Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Radio Flyer

Dear Mr. Radio Flyer President,

I wanted to write to let you know that the red Radio Flyer wagon, found discarded in a back alley in Phoenix over 20 years ago and subsequently refurbished by my father-in-law (I think all it really needed was a new handle and some fresh paint) has served above and beyond all expectations.

When our kids (his grandkids) were little, this wagon was used for walks to the park (I walked, the kids rode). It was used to haul dolls up and down the driveway and toys from the front yard to the back. Our dog, Sandy, was often hitched to the handle to pull one or the other of the girls...sometimes the stuffed monkey and bear. Tipped on its side, the wagon made a good fort wall.

Once our kids were grown, we often used the wagon for gardening projects and to move items too heavy or unwieldy for the wheelbarrow. I personally liked having 4 large tires to keep the thing balanced. There were probably some years in there where we didn't use the wagon at all, but we kept it safe and dry.

Then we moved to a farm! I wonder if your people ever thought about the many uses their wagon could provide to ease the chores of farm life?! Much like the 101 uses of duct tape in the world (I think there are books about this), I could write a book.

Throughout the year, our little red wagon is used to haul hay, straw, and grain to the barn, from the barn, out to the chicken yard, and down to the garden. I have to balance my loads carefully because most of them weigh in excess of 75 lbs and the path is narrow and full of dips and holes. If I had to do this with a wheelbarrow, I am not sure I could make it across the bridge to the barn.

In fall, we use the Radio Flyer to bring the vegetables in from the garden and lots and lots of buckets filled with apples from the orchard. I also balance drying racks full of potatoes and onions, dragging them across the bumpy lawn to the root cellar. This year, we even used the wagon to take our heavy cider press out onto the grass where we pressed grapes and plums for wine (thought it would be too messy in the carport). Once the carboy glass jars were filled with liquid, we hoisted them back onto the Radio Flyer to move them to a more permanent storage area.

In winter, our little red wagon serves as the perfect transport for split wood we use in our wood stove to heat the house. The logs are just a little longer than the width of the wagon and stack nicely so that we only have to make about three trips between the wood pile and our inside bin to fill it. I have discovered that I can even drag the wagon straight into the laundry room so I don't have to walk as far.

In spring and summer, our Radio Flyer is filled with containers of flowers and veggies for planting. This is kind of an ongoing process as I find color holes that need to be filled or a special sale of something pretty to put near the front door. The wagon also is good for carrying the potting soils we need and all the tools of the trade.

So, all in all, I don't know what I should have done had we had left our Radio Flyer back in Phoenix when we moved. You have created the perfect farm tool: simple, durable, and totally useful. Exceeding your customers' expectations is always a good thing. Congratulations on a wagon for the generations, since I soon hope to be pulling my new grandson around the farm too! Regards,

Photos: top - Radio Flyer filled with chiles and tomatoes from the greenhouse; bottom - Radio Flyer loaded with a bale of straw headed for bedding in the barn.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Trapped Again

"Where's Cisco?" Karen asked when she came through the door to find me sitting on the carpet surrounded by non-working Christmas lights. I looked up, my concentration on a tiny fuse broken. Yeah, where was Cisco?

Karen, Allen and I had returned from our morning walk with three dogs instead of four. Not to worry. We had lost Cisco at the last turn down the trail and so close to the farm you could almost see the barn. We figured Cisco was following the scent of a squirrel or a deer. He knew his way back.

But, that was now two hours ago.

We had tackled the STEEP hill today, something not everyone in our group likes to climb so we reserve it for special days. I will have to admit that I am impressed at our ability to actually make it to the top because driving to the top to drop dead animals (yup, this is our sheep drop precipice hill) requires low gear.

Like any challenge and any hill, the best part is coming down. The dogs think so too although they do seem to run off the road whether we are going up or down. It's a challenge sometimes to keep them within ear shot or view because there are so many great smells and small animals, ostensibly, to chase. Today was no different. We had come home with three dogs before.

With the hill behind me and chores completed, my primary focus was getting the Christmas lights up on the house before...what? Before we looked un-merry. Cisco was not my problem but the Christmas lights were fast becoming one (or many). Snaking around the kitchen floor, every strand I had plugged into a socket so far, and I had used a variety of sockets, refused to light. How could this be when they had worked just fine a year ago when I took them down?

With vague instructions to Karen and Allen, who had come down to help me with late fall garden prep, I hopped into the truck and headed up the road to see if I could find Cisco. Was he stuck in a culvert or caught by his collar somewhere? Why did I insist that the dogs wear their collars out in the woods? So if they were hung up and strangled, someone would know where to bring the body? I got out of the truck and called and whistled. It was silly, really, to have taken the truck at all because I couldn't hear over the motor noise, and the distance from where we had last seen Cisco was only a short walk from the farm...even shorter than I remembered.

I drove half way up the hill before turning around, getting out of the truck to call, walking part way into the brush, listening for barking or whining. Nothing. No movement at all in the forest. No twigs snapping. No deer retreating from my entrance. Not even the sound of birds. I returned to the farm. Could Allen stop what he was doing and bring the dogs?

We almost gave up. We yelled and called and whistled and the dogs ran on and off the path. I ended up back at the place I had first started my search. The gully was steep sided - not something a dog could climb out from easily. I looked at Louie, Allen and Karen's yellow lab, standing still, his gaze on me, then away. I looked again and, under a fern, about a yard away from him, I saw Cisco lying quietly. He blended so well with the forest floor I wasn't sure what I was looking at and his position was peculiar.

I called to Allen I had found the dog, but something was wrong. It wasn't until I was beside Cisco that I saw the trap grabbing his front paw tightly. How long had it been? My God, at least three hours at this point. Cisco didn't make a sound. He just looked at me, scared and quiet.

Getting a dog out of a trap is a tricky thing at best. Getting Cisco out of a trap adds to the challenge. This is the dog that doesn't get his toenails clipped, he is that picky about his feet. He and I had been through this procedure once before, about two years ago, so I knew how the trap worked and what to watch out for in terms of Cisco's teeth. I had to get Allen up to speed on the trap, but he was the one to suggest we throw a jacket over the dog's head and body to keep the peace.

The trap ended up being stiff. I never could have released it on my own. Allen's first try didn't work and it took him standing on the ends to spring Cisco's foot. Adrenaline helped. We released the dog and he ran off toward the road to join the other dogs, lying down to lick his foot from time to time. Allen grabbed the trap and we yelled for all the dogs to stay close. Who knew if there were other traps around.

For the second time, Cisco was a lucky dog. $150 vet bill and antibiotics were all it took. I called Fish and Game only to find that the trap was legally registered and anyone can trap on public land, the land we were hiking. What? Did I okay this as a tax payer! Trapping is a horrible way for an animal to die. Better it be a bullet than a leg-hold trap.

I met the trapper a couple days later. It was illegal for me to keep his trap, even if my dog was caught. The guy let me know he had pulled all the traps from our road and surrounding area, not realizing there were folks walking their dogs in the woods. As he said, it was not his intention to catch family dogs. This is an increasing problem, I was told by Fish and Game. People moving to the country and walking their dogs. New ways butting up against old, causing trouble all over the place.

The trapper answered every question I asked. He and his dad had hunted out all the beaver down Honey Grove years past, and now he was working on bob cat and coyotes. What for? Pelts for clothing. Until the economy tanked this fall, he was getting $40-$50 a pelt. The life of a bob cat is worth so little? An animal that hunts rodents to live, when even Bubba our killer cat can't keep the rat and mole population under control, but bobcats might? I could have argued the point but to what avail? At least the traps are off the road and bobcats and dogs are safe for a bit up the Honey Grove.

Photo: I took this picture in the fall when the leaves were at the end of their color and the road we hike was as beautiful as I have ever seen, when I am not looking at my feet to make it up the steep bits! Wonder how many times we passed that trap without catching a dog!!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Making Wine (sort of)

I have recently become a wine-maker. To say I proactively investigated all the nuances of wine-making would be seriously misleading. I am a wine maker because the plums started fermenting on their own in the large buckets sitting in the carport, and I didn't feel like spending hours picking the stems off the table grapes to make raisins. One could interpret this as laziness, alternatively as being overwhelmed with just too much fruit. I would prefer to think of it as making lemonade out of lemons, or, in this case, wine out of fruit.

