Monday, December 18, 2017

A Haunted Chicken House?

Winter in Ohio means doing chores in the grey and the dark.

The grey was darkening as I closed the sheep gate a few days ago, and heard the pounding on a window. Glancing at the old chicken house, I saw a shadow.

The chickens moved out of the old chicken house months ago. They are now living in a house with windows that close and few, if any, drafts. After their departure, we closed the windows and doors of the old chicken house.

Pound, pound.

Something was definitely in the chicken house. I stopped and looked at the dust-covered window.

A bird, big and pale, with long tail feathers, flapped against the window.

A hawk? Could a hawk get into the chicken house?

Pound, pound.

He definitely couldn't get out.

I walked around to the chicken house door and debated my next move. If I opened the door, would he come flying at the opening and my face?

Approaching the door sideways, I unlatched it, stepped to the side and kicked it open.


I peeked inside.

The Cooper's hawk, or chicken hawk, sat on the perch, staring. He was neither going to thank me nor scold me for coming to his aid.

I left the door open for him and finished the evening chores. When I returned to the chicken house, he was gone. So, too, I realized, were the huge flocks of starlings and sparrows who had made the chicken house their home.

For more info on the Cooper's hawk, click here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Trickster Goes Herding

Cold weather and short days make for a bored barn cat.

When Trick the Cat spotted Emma the Border Collie and me trekking toward the sheep pasture, he fell into line behind us. And when Emma brought the sheep to the gate, he stood smack dab in the middle and dared the sheep to walk by.

The ewes gathered around the 12-pound cat and sniffed him. One rubbed her nose against his back. The cat purred in delight.

Emma looked at me. I shooed the cat aside so that the sheep could pass and Emma could work.

As Emma drove the sheep around the wheat field, I walked behind her, and Trick behind me.

"You are so in the way," I told the cat who happily ambled along, enjoying his break from snoozing on top of the hay bales.

"You could spend more time catching mice," I told him.

Yesterday I spotted a mouse feasting on the Broken-Legged Hen's food. I scooped Trick up from his the hay bale and tried to place him in the stall with Broken-Legged Hen and the mouse.

He yowled and braced, claws extended. No way was he stepping one paw into the pen with Broken-Legged Hen.

I relented.

Trick the Cat has survived 10-plus years on the farm. No barn cat gets to be that old without being an excellent judge of character.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Things We Do...

For weeks we had our nightly ritual. After dark, I'd step into the horse stall, walk around the two Haflingers, scoop up the hen and carry her to the hen house.

"You are a chicken. You live in the chicken house," I told her.

She ruffled her feathers and returned to the horse stall every morning.

"Fine. Live in the horse stall," I said.

And, then the horse stepped on her and injured her leg.

"A horse stall is no place for an injured chicken," I said, scooping her up and carrying her to the hen house.

She stayed there for two days before she walked one-legged back to the horse stall.

So we compromised.

I put her in a horse stall without a horse, and agreed to bring her food and water every morning and night. She agreed to be waited on and to squawk her disapproval with me daily.

We're week 2 into the agreement and it seems to be working so far.

Friday, November 24, 2017

How Many Border Collies Does it Take?

The sun was shining. Temperatures were in the 50s. I had the day off work. It seemed the perfect time to plant my spring-blooming bulbs--and to spend some time with the dogs.

About five minutes into the project, I was questioning the wisdom of gardening with dogs.

While tucking crocuses into the ground, Gael, the 4-month-old Border collie, snatched my glove and darted across the yard.

Glove retrieved and crocuses planted, I moved to a different spot where I attempted to dig. Gael was front and center, right where I wanted to dig.

Then she wanted to participate. She dug in the dirt,upsetting recently planted bulbs.

Meanwhile, Emma stared at the cat.

And Raven stared at the back door, hoping some dog would exit.

Because I'm planting so late in the fall, I don't know if the bulbs will come up in the spring.

If they do, I'm sure they'll have that natural, fall-where-they-may look, and that they'll make me smile and remember the day I attempted to plant bulbs with Border collies.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A River Runs Over It, No More?

The upside of a long lane? Privacy.

The downside? Keeping it passable.

