Saturday, September 21, 2019

Picking Pawpaws

Look what I found on my morning walk.

As a child, I sang about "picking up pawpaws and putting them in my pocket," but I never picked one up. I had no idea what a pawpaw looked or tasted like.

That's because you can't find pawpaws in the grocery store. They don't store or travel well. They should be harvested when ripe, and then eaten within a day or two. Otherwise they turn into dark-colored mush.

Pawpaws grow in Ohio, though few people grow the trees in their yards. Years ago, I discovered several pawpaw trees, or a pawpaw patch, growing in the nearby woods.

Since that discovery, I made it my mission to find the fruit. It finally happened this year.

In August, I went into the woods and studied the trees. What I found, though, was that many of the trees are still in that sapling stage and too immature to bear fruit. One tree was larger and had four pawpaws on it.

Pawpaws ripen in September in our area. So, this morning, I detoured on my morning dog walk and went in search of the pawpaws.

I brought back loads of spider webs (what is it with the spider webs this year?) and two pawpaws.

This is what they look like inside:

Their seeds are quite large; their texture is soft and creamy; and their fragrance fills a room. Their taste is quite sweet, and almost has hints of banana. They taste like no other fruit I've harvested in Ohio.

It was definitely worth the detour, and walking through all of those spider webs.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Who's Smarter? Me or the Fox?

We've had chickens for 20 years, and until this year, had few problems with predators.

The husband would credit Llambert, the now deceased llama, for keeping them at bay.

I always thought that nothing would come near where the Border collies tread.

This summer, though, a red fox got into our chickens one night.

And, then she came back during daylight hours and snagged a hen. I know, because I saw her.

So, I locked up the pullets in the pullet house and the four remaining hens in the hen house, and pondered how to allow my chickens to roam outdoors while still protecting them from the fox.

While I was researching electric poultry net, a friend told me of another threat: she saw a red-tailed hawk swoop into the horse paddock and carry off a pigeon.

So, I pondered and researched and pondered some more.

In an ideal world, the hens would roam the pastures, ride the occasional sheep, and generally be everywhere. But leaving them roaming now means they'll be picked off by predators.

So, I spent the past weekend building the chicken fortress: an enclosed coop and yard, surrounded by electric poultry netting.

I'm almost certain I'll get shocked on a daily basis. Will it keep the fox out and the hawk at bay?

Time will tell.

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Plan B for Winter

I'm not sure if the local post master has a good poker face--or if shipping baggies of grass is an everyday thing.

For me, it's a new thing.

It all started when I read this article by the Ohio State University Sheep Team. In it, the OSU professors discussed the poor-quality hay crop.  A wet spring and early summer meant cutting was delayed a month for many farmers. The resulting hay is past maturity, not that digestible and not that high in calories.

The hay in their example provided so few calories that a non-pregnant ewe would have to eat 9 lbs. of it to meet her daily calorie requirement. A ewe can't eat that much in a day. It's a like a human trying to get their daily calorie intake by eating only celery.

We celebrated finally getting hay in the barn.

Our hay was baled on the same day as the hay in their example. Because of a dry summer, it's the only hay we have.

While I'm an optimist, I'm also a realist. If I can't get second-cutting (more calorie dense) hay, what's my Plan B? First, I had to find out how much protein and calories my hay has. (On the good news front, it's very pretty and smells fresh. The Haflinger ponies gobble it down).

For the first time ever, I sent hay samples to a laboratory for testing.

Okay, for me, that sounded like a scary, complicated process. It's not. I took samples from three bales, put them in plastic bags and took them to the post office.

It's a rural post office. Maybe they ship lots of forage, soil and other crop samples.

Five days after shipping the samples, my test results arrived in my inbox. I had 3 pages of numbers, percentages and abbreviations--and no idea how to interpret them.

Luckily, the local OSU extension agent did.

The verdict: while the hay's not great, it'll keep the ponies and dry (non-pregnant) ewes well-fed through winter. In late pregnancy, the pregnant ewes are going to need another source of calories (something more dense). I can either supplement with better quality hay or grain. I can also consider changing my breeding dates to take full advantage of green grass.

But I can at least develop a plan--and know it'll probably change.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Because You're Never Too Old to...

Gael looking at the sheep. Some day, girl, some day.
Nearly a year ago, I was 2,250 miles from home, at the U.S. National Sheepdog Finals in California, and reflecting on the year behind and the year ahead.

My run had gone poorly, but I had no regrets about going. The coming year was going to be a rebuilding year.

Jack, the dog that ran in the Finals, was retiring. Emma, my other Open dog, needed more training to be competitive. I hoped to get Niki, my 4-year-old, progressing and completing courses; and Gael, my 1-year-old, was just starting her sheepdog journey. Maybe, by the fall of 2019, she'd be ready to start trialing in the nursery classes.

