Thursday, September 27, 2007

Never expected THAT…

Being a new shepherd, I expected to deal with a lot of things: barberpole worms, lameness, colic and coughing fits, perhaps coyotes, and a constant learning curve of minerals and suppliments. Porcupines weren't on the list. But, evidently, sheep like to mess with porcupines, because this morning, our two year old Ewe, Daisy, showed up for chow with a face full of quills. She was quite a sight, and unable to eat very effectively as about 20 of the little suckers were embedded in her lower lip and nose. (Being a stoic Icelandic, she did try to eat though…)

Of course, I was home alone with four year old Joe. (Virtually everything like this happens when I'm alone at home) Even our vet was away for the day. So…. After much deliberation and calling around (Affirming Daisy would either have to wait a long while or I’d have to suck it up and go it alone) I grabbed Dan’s trusty pliers and headed back down to the barn.

It wasn’t hard to catch Daisy. She’s one of the friendliest of our sheep, equipped with handles (AKA horns) and a chowhound to boot. I waved some grain in front of her nose, closed the barn door, held on tight, and began to pull the things out. "Better than the maggots." I muttered, though each yank caused her to clunk her curved horns into my legs. I almost lost hold of her a few times, but really, it wasn’t half as big a drama as I expected. She bled a bit, but perked up when she realized she could eat once again. And newbie blogger that I am, I didn’t even get any pictures until after the fact!
When Dan gets home, we’ll catch her and double check to make sure there aren’t any quills broken off in her mouth.
No one can say this shepherd thing is boring.

Here’s something we ran across while goodsearching “porcupine” and “sheep”:

What do you get when you cross a sheep and a porcupine?
Nobody knows, but whatever it is, it knits its own sweaters.


We caught up with our meager bounty of peaches just in time this year. Last fall, there were so many peaches; this one: it's sort of sparse. (Funny, we seem to have the opposite situation with the apples: So many tiny Empire Macs!)
Rather than use the traditional ladder approach, Dan and Joe picked the peaches by ATV. We had just enough for a terrific peach/blueberry pie and a cobbler for the freezer, too.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Tree Falls in the Forest...

Yesterday, Dan and brother in law, Mike, decided to clear some more of the future pasture I wrote about back in August. We were having a big family gathering and it seemed like the thing to do. You know, disappear into the woods with chainsaws :) Well, long story short, they managed to bring a very large ash tree crashing through two sections of our pasture fence. So the afternoon of clearing turned into a late afternoon/evening of fence repair. The kids, with cousins in tow, had a great time, mucking around in the frog pond and "helping" with the fence. Thought I'd put up a few pictures of the festivities.

Another use for post holes:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Leisurely Ladies and Young Thugs

Last weekend, we moved our bunch of randy teenage ram lambs, their wether babysitter, Franklin, and nasty old mature ram, Gus, down to the “down barn and pasture”

The seven ewes, without any male hinderences, are now enjoying leisurely hay bales and even a bit of grain to ready them for breeding in November. They seem awfully comfy all of a sudden, a mellow coffee klatch group noshing on apples (they love them).

Gus is now "enjoying" his semi-solitary confinement beside but not with the young ones. He is a meat and potatoes kind of guy-- as long as he's fed he could care less about flocking. Flocking is for sissies anyway. (The solitary is because he is so big and tough and nasty that there’s the possibility he could kill one of the ram lambs-- or even Franklin--when the season starts in earnest next month. Also, he is a hay/grain hog and we’d like the smaller guys to get a little food as well. Also, he is seriously nasty during breeding season and we don’t want to have to fight him off whenever we set foot in the pasture.)

Without their mothers around, the ram lambs are settling down to business: determining who was the toughest, biggest, and strongest. Lots of head knocking has ensued. Little James (iffy all sommer with a cough) has buddied up with the humongous Charlie Bucket for protection. But Charlie is more lover than fighter; he’s barely bothered with all that. (What a terrific, placid, ram!) Bombadil, being the only polled ram, mostly kept out of the doings. It’s funny to see the four of them whooping it up like a bunch of hoods at a rumble. Like a scene from West Side story, sans Maria.

AND, with so many possible pairings, this will be an especially exciting breeding season! We are hoping for a big, beautiful and colorful bunch of lambs next year!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Can DO attitude?

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time trying to be a certain kind of person or do a certain thing. My self concept was quite tied up in all those doings and strivings (I traveled and hiked and spent long nights writing in coffee shops, got all A’s no matter what) even my clothes (went through a horrendous period around 20 when I’d wear nothing but long skirts with long johns underneath and mens’ tweed jackets. Even in the summer-- yikes!) I thought three steps ahead, laser-focused on what I might be doing in the future. And I was not entirely happy, either. Often, I didn’t meet my own crazy expectations; often, I wished I was somewhere doing something different.

