Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lucy's Last Stand

Lucy won.

"Lucy" was short for "Lucifer", a name she EARNED during her first year season. She had started out life as "Lucky" since her original eartag...since replaced many times as she managed to rip it out trying to get through fences...was number 13. She was the one who was very small as a ewe lamb, which I feel contributed to her bad vaginal prolapse that required weeks of special care. She ended up trying to birth her lamb one ear first...NOT how Nature intended. I accidently broke the lamb's neck trying to get it straightened out so it could be born.

Lucy turned out to be smart. Too smart, a lot of the time. Lucy had a special understanding of cost/benefit analysis. If the grass really was greener on the other side of the fence, Lucy went through the fence. Even if it meant getting shocked. After all, the shock only hurt for a minute, and the grass went on for hours, until I realized she was out AGAIN. She took her lambs with her, teaching them to be fence-breakers. Sometimes the rest of the flock would follow in her escapades.

After that first ill-fated year, Lucy never lambed when I was watching. Even if she had to wait hours, and I was only gone a few minutes.

Lucy usually had triplets...thanks to a bit of Finnsheep heritage way back. However, Lucy could do math. One, two lambs. One, two teats. Whose lamb could that third one possibly be? Lucy could not be fooled by any means into accepting the third. Many battles of will ensued trying to convince her to do so.

She had a beautiful fleece, a classic Lincoln Longwool type with a silky luster. I have a sweater handspun and knit from it, a real favorite. She was the darkest gray Lincoln cross I ever had, and stayed dark to the end. She had a slightly lighter butterfly-shaped patch on her rump, very symmetrical. It would have been a lovely sheepkin if I'd found her in time.

Lucy was one of my most productive milkers, when I was milking sheep, even though we went through some real battles over whether she would submit or not. Eventually, she relented and became one of my easiest milkers. When milking her these last few days, she would not let me tie her up like the others, but would stand fairly well unrestrained.

Nearly all my younger sheep in the flock bear some of Lucy's genes...she is one of my foundation sheep, along with Judy, Donatello, and Future. She gives them prolificacy, good mothering, and a silky, lustrous fleece. Her daughter (now deceased) Purity had the farm's only set of quadruplets; Purity's full sister Perfle had triplets this year, and several years ago gave birth to Buddy, the striking black-and-white sire of most of this year's lambs.

Lucy was 10 years old this spring, if I remember right...born my third year of lambing. As I was milking her the other day, I was wondering whether to keep her one more year or cull her this year. She only had a single this year, and was a bit on the thin side all season. 10 is very old for a ewe to be productive. But it was tempting to keep the frustrating beast around one more year, hoping for one last great lamb out of her.

Lucy made the decision for me. On a gorgeous spring Sunday afternoon, she bloated on clover, on the same pasture she'd been on for three days. It happened very quickly, not even a trace of struggle in the grass where I found her blown up like a balloon, feet in the air.

The sheep's equivalent of death by chocolate...eating too much of a favorite food. I'd feel worse, if I didn't feel so sure that the old bat KNEW I was considering culling her, and decided to be independent to the very end, to deprive me of getting the upper hand.

For all that I've selected my sheep for easy management, I kept this one utter hellion for 10 years. Why on earth? I think because I truly respected Lucy as a equal. As ornery as she was, I sensed that none of it was sheer stubbornness or contrariness...it was pure cold logic, survival skills, and determination. "The grass is greener over there...I must go there!" One does not expect to find a Worthy Opponent in a sheep, but she was certainly one for me. I suppose I saw a mirror of myself in her.

I buried Lucy last evening. Not in the unmarked row of graves north of the willow trees, in the main pasture, but in the little east paddock where she chose her fate. We recently burned a pile of brush and waste lumber there, since it's far from anything very flammable, and grazed short. The bare spot from the burn seemed like a good place to disturb the soil, rather than marring the velvet green of the spring pasture. It seemed fitting to leave Lucy surrounded by the greenest grass, in the place of her choosing.

I have ideal soil for hand-digging sheep graves, as well as for growing vegetables. It takes just slightly over an hour to bury a sheep, start to finish, in a hole 3' deep by 3' wide by 6'long. It is not hard work if the weather is pleasant, which it was. It is methodical...actually, quite meditative. I have done this many times before, I will certainly do it again. There is a calm, drained feeling that comes when the hole is filled and compacted, and the tools are put away, and I walk back to the house and clean up and head to town. It is a time for going to be with friends.

24 hours later is when every muscle in my body starts to scream from the repeated bending and lifting.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Heading out to pasture

It's nice having time off from work, being home on the farm this time of year. On this beautiful almost summery day, I decided to start working towards getting the sheep out on pasture, and also to have a go at "shared milking" with the three thin ewes that are getting extra feed. They are already trained to separate from the flock at feeding time for their special mix of grain and alfalfa pellets...the only ewes that have any grain since sometime last spring, when I started supplementing with alfalfa hay instead of grain.