Several times this year, our driveway looked likes this.

A waterway, located about 100 yards in front of our house, collects water that runs off fields after heavy rainfalls. Three culverts running under our driveway allow the water to pass.

When we moved to the farm nearly 20 years ago, that's what usually happened. Once in the first five years, the rain fell so quickly that water filled the waterway and poured over the driveway. In the process, it washed away gravel and deposited cornstalks in and around the driveway.

For the past several years, the water has come up and over the driveway several times a year.

What's caused it? Most likely a number of reasons. Heavy rainfalls have become more frequent. Fewer fence rows and frequent plowing means the farm land is less able to quickly soak up the water. Thus, it runs off the fields to waterways, ditches, streams and rivers.

When a waterway in front of our house was being repaired this fall, we had a decision to make: keep replacing gravel and removing cornstalks, or put in a larger culvert that will allow even more water to pass under the driveway.

We opted for a big culvert.

So our driveway was closed for a few days while the area was dug out, a crane was brought in, and a new culvert installed.

When the heavy rains come, we're hoping the river runs through it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Rookie at the National Sheepdog Finals

Jack at the shed. Photo courtesy of Beth Murray.

When Jack arrived from Texas last summer, I never envisioned qualifying him for the USBCHA National Sheepdog Finals. Instead, I was hoping to have a nice open dog for competition and a dog that would help me improve my handling skills.

We traveled to trials in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Wisconsin and Virginia. We had sheep escape during the fetch; we missed drive panels; we were disqualified during a shed; and we timed out at the pen. Sometimes we completed the course, and sometimes we didn't. Over time though, we got better, and every once in a while, we were able to pull all the elements together and place. By this summer's end, we'd earned enough points to qualify for the National Finals in Virginia.

One hundred and fifty dogs from across the United States and Canada are accepted into the Finals--and the handlers' list reads like a Who's Who of the sheepdog world. They returned to the Finals year after year. I was a rookie, making my first appearance.

Running on the last day of the four-day preliminary round gave me lots of time to think about this. Over the first three days, I saw sheep escapes from the course, missed drive panels, disqualifications at the shed and timing out at the pen. I also witnessed dogs and handlers working together to move the four sheep skillfully around the course.

A friend and I made two visits to the practice field to take the edge off me and my dog. During the second work, she told me to fetch the sheep and then whistle Jack counter-clockwise around the sheep.

"You're going to need that," she said. During the fetch, many groups wanted to run toward the exhaust--and most handlers were giving quick "away-to-me" commands to stop them. It did little to settle my nerves.

The crowds didn't help. At most dog trials, the only spectators are the other handlers and a few friends. At the Nationals, hundreds of people attend and watch. Sunny September weather brought them out in droves.

Self-doubt set in. Would I be able to keep the sheep on course? Would I make a rookie mistake on the field? As my turn approached, I went to the car to get my dog, whistles and crook. Jack, a 9-year-old who'd run in many big trials, went into pre-run warm-ups: rolling in the grass, whining and sidling up to me. He was ready.

Like that, I forgot about the crowds and that this was the National Finals. Taking a few deep breaths, I petted him and reminded myself that this was just another dog trial. A sense of calm overtook me, and we walked to the post. As Jack swung out into an arc, it became just me, my dog and four sheep who were bolting toward the exhaust.

I gave my away whistle. Jack swung around to stop them. Usually that's enough to change their minds, but these sheep were determined to escape. I was determined to keep them on course. Pretty lines went to the wayside. Jack moved like a cutting horse, zigging and zagging to hold them onto the course. Somehow we got the sheep around the post and through the first drive panel. I was slow to give a flank in front of the second drive panel, and the sheep dipped low, missing the panel.

As Jack moved the sheep to the shedding ring, I glanced at the clock. Eight minutes had passed, and we had three minutes left to split two from the group, re-gather and put them in the pen.

Still inexperienced at shedding, I take time to position myself in the ring and set up the shed. We split the two and I send Jack to re-gather the group.

I have one minute to pen--and complete confidence in my dog.

With steady movement and a few flanks, we guide the sheep into the pen, and I shut the gate.

