Mo Bloggin'

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Archive for the category “The New Place”

Always late but worth the wait?

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The evenings stretch on for hours and it is glorious.

The days seem to fly by. Despite the fact that they’re 16 hours long right now (speaking of DAYlight hours, of course). I have been busy with life, trying to keep up with Jungle Season growth (not succeeding), shearing (also not succeeding – I passed the halfway mark, but still have 7 sheep to shear – all the wild ones are left), and regular chores. One thing I AM making progress on, however, is my Plan for the next chapter of work life. I have been reading and learning as much as I can, beginning the transition work. I updated my website again. I like it a ton better now (compared to them major overhaul/ update I did in…was it March?), but I still consider it a work in progress. I have been learning a lot about virtual assistance work and am doing worksheets and exercises to refine my specialty/s. I haven’t actively sought out clients on this yet, but that will be the next step. I am also taking a fabulous class for launching my writing a bigger way. It’s called “Pitch Like A Honey Badger” and is fabulous, and really forcing me out of my comfort zone. I have a long way to go yet (although the class is over in 2 or 3 more weeks), but have learned a ton already. I got behind on the lessons (this is an online class, BTW – something where I usually have a hard time with follow through) because I was busy working for a client. I was contracted to create their newsletter and because it was behind (before it came to me), there was a hustle to get it all done. I literally started receiving the info the first week in June and had it done in less than 3 weeks. It felt good, but between becoming familiar with the content and layout, making sure I had all the pieces, and placing them in the right order, all while working the day job, going to a sheep workshop, taking care of the critters and farm, well, it’s no wonder I’m a wee bit behind. It’s all good, and all of it feels really good, and I am excited (even in my moments of “I don’t know if I can do this and make enough to live on” panic) for the future. My hope is to launch my business/go solo by the end of September or October. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. That’s only 3 or 4 months away and I have a LOT to do in the meantime. It would be nice to have a nice fat cushion of a bank account to sit on while I ramped up, and really have time to focus on it, but doing the side hustle thing for a few more months will have to work. I can do this!

I have also been reading some astrology and numerology reports (oh yeah, I go there – I’ve been woowoo for years) that have reinforced to me that the time is now. My numerology report had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up (I’m a 22/4, having an 8 year), and the weekly astrology update I get (NorthPoint Journal) has been hitting it out of the park with regard to resonance for the past couple of months. Lots of Aha moments resounding and it’s helpful to know I’m on the right path. In fact, with Mars going retrograde until the end of August, I’m glad for the extra time to get my ducks in a row before I launch.

In other news, the critters are all well. No lambs this  year, so it’s been a lot more relaxed with the sheep. I need to reduce the flock by at least five, but beyond two that I know I want to get rid of, I’m having a hard time with deciding who should go or stay. I really like all of them, and the friendly ones are endearing as heck.  If I could find a home where I knew they’d be fiber pets, I could maaaaybe let the 3 boys go – Rudy, TJ and Shadow. I would like to breed again this fall, for 2019 lambs, but can’t really consider it until I reduce the head count a bit. The property ran out of fodder about 10 sheep ago (the flock numbers 17 right now) and I am resigned to feeding hay  year round instead of just 10 months a year. Ah well. It would be nice to have another pasture to rotate them to, but then I’d probably just have more of them. And on top of it, I have a garage full of fleeces I need to sell, with this year’s still needing to be skirted. Part of the reason behind my wish to work for myself is the time I hope to free up (1 ½ to 2 hours per day of commute time alone – almost 10 hours a week!) and not feel so overwhelmed after a long day of work and commute. There’s a mild depression going on too, with the day job just feeling…done. Despite my post in December citing the new offices and job “funk” easing up, some recent changes have me again very unhappy and feeling both undervalued and disregarded. But ultimately, it’s just the final cuff to the head from the Universe, trying to get my attention, and I’m heeding it now. Finally.