It's important to add fresh forage to the sheeps' diet gradually, so they have time to adjust. Too much at once, esp. legumes like the white Dutch clover growing in the lanes, can cause bloat, which can be fatal. I've always been careful, and thankfully have never lost a sheep to bloat.

I penned the "special" ewes with their morning treat, then ran the other ewes and lambs in the "barn flock" (early-birthed moms of twins and triplets who are getting some extra hay) out to join the "main flock". I carefully set up an electric gate across the north end of the main lane out to the pasture, and released them into it. Oh happy, happy sheep! What a lovely picture, frolicing black and white lambs racing though eagerly gorging ewes. The lane was small enough they couldn't overeat....

But then I got distracted. And when I went to drive them back in a couple hours later, they had knocked down the electric gate and were eagerly chomping away at the best of the best all over the entire pasture. And some of them were VERY round, their left side actually higher than their backbone.

I quickly ran them back into the pen. By myself. It turns out some of the Suffolk cross ewes are determined to kill the Border Collies, now that they have lambs to protect. This morning one of them actually charged ME when I tried to protect the dog. My ewes may try to kill the dog if it's a few feet from their lambs, but these big descendents of Flint Hills coyote-killers are going after dogs 20 feet away, not just threatening the dog but trying to repeatedly slam it into the ground. Poor dogs!

Freckleface, the llama, disdained to leave the pasture. I was worried enough about the sheep to let him suffer his own consequences. I could probably have spent all afternoon chasing him, and still not gotten him in until HE decided he wanted to be in.

No one was showing obvious signs of distress, other than puffing a bit from a brisk jog on a warm day, and being a bit miffed at having to leave the pasture. But they were SO swollen! All the local large animal vets were out on farm calls and couldn't be reached...I had a brief vision of them wandering about together on some "pasture" chasing a little white ball with a bunch of sticks. I can'tremember which apprentice borrowed my "laymans" sheep care book. The Sheep Industry Handbook, for being 3" thick, listed every health problem EXCEPT bloat. I finally found a fellow shepherd that was home, and she looked through her more extensive, better organized library. We talked long enough that some of them were starting to lay down and chew their cud, and determined that if they could chew their cud, they were able to expel stuff from their rumen, and thus whatever incipient bloat they were experiencing would settle itself. Whew!

After the three "special" ewes had been separated from their huge 1 1/2 month old lambs for about 10 hours, I milked them. I won't describe the details of the ordeal of milking three ewes for the first time in 4 years, with inadequate confinement facilities. There will NEVER be videos in my barn! I will just say that I got nearly a half gallon of milk, NOT counting what ended up on me and the barn floor.

Sheep's milk is delicious. "Half-and-half with honey in it!" exclaimed a friend who had grown up on a cow dairy farm, when she first tried it many years ago.

At this point, I'm just going one day at a time with the milking. That's the beauty of "shared milking", where the lambs are separated from their moms in the morning, the ewes are milked in the evening, and then the lambs are returned to their moms. At this age the lambs are eating a lot of solid food, and as long as they have their buddies they are OK without Mom most of the time. Sort of like sending the kids to kindergarten...there may be a bit of bawling the first few days, but then they will get used to the routine.

WHY am I milking, a certain reader probably is wondering. Am I NUTS, with all else that needs done? One good reason is to not have to buy another $55 bag of milk replacer to raise this new bottle lamb (who is growing by leaps and bounds). Another good reason is to replenish my stock of frozen milk for making sheep milk soap. The 4-year-old frozen milk that I've been using works fine for soap-making, but I like the idea of having fresh...and sheep milk is pretty seasonal, at best. Around July 4, the combination of heat and the stress of fireworks will drastically reduce the milk production.

Probably as much as anything else, I like milking the sheep, and the relationship that it builds with them (AFTER we get the routine down!). Many of the older ones learned (and still sometimes respond to)their names through my old milking routine. I stay more in touch with their body condition...hard to judge at a distance, once they start growing their wool back. I noticed today that my geriatric favorite, Eider, is missing some of her front teeth...all the more reason to be giving her extra feed, and if I've got to confine her and wait while she eats, I might as well be doing something productive, right?

Plus, sheep's milk is good quick "energy" food for me this time of year. It's also an excuse to try out the yoghurt maker someone gave me last year, before the garage sale we'll be having in May....

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lambing: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

We ran out of green onions at Farmer's Market by 9:00, so with 2 hours to go I decided it was worth running home to dig some more. Housemate A. is a GREAT help at the booth, so I felt confident leaving it in her hands.

