Thursday, April 30, 2009

Same Song, Second Verse

And what a lovely, lilting, luscious song it is! The joyous rising of new green from earth, a concert of many voices!

We--AP, JK, and I--have been working steadily, and making great progress at getting spring planting in despite the rain. We console ourselves that though we wish we'd gotten more done sooner (like before they arrived!), we're getting a lot more planted than most folks are right now, with all this rain. With our perfect soil and hand tillage, we can plant very soon after a rain and not ruin the soil or bog down in mud. Heavenly!

So the garden is sprouting forth profusely with all colors of lettuce, kale, spinach, peas, Asian greens, radishes, etc.

But there's more--there's crops we haven't planted yet, already coming up.


My favorite variety of any crop: volunteers! Potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes left in the ground last fall are sprouting up to grow a new crop with no help from us. And in a couple beds where carrots from year-before-last went to seed last summer, bright green ferny foliage is popping up all of a sudden.

We encourage these volunteers. For one thing, they give us our first crop for some vegetables, like potatoes. I don't plant potatoes until I see the volunteers sprout--then I know that growing conditions are ideal, and don't plant so early that the seed pieces rot. This year we'll have Pink Wink, Kerr's Pink, and several other varieties.

Yes, the volunteer potatoes are in the lettuce and onion beds. That's ok. Since we harvest by hand, we'll just work around them. They are important: the plants that are hardiest, store well in the ground all winter, are healthy and disease resistant. The Kerr's Pink really looks like an entire bed--lots of sprouts, since we never did a final dig on that bed after several "rummaging" harvests. Pink Wink is doubly precious since the variety has never been in our seed supplier's atalog--it was sent to us as a substitute for something that was sold out, and was an instant favorite at Farmer's Market. One overwintered tuber stewarded this variety when we learned that we could not get it from the grower, even when we asked for it by name. We've now had it 4 years.

The carrots are in unplanted beds, so we'll just work around them--a little awkward, but again, we want to encourage the strains that require little fussing, and these that seed themselves are best adapted to our conditions. The plants would have had to winter over in order to bloom and set seed, since carrots are biennial.

There will be more volunteers in a few weeks, when the soil is warm enough for the tomato volunteers to germinate. These aren't always true to type, since some were from hybrid parents, but we often find some fun "off" types if we let them grow out.

There are also "strays"--seeds that didn't germinate last year, but decided to grow this year instead. A lone lettuce, a single elegant Red Russian kale. We'll probably transplant these to some odd corner, so we can plant those beds unimpeded.

And then there's things seeding--overwintered radishes, bok choi, arugula, tat soi, turnips from ones that grew from overwintered bulbs winter before last. The seed-saving bug seems to have bitten.....

Best of all, though, is all the wonderful wild edibles. Each year we get to know new ones, and learn to use and appreciate them. Dandelions, lambsquarters, chickweed, garlic mustard, violet, and more--welcome easy salad mix!

Do you hear a faint hum? That might be me purring with contented pleasure in the abundance of the spring garden.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Raindrops Keep Falling....

Rain and more rain, last week, yesterday, tonight. Tornado sirens sounded over and over last evening, while I was at work--answering beyond the shadow of a doubt J's question of qhether he would be able to hear the sirens from the farm. (The siren tower is visible from the garden, barely showing above the trees.)

So one of tonight's adventures was going up on the roof to clean the gutters, so that hopefully rain will stop leaking into the entryroom ceiling and thence onto the floor. Maybe it's a carryover from sailing as a child--I love going up on the roof in the rain and wind; being out in the elements, up in the air; seeing the reflected lightening flashes glistening off the sheet of water covering most of the farm. As close as I'll get to seafaring on the farm.

Speaking of love, I love Goretex. I came in after about 1/2 hour outside in the downpour, with only one wet sleeve where I had my hand up the downspout when the clog broke through....

One of my tasks was to trek out to put the rams back in their pen, after grazing on an odd corner of future garden.

And then there was caring for the bees. When we walked out to the Torii mid-afternoon, as we approached the sheep pen area, I thought someone had thrown a bulky brown sweater over the red side gate down the lane. How odd--I couldn't think of anyone who had been out that way for awhile. As I walked nearer, I realized it was moving more than a sweater ought to move. It was--writhing?!? It was, in fact, a swarm of honeybees draped over the gate and post.

