Playing Arborist

We recently visited a nursery to research what kinds of trees we might plant in the pasture to grow a little shade for the goat and sheep. It has to grow fast and do well in full sun, dry stretches in summer, and cold winds in winter. They pointed out some interesting options, such as a Kentucky Coffee Tree. They also suggested more common Michigan trees such as the Tulip or Catalpa. Either way, it will be a significant expense to buy the trees and have them delivered and planted for us. We said we were just doing preliminary research and they reminded us that it is better wait and to plant trees during the dormant season in late fall or early spring.

Coming home, I began wondering if we could just find little starts of trees around the farm and nurture them along. I had seen a sweet little tulip tree sprouted among our bushes that I hadn’t weeded out yet. Perhaps I could pot it and put it into the pasture in the fall. I walked about the fields this afternoon and came across a good size catalpa that has probably been mowed down each spring and then pops back up when it is safe to reappear.

I dug around the catalpa to see how deep the roots were. The ground was dry as a bone, but the tree was growing vigorously. As I loosened the sandy soil, I found a network of thin horizontal roots about six inches down and quite easy to shake loose. In the center, though, was a big tap root going straight down as far as I was able to dig. I worked on it until I hit what felt like solid rock, about twenty inches farther down. I chopped the end of the root and pulled out the tree, hurrying to the barn to find a pot tall enough to cover both the tap root and the surface roots.

I don’t know if this will work, but if it fails and dies, we are no worse off than when we had to mow it down every spring. If it does survive, I will feel like the savior of a useful tree who found a safe haven after all these years. A win-win.

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Late Spring Cleaning – Quarantine Style

I believe it is a recognized current trend that people stuck at home are digging into big cleaning projects they had put off forever. We got really ambitious yesterday and rented a Rug Doctor to spruce up our carpets. I think we got a little carried away because since we knew we’d have it for 24 hours, we threw our area rugs into the mix. The one in the picture is my favorite, an expensive dense wool rug we bought used which has followed us to five different homes in fifteen years.

wool rug

When we began investing in good quality rugs for the house, suppliers warned us to only have them professionally cleaned by the stores that sell them. I found early on that the cost and trouble of doing this is so significant that we never took them in at all. This year, we took a chance by using the machine on them anyway. In fact, I confess that my husband got overzealous and took the power washer to them as well. I don’t see any damage, just brighter colors than we have seen in years.

They all got quite heavy when they were wet, but none came even close to the weight of the thick wool rug. It was like dragging a sleeping elephant across the floor.We managed to get them all out into the sunshine so that by the end of the day they were all clean, dry, and replaced into their normal resting places. The moral of the story is that taking a risk to clean an old, dirty rug is better than being afraid to even try and living with whatever the vacuum cleaner cannot suck out.

One caveat to this happy ending was that we were utterly exhausted by the end of the day, creaking bones and aching muscles barely able to drag us up the stairs to bed. Thank God for Motrin and the healing power of sleep.

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Summer Preserving Projects

My husband and I both delight in growing and preserving our own stuff, and July is a high month for that activity. Today’s post is about Joe’s projects. He saw something on Pinterest about making sour cherry brandy and as this is cherry season in Michigan, he found a local source and brought home 25 pounds.

It will be a several-week long project of daily stirring a mixture of cherries and sugar while the little red morsels bubble and ferment. The cheesecloth lid is designed to let the gases escape. Once the fermentation is done, he’ll strain it and add Everclear (100% alcohol!) and set it aside till Christmas.

cherries fermenting

I was forced to use up the remaining gallon or two of cherries so I made a pie and froze several bags of cherry pie filling for later. What an imposition to have to eat cherry pie!

The next big project was honey. Joe is a beekeeping mentor for the local college’s Agriculture program, and with the kids not on campus he had to extract the honey from the two hives without their help. I stepped in and played the supporting role, and we were a very efficient team. I was surprised that we pulled off almost six gallons of golden honey! We bottled it up today to give back to the program and hopefully they will be able to sell it to help support their projects.