In sheepdog trialing and in life, things don't always go as planned.

Which explains why I've taken up jogging.

Gael, sweet Gael, broke her femur and tore her ACL during play time. (She plays hard).

She had surgery to repair the femur in late November. In mid-February, she had TPLO surgery to repair the knee.

By March, when she was supposed to start walking on the leg, she'd become quite adept at running on three legs, and the muscle mass in that leg was gone.

Border collies are clever and practical. Why use that leg when it was easier and faster to run on three?

And so the walking began.

At first, it was slower than an amble. I'd stop when she picked up and held her bad leg, and only go forward when she used it.

Eventually we picked up the pace, from 1 mph, to 2 mph, to 3 mph. But she only used that leg when on leash.

In June, when the summer temperatures were really heating up and the humidity was rising, we went to a canine physical therapist.

"You need to start jogging with her," she said. Just jog for 30 seconds and walk for a minute.

And so I did. I started slow and slowed more when she picked up and held that leg or tried to lope.

Border collies are clever and practical.

Gael was tired of being crated and walking slowly. She wanted to go.

She started putting that leg down and trotting. And, she's trotting faster and faster.

The heat hasn't subsided, and neither has the humidity. But I'm keeping up.

Maybe, just maybe, she'll return to working sheep by late fall.

Gael and Bubba on the evening dog walk.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

From Squish to Crackle

For months--through February, March, April, May and June--I looked to the sky and said, "Stop."

Rain, after rain, after rain left the ground saturated. Walking across the yard felt like walking on a sponge. In the recently planted pasture, I slid through the mud.

Sometime toward the end of June, the rains stopped.

I watched the weather radar as green splotches went to the north and to the south of us, and I found myself looking toward the sky, asking for rain.

The earth is asking for it too.

The grass is going dormant and cracks are appearing where the vegetation doesn't quite cover the ground--the areas where the pastures are overgrazed or newly plant.

On my daily dog walk, I stop often, looking at the cracks, wondering how deep they go.

I brought a ruler with me this morning and let it fall into a crack.

For a moment, I thought the earth was going to swallow it whole.

Unless the rains come soon, I'm going to trade out the ruler for a yard stick.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

There's Always That One

The pullet flock was happy to go outside this week.

The 8-week-old pullets are too big to confine in their pullet house, and too small to free range with the six adult hens.

So, my solution was, as it frequently is, to add more fencing.

Knowing they will be adult size in a few months, I went for the quick method, building a temporary fence around their pullet house. It allowed them to go outside, but kept the adult hens out.

Experience has taught me that not all my solutions are brilliant, and not all work. Erring on the side of caution, I kept the adult hens confined to the hen house on Wednesday and then let the pullets outside.

By day's end, three pullets were too chicken to go outside; five were enjoying their new digs; and five had proven that they were like mice, and able to squeeze through my fence.

I spent the evening catching pullets, and the following day planning for a grander temporary fence.

On Friday, I made a second attempt at pullet confinement. After completing the fence, I let the pullets outside. Within minutes all were outside, scratching for bugs and plucking weeds. At day's end, 12 pullets returned to their house and roosted.

And then there was this one, a Cuckoo Maran, who was in the sheep pasture, cooing, "Don't fence me in."

I wasn't going to argue with her.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Why it Pays to Look Down

The first time I spotted a killdeer's nest in the driveway. I noted its location, went to get my camera and could not find the nest again.

This spring, I've spent a considerably time looking down. In early spring, with hay supplies running low, I looked for signs of green grass. Now, that the sheep and horses are grazing pastures, I'm still looking down.

A wet spring means that many alfalfa stands were damaged, and I've yet to see a hay field cut in our area. I'm evaluating pastures, adjusting forage plans and looking down.

I still don't know how I spotted it among the clover, grass and weeds. Maybe it was the bit of brown among the lush green. But I stopped and looked closer.

And, I found a red-winged blackbird's nest and recently hatched chicks.

I crouched down for closer inspection and a photograph.

The mama flew overhead, squawking her disapproval.

Standing up and looking across the acres of grass, I told her, "Don't worry. I'll never find it again."

Monday, May 6, 2019

Small Victories

In herding, as in life, it's best to savor those magical moments and small victories.

This winter and spring have been marked by walking with dogs, in biting winds and rain, over rough, frozen ground and through mud.

I've been walking my young dog who is recovering from a leg injury. And, I've been walking with Emma, my open trial dog, as she drives, or pushes, the sheep around the fields.