A special surprise awaited. I could tell by the dog's excitement as we approached the garden gate that we had new lambs...probably the last for the year. None of the three yearling ewes seem like they are close to lambing...and the last possible date (5 months after we took the rams to the meat processing plant) is coming up in less than a month.

The last of the Suffolk cross ewes had twins (actually, they have ALL had twins, even the single that had never had twins before). The white ewe was a nice 10 lbs. Her black curly-fleeced brother, with sire Buddy's striking white face and heels, weighed in at more than 16 lbs.! Both were freshly born but up and nursing energetically, with a very protective mama. Just what a shepherd loves to see. (Actually, same-size lambs would have been better...there is a risk of the larger lamb bullying the smaller and getting far more than its share of milk.)

But he wasn't the largest lamb this season...just the largest live lamb. A few days ago, the ewe with the pendulous, edemic udder finally gave birth to a lovely, lively white ewe lamb with curly Lincoln-style fleece. We were disappointed with getting a single, in some ways, but not too sad about not having TWO more lambs to bottle feed (the vet said it was very unlikely the ewe would produce milk, best not to even try). We draped a t-shirt "petticoat" around the ewe's udder to prevent nursing, bottle fed the lamb some frozen colostrum, did our regular "clip (cut the remains of the umbilical cord)and dip (it in 7% iodine)", and set up a new teat bucket in a "creep"area in the ewe's pen. The ewe seemed fairly alert and comfortable, though she kept trying to get the lamb to nurse.

(Warning: If you are reading this blog for mostly entertainment, and graphic details bother you, you might not to read much further. If you are thinking you might like to have a few sheep someday, read on, because this is an example of things you realistically might have to deal with, and you might as well start getting used to it. I don't think I'll ever be FULLY used to it, though. It's been a bit rough.)

A couple hours later, the membranes that normally preceed the afterbirth were still hanging from her vulva. Normally the lamb's suckling triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin into the ewe's bloodstream, and that causes strong uterine contractions that help expel the afterbirth. With the ewe not allowed to suckle the lamb, her body wasn't getting this hormone boost. We had oxytocin, but weren't sure about giving it since we wanted to STOP milk production, not trigger it. I wanted to know how long to wait before going ahead and trying to pull on the dangling membranes, but the vet didn't return my phone call.

Much later I went out, thinking I would just give it a try. I paid him to come out and do one last year, and I felt like I remembered the basics.

But now there were hooves! Yikes! It was at least 6 hours since the first lamb was born! And she wasn't having evident contractions at all.

At this point, damage to the ewe's birth canal seemed irrelevant, since her bad udder already marks her for slaughter (LONG after the labeled withdrawal time for the antibiotics!). The unborn lamb was almost certainly dead. There wasn't much to lose...and I certainly didn't think I could afford a farm visit from the vet at 1 a.m. even on a weekday night. So I just gritted my teeth, dug in my heels, and bodily pulled the lamb, no help from the ewe.

I pulled and pulled...heavy, sustained traction...working one way and another to help the lumpy parts through the ewe's pelvis. I soon realized the lamb was breech (hindlegs first, not front legs and nose). Not good; possibly a factor in why it hadn't been delivered in a normal and timely fashion. I kept pulling, harder now, ever searching for a better grip on the slippery legs (thankfully, lambs have big knobby joints, which really helps with holding on at times like this). And harder....

The lamb stretched and stretched. In a most horrible moment, I saw a soft mass balloon from the navel area...intestines popping through the abdominal wall from the force of my pulling. I pulled even harder, knowing now that the lamb was not viable. The lamb stretched from the recumbent ewe's vulva clear across the large pen, and the head still wasn't free! Finally, the whole thing flopped on the bedding with a sickeningly dead flop. The extreme lack of muscle tone, along with the tearing of the belly and the strange condition of the head, made me realize that the lamb had died in utero sometime prior to the birth of the healthy lamb. This, too, had surely contributed to the ewe's failure to deliver it...a live lamb gives its own hormonal signals to the ewe's body; a dead one contributes no energy to the birthing process.

I weighed the lamb, just for the recordkeeping. No wonder it seemed so incredibly long--it weighed more than 17 lbs! With the 12 lb. live lamb, this ewe had been carrying 27 lbs. of lamb!

When I examined the dead lamb the next day, I realized that each front leg had not two but three fully-formed toes. Very, very creepy...a birth defect the vet said he had never seen before.

A couple days later, all seems well. The vet prescribed another round of penicillin injections to prevent infection, so that's an ongoing rodeo twice a day. The ewe is getting very belligerent, even dangerous, about this routine. I can't blame her--these are 8cc injections with a needle larger in cross-section than most earring posts. She'll get the short side of the vet's recommended "3 -5 more days," and hopefully I'll escape without broken bones from being slammed against the barn wall. She's a big girl, maybe close to 200 lbs.