My mom assures me that the grape wine will likely be in the category of Manischewitz. I had been hoping for something along the lines of a nice French table wine. A few friends have squinted their eyes ever so slightly when I mention I am also making plum wine. Not sure why. Then, again, I have never sought out plum wine at the store, so there may be a reason for the lack of enthusiasm in my mates and the absence of plum wine on store shelves.

Once I determined there was a wine-looking liquid being produced without any assistance on my part at the bottom of the plum barrels, I stopped by the local brewing store for some yeast and a lesson. I walked out with lots of yeast, an additional carboy (6 gallon glass jar), and an hydrometer looking something like a thermometer but with less decipherable markings.

Scooping the worst looking plums off a crust at the top, I gingerly sprinkled a sulfide solution over the rest to kill unwanted yeast and begin with my own. I listened to a few friends about how to start the yeast activation, watched it almost bubble over the top of the bowl, stirred the solution in with the fruit, and waited.

Well, I didn't exactly wait. We had hauled the largest tubs into the greenhouse once it became evident that the night temperatures were too cool and I was going to need to wrap my tubs with some sort of insulation to keep up the heat. I ended up using electric blankets for the warming part and an old vinyl table cloth to seal the tops. Appalachia, here I come! Every day I stirred the mixture a couple times, as required to break up the must. Even tried the liquid from time to time - very dry! Hmmm, probably should have added more sugar at the beginning.

Determining when to press the fruit skins and pulp had more to do with actually having time to do it and a couple good days of clear weather. Annie helped me drag the tubs outside and set up the press in the grass. We started with the table grapes, and found the entire thing worked quite well, with clear(ish) red liquid flowing gorgeously into our first carboy.

We worked next on the plums and found the task to be a lot more messy. Whereas the grape skins held together tighly when the liquid was pressed out, the plums had turned to mush. There was plum flesh flying all over the place and our two sieves clogged with pulp regularly, slowing down the process. We completed the crush with two full carboys of plum wine, still wondering whether this was an awful idea.

Lest I forget, we also pressed a handful of grapes from our 2-year-old vineyard. This will make a total of 2-3 bottles! The liquid had a rose color even though the grapes are supposed to be Pinot Blanc. Not sure (again) about the taste - seems very dry - but at least we can say we have a producing vineyard. Must come up with a label, probably a leaping lamb theme, or is that too queer!

Our neighbor,Karen, has followed suite in the vintner process, with a great deal more research upfront. She is using some of the apple cider we pressed this month to make hard cider...she hopes. She went into the same brewing store I did (only one within 50 miles) and came out with many of the items I didn't bother to buy, so between us we have a complete set of tools.

When Karen used my hydrometer, she actually read the instructions. Seems I was supposed to take a reading before any yeast was added so I understood the normal sugar levels. Without that first reading I will never know the actual alcohol content of my wines, which may or may not matter if they taste like Manischewitz!

Karen is much more philosophical (and kind) about my fruit-into-wine adventure this year. She says if the wine tastes horrible, then we just try again next year with a little planning in place to prevent some of the issues we experienced our first time out. I figure, if the wine tastes horrible, I will redefine the old adage again about making lemonade from lemons and make lots of Beef Bourginone (beef cooked in wine). Should be yummy.

Photo: 3 carboys (plus one in box) full of what we hope to be wine. Lots of sediment. Time to siphon off the liquid and get rid of the gunk.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Orchard Dash

Our personal interpretation of Keystone Cops mixed it up at Leaping Lamb Farm the other day. Arms waving wildly, livestock running away, more arms waving wildly, whistles, calls, livestock running the opposite direction, dogs barking, finally a pause while we all gathered ourselves for another go round.

The horses and the donkey had broken into the apple orchard and were eating all the apples I wanted to collect for cider making. This was so not cool on the animals' part! They needed to leave off and get back out to the hay field. Silly donkey. What was he thinking following the horses in.

The apple orchard behind our house is fenced for livestock control (aka horse, sheep, and a donkey). In the spring I often will put the ewes and their young lambs into the orchard so I can keep an eye on things. Come fall, when the trees are dropping their apples to the ground at a prodigious rate, I latch the gates shut. This gives me a chance to harvest some of what is on the ground. It also keeps the horses from picking apples off the trees, often within easy reach for both them and me.

Every now and again, I will open the gates, first to the sheep for some ground clean-up and then for the horses to finish the sweep. It's a mad dash for all and nothing goes to waste. I just have to keep an eye on things so the horses don't over eat and end up colicking. We don't need any vet calls.

The day began peacably enough. Allen was helping me with "honey-do's" and the task was pretty straight forward in terms of apple pick-up. Drive the Gator into the orchard, fill the large buckets in the back, drive back out of the orchard and move on to the next task. The next thing I know, Allen is yelling into the house for me to come quickly. The horses are in the orchard and they are eating the apples as fast as they can manage. I stopped what I was doing, pulled on my boots, and went out to see if we could use some herding techniques to push three horses and a donkey back out the gate. Luckily the sheep hadn't picked up the scent of an open gate.

We tried our most successful shepherding approach, with big arms and yells. Our horses looked like they thought we were idiots. "What the hell are those people yelling at?!" Herding horses from the ground isn't really herding at all.

Tater ran from us, but with his head down, sweeping up apples at his feet as he ducked away. Moralecia followed suit. Chaco didn't move at all since I don't think he saw us clearly anyway. Paco, the donkey, stayed the farthest away, watching (and learning from) the commotion. Pretty soon, we were all running in circles. The horses were bucking and mashing the apples as they ran over and through them. I cringed every time I saw more apples under hoof. Tater jumped in the air, lost his footing, and fell to the ground in the slippery grass. It barely slowed him down.

This was going nowhere and we needed to break the momentum. Allen, having learned much more about shepherding on our place than chasing after crazed horses, looked relieved when I suggested he stop for a moment while I went in search of baling twine. If I could catch Moralecia and walk her towards the orchard gate, I suspected the boys would follow.

Apple in hand, because it seemed the going bribe at the time, I walked up and tossed the twine around her neck. Lucky she's a good horse and responds to the lightest of rope as if it were made of steel. We headed toward the open gate and a beckoning hay field.

Chaco looked up, finished the apple in his mouth, and moved after us. This made Tater nervous as he bore down on us at a fast trot. Which made me nervous. I told Allen to keep an eye on the big quarter horse so he didn't get plowed over. Paco brought up the rear in his funny all-four-legs-off-the-ground-at-the-same-time gait.

I suppose the worst part of the story is that Tater opened the gate to the orchard as Allen watched. And, it wasn't just any latch he opened. It was our safe, secure U-Latch gate latch that is supposed to be 'Houdini' proof. I know after three years, with lots of nighttime trial and error, Tater has had plenty of time to perfect his technique, but there may be another explanation. We humans go in and out of that gate all the time and we never said they were people-proof. Always the challenge for humans; always the opportunity for our animals.

So the animals had a brief escape into the garden of delights. Not enough to make any of them sick and certainly not enough to ruin our chances for a good apple cider pressing. Seen from afar, the two of us, Allen and I, trying to convince 3 1/2 large animals that the green grass on the other side of the fence was better than apples, was likely a funny sight. Just glad there were no passers-by. At least none we knew about! And, Tater won't tell, because getting in (or out) is half the fun.

Photo: (top) Horses in the hayfield, (bottom) Paco putting on an 'eyeore' face

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Matter of Perspective: Sheep vs. Farmer

Red, the ram, got "out" yesterday, although from his point of view he was finally "in". I had just let the girls onto the hay field as a gesture of good will - also, because all the yummy grass was down to the nubs in the barn field.

The hay field runs alongside Red's ten month, off-season quarters. Before I left for town, I noticed Red and Piglet, his son and BFF in exile, leaning on the fence and making rude gestures to attract the girls. Thinking back, it was only a matter of time. If you weigh over 200 pounds and lean long enough on the only gate separating you from your harem, the baling twine used to secure it for the last few years will eventually give way.

This must be why I found the gate wide open last night and a huddle of sheep at the far corner of the field with Red standing sentinel, even after I rang my Pavlovian dinner bell again and again and again. Ultimately, I had to walk out to the pasture in the dark with a flash light (the recent time change has messed with my feeding schedule) to shoo the renegade group to the barn for the night. Red did not win any kind thoughts from me on the hike back.

