Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More babies!

Sunday, Margaret's white ewe, Ophelia, lambed with a single black ewe, and today, my ewe, Pocahontas, lambed with twin black ewes. The two ram lambs still appear to be sharing the two mamas. Part of me is certain that White Feather hasn't lambed yet, but today I think she looks smaller. She was quite wide last week. Then again, this morning, I really thought that White Feather had that "I 'm so sick of being pregnant" look on her face. I can't believe this is so confusing!

Since I was uploading baby pictures, I thought I'd post pictures of the new Cayuga ducklings that have been here since July 13. Earlier this year, coyotes got all of our ducks except one, and we've been watching the algae grow on our pond ever since. We had no idea that ducks ate so much algae! I hadn't seen that much algae on the pond since before we had ducks, and I recalled how the algae was all gone within a week of the ducks going onto the pond. I was really torn between Rouen ducks and Cayugas, but I finally decided on Cayugas because they are rare, and they are the only domesticated breed of duck that is native to the U.S. When they're fully grown, their feathers will have an emerald sheen.

And finally, I thought I should give an update on the pigs. They are living in the walnut grove, and although I hate having fences in pictures, it was really the only way to get a picture of them because they are constantly at my feet if I'm closer. I wish I could say it's because they're so friendly or because they like me so much, but the truth is that they just love food. I totally understand where all those cliches came from, such as "eat like a pig." The do love their food and always act like they're starving.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Who's your mama?

Yesterday, I took minerals out to the sheep, and when they came running, I counted them. Only 14 -- that meant two were missing. Since they are due to lamb, I immediately went looking for new mamas. I found two ewes and two lambs. Both ewes were taking an equal interest in the two lambs, and both lambs were nursing off both ewes! I watched them for quite some time and couldn't figure out which one belonged to whom! I checked the back ends of both ewes, and both looked kind of muddy, although I couldn't find any sign of blood on either one. Both looked a bit sunken between the ribs and pin bones, which usually happens when they give birth. Both are equally wide! I found one placenta, and I found what looked like a dried up umbilical cord. Today I went out there looking for more clues, but couldn't get any farther than I did yesterday. Both lambs are still going back and forth between the two ewes.

One thing I do know -- they are both rams. But then it gets kind of confusing again. I thought they were both black, but Margaret says one is chocolate. Sometimes I think she's right, but sometimes he looks very black. What a confusing start to lambing!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Peaches anyone?

Today I decided to walk around the yard with a camera. I've been meaning to do it, but there are always more important things to do, other than take pictures. However, since the rest of my family has declared today a holiday, I thought I would have some fun too!

At midnight, the seventh and final Harry Potter book was released. My three children were at Barnes and Noble to buy three copies. My eldest stayed up all night reading, and my other two children, and my husband are currently reading it. That means, it's a bit like a graveyard around here. The husband and two youngest are entranced by the book, whilst my oldest is walking around like a zombie since she hasn't slept in about 30 hours. She's trying to stay awake at least long enough that she doesn't go to bed and wake up at 9 p.m. bright eyed and bushy tailed. She has to go to work tomorrow morning at 9.

This leaves me feeling like I'm essentially home alone. I went outside and cut lemon balm, dusted it off, and put it onto a cookie sheet in the oven. I taped a piece of paper on the "bake" switch, so hopefully no one will accidentally turn on the oven without looking in there first! I don't want my lemon balm to be ruined for two years in a row. Last year, I got the bright idea to put it in one of our cars to dry. I went to check on it two days later and the leaves were indistinguishable from those leaves that fall from the trees in fall. They were completely brown and had not a single scent of anything beyond dried leaves. Silly me, I thought that would speed up the process, but some things just take time!

While cutting my lemon balm, I noticed a beautiful butterfly on the echinacea (purple coneflower), so I ran inside to grab the camera. It was nice enough to stick around until I returned, so I was able to get a few pictures. I love the "zoom" feature on my camera, because I was able to get this picture from across the driveway! That's when I remembered that I had been wanting to take some pictures of all the daylilies in bloom and the peaches. There are about 20 different daylilies in bloom at the moment, so these pictures are just a sample.

Last night's dinner from the farm: goat cheese, chicken, patty pan squash, and green beans.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Wool, fleeces, roving

Friday, Mike and I drove to LaOtto, Indiana, to deliver our wool to the mill to be carded. Having 19 fleeces this year, it would have cost a fortune to mail. And the mill co-owner had encouraged me to start washing our own fleeces. To entice me even more, he said that if we wash it and drive it over, they can card it while we're there and bring it home the same day. Compare that scenario to mailing and waiting several months to get the roving back, and you can see that it was quite tempting to finally dive in and do the washing ourselves. Apparently, there are not a lot of people who want to wash it themselves, so the backlog at the mill is in washing the fleeces. Laziness aside, I can see why people are reluctant to wash their own fleeces. If you do it incorrectly, you can wind up with a matted mess.