The live lamb, "Angel", is not just cute but clever. She has already become fully self-feeding on the bucket, and at the same time is very bonded to Mom.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mower Rodents

RATS... A dear friend who often helps out at the farm "just for the exercise" decided we should have a riding lawn mower to reduce the labor of keeping the lawns and lanes tidy. I'm not big on motorized tools, but the offer was a generous one and though I don't consider it a long-term solution, it WILL be good this next couple busy years as the operation expands. Equipped with a grass catcher, we can use it to harvest forage for the sheep and chickens that otherwise would be hard to utilize due to lack of fences.

We spent considerable time at the store comparing different features and models, and finally found the perfect combination, and it followed us home. My friend (more of a power-tool person than I) gleefully rode it around mowing things. The sheep enjoyed their treats. But it had a tendency to "die" unexpectedly.

She eventually realized that the problem was the safety interlock in the seat. By sitting (not so comfortably!) on a small item strategically placed over the switch, it ran a lot smoother. I, on the other hand, could barely get it to run at all.

She contacted the highly reputable company to see about getting the switch adjusted or replaced. It turns out that the permanently installed switch is calibrated to 150 lbs. Meaning that no one less than that weight can operate the machine.

This is supposed to keep children from operating a potentially dangerous piece of equipment. But really, 150 lbs seems excessive. I weigh in at about 135 at my wintery heaviest, down to 125 when I'm working hard--and I have to work hard to keep that much weight on. And I am not a tiny woman. My friend is similar to me in size, probably closer to 150 but certainly not much more than that. There is obviously a bias or blind spot at work here...an assumption that no women of small to medium build will want to use such a machine. At least not without holding a child in their lap? The obvious solution to not weighing enough is to add another person, though ofcourse the machine is covered with warning labels forbidding this dangerous practice.

What is especially aggravating is that this "set point" was never mentioned to us during the extended time we spent talking to sales reps, who could easily have observed that neither of us appeared to meet the minimum weight to operate the equipment.

More to come as we work through this irritating gender bias with the company....

AND MICE... Meanwhile the grass is growing and the sheep are hungry for fresh greens. So I dragged out the trusty gasoline push mower this morning and got all set to mow. First time this season, so I touched it up a bit...cleaned residue out from under the deck, unwrapped a bit of baling twine from the shaft, touched up the blade with a file. Fresh gas, check the oil, ready to go....

Except when I squeeze that bar that makes it not run when you don't squeeze it (OK, I'm not so well-versed on the proper terminology here), the cable just went slack and didn't move in the housing properly. I WD-40'd it as best I could, and it still didn't seem to move right. It seemed like the do-hicky it was supposed to be operating wasn't moving very freely.

I puffed up my cheeks and blew off the bits of dry grass that had stuck to the WD-40 to get a better view. There was a lot of dried grass, from when I had it tipped over to sharpen the blade.

But then I realized there was dry grass in places it couldn't have fallen into...and I realized I was seeing just the tip of the iceberg. Even before opening it up, I knew I would find a big mouse nest inside somewhere.

So, I went and got the socket set and started taking it apart. This was a big step for me. I haven't done mechanic work for decades, and have somehow lost a lot of the confidence I started out with years ago. Partly, I ceased working on cars because they started making them so difficult for ordinary folks without computers to work on. So I stopped even trying, and that apparently carried over to other areas of mechanics.

But, I can still DO this! I carefully dismantled several layers of covers and housings, and yes, there was the mouse nest just as expected. The spark plug wire had a little nibble out of it, too--of course, just like a car stored in packrat territory! It all came flooding back to my memory.

I reinforced the damaged insulation with electrical tape (the really heavy-duty rubbery kind with the plastic backing, that only sticks to itself), removed the tightly woven nest, and tried to get the rest of the dried clippings out. Not easy. Friend is right, I really need to get an air compressor someday, I could use it to blow this all out in a minute, even if I just had the right nozzle for the air bubble....

Then I thought of vacuuming it out with the Shop Vac... and realized that the Shop Vac can be set to blow as well as vacuum! Worked like a charm!

All back together, plugged in the spark plug (disconnected for safety whenever I'm not actually running the mower) primed it, and pulled the cord, expecting a bit of balkiness. But it started on the very first pull!

I'm glad I was able to get it all cleaned out and running...but concerned about the possibility of nesting, chewing mice doing greater damage in the future. That spark plug wire is permanently fused to some other part that looks expensive and out-of-stock/discontinued! This will be a real concern with the riding mower, too. So I'll be thinking about innovative mower mouseproofing techniques while the mower and I go purring back and forth down the lanes to the luscious smell of fresh-cut grass.