The following morning, after his surely ribald night, I debated trying to cut Red out of the group. The hassle of chasing him down and separating him seemed more than it was worth. Who wants to stand between a horny ram and hornier ewes and tell them they need to wait a little longer? Besides, Piglet was also free and having the time of his life surrounded once again by his sisters, his mother, all those aunts, and lots of ewe lambs! I had never checked my castration job with him when he was smaller and now I was having my doubts. Balls or not, Piglet seemed ready for anything.

Red's introduction into the flock two weeks early means we should start to have lambs in March. I guess this is okay except that March is a nasty month for rain and damp cold. It is also a nasty month for slipping and sliding through knee-deep mud to scoop up newborns and bring them back to the warmth of the barn. How nice if the mothers actually birthed their babies under the loafing shed on the side of the barn, but then, that would be too easy for the farmer. Once again, it is a matter of perspective. Are you the sheep looking for a safe, quiet place at the edge of the field or are you the farmer who has built a barn for just this purpose?

Red is the king of the mountain for six more weeks. This should give us time to solve the gate issue with something better than baling twine. I am thinking a gate that opens and closes on demand could be highly useful at that point in the fence, since I have tried several times to unsuccessfully squeeze between the panels and climbing over is precarious at best.

Too bad our U-Latch gate latch is not designed for this type of panel gate or it would be easy to secure. I suppose we could always buy a new gate, but from a farmer perspective this seems like a waste of money when the gate works as a fence most of the time. Here, the sheep perspective would likely concur. "Save your money. Use baling twine. After all, the gate works as a fence...most of the time (translated: just give us a fighting chance!)"

Top: Red, with a full neck ruff like a lion, a golden red color to his hair in summer (hence his name), a full chest and long legs. Bottom: Thinking about "it".

Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Choosing the Biggest Lambs

I don't name my lambs that go to market on purpose. I don't want to have an emotional connection that might make me falter when we select which lambs will go to slaughter and which might end up as someones' pets. After all, this is our business...and I do love the taste of lamb.

The other day, I culled the first 15 of our 30+ lambs for their end-of-life trailer ride. This is the second year I have had to choose which lambs will live and which will die that day, instead of sending the entire group off as a lot.

The biggest lambs were the focus of my attention because I have a new buyer with certain expectations and I wanted to 'put my best lambs forward', so to speak. Without a scale, I asked my neighbor, Allen, to judge weight. In our highly unscientific method, he would grab a lamb I pointed out in the group of 60 moms and their offspring, drag it to a clear spot in the pen, and then hoist it off the ground. Okay, so how did this one weigh compared to the last one? Was it more or less? Did he think it weighed at least 80-90 pounds? The sheep were not amused at this process and bunched on top of each other in the farthest corner of the large stall. With 60 sheep, it was a large bunch.

As male lambs tend to be a little larger than female, we looked first for the boys. At birth I tag all the lambs so I can link them with their mothers. Additionally, if the tag is in the right ear, the lamb is a boy (think Ram). If the tag is in the left ear, it is a girl (think Lucy). Okay, so I use mnemonics to remember what I am doing!

Allen knew my system, but I neglected to tell him some of the ewes came with tags in their right ear because not everyone uses this system, besides which I didn't either the first year-or-so I was learning the business. At first, he reached for the largest sheep and the ewes, at 150+ pounds, pulled out of his grasp, running back to the impossibly dense pack of compressed animals.

I pointed. "Allen can you grab that tan lamb there between the smaller white one and the black ewe? Sorry, not that tan lamb, the other one with poop on its ear". Allen waded through tight bodies, packed together like a football crowd waiting for their favorite team and, when he reached my pick, grabbed it, one hand weaving into the wool, the other grabbing onto the head, pulling it between, or even over, the surrounding sheep.

This is wild, soggy, sweaty work because once we have a lamb fitting our selection criteria, we then have to convince it to run through a gate into a separate stall. The lamb rarely runs on its own. More likely, we have a person at its head and a person goosing it from behind, as we drag the uncooperative lamb, with legs braced straight in front, across the now slippery, pee-soaked straw floor. To visualize, imagine an old cartoon drawing with a reluctant donkey. Now put a sheep in its place.

From here on in, the lambs cooperate as little as possible. Adrenalin is pumping. They fly around the smaller stall, leaping straight into the fencing, crashing into each other, as we try to calm things down. The cull is completed. They settle down. Now all we have to do is wait for the pick up.

This year, the hauler backed his trailer right up to the barn door. We pushed the lambs from their stall into the large barn aisle, only to have them change their minds and dash back for the stall door. It wasn't happening. There were five of us. I had learned several years earlier what can happen if you only have two adults and a young girl. A trampled girl and escaped lambs! The lambs had no intention of getting into the trailer. Were they being precient or just obstinant? The hauler picked up the closest lamb and put it in the trailer. The rest followed. Just like sheep.

As the livestock trailer pulled out of the barn yard and onto the dirt road, the remaining ewes and lambs, not chosen in this go-round, were turned back out to pasture, most scrambling over each other to get out of the barn, some nibbling at the bales of hay meant for night feeding. In two to three months time, the remaining lambs should be heavy enough to go to market and we will repeat today's procedure, minus the weight guess.

For a short time we will have only ewes and then our next batch of lambs will be born. And on and on it goes. The wonders of springtime and birth, a summer and fall full of growing and play, and winter where life ends abruptly one day. And on and on it goes.

Photo of large lambs in stall - actually separated out from flock because they are ram lambs, not going to market

Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

The Halloween Barn

Our barn looks like a corn field, upside down. The stalks are hung on every available nail hammered into the cross beams for the hayloft. Not sure why there are so many nails, but I suspect I am not the first one to dry crops here. The stalk bunches block the light downstairs and any manageable path to the stalls. It's kind of a pain. In the end, it looks more like we are planning a Halloween party than putting away grain for the winter.

While this is the most recent attempt, we have tried to dry our corn for the past three years with little success. The first year I pulled off the ears and shucked them all, setting them on drying racks in the barn. What the rats didn't eat, the mildew destroyed. The next year, I tried drying the ears with the husk on and ended up with black corn again, irritated with the hours it had taken to pick the corn and lay it in rows.

Last year, we brought trays of shucked corn into our house, thinking some heat might do the trick. It worked, after a fashion, but our neighbors laughed at us for the racks of corn stacked in the living room when we hosted them for dinners. I don't know what is so funny. I've seen Karen's guest room, the bed absolutely covered with tomatoes she is encouraging to ripen.

The corn dried after a fashion, but wasn't nearly as pretty as midwest corn that dries in the field and ends up in the 50 lb bags I continue to buy from the feed store, double in price from a year ago. Also, the mice liked having food so available in our house and it doesn't appear from the mess they made that our cats ever caught on.

I hope this year we will be more successful, for success' sake as well as cost savings. However, we have one more problem to solve that we never even considered. Tater has perfected his giraffe pose by practicing on the apples in our orchard. The first day our corn was hung to dry he reached through the window above the manger and grab down stalks of corn by the bunch. By the time I came out to feed, there was corn everywhere. So, the horse loves fresh corn! He also figured out one night how to open the only unlocked door into the barn and let himself in for a feast. I'm still not sure how he did this. Thankfully the horse has a constitution of steel or we might have been calling the vet.

Suffice it to say, we have about a third less corn than we cut from the garden, but the drying process is currently proceeding unhindered by dampness or horses. I think Tater has moved his interests back to the apple crop and, while the nights are getting colder, the sunshine adds warmth and light to the barn, which I will relish until the rains come for good. We still look like a Halloween barn and pretty soon, once our pumpkins have served their purpose near the front door, the animals will enjoy a feast of pumpkin flesh...and then it really will be a Halloween party!

Photo: Pretty self-explanatory!

Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Fruit Galore and it's only September

I may have complained about Fred eating my zucchini but he is only one peacock and this farm has a lot of fruits and vegetables growing on it, most years anyway. My friend, Nancy and her husband have a phrase for this, "the burden of abundance". I guess you have to know where we are coming from, alliteration be damned! Even this girl can't kill all the plants.

So, September has become our Google month for the harvest we bring in. How many ways can figs be processed when there are so many figs on the tree that even the dogs graze the bottom branches? If you have over 300 pounds of Italian prunes, how many dried prunes will this make and is it awful to send prunes in Christmas packages to all your friends and relatives? With 10 gallons of apple cider still in the freezer from last year, how long will it take to drink before we need to press for this year, and why isn't it all gone already?

