Monday, March 30, 2009


It's been raining cats and dogs and now it is raining lambs and we aren't even out of March yet. Maybe I should focus more on the old phrase, "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb," or, in this case, lambs. Our ewes appear to be lambing earlier than usual because Red let himself 'free' two weeks into October. Apparently the girls were just waiting for their chance. As of today, we have 22 lambs and more are dropping every day!

There have been a few tragedies so far, as happens during many lambing seasons. Lambs not cleaned off by their mothers will die from asphyxiation. Did the ewe inherently know this lamb would be weak or did she just not wish to feed so many babies? Did she even think about it? Another morning I arrived too late to help a ewe with her babies stuck sideways inside her. She was barely alive and try as I might, I could not get the first lamb unstuck. The ewe looked at me, lay down her head, and died. I wondered whether I could have saved the babies if I had just tried a little harder, but my vet neighbor said the lambs were probably already dead and there was nothing I could have done without a scalpel and a C-Section. A bit beyond my expertise.

Of course, this makes our lambing season sound horrible, when in reality every day we are carrying more and more bouncing babies into the barn for a few days of bonding with their mothers, some observation, some shots, an ear tag, and quiet. Watching them play in the stalls, at only several days old, always brings a giggle and a smile. The girls perform well for our farm stay guests as the miracle of life is enacted in front of their eyes.

For one family, in particular, this will always be a memorable March. They fed young lambs. They carried in new lambs from the field when we discovered more than I could handle on my own. They followed my sighting of buzzards overhead and accompanied me to the other side of the creek to pick up just born twins. And, as we dropped these near the barn, they watched a mom give birth to the third of three lambs. They also observed this same ewe rejecting one of them.

There are times when a ewe will decide, even as her baby struggles to nurse for the first time, that she doesn't want it. The lamb becomes something called a 'bummer' and requires human bottle feeding to survive. I am more aware these days to watch from birth for signs of rejection. I will hand-nurse a ewe for several days in an attempt to feed as much colostrum and mother's milk to her baby as possible. This makes the lamb smell "right" to the mom, but it rarely works to rebond the two. Switching to formula is expensive and requires regular 4-hour feedings to start. This doesn't make me a happy camper. My solution: bring the lamb in the house for several days so middle of the night feedings aren't so cold for either of us.

Enter the rejected lamb, LIBby, or so I named her in the end. Usually a name comes to me out of thin air but this little, white lamb just didn't speak her name so I could hear. I began to refer to her as the "lamb in the box" because I can't have baby lambs piddling on the rug and scaring the cat when they stay inside with us, so I set up a cardboard box with straw, placed near the old grandfather clock. It's a good spot - nice and warm and central to the household.

During our guests' stay, the mom and her daughters often held the LIB. Soft and warm, taken to nuzzling, I could sense a bond I wasn't sure could go anywhere. We have had plenty of children in tears as they left the farm and their favorite play mates. I made a joke. "Do you want to take the lamb with you?" To my surprise, this conversation had already been going on in the family. They thought they could keep the lamb in the condo to start and then there were friends with five acres who might like a lambmower. I pointed out the benefits of a Katahdin. No shearing, just hoof trimming.

They left without the lamb, not for not wanting her, but needing to lay the groundwork. Several calls and a day later, I drove my lamb in her box 35 miles to the Interstate where we had a sheep drop at a trucker restaurant! I pulled my newly named LIBby from the front seat and presented her to her new owner, the friend with 5 acres on the outskirts of Portland. She told me she would probably ditch the box for her radiant heat kitchen floors. This would be LIBby's new playground until she was large enough to spend the night outside. What a happy ending for this lamb. Love and attention as if for a dog. Our guests, as close visitors, to pet and brush her. A chance at a long life. Who could have predicted it might end this way?!

My only sorrow - I never took a photo of LIBby in her box. But, I do have several shots of her right before we loaded her into the car for her adoption. She's a cute girl. Hopefully, there will be future photos to come, and I will be able to report on her progress as a city lamb with a lawn as her pasture.