Shocking Thought

I was just reflecting on my upcoming birthday in May--the 19th to be specific--which is a very special one. I'll be turning 50! Many people recoil in horror from the thought of turning 50, but for me it is a most welcome milestone. I feel like I'm finally a safe distance away from the emotion torture that was life as a teenager/young adult!

50 doesn't seem so old, either, when I balance it against my grandmother's age. She'll be turning 100 next year. So, I feel like I'm starting out fresh with another 50 years to go...and I'm starting out knowing SO much more than I did beginning the first 50! I'm bound to forget some of what I know by the time I'm done...but all in all, I'm excited about the potential that I'm bringing with me into my second half-century.

I've been contemplating my 50th for some time now, so that's not the shocking thought. I've been working up to it, one year at a time, right out in the open, in plain print on my driver's license if you do a little math.

The shocking thought is that May is also the 14th anniversary of when we purchased this house. We bought the farm ground behind it a year and a half later. So I would have gotten my first sheep about 12 years ago.

And that means that I've been farming for ONE QUARTER of my life!

It's hard to wrap my mind around that. I feel like I just started.

People ask, "Have you always farmed? Did you grow up on a farm?" and I say "No, I've just been farming a few years."

Trust me there are days I feel like I've "always" farmed...or at least have been doing [insert laborious, repetitive, or frustrating task du jour] "forever". There are also days when I feel like I'm brand new at all this, in the dark, clueless, etc.

I suspect there will always be both kinds of days.

But now I have a concrete measure of how long I've been farming. From now on, it will be "a quarter of my life."

Until I reach some age when it will be a third of my life. But I will have to remember some algebra from w-a-y-y-y-y back in the olden days to figure out how to calculate when that year will be!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

One of those days

I went to use a favorite garden tool, a forged "sharp-shooter" shovel, this morning. It was streaked with a thin layer of dried mud, clearly showing signs of a lick-and-a-promise wipe to comply with the "clean it before you put it away" rule, rather than a mindful cleaning to preserve the tool and present the next user with a pleasant experience.

I started to clean the tool, seething with resent and frustration, then decided to make lemonade out of this sour start to my day by taking photos for a blog entry on tool cleaning. That turned me around to a positive mindset, and the rest of the morning was pleasant and filled with unexpected blessings.

After using the clean sharpshooter to dig out a small tree stump at the edge of the garden, I carefully cleaned it again and hung it on its hook in the garden tool shed.

Later in the afternoon, I went to use the sharp shooter again (like I said, it's one of my favorite tools). IT WAS CAKED WITH DIRT AGAIN.


I was supposed to attend a meeting at 7. For a change, I allowed myself ample time to do chores and change clothes before driving across town to the meeting. But--what's this? #85, The pregnant Suffolk cross ewe with the very saggy udder was eating lying down. Something's wrong with this picture.

I went for the lead rope--I'd been wanting to get her up to the barn anyhow, and this looked like a good chance to catch her, as well as a good reason for moving her to closer supervision.

She was easy to put the lead rope on...not a good sign. It took her a minute to decide to stand up...I waited with the rope braced behind my back, in case she suddenly took off...which she did, in a lumbering sort of way. Despite the clumsiness of advanced pregnancy and huge, pendulous udder (now obviously edemic, the teats sunken in bloated tissue), she probably outweighs me by a good 50-75 lbs., so about all I can hope for is to slow her down and encourage her in the direction I want her to go.

When she pulled up short on the other side of the pen, I realized her udder was dripping blood from a huge gash on one side. Probably sliced it with a hoof when standing up. All in all, the picture with this ewe was adding up to more than I can handle on my own. Of course it's Sunday evening.

Call the vet's answering service. They say he'll call back; if I don't hear from him in 30 minutes, I should call again. He doesn't call. I call them. NOW they realize that he's in surgery for another emergency. Probably I should call a different vet.

Call the backup vet's answering service. They say he'll call back. He does, 15 minutes later. He is in surgery for another emergency and is snappy with me. Do I want a Sunday night farm call? That will be $300. Can I wait until morning? That will only be $150. Inject her antibiotics and banamine (aspirin-ish stuff for animals; by my understanding it requires a prescription, so how exactly would I have this on hand?), and call him in the morning.

Any questions about why lamb meat is so expensive? Wish I had $300 for every time I've spent an hour helping someone out on a Sunday.

While I'm getting sheep moved (I'll go into details on that later), the first vet calls back. He is friendly and takes the time to ask me questions and explain things. Why this is my primary vet. He recommends a larger dose of the antibiotic, banamine, and a special diuretic used for dairy cows with similar problems. (Right, I'll run down to the corner pharmacy).