So far, we have canned pickles and tomatoes, but nowhere near all. We have roasted our first chiles and kept some for fresh, freezing the rest for the dead of winter. We have made salsa from all the cherry tomatoes and plan to make enough to last until next summer. We made Kim Chee out of the cabbage because Greg wasn't sure he wanted gallons of sauerkraut. We will have to see whether this was a good idea after it has aged a month or so. Annie has made about 40 jars of fig jam, and I think she will soon be moving on to plum jam, because I wasn't kidding about the 300+ pounds. This weekend will be full of corn and more tomatoes and cucumbers, more chiles...and plums for prunes, plums for compote, and, if I could figure out how to freeze it well, plum galette.

Karen gave me the best recipe for plum galette. It isn't that hard but it pays to look at the directions and do a little math on the prep time before jumping right in, the way I did...with a deadline. Okay, so I had to cut corners, but it worked out anyway.

First you make a pate brisee which is the French way of saying a pastry with lots of butter. This is supposed to chill in the fridge for an hour at least, but from personal experience, a half hour was sufficient. Then you make a fine powder of brown sugar, corn starch, and ground Hazelnuts; except here I didn't have any Hazelnuts so I used Pine nuts and these were fine.

You roll out the dough, cut it in a rectangle, spread the bottom with the brown sugar mixture and cover this with rows of sliced plums. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and fold up the corners of the pastry around your creation to hold the juices in. Did I mention this is made on a flat cookie sheet?

Oops, here you are supposed to put the whole thing back in the fridge for another half hour to chill. I gave it 15 minutes. Before popping in the oven, you brush an egg over the pastry, then bake for about 40 minutes at a high temperature. After removing the browned and bubbly galette from the oven, it is supposed to cool before you brush it with warm plum jam. We didn't have plum jam so we used, you guessed it, fig! We also were out of time so we didn't let the galette cool to room temperature. This didn't seem to make a difference. The galette was a success both in presentation and taste.

Poor Greg, we saved him the last slice; however, I see many more galettes in the future, maybe even with the correct timing and ingredients...or not. I also see Greg's idea of distilling fruit as happening sooner than he might have planned. Plum brandy sounds good if we can come up with a recipe. Guess it's time to get back on Google! What did farmers ever do before the Internet...oh, yeah, they wrote all those recipes. Happy harvest to all!

Photo: Plums and pears fill the carport

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Peacocks Will Eat Just About Anything

I imagined, when I planted the zucchini at the side of the cabin, along with the tomatoes, peas and beans, that I was planting veggies for my farm stay guests. I never imagined I was planting a feast for Fred.

I think I have mentioned before how I am challenged to grow just about anything. If it was only that I forgot to water, then it would be my fault, but between the wildlife, the slugs, and Fred, I am more challenged than most. Of course, I never realized Fred was part of the problem until this summer when, in one day, I caught him ripping out the newly forming nasturtium flowers from my cabin's veggie bed, then rounded the side of the cabin to find only stalks remaining on the zucchini plant!

Where I had visions of large leafy vegetables, red and orange flowers, and runners filled with food pods, Fred saw dinner in the tender plants. Where I saw self-defensive greenery with spiney leaves or smelly stems, Fred saw an opportunity to prove he didn't mind. It sometimes makes me want to cry out in frustration. How could such a beautiful bird wreak so much havoc in an incredibly short amount of time...and so quietly?!

Because he cuts a regal figure, with iradescent feathers and a haughty look, Fred gets away with a great deal of mischief. Our guests love the fact he roosts on the deck railing outside the cabin. If you sit on the sofa in the living room and look out the window, first you see Fred and then you see the hay field, so it is more than picturesque. The old milk bottle filled with dry corn on the deck steps serves as a healthy treat for Fred, but I suspect he also begs for chips and crackers and anything else our guests have at hand. He does seem to use his good looks to his advantage.

I am not so easily swayed. This week I caught Fred in our fenced garden hacking through the broccoli and moving on to the lettuce. I waved my arms and brought the dogs in to help me herd. I am not sure how, exactly, he got into the garden, but I suspect he either squeezed between the gate or flew over the fence. He clucked at me as I started to chase him out. He is worse than herding the chickens, as he darted back and forth and in and out, and I yelled and the dogs barked. He turned and clucked at me one final time as I pushed him out the gate almost in a dare.

I haven't seen Fred today, mostly because it is raining and I have stayed inside. The rain never stopped that bird before and I probably need to hop out to the garden just in case he has gone to work on the tomatillos. Fred is a bird of opportunity that, like a cat, couldn't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks...because he is a pretty bird and he knows it...and he knows we would never eat him...and that is the trump card on a farm!

Photo: Fred in all his glory

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Vacation in Rural Tuscany

We just returned from a vacation in Italy with all of my family. All my family live in urban and suburban settings so a villa in the middle of rural Tuscany was magical. For us, it was magical because it was Italian and had beautiful views, but really there were so many parts that just seemed familiar: the tractors driving up and down the dirt paths to the surrounding farms, the logging operation down the road, the roosters crowing, the vineyard at the top of the hill. Heck, we could have been at our place, except for the language and the euros. Oh, yeah, and the villa!

Okay, so the villa was originally built in the 1700s, but our place, while not that old, was the first house up the Honey Grove Creek valley (if you totally ignore any native American claim to the area). It's nothing you can really brag about, though, to an Italian. We don't really 'do' history the way they do.

The villa was built of stone on the side of a steep hill. Makes me tired just to think of how this was accomplished. Of course, at some point it was abandoned and then remodeled by a zealous American wanting to have his Tuscan house in the sun. The place was meticulously restored making it light and cool and airy, even in the heat of August. I saw wood stoves in many of the rooms and wondered if it was also light and cool and airy in the winter! Probably a lot of work to heat...and a lot of wood.

Greg had a mission for this trip: to hunt down the truth about Pecorino (sheep)cheese, a specialty of the region. You can find pecorino in any supermarket or small market because it is the cheese of Tuscany. What was funny? We never saw any sheep on our entire visit. They must have been hiding on the tops of the high hills all around us or in the bottom of the deep ravines...or in Switzerland.

Did I mention that this villa had great views because we were on the top of one of those hills without sheep?! Did I mention the driving? I will never complain about narrow or twisty roads again. We had to honk around corners driving up to our place and if you weren't the first to honk you had to back up until there was a pullout with just enough space for two cars to pass. Honestly, I closed my eyes (yup, even as the driver) and hoped the Italians knew what they were doing because I hadn't bought the extra insurance on the Alfa Romero we were renting, even though I tried.

Back to the cheese. Once we had discovered that pecorino cheese is rather like cheddar in Vermont, we tried to track down a man we had been told was making it locally. Unfortunately, both the information and the directions were a little vague. "Go to the village that is just above this village and you will find him." We found the village, and the only two people around who were sitting over an ice cream (probably the only two people because siesta wasn't over yet - another problem for Americans to get used to). "Sure, Simon, makes good cheese," but we had just missed him by 10 minutes and he had probably gone off to drink for the rest of the afternoon, so there would be no cheese making that day. It was like sending someone to the Banton's down the road here in Alsea because Alma makes great refrigerator pickles...but not for anyone's consumption other than her family. Oh, well.

With a mathematical and practical reality check on what it takes to go into cheese production in the States, we soon crossed the idea off our list of future Leaping Lamb Farm business vwntures, even thought the thought of fresh cheese on the table was appealing. The rest of our stay was filled with trips into history and walks up the country roads.

Rural Italy wasn't that different from rural America, except for one idea that Greg has always appreciated; that would be nap time. As frustrating as some things are to do in Italy, no one really seems to care too much. I think it's the naps - the Mediterranean solution to all the hard stuff. Naps might be something we in America should embrace just a little more, especially now. It's like I always told our girls when they were away from home and out of their element. If things seem particularly bad, take a nap because when you wake up there will be a solution waiting for you.

The final lesson from Italy: don't plan to do anything between noon and three o'clock because everything is closed. It's nap time.

Photo: Villa Fronzola outside of Bagni di Lucca, Italy

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hay Moments

They say, in this valley, that you need to get your hay out of the field by the 4th of July. Or what? I always thought it had to do with temperature and condition of the grass. Now I understand it has to do with fireworks.

Honestly, I dread the day we have to pull the hay bales from the field. As the driver and unloader, I have the easiest job of all, but I still wish we could figure out how to wave a magic wand and all the hay would miraculously appear in the barn. The day is usually hotter than most, and we often get a late morning start because the dew makes the hay too wet to bale right off.