We'd done it. It wasn't pretty, and the 114 score wouldn't be high enough to move onto the next round, but we'd completed the course at the National Finals--and I was ready to try that again.

After my preliminary run was over, I had time to really watch and enjoy the
Finals--and take photos.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Year of the Rooster

Blame it on the sheep minerals. This past winter, I was standing in line at the hardware store to pay for the minerals and saw the flyer for Chick Days.

There were photos of Buckeyes, Buff Orphingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds and more. Usually we incubate our Buckeye chicken eggs. But here was a chance to get Buckeye chicks and maybe even try another chicken breed.

I left the hardware store with a mineral tub and an order receipt for 18 Buckeye and 6 Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks, straight run.

When ordering chicks, you can order all females, all males or straight run. With the heavier or rarer chicken breeds, buyers are only offered straight run, or as hatched. That's what we were offered, so we’d have a mix of roosters and hens.

The Silver Wyandotte rooster distinguished himself first. At  nine weeks old, his red comb was larger than the hens and he challenged the other chickens. A few weeks later, he attempted to crow.

“The Wyandottes must mature faster than the Buckeyes,” I mused as I scanned the flock, trying to pick out the young Buckeye roosters, who had yet to grow long tail feathers and to crow.

A few weeks ago, the Wyandotte rooster went to a friend's farm, and the noises from the chicken house ceased.

The chickens are four months old now—and none crow. They all look alike.

“I don’t think we got a straight run,” I tell my husband. 

In the Year of the Rooster, we have no roosters.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Problem Child

With dogs, sheep, horses, chickens, a llama and cats, finding a house sitter can be a challenge.

When  leaving for vacation, I write detailed instructions for the house sitter, noting which dogs are snarky with each other and which horse is the master escape artist.

I worry about Raven, the Border collie, not coming when called; and about Lily, the Haflinger, being pushy.

The care list for the sheep, llama, horses, chickens, dogs and cats goes on for two pages.

But when we left on vacation, I never anticipated Dewey Kitty being the problem child.

On the second day of vacation, we received a text about Dewey Kitty opening the bedroom door and pouncing on the house sitter in the night. She reported she was putting a chair by the door so that he couldn't come in. Instead, he threw himself against the closed door at  night.

The next message reported Dewey Kitty darting outside in the middle of the night and not coming when called.

And then of him ringing the bell by the back door, asking to be let out. When the house sitter opened the door, he looked outside and then walked to the dining room.

In just days, Dewey Kitty had gone from being a sweet, smart cat to a royal pain. When we returned home, the house sitter was giving Dewey Kitty the evil eye. Dewey was plotting how he'd steal her lunch.

With us home, Dewey settled into his routine.

And the house sitter sought revenge. I received this cat video from her.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Llambert Finally Gets a Haircut

A bent pair of hand shears meant I missed llama shearing last year--and that Llambert the Llama's coat was extra long and luxurious this spring.

In years past, llama shearing coincided with the vet's visit. The vet sedates the llama, vaccinates the horses and then trims Llambert's feet. While the llama is sedated, I give him a haircut.

But this year, I was early or the vet was late, and I found myself in the barn, shears in hand. Tying Llamber to a post, I turned up the radio and began trimming. Listening to the swish, swish of shears, Billy Joel and the falling rain, I thought how relaxing it was to trim the llama.

Ten minutes passed, and I assessed my progress. Llambert had an 18 x 18-inch bare spot.

This could take some time.

Trimming the llama while he is standing leads to a bit neater look--and I pondered if there was a standard hair cut for llamas. Or, should I give him a poodle cut? If I skipped his legs, would he look goofy? And, what about that neck hair? Does he need it?

Finishing one side, I moved to the other, and I no longer paid attention to the rain, or the swish, or my progress. Instead, I pondered llama-shearing elbow--and if I should research llama haircuts--and if he'd benefit from neck hair.

Certainly, he needs neck hair.

Besides, the bucket was full of llama fiber.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Lamb TV

To create an attention-grabbing scene, start with lambs, green grass and sunshine.

When working outside this weekend, I let the two ewes and four lambs into the yard to graze.

All work stopped as I watched the one-week-old lambs zoom around the pasture and leap into the air.

