Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Water Blessings


Two days before Christmas and we have water in the house and barn again! Our pioneer days are over for the moment. As proof it is never so cold here, when the temperatures plummeted into the single digits for a week, the pump house froze and no amount of warmth from the portable heater could thaw the lines to the outside. It's a funny thing having electricity and no water, but a preferable arrangement than the other way around. I could see the water that wasn't coming out of the faucets!


In the middle of the freeze, our planned vacation south arrived, as did our farm sitters from their cozy winter digs in California. We discussed the horrors of possible broken pipes when things thawed, and they decided it was more thoughtful to leave sleeping dogs lie, pipes in this case, until we returned. It was easier and less stressful to haul water from the creek for the toilets and run up to the cabin for showers and dish washing because, thankfully, that pump house had only frozen for a day before we figured out how to warm it up.

It's great having house sitters who are friends and neighbors, especially when things aren't working as they do normally. On reflection there is always something out of the ordinary on a farm, and luckily Karen and Allen are a flexible pair. Karen has bigger fears of our animals dying than the inconvenience of no water. No tragedy there.

So, when we returned home we were pleasantly surprised to discover Allen had improved our water hauling system...and, thankfully for Karen, no animals had died! Ever the creative sort, Allen realized the torrential rains that hit after our departure, combined with our leaky gutters, produced enough water to fill strategically placed 5-gallon buckets with enough water for all the animals in pastures and the toilets at the house. No more red wagon trips to the creek!

We didn't turn the water on right away. We had to steel ourselves to the possibility of multiple broken pipes spraying inside and out. The first challenge was to get the pump running. The second was to have enough people around with walkie-talkies that we could shut the thing down immediately if there was a geyser in the house.

The pump was primed. We waited for the pipes to fill and the pressure to return. It went smoothly, but the pressure was low. Nothing in the house was leaking. I circled the outside of the house and could hear water running furiously. It was coming from under the deck. How the heck do you get under there?! Not easily, but we were lucky. Farmer Greg could reach the pipe enough to cap it off. Who needed a faucet there anyway, until next summer at least?! We felt like we had survived a natural disaster since we were two days from Christmas and plumbers were scarce.

The next task was to cut down a tree off the back forty and install it in the living room. As Annie was holding our Charlie Brown example of holiday greenery in its stand and farmer-professor Greg was tightening the screws, she thought she could hear spraying water. Uh-oh. She left the professor to manage the tree on his own as she sprinted towards the watery sound coming from the glassed-in porch at the end of the room. A hard spray was shooting out of the wall.

Again we were lucky. This 'sun room' had been set up for plants, with a counter sink and floor drain. The only thing truly soaked were the area rugs left piled in a corner. Most of the water had escaped outside. We had avoided Murphy a second time! Of course, this pipe also proved to be impossible to reach and was thus unceremoniously capped.

Summer is a better time to deal with plumbing repairs. Today we found our holiday spirit, put up the house lights, decorated the tree, and wished for snow in the middle of a rain shower. We were back to too much water outside falling from the skies, but this was as it should be. "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the farm, the water was flowing, even out at the barn..."

Photo: The fireplace gets lit once a year and this was its time ...otherwise, we use the wood stove to heat the place!

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Do-Over Day


It would have been better if I had never gotten out of bed. The animals might not have thought so. But, if I had stayed in bed, I wouldn't have spent the entire day trying to restore water to our house or worrying about the lamb that was trying to die in our frigid barn.

They say western Oregon hasn't been this cold for so many days in a row since 1972. I say, "Why now?" Fifteen degrees is more typical for Wisconsin and, knowing that, they build with insulation around the water pipes and hose bibs. Here, I buy the Styrofoam covers and electric pipe wraps, but can only protect the stuff I can see. We use a heat lamp in our pump houses because there is no insulation.

The water ran fine yesterday morning in the house, although the hoses at the barn froze solid so it didn't make any difference for filling the trough. Then, in the afternoon, the faucets only issued air and a vast hollowness, usually accompanied by a "damn" as I realize I have left on the water somewhere and de-primed the pump. This time, there wasn't any place I had "left on" the water. This time we didn't have a clue what was wrong except I had recently emptied out the gallon containers of water, saved for just such an emergency, with the thought I would fill them fresh later. Of course, "later" hadn't happened yet.

Greg identified a spot in our orchard where the pipe was only 4" at best underground. Before leaving for work he hauled large timbers along the line and lit a small bonfire to try and send some heat into the frozen soil. Maybe this was the source of the problem. It was a valiant attempt, but ultimately did nothing for the air hissing through the line.

I spoke with friends and someone suggested I check the pipes in the pump house. The heat lamp had been overwhelmed by the unusual cold. It didn't help that at this time of year the sun never hits the pump house. Everything was frozen solid. I brought down a portable heater, turned it on, and left to go deal with the lamb in the barn.

When one thing goes south on the farm, there is something else that usually follows right on its heels. Earlier in the week, I had noticed one of our ram lambs looking sickly. I had scooped him up for a warm-up in the barn with a heat lamp and some extra food. Problem was, he just kept getting worse. Annie made him a special diet with molasses and grain. I kept pushing him back under the lamp. We brought in the other lambs as the temperatures plunged to keep him company and provide some group warmth. The lamb was becoming dehydrated and we added a saline drip to our medical routine.

With a week-long trip out of town planned for the next day, I scanned the to-do list for our neighbors who would be taking over the farm. No water in the house, but at least the cabin's well and pump house hadn't frozen over. No water to the animals - hauling from the creek was now the routine for those animals with no access. A lamb that needed a saline IV every 3-4 hours - beyond the expertise of most. It didn't seem quite fair to dump all this on friends returning from sunny California just to help!

Something needed to give. There was no change predicted in the forecast. As heartless as it sounds now, the lamb, which was steadily progressing down hill, needed to die on our watch. I made her a new bed of straw. I gave her a little water with the drench gun. I turned out the lights at the barn and headed back to the house for dinner.

At 11 p.m. I decided to go out to check on the animals. As I entered the barn, all the lambs in the pen were standing at one end away from the heat lamp and the stricken lamb. I knew, without looking, that our friends would not need to be taught how to IV a sheep. I removed the body from the stall and wondered why all our ministrations had come to naught. It does seem as thought sheep either get better on their own or decide to give up. Sometimes medicine has nothing to do with it.

At least the day was over. It was quiet in the barn. I could hear the ewes in their loafing shed chewing their cuds. The horses blinked again when I turned the lights off. As I walked back to the house, the cold crisp air was fresh and the stars twinkled in the atmosphere.

Photo: frost as thick as snow

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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Stash


I was making banana bread the other day because the black bananas kept falling off the shelf in the freezer and landing at my feet on the floor. I have a great banana bread recipe. It's written on note paper from college. Don't know who gave it to me. The paper is stained with butter and a little the worse for wear, but still readable. Better yet, no one has ever turned down a thick hunk of this particular banana bread, especially when it is warm.

However, this was one of those days when I decided to stray from tradition and try out a new recipe I had found one that called for sour milk. Who wouldn't want to try something like this, especially if there was sour milk waiting to be used in the fridge? It was a day to experiment.

Sometimes I pull all the ingredients out at once to bake; other times I reach into the cupboard as I go. This day I started with all the wet products mixed together. I had thawed, gooey bananas, reject eggs from the chicken yard, butter melted in the microwave, vanilla from Mexico, sour half-and-half from the fridge. I mixed in the sugar until I had a creamy, brown soup.