I called and left a message for the beekeeper, but never heard back from him. As I drove home from an evening meeting across town, suddenly I thought of the bees on the gate--the intense, inescapeable thought that I needed to go provide them with shelter on this stormy night. I've found that when I am near the hives, I seem to sense what they are feeling--generally an infectious, boundless, bubbling, contented joy. There is a certain "voice" to the the wordless sense they seem to be conveying to me, one that is very different from the "voice" the sheep use to psychically remind me they are out of some necessary feedstuff. It was unusual to hear it so clearly from so far away.

When I got home, I mentioned this to J. and A. They pretty well had my head convinced that bees would have sensed the storm moving in, and better shelter than the fence post. But my "gut feeling" kept saying they were still there, and would appreciate cover.

So along with my other rescue efforts--the rams, the roof--I took a bucket and put it upside down over the post. Then I draped a piece of shade cloth over it. The swarm had consolidated since the afternoon, and instead of each insect moving at random, now each bee was carefully aligned, motionless, with its head pointing up, arranged like shingles. They didn't move at all when I put the bucket over them. Probably it squashed the bees on the very top of the post, but that's life, to a bee. They give up their lives at random, whether it's due to an accident or deliberate murder.

Why did we walk out to the Torii in the first place? To scatter some of Dad's parents' ashes there. My sister from New Mexico was visiting, for the first time in years, and had brought the remains with her from my uncle. So Mom and Dad and G. and I had a simple, straightforward, impromptu ceremony at the place on the farm where the very most special creatures are returned to earth. Me, too, someday, I hope.

G. quoted a poem that we had all memorized when we were children, just because we liked it. It's by WWII poet Don Blanding, from his book Pilot Bails Out. I had entirely forgotten it, but as G. spoke the first few words it came rushing back.

Here marks the place where a good friend stood
And did the things that he said he would.
Scattered my ashes, the wind diffused them--
But while they were me, God knows I used 'em.

My atheist Grandfather would have appreciated the casualness of this event, just as he would have appreciated that my sister drove through the town where they had lived for years on her way here with the ashes. They loved to travel.

They died many years ago--soon after I first moved to Lawrence. So it was not a ceremony of loss or grief, but of simple remembering. There is probably no one reading this who knew them, except my parents. But just as some newspaper somewhere probably reported the fact of their death, it seems appropriate to record the dispersion of their ashes--some to the wind, and some buried in the living soil of the farm they never saw, but which they would have loved to visit.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Good, Clean Fun

Today marks A's 2-week anniversary here. She and L, her 2 1/2 year old daughter, moved here to learn about living with sheep--a learning experience now officially called Sheep Boot Camp.

It is a truly a joy to live and work with someone who is enthusiastic, hard-working, intelligent, a quick learner, and good-natured. We know there my be some lumps and bumps along the way, but we're off to a great start, with good, relaxed communication.

So after a long, intense day recently, we relaxed in the comfy chairs in the living room for a little while. Somehow in the course of conversation, a commonplace "cuss word" slipped into an exclamation she made, as we were swapping vignettes from our lives.

"SORRY" she said, clearly embarrassed and afraid she's offended me. "I'll be more careful."

We had had a long chat earlier about her frequent apologies and use of the word "sorry," and we'd come up with some more positive acknowledgements that she hadn't lived up to her expectations of herself.

"You mean, 'we're learning'?" I prompted.

"Yeah." She laughed at herself for continuing to exercise the long-ingrained habit. We smiled at each other. We laughed together at ourselves. Laughing felt good.

People always assume that because I'm obviously Christian, I'm offended by strong language. Actually, I'm pretty $%^& fluent in "French", myself--having hung out with construction workers quite a bit in my younger days.

"Not a big deal," I replied, amused. I began, at a leisurely pace, to explain my attitude towards language.

"It isn't particular words, it's how they're used. They're just sounds, after all. The intent is what really matters, to me. If you are intending to use words to shock or hurt or offend me, then I don't like that. But if it's just the language you use, no big deal. I can understand it well enough to translate into language I would prefer, in my head. "G--D---M-----F-----" is just another way of saying "I smacked my thumb with the hammer and it really, really hurts. Why would that offend me?

