Sunday, March 6, 2016

lambs in snow

Lambs are getting bigger and stronger here by the day. Friday was their first experience of snow.

It was gone by later that day. Hopefully this will be the last of it; it hasn't been a particularly hard winter, but we are all ready for spring.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

and now we're done

Luckily the ewes gave us a nice long break after Jasmine had her quads, to give us time to get them all on the right road.

They are big rowdies by now, sturdy little things and absolute terrors to all. Many of our ewes have little hoofprints on their backs, compliments of the gang of four, who seize any opportunity to play king of the mountain on objects at rest.

Almost three weeks to the day after they were born, the rest of the lambs arrived in what can only be described as a tidal wave. Several nights and early mornings were spent on a hay bale bed/chair, with the faithful dog for warmth, listening to a ewe's rythymic grunting and knowing when it was time to lend a hand.

It wasn't just the humans who were watching the show, however. We could have sold popcorn to the bystanders.

It was an exceptionally rough season, however, merciful only in the fact that we have a relatively small number of ewes. We have never had lambings and related issues as difficult and complicated as this, and we hope to never again. We are short on sleep and long on exhaustion and heartache, and quite honestly, it will be a while before I can even think of trying this again. If you ask me today, my answer would be a resounding no.

The only bright spot was the chance for our youngest son to shine. With the older two out of the way, more or less (they helped when they could, but they aren't around that much anymore), he stepped up to the plate in a big way. He was asked to deal with a lot of difficult things that all farm kids must deal with—the messiness of life beginning and life ending and being sometimes painful in between—but he never hesitated, and he never faltered. I could not be prouder of him, and I am holding on to that as the reason that we had to go through all this.

Because there has to be a reason.

Now we, and even more so the sheep and the lambs, can start to dream of fresh grass growing, and lambs growing along with it, and the chance for the cycle to spin its way through again.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

a roll of the dice

When we bred the ewes last fall, it wasn't the most thought-out decision. The rams were leaving; we weren't getting another ram anytime soon. It was then or not at all. So we went with then.

Shortly thereafter, I switched jobs.

Let me make it clear: I love my new job, but I am now officially back to being an attorney with all the time demands that sometimes entails. The office I work in is very flexible and very understanding, but I am away from home more, and more randomly, than I have been for a very long time. We are all adjusting.

And now, earlier than our usual custom based upon when the rams left the farm, lambing season is upon us. The first births were yesterday, and it came up snake eyes.

Secondo made the discovery when he went to the back to feed. Jasmine with one lamb in the ground, and more surely on the way given the first one's size. When she was all done, the final count was four. Quadruplets, the first ever set on our farm.

My husband and I immediately realized the enormity of it. Jasmine has frequently raised triplets by herself, with just a little assistance at the start. But four! There is no way she can do this by herself, though if any of our ewes were capable of it, it would be her. 

Thank goodness that Primo had cleared out the barn earlier that week, and Secondo and Terzo were home yesterday morning. Bottles were washed, clean old towels were pulled up from the basement, the heat lamp was plugged in and the babies and mama were settled into the jug, a smaller fenced area in the barn that keeps the new family together and warm for a few days while they get used to each other.

Now the intensive lamb management starts, and here's where the time starts to matter. Every lamb detail is noted in our barn book. Time of feeding—which for the time being, is every 3 hours—amount eaten, weight of each lamb every 24 hours, and any other relevant information.

Luckily we have help. So far at least, it's been very willing and enthusiastic help.

The reasons are pretty obvious!

I didn't get any pictures of Secondo except his hand, but he has been a right hand indeed! He even volunteered to take the 3 am shift, but the lambs are still so tiny and fragile that we didn't want him to make an unwelcome discovery. The runt, born at 4 lb, the smallest lamb ever on our farm, is particularly touch and go.

We are all a little touch and go as we try to work out these demands in light of new schedules, Jasmine included.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

winter whallop

We have been coasting along here in the Northeast, kind of even forgetting what the season was, because it has been so warm and temperate. I am not saying I am a fan of these elevated temperatures, as a matter of fact they scare me silly, though I seem to be in the minority as everyone else waxes on about how happy they are to wear flip-flops in December.

But then: Jonas came to town.

My wonderful husband volunteered to go out in the blizzard on Saturday morning to feed the sheep. We had left them in the back, rather than bringing them up to the barn, because they vastly prefer their three-sided sheds to the barn. Also, the barn hasn't been cleaned out yet. 

