggy

We are caught in that weather pattern where hot, humid weather attracts thunderstorms--and then more heat and humidity, and then more thunderstorms.

It's too wet to mow and weed. So instead of sulking, which I've done, I captured some images from mid-June.

The first crop of strawberries is winding down.

The red raspberries are preparing to take over. Shhhh... don't tell the birds.

And, while mowing a bit of pasture--before another pop-up storm--I found a few wild raspberries and ate them.

In the garden, the weeds are growing, as is the dill.

As is the radish cover crop. Last week I said enough with planting and seeded the remaining garden space in cover crop. It's my first attempt at this, so we'll see how it goes.

It's my first attempt at growing popcorn, too.

I've grown garlic before--but had never eaten the scapes. I sauteed them in olive oil and butter, added some more fresh herbs and tossed it with linguine. It was so tasty, I might have to plant my garden in garlic next year.

Meanwhile, in the chicken yard, the chicks continue to capture my attention. The chicks are almost four weeks old. Buckeyes are a slow-maturing breed--but very hardy and great foragers.

The lambs, especially the Katahdin-Dorper crosses, are growing fast. These two aren't quite 3 months old.

In the flowerbed, the first daylily of the season bloomed today.

And the lilies are so beautiful, I want to bring them inside.

But I won't. Louise the cat ate the lilies last year.

My favorites, though, may be the alliums--wild, carefree and a peaceful blue.