The dogs are well. Just celebrated my year 7 anniversary with Daisy, and Pal’s year 8 is coming up in about 6 weeks. Time really does fly. After Braider’s rescue last fall (even though I was a foster failure) I finally took the plunge on something I’ve been contemplating for close to 2 years now, and applied to once again become the Rottweiler breed rep for Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue. I know it seems crazy, with everything else going on, but it also seems so right. I was involved with SPDR at the very beginning – I went to their very first organizational meeting in 1987, and was their first newsletter editor, back in the days of paste-up (I named the newsletter “SPDR Speaks” – and I’m still proud of that one), and became their Rottweiler breed rep from about 1988 through 1995. It was hellish, because the breed’s popularity was exploding then and, coupled with some horrid, high-profile attacks with human deaths, no one wanted to adopt them. I think the last year I was rep I had 500 incoming dogs and nowhere to place them. It took two decades to recover from that – ha! (Not really kidding, though – the burnout was bad.) But I’m hopeful that we won’t have the same kind of numbers plus, the biggie, is now we have the internet and especially social media, which wasn’t even a dream back then. Email sure (although not everyone was connected back then), but it was a lonely, hard job to do. Fingers crossed it goes smoothly and I can make a difference. I helped to place an English Setter recently, and that felt really good (social media rocks it here), so I’m hoping I can be just as helpful with Rottweilers. Let me know if you want to be a foster home for a Rottweiler!

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Misty May morning.

 

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Where have you been, Mo?

IMG_20180307_091524_939So I’m a wee bit behind. Again. Life has been busy, and the past four months full of newsy bits for blog posts that often don’t make it out of my head, with at least a half dozen posts that did make it out of the brain pan, but none more than a paragraph or two long. I tend to do mini-blogs of sorts, via my Instagram account (@MacFinnFarm). I find that Instagram is my favorite social media to post on. A photo and a caption (sometimes a bit of a story with the caption) and it satisfies that blogging urge. Some things, though, need actual words, not just the picture/s. I won’t bore us all with a 2,000 word catch up blog for everything I’ve been doing since December 29, but will get back in the proverbial saddle here.

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We’ve had an incredibly wet April, and while I grow weary and frustrated, the native flora just rolls with it. Here’s an Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), which grows all over the property (and the sheep love it), always the first to bloom, and always a welcome sight to these winter weary eyes.

I know my December took me down in the dumps—as I mentioned, the loss of Braider was a hard loss for me, despite only knowing him for two months. For the two months after it was all I could think about when I sat down to write. And although I’ve wanted to write about him and about what happened in more detail, and I have a few thoughts on paper here and there, for now he’s all mine, still held close to my heart. The grief has subsided, and I no longer immediately tear up when I think of him or speak of him (although often it’s only force of will…and a quick pivot to another topic). Part of what I need to poke at is why it hit me so hard. The money wasn’t it, that I know for sure. I have ideas, but want to “journal it out” to come to any conclusions on that. Another part of me just doesn’t care why, because the why doesn’t matter. It just is.

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Braider’s lightcatcher – you can see the sprinkle of his ashes down the center.

I’ve had a lot of activity on the personal improvement front. I’m working my way through a couple of books, with writing exercises, on writing/the writing path. And I’ve started a physical exercise program of sorts (kind of sputtering start, but I am committed to this). I’ve known for a while that I’m out of shape. The girth is another matter altogether, but the strength and stamina are the two things I know I really want to get back on track. I was doing some gardening a couple of weeks ago and that’s when I really realized how frippin’ out of shape I am. I was kind of caught by surprise—it’s worse than I thought. I was able to do what I needed to do, but it was harder than it should have been. So I purchased a yoga program and am doing a little of that (it’s online, and the buffering is maddening), some equipment, and am back to the basics. I can’t even do one sit-up, which, when I tried to do it, didn’t really surprise me, but it did shock me, if that makes any sense. My core strength, which is SO important for ongoing health and overall strength, is in the toilet. Time to change all that! Funny how I can muck out the sheep pen, but have almost no core strength. And because of that, the stress and wear and tear on everything else is more intense. I’m enthused about getting stronger, and exercising (mostly strength and core training vs. aerobic work right now). And then I’m going to work on the rest of it. Because this year is the year I’m breaking out.