We have several hives on the farm as well, and they are next on the schedule to get robbed. The process takes several hours in the heat because first you have to open each hive and select the frames that are full of honey capped with wax. Then you use a soft brush to knock the bees off the frame, quickly slide it into a box, and cover it with a towel so the bees don’t hop back on. We have three or four boxes of 10 frames on each hive, so this is a slow and tedious process. The bees do not like it, either, so we are both fully suited up to prevent them from showing us just how annoyed they are.

We haul the boxes back to the barn and quickly close all the doors so the bees do not find us and tell all their comrades about the hidden treasure. We then begin working like clockwork. Joe hands me a frame and I slice off the wax capping on both sides and drop two frames into the extractor. He cranks it and it spins like a centrifuge to spit the honey out onto the walls of the machine, then we pull the frames out, turn them over, and he cranks it again to empty out the other side.

Once all are done, we replace the emptied frames into the hive and the bees get busy making a second batch of honey which will keep them alive over the long winter months. Since we only remove the wax capping, they can reuse the cells without having to start over from scratch.

We drain all the honey into a special bucket with a faucet and a week later we pour it into jars like the ones we filled today. These are for my coffee and to give to friends. I’m not passionately attached to beekeeping, but I do really like having our own honey. As long as they are willing to do their part of the work, we will do what we can to support them.

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Clean, Fresh Goat

Poor Eddy was hot, sweaty, and panting in the sliver of shade under the big wooden spools. It was a heavy humid day with no breeze and I decided we’d both benefit from a hosing down. I got a halter on him and tied him to a fence post so he couldn’t bolt, and must have used half a cup of “Dirty Dog” shampoo on him, but he came out so cool, fresh, and fluffy once he’d dried in the sun. He is now way more comfortable than the lambs and I think he would thank me if he could use his words.

I have never done this when his hair is long before and I don’t know why I never thought of it. I mean, when I shear the hair off him I have to wash it anyway, so surely it does no harm. Think how yucky it must feel to be covered in hair that never gets washed. I only wish I could grab the sheep to give them the same treatment, although I know their wool has different properties due to the lanolin in it. Even if I don’t scrub them down I know I’ll still have to find a way to get hands on them to check their hooves pretty soon.

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ZOOM World

The world we live in now has changed in so many ways. It seems like we adapted overnight to the constraints of meeting remotely. My laptop microphone didn’t seem to be up to the task. When I was in meetings on Zoom, people often said they couldn’t quite hear me so I had to move closer and project my voice stronger. I ended up with a sore throat from the added strain of an hour of speaking loudly.

video screen
Picture of a picture of a Zoom persona

So, I bought myself a headset. It makes me look like some sort of radio personality, but it’s so much more comfortable to conduct a meeting. This morning I finally resumed sessions with the person I tutor in literacy. I found I had to wiggle the connections a bit to get everything just right, but it was such a joy to once again see the face and enjoy the company of my friend. She went back to reading me stories and asking me for explanations of a turn of phrase here and there. Loving language, this is really fun and fulfilling for me.

Although I have to work around barking dogs and other interruptions, I discovered I kind of like being able to sit comfortably at home to see and hear people without always taking a couple hours out of my day to drive to and from meetings. As soon as the meeting is over I’m back to the kitchen getting a beverage or off to my knitting or visiting the barn. It’s heaven!

I’m on the Board of my church and we are continually assessing the safety of allowing people to use the building or the grounds. Our services are all online now, and probably will be so for many months. We have concluded that we will continue broadcasting services on FaceBook Live even after the Covid crisis has ebbed, to bring the experience to those who are staying home. This means more trained volunteers to manage the technical aspects, and my husband and I took the training last night. We are technology people, but it is a little nerve-wracking to take responsibility for making the whole service work.

I do worry about the people who are not comfortable using teleconferencing tools to stay connected – the elderly and the stubborn. I, myself, fall into the “stubborn” category when faced with setting up accounts on social media. I don’t like the lack of privacy and the behavior of people on FaceBook and refused to join until the only way to view church was through that portal. I keep my information to a bare minimum and do not accept or invite friends. I set up a Twitter account when I was taking a web development class, but quickly learned that I did not like the intrusion into my life of all those tweeting opinions. I am quickly becoming a dinosaur as a result of my cautious nature.