He suggests taking her temperature...why is it I always forget that detail? Probably because I also always forget to turn off the digital thermometer, and the battery runs down. But I actually do have one that works...I got new batteries for several of them a couple months ago, after realizing that I had at least 5 non-working ones. When I took her temperature later, it was fine, 103.2 which is pretty much normal (103's the average...as with people, there can be some variation. Mine is always about a degree lower than average.)

OK. Moving sheep.

Tied #85 up to a fence post.

With just me, there's no way I can drag her AND open and close the gate without the rest of the flock getting out, so I had to shut them out somewhere. Opened gates on the east lane and ran the rest of her flock out to some pasture. Closed that gate. They're jubilant to be out on the clover in the east side pen.

I need to get her clear down the west cross lane to the west side pen then up to the barn. But she's not going to want to go where she can't see other sheep. So I walk around to the barn, thinking I'll get the barn flock to come back to her and then herd ALL of them back to the barn. Nice try. They are happy in the west side pen. Nevertheless, I manage to drag/push her slowly to them. Then they decide to check out the pen she was in...and she wants to go back there with them.

Hmmmm (not really what I said).

Eventually I get her into the west side pen...go to shut the gate behind us...and the three yearling ewes come rocketing through and notice in less than the blink of an eye that the gate to the northwest side pen is slightly ajar during this moment of closing the interrelated gates. They go frolicking to the far corner, kicking up their heels, "sproinging," and butting each other.

OK, I've been wanting to separate them from the older ewes; I don't think they're bred and they don't need the extra nutrition the lactating ewes are getting right now. Shut them in that pen.

My housemate calls me on the cell phone to let me know she is cooking pancakes for dinner.

Finally get #85 to the barn, into the pen where I've been giving the older & skinnier ewes extra feed each day. Not sure what new routine I'll figure out for them, but their pen is a good holding pen for keeping #85 easily visible, dry, and clean. Her udder isn't bleeding now, but it's still dripping clear liquid. I happen to have one bag of wood shaving bedding, so I spread that in the manury pen to keep her wound clean(er).

Then back to finish rearranging sheep. I don't want to leave them on the lush, rich clover and grass very long at first, and I want to get this done while it's still daylight. The trick is that the ewe lambs have to be on the OTHER side of the pen where the ewe flock will be. So I round up the ewe flock, move them to the northwest paddock, move the ewe lambs through the ewes' pen to the east side pen, move the ewes back to their pen. Every time I move the ewes I have to pick up and carry the two little black ewe lambs that were born this morning. Toss tries to help but she's terrified of that mama ewe--with good reason; the ewe keeps trying to kill Toss to "protect" her lambs.

Once the ewes are settled back in their pen, I turn my attention to the ewe lambs in the east side pen. I want to move them to the back yard pen, where there is a big round bale of brome and a shed. All I have to do is get them through the gate.

All I have to do is get them through the gate.

They are in a pen about 250' long and 50' wide, and they are having the time of their lives. They don't threaten the dog, they just laugh and go skipping and frolicing to another corner.

Eventually I get them through the gate. I check all the gates. The thought of the pancakes is very appealing. I'm almost there....

Up to the house for the antibiotic. Regular vet said 8cc; backup vet said 4cc. I trust the regular one more, but the only syringes I seem to have are 6 cc so I split the difference. I hate giving injections but remember how much the farm call would have cost...?

No banamine, no diuretic. I'll run up to the next town to get them in the morning (gas $$$$$ and time I don't have), but for now I'd like to do something to help her. Once upon a time a couple dozen moves ago, I had several good books on herbal medicine; now I have none. But I seem to recall dandelions are diuretic. I've got some in the future potato patch that could be dug, and they're a natural sheep treat anyhow, so I went and got her some. And I could cut her some willow branches; that's what folks used before aspirin.

Getting the willow is a nice excuse for a twilight walk in the pasture. But--what's this? The green sheep shed out there is lying on its roof! (These are pretty subtantial sheds...old calf sheds 16' long and 6' deep, about 6' tall in the front, all framed in 2 x 4s covered with 1x board siding, and conventional composite shingled roof.) It seems to have rotted off its bottom sill boards and the pipe skids that supported it, and apparently we had some tricky gusts of wind with the storm the other day. In addition to the shed being blown over, another willow tree is down, this time just the top snapped out about 15 feet up and laid over to the north, NOT on the fence this time. A blessing...that the fence was unharmed, and that I had such an easy source of leafy willow twigs for #85.

She wolfs down the dandelions; I give her a few willow twigs and stand the rest in water for another time (or maybe they'll sprout roots?). She nibbles at the willow twigs and leaves a lot of it. Don't know if it will help; it can't hurt, she's not feeling so bad that she can't enjoy the special treats. The placebo effect is worth something...even if just tempting her to eat so she doesn't develop some digestive upset on top of the udder problem, and helping me feel like I've done everything I reasonably could.