Emma is not a natural driving dog. She'd rather gather the sheep and bring them to me. But driving is a useful skill, and a necessary one in competitions.

So, I've been trying to build her confidence by walking with her, and I've been trying to make it more exciting by driving the sheep to a fence where she can hold them there.

All those hours of training and miles of walking paid off at the sheepdog trial this weekend when she brought the sheep to me, turned the post, and trotted off, pushing the sheep toward the panels.

She had more confidence, and I seemed to finally have the timing of asking for little stops, flanks and walk-ups along the way. With just little adjustments here and there, we kept those sheep walking in a straight line and through the panels. When she completed her drive, Emma and I maneuvered those sheep right into the pen.

While we bobbled on other parts of the course, and still have lots of shedding work to do, I considered the weekend a success, and savored those small victories.

I savored a big victory too. For the first time, I scored a 30-point drive.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Reminder

While mowing, the red cones caught my eye.

And, I found myself wondering how I'd lived on the farm for 20-some years and never stopped to admire the pine tree in spring.

Spring is like that. Nature bursts in bloom and song and warm breezes, and I jump into action: cleaning barns, mowing, and all those other chores that have been waiting for warmer days.

But those red cones reminded me to stop and admire the flowers.

From the bulbs I've planted over the years.

To the wildflowers that pop up throughout the yard.

Sometimes I need a reminder to stop and enjoy what is around me, to spend some time on the back porch, reading, watching the lambs prong in the pastures, the cats stalking each other in the yard and the birds belting out their best tunes. Sometimes it takes red pine cones in spring to do that.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Littlest Lamb

Our first lamb of spring was the smallest born on the farm, and I never expected her to live. She was half the size of her sister and could barely reach her mom's udder.

Twice a day I gave her a shot of Nutri-Drench, which gave her some extra calories and minerals. But, I never offered her a bottle. She was nursing and her mother was accepting her.

Every day, that little lamb peered out from behind her mother, letting me know she was still there.

While the other lambs packed on the pounds, she added ounces.

Now, 5 weeks after her birth, the cat still outweighs her.

But, she is eating, drinking and exploring--and it's time to move out of the barn. So this weekend, she, her sister and mom are moving from the barn and joining the rest of the flock.

I think she'll do just fine.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Goodbye Jack

Jack arrived in the summer of 2016 when I was struggling to figure out sheepdog herding.

He was 8 and knew so much more about sheep and dog trialing than me.

In those first six months, I watched in awe as he gathered sheep and moved them around a trial course.

Eventually, though, I learned to become a participant, and we became a team. We started placing in trials.

And, in a storybook moment, Jack and I tied for first with Kay (his former owner and trainer) and his son, Bubba.

We qualified and went to the National Finals in Virginia in 2017.

I kept plugging away at learning more about sheepdog herding, and I started relaxing a bit and having fun.

Jack kept showing up at ever trial, finding the sheep and maneuvering them around the field. I called him my Steady Eddy.

When he qualified for the 2018 National Finals in California, both my friend Kay and my husband encouraged me to go. Jack was 10 then. His hearing wasn't as sharp and he was slowing down.

I went, driving across the country with him and two other dogs.

Although I'd retired Jack from competition last fall, I still used him as a farm dog, I could count on him to move sheep quietly and assertively, even in tricky situations.

This lamb somehow got a bucket around his midsection. Jack quietly walked the flock into a corner where I could catch the lamb and remove the bucket.

Some of my favorite times with Jack were visiting his home place in Texas and working Rambouillet ewes and lambs.

On his final visit to Texas a few months ago, we needed to move some sick sheep around a pond and to the barn. My friend Kay suggested we use Jack for the task.

"You do it, and I'll handle the gates," I said.

Just like that, Jack went back to work for her and I watched in awe as he walked the sheep toward the gate. When one ewe turned her head to the left, he quietly, instinctively, took a half step to the left, and that was that. The ewe continued forward and through the gate.

Throughout the winter, Jack kept working sheep, and I made plans for spring. Maybe we'd do a trial on a smaller field. Maybe I'd use him to set out sheep at a trial.

But that wasn't meant to be.

On Saturday morning, he stumbled out of his crate and just wasn't himself. His gums her pale and cold. A trip to the vet revealed a large tumor on his spleen, and he was bleeding internally.

And so I said good-bye to Jack, the best sheepdog I've ever had.

Jack's puppy picture.

Jack and Emma staring at the cat.

Thank you Beth Murray and Patti Sumner for the photos, and thank you Kay for giving me such a great dog.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Square Meals and Round Bowls

The dogs that run get the round bowls; the one on crate rest gets the square mat.

Sometimes this sheepdog thing doesn't go as planned. Sometimes a fence gets in the way of a very fast dog.