But somewhere along the way I just sort of mellowed out. Now, I am where I am —trying not to think too far ahead, to get too grouchy about the inevitable kid’s messes and squabbles, to be a good mother, wife, shepherd, writer, teacher, to take it as it comes. Lately, I am right there—picking maggots out of a wounded chicken, reading the third bedtime story, wrestling a recalcitrant ram down to a new pasture, even commuting through 1 ½ rounds of NPR—there I am, right there, and I don’t have the time or desire to think about who I really am, what I really want or value, what else I might be doing. I just… do. Maybe there’ll be time enough for all that other stuff later?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Coming in Out of the Rain

Last week it rained for days, poured really, a cold early fall shiver of a storm. And of course, our four guinea fowl steadfastly refused to enter the coop. Instead they sat on the fence rail BESIDE their designated shelter and cried. I could hear them from the house chirp chirp cheeping away as day turned to dusk turned to utter dark downpour. I finally felt so sorry for the forlorn birds, I went out to try to rescue them. Picking them off the fence didn’t work. Unlike chickens, who go into a sort of “poultry coma” in the dark, the guineas were aware enough to plop down onto the ground and lurch away from me. I tried herding them with two sticks (as was once recommended to me by a guinea aficionado). No dice. Joe came out, shoeless, of course and with just a sweat shirt and shorts, to “help”. After much running, slipping and general cold muddiness, we got TWO of the birds into the coop. But they immediately came trotting back out again.

Some creatures just cannot be helped.

A word about guinea fowl: I was really excited to add them to our farm this year. I’d heard they are terrific at eating ticks and other pests and very self sufficient. So back in April, twelve little guinea chicks came home from the farm co-op with us and took up temporary residence in the kitchen. Unlike baby chickens, who quickly learn to come peeping over to be fed by hand, these little buggers hurled themselves against the side of the brooder box whenever I added more feed or water. They eventually graduated to a brooder box in the barn, and although I’d read that guinea chicks were not very hardy and had low survival rates. All twelve did just fine….. that is until I let them explore the woven-wire fenced pasture beside the barn. They wandered out into the grass, saw the sheep and panicked. As they’d done in the kitchen brooder box, they hurled themselves against a wall (in this case the wire fencing) in total terror. One of them wedged itself in so tightly, I had to track down the wire cutters to free it! The rest plunged into deep brush. I spent a good chunk of that Sunday trying to track them down and found just 4 or 5. It was hard to track them, and I asked Maggie (Our border collie and farm namesake) to help. “Find it, Maggie! Find it!” Though not much of a bird dog, Maggie gave it a pretty good try. Like any bc, she has a knack for language and seems to know what I want instantly. (Seems being the operative word here, as it turned out) Help or not, after a while I gave up. Unbeknownst to me, Maggie did NOT give up. A few hours later we found a couple of dead guineas, laid neatly beside the barn door. She’d brought them back for us after all.

Well, to make an already long story shorter. We collected a few more lost guineas the next morning only to let them out again and have some more disappear on us. Maggie, unfortunately, had gotten the idea that I wanted her to catch the birds and she’d run right by the flock of chickens to grab an unfortunate guinea fowl. It took us a while to get the point across to her that this was not what we had in mind by “help”.

So guineas—there are just four now. Like the Gashlycrumb Tinies, they seem hellbent on their fates. And no, I can’t get them to come in out of the rain. Dan thinks we should put those little umbrella hats on them, the kind folks sometimes wear to sports events. Not a bad idea really. And goofy hats would certainly suit them.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Seasons Change

Well, it's happened. Yesterday a good hard rain dropped the first autumn leaves. The nights are cool, the new apples are blushing, and the kids are talking Halloween and birthdays. I guess it really is the end of summer.

So, looking forward, I’m putting a few of Dan’s pictures on the blog today. He’s gotten quite artistic with the settings and (in my humble opinion) they are quite amazing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Star Belly Sneetch

Well, I wrote about how terrific and easy chickens were. So of course, something had to give. That's how things seem to work here on Maggie's Farm (And everywhere else, too, eh?) a sort of "Murphy's Law of Gotcha!" So the morning after my post, I strolled down to the coop to find a New Hampshire hen (one of two identical “Sneetch Sisters”) with a swollen, maggot ridden wound! I don’t know for sure how this happened, but I suspect Luka got a little nippy when we were elsewhere. She’s made a few attempts at the chickens in the past, following behind them. “So cute,” we said, “She’s herding!” Well, herding may have progressed to, um, hurting. Or something else may have happened. Our chickens roam around all day long, and we've been pretty blessed in our (lack of) predators. (Do you hear me Murphy? I said "We have had no predator attacks!")

Anyway, this wound was the most disgusting thing I’d seen in a good long time. It was early in the morning when I discovered her and attempting to be the macho farm gal I aspire to, I thought I’d let let Dan sleep and try dressing it myself. I went back to the house, got the hydrogen peroxide and ointment, doused the poor, bleary girl and picked out the grossdisgustingawfulhorrible maggots with a paper towel best I could. The hen was so passive, just squinting her eyes and hunkering down throughout the ordeal. It didn't look likely she would survive.