I am feeling smug, satisfied with a good day's work. I am about to go eat pancakes for dinner.

There are three ewe lambs in the backyard, pleased as punch that they have escaped.

What the &^%#%(*&(($&^$#%#^.....


DO NOT CUT LARGE HOLES IN PERMANENT FENCES SO THAT CHICKENS CAN REACH THE WATERER. THEY HAVE SKINNY HEADS AND CAN REACH THROUGH JUST FINE. (The @#$ tenants did that while they were renting the place a few years ago. An important point to remember is that NO arrangement of livestock is permanent; you WILL use that fence for a variety of species; you WILL decide to move the water tank.)


Better yet, just quit while you're ahead. If you don't have sheep, just send me $300 (after all, I'm working on Sunday, and I've spent a small fortune doing years of study to develop this wisdom) as a small token of your appreciation for my convincing you to remain sheepless. And you can come visit the bloody things any time you like.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Resource Management

Subtitle: "How to end world hunger and solve Peak Oil by subverting the dominant paradigm"

I write this to the sound of fireworks--strictly illegal outside July 1-4, but evidently available and deemed appropriate and acceptable for this occasion. Toss, terribly gun-shy, is curled around my ankles for reassurance. She would not come out for chores with me tonight.

I understand that laws banning open containers of alcoholic beverages on public streets and sidewalks have been suspended, as well. I understand that alcoholic beverages were poured from the rooftops downtown on Saturday night. Who knows what tonight will bring?

Law enforcement units from 5 jusrisdictions were on special detail here Saturday, and I presume tonight as well. Fire and Medical has had a large trailer labeled "Mass Casualty" parked near Station 1 downtown since Saturday afternoon; I've never seen it before for any occasion.

The nice pebble-embedded trash cans that blend into the streetscape downtown were methodically taken away and replaced with clusters of metal drums this afternoon by crews of city workers.

Helicopters ply the skies above this small midwestern city. Having previously lived near a major Army base, I associate the sounds of helicopters with preparations for battle...a sinister sound. But now I live far from those helicopters. These are different, peacetime whirlybirds. Perhaps news media, perhaps Life Flight taking trauma victims to larger facilities in nearby cities. Saturday, out doing the late barn check, I watched Life Flight go out from the airport near the farm twice; later I saw it head towards KC. A sobering occasion, always a cue for me to pause for a few moments of prayer for everyone affected by the tragedy. When Life Flight goes to work, lots of people are having a Very Bad Day, by definition.

I heard that an accomplished university vocal music ensemble was to give its annual formal spring concert on Sunday. When the piano tuner arrived for the morning rehearsal, no one was there. Later he learned that the program had had to be drastically changed, as well as the rehearsal schedule, because so many singers either had hangovers or had ruined their vocal cords from screaming on Saturday night.

Sunday morning I rode my bike downtown to see the wreckage. City workers, working on the Sabbath, were using leaf blowers to blow the trash from the sidewalks into the street, where I presume street sweepers would pick it up. Trash bags of bottles dotted the sidewalks. Homeless folks were trailing bags of aluminum cans, to cash in for their next smoke or bottle.

Where the watermelon stand will be in August, a T-shirt vendor set up camp for a week. Everywhere I went, nearly everyone was in uniform: a red or blue t-shirt, regardless of whatever else was under or over it. The writing on these flesh-and-blood billboards ranged from simply descriptive to utterly vulgar and frighteningly vicious.

Saturday afternoon, I was surprised to see a formerly homeless bus customer on my bus. He asked me to drop him at his old stop at the rural end of my route. He carried a heavy frame pack. "Yup, I'm camping out at my old spot for a few days, until Tuesday. Got all my supplies. Yeah, it's supposed to rain--that's ok. Got to get out of this crazy place until this is over. Man will I be glad when it's over."

All because some bored fellows looking for exercise decided to toss a ball into a peach basket many decades ago, and it got to be a habit. It turned out to be a good exercise: helped develop quick reflexes, teamwork, endurance, nimbleness, other desireable traits.

They started counting points. Then they started to compete for the highest score. They started forming teams, and competing for the best players to be on each team. They started distinguishing between "practice" and "games." They started scheduling their games. Bored people started to watch. People started to care who won and who lost. People started paying money to see their favorite teams play. People started gambling on the outcome, people started spending money--more and more of it--to influence the outcome by bribing players and paying experts to coach them. People built huge buildings to house these activities. People poured money into advertising and promotional items. People drove for miles in their SUVs and paid to park in muddy front yards in order to walk blocks to the over-crowded fieldhouse to watch the games and to scream their throats raw and to celebrate later by overindulging in poisonous, mind-altering, highly addictive substances.