Still, life moves on around us and we can become a boulder in the river – fighting the current and being worn away by it – or we can go with the flow and be swept away like all the other detritus. Which sounds worse?

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Woes of an Orchard Farmer

The problem is, I am not really a farmer, in that I don’t know much about what I am doing. It is all trial and error, lots of error. I do read the instructions when I can find them, but my expertise is woefully thin.

This is the year we should begin harvesting apples, peaches, and cherries from the little orchard we planted. In the last frosts of the spring, we lovingly covered the blossom-laden trees with sheets to protect them for three nights in a row. The blossoms did not fall off and I felt triumphant. Unfortunately, there are only three apples growing on the four apple trees.

I overcame my disappointment by reveling in the fact that one peach tree was covered in little round nuggets of fruit. There were two peach trees, but this year after the frost the second one never bloomed and the leaves that had sprouted failed to grow. We pulled it out along with the two cherry trees that also failed to thrive.

sick peaches

So, anyway I was pinning all my hopes on that one little peach tree. Strangely, though, I began to notice clear bubbles of sap crusting the surface of the peaches. I’ve never done this before, so maybe it is normal, right? No. A few weeks later, they are mummifying and surrounded in amber-like blankets of dried peach juice. I do not see any insects, but it must be something boring into the skin of the fruit. The leaves are beginning to yellow, as well.

I had this ideal in my head that I would grow my produce without having to spray poisons, just nice natural compost and loving kindness. In reality, it comes down to a decision – do I want to ever eat from my gardens or do I want to waste my time and effort for no rewards? I feel foolish and frustrated. Next year, I will gather all the information I can find and protect my crops from the weather, the fungal spores, and the ravaging insects. Then, I will make pie.

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Patriot Sweater

I am happy with the final version of this sweater I made for a friend. It is all home-spun mohair and so it is quite warm and fuzzy, way too much so to wear until the fall. What I am finding is that experience pays off. I am much better at prepping and spinning the fiber and also have gotten a lot smarter in my knitting. My friend is a very small woman with short little arms and I could not try this on myself to see how it will fit, so I did my best to make everything true to the measurements she sent me. It has the “drop shoulder” design, so it all comes down to where inside the sweater her shoulders end. I met her on her front porch with one arm basted in and found it was two inches too short. I took it home, unraveled both sleeves and I think this time it will be right. I hope so because I used up almost all the yarn I have in those colors.

Then, under Covid lockdown, I did not feel good about wandering the craft stores looking for just the right buttons. Instead I went to Etsy and browsed for an hour. Am I the only one finding that this quarantine is showing me some new and perhaps better ways of doing things?

Now that the project is done, my fingers are craving something new to keep them busy while I listen to music or watch TV at night. I already finished a sock, once again learning new things about how to make the next pair fit better. The sharp little sock knitting needles wear holes in my index finger and when the needle pokes me in just the wrong place, I yelp in pain. I guess I’ll have to find something to protect my fingers if I’m going to make this a new habit.

Tonight, I am kind of excited that I’ll be hosting a quintet of french horn players out in our open-air barn setting. A local band was not able to perform their normal summer concert series during the lock-down, and the horn section invited me to fill in their quintet to record a few pieces. I know all of them, having played in bands with two and knowing the other two from my home town. I even get a uniform shirt to match theirs, so I am “posing” as a regular member. If it goes well, I’ll see if I am allowed to post a link to our recording.

french horn
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First Garlic

This is our first experience harvesting garlic, and what a haul! My husband planted it last October, and let it sit all winter and spring. Finally, you dig it up after the leaves begin to brown, wash it off, and braid it into clumps to hang and dry. I think we buy a few bulbs a month at the store, so this should last us a good while. (There is a second pile on the ground next to the bench.)

garlic harvest

We’ve finished the spring stuff: spinach, asparagus, strawberries, salad greens, and peas. Now the zucchini has started producing and the cucumbers and green beans are just beginning to blossom. It is my job to harvest and process the goods, so I’ll be busy for several months. We will have okra for the first time and I have no idea what to do with it, short of deep frying. That’s not the healthiest of options but I don’t want to waste it. I know it gets pretty slimy when you throw it in a stew. It will be a bit of an adventure to learn to eat something new.

