Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spring is in the Air (Sort of)

We've had more than our share of winter this winter.

It is cold, bitterly so, and the white stuff just keeps flying

And flying....

And flying....

We are hunkering down, dreaming of day lilies and apple blossoms and long, light-filled days. Won't be long now....

Near as I can tell, late winter on a farm is all about plans and dreams. A time to hold a clear image of what will soon be so strongly it seems just around the corner. We are most definitely counting our chicks and also our lambs and tomatoes, apples and blueberries, peaches and plums...
We've put in our spring poultry orders: 15 more turkeys (5 Giant White, 5 Broad-Breasted Bronze, 4 Narragansett and 1 Chocolate). Can't say I'm missing our last flock much. (Definitely NOT missing the telltale mess they left in the barn, yard and wherever else they wandered, or rounding them up at the neighbors and down the road and in the deep woods) Okay, well, I am missing their general liveliness about the place, their cool sounds and strutting.

We've also ordered ducklings this year. The ducks will be the kids' project. They will care for the critters and clean up after them. (A mom can dream can't she?) The kids heartily enjoyed selecting their breeds out of the Murray McMurray catalogue. They settled on Swedish and India Runners mostly, though I added a few buff and Khaki Cambells to the order. I've heard ducks are sweet and duck eggs are really nutritious and great for baking so, here goes.

We are also pretty much set on getting a few pigs this year. Yes, I know I was dead set against eating livestock after my awful trip to the slaughterhouse in the fall. But I've been reading Wooster's "Living with Pigs" and it seems a little more possible now. However difficult this path, we have really enjoyed NOT contributing to factory farming this year. We haven't bought any meat (With the exception of "humanely raised organic bacon" and local producer Wheel View Farm's Grass fed ground beef) since summer. And we like it so much better this way. The slaughter we know (and cringe through) is so much better than the larger, unseen and much more horrendous agribuisness slaughter.
The pigs won't be just food. We plan to use them to turn sheep bedding into garden-ready compost, clear land for future sheep pasture and to mitigate our summer worm loads (Running different species on the same land really helps). To avoid another traumatic trip to NH, I've got the name of a local butcher who will come out and slaughter on site. (Wooster says to give the pigs vodka on their final day and they'll pass out and remain unstressed.) So it's another Maggie's Farm leap, partaken perhaps before we've fully looked.

But for now, it's winter. We shiver and wait, watch the gray skies, build a few snowforts, all the while dreaming of daylilies and ducklings, apple blossoms and pastured pork.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Some of you may remember Bombadil of last winter. Without a doubt the world's cutest sheep. Ah, those were the days....

The Bombadil of this winter is a different creature altogether. Randy and ramly, he's taken to battering through fences face first.

While still a sweetie (As sheep go), he is absolutely eweCRAZY much of the time. I guess Mr. B is just not ready for breeding season to end.

He's broken through our fences twice and spends an inordinate amount of time staring into the ewe pen, slobbering and groaning.

Mr. B. is no longer cutest sheep ever. Like a prize fighter, he carries the scars of past battles. Well, the only "battles" he's had have been with gates and fence posts, but just the same....

Cutest sheep ever? This year, the title goes to "Clowny Boy"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Flipside

After the somewhat whiny and worryful post below, I thought I might say a few more pleasant words about winter. It IS fun-- or at least it can be.

The kids have build a tremendous little snowfort in the front yard, and there are roads everywhere outside for Joe's toy cars and trucks. We try to get out and sled as often as we can. And we love to have an excuse for some hot cocoa with marshmallows.

Here are a few pictures from the flipside of winter.

Is it Spring Yet?

I'm hearing this question quite a bit these days, from the kids as they tug on their snowpants and boots, from the chickens (more or less...) as they huddle inside their crowded coop waiting for me to come defrost their water bowl, from the sheep who-- although well equipped for snow-- seem pained by hay rations and limited mobility.

It has been a long, hard winter. Most of the pasture is under more than two feet of snow-- a hard, crusty snow-- and the temperature was a miserable 4 degrees this morning.

Yup, I'll admit I'm a bit of a whiner when it comes to winter. I procrastinate like crazy, futz with snow pants and snow boots and gloves, take another few sips of coffee, stoke the fire in the woodstove, anything to avoid the grip of the wind outside.

Funny thing: Once outside, I love it. I lean on the fence just like in summer and watch the ewes chow down, the ramboys tussle, the dogs attempt to dig out the deermice that scamper under the snow. It's really not so, so bad....

This winter, we've been preoccupied with the usual questions:

Are the ewes bred?

Is our nutritional program adequate?

We hope so. But the internal workings of the flock are, as always, a bit of a mystery. We worry when Charlie and Bombadil (Now back together in an adjoining pasture) curl their lips in ramly romance as a ewe angles by. Is she just teasing them a little, or is she hoping that perhaps she can entice one of them over the fence for a long-delayed tryst?

Last year, we were sure that our ewes weren't pregnant at all. (We worried a lot last year) and every one of them produced a lamb or two. The year before that, half of them really weren't bred! (Due to a dominant wether in with a wimpy ram lamb, we think.)

We hope we've learned a bit from our three winters' worth of worry, but who really knows?

Also, we've been supplementing our ewes with kelp, sheep minerals and selenium yeast this year, and giving them a mix of forage extender pellets, alfalfa and a tiny bit of grain in addition to hay. Hopefully, this will result in the right nutritional combination-- not too much, which would result in birthing complications and gigantic lambs and not too little which would result in birthing complications and tiny lambs.

The most frustrating part is that this is all instinct and guesswork. We base our program on readings, advice from fellow shepherds and hard won experience and we hope-- and hope and hope!-- for an easy spring.