We have an old washing machine in one of our barns, however, we tried to use it once five years ago, and it wouldn't stop filling up. Pretty scary! We finally pulled the plug before it overflowed. Mike, being an electrical engineer and a professor of electrical engineering technology, loves to fix electrical things. (We were watching beta tapes for many years after everyone else had stopped.) I told him all he had to do was get the washing machine to fill up, spin, and drain, which he was able to accomplish in an hour or two. Another hour or two later, and he even had it agitating, even though I was happier when it didn't agitate, because you do not agitate fleeces! (They felt.) Then Mike volunteered to do the washing -- he said he could do it between other projects he was doing out there. It was a great plan, and in less than a month, we had all 19 fleeces ready to go!

We got out of bed at the crack of dawn Friday morning, and by 6:20, we were on the road headed east to Indiana. We attempted to take the direct route, which was through the countryside (rather than up, across, and down the interstate), and some of those roads are not marked very well, which meant we took a few wrong turns. We had hoped to arrive by 10 a.m. We thought we arrived at 11 a.m., but when we were talking to Matt, one of the co-owners, Mike noticed Matt's watch said noon! We had crossed into the eastern time zone! Doh!

It was great going to the mill, meeting Matt and Jamie in person, and seeing their operation. We came home with ideas for better washing our fleeces and preparing them for carding, although they said we did a great job of washing. Only one fleece of the 19 had a touch of lanolin left in it, so Mike was really proud of himself. The fleeces are absolutely beautiful, and we can hardly wait to start spinning, knitting, and crocheting! I am also looking at some of these spotted fleeces and thinking that I really need to learn how to weave!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tough decisions

After living out here for a few months, we were faced with a dilemma: What do you do with a rooster who attacks everyone? The answer became clear to us fairly quickly. He should become dinner. It felt rather medieval -- like Nero or Caesar being judge and jury, pronouncing the accused "guilty as charged" and then sentencing them to death.

For the past three years we've been living with a ram who has beaten up other rams, ripped up woven wire fencing, rammed fence posts until they've broken off at the ground, rammed gates until they've bent into crescents, and finally, rammed people whenever we've turned our backs on him. He actually rammed me last year when I was trying to get a goat's head out of the fence bordering his pasture. She had stuck her head through the woven wire next to a post, and she got herself stuck. I cradled her head between my two hands -- one hand was between her head and the post, and my other hand was on the outside of her head, which meant my hand happened to be in the ram's pasture. He quietly walked up to the fence and just watched me for a few seconds, then put his head down, and before I could react, he rammed his head against my hand. Although that hand hurt, I thought he might have broken the hand that was between the doe's head and the fence post. Luckily it was only bruised, scraped, and swollen.

I don't remember what was the final straw, but at some point over this past winter, I decided I had had enough, and I said that he was going to be butchered this summer when we took the lambs to the processor. Being an older ram, his meat will have a very strong taste, so he's going to be dog food, since we feed raw meat to the carnivores around here (dogs and cats). The livestock guardian will probably be very happy to eat him if he realizes who it is, and I think he might. He's tasted that ram's blood before. We once tried to put the dog into the pasture with the rams, and this particular ram lumbered quietly across the pasture until he got close to the dog, then RAM! That was a mistake. The dog immediately went into self defense mode, and he probably would have killed the ram if my husband had not been there to stop him.

Today was D-Day, as I call it when animals are being taken to the processor, and this ram, along with three yearling lambs went down the road. Wanting to make use of everything (as our ancestors did) and wanting to use natural products as opposed to synthetics, we decided that in addition to having the meat processed, we would also have the skins tanned. That's why today was chosen as D-Day. The sheep were sheared seven weeks ago, and a couple different sheep farmers said that six weeks is ideal for letting the wool grow to a good length before processing. Having skins tanned, however, is not as simple as it sounds. We thought we'd bring home the skins from the processor, salt them (to dry them and stop bacterial growth), then box them up and ship them to the tanner in a week or so. Since most of you probably don't want details on the exact condition of the skins that we brought home, I'll just say that they were -- um -- "messy." So, we spent the afternoon cleaning them up before salting them.

I didn't really mind the work, especially since Mike did all the hardest parts, but it gave me a lot of time to think about how the older ram had been a pain in the ____ (whatever body part he rammed you in), whereas the lambs had just been unlucky enough to be born male at a time when we had more than enough wethers for wool. A lot of work on a farm allows lots of time for thinking and contemplation, and this afternoon's work was one of those times.