It has been very hot this week, in the 90’s, and I am feeling bad for the flock. Last year we bought a big canopy to give the goats extra shade but they didn’t care to use it and a big wind twisted the legs and collapsed it. This year I am thinking we should plant a few fast-growing shade trees. We’ll have to put strong fencing around the bottoms to protect them from Eddy the mischievous goat. It’s for his benefit but he just loves destroying things.

The lambs huddle down in a little clump in their shed most of the time, but in the morning they squeeze into a patch of shade before the sun rises too high in the sky.

lambs in shade

I felt bad for them all, being so hot and covered in thick wool, so as I refreshed their water trough this afternoon, I turned the hose on Eddy. He turned and ran into the shed, kicking his hind legs out in protest. The lambs came trotting out of the shed to see what was going on, and I turned the hose to rain down on their backs. They loved it! It never ceases to amaze me how different species have such unique preferences.

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Vine Patrol

I’ve been on a new quest this summer, to destroy the wild vines that creep their way up our woodland trees and strangle them as they reach for the best sunlight in the canopy. Some are poison ivy, some Virginia creeper, and the fastest-growing is the Oriental Bittersweet.

Last week, I took my loppers and cut most of the vines at the base of each tree. This week, I took another walk around and looked overhead for leaves that hadn’t wilted or browned and searched for the vines that had eluded me the first time. It was a very satisfying task. My aching arms remind me of that effort of reaching forward balancing those long-handled shears while aiming the curved blades for that perfect angle to sever the ropey vine. The hairy ones are most likely poison ivy, and the smooth ones that aggressively twirl around the tree trunk are the bittersweet.

Old growth poison ivy vine. You lose!
Asian Bittersweet vine
Chokehold of the Asian Bittersweet vine

Looking out the upstairs window this morning, I noticed one tree had loads of healthy vine leaves twenty feet or so above the ground. How could I have missed that one? I headed out with my weapons of doom. I was smart enough to wear leather gloves this time, because the first time, I’d not intended the marathon session I ended up doing and I got serious blisters that are just now beginning to heal over.

So, I trudged out through the mosquitoes and began searching for that tree that got away. It’s amazing how different things look from up close. I walked and walked the edge of the woods, looking up for that tree I’d seen from the window. What looked so close together when viewing from the house was quite a hike at ground level. As I surveyed the scene, I sliced with a razor blade at the thin little vines here and there that I’d missed before and were still healthy and growing if you looked up high enough. Finally, I found that tree and I see why I’d missed it. It was ten feet into the woods, through pricker bushes and piles of mossy cut logs left over from a tree that fell a few years ago.

Gotta get this one!

I am not as steady and nimble as I was a few decades ago, and as I very gingerly stepped through the slippery undergrowth I imagined how angry my family would be if I lost my footing and broke a hip. Never mind, I was determined to achieve my mission. I’m happy to say I made it there and back again without incident. Then I looked up at my handiwork and saw another tree in the same state just to the right of the first one. This one was just a bit harder to reach, and I thought better of risking my neck a second time.

It kind of grinds me that I had to leave that renegade tree, but as I watch the leaves gradually brown and drop this summer I will feel a wonderful sense of satisfaction that I did my beloved trees a kindness.

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Catalpa Blooms

I love our one large tree, the catalpa we saved from the mow-down ten years ago when we created the wildflower prairie.  It grew so fast that it now dwarfs the house and in June it dazzles us the most lovely orchid-like blooms.  I took this photo a few days ago when I awoke to the fragrance and the beauty outside my bedroom window.

Last night the weather turned, and strong winds and spitting rain littered the blooms like snow onto the ground. It will not be letting up until later this week so by the time it is done we will have an ordinary, green tree. That’s just the way of it in the spring. You have to look fast and pay attention to the blooms and blossoms that take their moment on the stage. Then they step aside  and give way to the next act.