Next, I needed to sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together. The first two ingredients were easy enough, but when I reached for the baking soda, it looked as if the last person to use the box had decided to store walnuts in it. Now, why would anyone do that? Seemed like an interesting idea, but it didn't really make sense since I usually store my walnuts in the fridge or the freezer. Walnuts in the soda box. Walnuts in the soda box. I was stumped. I started to idly pull the nuts out of the box, because what I needed at the moment was baking soda.

As I dug through the walnuts, I couldn't help but think storing nuts in the soda box was a bad idea with all the wildlife in our house. I re-framed the thought. Who would think storing nuts in a box in the cupboard was a good idea? Oh! I turned on the light to the cupboard and peered into its nether regions.

My mouse traps lay discarded on the floor, pushed into a corner. After a winter of playing death-eater, I had taken the summer off, figuring most critters would willingly look outside for fresh things to eat rather than raid the pantry for dry goods. Of course, here we were, coming into late fall. I had been canning for months, storing my goods, preparing for a time when fresh food froze and wilted in the ground. My traps had lain idle all this time.

A large, unopened bag of walnuts caught my eye on the shelf kitty-corner to where I stored the baking soda. As I pulled it out for a better view, walnuts cascaded to the ground. There was a large hole at the back of the bag. This bag was no longer new, and no longer as full as when purchased at the store! Well, at least that explained it. I was providing winter storage, a.k.a. "the stash", for our house mice, whose wily ways had apparently kept them safe from the sharp claws and quick pounce of Bubba. Or, maybe not. This stash looked a bit shabby and incomplete.

Most amusing? The soda box reads, "Help Fight Hunger". I don't think of baking soda, per se, fighting hunger, unless as the final ingredient necessary to make banana bread. But, I do think of walnuts as a product that could fight hunger all on its own. I just never thought of my role in helping to fight hunger in our resident mouse population...unless as the final ingredient in a mouse sandwich for the cat!

My College Banana Bread Recipe

Cream:

3-4 mashed bananas
3 tbl warm water
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c sugar
1/2 c butter

Sift:
3 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Mix dry and wet ingredients
Pour into greased/floured loaf pan
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour


Photo: Walnuts in a box of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Darwin's Farm Yard


Every time an animal dies as the result of a ridiculous accident, my vet says it wins the Darwin Award. She's a bit cynical, but she does have a point. Nonetheless, when one of our animals born on this farm has an accident, it makes me sad. We lost a ewe lamb yesterday for a stupid reason. She pushed her head through a small opening in the hay feeder, turned her head sideways so her jaw locked up against one of the metal bars, and then couldn't figure out how to turn her head in such a way that she could remove it. Ultimately, she suffocated because she went down on her knees and cut off the air to her windpipe. Damn!

Darwin would have said this wasn't a sheep we wanted to keep anyway. If it hadn't been the hay feeder, she might have been swept down the creek during a winter flood or found herself tangled in blackberries as the cougar approached. "She's a cute little black lamb with some Suffolk in her," I would have said. "This breeding tends to lend itself to larger lambs we don't have to over-winter with hay before we sell them for market. I like these lambs." Darwin would have said that 'liking' has nothing to do with his theory.

In the scheme of things, Darwin might have suggested that most of the sheep breeds could win his award with little trouble. To wit:
+ Sheep have a tendency to follow a leader no matter where that leader is heading.
+ Sheep will run for water if they see a predator even though they can't swim and will drown if they go over their head.
+ Sheep, especially lambs, will run straight into fencing to escape being caught and, while this hasn't happened to us (thankfully), they can break their neck doing this.
+ Rams have been known to butt heads through a fence so hard as to kill one (not sure if Darwin figures in here for testosterone or the thickest skull).
+ Once cast to the ground for worming or hoof trimming or whatever, a sheep will just give up and not move, even when released.
+ A lamb will stay caught in blackberries, bleating away and separated from the herd, until a person gets close enough with clippers to free it and then, boom!, it pulls free on its own.
+ If a sheep lies down in a ditch, it can often get stuck on its back and will die if no shepherd comes to help right it.
+ Sheep, when trying to avoid being forced to do something or go somewhere they would rather not, will jump right into the shepherdess, forcing her to think about carrying a 2 x 4 to hit them with next time this happens. (Okay, maybe the last one is not a Darwin Award, except for the shepherdess who was in the way, but it sure makes me mad when they do that!)

I've picked on the sheep for many of these Darwin Awards when, in fact, our farm yard includes turkeys. I was sure we would lose several this fall when they decided to roost in the raccoon's mulberry tree and would not come down no matter what we threw at them. Then it rained so hard and they chose to stay out in it, instead of following the chickens under cover.

Somehow, the Darwin Award, for an animal with wrinkled flesh on its face and hair coming out of places it shouldn't, seems more justified than for a soft, woolly lamb that only months ago was playing with its siblings and bouncing around the orchard. I think that's why vet Liz sighs in her cynicism. When tragedy hits the cute ones you have to wonder, what did Darwin see at first glance, that we seem to have missed?


Photo: (top) lambs and ewes in orchard in spring; (bottom) silly free-range turkey at back door looking in

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Friday, October 23, 2009

A Castle in Ruins



You know summer is over when the crenelations of the hay castle in the loft start to lean and the tunnels are exposed with every day of feeding. I remember the hours of fun we used to have as kids in our friend's hay loft. It smelled sweet and warm like summer grass and was a child's wonderland for games of 'hide and seek' and 'king of the castle'.

So, it was not at all strange that families staying on the farm with us this summer would have naturally gravitated to our full hay loft, also smelling sweet and warm like the summer grass we had just cut from the fields. I, honestly, had lost my appreciation for haylofts. I viewed ours as a lot of hard work to load and a place of apprehension throughout the winter as I watched the bale count dwindle each year.

Load it up; feed it out; repeat. Year in - year out. A fairly unimaginative way to look at a hay loft. Add some kids to the mix, however, and also some rainy days in the middle of the summer, and a hay loft can morph into a medieval castle. We had two families work on the piles of hay this year, in their own way. The first had little kids so dad did most of the castle building. Nothing too elaborate, nothing too creative. He was an adult after all.

The castle took on a life of its own under the diligence and hard work of two 12-year-old girls who spent hours building the fort that remains in ruins today. There were tunnels and doors and hidden rooms. There were crenellations made by standing some of the bales of hay on end. There was even a shooting platform for the basketball hoop set high up on one of the bale drops in the center of the barn. Build a castle; shoot a few hoops; build a secret passage way; shoot a few hoops.

I appreciated the extent of the building activities, until this fall. Sure the girls wanted me to see what they had done and I dutifully climbed up the bales to take a peak, but I must have missed a lot of the infrastructure. Only now as I feed four bales of hay a day and slowly dismantle the girls' works have I seen the imagination of the world they created and understand the delightful skipping of our summer artisans.

And then the adult mind appears to niggle at my own delight. There really isn't as much hay here as I had thought from a quick purview. Behind the crenellations are walkways and deeper rooms. Even some tunnels. Will we have enough hay to see us through the winter after all? Darn that hay castle for making the barn look full up.

No, I have to remind myself. That's not the way to see it. The hay castles built this summer will provide memories for these kids as adults. Maybe as they walk down a city street in July, maybe as they sit at a desk looking out the window on a rainy day. "Remember that summer we built a fine medieval castle in the hay loft at Leaping Lamb Farm, where the hay smelled sweet and warm and the rain pounded down on the metal roof? What a great time we had!"



Photos: hay loft with remaining passages and crenellations

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Check These Projects off the List!



This was the summer of our "greening". We built a large, 3-bay composter to better utilize all the animal manure produced on our farm, and we installed solar panels on the barn to power our farm operations, because, yes, even in Oregon there is enough sun to do this!