But, I'm not the only one who whiles away the hours watching Lamb TV.

When I stepped into the barn this morning, I discovered the barn cats, too, indulge in this pleasure.

Trick the Cat opts for a balcony seat and observes the goings-on from his straw bale.

Leslie the Cat chooses a front row seat in the lamb pen where the lambs give her a good sniff before showing off their dance moves.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

State of Wonder

In her first day, the lamb learns how to nurse, tests her jump moves and watches her mom for signs of danger. She mouths hay and dunks her nose in the water. In the evening, she snuggles up to her sister for a nap.

This is our 11th lambing season, and I still find myself drawn to the barn and filled with a sense of wonder.

For the first time this year, we have a lamb with a distinguished sock.
Did it come from his paternal side? Or was there some gene on his maternal side, slumbering for generations and just now showing itself?

Or did he know that he'd enter this world on a Monday when mismatched socks sometimes happen?

I think I'll call him Monday.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

When Ma Nature Gives You Snow...

Lambs are to be born into sunshine and the promise of green grass, not freezing winds and snow.

But this has not been a normal winter.

With lambing season days away and a weather forecast calling for high winds and below freezing temperatures, I find myself in the barn, figuring out how to find space for 10 pregnant ewes.

The sheep and horses spend most of their time in the pastures or under lean-tos that provide protection from rain and west winds. They seem happier having space to move around--and I am not spending hours mucking manure from stalls.

In normal springs, I don't worry about ewes delivering lambs outside. Only once have I had a lamb chill in the spring winds--and a hair dryer dried it and warmed it.

Freezing winds will chill a lamb quickly. So, I've tucked the ewes in groups of three and four in horse stalls for a few days, just in case lambs don't want to wait for sunshine.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Meet Apollo and Bon-Bon

After months of calling them "the Boys," we had a naming contest for the white ram lamb and his buddy, an almost 2-year-old Dorper/Katahdin wether.

It reaffirmed what I knew: I have lots of creative friends.

Suggestions included lots of pairs: Lenny and Squiggy, Simon and Garfunkel, Harry and Lloyd, Shaggy and Scooby, Gandoff and Frodo, Woodward and Bernstein, Bill and Ted.

And then there were descriptive suggestions: Ebony and Ivory, Salt and Pepper, Coffee and Cream, Mounds and Almond Joy.

One contestant tip-toed into the political with Bernie and Barack.

Several suggested variations on the beer theme: Pale Ale and Stout, IPA and Stout, Suds and Stout.

That led to a few discussions in the household where I'm an IPA fan and my husband is a stout fan.

IPA would be a good name for the ram lamb because, like IPAs, he won't be around for long. After breeding season in the fall, he will be sold and hopefully go to another farm. The black wether will be kept to be a companion for the next ram lamb. He is like many stouts, kept around longer and getting better with age.

The name Warlock, a favorite stout in our household, was floated around, until my husband pointed out that no wether could have a name like Warlock.

And, so this was the winning entry:

Phoebus Apollo - Usually just called Apollo. A son of Zeus and Leto and Artemis’s twin, he is the god of Light and Truth, the master of Poetry and Music, and the god of Archery. His Oracle at Delphi is revered for her powers of prophecy and truth. this is for the white one. the black one I name bonbon.

This made me laugh... and I'm sure if anyone hears me yelling, "Apollo! Bon-Bon! It's time for dinner," they, too, will laugh.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Still Magical

The first crocuses opened yesterday, announcing that spring is on its way.

Even though it was T-shirt weather, and the furnace hasn't run for a week, and the ice on the pond melted weeks ago, I find them magical.

As a child, I was awed when these little flowers peeked through the melting snow, and kept right on blooming in the wet March snowfall.

I plant crocus bulbs randomly in the yard, and feel a moment of surprise when I look down and see the yellow, blue and white flowers where I am about to step.

For a few weeks now, I will walk slowly on my trips to the barn, the chicken shed and the pastures, looking for flowers and sidestepping those little blooms.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Better than Chocolates and Flowers

When I pulled into the driveway after work, my heart skipped a beat.

In front of me, two white strips of fresh gravel stretched for a quarter of a mile.

In the pastures, white gravel dotted all the gate entrances.