Across the fields, it delights me to watch each species of wildflower and prairie grass take its turn rising above the others and stealing away the sunshine from its neighbors. Just now, we are getting the first splashes of color from the flowering plants peeking out above the surface of the prairie. My favorites are the butterfly weed and milkweed.

The barnyard gang was not pleased with the string of dry, steamy days leading up to this change in the weather. I frequently go out to visit with them all, sitting with the goat and hand-feeding him cracked corn while the lambs look on. I am working towards the day that I will have them eating out of my hand as well. I hope that day comes, but it is a glacially slow process. Dot and Cookie lie in their shed, rapidly panting. I assume it is to keep cool, or perhaps it is just the perpetually fast heart rate of little prey animals.

Their wool is growing fast and both Cookie’s brown Oreo coat and Dot’s polka-dots are fading under the new growth. They won’t be sheared until April so I wonder if this heavy insulation will balloon out like a roasting marshmallow.

Sheep are so interesting. While goats are quite social but independently-minded, the lambs stick together as if they were tied by a very short leash. They feel best when they are touching, side to side, even when scampering across the field. I remember this in the movie, “Babe”, but I thought it was a trick. Apparently it is natural sheep behavior.

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Lazy

We moved my hammock from the barn porch to the back yard under our one big tree. Suddenly, I find myself lying in it every day, rather that two or three times per summer. I feel a bit self-indulgent but then again, if you can’t enjoy your life on the farm when things are slow, when can you do it?

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Peaceable Kingdom

Everybody seems to be getting more comfortable together out in the barnyard. The lambs hang around with the goat a lot of the time and leap over each other to get out of the way when he swings his horns in their direction. It is bordering on playfulness and I am hopeful that this means some bonding is taking hold. I see some growth in the babies too, which may be why they are getting more confident. I’ll keep watching till July and decide then if I need to bring another goat into the herd.

I think it is fascinating how different species have different instincts and preferences.For example, although a goat instinctively climbs (and tries to destroy) any obstacle, the sheep don’t seem to care about it unless it gives them something to scratch their backs on. Everyone universally gets excited when it is mealtime and I come bearing gifts. They all run to see what is coming and one day I hope even the sheep will come to me to show their appreciation. I’m needy that way.

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Springtime Trial and Error

Dot and Cookie, the new lambs in the barnyard, are adapting pretty well. They seem to have bonded with the goat, although he throws his weight around more than I’d like. He crowds them away from their breakfast, and yesterday he butted the lambs out of his way, sending Dot tumbling over her sister. What a jerk!

I decided to foil Eddy’s greedy impulses by feeding him first out at a trough hanging on the fence and then feeding the lambs from another trough in the shed. This seemed to work pretty well. When I went out to get a picture of them eating in peace, Cookie came trotting out to see what I was bringing her. Here you can see one lamb at each breakfast table. They don’t like to be separated, so Dot came over to join her and when Eddy noticed they were eating contentedly he shoved them both out of the way and they had to retreat to the shed  By the end of the day, Eddy will have used his horns like a crowbar to flip both troughs upside down onto the ground just to show me he can.

I am now enjoying the fruits of the spring harvest. I get a small handful of asparagus about every day, the lettuce, spinach, and arugula are all coming to the dinner table, and the strawberries are in full blossom.  I know by now that I’ll soon get about a week of strawberries, so every day of harvest will be precious.

We have had very warm weather for a few days and now it is predicted to get a little cooler but to bring thunderstorms every day for the rest of the week. The plants will love it! The algae was loving it too, and had started recovering along with the green shoots of cattails re-surging from last year. I got out and treated the pond to discourage both and it already looks less green.

I was feeling so proud for spraying the chestnut tree before the buds broke, but now that the leaves have sprouted they were already getting those little yellow dots that are the beginning of blight. We sprayed it again but may be too late. They gradually turn to brown dead patches over the leaves and the tree doesn’t get nearly the growth it should. I hope that as the tree grows larger it will gradually be strong enough to fight off the blight fungal spores. That is the glimmer of hope I get from the nursery experts.