When Dan awoke, we went back out and worked on the wound again-- still crawling with grossdisgustingawfulhorrible maggots-- and cleaned it with a home-made ointment of calendula (Thank you Mollie!) and bacitracin. Then we covered it up with vaseline so we wouldn't have to go through the maggot thing again and started oral antibiotics, set up a comfy dog crate for the Sneetch Sister and waited. It seemed unlikely she'd survive the day. But she did and, with repeated dressings, the next one too, and the next. It's still a little touch and go, but this is one tough Sneetch!

I know this begs the question-- are we crazy to spend so much time on a CHICKEN when we eat other people’s chickens all the time? When the chicken in question is 3 years old and not really so productive anymore? When the chicken doesn't even have her own name? Maybe. I have to say my first thought upon discovering her was to put her out of her misery. But I didn't. (I get like this about all sorts of life-- from the sometimes injured frogs and salamanders the kids catch to the half-developed eggs we tried to hatch in our home-made incubator. ) Hard to know when giving up hope is really-- really-- appropriate. But I guess the best answer is to value life, especially the life that happens to fall into our care and if there’s hope, I want to help it along a little. So many miseries are beyond our reach and comfort. We do what we can. And in this case, well, we thought maybe we could.

There’s a lot more to write about this topic— and many connected ones. But I want to finish the Sneetch story for now. Here’s the other half of it:

A day or two after the miserable maggoty Sneetch sister adventure, I woke early, went down to the coop and discovered a more pleasant surprise: Our two eternally broody hens who’ve shared a nest box all summer actually succeeded in hatching a new chick. It's an adorable little thing, though not a spring chicken at all (An autumn chicken?) And one of these two broody mamas is our other Sneetch Sister! I put the lucky Sneetch and chick in a dog crate with her chick and food and water, and so far, they're managing quite nicely. This is the first chick we haven’t raised in a brooder box in the kitchen. And though already it’s getting quite cold at night, little Stella is doing great.

So this is a tale of two Sneetches— Star bellied and not. There is a lot to write about this too—how life can take a sudden inexplicable turn, even for two identical chickens who share a name. The universe is mysterious—both ugly and beautiful. It makes sense that our farm, our chickens, would reflect that.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Sleeper Livestock

A word about chickens...

When we began thinking in earnest about moving out to the country, chickens were not even on the radar. Dan and I were all about the sheep. Beautiful sheep with luscious wool and curly horns, triple purpose sheep that could provide milk, meat, and fleece, woolies we could be proud of. And the Icelandics are all of those things. Thanks to them, I discovered an affinity for felting and Dan discovered an affinity for fixing and setting up fencing (Well, “affinity” is probably a little strong for the way Dan feels about fencing, but it certainly keeps him busy!) and of course Maggie and the kids are thrilled with this new shepherd thing.

But chickens were sleeper livestock. They seemed like a reasonably good idea. Truly free range, healthy eggs—who could argue with that? Before chickens, I used to stand in the supermarket agonizing over the eggs: do I buy the cheap, factory farm eggs and support a cruel and impersonal sort of agribusiness, or do I spend $3 a dozen for the “free-range” label? Worse, I’d heard “free-range” might mean a square foot or two of space, not much “range” there. If we are going to eat animals, and use them for the products they provide, we should treat them humanely. And I couldn’t vouch for any of the supermarket eggs, $3 a dozen or not. So yeah, chickens seemed like a good idea.

We ordered them our first spring, a box of 24 chirping chicks. The post office called us IMMEDIATELY upon their arrival. Come get your ^$%#$% chicks was the basic tone of the call. And yes, they were noisy little buggers! We’d pored over the Murray McMurray catalogue and chosen a variety of “dual purpose” birds, and the chicks were a peeping rainbow of colors and patterns. We spent many hours down in the basement those first weeks, hunched over the brooder box trying to parse one type from the other. The hatchery had sent us a free chick with our order, and we had a lot of fun figuring out what he was (Golden Laced Wyandotte, as it turned out). The chicks were very little trouble, and that spring, the kids and I spent many happy hours digging up worms for them to tussle over. We gave eight chicks to my sister and her family (also newly rural and only a town away) and the kids named each and every one of the remaining 17. (Brave Sunny, Brave Sarah, Fancy Feather, Chicklee, Stripes, Madeline, Rangy, Dandelion, Sandy, etc. etc)

The original bunch, with a few more added to the mix along the way, free range right here in our yard and pasture. They still provide us with hours of entertainment, while ridding the pasture of excess parasites, oh, and they also lay plenty more eggs than this family of five (plus two dogs) can consume. Dan and I love sharing this bounty with students, friends, and co-workers because there is nothing like a fresh, truly free-range egg! The color is so much more vivid, and the yolk is stronger and more solid. I’ve even heard that fresh eggs lack the kind of cholesterol that blocks arteries and are high in Omega 3.

And so yes, the sleeper livestock. Chickens are pretty darn cool!