Thursday, February 28, 2008

Camera Kaput!

Our Camera-- Dan's extravagant way-over-our-budget birthday camera-- broke this week. Something to do with the zoom motor. We are sending it back to Cannon, and hopefully they will be able to fix it... Sigh.... and have it back in time for spring, lambs, chicks and crocuses and all sorts of camera-worthy stuff. For now, we'll recycle some old shots and keep plugging along.

Really, my upbeat self tells me, the broken camera is an opportunity to appreciate all the more important things that DO work and also to really SEE the things around me without trucking off to capture them on my memory card.

But of course, we had the most beautiful blizzard yesterday-- a heavy wet snow that coated the trees so thoroughly, they looked like the bleached chunks of coral you find at tropical souvenir shops. Venturing out at 4 AM in the strange, "underwater"world of heavy, heavy snow and halflight, I really did appreciate the chance to take that deep breath and simply, SEE. Then, I started missing the camera something fierce!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It was a Dark and Stormy Night: Tales of Lambing Horror Part 1

Okay, so "horror" is a bit of a strong term. But as spring ever-so-slowly approaches (43 degrees today!) a shepherd's thoughts invariably turn to lambs, and with lambs all the many possible complications that might occur during the process known as "lambing". In the spirit of the coming season, I thought I might share a few of our hard-won lambing lessons.

Icelandics are known to be easy lambers. Dropping lambs right out there in the pasture, picking up the mothering thing easy as pie, managing just fine thank you with no more than a dip of Betadyne at the navel and a BoSe injection. And during our first spring Daisy and Copper proved true to the mythos of the hardy Icelandic ewe. Boy, did those girls make it look easy! The following year, Dan and I were good to go. "Hey," we figured "What's to worry?"

Well, you know what they say about overconfidence....

Here's one of our several "fun" lambing experiences from year two:

It was May, getting late for lambing. Dan woke up early (Perhaps he had a premonition...?) and went down to check on expectant ewe Daisy. It was a Thursday, one of the days I work from home, with the preschool aged kids while he goes into work. I rose lazily (As lazy as a person can at 6:30 in the morning) and peeked out the window towards the barn. Dan was out there in the middle of the pasture and Daisy was too. Okay, thought I, this is a little odd...

"Everything Okay, hon?"

He shook his head, too winded to speak, and boy did he look befuddled, bedraggled (did I mention the steady, cold drizzle?) and bedownherenow. I put on my boots and, waking the kids ("Get ready for the bus, Micah! You're on your own for a minute, I have to go out to the barn"), hurried away.

When I arrived, Dan had Daisy cornered against the fence. And there was a lamb-- well, the head and one long leg of lamb-- sticking out of her behind. The head was already dry which meanst the lamb had been stuck like this a while. My heart sunk. Too late! I thought, ruing my overconfidence. Oh, why didn't I wake up at three to check on Daisy as a better shepherd might? I touched the lamb (Which is a beautiful dark moorit) and the strangest thing happened. Although the eyes were slitted up and the tongue was lolling, the teeny lips smacked a few times.

Oooookay..... What do we do now?

Now, I wasn't going in completely cold. I had done my research, TONS of research. I'd read about lambing, combed my Storey's Guide" more than a dozen times. But just then, the next step eluded me. My mind was a fuzzy blank.

We caught Daisy (Who, even in the midst of all this, was tempted by a bucket of grain) and I ran back up to the house for my Storey's Guide. "Okay," I said, the book spread across my lap. "It says here that we should try to push the head back in so that the two hoofs can come together." (Lambs are born like little divers, their front hoofs and nose all together in one little bundle.)

"I don't know..." Dan said.

"But that's what the book says. That's what we have to do!" (Okay, now, any fool could have seen that that head was NOT, no way in no how going back into that sheep. But I had always been a straight A student, bookish and eager, and if the book said to do it, I was damn well going to give it a try.)

I tried, imposing more than a prudent amount of pressure. (This is a descriptive as I'm going to get here folks.) But, of course, nothing much happened. Oh, and Daisy was not too happy about it either. (Could you blame her?)

"Okay, the book says if pushing the head back in doesn't work, we have to reach in and grab the other foreleg and pull it out."