We planted arbor vitae by the solar panels last spring and faithfully watered them all summer. They made it through the winter pretty well except for the deer nibbling at one on the end. I think the three frosty nights this month might have done some damage though because they are turning brown. I went out and looked them over and found that the inner leaves are nice and green, just the outer ones are brown. I will be optimistic and believe that this means it will recover.

Honestly, there is only so much you can do to protect the living things on the farm. We put sheets over the orchard trees and saved them from the frost, but the two trees that were less far along were not covered and neither of them have sprouted any leaves yet. I fear they may have been killed off. If we just let things go and leave them to fend for themselves, would the farm fall apart? I often feel so ignorant.

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Pandemic Rug

Ta Da! Last night, I finished my first big floor rug-hooking project, the Pandemic Rug. (Not to be confused with a holocaust cloak, as seen in The Princess Bride.) I am quite happy with it as my first attempt. As planned, it served to use up lots of my excess thick mohair yarn from a few years of dying and spinning from the goats.

My fingertips are sore from a couple of the final steps. One was applying a cord all around the edges and slowly, tediously, wrapping it with yarn so that it made a nice firm binding. All that movement, pushing the needle carefully through the backing to come out at just the right spot made my fingers sore and achy but it is a satisfying pain because I have something to show for it.

So, at least something good came out of this pandemic. I hope it outlasts me by a century or so.

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Some New Stuff

Berry GardenMy husband has been creating things while we are trapped at home. (Trapped from his point of view, blissfully home from mine.) He ordered blueberry and raspberry bushes this year to add to our perennial crops. The blueberries were local so we picked them up and planted them a few weeks ago next to the vineyard. The raspberries should arrive soon by mail. Apparently, raspberries need a trellis system so he bought lumber and built the supports last week. I am continually amazed that he is able to figure out how to make things like this, but he takes the task very seriously and by the time he is done it is a masterpiece.

We’ve been fetching trailer-loads of brush and items cleaned out of our daughter’s garage for bluebird housesomething useful to do on restless days. It is easier to dispose of such things out here than in Kalamazoo. The lumber scraps she gave us sparked my husband’s imagination and he built us four bluebird houses. They look great! I saw a blue-ish bird and his spouse on one just this morning and watched them checking out the space. I think it was actually a pair of swallows, by their shape and flying pattern. They no longer get to use our front porch, so this seems like a nice compromise.

We just finished the last frost of the spring, according to the weatherman, so we now are experiencing warm, wet days that are generating a huge burst of green growth everywhere. I planted seeds in the orchard so that we can get started germinating pumpkins, watermelon, zucchini, and cucumbers. Hubby picked up a rhubarb plant that we’ll try to nurture along for future spring pies. We also bought ten little rhododendron bushes and planted them on the newly cleared hillside by the highway. They will take years to grow big enough to be noticeable, but it is yet another investment in the heaven we are slowly building.

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Fighting Worry

I think anxiety breeds more anxiety, and these crazy times threatening illness and loss are getting to me. I try to keep my head down and focus on the farm, limiting my exposure to the news, but worries seep in anyway and sometimes it seems like there are threats all around. Looking out on a beautiful blue sky day, I can see things in a slightly more sunny and positive perspective.  Still…

Last night Michigan was threatened with freeze warnings. We worried about our little orchard with the tender pink blossoms just beginning to open up. Not sure whether it would help or hurt, we carried out sheets and safety pins and covered most of the trees in the harsh cold wind last evening. It was like tying down parachutes, and I’m sure we looked pretty foolish from the road as we fought to tighten the coverings enough to hold through the night.

This morning I went out to check. None of them had blown away over the fields, no branches were broken, and I did not see any frostbitten leaves, so…success! I think I may go buy cheap fitted bottom sheets to keep in the barn, as those seemed to work the best. I wasn’t sure it really had gotten cold enough to make the efforts worth it, but then I saw the goat’s water trough had half an inch of ice on top and all the asparagus spears had that translucent look that means they froze.