The process has to be re-learned each year. It takes the first load to get our system down and each year we have some new boys mixed in with the old. There is a pecking order that needs to be established, as in who does what; a plan for stacking the hay in the barn worked out; and the hay elevator needs to be dusted off, set up and tested before we head out to the field.

We use an 18' flat bed trailer pulled behind our old Ford farm truck to pick up the hay out of the field. I drive in low 4th gear as slowly as possible so the guys have time to pick up bales on either side of my path and toss them to the stacker on the truck. The fun part for the boys is to see which of them can toss the bales up to the top row, which can sometimes be 5 bales high. Aiming for the stacker is part of the goal. The tricky part for me is to then drive back to the barn, over the bumpy field, up the hill past the cabin, out onto Honey Grove Rd, and down to the barn without losing either hay or the kid sitting on top of the pile!

In the end, it wasn't a great year for hay. Our crew was a bit younger and less trained than in the past. We didn't pay attention, until it was too late, to how they stacked the first row of hay bales in the barn (they are supposed to be tipped on edge to steady the potentially tall stacks)and we now have one section of bales that looks as if it will fall over at any time. We also missed salting the first row of hay. You salt the bales to absorb any extra moisture since you don't want combustion from rotting hay to burn down the barn. I think we were lucky as nothing has felt hot to date.

And the deal about the fireworks? July 3rd the hay was ready to be baled and pulled from the field, but not until the afternoon. My high school crew failed to mention the conflict with the entertainment out at the Coast until it was about 3 p.m. and then all of a sudden they needed to leave. What?! That left three people over the age of 40 (me, Greg, and Manuel). Lucky for us, John, our 14-year-old neighbor, showed back up in the field only an hour or so after leaving. Girlfriend communication problems with her family, I think. Anyway, he probably imagined us dying out in the field from over-exertion...and he might have been correct. To be fair to the other kids, they showed up the next morning to finish the job, but it felt like an anticlimax.

Anticlimax or not, the hay is in for the year and I don't have to think about it until next summer ... when I will do my best to be aware of firework display schedules and plan accordingly!

Photos: top - our hayfield partly baled; bottom - ready to unload from the trailer to the barn. Sorry, no photos of the crew!

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Harold and the Dogs

Harold and the Purple Crayon was one of my favorite childrens' books. I enjoyed it as a child and I enjoyed reading it to my own children. It is the story of a kid named Harold who literally draws his world around him with a purple crayon. He is able to change his reality with a stroke of color.

Our Harold is a lamb that was attacked by two dogs and left for dead. Unfortunately, he didn't have a purple crayon to escape the situation. However, two things initially worked in his favor. The dogs' absence was noticed and they were called back, and we had guests at the farm who decided to take one last walk in the woods before departure and found the poor lamb crumpled in the bushes. Nothing like a farm lesson up close!

I arrived home to find a note on the kitchen table. "Lamb in barn. May be dead. Dogs locked in house." It takes a moment to understand a note like that. What? How? My daughter and I went running over to the barn to find the lamb on a pile of straw in the sheep stall, damp with sweat and unable to hold its head up. I went out looking for Greg.

Slowly the story pieced itself together. Our daughter's dogs, that had been around the sheep as puppies, were bigger now and, left unsupervised, had acted as a pack and run down one of the smaller lambs. It's pretty gruesome what comes over dogs when they lose their domesticated minds. The only reason the lamb wasn't killed was probably because the dogs heard the call-back whistle and went loping off to the house.

Caitlin was upset at the sight and the damage her dogs had caused. She started to cry. How could her dogs have done this? Would punishing them now make any difference? After all, our dogs had been caught in a similar situation within the first week of being on the farm and had learned not to chase either sheep or chickens. But, we had caught them in the act and given them good reason to learn right from wrong. She called the dog trainer. No, it was too late to make the association. They would need to stay on leashes or wear a muzzle to be safe around the sheep from now on ... or until the lesson could be taught. I didn't want to think about how we would accomplish that.

We went back out with Greg to look at the lamb and he pointed out the broken leg I had failed to notice the first time around. The break went clear through, allowing the leg to twist in any direction. Ugh! Amazingly, the lamb made no noise in protest. I don't think sheep actually have the capacity to indicate pain, which may be a good thing for the humans involved.

I set to work, first with a splint made out of sticks and a clean rag, then with an antiseptic spray called Blue Lotion I kept in the barn medicine cabinet. I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed, even more when vet Liz came over and shaved the poor lamb so I could see wounds not obvious through all the wool. She looked at my splint job and said she would leave me a real splint at her office the next morning. Should we euthanize the lamb? She thought not as I had been able to bottle feed it some and the lamb was interested in eating. Surely a positive sign. The now-purple lamb breathed quietly.

Thus, Harold, acquired his name. Each day a little more purple spray was added as wounds became obvious or scabs fell off. Our purple lamb became a favorite of guests to feed and pet and learn about his will to live in the face of enormous injury. I have also taken the opportunity to pass on lessons learned.

One: dogs, even small ones, will lose their minds as a pack ... even farm dogs... and gang up on an animal with the intent to kill.

Two: when setting a break, it is important to immobilize both the joint above and the joint below the break to keep the bone from twisting. Of course, I learned this lesson after I decided the splint was too long and cut it off to fit below Harold's knee. Much to my horror, on completing my wrapping job, I watched the leg swing freely. I had to add my sticks back to provide the stability the splint needed. Made sense when I thought of my own broken leg in 7th grade and the leg-long caste I sported for three months.

There is one final, if unintentional, lesson that comes along with Harold these days. For those people who have never heard of Harold and the Purple Crayon, there is the opportunity to tell them about a wonderful book to read to their children or their grandchildren, the story of a little boy who could make up and draw his own reality. To be followed up by the story of a brave little lamb on a farm in the coast range of Oregon that spent his early life being purple!

Harold's head was quite swollen in this photo and it was only as he started to recover we realized the extent of the original injuries. PS He is doing well these days and if he weren't interested in being bottle fed I would have no way of catching him!

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Farm View

What do they say about looking at something through the eyes of a child? I am having a similar experience these days on our farm with the guests we host at our cabin above the hay field.

When we first found this farm, it seemed it should be shared with other people like ourselves, caught up in cities, surrounded by efficient systems to make our lives easier, but also far removed from the basics of how things work. It's also pretty up this little creek valley. Five years later we have our farm stay for folks to visit, either as a retreat, a family outing, or a chance to decide if they can visualize a similar change of lifestyle.

I see our place anew each time our guests accompany me to feed the sheep or check for eggs. It doesn't matter whether they are adults or kids - there is a similar delight in doing something new and touching wool or feathers or horse hair or even having the donkey sidle up for an ear rub. Giving a lamb a bottle of milk probably has top billing on the list of things to do, but there are other experiences that are "firsts" too, such as "pooh sticks" played off the creek bridge, collecting turkey feathers, and picking up brown salamanders that favor muddy trails.

The barn is the best. It's not the scary, musty place, in need of some serious repair, we found when we first moved here. It was our first project. Now, there are new stalls and lights, which only help to accentuate the original structure of beams made out of single trees, a steep pitched roof to keep the water running off the shingles, and a foundation set on rocks and old growth logs. The cathedral ceilings in the hayloft get the biggest "ah", followed by 18 tons of hay "ah-ha". But, what really excites some families is the basketball hoop and trying to shoot from the top of a 7-story tall stack of hay bales!

It's funny, but without guests around, I see only vegetable and flower beds filled with weeds, and buildings and fences in need of repair. I see chickens and lambs on the wrong side of the fences and horses in pastures that are supposed to be closed off. It's not that our guests paint a picture of the idyllic countryside, because they all comment on the work we have before us. It's just that they can see what we now take for granted and, try as I might, it is hard to remember what that first glance looked like.

I am reminded of my email I wrote to friends when we first arrived here where I quoted Robert Frost's poem about the "Two roads diverged in the yellow wood..." It was about the choice to go in a different direction, somewhat blindly, I might add. What isn't blind, however, is the view from our guests' perspectives. They allow me to see again, if only for a little while, something that is right before my eyes.

Top photo: guest Harper and Teddy the lamb (photo by her mom); Bottom photo: wagon wheel at entrance to our farm (photo by guest, Jo Ann Conway).

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Saving Paco

The first time I saw Paco, the burro, he was eating the flower tops off dandelions at Craig's place. He had been acquired as a model for Craig's newest idea in basket making, something along the lines of a Mexican donkey with carrying basket. Craig assured us there was an exclusive market out there: owners of miniature donkeys who would want to outfit their animals in just such a fashion. I wasn't so sure, but I hated to rain on anyone's creative process.