Over Thanksgiving, Gael, the young dog hit a fence during playtime and broke her femur and tore a knee ligament. After undergoing surgery for the broken femur, she had knee surgery last month. So, I've spent most of this winter rehabbing a dog, going on many long, slow dog walks, and acutely feeling the wind, the rain, the mud and the bitter cold.

But, if there is a bright side, it's that Gael may be the best patient ever. She's rather patient and compliant about heating, icing and massage, and seldom complains about her confinement.

Maybe it's because she can't read, and doesn't know that she has at least six more weeks of rehab.

Or maybe, she's quite happy about being fed out of Kongs and snuffle mats, rather than bowls.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Groundhog Day--and Hay

I've never put much stock in the groundhog.

Though he's right sometimes. The furry rodent saw his shadow last year and predicted six more weeks of winter. It was more like 10 weeks. I vividly remember wondering if spring would ever come.

I also remember counting bales of hay, and realizing that we were going to run out before the spring grass emerged.

My mother always says that you should have half your hay supply left on Groundhog Day.

Because even if spring is arriving in six weeks, that doesn't mean that lush pastures arrive then. It takes weeks for the grass to turn green and start growing. Grazing time usually begins in earnest around mid-April, about 10-11 weeks after Groundhog Day.

On this Groundhog Day, I am counting hay bales, and noting that we have about 65 percent of our hay supply left.

And, this morning the groundhog predicted an early spring.

News around the farm: Freezing fog and snow cover make for a beautiful morning. It'll be melting some today and a lot tomorrow, bringing mud. But for now, I'm enjoying the scenery.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Does Anyone Wash a Carhartt?

My friend leaves her Carhartts to the garage. Mine stay in the mud room, far from any coat or jacket that ever leaves the farm.

I bought my Carhartt coat years ago during an after-Christmas sale. Had I known how long it would last, or how much I'd like it, I would never have settled for pink.

But the pink Carhartt became my go-to coat for shoveling manure, moving hay, working dogs, carrying wood, cleaning fence rows and birthing lambs. It's not bulky, but provides warmth, breaks the wind and, if I'm not outside for too long and it's not raining too hard, is somewhat water resistant.

Several years old now, it wears its history well.

The fresh pink marks are from the livestock spray paint can that I shoved into my pocket as I grabbed for inspection. I heard the squirts of paint as I was wrapped my arm around the animal, but opted to hold onto the ewe rather than save my jacket.

Many parts of the jacket, especially the sleeves, are now frayed from everyday wear.

The pocket, though, had help from a hard-working Border collie who smelled, and freed, treats.

The coat could definitely use a bath, but I really don't want to put it in our washing machine. And, would a washed coat repel the wind and rain as well?

I'll give it another year, or two, or three without a bath. Or, if I want to hasten its demise, I could always put more dog treats in the pockets.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

No Day for Daydreamers...

The sun was out and the wind just a whisper.

That's a rare thing during winter in Ohio.

Even though it was 5 degrees, I stepped into my skis and took off across the fields into the sparkling wonder.

A winter storm had glazed the existing snow cover in ice and then frosted it with more snow. Now, even two days later, much of the ice remained.

Because I ski around farm fields--that's what I have around me, I don't have to focus on tree limbs or obstacles in my path. I can just take in the winter time and let my thoughts wander.

But on this day, I discovered I'd have to pay attention to the terrain. While the fields looked snow covered, there were areas where the wind had blown the snow away, leaving patches of ice.

Though I was going just 5 miles per hour, when I hit those patches, my skis skittered and my arms helicoptered in an attempt to stay upright.

And so instead of daydreaming as much, I watched for ice and tried to keep my knees and feet closer together, and I skied on.

Because the sun was out, the wind was still, and it was a beautiful winter day in Ohio.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

While Others Buy Bread and Milk...

The weather forecast predicted single digit temperatures, up to 10 inches of snow and 45 mph wind gusts later in the day.

So, I took an extra long dog walk in the morning. The dogs didn't seem to mind the freezing rain and ice pellets piling up on their backs.

Emma was too busy hunting rabbits to notice the freezing rain.

Caeli, now 13+ years old, loves the daily walks.
Jack says working sheep would be more fun.

If the weather forecast is correct, they'll be spending a few days hanging out in the house.

I let the horses out into the pasture. The Haflingers are designed for the cold, and only come to the barn for feeding.

Emma and I then drove the sheep out to the hay feeders in the pasture.

I then went to work preparing for the storm. I moved hay feeders under the barn's overhang and set up a wind block for the sheep.

I brought in armload after armload of firewood.

And, then I grabbed a book and made popcorn.

Who eats break and milk during a snowstorm?