Dan was all too eager to let me give step 2 a try. "I'll hold the sheep," He says. I wasn't keen on this step but I was prepared! I had my handydandy tube of Astroglide, just like the books recommended to keep for just this sort of emergency (The Astroglide, on the barn shelf with the rest of the equipment, has no doubt been a topic of out-of-our-earshot conversation for many of our farm visitors..... ) I lubed up and gave it a try. Let me just say this: The book makes this step seem a heck of a lot easier than it is. And, of course, I couldn't find the other hoof at all. Daisy was even less happy about step 2.

"Okay, the book says.... the book says.... the book doesn't say anything else!" Evidently, more accomplished shepherds never got to step 3. All their lambs come out well and good after the first two.

So, our step 3 was to call the vet. He arrived just about the time Micah was getting on her school bus out front and the other two kids were eating their morning cereal. (So responsible, my children :) Dr Schmidt put on his rubber booties and surgical looking suit, took one look at poor Daisy and yanked that lamb out. Simple as that. Cost us a hundred bucks too.

Yes, this is obvious. So obvious. And it did occur to me that I might want to try this pulling thing... but I was still brand new, visions of ripping and tearing and all kinds of terribilities dancing in my head. (And also the book didn't SAY to pull...)

So, lesson learned, if the head and one leg are out and you get to step 3, you just got to pull.

As for the lamb, he was fine and dandy after a vigorous rub down. He got up and nursed and grew into James Henry Trotter, ramly ram of Tuckaway Farm.

All's well that ends well. But next time, I think we'll just pull.

Friday, February 22, 2008

More of the Same

Another day, another snowstorm. Kids and I are once again cooped inside, coming up with yet another “something to do". I believe they are all done with baking, beading, rope-making, felting, soap-making and even those plastic beads that you melt with an iron. The other day we baked an impromptu chocolate meringue pie out of ovaltine and our own winter-sparse chicken eggs. (Turned out better than expected) And we have played about a hundred games of Labyrinth and Blokus, exhausted the possibilities of blocks, cuisinaire rods, dress up, and all sorts of imaginary play-options. Sigh.... Tomorrow, I am going OUT to work on my novel all day long. I don't care if I have to slide down the hill to do it.

Does Copper look ready for spring or what? If she could speak, I swear she’d say “Enough already! If I wanted this sort of weather, I’d have stayed in Iceland!” (Copper is actually from Haydenville, MA. They don’t allow exports of Icelandic sheep anymore, but you get the idea.)

Oh spring, spring.... where are ya?

Cool Night

Dan caught this beautiful image of the lunar eclipse night before last.

Pretty neat, eh?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Yea, Heavy and a Bottle of Bred

Icelandics, like other "primitive" sheep breeds are seasonal breeders. No mid-winter lambsicles for them. They come into season once a year, in November or so, and by February, they are no longer in any sort of mood. It’s February now, down to the wire for this year, and as we have two seasons’ lambing under our belts (so to speak), Dan and I know enough to expect that this is the time for the serious doubts to kick in. Are there really lambs growing under all that lovely fleece? The answer should be simple. Take one ram, one group of ewes, plunk ‘em down in the same pasture and viola! Lambs! Right? Well…. Probably.

Last year, it didn’t quite work that way. Our beautiful ram lamb, Diego, um, didn’t. And we ended up with four (Four!) unbred ewes come spring.

Gus, our former (dangerous) ramly ram, was as reliable as they come. But he is gone now and in his place are three unproven ram lambs.

Before long, we began to worry about both Charlie and Harry. It seems strange to worry over the virility of a sheep but, hey, this is part of the deal as far as we can tell. A lot is riding on those rams getting in the mood. Unfortunately, both Charlie and Harry seem positively placid—no lip curling, pacing or chasing from them, just a lot of happy, lazing nibbling and poking around in the snow (The sheep equivalent of couch surfing with a bag of chips, near as I can tell).

Now, likely this is because their ewes are already “in lamb” so to speak.... and, to be fair, there was some of that macho ramly stuff early on) But how to know? Especially, when Copper and Leela seem to be giving that “come hither” look, parking themselves in front of said rams and wagging their tails madly. More worrisome yet, Bombadil (The supercute little polled guy) seemed to be taking an interest in them from across the fence. But Harry? Nada. Charlie? Zip-o.