The next time I saw Paco, our friend Craig had died unexpectedly and the burro was locked in a dingy barn stall on the farm Craig had purchased with and for his daughter. What a sad state of affairs. Craig's dream of refurbishing both the land and his relationship had died with the man. His daughter had had dreams too. Grandpa would teach her kids all the things he had never had the time to teach her; she might even get caught up in his passion for plants and basket making.

As the family grieved, Craig's tools were left where they lay in the rain and in the barn, rusting and becoming ruined. There was no minding them. And, there was no minding Paco. It was obvious the donkey reminded Craig's daughter of her dad. Paco was provided with food and water. Other than that, he was ignored as the family dynamics changed and the farm was put up for sale.

Lucky for Paco our neighbor, Dave, has a big heart and took matters into his own hands. He kept noticing the lonely burro corralled at the side of the highway and finally asked if he could give Paco a new home. I think the day Dave got the "okay" was the day he asked me whether the burro could stay at our place until his fences were fixed properly. It was a bit of a sell to Greg who thought we already had too many animals, but I assured him it would only be for a couple days.

Ha! The donkey was delivered out of the back of Dave's truck one afternoon. I have no idea how Dave got Paco to stand in it, but the next thing I knew, they both came walking down our driveway. Picture this...a big, strong logger followed by a miniature, woolly, grey, burro trotting behind him and looking around from side to side. It was a rag-tag pair on a mission, if I've ever seen one.

From that first day, Paco started to work the crowd, beginning with Greg. Rather like a cat picking out the person that doesn't really like cats and sitting in his or her lap, Paco sidled up to Greg just close enough so Greg's hand rested on his neck. Then he leaned on him. Paco had found the soft touch that mattered. Following Greg around in the field pretty much sealed the deal.

It didn't hurt that everyone who met Paco fell in love with him at first sight. Our guests were enthralled with his kind nature, sad eyes, and pure delight at being brushed and pet. I found the animal an easy keeper, with a good attitude and no bad habits, other than the dog nudge-factor, used (primarily by dogs), to indicate a lack of attention being paid and "Please don't stop petting me."

Dave called a few days later to find out what we wanted to do about the "goat". Seems he had moved onto another project and the fence probably wouldn't go up anytime soon, if ever. Not to worry, we said. We think we have a place for Paco here with us. I believe this was Greg speaking! The horses had become used to the burro's funny hee-haw and the sheep didn't care a lick either. Paco was able to hold his own in the barnyard and all the other animals gave his little heels a wide berth. Don't mess with Paco became the new farm theme.

On reflection, I think Paco coming into our lives at the farm helped to close a circle of friendship opened by Craig when we first arrived at this place. He's a perfect mixture of the sad-eyed Eeyore and the happy-go-lucky 'bright moments' man. In an 'anything-is-possible' outcome, the burro has lots of pasture now, lots of friends, both 4-legged and 2-legged, and he waits patiently and expectantly at the gate to be noticed. Who couldn't love the little guy.? Now if I can only figure out if it is Paco or the sheep that keep opening our gate to the barn field, I will be happy. Craig is probably laughing at this. Never underestimate the creativity of a woolly burro wishing to get to the other side.

Top photo: Paco is a miniature Sicilian burro. Guess who is standing behind the stall door!; Bottom photo: Greg and Paco bonding

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Summer Coats

I brushed the last of the winter hair from the horses today. All three stood quietly, as if the scratching of the curry comb was exactly what they had been waiting for all spring. By the end of the session, it looked as if I had killed a large animal and dumped it in the soft footing of the loafing shed.

I brushed our long-haired dog too (twice) and had enough hair to make another dog just like her. Why Patches needs to be brushed year round, I don't know. Maybe it's because she is a nervous dog; maybe because she is part German Shepherd. Her white hair mixes with the dirt she and Cisco bring inside and, while I understand now my mother-in-law vaccuuming their place every day when Patches was theirs, it doesn't mean I do. The dog door is a dis-incentive anyway!

My shedding sheep are another case all together. You aren't supposed to have to shear hair sheep, but I can't seem to curry the old stuff out and our farm is starting to look as if we have a mange breakout. Red, the ram, is dragging old carpets of wool around his pasture, big blankets of ratted hair, sort of like dreadlocks, or maybe not. His mate, Piglet, is shedding from his withers down but the process is taking an awfully long time and sometimes I wonder whether he is as pure bred a Katahdin as I assumed. If he doesn't shed out, what then? He doesn't like the curry comb and I broke my old clippers last year on a ewe that died of fly-strike.

In the main pasture, the girls are rubbing against fence posts and trees in an attempt to ditch their itchy wool. There are clumps of it caught in the woven wire fencing and enough large patches scattered in the fields that every now and then I think I may have lost a lamb or small ewe to a predator. I usually check these out just in case and, so far, have been fooled every time.

Our newest arrival at the farm is a small burro with hair so long it covers his eyes, or at least it did, and a long shaggy coat, or at least it was. I had to stop our neighbor, Dave, from getting too wild with the hand shears. He trimmed the burro around the eyes and had started on his belly. I should have known better since I have seen Dave's Golden Retriever walking around with a similar haircut. Grab a clump of hair and cut straight across. I didn't stop him soon enough and now everyone comments on the trim job. Seems this burro will not be shedding his hair for summer so the bad haircut stays.

And, almost the opposite of summer coats, Fred the peacock has started to lose his gorgeous tail feathers across the mown lawn, to the delight of small children. The tom turkey also appears to be molting, although it has not improved his temperment toward me. He's looking a little plucked at the breast and if he doesn't start to perform better with his mate will find himself part of our Thanksgiving feast.

For the wild things that live with and around us on this farm, the plethora of wool and hair and feathers is a pack rats dream come true. For the shedding animals, the days are longer and warmer and it is time to sport a short-haired summer coat and feel the scratch of the warm dirt and grass as they roll, until the itch is gone, the dust is coated enough to ward off the stinging insects, and it is time to be brushed again in a circular motion that feels oh-so-good. Mommy, don't stop!

Photos: top - Young Katahdin ewe shedding for the first time; bottom - Feels sooo good to scratch that itch!

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Gang of Lambs

If you have never seen a 'gang of lambs', then I assume you have never seen a 'woolly mob'. We are currently in the midst of one and the same, especially around recess (that would be when the lambs are let out of the pen in the morning) and bedtime (that would be right after the lambs and their moms have eaten dinner - the ewes at the manger, the lambs sneaking a weaning drink before mom catches on).

With lambs on my brain, and spreading out over the pastures of our farm, I have to admit this is another blog with a sheep theme, as in 'sheep phrases'. What can I say? I am surrounded by bleating lambs searching for their mothers. "Where are you. I can't find you?" ...then more bleating, "Which one are you?" It runs in the species. They aren't very smart...but they sure are cute. I promise the lamb blogs will stop ... as soon as our lambs stop being so darned adorable. Should be sometime early fall.

Because I have time to think and play with words in my head when I clean stalls or go about the farm counting sheep, I know that even the weirdest truisms must have some truth... and observation. There is one common phrase, however, that still makes me scratch my head. This is the act of 'counting sheep' to go to sleep.

I 'count sheep' because I don't want to be caught off guard if a cougar decides to start whittling down my flock. But, I don't get tired counting sheep. In fact, I'm not quite sure why counting sheep would make anyone feel like falling asleep. I more likely get aggravated as the little darlings refuse to stand still. Did I count 37 or 38 lambs? My count needs to be 38 or I will have to re-count. No, I'm not getting sleepy. Let's be clear, though, while I don't count sheep to fall asleep, I do sleep well when I have counted 38 lambs for certain!

Now, for my own descriptive phrases. The way I see it you take an urban girl, put her on a farm, and she might come up with her own phrases, but this time the analogies draw from her city upbringing. I think 38 lambs racing around the orchard or up the hills of the pasture could be seen as a 'gang of lambs', although I know it is not a very pastoral description. Lamb owners are nodding their heads about the 'gang' thing. They know what I am talking about. Okay, this is more a description of a scene than a truism and will likely remain here in this blog without further dissemination, but, trust me, those lambs running around are a mob waiting to happen!