The composter was a bit of a challenge because this was actually a project scheduled for last summer. It seems it is wise to include people who build structures when discussing the best location for one of these. I decided, with the approval of the woman helping me with the grant, that the most attractive and seemingly easiest place to build the structure was directly down the hill from the horse's loafing shed. The roof lines would look clean and I could wheelbarrow the manure right over the wall. The tractor could approach from down below to turn the piles. Easy.

Then the engineer got involved! Despite our barn sitting on the top of a hill for the past 80 years, any cutting into the side of the hill was seen as catastrophic to the building's integrity. I figured the barn had sat on logs and stones for this long, why not longer? No one cared to listen to my theory. Throw enough rebar and cement an engineer's way and he will be happy. Except the structure took on the cost of a small house, so we scrapped it until I could come up with another location.

Last winter, I tried to think creatively. This time I involved my builder Alan. Did he think we could squeeze a composter on the end of the loafing shed? I would be able to drive the tractor straight into it from two different sides. There would be a squeaky 6 feet to spare between the barn and the building. I would have to hone my non-existent tractor skills. Everyone signed off on the plan. It was out of my hands. The guys did what they needed to do, with a few adaptations along the way.

Our solar panel project started construction the day we heard we had received a partial grant from a federal program. We have the perfect south facing roof off the barn to maximize sun power. Perfect roof and incline; not so sure about the construction. Did I know how deep the large posts holding up the roof went into the ground? Did I think they were set in cement? Well, that depended on a number of things.

We needed to reinforce the roof anyway since it was never built with the thought of laying solar panels 7 wide and deep. The contractor started with the supporting posts and, surprise, surprise, they were only set into the ground 8" at most! Not to worry- a three foot hole around each, married, pressure-treated 8x8s, pack all this with concrete- and everyone's happy. For my part, I will always wonder about the posts holding up the corners of the shed that were were left untouched. Note to self - don't back the tractor into either of these while working the composter!

Installation of the panels went fairly quickly once the structure was re-supported, and the intermittent fall rain stopped for a few days. Our old barn, designed before the advent of baled hay, had a door that opened straight out to the loafing shed roof where the panels were installed and also a permanent ladder with a platform used, I think, to originally service the hay hooks and the track meant for pulling loose hay from below.

I love to cross projects off our summer to-do list! Our new-looking composter will soon weather and match the barn. I'm sure a few dings from me will come with use, but much like a new car, the first one hurts the most, the rest just add character. The fancy solar meter inside the barn hums along when the sun is out, compiling figures of wattage being pushed back into the power grid. It is high tech for such an old space. For this summer we are the face of farming in the 21st century.



Photos: (top) brand new composter minus the poop; (bottom) solar panels mounted above the sheep's loafing shed

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Lesson in Milling


Our summers fill farmer Greg's head with projects because this is the only time he is "off" from his non-farm job. I think he originally imagined the summers as a time where he could write his book or take a break from three hard semesters in a row. He didn't count on trees falling over in the winter, blackberries growing like the prickly rose vines in Sleeping Beauty, or the list of honey-do's that stack up over time as things fall apart in the rain.

Farmer Greg's list was long this summer, but one of the more interesting and educational projects was the milling of a number of large trees that blew down last winter, taking with them other large trees. Of course it helped that neighbor Dave connected us with an old logger on the other side of the mountain who just happened to have a mobile mill. What are neighbors for in the woods if they can't help you find your local retired woodsman? The mill was set up in the new clearing down by the spring holding tank, the site of the largest windfalls and the heaviest trees to try to drag too far from where they fell.

Greg and Randy had been cutting up and moving logs into place as soon as the ground was no longer muddy. A place was cleared for the trailer to be backed in. A peeve and wire chokers were borrowed from Dave so the logs could be maneuvered more easily into position. The surprising part - the mill man, took it upon himself to teach everyone involved how to use his machine - how to check the computer screen, how to move the controls, how to cut the size intended. I ended up being the only one not to run it for no other reason than my absence doing other projects.


For four full days, the guys (and Annie for a partial day when she wasn't taking photos of the operation) loaded large, heavy logs onto the hooks of the mill and unloaded cut boards onto the trailer. There was a list of specific sizes we needed for the manure composter we were about to build next to the barn. Then there was all the rest, cut to sizes we hoped would be useful in the future: 2x6s, 2x8s, 2x10s.

The horses and sheep came down for a look, but not for long. Too much commotion, not enough grass. The days were warm but the shade in the woods saved a few souls from heat stroke, while sawdust swirled in the air and covered both men and plants alike.


How many boards do a few windfall trees make? Lots it seems. Certainly enough to build stuff and still have a garage full. Obviously we will need to build more stuff soon or the trailer will sit out in the weather from now to kingdom come and no roof to cover it as the wood cures, and cures some more.

There was one hard lesson we learned from this project. When milling wood for a specific length, say 8 feet, the logs actually need to be cut at about 8'8" because you lose length in the milling process. This meant when we needed 12 foot lengths to tie in as beams for our new composter, 11'8" just didn't make the span. The guys tried to work our wood the best they could but there are certain rules of the game. We will know for the next time.

Meantime, I have plenty of fresh cedar and fir sawdust to blanket our blueberries for the winter and even enough to scatter in the stalls from time to time. We will have to do the math and determine whether all the labor and time were worth the effort financially, especially with the falling price of lumber. But, from an aesthetic, conservation, and educational point of view I already know it was. Sometimes the value of the product is not in how much money you saved but in the knowledge that you learned and accomplished something of value.



Photos: Milling process x 4

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Lost!


I knew I lost one little lamb about a month ago because she kept trying to die on me and finally disappeared into the brush so I would give up my feeble attempts to save her. I think I realized she would eventually do this. She had not become better with any of our ministering in the barn and, if a lamb can be depressed (hard to imagine when they are so darned cute), she was the poster child for it.

Then, just this week we lost 30 sheep, plus or minus, in one fell swoop. Not lost as in "died", but lost as in "where the hell did they disappear to???" This was a dramatic turn of events and right in front of newly arrived guests. It was also enough to make me lose a very good night's sleep.

I hummed the tune of 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' as I lay my head down on the pillow.

Scottie had a lot of lambs, lot of lambs, lot of lambs
Scottie had a lot of lambs whose pastures had turned brown

And everywhere that Scottie went, Scottie went, Scottie went
Everywhere that Scottie went the lambs could not be found

They wandered way back in the woods, in the woods, in the woods
They wandered way back in the woods a distance from the farm

The night grew black and she despaired, she despaired, she despaired
The night grew black and she despaired, a cougar's done them harm...


I noticed we were missing half the herd during feeding. This is always an exciting first experience for new guests at our farm stay. We ring the bell, throw down bales of hay from the loft and divide it between mangers so that 60 odd ewes and their babies can have some dinner. There is a free standing manger in the middle of the shed requiring a cool underhand toss to land flakes of hay properly between the wire walls. Frisbee is good training, so is slow-pitch softball.

This evening I knew I was short a good many sheep. We bedded down the horses, the donkey, and the good sheep who had returned on schedule and went looking for the rest. I had several ideas of former hideouts. I am lucky this couple were in good shape as we hiked higher and higher into the hills. Boy, did they get the personalized tour from me! I took them as high as the logging road behind the property, all the while following fresh sheep poop. Or was it deer? Sometimes I find it hard to tell the difference.

We reached a "T" in the road. Would the sheep really have turned even farther away from the farm and headed up the hill? I didn't think so. They hadn't gone that way before. We headed down hill and back towards the barn with no sheep in sight either on the road or through the clear cuts. I started to think back to the afternoon when the dog had squeezed under my desk at the sound of rifle shots. Sure it was hunting season, but only bow and arrow at the moment. Had the gun shots spooked the sheep? Had a hunter mistaken one for a deer? Not the outcome I was looking for.