There’s a lot more on the horizon—work I’m doing to improve my skills, learning about my options, and finally get the solopreneur gig going is on the front burner. I know I’m really, really good at what I do at the day job. Recent changes there, though, made me feel less than valued. Long story, and this isn’t the place for that topic (at least not now, because I know that I’m not the only one who’s experienced this sort of frustration), but I’ve updated my website (which still needs work but looks so much better!) and am working on a business plan that will bring me the prosperity and job satisfaction I yearn for and deserve. And eliminate my hated commute. Like most of us, I’ve done a lot of things in my life that have called for courage, not the least of which is buying my farm and getting livestock, running the farm as a solo female farmer (pulling lambs during a difficult birth, vaccinating, castrating lambs, the works), fixing or building things by myself, and heck, even opening up a hive of angry honeybees or “clapping” a visiting black bear off the property (the bear doesn’t really scare me much, although I guess it probably should).  But that stuff is nothing compared to the fear I have of going out on my own for my income. Nothing else can even hold a candle to this fear. The deepest part of me knows I can do this, and that it—that I—will succeed beyond my wildest dreams, but the terror around this is poop-my-pants real. I will have to work hard—the side hustle for the next few months is not to be taken lightly. But that’s all part of getting in shape. As my physical body gets back into shape, as I grow stronger and more sure of my abilities, the mind will follow.

The mind is a curious thing in how it can terrorize one into playing small, and staying “safe” even as it destroys your health and happiness. I am coming up on my 13th anniversary in my current job (a decade longer than I intended to stay there, when I accepted the job offer in 2005). It’s been good to me in general – I’ve learned a lot about myself, I’ve been through a lot of big personal/life changes with the job there as my steady rock, and I’ve gained confidence in my skills – but now it’s time to move it along, to do what I’m meant to do, be who I’m meant to be. I can’t wait to see myself on the other side, and am excited about my plans (like, really, really, REALLY excited) as I work on them. That alone tells me I’m on the right track. The fear will rise up, and might even immobilize me at times, but the fear can suck it. I am Maureen.  I am Mo. I am Modog. I am MaurFinn. And I am MacFinn. Hear me roar (I’m learning how from Daisy, my little lioness [she’s a Leo, not surprisingly]). I simply cannot wait to blow my own mind with my madskillz and awesomeness.

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A friend sent this to me recently (thanks, JS!), and it really hit home.  On top of the words hitting home, it’s by an author whose own journey to success I admire a lot and it is now posted in several key places so I’ll see it multiple times every day.  I am committed.

That’s a wrap

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The little homestead. MacFinn Farm.

Here we are again, at the end of another trip around the sun, the holiday season winding up, the days growing longer (even if we can’t tell yet). The year ended with mixed reviews for me. Mostly it’s just another year, with highs and lows in equal measure (although I’m not keeping score there), but so much going on in my country politically is upsetting, with nearly every day bringing a new outrage from the nation’s capitol. It’s too much to take in some days, and my blog, as I’ve designed it (at least this one), isn’t a place for that discussion. I have faith our ship will right itself, but it’s going to require all hands on deck to do so.

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I cry nearly every time I think of him. He was truly exceptional. I am lucky to have had him even for just two months.

A personal loss hit me hard a couple weeks ago – I’m still too raw to write about it here, and may never, but a friend called it a tragedy, for that is what it felt like. Because I dislike (intensely) when people are cryptic about these things, for now I can only say, in a nutshell, that I lost my darling Braider—after only two months with me—to a sudden onset, acute autoimmune condition. More information, for now, is here. It has left me devastated, but I simply cannot end the year with this as the marker. So I am going to focus on some really good, even great things that happened in the past few months.

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I took three ewe lambs to their new home on Whidbey Island a couple of weeks ago. Minnie’s black ewe lamb, Trixie’s white ewe lamb, and Cinnamon’s girl, Ginger.