Best. Gift. Ever.

When you live on a farm, you learn to love gravel.

Instead of frozen ground and snow, we've had rain and mud this winter. High traffic areas, like at the pasture gates, developed into boot-sucking muddy bogs. New potholes sprouted in the driveway daily.

But then the sun came out, and temperatures soared into the 60s.

On the fourth sunny day, my husband ordered tons and tons of gravel, and spent his day off work spreading it.

And, I am all smiles.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Sweet Treat

I spent my lunch break how I'd like to spend every lunch break: doing something that makes me forget about the paying job.

Walking in the woods and lugging buckets of sap will do that.

It's maple syrup time in Ohio, and like in years past, I help the local park district with sap collection. The park district employees and volunteers tap a couple dozen trees each year and boil the sap in a sugar shack built to replicate how syrup was made 100 years ago.

Sap collection is done daily. Sap flow depends on outdoor temperatures and the sun. Sunny days with temperatures above freezing and clear, freezing nights are ideal for maple syrup production.

Apparently they aren't ideal for hikers. When I was collecting sap, temperatures were in the mid-30s--and my Border collie and I were the only ones in the park.

We could listen to the birds sing, the occasional rustle of squirrels on the decaying leaves, the river water meandering southward.

Gathering the collection containers, I walked from tree to tree, popping the metal coverings from the buckets hanging on the trees, and emptying the sap into my collection containers. A few buckets had ice floating in the sap. Some contained a few inches of sap while others were half full.

When my collection buckets filled, I hauled them back to the sugar shack, dumped them into a 30-gallon barrel and repeated. After the second trip to the sugar shack, I removed my coat and hat. Hauling sap is a physical workout.

But it is a joy to be in the woods, walking on uneven ground, feeling cold air on my cheeks and listening to the sounds of nature.

It took me just under an hour to collect about 30 gallons of sap. When finished, I returned to work, refreshed and ready to focus on the task at hand.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

When the dog and the cat go to the vet...

If I let him, Jack would spend hours staring at cats. It's a habit I try to discourage--unless we're going to the vet.

Vet offices provide loads of distractions for busy Border collies. Rather than letting other dogs, people, smells and treats distract him, I let Jack, the Border collie, stare at Dewey Kitty who was sitting rather unhappily in his cat carrier.

Dewey Kitty  is no fan of vet visits nor car rides. After receiving his vaccinations and examination, he sulked in the cat carrier that was perched on the bench.

Jack, who was visiting the vet for his periodic adjustment and massage, paid no attention ran her hands over him and manipulated his joints. His eyes were on the cat.

When the vet showed Jack the spinal accelerometer, a little hand-held device that looks like a power drill and makes popping noises, Jack didn't react. His eyes were on the cat.

But when the hand-held device popped behind his ear, Jack, all 48 pounds of him, dropped to the floor.

We got him back on his feet and showed him the device. He stared at the kitty.

The device popped, and Jack dropped again.

"It's the cat," I said. "He thinks he's in trouble for staring at the cat."

"I hope I haven't given him a fear of cats," the vet said, as she worked on him on the floor, out of view of the cat.

When finished, Jack stood--and returned to staring at the cat.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

An Impulsive Chicken Moment

"24 Buckeye chicks," I told the owner of the country hardware store on Saturday morning.

My husband and I have kept a flock of Buckeye chickens for 13 years now. Every year we incubate eggs, and often a hen raises a few chicks. Because we've seldom brought in an outside rooster, the flock has considerable inbreeding.

Buckeye hen with 2-week-old chicks.

Noticing the local hardware store was taking chick orders and that Buckeyes were on the list, I suggested ordering chicks this year and adding them to the flock.

While ordering the chicks, I glanced over other chicken breeds available.

"No wait," I said. "Make that 18 Buckeye chicks."

Photo by Mt. Healthy Hatchery.

"And six Silver-Laced Wyandottes," I said. "We'll add some more color to the farm."

Friday, February 3, 2017

Strange Bedfellows

When the temperatures drop, I expect to see Tag and Caeli snoozing together on the couch. They've both hit the double digits in age and have been together nearly nine years. On the farm, we call them the "old married couple."