Once I had checked every hiding spot I knew and driven to my neighbor's house because she has such great grass in her back pasture, I started to call the other folks who live up our road, about 8 residences in all. No, no one had seen any wayward sheep that evening. Of course it was now getting to dusk and the sheep would be bedded down. Farmer Jones suggested there was nothing to do until morning, and even then we might find they returned on their own. Hmmmpff, I wasn't so sure. There were, after all, recent cougar sightings on our road, just to make things "interesting"!

It is at this point I always question my intelligence with sheep and livestock in general. If they had escaped before, why hadn't I done more to prevent a wider range? Could it be because none of our property is fenced on the forest side? Could it be because we had created a perfect storm by ripping up both hay fields in one year? Could it be that once sheep get an idea in their mind it takes a mighty deterrent to make them forget it??

The next morning I went out early to the barn, hoping my pasture roaches had come home in the middle of the night, hungry and humbled. Not a sign. About an hour later my closest neighbor knocked on the door dressed for work. She had seen our sheep down the road about two miles, scattered through a recent clear cut. Oh, great, they were probably eating some of the fresh new seedlings!

Annie hopped on the ATV and came home with all thirty sheep trotting in front of her. She talked about almost missing them because they blended so well with the backdrop. Wouldn't they have loved that - to stay free for another day?! At least I didn't qualify for the worst shepherdess in the world that day. The ewes were back and it didn't appear we had lost any.

They, on the other hand, lost their freedom from that day forward. We decided, until we seeded the barn field, we would leave all the livestock locked behind secure fencing. I figured there was grass at the edges of the fields, and we could toss down extra bales of hay to spread around for forage. The horses were caught up in the bargain, but it made things simpler this way.

Now, going through four bales of hay a day, even with the addition of five tons from my local farmer, is not a good thing for conserving winter feed and, with the cooler nights, the animals seem hungrier than ever. We have had a few rains so the grass is getting greener in the unfenced pastures, but I figure it will have to be plentiful (to their knees!) before our sheep decide to stay close to home. We are almost on gun hunting season so there are additional problems if the flock decides to break out and go wandering in the woods again. Of course, if I find out who the ring leader is, I may just have to whack her over the head with a rifle butt myself!


Photos:(top) sheep in our 'dirt' field with inviting green grass down by the creek but no fence to keep them in, (bottom) horses are grazing the edges of our 'dirt' field as best they can. Will open up pastures as soon as rains start.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chasing Sheep in City Clothes


My heels were already sore from wearing nice shoes into town to match my nice outfit for a meeting. Running down the graveled dirt road in them did nothing to improve the feel or my attitude towards the four black sheep I was chasing. I had left my car turned off in the middle of the road because herding sheep as I backed up was not working that well; there was no way to turn around; and I was absent a sheep dog.

Why had we thought it such a good idea to tear up not only the hay field but most of our other grazing pasture as well this summer? Oh, yeah, the lack of good grasses and an over abundance of moss. However, now it didn't seem as if economies of scale were doing us any good. The sheep were disappearing into the woods looking for forage, and this inevitably (for the bad sheep at least) meant some of them were finding their way into the low summer creek bed, where we also lacked a fence for obvious winter flooding reasons, and hence onto Honey Grove road.

Our neighbors had taken to driving down our driveway to let us know the sheep were out. Some of them had even tried to chase the sheep back onto the property, but this was problematic, as I mentioned above, because herding with a car doesn't work that well either in reverse or driving forward. Annie and I (mostly Annie) had taken to jumping on the ATV to round up the surly lot, although I also tried the technique of ringing Pavlov's dinner bell and clapping my hands loudly. This worked best to get the horses back to the barn at a trot.

Today it was hot and dusty. The girls looked at me as if I had lost my mind when I started to back the car. A few dove off the gravel road and down the steep bank through tripping blackberries and loose rock. I got out to follow them and, as I took a step to the edge, realized I might tumble and end up in the barbed wire fence, or at least astride a woolly sheep.

It was a bit of a stand-off until I got a large stick from the side of the road. "Get out of the ditch you silly ewes!" "Move! I said, move !! Pshhh, pshhh, pshhh (I have a sound I make that actually produces movement from the sheep when they feel I mean it)." I whacked the surrounding flora for emphasis. The sheep decided to follow their sisters back up onto the road. Finally! I gave the last one a thwap with the stick anyway, just to make a point. She didn't feel a thing and I felt a hint of justice...and just a twinge of revenge.

The sheep now trotted in the direction of their escape route, down a side road and through the opening to our neighbor's property that had once been secured with a fence. It seems Joe had decided to do some work and the fence was a hindrance to his ingress and egress. Sheep just love that kind of decision-making by humans.

It was hard to follow now. The blackberries and nettles were waist high and a traipse into the overgrown field was just asking for trouble, not to mention an increasingly dark mood on my part. I heaved my stick at the fleeing sheep, hoping they were feeling badly enough to join the rest of the flock. I needed to construct some type of a physical barricade, even if this wasn't our land. I checked for branches and small downed trees to make a temporary pole fence and tried to jam what I could across the rather large opening. Good enough!

Thankfully, no cars had come bombing down the road while I was parked in the middle of it. Dirt makes it hard to control a stop and explaining why I had left my lovely new car to the vagaries of a country road, and residents known to drive a little too fast down it, just didn't add up to good sense on my part. Besides, I didn't really want to explain why our sheep were all over the neighborhood. I had already been warned about the cougar sighting twice. What kind of a shepherdess was I anyway to let my flock wander hither and yon?

Once back at the house, I took off my city clothes and my city shoes and re-dressed in jeans and Crocs. Yeah, that felt good. Tonight I would need to start graining the sheep so that coming to the bell seemed like a good thing to do. At this rate, I would also need to pull in some hay from my neighbor farmer's second cut because I wasn't going to have enough to get us through the winter.

Of course we could always cull some sheep to bring down the numbers and get rid of the laggards. I wondered if any of the escape artists today were on the list we had compiled earlier in the summer, but about which I had done nothing to date. I would have to take a better look tonight when they had their heads buried in the manger. "Come here my pretties," said the wicked witch of the West. (I hope this doesn't seem too callous, but bad sheep are a problem and they always lead others astray with them...Where have we heard that before. Hmmm.)

PS Oh, yeah, and just to be clear about the title of this blog - the sheep were not the ones wearing city clothes!

Photo: This woolly hair sheep at the front is a "cull". Her hair doesn't shed out the way it is supposed to and she produces midget lambs that she then deserts. Too bad since she has a cute face. Seems like the rest of the sheep are wondering if they are on the list too.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

White Devil Turkeys...that's what the reporter called them


Our turkeys are getting a lot of coverage this summer. First it was their dinosaur-like qualities, increasing as they grow larger. Next it was the saving of Rose, the only turkey hatchling to make it past one day old. Now our turkeys have landed themselves in a reporter's blog...because they bit him on the butt when he was out here writing a story about our farm stay experience. I believe he calls the perpetrators our "white devil turkeys". Hmmm, not a great marketing tool, but I do see what he means.

The guy was actually pretty cool about the attack. He had mentioned that he needed to get all the farm yard terms correct or he would be considered the city reporter who doesn't know how to cover a rural story. I believe I introduced him to the word "manger" in describing the hay feeder for the sheep and horses. I wonder if it rung a bell about the baby Jesus? The reporter didn't need a term for getting bit on the butt by the turkeys, but here again, there was that rural pressure to take it all in stride, so he never yelled out when it happened. Seems the reporter may have suffered a nip on the leg as well.