Photo: (top) Annie and Libby just prior to the lamb's adoption. Libby is 3 days old and has just started to take a bottle; (bottom) Cisco, the dog, walked into the shot and gave Libby a big lick in the face...probably because she tasted of milk!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mushroom Logs

I always thought mushrooms grew out of old logs by some act of nature too complex to understand (if your last biology class was as long ago as mine). We grew up on the toadstools of Alice in Wonderland and the Wind in the Willows, after all.

Here in the Northwest's coastal rainforest there are all sorts of weird things growing on logs, from mushrooms and moss to fungi used by the old-timers like ivory scrimshaw. Enter the human quest for variety, even as chanterelles and morels grow wild in our hills. Enter the Honey Grove Mushroom Company. At least that is what I am calling it for now.

If one feels like a mountain man (or woman) and has good, woodsy friends in the "know", then one can actually buy mushroom starts (a.k.a. mycology spores) and drill thousands of little holes into oak and maple and alder logs for may weekends in a row, with these same friends at your side, and the music blaring, as you stand in the car port and bat off the cold, damp, early March chill.

After filling these thousands of holes with the mycelium plugs and syringing melted wax on top of the holes to protect each plug, you end up with a pile of logs you have hopefully tagged so to remember the difference between the yellow oysters and the white, the meitakes and the shitakes, the lion's mane and whatever else came in the bags of funny, worm looking things.

This has been our main "event" for the past several weekends. Our mushroom plugs actually arrived in January and some of the more industrious in the group set right to it. Problem was, you have to find the right kind of wood to screw these little buggers into. It can't be just any wood and, since we specialize in an abundance of alder here, it, of course, wasn't on the good wood list for most of the mushroom starts.

Where to find oak in the Coast Range became the chant, at least at our household? Some of our friends scoured the valley area around Corvallis for friends with oak they didn't mind felling. That was the other part of the prerequisite. The wood couldn't be new, but it couldn't be old. Felled within 2-3 weeks was just right. What! This would mean you had time to scout the trees, convince the landowner you were just going to take down a few, leave them lay for several weeks, and still have time to come back and buck them up to fit in the back of the truck. And, the drilling and plugging hadn't even begun!

I had no idea where to find oak because we don't have that many friends in the valley, but why go so far afield? There was an oak stand right down at the end of Honey Grove Road and I had noticed a toppled tree that probably fell in January. I called the owner, a local logger, and told him what we were doing. "Sure, go ahead. Just don't let the cows out". I promised to trade him some gate latches for the wood.

I would like to say that we were smart by waiting until two of the four families had completed the mushroom plugging experiment. We certainly capitalized on not copying their mistakes, but really we were just late to the races, as they say. For once this was to our benefit. Our neighbor drilled his plugs too deep and may or may not see mushrooms out of his logs. His vet wife figured out how to melt the wax on the barbecue and use a syringe to get it in the holes, of which she gave us her leftovers from her vet bag. This was a great piece of field ingenuity!

Karen and Allen, after reading up on mushrooms and searching for techniques of plugging online, suggested we should team up with them to see if we could improve the process forged by our pioneer friends. With two teams of two working together, I think we had the more efficient production line because the job really broke out into 4 parts. There was the drilling of holes, the setting of plugs, the hammering of plugs, and the waxing of the top of the plug. Over two weekends we were able to insert all 6000 plugs and still stand up straight at the end of the day!

The logs have since been stacked in the woods in Lincoln log piles, some more artfully done than others. We have all chosen spots we think mushrooms might find attractive, either down by the Honey Grove Creek, under a canopy of fir and moss, or, in our case nestled into the side of a north facing hill not far from our spring holding tank.

Our location, while tantalizing for mushrooms, poses somewhat of a problem for collection. It's not as if I can peak out the kitchen door to see if a flush is coming on. I will have to make regular trips across the creek to check the logs. Whether the sheep will beat me to it, I don't know.

In the end, we won't know whether our technique worked any better than our friends' for at least 6 months and as long as two years. Don't expect the Honey Grove Mushroom Co. in a grocery near you anytime soon or maybe ever, but I like the sound of the name and maybe we will adopt it as our signature when referring to the act of standing in the cold with friends and music and a task at hand.

Photo: (top) Karen, Greg, and me sinking mycelium plugs into an oak log; (middle) a closer look at what we were doing; (bottom) Allen drilling the holes for the plugs

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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