One thing, which maybe isn’t a big deal to others, but is kinda awesome for me, is I finally got my new kitchen faucet installed. New kitchen faucet, you say? Yes! For an embarrassingly long time (like, over a year) I’ve been dealing with a faucet that had almost no flow. Water trickled out in a leisurely way, with a gallon jug taking several minutes to fill. It was getting worse and worse. I checked the water hoses under the sink, but my water filter’s faucet had/has great pressure, and though tiny in comparison, filled at 4 times the rate of the main faucet. I looked at it from underneath, thinking I could take it apart and remove grit (the likely culprit) but when I looked, I could see there’d be no accessing anything there. So, I planned to replace it. I was looking forward to getting a single handle with a pull down sprayer. I shopped and shopped, but never pulled the trigger. Finally, last August, I settled on a design by Moen that also had good reviews. I bought it at the local box store so, if I had to, it would be easier it return. It sat in the box for weeks, then months. I was waiting until my water filter tanks needed replacing (a major operation and I figured it would be a good time to install the faucet).  In early November, at long last, the water filter needed replacing. I put it off, and put it off, intimidated by the faucet job. I watched YouTube videos on replacing kitchen faucets. I read the instruction manual. I procrastinated. I contemplated, a few dozen times, calling a plumber. Then, Thanksgiving week, while I had some extra days off, I did it. I pulled everything out from under the sink, got the water filter tanks moved out and grabbed a couple old rugs and some towels for support for my back. I got the wrenches and pliers and whatever else I could think of. Then, after almost chickening out, I started in. And three hours later (and only one run to the hardware store and one phone a friend (the two fellas I called weren’t around, so I had to soldier on without advice)), it was in!

And it looks FABULOUS, if I do say so myself. The water comes out at a normal flow, the pull down sprayer is awesome (I had eliminated the side sprayer that was here when I installed the water filter faucet back in 2011) and, who knew, the sink itself stays a million times cleaner than it did with the trickle faucet.  It’s nice to rinse a dishrag or kitchen sponge and have it really rinse clean, and the whole kitchen stays cleaner because of it.  I ROCK!

Another great thing is my job got cooler. A couple months ago I wrote about my deep unhappiness with things in that department, mostly due to my own yearning for something more, but also because of some “challenging dynamics.” The dynamics have changed, although the work load is still crazy at times, and best of all, my location has changed. My company moved to a new office (only a couple blocks away from the old one) and the new workplace is wonderful. It’s in a brand new building, and the office interior design is open and clean and bright. No more rat maze of gray, six-foot high cubicle walls. My desk, while still essentially a cubicle, is open and airy and is a corner office. Seriously, it’s one of the nicest locations in the entire office, IMO, and I’m still pinching myself, wondering what I did to deserve it (well, other than hard work and dedication). I have a stand desk, too – a real one. My old one was one of those desktop lift jobs, clunky and heavy and hard to get just right. This one moves up and down at the touch of a button. I find I stand a lot more now because it’s so ergonomically comfortable. The view of little ol’ downtown Bellevue is wonderful, with a peek-a-boo view of Lake Washington and the I-90 floating bridge. In our first or second week here a pair of bald eagles were wheeling around over a nearby building. The evening lights are really pretty, and I just realized as I wrote this that I look down (over) at the location where I bought my first car, many, many years ago, before Bellevue had a single high-rise. The Pontiac dealer was on the corner of NE 8th and 108th, and my bus went by it every day on the way home from my first job. I used to stare at the shiny new cars as we waited at the stoplight, and locked in on one of the models on the lot, and bought my little Sunbird – a hatchback, so I had a car for my first dog, Mikey, to ride in. Times change; priorities, not so much.

20171225_015008Last on the list here, we wound up the year with a fabulous white Christmas, the best one ever in all my years here (I’ve lived here most of my life, but spent some early years in New Jersey, where white Christmases were common). It snowed all Christmas Eve, and by the morning there were about 6 inches of white covering the world. It’s Puget Sound snow, so not light and fluffy, but we’d been cold and dry for the week prior to the snow (versus the typical rainy and wet), so it wasn’t the usual half-slush we get. I spent a quiet day at home with the dogs (recovering from a cold virus that was kicking my butt), alternately playing outside with them (Daisy LOVES the snow) and then coming inside to curl up with a hot mug of tea and watching Christmas movies while eating way too much Christmas chocolate. It was perfect.

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Daisy, looking fine with her herd of wee Shetlands.