While the mob is on the run, one can also witness 'leaping' lambs. There are no other farm animals I have watched that make this move (except alpaca prias, if you consider them a farm animal). The lambs will run and then, as if they can't contain their enthusiasm, will give a giant vertical leap into the air. It's a pretty funny, LOL (laugh-out-loud) move. What's even funnier is the specific animal husbandry term for this jump. These lambs are 'gamboling'. Imagine if we had called our place Gamboling Lamb Farm? The other term I have heard is to 'sproing'. Sproinging Lamb Farm doesn't work that well either. For the former I have visions of Las Vegas; for the latter a recovery center for athletes.

Whether to count sheep or watch them play in the fields, it's worth a visit to a farm every so often just to clear your brain. There is active play going on with no words, or laughing, or yelling. The joy is in the running and jumping, the falling down, the going fast. There is no reason to run and jump in the pasture. I suppose for the lambs, it is hard-wired into their little brains to practice escape, but this gets mixed in with the game and then it becomes just a tangle of legs and a race for the highest point. And on and on it goes until the lambs tire and forget what they were doing, because there is grass underfoot and, oh, they must have come out here to eat, and, oh, where is my mama? And it reminds us we were young once, and we may have even seen the world through the eyes of a lamb.

Photo: It is almost impossible to take a picture of leaping lambs, so I thought I would show them playing king of the castle on our fallen apple tree

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lamb in a Box

It's the time of year again when I dream about sheep and I smell like sheep. Sometimes the dreams are good and sometimes the dreams are interrupted by the bleating of the lamb downstairs in the box. It's 2 a.m. and someone wants a bottle. As I heat the milk in the microwave, barefoot and chilled in the night kitchen, I am transported back 25 years ago to my own babies. Thing is: now I'm holding in my lap a woolly, white ball with four gangly legs and poop on its butt, tipping its head back and trying to convince my little friend that this is almost as good as mother's milk.

I have played nursemaid to two lambs this spring. I'm not really into tramping out to the barn in the middle of the night, so they stayed in the house until things were back to rights. The first, Teddy, almost died and I fashioned a card board box into a holding pen. I placed it in front of the antique grandfather clock in our front room not far from the wood stove. With a layer of straw for bedding, I positioned a desk lamp over Teddy for added warmth, balanced on a hand-painted foot stool my mother gave me as a present before we moved to the farm.

Teddy was rejected by his mom when she discovered she had three babies and not two. Rejected lambs are known as "bummers", as in "What a bummer, your mom doesn't want you," or something like that. Hard as I tried to convince the ewe to keep him on, my tricks didn't work. Hard as I tried to convince Teddy a bottle was easier anyway, he resisted.

I've never had a hungry lamb not figure out how to suck on a bottle and, as things went from bad to worse and he became dehydrated, I asked for help from Liz the vet. She had me pick up a subcutaneous drip from her office. What?! Heck, it seems I could have asked most of my friends with cats or dogs about this as they all had stories of the intravenous drip that saved their pet. Only difference: they missed the "hands-on" experience of sitting on the rug in the house, inserting the needle between the shoulder blades, holding a wiggly lamb with one hand, holding the bag at shoulder height with the other. I managed this on my own when I had to, but luckily we had visitors interested in helping. If you help, you are entitled to name the lamb and so "Teddy" appeared out of the front room and into the sun one day, named by our visitors' kids.

Cute Tulip (also named by a child) should have become my second bottle fed baby. I worried about him to the point of bringing him into the house too, but was unsuccessful with the bottle...and keeping him in the box at night. He only stayed in the house for two days because he had the bad habit of waking up and baa-ing loudly. As I tripped downstairs in the dark to quiet him, I realized the baa-ing was coming from the living room one time and the dining room another. Sharp little hooves slid across the hardwood floors, down steps, crashing into tables and chairs. This was not the restful night any of us needed.

With Teddy in recovery and Cute Tulip refusing to take a bottle, I returned both lambs to the barn to see if they could scam some milk from Tulip's mom when she wasn't looking. It worked well enough to keep them alive and I kicked the ewe and four lambs back out into the flock. Sunlight, fresh air, and a chance to sneak milk from more than one ewe put the odds more squarely in the lambs' favor.

These days, Teddy meets me at the back barn door for breakfast and dinner. Cute Tulip hangs on to his mom's teat through her back legs even when she is walking away from him. His white wool has turned a permanent shade of beige from being pee-ed on. I will grab him from time to time and force feed a couple ounces of milk. But Tulip is a scrappy fighter and, while he will probably always remain small, I think I have found a home for him that will be better than most. His job will be to keep the grass down at the home of an elderly couple. I guess having a sheep is easier than getting out the lawn mower.

Unlike many of the farm's lambs that will experience one very bad day amongst many good ones, being small will save these two bottle babies, for a while at least. Teddy and Cute Tulip will grow out of their 'lambness' and become sheep and I will likely forget their names in time. What I think I will always remember is the small face looking up at me from the edge of the card board box. "You don't look like my why do you smell like a sheep?"

Top photo: Cute Tulip dressed in Safeway bag so no accidents in house; Bottom photo: Cute Tulip thinking Patches might be his mom...Patches looking nervous.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

I Never Thought I Would Be Doing This!

Last Sunday morning, standing on the edge of the hayfield, our boots damp from the wet spring grass, my mother spoke up. "I bet you didn't imagine five years ago you would be doing something like this." I looked up from the dead deer, its legs stiff with rigor mortis. I was carefully trying to maneuver it into the bucket of the tractor without rupturing its exposed guts. She had a point.

The deer is only one of a number of experiences I think I could have lived without attempting and still died happy! But there was Greg with the bucket tipped, and no way to scoop the deer without my help. We had first driven out in the Gator thinking we would treat this deer like a sheep, tossing it in the bed and driving to the top of the mountain to throw it off the carcass cliff. The missing underbelly sort of ruined that idea.

Next Greg went off for the tractor to bury the poor animal in the field where it lay. After all, we weren't going to be tilling the hay field any time soon. Problem was, it has been a pretty wet spring, and there was no way to get proper traction for the tractor to dig a hole. Tractors aren't really designed for digging holes anyway. That left picking up the deer in the tractor bucket, since tractors are designed to scoop. This went more smoothly than it could have and, within an hour, the problem was resolved.

I think I could make a list of "new experiences after 50" and either look at it and be proud or look at it and wonder if I have lost my mind. Then sometimes it takes looking at these things through someone else's eyes to realize our life now is way beyond the urban-suburban norm!

So, let's see, I have recounted the torn-off sheep's ear, releasing the dog's foot from a leg-hold trap, re-inserting a prolapsed vagina back into a ewe, fashioning waterproof pants for a young lamb to romp around our house, delivering lambs turned the wrong way, delivering too many lambs, delivering dead lambs, bottle feeding bummer lambs (okay, that's not so bad), raising baby turkeys in the kitchen, priming a water pump (over and over), and giving shots to animals (lots of shots).

There are a few things still on the list. Mostly they have to do with lambs. Tubing comes to mind, as I was doing this today while speaking with a guest who was helping out in the barn. She watched me in disbelief as I slowly worked a long, thin, orange tube down the throat of a small lamb and then proceeded to balance the lamb and the tube as I poured milk into it, and thus into the stomach of the lamb.

This is a drastic measure I take when a lamb isn't getting enough milk from its mom to become fully hydrated and nourished. It's a life-threatening situation. Unfortunately for this lamb, he has been unsuccessful learning to drink from a bottle so he has to rely on sneaking drinks when his mom, or any other ewe he can tap, isn't looking. He's a bummer lamb (rejected by his mom) with a strong will to live. His name is Cute Tulip, named by a three-year-old. Didn't seem right to tell her that was a girly name for a boy.

My newest experience had to do with castration, the kind where you use a scalpel, not the rubber band thing I had been doing for the past four years. My vet neighbor, Liz, thought this might be a more effective solution since I missed most of the balls last year (not that this really matters if the lambs are going to market...but I did have to separate the boys from their mothers after about month five!).

On a cool Sunday morning, Liz showed up with her stainless steel pail, disinfectant, a scalpel, a clamp, knock-out shots, and a smile. I had four boy lambs in the barn and for the next hour or so I struggled to get it right. At least the babies were knocked out for all my fumbling and pulling and cutting and, to my credit, I was getting faster by the last one. What I found harder was the recovery of these poor babies for the first 24 hours. After that, they were back to being bouncy, baby lambs and I soon turned everyone out for some fresh air and freedom from the meanies in the barn.