Worry number two is the local fox who has become progressively more bold trotting down our driveway and crossing the yard. After the neighbor let her steal and eat all his chickens, she makes her rounds multiple times a day and every time I get a chill. Yesterday, I set up our big live trap near her path and baited it with a KFC chicken wing and some bones at the entry to draw her in. If it goes like it did last year, we may well catch possums, raccoons, and our cats, with the fox being too smart to fall for the trick. Still, I would be heartbroken if she slipped into the pasture and hurt one of the lambs. I doubt that Eddy, with all his size and formidable horns, would face down a predator.

I think today we’ll fasten some chicken wire across outside of the tube gate to make it harder to enter. The electric wires are strung on the inside of the pasture fence to teach the flock to stay away but I don’t know if it would discourage a fox from sneaking in. I have considered adding a guardian animal to the pasture – a miniature donkey or a herd-guarding dog. That would be quite an expense and many more vet bills but it is not off the table.

So, we’ve got worries over our hobby crops, worries over our animals, worries about the pandemic’s effect on the country, worries about political divisiveness, and so on and so on. Each worry feeds the others. Watching episodes of  “The Handmaid’s Tale” before bed probably isn’t helping. I think I could use a dose of positivity today!

 

 

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Mineral Block and Lamb Video

When I finish using up the goat-only feed, I’ll put out the sheep-goat mixture for everyone and I’ll have to provide the extra minerals, (particularly copper), that are needed only by the goat. In preparation for that, I bought a block of berry-flavored minerals and set it up at a height only Eddy can reach. Man, did he find that interesting! He stood there frantically licking at it for about ten minutes. It almost made me want to taste it for myself.

The flock has been developing a pattern of daily activity. First thing in the morning, I look out from the upstairs window and see the three of them out in the pasture together, munching down on the tall spring grass. By the time I get out to the barn to bring their breakfast pellets, the lambs are cleaning out the hay rack from the night before and Eddy is standing by the gate waiting to greet me. The babies scatter as I come into their area because, of course, I am terrifying.

I have spent time each day sitting in a lawn chair by the barn to get them comfortable with my presence. I can see by their more relaxed posture that they are beginning to grasp that I am not a huge threat, and they see me playing with Eddy and petting him. They see him as their protector and they run to him when they are scared. I saw him swing his horns down at one of them when they got in his way, but they did not seem to take it personally.

Eddy does his best to damage the lawn chair but it seems pretty indestructible, so I decided to leave it out till the next sitting session.  I stopped in to check on them in the afternoon and Eddy had not only managed to pull it into the shed but he had gotten his horns and one front leg through the arm and was wearing it like a saddle. It took two of us to untangle him from it so I have surrendered and hauled it back into the barn.

I looked up from the chair and saw what is now an adorable lamb video. You’ve got to see this one.  If I were ambitious, I’d add music in time to their synchronized munching in the cradle of the hay rack.

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Watching for a Bond

I am very hopefully watching my three wards for signs that they may develop some bonds of affection. Certainly, the sheep have that with each other. You’d think there was a short invisible rope between them because when one changes direction, the other bolts to catch up. It reminds me of the toy I had as a child, black and white scotty dogs with magnets on the bottom that attracted or repelled depending on their orientation. These guys are always on the attraction side.

sheep and goat eatingWe have made a lot of progress in the last two days. They all sleep together in the goat shed now, and no one seems anxious around the others. The lambs are beginning to be less nervous around me as well, but they are not up to letting me get close yet. I took a book and sat out in the yard with them for a while yesterday to get them used to me until it got too cold to sit. Today promises to be nicer so I’ll keep trying.

The food situation is interesting. Goats require extra copper in their diet, which would be toxic to sheep. This means I have to keep the goat food away from the sheep but both species can eat the sheep feed. I put the lambs’ trough low to the ground and the goat’s way up high out of their reach. Of course, Eddy only wanted he new and interesting flavor. This view gives a better perspective on their relative size.

