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!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones
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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

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones
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