I presume from the fireworks that the University of Kansas basketball team won the championship.

What if?

What if someone had dug a hole and planted a seed for exercise, instead of idly throwing a ball into an empty basket?

What if they gave points for growing the most (fill in the blank)?

How many acres could be farmed by hand, without fossil fuels, with the sheer human energy that goes into the years of rigorous daily practice by a single player?

How many hungry could that feed? Wouldn't that feel good? And everyone could have lots of exercise...and fun watching.

Think of the greenhouses that could replace the fieldhouse.

What if?

What if someone had pounded some boards together instead of idly throwing a ball into an empty basket?

What if they gave points for building the most homes for the elderly, the differently abled, the economically marginalized, the struggling young families?

How many homeless could that house? Wouldn't that feel good? And everyone could have lots of exercise...and fun watching.

Think of the neighborhoods that could replace the fieldhouse.

And maybe, just maybe, there wouldn't be a grieving family in an emergency room, victims of alcohol poisoning or a car wreck. Maybe, just maybe, the young musicians would have had a stunning performance. Maybe, just maybe, students wouldn't be hung over for their classes tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, there wouldn't be another city somewhere filled with anger and disappointment, instead of insane jubilation over, really, something not so very wonderful or earth-shattering after all.

THINK about what you do for fun, for exercise, for the sake of fighting boredom. Is it something that will make a better world? Is it a good use of resources, human and otherwise? Because people get into habits, and they are great imitators, and things have a way of getting out of hand, and you have no idea what trend you may be starting.

Pinwheel Farm started when Mom gave her 4-year-old some yarn to play with, to keep the bored kid from unraveling the sweater Mom was knitting. It hasn't progressed to reveling in the streets, but it certainly has become something no one ever imagined.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Odds and Ends

A friend wrote that her father just finished cracking and shelling out 257 lbs. of walnuts! My goodness, is that before shelling or finished meats? I presume he sells them, or the family must be eating them at every meal!

I've taken several hikes out to my little "baby forest" wilderness area recently, with visitors (pretty much the only time I make time to get out there), to look at my baby black walnut trees that I planted from seed the first year we bought the farm ground. We planted pecans, too, but they haven't had any nuts yet. The largest black walnut had ONE nut on it two years ago...last year most the walnut crop in the area succumbed to the long hard freeze in April. Hopefully this year will be much better for fruits and nuts. There is also a larger, but still young, black walnut tree on the new property, so maybe we'll have a crop from it. It has grown up in the shade of a huge scraggly Siberian elm, beginning about the time we bought the house. This year or next our skilled tree-trimmer friend will remove the brittle elm, giving the walnut room to grow taller and straighter. Also, this will remove the elm's threat to our electrical lines...the elm is at least 50 feet tall, and only 30 feet from the aerial lines leading into our house, so it looks like just a matter of time before some storm renders us powerless for a week or two (guessing that the farm would be a low priority in cleaning up after a widespread storm).

I also have a Carpathian (English type) walnut tree that has done very well...except the squirrels strip it clean right before the nuts are ripe. Hopefully now that I own them we'll be able to trim back the trees that the squirrels use as an aerial highway to raid the Carpathian walnut. My apricot tree is starting to bloom its lovely pink flowers; hopefully the squirrels will leave us some fruit this year if it escapes the frost.

At least we have the bees to pollinate the fruit trees, safe in their hive. Although the hive that the beekeeper brought last year died over the winter, the wild colony that he captured by the farm driveway last summer survived, and we see them busy about the farm on warm spring days. Luna (the younger Border Collie) has taken up the hobby of hunting and biting bees, so we'll be keeping her more confined for their safety (she, however, is deliberately earning every sting she gets, so I'm not so concerned on her behalf!).

The first turnip seeds are up as of a couple days ago...I was beginning to despair. Usually they spring right up, but these took more than two weeks to germinate. Apparently even though there have been a lot of warm days, it isn't that long since we had snow blanketing the ground.

We planted our first potatoes yesterday. Two seasons ago, a variety we ordered was sold out, and the company sent a substitute--Pink Wink--that wasn't in the catalog. It turned out to be fantastic, so we tried to order it last year...not available. Luckily, a few small tubers had been left in the ground, and a few more had been abandoned in the bottom of the kitchen refrigerator. These all grew beautifully, yielding a bucket of nice potatoes. I wisely saved them for planting this spring. Even though the bucket froze in the garage (even the eggs in the fridge in the garage froze, it was so cold so long!), about half of the tubers resisted the cold and are now sprouting. I like veggies that can withstand my insensitive handling! I inquired about Pink Wink from the seed potato company this year...they lost their crop entirely so it won't be available from them for several years. I hope I can keep mine going and healthy that long! I'm planting them in different places at different times, hoping to increase my chances of success.