"I used to have a really foul mouth myself, but I don't use those words much any more just because I've gotten out of the habit. I don't even try to not say them. I just try to really THINK about what I say, about the words I use. About what they really mean. Do they really express what I'm feeling? I mean, like, what the "sex" am I really trying to say?"

She started giggling again.

I continued, "So I try to figure out what I really mean and say that. I've learned to be much more creative and specific. When you stop to think about it, most foul language is really just laziness--not taking the time to figure out what we're really feeling, and not taking the time to find the exact right words to clearly express it."

"You're right," she said. A thoughtful pause. "I do want to clean up my language, because of L. I don't want her learning to use those words. I hadn't thought about the meanings. I just usually try to substitute a word."

"You mean like"Clorox" instead of the f-word?" It just sort of popped out of my mouth, without thinking it through. But the connections started forming as soon as the word was out. There was no going back.

Now we're really laughing! Part of the day's learning and labor was extensive details on sanitation procedures for the equipment we use in post-harvest handling of the produce we grow for Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Bleach plays a starring role in that process, so it was right there in recent memory in our tired minds.

"It's pretty much got the right sounds..." I went on, laughing harder. A. was doubling up.

"Oh, Clorox!" one of us declared, trying it out. We rolled.

"...and no one will need to have their mouth washed out with soap!" We were howling, gasping, wiping tears of laughter from our eyes...and then doing it all over again.

I can't remember when the last time was that I laughed so hard. It made me aware of something that has been missing from my life for longer than I can think: The sort of intelligent, clever silliness that hurts no one except the pain of laughing until there's a stitch in your side. Humor that isn't hurtful or insulting or belittling to anyone, whether present or not--stereotype-free, non-rascist, gender-neutral, non-lewd humor. Playfullness that is appropriate, harmless, not carried to excess. A welcome release of the last residue of tension at the end of a good, but long, day. It's a kind of humor that grows out of working together well.

Good, clean Clorox.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Taylor's Tale, continued

I'm happy to report that Taylor, who nearly died of hypocalcemia, surprised us with triplets a few days ago! Everyone is doing well so far.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What Next?

When I got home from work, all was quiet in the front pen which holds many of the ewes and lambs. After putting down my things in the house, I changed clothes and went out just to see if one of the few remaining un-lambed ewes was in labor yet.

She was chewing her cud in the shed, so I strolled around and looked at lambs. They all stood up and ran to their moms and started nursing, as they generally do at this age. The process actually is much less straightforward than that--sheep are rather indirect in many of their behaviors.

But then there was Farrah, wandering around searching and baaahing. I wandered around looking at all the lambs, and didn't see hers anywhere.

I looked and looked. Eventually, I went to where she was baaaaahing, near the remains of the big round hay bale (please, please tell me it was not just this morning that we put them in on that bale!!!!). I realized the top had toppled over as the sheep had eaten out the base first...and sure enough there were two black hind legs sticking out on the side where Farrah was.

I pulled on the legs, as I pulled on this lamb when it was born a couple days ago. It was a huge lamb, a small yearling ewe, and one front leg was folded under with the knee snagged on her pelvic bone.

The hay bale had the little lamb very firmly pinned, but it was certainly still alive and kicking. Not for long, with that weight of hay on top...and the fine crumbles of alfalfa mingled in every breath through the little nose trapped beneath.

There was NO way I could lift the bale remains--surely several hundred pounds. Tearing it off with a hay fork would take too long--seconds might count here--endanger the lamb to stab wounds from the fork, and would waste some of the precious hay.

Fortunately I realized that even though the hay above the lamb was immovable, the hay it was laying on was disorganized, half-eaten waste hay. I started pulling it out by the handful, and within a few minutes I had the lamb loose.

It was sneezing and its nose running, but seemed to be ok. Hopefully it didn't get too much alfalfa in its lungs; if so, pneumonia could result.

This seems to be the year of miracle recues and recoveries, which is a good thing. But I'm still looking for that elusive totally boring year, with no adventures.

Be careful what you wish for...