Highs and lows…

 

20170602_165417It’s a fine July morning as I write this, in the glory of another Pacific Northwest summer. The house is cool from the overnight chill (temps drop 20 degrees or more at night) and I’m sitting in the morning sun, anticipating a hot day (maybe as high as 80s) but trying to warm up in the sun’s rays.  Glorious seems like an over the top word, but it really, really is.

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The Swainson’s thrushes are winding down for the season, sadly.  I’ve heard a few this morning, but nothing like the intensity of just a few weeks ago. I’ve written of my Swainson’s serenades before, and the two months of their song is never enough.  Though I knew they were around for a couple weeks at least, I didn’t hear my first song until May 27 or 28.  It reached a crescendo in early July, with the morning and evening punctuated by seeming near-constant competition between birds and their territories, and reaching a fervor that brings wonder and even worry.  These birds are small – about half the size of a robin, and fit in your hand easily (one flew into my window in May – I picked it up and moved it to a safe, quiet spot while it recovered from the momentary stun).  I am glad I have lots of berries and cherries here for them to feed on as they sing, and hopefully don’t lose any to what has to be exhaustion by the end of the season.  I hope to hear them for a few more evenings yet – they are magical at sunset – but I know it’s almost over.  As I write this I see a young robin, breast still baby-speckled with immature feathering but obviously on her own, dining on the red huckleberries on my old growth stump.  It’s so nice to see.

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Native red elderberry; a favorite of the Swainson’s, but also Robins, Western Tanagers, Cedar Waxwing and more.

I took a few days off around the July 4th holiday this year and it was wonderful.  It seemed to last longer than normal (total time away from work was 5 days) and I got a lot done in that time.  Shearing is almost done, I got the ram lambs banded (except one who turned out to be cryptorchid – the vet will be doing surgery to retrieve the undescended testicle in 3 weeks) and all of them vaccinated except Ginger, Cinnamon’s lamb who is just as skittish as her mama and learning well. Sigh.  I haven’t been able to catch her OR her mama, who is the holdout for shearing.  I’ve sheared all of them myself this year, with a blade (i.e., hand scissors versus electric clippers).  I started off pretty rough and am getting better, and even faster, but I’m not sure I’ll do this again next year.  For one, even though I’m getting better, I can’t do more than two sheep a day, and the mini-rodeo to catch the each one is creating some wiley sheep.  Thus, it’s gotten late in the year, and doing them in June or July is WAY too late – part of the reason the more recent ones look better is because of the “rise” – the old fleece has basically lifted away and I’m just snipping it away from the new wool’s growth.  For another it’s back-breaking, hot work.  And yet another reason, even though I’m going slow, I’ve made way too many slices (cuts) to their skin.  It was harder in the beginning with the wool tight to the skin, you think you’re scissoring a thick patch of wool when you’ve actually got a snippet of skin in there.  Nothing too dramatic (if I had electric shearers I’m sure I would have had some ‘call the vet’ moments – it happens so fast!), but makes me jumpy for the process.  Practice, I guess, but it’s still a lot of work.  We’ll see.

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Meg, after I finally caught her and sheared her.  She obviously felt better without all that wool. 

Now it’s time to start deciding who stays and who goes after lambing.  I’ve gotten about halfway through the list and still have some tough decisions to make, as I need to get the flock back to about 10 sheep before the winter months.  They’ve pretty much devoured most of the greenery in the pasture, and much of the property as well, and are going through hay at a good clip too – the lambs may only be 40 pounds each, but they are growing youngsters and they eat!

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TJ in the pasture. He is huge!