The turkeys are making it hard for little kids to enter the chicken yard without several distraction tactics to keep them safe. We have the "gentle foot maneuver", not a swift kick, to push the birds away. All you do is stand on one leg and use the other to move the closest bird aside. We have the "toss the mulberries and watch the turkeys gobble them up" move which works for everyone and kids find to be great fun. "One for me and one for them" also works but I usually warn parents about the staining ability of mulberries...permanent purple.

We have the: "Don't point your finger at the birds or you will get it nipped like a worm" admonition; "Try to pet a turkey and it will actually run away with a squeak" technique; "Don't worry about the turkeys on the lawn. They will fly back at their leisure" suggestion. Of course, the best solution for the kids who never figure how to dominate this crowd is to hide behind mom or dad, or just plain run away. I do hope we aren't sending any kids home with a turkey phobia!

I have included a link here to the reporter's blog which I hope stays live because it is pretty funny. http://kyleodegard.mvourtown.com/2009/07/16/white-devil-turkeys-gt-top-10-online/ . It was nice that he came out to do the story and I don't want him thinking we didn't appreciate his fortitude and bravery to take on not only the turkeys, but the donkey with the new bad habit of putting his nose between your legs and bringing it up with a jerk when he feels you are not paying enough attention to him. Beware the donkey!

At least our visiting family had nothing but nice things to say about their stay here and the shot the photographer ran with for the lead story had the most idyllic Madonna mother leaning over the manger with her son feeding the sheep. So what is with all the biblical references? I have no idea. Our guest just looked like a Raphael painting.

And the White Devil Turkeys? They are still running the show. They love little girls in pink pants and sweaters the best as they show off their feathers and strut around the chicken yard. Three-year-old's work best based on their size and eye level contact and we are specializing in those this summer (kids, not birds). As much as they can be slightly alarming in a group, there is no maliciousness, only curiosity. I suspect that Thanksgiving will once again be bitter sweet when we have to send them off. If they just didn't taste so darn good!



Photo: (top) Curious "devil" turkey wants to bite the camera lens, (bottom) Turkeys at the mulberry tree.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Death-Eaters...as in Wasps

Who knew wasps are carnivorous in August? Even hungry enough to locate a mole carcass, left outside the front door by the cat, and from thence scooped up by farmer Greg and dropped into the rolling trash bin? A mole carcass that entered the bin on Thursday afternoon, with expected pick-up the next morning?

Thursday had been a good day as Annie and I finished our evening chores of corralling and feeding animals. Our guests had not yet arrived, but I expected them soon. I stuffed a pile of old feed bags into the trash can, after saving them for months, because it was obvious I wasn't going to have time to use them for weed control so late in the summer. Time to give up on the idea. I reached for the handle of the trash container without looking, grabbed hold and immediately withdrew from a sting. It only took a nanosecond to connect the sting with the swirl of wasps rising up in the air. Dammit and dammit again. I felt a second sting on my neck before I even started running.

As I swatted at a trailing wasps, I felt for the sting and I felt for the location of my jugular. The spots seemed pretty close. I remembered the reaction I had had last summer to a wasp attack. My hand had stayed swollen for over a week. How could I have not noticed the wasps flying around the bin. Oh, yeah, I wasn't really thinking of the trash can as a wasp zone or paying that close of attention to anything other than dragging the garbage can out to the road.

With a stinging hand that was already starting to swell, I hurried into the house and popped two Benadryl, then went back out to re-look at the garbage bin. Had I been too careless to notice a nest? There were, maybe, five mad wasps flying about and the hornet spray can was near empty. Someone else could take out the trash, I decided.

On entering the cool house, I noticed my skin was starting to feel prickly. Did I remember where I had put the EpiPen from last year? I hoped it was in with all the other medicines. Funny, but I had just spoken with my health care provider about this pen. Had I had to use it? Did I know they expire? Did I know I should use an expired pen anyway if it was all I had. I looked on the yellow box sitting in the medicine basket. The pen was still good. Except now my vision was going wobbly and things were starting to blur.

Greg suggested I sit down and relax. No need to panic. Just sit back and stay calm. Now I was really starting to feel bad in a bad kind of way. All over. I closed my eyes. We needed to use the pen. Annie broke open the box and started to read the directions. I loosened my pants since the shot goes in the thigh.

Next thing I knew I was lying on the floor with my head on a pillow and Greg was putting a towel full of ice on my forehead. Annie was on the phone to 911. The paramedics were coming through the door. Could I respond? Yeah, I don't feel good but I can talk. My neighbor, part of Alsea's volunteer fire department was at my head speaking. He was being told by radio to start an IV with some more Benadryl.

More people. The dogs kept pushing open the door and getting under foot. The cat was alarmed and attentive. The Corvallis paramedics showed up, adding more people to a very small room. I was still on my back. They checked my signs. They canceled the helicopter. They loaded me into the back of the ambulance and as we drove down the dirt road from our farm passed our guests coming the other way. Annie told me they waved. The rest of the ride was rather surreal since I was facing backwards through the curves to the local hospital. I was informed people often don't do well riding backwards in ambulances. Add a mountain pass and the effect doubles.

I didn't actually start throwing up until an hour into my hospital stay. Everyone kept speaking about a second reaction that often takes place, but I don't think they mean throwing up. That would be the Epinephrine. Thankfully, I exhibited no other signs of anaphylactic shock. The hives that had turned my body red went away; my air passages were clear. I think we got home somewhere around midnight and fell into bed, although I remember Annie saying something about taking the trash can out to the road...uneventfully. The wasps were sleeping, or dead. Had she said something about spraying wasp killer on them?

The next day we greeted our guests with a short explanation. I found out a note had been left for them. Something about a family emergency. I think they had put two and two together with the ambulance and all. I heard a recount of the previous evening. Seems after the shot I had passed out for about five minutes but everything Greg and Annie did had been correct. The EpiPen had saved my life. Next time we were told don't sit around and think about using it, just use it right away. No time to waste.

Next time. Now there's a thought. There really can't be a next time, she says, as the honey bees and bumble bees buzz through the gardens. And how about the yellow jacket nests in the soil? Like the one our guest family found several days later when one of the boys stepped on it and was stung several times?! Worse still, this was a place I had walked by a million times.

We now have a new can of wasp killer spray and have located several hives and taken them out. I have three EpiPens I was sent home with: one for my purse and two in the medicine basket, although the nurse says we should put them in separate places and make sure everyone knows where they are. I may speak with the doctor about doing something to desensitize my body so I don't have such a life-and-death reaction in the event I am again stung. Sounds like a good idea.

Life and death. Now there's a funny thing. I never saw a light. I never flashed back over my life. It could have all just been over and I wouldn't have known. Dammit again. While I don't think it was that close, I never realized I could die and not know it. Too many loose ends. Too many pieces of knowledge that only I have that would make things difficult for those I left behind. Starting with passwords! Too much information to be explained, clarified, written down, detailed. And all this recognition just from being stung by a wasp on a warm summer's day when the trash needed to be taken out.



Photo: Henry and me on my birthday, three days before the wasp "attack". Couldn't resist showing a photo of the baby!

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Mmm, Stawberries mean Summer


This is the first year we have successfully grown strawberries and there is nothing better than eating your own red, ripe strawberries. Especially when they are grown in Oregon. Sweet, delicious, plentiful ... and they last for maybe two days in the fridge before you must finish them over ice cream or make jam.

I think the photos do justice to our strawberries, as well as the creeping roses cut from our wild hedgerow that every winter demands a pruner with an artistic bent to curl the new stalks in and out of the fence it holds up. Okay, the vase isn't half bad either. It's one of my treasures picked up on holiday in the Andalucian area of Spain, a place I always wanted to see after reading Driving Over Lemons, the first story to reveal a common thread of happenings on farms where animals, water, and nature challenge the human psyche from time to time.