So, Dan and I thought we’d hedge our bets a little. If Leela wasn’t bred by now, we reasoned, Harry wasn’t the ram for her. And Leela, she of the beautiful luxurious fleece, must lamb to pass that wonderful fleecy trait on! Last year, she was one of the disappointing unbred four I mentioned earlier. So we decided it might be worthwhile to scramble around in the snow and ice until we managed to catch Leela and put her in with Bombadil’s group. This involved a lot of shaken grain buckets, slipping, sliding and cussing. It also isn’t the best of arrangements because Leela is horned and Mr. B is polled. But we figured better a scurred lamb with a beautiful fleece than no lamb at all. And we’ll be able to tell who the lamb-daddy is by the date (and horn situation).

We tried to put matriarch Copper (Below) in with Mr. B as well, but she was having none of it. When he came over to check her out, she knocked him clear across the feed trough! And she kept at it. It was clear she was not about to allow any little pipsqueak so much as nuzzle. We figured it wasn’t worth an injury to leave the two of them together, and carted Copper back to Harry’s pen.

In a perfect world, all the original pairings “took” and we will have a nice crop of lambs come spring. In the worst of all possible outcomes, our ram lambs were just too mellow or whatever to bother and we’ll get no lambs at all come spring. Likely, the outcome will be somewhere in the middle. Short of expensive ultrasounds, we’ll just have to wait and see. This is one of those things they just don’t tell you about in shepherding school: The anxious wait and hope and hope some more of late winter.

Here are the three "Ramboys", Bombadil, Harry and Charlie Bucket, before the breeding season began:

Chickens in the Mist

Well, from a frigid high of 20 to warmish and foggy, winter is marching onward!

There is an actual puppy in the center of this picture!

It is eerie and damp on Maggie's Farm today. The chickens are hanging close to the coop, the sheep are looking slightly puzzled. (Not an unusual expression for them, come to think of it.) And once again, there aint no goin' anywhere today.

Puzzled ewes

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Snow/Ice/Rain/Sleet Day

As predicted, we have another "snowday" today. The kids are home, bummed about missing the pre-Valentine's Day festivities at school, and I am home as well. Sigh... We are so ready for spring around here.
It's wild outside. We got about eight inches of snow last night and now the temperature is exactly 32 degrees (has been for about three hours) and we have buckets of freezing rain. What a sound it makes falling on the ice encrusted snow. The poor trees are dropping limbs all over the place, there's a flood watch downhill in Greenfield, and just look at this dejected little evergreen:

We're hoping the newish sheep shed holds. It's been sagging for a few weeks now and is propped up and jerry-rigged every which way. The combined weight of snow, Ice and rain might just do it in-- in which case, our flock will be re-introduced a little more quickly than we'd planned. (This could be trouble as the humongous Charlie Bucket has it out for Bombadil, and who knows what would happen in the ensuing ram-to-ram chaos. They have not been making nice through the fence, and Charlie has a big ol' bump on the bridge of his nose from knocking into the gate that separates them.) I've been checking on the sheep shed ever half hour. So far, it seems to be holding.

Today I was determined NOT to decend into the stir crazy snowdayness of the past. I set out to do something fun and creative with the kids and so.... soap. Again. The last batch turned out decidedly so-so. I used a mixer to beat the rebatch, and as a result, we have light-as-air floating chai soap. (It does smell great though!) And the Mocha soap looks rather, um... wellllll... The kids have taken to calling it "poop soap". The tea tree soap, while just the right consistency (I didn't use the mixer on it) is full of flax seeds. Yep, this was my bright idea. Dan likes "scratchy" soap and I thought flax seeds would be suitably abrasive. Who knew they'd be THAT abrasive....? On the plus side, I used a cookie cutter to shape the sheets of soap and that worked really well. We got about 10 cute little poop soap hearts!

This time, we played it safe: Vanilla-Chamomile, Orange, and Lemon. And it was a lot of fun! Let's hope this batch turn out a bit better.

The kids are playing chess and working on even more Valentine's Day cards and, aside from the inevitable squabbles, and the puppy's wistful window watching, things are just peachy out here in Ice-o-chusetts.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Never Enough?

