Thursday, March 27, 2008
Posted by Perri at 9:27 AM
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Posted by Perri at 10:20 AM
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Our prodigal camera came back in the mail. Canon fixed whatever it was that caused the "lense error" and all before the first lambs have dropped! Yay!
Unfortunately, we've got some sort of nasty flu circulating, and I'm not going to be out taking any pictures for a few days. The girls are beginning to look a little wide though. Guess all the worry and rearranging of ewes and rams was unnecessary after all.
Posted by Perri at 1:20 PM
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The deeper into farming we get, the more urgent our need for a farm truck grows. Our family minivan can only do so much. We (read: Dan) take the seats out and haul hay in it just about once a week. We take our garbage and recyclables down to the Colrain Dump in it. We load it up with feed and fleece and whatever else and sometimes… sometimes we transport sheep in it.
As you might imagine, there are quite a few funny sheep stories about the van. In fact, each and every “transport trip ”has yielded at least ONE worthy story. I thought I’d send one of these stories out into the blogosphere today.
The first delivery was fun. Stewart (And yes, I did try to talk Micah out of leaving Stewart with the unfortunate nickname “Stew”) went off to Tweed Valley Farm in Vermont in the back of our last minivan, a tacked-together Mercury villager. Stewart was not happy about leaving his mom, Daisy, and he let us know it by bleating sorrowfully the WHOLE THREE HOURS we were enroute. We stopped at a gas station midway and attracted the attention of quite a few local folks. This being Vermont, no one was particularly amazed or impressed. People put their foreheads against out tinted back windows and asked “What d’ya got in there?” We’d answer, and get that knowing yankee nod. Seems everybody in Vermont has transported SOME sort of livestock in some unorthodox and interesting way.
Well, Stewart was unloaded without much ado and we said goodbye, picked up Pattur, a cute little moorit ram, and were on our way.
Our next stop was the beautiful Woolambia farm. Fellow shepherds Neil and. Maureen Dwyer invited us in for a cup of coffee. I took a look at Pattur. Backed up against the rear of the van, he seemed to be sizing me up as well. “You think he’ll be okay in here?”
“Oh, sure.” Dan said, with characteristic blind optimism. “What could happen?”
Well, we had a great chat with Neil and Maureen. Shepherds, in my experience, are terrific people, and Dan and I always learn so much when we get a chance to sit back and “talk sheep”. When we finally roused ourselves to check on Pattur, we found he’d breached the barrier separating the human section of the van and the sheep (or cargo) section. He’d also wedged himself quite nicely beneath the seating wheel.
Did I mention the pouring rain? No? Well, it was cats and dogs all day, a cold pounding variety. Besides the damp sheep smell and several tufts of moorit fleece, Pattur left us a few um, “presents” squashed into the damp minivan carpet. Oh, and it was NOT easy getting him out and around to the back either. As we learned that day: Wedged sheep do not pull (or push).
Once, Pattur was returned to his proper place, we quickly picked up beautiful badgerfaced Leela and headed for home. As it was raining torrents, we couldn’t air out the van much and we drove along gloomily, our silence punctuated by plaintive bleats from the lambs in back. We were wet and bedraggled and accosted by “sheep perfume”.
I’d had visions of a quick “dinner date” in Bennington. After all, the kids were with their cousins, and we never—I mean NEVER— get any “couple time” to speak of. Pattur put the kibosh on any dinner plans. Sheep were not meant for minivans. For all we knew, he’d figure out how to drive the damn thing if we gave him enough time. (We were lucky he hadn’t nudged the Mercury into gear and gone on a short and ugly joyride through the hilly and picturesque Woolambia pastures.) We returned home, put our new sheep in their quarantine pen, picked up the kids and went to bed.
Oh yes, I do dream of trucks….