This was not our first strawberry patch, but it was our first successful strawberry patch because this time we designed it with moles in mind. Farmer Greg took the tractor and dug out a hole a foot deep, by about 10 x 30 feet. We stretched hard cloth across the entire bottom and sides, one of the more difficult things I have done since hard cloth is actually wire mesh. Once the barrier was down, we filled our bed with a combination of sand, compost and fill and then planted our strawberry plants, some garlic, celery, and asparagus. That was two years ago.

Finally, this year the strawberries started to produce and every day I went out there were more, bigger, better fruits. We challenged our collection method by not putting in rows, but I can have pretty good balance when I have to creep into the depths of a strawberry patch for the most perfect, juiciest, red, ripe strawberries.

With such a haul and not enough time to eat it all fresh, we came up with a variety of iterations for its use. Annie made strawberry ice cream and strawberry yogurt in our fancy new machine given as a Christmas present by my mother several years ago. I think she figured if you live in the country, you should have an easy way to make ice cream. Well, here was our excuse, because other than the first summer we lived on the farm when Annie made fresh ice cream most days and I gained about 10 pounds, we had left the thing in the box for another time.

I also made some strawberry jam which is one of my favorites, right up there with raspberry jam. When it came down to skimming off the froth that forms while cooking down the fruit and pectin, I couldn't face losing any of the product, so canned the jam in a less than perfect way...except it tastes just fine!

What a harbinger of summer. Sure, you can get strawberries at other times of the year from other places on the planet, but if you want to put any energy into eating what grows seasonally and locally, then you will be eating strawberries from Oregon near the beginning of July...only.

And, if you find yourself eating these strawberries with a young child by your side, pull out one of my favorite childrens' books, The Little Mouse, the Red, Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear. It will give you a new appreciation for the fruit and how we imagine it.



Photos: (top) strawberries in a basket; (bottom) rose hedgerow near the chicken yard

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Falling Over Tree


Century-old apple trees are a thing to behold and taste, and our apple orchard is a testament to the old timers who settled this valley. The other day, we lost one of the biggest and prettiest Kings on the property. It smashed through the aged cedar rail fence that keeps the sheep off the lawn, its wide canopy laden with small, unripened fruit scattered in the grass. Certainly the spread of branches from ground level was impressive. And sad.

It's a mystery why the tree fell over, but I suspect gravity and time (of which I am becoming more and more familiar) had a fair hand at it. The day was clear. The wind blew in from the ocean, mild and gusty, but nothing to cause alarm or even worth attention. Working in my office, I thought I heard something slide and fall. Was it off the roof? Since our shake roof is slowly disintegrating, it seemed likely, but there didn't appear to be anything on the ground when I got up to look. I decided some papers on the bed near the window must have blown to the ground. Who would know? The office is piled in stacks, one as wind-swept as the next. I was late for an appointment and took off for town without wondering further about what I had heard, or maybe imagined.

Our daughters greeted me at the door on my return. Had I heard anything funny while I was home in the morning, they asked? I shook my head. No, nothing unusual, except for a sound like papers falling off a bed. Why? Caitlin asked me to follow her. Did I notice anything? With all the greenery of spring and summer, the area around our house is lush to the point of suffocation. I stood my ground and looked harder. My eyes settled on a mass of leaves crushed into the edge of a flower bed. Or, at least, what has been a flower bed.

I looked at the fence, walked around to check the torn roots of the tree, walked into the middle of the canopy spread gracefully across the lawn, and finally wondered whether any of the sheep had taken the opportunity to escape. No, the tree was too intimidating lying on its side for any free-for-all dash to the grass.

And, that was it. There was nothing to do about it. The tree was way too large to set upright again, at least with any of our equipment. It had only taken out a rhododendron in the flower bed and a fence that could be repaired. We had lost another King a year prior that had managed to take the top off an adjacent tree as it fell to the ground, making a huge mess and reducing our apple harvest by half.

That evening, I showed farmer-woodsman Greg the tree when he came home from work. Soon enough he tackled the behemoth with his chain saw and within a weekend the tree was cut up and gone to the wood pile and the burn pile. Of course we are in our no-burn season so the burn pile is the current eye-sore. We won't be able to see past it until mid-November, at least, when the rains start again in earnest, and the fire department relaxes about folks setting the mountains alight.

This tree produced a lot of apples over its lifetime and also a lot of shade in the summer. With two large trees and the top of a third gone in two years, I wonder what our orchard will look like in years to come. It is probably time to be the next old timers referred to years hence. We need to plant some new trees of our own.

Which gets me to thinking: the people who live here come and go faster than the trees they plant. I always point out the multi-trunked cedar planted by the old timers when they were little boys - which would make the tree over 100 years old. There is the Monkey Puzzle tree Gisela put in maybe thirty years ago, and the kiwi she trellised to climb up to her son's bedroom window (I'm darned if I can remember why).

Soon, there will be trees we have chosen - to propagate, to harvest, to hold the stories of who we are and what we eat. And surely someday we will be referred to as the old-timers who lived and worked this farm and who, one day, maybe for no reason other than age and gravity, fell over to make room for the next generation. (While I hope this is many years hence, it's not a bad metaphor for the passing of time and the celebration of yet another birthday!)



Photos: I took these shots of our apple tree to show how big it was because, once cut up and gone, it's hard to remember.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

No Lambs in the Chicken House!


The order has been disturbed in the chicken yard. First I introduced the bummer lambs and their new playmate ram lamb. Next I introduced 11 turkey poults. The chickens took most of this in stride as they have been dealing with three roosters ever since we house-raised two supposed hens that turned out not to be. But now things are getting a bit out of hand. Who would have thought to blame the lambs!

Instead of the proverbial fox in the hen house, we now have Piper, Eli, Dusty and Duke barging in at feeding time. The hens go squawking out the door in alarm as the four lambs crowd around the hanging feeder, making it swing wildly from the rafters as they shove their little noses into 2-grain scratch and oyster shell. And, it's not as if there is lots of room for them and me in there in the first place. There are feed bins and hen boxes and roosts that take up half the room, and the dust stirred up by four sets of sheep hooves is making me choke.

I have a method for feeding that is supposed to keep all the different animals separated into their requisite species groups, but the lambs broke ranks and now all the animals think someone else's food must be better than theirs.

I start with the turkey poults. While they don't actually 'think' about anything as far as I can tell, they do jump at me when I have food in the scoop. If I am not careful I get my fingers pinched, which is pretty irritating. And I yell. As much as I try to keep the screen door pulled-to, there is always a chicken or lamb attempting to barge in for turkey food and the poults, in their frenzy to feed, don't even notice.

Next I feed the lambs their bottles because this is a total distraction for them. 30 seconds later (!) I march off to the grain bin and try to convince the little darlings, with their milk mustaches, that rolled corn and molasses covered pellets is the way to get off the powdered milk ...sooner than later (weaning is right around the corner). The chickens come over for a look-see.

Back in the chicken house, I fill my scoop full of scratch and some whole corn and exit out to spread breakfast for our 13 chickens and one goose. There is a pecking order so I make sure to spread some of the grain out of sight, otherwise Peeps, one of our pets, has to rely on bugs and grass for the day. I make a quick dash into the enclosure with the tom turkey and his girlfriend, trying to dump their food before the tom has time to fly off the roost at me. We are definitely not getting along, and he is closer to becoming Thanksgiving dinner than he knows...although I do wonder what a 2-year-old bird tastes like.