After two years with strung-out lambing seasons--a few weeks of intense lambing, then a lull, then another few intense weeks--I vowed to get lambing done quickly this year. I only left the rams in for about 6 weeks, then separated them again. The ewes cycle into heat about every 2-3 weeks, so that should have given them plenty of time to "settle".

Well, we started lambing the 7th, and ten days later we have 28 lambs on the ground, at last count! There are two mature ewes and three ewe lambs left to go, and the two ewes will probably be soon. One ewe lamb is clearly bred--starting to develop a small udder--but the other two could be either plump or pregnant. They aren't showing any udder development yet. But, they have all been very attentive to each ewe as she lambs, which I've found is characteristic of young ewes pregnant with their first lambs. Those that aren't pregnant generally are off playing "king of the mountain" or something--they just aren't interested in maternal stuff.

We've had a few singles that I hoped would be twins (Ewedora and Annie, lambing for the first time at age 2), but those have been balanced by four sets of triplets. We are currently at a 200% live lambing rate for ALL ewes that have lambed, not just the mature ewes!

We've assisted one birth--a first-time mom with a HUGE lamb that came out with one front foot tucked under his belly. Instead of trying to push him back in to straighten the leg, I was able to catch the back of the knee with a finger and unhook it from under the pelvic bones where it was catching. A little more traction, and she pushed him right out. She didn't want much to do with him at first, but we tied her nearby for awhile and eventually she settled down. Now she stomps her foot defensively at anyone who comes near her beloved baby!

We lost one tiny triplet (there may have been an internal defect of some sort); we nursed one through a bad bout of hypothermia and diarrhea; and we're supplementing one set with milk replacer in a teat bucket, but really we've had very few problems and the lambs are healthy and active now.

It's a striking bunch of lambs this year. Lots of black ones with white faces and feet again. And we have one lamb--named Fancy--who is black with striking white lines doodled all over his body.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Barn Check, 2009-4-9, 8:30 a.m.

This morning's tally: 5 rams, 2 ewes.

Footer was doting over fine big white twins, a ewe and a ram, when I went out, with the placenta neatly deposited nearby. Generally they are strung out in long strings, as the ewe moves around, but I'm guessing the lambs were both suckling and she just stood in one place and passed it.

Perfle's trio is still extremely vocal. We tube fed them twice yesterday, usingcolostrom from the ewes with singles. That also gave me a chance to assess the milking qualities of the two first-time lambers. Both produced lots of colostrum--I easily milked 12 oz out of each, leaving lots behind for their own lambs. I tube fed each of Perfle's lambs about 4 oz. around noon, and another4 oz. at night. Though the largest seems to generally have a full tummy, I tubed all three with each ewe's colostrum so that he wouldn't smell different from the others getting colostrum from different ewes. He's already bigger and firstborn, he doesn't need the advantage of smelling more like Mom as well.

Eudora stood like an old pro once I got her tied up (neck collar and lead rope, then pinned against the fence with my body as I milked with one hand and held the cup with the other). It's an amazing transformation from the brat she's been to handle up to now. Some ewes really go through a personality change at lambing, generally for the better. Annie did not; she fought the whole time. But she was handled less as a lamb than Ewedora was, and it seemed like she was fighting the restraint more than the messing about with her udder. I'll try again today, and see if she settles down. I learned when milking the flock a few years ago that it generally takes about three days for ewes to calm down and settle into the routine, so I won't make any snap judgements about personality here.

But both have very nice udder and teat confirmation, and were very easy to express milk from (getting it to stay in the cup was another matter, in Annie's case). If I never milk for human consumption again, this feature alone makes it worthwhile to have the dairy genetics--ewes with extra teats, very small teats, very thin streams, etc. can be hard to express colostrum from.

So all is well this morning. Looking forward to seeing what this day of the full moon day brings!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Barn Check, 2009-4-8, 8:30 a.m.

Yesterday I was getting in the car to go to work, and--lo! and behold!--Ewedora was calmly mothering her first ever lamb--the first of our lambing season. Not wanting to "call in" to work unless absolutely necessary, I did a quick check to see that nothing else seemed to be going on, observed the lamb was already up and suckling contentedly, judged the weather as mild and stable, called to warn my chore person, and zipped off to work, avoiding a "tardy" point with mere seconds to spare.