Parenting, like teaching... and farming and most every other important thing, can never be done "enough". You might plan and cuddle and read chapter after chapter of Roald Dahl or Beverly Cleary and yet it never feels complete, never approaches what you want to give. Lately I've been experiencing these parenting pangs keenly. The snow days have piled up and I have gotten (I'll admit) a bit grumpy and stir crazy. These feelings are always followed by more than a little guilt and flashbackwards visions of what I might have done differently: some wonderful and creative project, both educational and special... But nooooo, I had to clean out the cupboard or sweep the floor or declutter the thousands of pairs of snowpants and mittens in the doorway and worse, I had to gripe while doing it. I could have been more patient, more understanding when Joe splurted the catchup all over the table or Micah went off on one of her wild and silly tangents or Anna tossed peanut shells all over the freshly swept floor. I could have. But I wasn't. Or wasn't enough. And the snow kept piling up and there we were inside all day with not much to show for it. (Is this depressing yet?)

Well, it snowed all weekend here in Western Mass, but this time around it was actually quite nice. I fell into a nice mellow groove and spent oodles of time with the kids doing crafty, homey little projects, even reacquainted myself with knitting. (I began learning to knit a few years ago then stopped after the kids started conducting "seek and destroy" missions on my poor little newbie washcloth project) My new newbie washcloth project, with the generous and patient help of Meta from Shelburne Falls' Metaphor Yarns, is going just swimmingly. And Micah (My oldest) was interested enough to learn along with me. She picked it up about 100x faster than I did!
The kids and I also made "rope" bracelets out of colorful cotton yarn, beaded bracelets, and the cousins came over and we felted "pockets" and fairy scarves. We even felted some of our homemade soaps! Dan, undeterred by the cold wet outdoors, chopped and hauled wood and rode around on the ATV ("Plowing", he calls it.) and then made a terrific chicken soup.

Funny how the weekend snow days, especially when all of us are home rather than one harried adult and three kids, are really nice.

It's snowing again-- In fact we're expecting a snow storm tonight... and possibly yet another snow day tomorrow. The girls and I spent about three hours this afternoon making homemade Valentine's Day cards and split pea soup and beer bread. (Well, I did most of the cooking while they cluttered up the table with bits of red and pink paper, magazine clippings, pom-poms, stamps and inkpads. Joe hung nearby, alternately pummelling his superhero punching bag and making one beautiful glittery Valentine heart.)

If we're stuck inside tomorrow, I'll dig deep into the creative crafty mother reserves and come up with something fun and make an effort to do all those wonderful creative things I aspire to... And of course, it won't be quite as creative and mothery and wonderful as I'd hoped. But it will be the best I can manage just then and perhaps that is enough.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

...As a Button

Take a look at this guy.

He's our polled ram lamb, Bombadil (#615428). Isn't he one of the cutest sheep ever? We think so. And what's more, Bombadil has a wonderful lil' personality on him. He is interested, yet cautious, picks up routines quickly and doesn't bully anybody.

He also has an amazing fleece-- thick, heavy and with uncommon lustre-- and a long, sturdy body type. We are looking forward to the yarn/roving he'll produce. Bombadil came to us from the wonderful Maple View farm in Vermont.

We are so looking forward to Bombadil's lambs this spring. But for now, we'll just have to be satisfied with adorable, Mr. B.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Twilight Zone

Imagine you are in a familiar yet strangely out-of-wack place, a place populated with familiar yet strangely stir crazy little people.... Toys materialize on the floor-- to the left! to the right! Half eaten bagels dot the kitchen table. You can't keep up! Outside, a cold sleet rapidly falls, giving the snow a treacherous sheen. You are trapped! Stuck indefinitely in this place. You have entered the SnowDay Zone...

Oh, I'm sadly familiar with "the zone" these days. This winter, it seems like every time we turn around, we have another one. Four foot drifts, icing, sleet, freezing rain, the dreaded "wintery mix". And the schools have been closed for each and every one of them! So here we are again. In the zone.

I should explain, that my kids LOVE school. (Yep, it surprises me too. I have such horrible memories of the my own school experience from elementary on up. But they love the place, have even been given to crying at missing a few extra days for family vacations!) Snow days start out with seriously bummed children. Couple that with our family's rejection of the anesthetising powers of the television and video games (We do allow some tv...) and the lousy weather outside and you have a recipe for capital Stir crazy.

Today we are alternating between wonderful, imaginary play (They were cowboys and cowgirls in the vague "back then" times for a few blissful hours ), bickering (as in "She's bothering me!" "He started it!" "It's my cardboard box!" "No, I want it!" etc.) and all out warfare. Oh, and I'm attempting to catch up on some paperwork from home in between all that.

We are seriously in the zone today.