I finish up with a handful of whole corn for the peacock, Fred, pacing back and forth on the outside of the yard, the only 'free' bird in the flock. Sometimes he has to fight off our senile dog, Patches, and the neighbor dog, Louis, but at least the pushy lambs are on the other side of the fence.

Which leads me back to the lambs. At this point they have hit everyone's food choice in the yard and are back in the chicken house looking for scraps. I stopped chasing them out the human door once I discovered they had a method for squeezing through the miniature chicken door. Dusty barely fits, but Piper and Eli know how to get down on their knees and wiggle through, scattering chickens as they go. Their only challenge, the goose lying in wait to bite them on the nose when they exit, which he does from time to time. Some might say they deserve it.

Photo: Piper and Eli peek out the door of the chicken coop as if to say, "Who us?" and/or, "Where's that darned goose?"

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Wisteria Outhouse


There are signs on this old farm of life from a distant era, one that feels almost as far away as the Middle Ages. One vestigial piece is the outhouse, wired for light in the 1950s, when electricity finally came to the property but plumbing had not. Pieces of decaying knob and tube hang loose above the entry door.

The second family to live here added a stained glass window. I suppose we are probably the only ones in the area to have one of these, although the tilt of the house has put a crack through the middle of it. Combine this with the trailing Wisteria cathedraling over the small building and the image of the outhouse changes all together.


It's more of a conversation piece these days than a utilitarian feature of our property. I suppose we keep it because you never know when the power might go out for a very long time and we would regret its loss. There is a bucket of lime left over from the last tenants and even some poetry written on one of the walls. The building leans a little more each year and awhile back we (I) decided to re-roof the house to preserve what little of the structure was left. (It was at this point I wondered if we should have started with a more secure foundation!)

This became an opportunity for me to learn the basics of shake roofing. We didn't cut new shingles, but reused those in good shape pulled from the barn. I sat on a ladder with my barn-roofing friend as he tried to remember exactly how to place the shingles for overlap. I am not totally convinced we put the roof on the correct way, but for an unused outhouse it seemed good enough...and better than the bathrooms in our house that now use tarps to stop the winter rains!

What I like most about this outhouse is how it presents in the spring. The young purple flowers of the Wisteria set against the old barn gray wood are easy to capture in a photograph. Every year I take a photo or two, just for the irony of it! I added my own bit of whimsy to the building several years ago when I found a bird house made like a stacked outhouse, one for girls and one for boys. I nailed it to the telephone pole at the back of the building just for kicks... and to see if anyone would ever notice.

I feel a 'moment' coming on. An outhouse ode to spring? A shot at a non-rhyming poem? Here's what I've got so far:

The Wisteria Outhouse

When purple flowers bloom and fall around your weathered wood
And young birds rest upon your wizened roof
As well they should
When creepers trail through cedar seats and wrap along the walls
And light falls brightly through the cracked stained glass
And lands upon the poem in the stall

I marvel at the strangeness of it all...

An outhouse decorated by the spring
To wear a mantle made of leaves until the fall




Photos: top - leaning outhouse; middle - stained glass in the outhouse; bottom - bird houses as outhouses

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jurassic Park on the Honey Grove


I've always imagined the possibility of some latent strain of dinosaur living in our primeval woods surrounding our pastures. Maybe it wasn't really a cougar that hauled off all those lambs several summers ago. Could it have been a velociraptor? Too many Jurassic Park movies, I know, and too many repeats on TV.

But, it does occur to me, as we currently host eleven large turkey poults, that Steven Spielberg probably took a flock of turkeys running through a field, lopped off their heads (digitally), replaced with dinosaur look-alikes, changed up the feathers a bit, and voila, the actors were ducking behind a large log as the animals came racing at them chased by a T-Rex!

I suspect this because of my own baby dinosaurs in the chicken yard. They are so different from chickens. They stick together in a pack and if one has an idea the others will follow. "Let's jump up on the fence rail." "Let's jump into the grape vine." "Let's see what is happening over here." "Look, I can fly." "Me too." "Me too." This is one way to exhibit limited brain power.

To add a little civility for the poor chickens trapped with this maniac crew, we lock the poults in their own area for the night. Here they can push and shove each other. Here, I can sequester them for an evening and morning meal, behind a locked gate so it is more easy to attend to the other animals in the yard, including our three bottle fed lambs. The yelling and carrying on when I enter their pen is amazing, and I have to be fast with the food or I am likely to get my fingers pinched. As it is, I have to warn guests they may have their feet or clothing pecked when they enter. For the small kids and parents alike, it is a rather alarming scene and many remain outside the enclosure until they have a full handle on what to expect. Some never come in!

The sole goose in the chicken yard tries to herd our baby turkeys. He is successful if they pay attention to him, but, as they grow older, he is more like the grumpy uncle. The lambs fight for their red nippled bottles, even as the poults drag them off. I have come back to the house several times without all my bottles, having turned my back for a second as one of the poults dives in and drags one into the tall grass. They will chase each other for dibs on the treasure. Of course, these are empty bottles. Second example of their very tiny brains.



Other times, the turkeys nip at the lambs and pull wool out in tufts. Mostly, the lambs know to stay away if they can, but every now and again, a crafty bird will approach from behind and give a big yank. They don't eat the wool, but rather like a baby, have to try everything just in case. Third example. Funnily enough, the lambs don't turn around and knock the turkeys over, even though they are 10 times the size.

Even while the poults are imposing as a group, the rats under the chicken coop are unfazed. We bought this batch of turkey poults from a breeder because we were concerned our own tom and hen turkey might not produce enough offspring for sale this year. At one point, the hen was sitting on 12 eggs. I took four eggs and placed them under a broody chicken hen as a safety measure. She hatched one and then let it die!

The turkey hen was diligent about setting, but I started to notice rat holes appearing near her nest. I checked and she had four eggs left. She kept setting until it seemed the days were up and she should have hatched them all. I looked and she had one day-old chick. There were signs the other chicks had hatched, but there were no babies present. Did the rats carry them off? Too grim to consider! I decided to act and took the chick from her, placing it a wire cage in the kitchen with a warm light and plenty of food and water. One chick out of 12. Not a great statistic. Annie has named 'her' Rose.

I doubt dinosaurs had this much trouble reproducing, but then again, humans never interfered with their natural breeding tendencies. Even these Heritage turkeys show interference and a lack of nurturing instincts. Then again, rats are a hardy lot. Look at Templeton in Charlotte's Web. I know our cat, Bubba, isn't that interested in taking on a rat, and he will take on just about anything.

So, today, I head out to close in all the holes and tighten up the chicken coop to discourage the rats. Hopefully, our hen will try another clutch and then we will have varying ages of flocking baby turkeys to remind us just how scary it might have been if these birds where as big and fast as our horses!



Photos: (top) turkey poults underfoot and pecking at my boots; (middle) goose trying to organize the poults with rooster ignoring it all and heralding the sunrise; (bottom) bottle robbers

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Virus Among Us


It seemed like a good idea to bring a young ram lamb onto our farm. I mean, who wants inbred sheep? And the thought of a cross-bred hair sheep had this shepherdess all in a dither - with the potential for spotted sheep, no less. Ever working on my naivite when it comes to all things ag, it never crossed my mind we might be introducing something onto our farm that we didn't want, like a virus.

I have now learned a new term. When you speak of a virus-free or disease-free flock or herd, you call it a 'closed' flock. Nothing comes in and nothing goes out. Rather like a science fiction movie. Rather like a shepherd who knows what questions to ask.

But let's back up. Before ever thinking we might be contaminating our stable herd, it seemed reasonable to look for some way to increase the physical size of our lambs. Bringing in Katahdin hair sheep took care of the shearing problem and they even had nice personalities, but we soon discovered their offspring take forever to put on weight, and some never do. Crossing Romney and Suffolk (we call them 'woolies') and Katahdins brings some size, but then there is the wool problem.