When I got home nine hours later, Annie, my other ewe lambing for the first time at age 2, had the classic "two toes and a nose" presenting--clearly black with a broad white blaze. A couple hours later, things had not progressed, the tongue was protruding from the lamb's mouth with a distressed appearance, and I decided to intervene. Annie isn't that big, and the lamb looked larger than average (at over 12 lbs, he turned out large enough for 2 viable lambs). So I applied some traction to the little hooves, and suddenly the big lamb was on the ground--black with white lines scribbled all over! I've never seen a lamb marked this way, but I sure like it. I don't think this boy has any Suffolk heritage, so he'll likely keep these markings. His wool is silky ringlets, one of my breeding objectives. So, he may live to sire future generations here or at another farm.

But Annie wasn't so sure about what had happened--clearly a result of long, ineffective labor and my intervention. She didn't even try to sniff at the lamb, just walked away.

Catching her was evidently out of the question, short of running the whole waddling flock up to the barn. That would just be more confusion and more stress on the bonding. So I decided to clean off his nose, step back, and watch and wait.

Other ewes, esp. the yearlings, came curiously up to sniff him. So did Freckleface. Annie had second thoughts, and joined them in checking him out. They backed off, and Annie stayed around, though still not mothering him. I decided to just go away for awhile and give her time to figure it out on her own.

When I came back, Perfle was clearly laboring, with meconium-stained mucous streaming down the back of her huge udder. Everyone else was bedding down on the north end of the pen, but Annie was near her lamb and so was Perfle. Whenever Perfle wasn't laying down straining, she was up trying to mother Annie's lamb. Annie seemed to be concerned about this, but not very assertive about the older, bigger ewe's intrusion.

My preference would have been to "jug" Annie wtih her lamb, to make sure they bonded properly and keep Perfle from interfering. But the best way to move a new mom is to move her lamb, and she will follow along--and Annie wasn't bonded enough to her lamb for this to work. She was also pretty wild, and would have been difficult to catch.

So I decided to move Perfle, instead. Did she want to leave Annie's lamb? Noooooo.... Did she want to follow meekly on a collar and lead rope? Noooooo.... Would she budge with the improved leverage of the lead rope arranged as a "butt rope" (clipped on the far side of the collar from me, leadng back along her side and around the back between rump and hocks, held in one hand to pull her forward while guiding with the other hand on her collar--this minimized the choking action that comes with just trying to drag her by the collar, and gets me behind her where she is likely to try to move away from me in the direction I want her to go)? Noooooo....

Bribery? Aha! The old reliable tool in every shepherd's toolbox--"greener pasture in a bowl". It doesn't matter what it is, just so it's better than what she's got. A dish of alfalfa pellets got her attention...sort of. I put it in the "lamb taxi" (a laundry basket with a baling twine tow rope, used to keep new lambs visible to mom while moving them from one place to another--twins and triplets can be a real handful, esp. if you have to stop and undo gates, and you have to move everyone at once to get mom to follow) and dragged it in front of Perfle, while using the lead rope and collar to keep her from changing her mind.

Eventually Perfle was installed in the barn, and I ignored her for awhile to erect the panels of the lambing jugs in the north end of the barn. Ewedora was easily installed in her jug; the three special-diet barn ewes (geriatric Eider and Cleo, and raised-from-the-near-dead Taylor) were shut in the sort pen--with everything already pretty much on hand and ready to go, it didn't take long to convert the shearing shed to a lambing barn.

Back to check on Annie, after a break and a snack. She seems to be really hanging close to the little guy now, and everyone else is bedded down at the opposite end of the pen.

Back to check on Perfle. She heaved out one nice big white ram lamb and then another in short order. She still seemed huge, but some of the older girls are pretty saggy. The membranes hanging from her vulva had the look I've learned means "nothing but placenta left." She nickered and licked, and when I came out later to put on navel clamps (instead of 7% iodine, since the War on Drugs has deprived shepherds of their most reliable defense against navel ill) and jot down birth weights, the boys were up and looking for the teat.

By then it was about 1:30 a.m., and I called it a day...or night...or job well done (not that I did the hard part). Four healthy, active, mothered lambs after barely over 13 hours of lambing season. ALL of them rams!