I have one less to place this week, because unfortunately I lost a lamb recently to an accident with my feeding set up.  It was a freak accident, but also preventable, as most accidents are.  I feed with slow-feeder hay nets inside my big hay feeder.  The lambs have been jumping inside the hay feeder to get at the hay nets and I’m just waiting until they are too big to get in (we’re getting close now!).  The mesh on the nets is 1 ½ – 2 inches, but one of the nets had a hole where a couple of the strands had broken or worn through.  And one of the ram lambs (the polled one) stuck his head in the hole… You can guess the rest.  He struggled to get out and it twisted the net and made it worse.  When I found him he was still warm.  The hardest part of the loss is the knowing if I gone out there to check on them a half hour—or even 15 minutes—earlier I could have saved him.  I’ve been using that net for almost 7 years and I think the hole has been there for at least 3 or 4 years.  Obviously I will fix it now, but it was a tough day, and though I’m getting over the guilt I will always feel responsible.  I shared the incident with folks on one of my sheep forums on Facebook and it helped immensely to do so.  Not only are people kind and sympathetic, but so many shared similar stories – even nearly identical stories – of freak losses, which was enormously helpful to hear.  Stories about something that had been in the farm environment for years and the one intrepid or inquisitive sheep (or other critter) found the danger in a seemingly benign object or setup – it happens.  I buried the 20170713_181911little guy out back, and covered him with his mother’s fleece (she’s the scurf queen on a good year and especially with the late shearing this year; the fleece was basically destined for the compost so I was very glad to have it for this use) before covering him with soil.  It helped a lot, and brought some closure to the incident.  The other, farmer-practical part of me realizes I really need to learn to butcher.  He was small, but I could have salvaged something for the dogs at least.  Farm life.

P.S.  I haven’t heard a Swainson’s thrush song since Saturday night.  I guess we’re done for the season. Sigh.

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Pebbles’ ewe lamb.  I am smitten with her.  A keeper, for sure.

 

 

What the hay?

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It may look gentle and green, but it’s a SCORCHER out there.

After a cool and very wet spring (that followed an especially wet and waterlogged winter), summer hit us this weekend with a blast of tropical heat. My phone’s weather app is schizophrenic – 99 one minute and 97 the next. Next time I looked it was 102, and then updated to 94. ?! Suffice it to say it’s hot out there. I feel especially bad for the half dozen sheep I haven’t sheared yet. I started one last weekend and she was just too fractious – for her safety and mine. I haven’t had time since and it was way too hot this morning to try, but they are all doing okay by staying quiet and in the shade most of the day. I move them to the pen at night and fill the hay feeder – they ate a LOT of hay last night in the cool of darkness. And about that hay…

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You can’t see the nice, if warm, breeze blowing.  They are keeping cool as they graze down to the nubbins. (My King Conservation District agent would admonish me for this.)

I’ve lamented here before about my many trees and shade (grateful for them right now, of course) and the shade being in opposition with my pasture grass growth. My pasture grass could use a lot of other help too (still need to do a soil test, but I’m 100% sure it could use a paycheck’s worth of liming), but I also have too many sheep grazing on it, especially given its overall weakness. Ideally I wouldn’t have more than 4 Shetlands on it in its current conditions of too much shade, lime deficiency, etc., for it to keep up and provide fodder for more than a month or so. My goal is to keep the flock number to 10 or below, and I’ve not always been completely successful at this. With the lambs this year, I’m currently at 22 (!!) sheep. While I love the sound of that – I would love to keep 22 sheep full time – and 12 of them only weigh 30- 40 pounds each right now, it’s just not feasible here. So even with 10 sheep, I feed hay roughly 10 or 11 months a year. They graze and browse a LOT during May through June, but hay is the primary food source once the May/June jungle growth stops at solstice.

So I buy the best hay I can find, on a weekly quest to find the greenest, leafiest second cutting orchard grass that I can. Every weekend two hay bales go into the back of my long-suffering old CRV. I’ve tried to buy a ton at a time and have it delivered, but that’s not worked out well. One year I bought a locally grown second cutting which looked great when I bought a couple sample bales, but when it was delivered, only about 10% was that nice. The rest was stemmy crap that the sheep wasted with abandon. That was $750 well spent – NOT. Another time I got some “nice” green stuff grown in eastern Oregon…that was loaded with mold and dust/dirt, and, frankly, was probably one of the triggers for my lung thing. So now I range out every weekend, finding a consistently good product at a feed store about 15 miles and a 30-minute drive away. Not the one 5 minutes away (generally a good product, but for a lot more money), or the one 20 minutes away (not consistently good). But any way you slice it, hay from eastern Washington is pretty much the gold standard here for quality/value. And it’s grown in an area with soils notably deficient in the trace mineral selenium. And that, I believe, is at the crux of the problems I had lambing this year.