It is so charming to look out the window and see the two little sheep out grazing in the pasture.  I’m feeling better every day about our decision to get sheep instead of another grown angora goat. My husband is already dreaming about breeding the sheep in the fall and expanding the herd. I’m not getting ahead of myself on this. I still haven’t decided whether we’ll need another goat of some kind before we’re through rebuilding the herd. I have a lead for baby goats nearby that will be ready to leave home in 12 weeks. That should be long enough for me to make up my mind.

The next task is naming the sheep. I have about 20 pairs of names taped to the wall as I let them percolate in my mind until one combination sticks. It has to feel right as well as to be easy to call out across the pasture if ever they come to that degree of familiarity. I can only hope.

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Goodbye and Hello

I’m sad to say that we weren’t able to pull Ely back from his illness and had to have him put down last week. Our farm animals are pets, so while it is not as devastating a loss as when you lose a house pet, we took it hard. However, the best way for me to move on is to plan for the future.

I put a lot of thought into what to do next. Eddy was quite bored and lonely with no playmate while Ely was ill, so I’d been making a point to go out and play with him – hide and seek around the shed, treks together out into the pasture, and petting sessions up on his wooden climbing spools. As goats are very social animals, the option of just keeping one solitary goat is not on the table.

Angora goats can be a lot of work. They need their hooves trimmed and meds to stave off worms and lice on a monthly basis. They need to be sheared twice a year. They are full of mischief so you have to continually foil their plans to alter their environment if it is not in their best interest. I was already researching options to get a second Angora. Females are hard to come by but there were a couple leads on wethers (neutered males). The youngest was 2 years old and would be a challenge to transport as they are between 150 and 200 pounds.

As I began thinking about it, it occurred to me that perhaps I could get some other breed of goat, one that is smaller and easier to handle. This led to research on whether a mixed herd would bond, with inconclusive results. I have a couple feelers out there for young goats of various breeds. Then I began wondering whether I could mix a herd of goats and sheep successfully. I learned that sheep require a whole lot less effort, you only shear them once a year, and their wool may be easier to work with than the mohair to which I have become accustomed.

As email replies to my inquiries began rolling in, things started moving fast. We know of a farm that raises Shetland sheep, a small and hearty breed with nice soft wool. They actually were selling off the last few of their spring lambs and we arranged to drive up to see them the next day. Just like that, we made the somewhat impulsive decision to buy two little females and here they are!

These little darlings are sisters and as adults they will have white and cream-colored wool for me to shear, dye, and spin. A bit after the fact, we are now mulling over strategies for taming them so they are not so skittish and integrating them safely into the Eddy herd. His play can get a little rough with those long pointy horns and he outweighs them by about 150 pounds. So far, they have sniffed each other through the fence and the lambs seem less afraid of Eddy than they are of me.  I made a video you can watch.

So, off we go on another farm odyssey! I have yet to decide whether we’ll bring additional goats into the fold but for now I have new little lives to watch over and I hope I am able to do it well.

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Goat Mischief

I’m treating my goat for a bad case of parasites, and the vet gave me a really strong medicine requiring a dose every day for five days. She estimated him at about 200 lbs and based the dosage on that. Being a nervous goat mom, I took out some instructions I’d found a few years ago for estimating a goat’s weight. You measure their girth by sliding a tape measure under their armpits and up to their shoulders, their length from the collar bone to the tail, and then use a special calculation.

I found a tape measure and headed out to the pasture to gather the data. I am not reliable with remembering numbers, so I took my papers with me and set a heavy weight on top so they wouldn’t blow away. Then Ely and I did a little dance where I crept up to him, he edged away, I crept closer, he edged further away. Then Eddy wanted in on the game so he bounced over swinging his horns and herded Ely out into the field. I spent the next ten minutes plodding around the field after them, feeling like a fool. I finally got ahold of Ely and measured his girth, but every time I tried to hold the tape from front to back he’d scoot out of the way again.

I finally settled on a number and went back to record it. Eddy had bored of the chasing game, discovered my papers, and was happily chewing and swallowing my instruction sheet. He was really smug about it, too. I yelled and chased him away, but the paper was wet and half digested already. I’ll be so happy when Ely is feeling good again and goes back to being a playmate to his brother so they can keep each other out of trouble.

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