Do not miss his trusty canine companion's expression in this picture. It was an accurate representation of how we all felt in the face of the relentless blowing.

Fast forward to this morning: a pristine winter wonderland. Say what you want about snow, but it sure has a way of beautifying the place, at least until we start messing it up with plows and shovels.

My turn on the snowshoes to do the chores. This time the trusty canine is sneaking some sheep feed, one of his favorite snacks.

Chicken made it through the storm just fine, though she was super happy to see me with the feed bucket. She wouldn't come out of her hutch yesterday but today she was on the ground and ready for her breakfast. I guess she had nothing better to do during the storm because we got an egg in the bargain.

Then further back,  out to the sheep... the snowshoes were not much good, I am not sure why.

Lazy girls spent the day in their sheds! (The second shedis out of shot to the left, where you can see their tracks leading.) Their heated water tank is next to where I am standing to take the picture. Clearly no one ventured out to it. 

Secondo took pity on them later and went out to break a path. I didn't have time this morning, plus I had to take off my snowshoes to get over the gate—no opening it with all that snow.

We—and by we, I mean mostly my husband and boys—made quite a dent in the plowing and shoveling yesterday, so today's clean-up was not so bad. Nothing left to do for the rest of the day but play on fort mountains of snow.

With all that energy and enthusiasm, he'll be the one tapped for chores tomorrow. School has already been called off so he'll have plenty of time to fight his way back there. Character building, right?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

good for what ails you

It has been, in the way of all Decembers, a very hectic month. With a new job still taking all my extra time and energy, I did my best to ease up this year: no handmade gifts (except the traditional photo albums). No cookies baked. Minimal social engagements. An attitude determined, at all costs, not to get too bent out of shape over meaningless details. Stay calm. Focus on what is important. Breathe. Repeat.

We had one very big wrinkle, however, in the form of this unassuming pumpkin:

This pumpkin was one of the benefits of Secondo's fall job, working at a local pumpkin patch. On the last day, he took his pay in the form of pumpkins for everyone to carve, hence the Halloween pumpkin carving party, and this particularly large and spectacular specimen to grace our front stoop. It did a great job providing seasonally appropriate decor through October and November (pumpkins are still appropriate in November!) and into December (because, see above, not getting bent out of shape over details).

So it was still sitting there when Secondo came out of the house early in December, in a fury over being grounded, put on his rubber boots, and delivered a good, solid kick of rage to the pumpkin. He was hoping the pumpkin would explode in a spectacularly satisfying display of destruction. But the nights had been cold-ish, and the pumpkin was pretty much frozen, and instead the thing that gave way was his big toe.


In retrospect, perhaps I should have been a little more concerned with the decor.

Secondo was, of course, completely out of sorts at this news. Instead of getting his winter track season underway as planned, he was facing a very different month hobbling around in a walking cast. Not to mention the fact that he had effectively grounded himself for far longer, since he could not drive with his right foot in that cast.

My seasonal attitude came in handy that day. He loves to cook and bake, so we took it back to basics with the simple meditative exercise involved in making chicken soup together. Peel carrots. Chop onions. Simmer. Skim. Breathe. Repeat.

The Italian wedding soup we produced seemed to cure all evils, at least that night.

This picture is from mid-month, when Primo came home for a few hours to help us get our Christmas tree. (The walking cast is the least problem with that picture! The fact that the boys were in short sleeves, and in Terzo's case, shorts, is even more messed up.) The cast came off on Christmas Eve, in time for him not to clomp up and down the church aisles in his role as head acolyte, and he returned to running winter track this week with no apparent ill effect. It might even have been a blessing in disguise, forcing him to slow down for a month, to take a breather from all the stress and strain of being a high school junior with a lot on his plate.

Every so often, we all need that space to breathe, whether we make it for ourselves or have it handed to us by life's equivalent of a frozen pumpkin.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

chicken adventures

A post before the end of December! But our chicken had such a day today that it DEMANDED a blog post.

(Yes, chicken, in the singular. We are down to only one chicken as of September, or maybe it was October. She really doesn't seem to mind but we hope to find her a friend or two soon to help her keep her conserve body heat as the temps drop.)

I came out to find the chicken strutting around helping my husband move cattle panels. She doesn't have a name, because we have had chickens for so long at this point that no one gets names anymore; my husband calls her Chicken, so we will use that for purposes of this post. She usually stays in the coop for her own safety—way too many hawks and foxes around here—but she had enough supervision for today while we did a zillion farm winterizing chores. (To be perfectly accurate: my husband did a zillion chores. I helped with about 1/4 of them.) 

