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.