But--this morning when I went out to the barn, a little black ewe was curled up with Perfle and the white rams! She has a white cap on her head, and the curliest coal black fleece to date.

A good beginning to my favorite season of the year--lambing! I took the day off work today, to finish getting things in order for the rest of lambing season...orient a new housemate/farm assistant who will be the chief lamb watcher while I'm at work...prepare for the first day of Farmer's Market coming up this Saturday...

Finally it really feels like dependable spring, after a last (we hope!) solid freeze a few days ago.

Those who are close enough are welcome to make arrangements to come view lambs.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Long and Winding Road to Recovery

Monday morning Taylor was "down" again, though not as far down as she'd been on Sunday.

Bummer. I've learned that if the first miracle doesn't "take", subsequent miracles are less likely, so I was pretty discouraged.

Apprentice JR was here, so it was a good opportunity for her to help work through a semi-crisis problem-solving situation. First we dosed Taylor immediately with more NutriDrench (time to order a new bottle so we have plenty on hand for lambing). Then we called the vet. It was 11:15 by the time he was out of surgery...just 1 hour before I had to leave for work.

The vet said to dose her with the calcium gluconate again, followed with oral calcium paste. This time the feed store was open, so we quickly drove out and got more calcium gluconate, 60 cc syringes, more needles, and the calcium paste. JR filled one syringe while I was injecting the other. I quickly dosed her with Pen-G (in case of internal infection, if any of my injections had gone astray) per the vet's directions, and gave her a shot of Vitamin B which helps stimulate the appetite. I managed to get to work less than 15 minutes late!

One dilemma was that the calcium paste came in tubes like caulk. How were we supposed to dispense it? The applicator hinted at on the label was not evident in the store.

It KIND of looked like a caulk gun would work, but I had my doubts on the exact size. The clerk didn't know. The guy in the back said, yeah, a caulk gun will work....but....

Sure enough, it's a bit narrower and longer than a standard caulk cartridge. I handed that challenge over to JR to solve, since she offered to come back in the afternoon and check on the ewe and dose her with calcium paste then. She called the vet for an exact dosage, calculated what fraction of a tube would give that dosage and used a ruler to demarcate the tube. She was able to press the end of the tube with some handy small object, and get the paste into another syringe to adminster it by mouth. Not easy, because it was pretty thick and sticky. Today she mixed it with some water and dried molasses ("just a spoon full of sugar....!"), and things went much better.

When she got there in the afternoon, Taylor was somewhat better, but still down. She eagerly guzzled some water and munched on alfalfa pellets, and reluctantly swallowed the calcium.

And about a half hour later, she suddenly grew entirely non-responsive again. JR was baffled, but there wasn't much to be done.

When JR came back later, Taylor was MUCH better again, though not on her feet. My guess is that her blood went rushing to her stomach after the big meal, leaving her drowsy like we feel after a big Thanksgiving dinner.

When I got home, Taylor lumbered to her feet, and has pretty much been on her feet ever since. She's steadily improving, but is significantly lame in the left hind quarter (near the injection site for the calcium gluconate). I'm guessing either she's really sore from all the injections, or I got too close to her haunch when giving oneof them. With her collapsed on the ground, and huge with lambs, it was really hard to figure out where the "hollow" of the flank was, to give the inections there.

Today she was moving around and lively enough that I turned her in with Eider and Cleo, whom I've had in the barn to get extra feed in the form of alfalfa pellets. Eider's teeth are so bad I don't think she can eat enough hay to get enough nutrients, at this stage. Cleo's old and a bit skinnier than I'd like for lambing, also.

I even turned them out into the west margin lane to graze a little bit. I figured that would encourage Taylor to move around some more. Whatever is wrong with the leg will be hopefully be helped with gentle exercise (physical therapy), and fresh greens are a nice treat after a miserable weekend.

The other ewes are growing larger by the day, both bellies and udders. It's hard to believe that they aren't due for another 2 weeks. I'll be getting the barn ready for lambs sooner than that, and watching closely, just in case they start a bit early. I can barely wait...though it would be nice to get a bunch more garden planted before the darling little distractions arrive.