Dusty had been asked to keep a respectful distance, but he was somewhat distressed about Chicken not being where she was supposed to be.

She was having a high old time exploring.

We went into the barn to find a few supplies—I was going crazy trying to locate a reasonably sharp pair of hoof trimmers—and came out to find that Dusty had put Chicken back into her coop and was guarding the door to make sure that she didn't escape. He really saw no reason why she had to be out.

Dusty was called off and Chicken was allowed to continue her adventures following her favorite person in the world. Can you guess who feeds her every morning?

One of our most pressing chores was getting sheep hooves trimmed and coats changed before the weather turned. I never did find a dang pair of shears; I had to make a trip to Tractor Supply for that specific purpose.

I had plenty of help from Chicken while trimming up 36 hooves. For once, I remembered to wear a pair of gloves and save my hands from the inevitable blisters when I forget the gloves.

It's entirely possible that Chicken was solely interested in the grain left behind by the sheep when we were trying to catch them. Either way, she was a constant presence.

Kali had no idea what to make of Chicken being out of the coop.

Sheep chores were eventually done but the sheep pasture is a far way from the coop at the moment. Chicken showed no inclination to leave the sheep and head towards home, so she had to be forcibly carried from the back.

What a man. Feed bucket, halters, crook, and chicken. It's almost American Gothic in tone.

Although he didn't take her back to the coop! He is a sucker for this bird. He dropped her off in the garden, where Terzo was busy cleaning it out. Don't be too impressed, it was a paid job. But Chicken was happy to help for free.

Eventually she made her way back into her coop on her own accord, and we locked the door for the night. She ate her weight in bugs today and I'm sure she'll sleep well tonight, dreaming of all her travels and wanderings. For a cooped-up bird, it was quite a day.

Monday, November 30, 2015

no more rams, but hopefully lambs

Yikes, here I am again, up against the end of the month! Why yes, my new job keeps me much busier, why do you ask?

Our big news this month was that our beautiful Coopworth ram boys, bred and born on our farm, are off to greener pastures. Not in the euphemistic sense, but actual new pastures with fresh ewes to breed and all sort of adventures awaiting.

The first to go was Monmouth, who left mid-September. My husband was sorry to see him go as he was one of his favorite animals ever on the farm. But if a ram gets a new gig, you have to let him go. Not all rams are so lucky.

When we got the call that Monmouth had a new home (he went to a commercial farm with cross-bred ewes), we had to act quickly. Breed for next year before he left, or go another year without lambs? One of the favorite ewes in our flock, Secondo's Kali, was at a now-or-never point in her breeding career. We have never gotten a ewe lamb out of her, and we would love to have one. And she is getting older and heavier, so if we didn't breed her this year, she would probably never breed again.

So we went for it. And while we were breeding Kali, we decided in for a penny, in for a pound, and bred all the ewes while we had two willing rams.

Marking harnesses on the rams, coats on the ewes to protect their wool from the marking crayon, and off they went into their separate pastures. Kali, of course, was the last ewe marked, the morning that Monmouth left. We'll see if she takes.

Hard to say if the ewes were thrilled or not. (Just to be clear, we don't tie them up to be bred. We have them haltered and tied because we had to separate them into breeding groups for each ram, and make sure that they had proper fitting coats, trimmed hooves, etc. before we release them with the ram. Those annoyed looks have more to do with their feelings about being tied up on halter.)

Once Monmouth departed, that left Mercer, our stunningly gorgeous and well-mannered boy, one of the nicest animals ever produced on the farm, all by himself. Well, he was in with a couple of ewes, but he couldn't stay in with them all winter and definitely not once the lambs started arriving. Luckily for us and him, a good home presented itself before too long. He went to a new-ish Coopworth flock in Pennsylvania, to be buddies with Elwell the ram. His new owner reports that he is happy so far with the situation, though he hasn't been introduced to Elwell yet (Elwell is still busy with his own ewes).

Now we are down to ewes only, a situation we haven't had on the farm in several years but, from a flock management point of view, one of the easiest configurations to manage throughout the winter. Everyone can be together, and for the first time (since we had no ewe lambs this year), everyone can stay on the same nutritional plan while those lambs are hopefully growing. I was surprised by how much I missed the hurly-burly of lambing this spring. It may just put me under, but I can't wait until those lambs start making their appearances in early February—provided the rams were in with the ewes long enough!