For years, Dewey and Louie, the office cats, have snoozed together.

But Roxie, the barn cat, did not have a snuggle buddy. Trick, the Senior Barn Cat, does not snuggle. He's perfectly content to curl up on top of the hay bales and survey his kingdom.

So, when the temperatures dipped below freezing, Roxie found a warm buddy.

I think she's embarrassed by her new friend, as it's taken me weeks to get a photo of the two.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Nope, there is not an app for that

After more than a decade of sheep ownership, I've concluded there are no good days to trim hooves, only not-as-bad days.

A 30-degree day with a light dusting of snow and frozen ground is as good as it gets--which is how I found myself spending my Saturday trimming sheep hooves.

"Sheep have cloven feet, so we're trimming eight hooves per sheep, for a total of 152 hooves," I tell my husband.

He's picking out his outfit. As chief sheep wrestler and holder, he needs clothes that allow movement, but also provide protection from sharp hooves.

I swap out my winter gloves for leather work gloves, put on my winter barn wear and a headlamp. I'm the chief trimmer.

Sheep hooves grow like fingernails. In rocky areas, sheep wear down their feet and seldom, if ever, need trimming. We have a lot of clay in our soil, and in years when the summer, fall and winter are wet, the sheep have little opportunity to wear down their feet, and we must trim twice a year.

The job's been on the to-do list for weeks, but it's not something to tackle when sheep have mud-covered feet. When the ground is frozen and the sheep spend time on the snow, then their feet are clean and soft.

And yet the job is tedious. Sheep are low to the ground, so I find myself in a squat as I try to hold the ewe's foot between my legs.

After two hours and trimming a dozen sheep, we take a break.

"There's got to be a better way," I say as I try to straighten.

During the break, the husband searches YouTube for sheep trimming, and we watch a man lead a goat into the chute of a tilt table that is sitting in an open area. We look at each other. None of our sheep willingly walk into a chute. We watch more videos of smiling sales people operating tilt tables and other restraining devices, and sheep that are squirming and kicking.

Shaking our heads, we head back to the barn where the last seven sheep await.

The sheep in the last group are the older ewes, the ones who were smart enough to hang back. But they're also more cooperative, and so I have time to think about things, like how most people I know are spending the day indoors instead of leaning into a pregnant ewe; like how renting the farmland for grain production would be easier than raising sheep; like how some jobs still require getting dirty and sweating a bit.

The last ewe that we trim is a 2-year-old white ewe, the daughter of the Spotted Ewe, granddaughter of the Upheaded Ewe and great-granddaughter of our foundation ewe. She is bright-eyed, alert and has lovely confirmation. She's due to deliver her first lambs in March.

Those lambs will remind me why we have sheep--and they'll make me forget that sheep trimming day in January.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

No Snow = Bad Pets

On this morning's walk, I paused. Was that a whiff of incoming snow? Or just wishful thinking?

No snow means gray days that don't seem to be growing longer.

It also means misbehaving pets: dogs pooping in their crates, dogs whining and pacing more, and Dewey Kitty at his worst: begging to go outside, begging to come inside, knocking over trash cans, knocking over my cup of tea.

The dogs are getting more exercise this winter than during the cold, blustery, snowy winters. Every day, I take them on their 1.5-mile trek, and several times a week, Jack and Niki herd sheep. Dewey Kitty is spending more time outside than is typical in winter.

Maybe the cats and dogs are like me. When the cold, snowy weather hits, I go into semi-hibernation mode; I stoke the fire, make a cup of tea and settle in with a good book. Dewey Kitty does the same, though he sleeps rather than reads.

Warm weather signals our bodies to do something, but we aren't quite sure what that should be.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

It's not a good thing...

For more than a week now, I've listened to television newscasters' gleeful reports about the weather.

It's been above freezing for so long that dandelions are blooming and the grass is greening. The paddocks and gate areas are muddy.

I'm not a fan of mud. It's something I am willing to endure in March when the promise of spring is weeks, not months away.

For the horses, the wet, muddy weather means they spend most days in the paddock rather than going out to the pastures.

Horses are designed to graze, but their feet will turn the soft pastures into mud.