Posted by Perri at 5:45 PM
Saturday, March 15, 2008
We began our relocation at the height of the real estate boom. Lucky us, our exceedingly modest home within 10 miles of Boston was worth a tidy sum. Flip side was that a rural property—all the rural properties we looked at in New Hampshire, Vermont and Western Mass-- were worth a tidy sum as well! The plan had been to buy a farm that was priced considerably lower than our suburban house. Well…. We didn’t like those houses (Owing to the crazy market they were the properties that required major repairs or had major flaws we couldn’t accept). We shuffled along from one unhappy house to another, our “price range” creeping ever so slightly towards our upper limits.
3) Look at your employment options with the same cold, hard eye. Figure out your job situation ahead of time.
Posted by Perri at 10:11 AM
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Posted by Perri at 10:16 AM
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Anyway, after the requisite hemming and hawing we decided to go ahead and breed 'em (we had 3) and what could happen? Well, we put them into their breeding groups. All was well and good. Then Andy, our wonderful shearer, came and we got to see just how small and vulnerable the girls looked under their massive, shaggy coats. We got cold, cold feet.
One-winters ewes are supposed to come into heat later than mature ewes. So we thought we might have a chance to make things right. After much slipping, chasing and dragging and hauling, we managed to get the three teenagers out of the breeding pens. (You'll notice that every sheep story includes the lines... after much slipping, chasing, dragging and hauling .....?)
But for Snazzy Pants, our little black and white spotted ewe, smallest of the three One-winters, it was too late. This soon became painfully apparent. By March, Snazzy looked a little wider than her sisters. A little wider became hugely wider became... uh oh!
Now, we had read about lambing and all the complications that might arise from one-winter breeding. Prime among these was the lamb being too big to birth easily. Snazzy was small, her belly, huge. We waited and worried all the way into spring. What else was there to do?
Of course, Snazzy went into labor when I was home alone with the kids. I had that feeling.. the something's going to happen with the sheep today feeling... (The way this feeling has developed in 2 short years, I'll soon be able to read tea leaves, taro cards and the predict the weather better than the Farmer's Almanac!) Sure enough, Snazzy was in labor. Smack-dab in the middle of the pasture. Her two yearling buddies were pressing in close trying to figure out what was up. I moved the other ewes into a different section of pasture and sat in the shadow of a maple tree to keep an eye. (Interestingly, the kids did not want to have any part of this lambing. They had been around for Copper's two and I guess that was all they could take of placenta's and blood and anxious waiting.)
Well, the ewe lamb came out fine. Too fine. She was tiny. I mean 3 pounds worth of teeny tiny cuteness, a little black mini sheep, but game enough to try to stand immediately. Snazzy was a little freaked out, a little clueless. She stood at a distance and watched the little thing struggle around in the dirt. I went over and wiped the lamb to dry it, and as soon as I did this, Snazzy's instinct seemed to kick in and she came over to smell and then lick the little one. Things seemed okay. The lamb stood and staggered towards its mother, but Snazzy stepped back, kept stepping back. She was in the middle of the pasture and of course I couldn't catch her (No slipping, chasing, dragging possible alone). Also I didn't know if I should intervene. Wouldn't nature take it's course?
It didn't. The staggering and backing away continued. And continued. And continued....
Every shepherd is faced with a dilemma like this. Do you jump right in and do something? Do you trust in the wisdom of the animal? (After all, perhaps Snazzy knew something about the situation/lamb that I didn't) Do you call for help?
I went for option number 3. I called Dan at work. "Everything will be fine." Was his distant response. "Don't worry." (Have I mentioned that this is Dan's response to pretty much everything?) I called a local shepherd that I had heard of but never met. She wasn't home. I called a local dairy farmer. She didn't know anything about sheep. I called a friend who had once had some 4H lambs. She came right out. Now we had a clear case of the legally blind leading the totally blind. We were able to catch Snazzy (With much slipping and sliding, dragging, etc.) and bring her and the lamb into the barn.