Liz said she would assist with castrating for this season, but reality has struck. My boy lambs outnumber girls 4 to 1 and there aren't enough farm-fresh chicken eggs in a year to pay Liz back for that kind of duty, much less the cost of the sedatives. I have returned to banding. For our part, the lambs and me, we are a little more content not to be cutting things off with blood and slippery things everywhere. And, I have a better idea of what I'm grabbing for when I band!

I am sure there are lots of things that are escaping me at the moment in the realm of new experiences here on the farm. Being naive at 50 about this undertaking, however, has not escaped me. So much for wisdom and learning! The translation of useful knowledge from city to country is really pretty slim. Oh, well, at least I can now start a fire in the wood stove, understand the dynamics of an irrigation system, can see the Milky Way on a clear night, and appreciate the rugged, small-brained, playfulness of lambs.

Photo: This is Cute Tulip's brother. Because I kept his mom and siblings in the barn so long trying to keep Cute Tulip from becoming a bummer, he and I had a game we played each night. I would hold out my gloved fist and he would butt his head against it. He still comes up to me from time to time and sucks on my pant leg or jacket. Here, he is just bugging his mom...I think that is Tulip in the background.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

The End of Wood

The end of wood is rather like the end of days, except colder. This winter has been long and cold and we are down to the nubs in our wood pile. Our neighbor, Dave, calls the old Alder wood we are burning now "punky" because it is rotted and pretty darn useless in terms of generating much heat. I hope the warm weather hurries up because the animals are low on hay too.

If we were in Arizona, it would be spring training for the San Franscico Giants and the Chicago Cubs and all the other folks who know where to find the warm, sunny weather. But, no, we are caught between the greenest grass that will need to be mowed soon, and the greyest, dismal skies you ever saw. For me, this is colder than snow, especially when I don't light the woodstove downstairs, partly because I don't feel like hiking up and down the stairs all day to make sure it is stoked and partly I am saving it for Greg's return in the evening.

Last spring when Greg was cutting down windfall and making large piles for Dave's teenage son to split in the summer, it seemed we had enough wood for many seasons. Looking at the time and energy it takes to turn wood into heat, however, makes you stop and question the efficiency of it all. There is the labor to cut a downed tree into lengths to fit a wood stove, to chop each length at least into quarters, haul the wood back to a pile you are stacking, stack the rest farther from the house because you have used up all your space, collect wood for kindling and stack this too, make sure the roof covering the wood doesn't leak. Come the cold season, the wood has to be hauled inside a little at a time, dropped into the wood stove with enough newspaper and kindling to get a fire started, prodded and pushed around, replenished, and the next morning, the ashes in the ash pan need to be dumped into an ash be scattered on the garden.

Or would you rather just flip a switch? Of course, when we are at the end of days, we will have a way to heat our house and those that flip a switch will do so to no avail. However, like the end of wood... which is only temporary because there are more downed trees from the winter and I can hear Greg out with his chain saw already, and the Dave's son is still in school, so he will be needing to make money to pay for gas and car insurance and all the things teenage boys need...the end of days may not come for several life times. All this human energy, expended into the universe, to harness energy from the natural world. Where does this leave us? I guess you could say warmer for swinging the axe and hauling in the wood, than if we were just sitting on our behind writing blogs into a computer!

Photo: Radio Flyers have many uses on a farm, like hauling wood into the house. The wood pile is that skimpy thing about two rows high in the background!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Strange Noises Coming from the Barn

I am a good listener when it involves our barn and the animals it houses (maybe not so good when it comes to my spouse). Hollow, stomping sounds, either first thing in the morning or at feeding time in the evening can't mean anything but mischief. Uninvited. Unapproved. Probably mayhem, if I want to be honest.

Did I remember to double lock the stall doors the last time I was in the barn? Does this sound like horses, sheep, or both? How much hay did I leave in the aisles? Are there extra bales lying around for the next feeding? How long have they been in there? What have they been doing? And, the big question: who is "they"?

It never fails that the first one to look up unabashedly is Tater. "Howdy pardner. What's up? Who me?" Except he says this in horse thoughts, while the rest of the animals, especially the sheep, are high-tailing it out the closest door, the one that Tater opened. I don't know if it is the length of the winter that is beginning to wear on all of us, but I am not allowed even one little slip-up these days. If that clip isn't fixed through the latch, Tater has the stall doors open and there is pandemonium in the barn.

If it were just curiosity to wander the barn aisles, it wouldn't be that bad. But spreading the hay all over the floor and then pooping on it is a bit much. Or, how about pulling at the newly shorn wool I had drying on tarps in the middle of the floor. Out through the hay. Out through the poop. Buckets are tipped over, anything lying around is checked out, and the cleaning forks lie scattered on the ground.

I suppose I am lucky so far. Tater only seems to be able to open a stall door latch from the opposite side with his head arched over the door. He hasn't figured out the human approach of backing the bolt out of the slot while standing in front of it. Lucky, because if he could do this he would have access to the feed stall and all the yummies that lie therein. Then we would be dealing with sick animals and vets for sure.

At the moment, the only thing getting into the feed stall are the rats. They are incredibly talented at chewing holes in my large plastic trash cans for the molasses-covered corn and oats. I never noticed at first, but it did seem the feed was going down awfully fast. It also explained why Rosie, my young ewe lamb, kept making a mad dash for the feed stall every time I opened the door. I turned on the light. There was a mound of fresh grain strewn across the floor. I never realized a rat could move that amount of material in such a short time!

The solution for the rats was not as simple as a carabiner, but far more deadly. I bought traps. Caught two in the first week, but think the others are on to my plan as I haven't caught any since. Maybe my listening isn't quite as good as it should be, but I imagine, if it were, I could hear rats laughing under the floor boards every time Tater opens another stall door.

Photo: Muddy Tater chewing on the gate and ready to get to the other grass, just more mud, but "Hey" it's the other side.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Testosterone in the Chicken Yard

Peeps is in big trouble. Actually, he is in our house at the moment, crammed into a cage that is almost too small, placed on the bench in front of the wood stove, drying off, recovering from his wounds, and freaking out the cat. If you don't remember, Peeps is our hand-raised rooster that, until this spring, was one of two roosters in the chicken yard, a marginal situation at best.

But, now we have three roosters in the chicken yard because Johnny, of Frankie and Johnny, turned out like Peeps not to be the hoped-for hen but an unnecessary male. Problem is - Peeps and Johnny were both hand raised by Annie with a start in the kitchen. Rudy II, the older and dominant rooster in the yard, was never hand-raised but inherited the job of protecting the flock when his father, Rudy (you guessed it), died fighting off a raccoon.

Greg has suggested we solve our over abundance of roosters by eating one. I say, if they have names, they are not meant for the dinner table. But something will need to be done sooner than later. Peeps cannot live indoors with us and we obviously can't have three roosters!

As if it isn't enough I am dealing with a sad, injured chicken in the house, our tom turkey has taken to challenging me in the chicken yard. At this point, he stays a boot kick away because I can't have some big bird fly at me whenever he likes. Seems we may have picked the wrong turkey to eat for Christmas dinner last year.

It is slightly alarming to have a large bird, that comes up to my waist, following me around my chores in the yard, gobbling and puffing out his feathers. At first I thought he didn't like the white bucket I use to dispense feed, since he knocked it out of my hand with a swat from his wings, but he is indiscriminate these days whether I have the bucket or not. I wish I knew what his problem was. It isn't as if the female is sitting on a nest and he is guarding it. He just seems to have a problem with something larger than himself.

I did find a solution of sorts just this past weekend. Our 4-year old niece entered the chicken yard to collect eggs carrying her Eeyore umbrella and the tom gave us both a wide berth. Guess he decided a big, blue and white turkey was scarier than a crazed woman flapping her arms.

We obviously have some problems as we approach springtime, with longer days, meaner animals, itchy sheep, and grass that is greener on the outside of the fence. The newest problem, of my own making, rousted me from a deep sleep this morning at about 5:30 a.m. What do they say, "If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound"? Well how about, "If you put a rooster in the house, will it still crow at 5:30 a.m."? The answer: it sure does and it won't shut up until you throw it in the mud room,close all the doors between it and the bedroom, crawl back into bed with cold feet, and try to fall back to sleep with a thumping heart from running down the stairs in the first place. Peeps goes back into the chicken yard tonight!

Top photo: Peeps and Cisco share the warmth of the fireplace for some R & R
Bottom photo: Hopie and her Eeyore umbrella face off with our tom turkey

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