The sheep, who weigh considerably less and have cloven hooves, go out to the pastures to nibble grass. The warm weather will mean more parasites for them.

The prolonged warm doesn't just alter farm life. It also puts nature in a state of confusion. Yesterday, I spotted two bluebirds flying into their box. Were they planning their spring nest? A few crocuses peeked from the grass. Were they thinking it was time to bloom? Will the freezing weather predicted for later this week come in time to remind us all that it is still January in Ohio?


But I worry about the impacts of warm winters. I count on prolonged freezes to kill parasites in the pasture.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Zero Degrees in the Barnyard

When temperatures dip below 20 degrees, people ask how the barnyard animals are handling the cold.

The horses, sheep and even the chickens handle the cold weather better than the hot weather. For, with winter coats and a wind break, they only need extra hay to warm up.

And they love extra hay.

Last night temperatures dipped below zero degrees Fahrenheit, but the winds were calm. So the horses spent the night in the pastures, pawing through snow for grass, rolling and snoozing.

For the dogs, temperatures below zero mean shortened walks. Old paws feel the cold in sub-zero weather and after five minutes or so, I few of the dogs begin tiptoeing.

The sheep have hooves instead of paws, so after eating their hay they mosey to the pasture. Their thick coats and low stature handle the cold just fine.

The chickens venture outside, but not as much as when it's warmer.

The Buckeye chickens were developed to handle Ohio winters. They have short combs and heavy bodies. They don't let a little snow keep them from roaming.

After lunch, when temperatures finally reached double digits, I took the dogs on their daily walk around the hay fields.

Jack came back with icicles, and Niki, with a dirty nose.

Both seemed disappointed that herding training wasn't on the afternoon agenda.

But 20 degrees is when the human works the dogs on sheep.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Blanket Wars

On this January morning, with freezing weather and a dusting of snow approaching, the cats remind me what I already know: wool is warm.

I've long been a fan of wool, wearing wool socks for many months of the year. In the wintertime, wool long underwear are my go-to garments when working from home.

At night, I sleep under flannel sheets and a wool blanket and cats who love the wool too. During the day and at night, they choose the wool blankets over the polar fleece blanket and the polyester-filled comforter.

There are some moments though, when Dewey Kitty abandons his wool blankets for a warmer spot.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The One New Year's Day Regret

I spend part of New Year's Day doing activities that I'd like to do throughout the year. Lucky for me, the sun came out and the temperatures climbed to the 40s, so I could spend hours outdoors.

 Pictured from left are Tag, Raven, Niki, Jack and Caeli. This was taken right before I released them so they could run in the fields.

I started the day like I do most, with the dog walk. But on this day, because the sun was shining and because I had time, I extended the walk to the far hay field and lingered as the Border collies hunted for mice, rolled in the grass and chased each other.

I followed that up with several rounds of herding training--a treat when the weather is warm, the ground is soft, but not muddy.

I took time to admire the horses, soaking in the afternoon sunshine.

Lily, like always, is front and center. Jet is behind her.
Noticing their bushy bridle paths, I took them in the barn for hair cuts, grooming and lots of peppermint treats. Is there anything more soothing than listening to the barn radio and the swish of scissors while standing over a horse? 

And, while being lulled by the horses, I made my New Year's Day mistake.

I addressed the chicken issue.

For months now, I've been squabbling with the hens who insist on sleeping in the horse barn, rather than the chicken coop. Carrying hens from the horse barn to the chicken coop has become a nightly chore.

I decided to put a stop to that and move them to the other chicken house, the chicken house that has a fenced yard and no direct access to the sheep and horse barn.

I spent New Year's Day preparing the chicken's new home. I cleaned it out, spread fresh straw on the floor and stapled plastic over an opening to cut down on drafts. That evening, I carried 2 roosters and 16 hens to their new home.

This morning, they roamed their new yard and gobbled up butternut squash seeds and apple cores.

They seemed happy, they seemed content.I was happy, I was content.

But as dusk approached, one hen flew over the fence and into the yard. Another flew over the fence and marched to the horse barn.

And so this evening, I did what I'd done on New Year's Day: I moved a chicken from the horse barn to the chicken coop.