We were able to hold Snazzy still so that the lamb could... Wait a minute! here was another problem: Snazzy had not "bagged up"; her udder was nonexistent as far as I could tell. She had not yet cleared the afterbirth and so the hormones that create a visible udder had not done their work.... yet. (I now know to give pregnant ewes extra doses of Selenium to condition them to expel the placenta easily. But back then, I thought the sheep mineral mix would be good enough.)
What now? My friend, who had raised "bottle babies" thought I should give the lamb some milk replacer. It had been about 3 hours by now and the little thing HAD to eat! It was still gamely trying to get something out of Snazzy, who at least let it try now. But she seemed to have nothing there, not even a hint of udder.
I mixed up some artificial colostrum and gave it to the little thing. I did this reluctantly, images of driving the two hours to work with the lamb bleating for milk in the back seat, waking at all hours of the night to feed yet another "baby", the tip-toe of hooves on our already-scarred wood floor. I did not want-- COULDN'T-- raise a bottle baby. Snazzy had to come through.
We were in an anxious holding pattern for a while, but after about 5 hours and many episodes in which I held Snazzy still while the little lamb tried her best to get Snazzy's Oxitocyn flowing, we had milk! Phew!
And the little ewe lamb, Olive, turned out to be an incredibly hardy and charming creature! She lives on Three Dog Farm now.
This isn't really a "tale of lambing horror" so much as a tale of minor everyday shepherding "stuff". There is no "by the book" as far as I can tell. But we learn from each new wrinkle. And there is nothing quite like the frantic, happy wag of nursing lamb's tail! Nothing at all.
Posted by Perri at 8:52 AM
Monday, March 3, 2008
Boy has the media caught the "green" thing. Suddenly there are features and NPR stories and supermarket labels sporting green, green, green. Go green for lent. Go green at home. Go green at work. Now, call me a cynic, but has anything other than the talk changed? Are folks re-examining their lifestyles on a grand scale, or is "green" the "Pet Rock" of the 21st century?
Let me back up a little... Here on Maggie's Farm, we try to live as simply and, to use a word you will shortly grow very sick of, as greenly as we can. We moved out here to change our way of interacting with our planet and our community. We are now intimate with a specific and beautiful place. We preserve and grow our own food as much as we can manage. And yes, we recycle over 3/4ths of our cast-off stuff. What isn't destined for the paper, plastic or cardboard bins at the town dump, goes to the chickens (food scraps) the compost pile (stuff the chickens won't eat), the dogs (Mainly chicken goes to the dogs) and the Salvation Army. Our trash consists of unrecycleable food wrappers and broken bits of toys and flotsam swept up off the floor. We buy from resale shops and yard sales. We use wood heat (with a catalytic converter on the wood stove). We try to eat locally.... sort of.... because... and here's the rub: Many of the things touted to reduce one's "carbon footprint" are things that we simply can't afford to do!
Solar electricity? Nope! There is no way in hell we can afford the initial outlay. Ditto with hybrid vehicles. Ditto solely locally grown or socially-conscious foods. And making everything from scratch, as appealing as it is, takes TIME, time we spend earning enough to eke out our humble living. Which brings me to the Ol' Big Toe in our carbon footprint: Gasoline. As you may know, Dan and I commute crazy distances in order to live where we do. We made that choice and we surely live in it. But we are not unusual in this, many people are struggling to make ends meet, forced to choose between the affordable and the environmental, between greenbacks and "green".
Perhaps --In the same sort of irony that makes minimally-processed foods with a few healthy ingredients more expensive than those with a bevy of unhealthy ones-- it seems people with more money or more time, are the ones who can afford to make the real green difference in their lives.
I know there are many small, inexpensive things to do and that many "green" things actually save money (Turning off sleeping appliances, for example). And there are a lot of wonderful folks staying true to their ideals and living a simple, humble, truly green life. I admire those who manage it. I aspire to be one of them. (Damn carbon footprint commute!) But other than the dedicated few, I don't see much a changin'....
But what do you think: Is "green" available only to the upper or middle classes? Is it more media than immediate? ....Or am I just grousing after a Monday's long commute?
Posted by Perri at 8:32 PM