This evening, I looked out the back door to see roosters fighting, and this was not a little garden-variety spat. One of the roosters (the oldest rooster we have) had a very bloody head. The other one is the same rooster that killed his brother last fall -- and he was clearly winning this fight. I blogged about those two back then. We try to butcher young roosters on a timely basis so that they don't wind up killing each other, but when we saw those two always together, it seemed so sweet. We talked about how if we did butcher one, we'd have to butcher the second one too, because he'd miss his brother too much. Well, one day I looked outside to see them fighting. The next morning, we found one of them in the chicken house, not moving, although not dead yet. One of the challenges of a natural life is that nature is brutal sometimes, and when roosters fight, it's not a quick death. That's my Cain and Abel story, and I figured there's no such thing as friendship when you're a rooster.

I quickly called Katherine and told her to take the injured rooster away and lock him up in a coop by himself, so he could hopefully heal. He was not opening one of his eyes, and that's a bad sign. I am hoping it wasn't pecked out. Then I told Katherine to catch the other rooster and lock him up separately, so he could become tomorrow's dinner. Most of the roosters get along well, but this one is definitely a trouble maker, and he really chose the wrong day to pick a fight with another rooster. After spending an afternoon thinking about my role as "empress" of the farm, I was in no mood to deal with a rooster who didn't want to live peacefully with the other chickens.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

What to buy -- or not

If you think parents always find themselves with unexpected expenses, try living on a farm. It's like I mentioned a year ago or so -- if you think it's bad having to keep a house clean, add a barn or two and a pasture to your responsibilities. Everything on a farm is like a family multiplied times three of four. And it's no different when it comes to buying things. With human kids, you have to buy shoes, clothes, musical instruments, and so on. With animals, you often find yourself needing to buy more animals, such as new males to breed the females to. I currently have a deposit down on a buckling (yet to be born) in Texas. I am also considering a new ram, because one of my ewes is related to all my rams. About a month ago, I finally bought a herding dog (puppy) after talking about it for a couple of years.

Porter is an English shepherd, one of the original breeds of "farm collies." He came from a sheep farm in Wisconsin, where his parents both herd sheep. He is a sweetie, but he is a puppy. He needs lots of attention and training at this point. My oldest daughter has agreed to take full responsibility for him, and she's doing a great job, even after three weeks.

Unlike our Anatolian shepherd, Porter will not live with the animals 24/7. Instead, his job will be to herd the sheep when we need to move them. That job has been getting harder and harder every year. Whoever said that sheep are dumb did not have Shetlands. They remember what we did last time to trick them into the barn, and they don't fall for the same thing twice. We are hoping that Porter will grow up to be a valuable asset to our farm and our family.

You may be wondering why the Anatolian shepherd can't help us with this. Well, the Anatolian breed has a misnomer of a name. It doesn't herd at all. It's just a guard dog. They hang out with the animals, bond with them, and protect them. And herding is all in the genetics. You have to have a dog with herding instincts to herd. English shepherds are herding dogs, and since they are not recognized by the AKC, it's probably easier to find dogs that still have those instincts. Once a dog is recognized by the AKC, it seems to be downhill from there, as people start breeding for the show ring and for pets. That's a problem with Great Pyrenees dogs. They were originally great livestock guardians in France, but they've become so popular as pets, the guarding of livestock has been bred out of them -- not intentionally bred out, but bred out by neglect. Like many people new to the farm, we tried GPs when we first moved out here, and we had a terrible experience. It's not impossible to find a good GP livestock guardian, but it's not easy. Like one lady said, most GPs today are just big marshmallows, and they make great pets.

Today's dinner from the farm: Chicken, zucchini and garlic!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Goslings hatched

Friday when we were running around getting ready for Saturday's goat show and Sunday's party, I noticed 2/3 of an egg shell near the goose that has been setting. Thursday, I had said to my husband, "When are those eggs going to hatch? It seems like she's been setting forever!" Then I added, "You know, when I say that, they usually hatch the next day." Sure enough, Friday, I saw the broken egg shell.

Saturday she got off the nest, and three little goslings followed. She left behind four unhatched eggs. They have been going down to the pond, which is scary for us because there are snapping turtles in there, and we've never been able to raise any ducklings as a result. Somehow, the Canada geese don't have a problem. Perhaps the babies are too big for the turtle to eat, or maybe they have just been lucky. The whole gaggle of geese are always surrounding the babies, which makes it hard to see the babies unless you're in a good position. I guess it takes a gaggle to raise a gosling.


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