Annie decided to put her genetics training to work and find us a solution. I had heard that OSU ran Dorpers. A little research later and we discovered this alternative hair sheep was bigger than the Katahdin and many lamb breeders were beginning to cross the two.

It's amazing what Craig's List has opened up in the way of shopping for anything, even Dorper ram lambs. We found just what Annie was looking for about an hour away with the requisite RR genetics, although at the moment I can't remember why this is so important. On a sunny spring day we drove my little Toyota truck over to the farm and picked out not my first choice, because he was already sold, but the second choice based on head and chest size...and feet.

Dorpers are known for their interesting coloring, often with black heads and white bodies. We managed to select a white Dorper because of the above-mentioned features, not because I thought he was the prettiest. We were assured his coloring was an anomaly and he would throw spotted lambs.

Annie had obviously thought through the introduction process for this young ram because we wanted him to feel comfortable around us - not overly friendly, but willing to come close. We would put the three bottle fed babies (Dusty, Eli, and Piper) into the chicken yard with our new purchase. This would make feeding easier and give the ram lamb time to get to know his competition and, soon to be field friends, Red and Piglet on the other side of the fence. We hadn't supposed the goose would mind.

Boy, were we wrong. First thing out, the goose grabbed our new ram by the lip and wouldn't let go. Then he grabbed him by the butt. We noticed his lip was bloody (all the goose got with the butt was a lot of wool). The goose then took it upon himself to start herding the lambs all around the yard. The lambs learned to give him a wide berth.

The bloody lip should have gotten better, but as the days went on, Annie and I noticed that our ram lamb had more and more sores around his mouth. I happened to mention this to a new sheep friend. She would ask her husband. He came back with something called Sore Mouth.

I called Oregon State's vet school and Annie started to look online. The reality hit. We had just introduced a highly infectious disease onto our farm with no real cure. Not only were we likely to infect all our sheep, the soil where the sheep were housed would carry the virus for up to 10 years unless there was a hard frost. Great, and we had really started to like this little boy - calm and cool...just what we wanted.

Two weeks later we returned the ram to his former owner for a full refund. That night at feeding we determined that all three of our bottle-fed lambs had the virus!

POST SCRIPT The ram is back on our farm because: 1) either most of our flock is infected (difficult to believe because our sheep were fields away from the ram lamb) or 2)our sheep, including the lambs, are allergic to buttercup, making their nostrils break out in sores. We think this is more likely since it happened to one of our horses several years ago in spring. The breeder agrees. He showed the lamb to shepherd friends and no one thought the outbreak looked like Sore Mouth. Phew! Now we just need to wait for the buttercup to stop blooming!


Photos: (top) Dusty, Eli, and Piper, (bottom) no-name ram lamb

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Almost Good Enough to Eat

Our adult turkeys must be duds because there are no nests and no eggs and thus no babies. What to do?! Enter the most fabulous catalogue ever invented - the Murray McMurray Hatchery catalogue, filled with birds of all colors, sizes, breeds, and types. Like shopping in a candy store! Our order of fifteen Heritage turkey poults (a variety pack) just arrived and now our Bronzes are in for the fight of their life...although I do wonder what two year old turkey tastes like.

At first we had the turkeys in a cage in the kitchen, but we have never had so many little birds at once and the conversation turned to overcrowding and the fact that Bubba kept sticking his paw through the wire mesh. We lost one bird the first night and another the next morning. Kind of expected, but tough all the same, especially as Heritage turkeys cost a whole lot more than little chicks. We knew it was harder raising turkeys, but the Thanksgiving benefits usually dollar cost average the losses for a relatively good profit.

We needed a better locale and Annie was actually the one to come up with a potential location. She had spied a section of the potting shed just off the workshop, a triangular area waist high with a dirt base. Used for years to store old plastic pots, a quick cleanup of the area revealed good space and an electric outlet. The only immediate problem? Cat access and the large rat hole at the back.

We plugged the hole, put down some straw, hung the heat lamp, and placed the remnants of some wire mesh known as hardcloth over the chicks, like a Quansot hut. The chicks loved the space but we soon realized this was a one night solution. Once enclosed, there was no way to reach the chicks, change their water, or give them food!

The idea was right. It was the execution that lacked imagination. I called Manuel for a creative solution since he is the king when it comes to making something from nothing, using only the materials at hand (Home Depot has seen a steep decline in my business since Manuel came into our lives!)

When Manuel first began to build the turkey "coop", the poults were inside it. Annie was worried they might die of stress, or a falling 2x4. Anyway, it was time for some imprinting and a little freedom on the grass. She scooped the chicks into a cardboard box and carried them to a protected spot on the lawn under one of the apple trees. She let them loose around her and tried to keep track of twelve chirping babies with Cisco at her side and Bubba in the bushes.



I happened to be in the kitchen and chuckled when I saw what was going on. Of course, I had to run for the camera because Cisco was being pushed to his limit with babies touching his feet and tail and imprinting on him instead of Annie. The fierce dog had become a lamb, but beware the black cat that tried to paw his charges or the goofy Louie who wanted to bounce into the fray. These babies were Cisco's responsibility. "Just don't touch the feet, not the feet!"

So I took these photos of a very confused dog. He looks as if he might eat one of the turkeys as soon as defend it, but the camera misses the furrowed brow as he bends his head low. "Are you okay, baby turkey? Why are you making all that noise?"



In the end, everyone relaxed in the sun and the turkeys stayed close-by, searching the ground for yummy things to eat. Amazingly, they have the instinct from birth to peck, but have to be taught to drink water! Silly, stupid birds. The sun warmed to grass; Annie and Cisco soaked up the spring weather; Manuel finished the enclosure; and the poults were introduced to their new home in no time. Of course, one snap of the jaws and we could have lost a turkey or two, but Cisco forgot his heritage for just a little while and all were safe in the end. Safe until Thanksgiving, anyway...
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All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Of Kids and Lambs


It's hard to take bad photos of children and lambs. When they are in the same shot, every picture becomes a holiday card for next December's mailing. Mostly these children are the daughters of our guests, little girls with an inate desire to hold our young lambs on their laps and feed them bottles of milk. So much better than a doll. Little brothers have been roped into the act as well, but often lose interest after a short time and wander off toward the tractor.

As much as I have felt the need to share our farm in a farm stay experience with guests who were strangers until their arrival, I now need to share the keen eye of these guest photographers who have captured fleeting moments on our farm with their kids. Often I have been standing beside these parents as they pointed their camera, wishing I had my own on hand. Note to self - never walk around the farm without a camera!

Luckily, I am the recipient of many of those fine shots. The photos in this pictorial blog have been sent to me in emails filled with wonderfully kind words about staying with us on the farm, experiencing life in the country, and interacting with our animals. Mostly about our animals! "How is Paco?" and "Is TW still little?". "How about Tater?". "Have the turkeys laid any eggs yet?"

This photo essay shows kids in love, kids at play, kids simply joyful with the experience of holding a small, woolly lamb in their arms. I like the distant shots too. The kid on the swing in our apple orchard frames the sheep in the distance. The young shepherdess in the first and last photos fell in love with TW (stands for Teenie Weenie)and became his playmate for her short stay with us. I think there were tears all the way home.

To all our guests out there who have sent me their wonderful photos, thank you! It was hard to choose for this. Oh, yeah, and for privacy's sake, I'm not using any names or putting these anywhere but on this blog. All I can say is, these shots are hard to beat because as much as they show kids in love, they were taken by parents in love. May these photos bring back memories for years to come!


All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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