Like all shepherds, I give my sheep free choice minerals (loose minerals are best for sheep, not a block to lick). This includes salt, of course, but also other trace minerals, including selenium but NOT including a lot of copper (some is important, but not at the rates of other livestock like goats and cattle, as too much copper is toxic to sheep). The sheep have a mineral feeder that is kept full at all times. About 18 months ago I needed more and purchased a bag of a well-known brand that I hadn’t used before. I poured it in the feeder and they nibbled at it. It’s red in color, and more than once I had a fright going out to check on the flock and had a sheep turn to look at me with “bloody” lips. They nibbled at it, but never seemed to nibble much. That’s all right, you don’t want them chowing down on it, but it wasn’t until I had these issues that I realized that that bag I purchased 18 months ago lasted much, much longer than it should have (and I still have some!). So they weren’t eating it as much as they should have, or needed to, and with their selenium-free hay, probably weren’t getting nearly enough of this important trace mineral. When I worked with the vet (and got the recommendation from other, more experienced Shetland shepherds) the first thing mentioned was that a selenium injection be given to my weak babies. And when I saw the dramatic results, it was a face palm moment. While it wasn’t outright White Muscle disease (at least not the acute symptoms) I believe the overall weakness I saw in several of the lambs, and even the birthing issues (C-Kerry’s weak, premature lambs, Pebbles’ very weak ewe lamb, and even the almost 4-hour delay between Duna’s twins’ birth, and her ultimate rejection of the second one), are likely due to this deficiency.

Once I figured this out, I purchased a new bag—and a different brand—of sheep mineral mix. Right away I knew it was a better product. It had the texture and odor I was used to, and, more important, the sheep love it. I cleaned out what was left of the red stuff from their feeder, and poured in about 3 or 4 cups of the new stuff. And had to replace the EMPTY feeder within a couple days!  They were on it like white on rice, as the saying goes. After that first week the consumption has decreased to a normal level, but they love it and are actually using it as it is intended. More telling, the lambs are in it (before they were at weaning stage), and the one I see most frequently in it is C-Kerry’s ewe lamb, who was so weak for her first week that I was afraid I would lose her. She loves it more than any of the other lambs, but the other ones I see most frequently eating it are also the ones I was most worried about as newborns. Go figure and Nature knows best. And, of course, lesson learned.

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Growing fast.  N-Kerry and her white ewe lamb, and C-Kerry’s black ram lamb being obnoxious.  (Need to get the boys all banded soon!)  And Rudy in the back.  He’s adorable.

As a Shetland shepherd, I know my sheep are thrifty, easy keepers. They are hardy and tough, and can survive and produce good wool without being coddled with daily grain or a fancy barn. My sturdy little flock is no exception, and survived even my ignorance in this vital nutrient. I had a lot of firsts with this lambing season – first premies, first time tube feeding, first full-on rejection (likely also due to the mineral deficiency) and first bottle baby. I knew they weren’t eating a lot of their minerals, but didn’t know that could be such an issue. I didn’t know any better. But now I do. They say shepherds never stop learning, and after 7 years of shepherding these amazing little woolies, I can say that’s definitely true. Thankfully, my resilient wee beasts survived my ignorance.

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Despite the heat, Trixie was all cuddles and snuggles today, all but climbing into my lap. We posed for a selfie.

Lambing Season 2017 – Part 2

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Perfect!  N-Kerry’s ewe lamb

So 3 ewes (out of 8) had lambed, with 4 babies on the ground so far. Next up was N-Kerry, who quietly presented me with a simply beautiful little white ewe. It was 2 days after Duna’s twins had arrived and I came out in the morning to find N-Kerry with the lamb up on her feet and obviously a couple hours old. N-Kerry is enamored of her baby, and has even settled down a bit (she is probably my wildest sheep, taking after her grandma, Cinnamon). She took to motherhood like she’s been waiting her whole life for it and it’s been wonderful to have an easy, attentive mother with a strong healthy baby.

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N-Kerry with her ewe lamb at about 4 weeks.

Later that day we had a storm roll in that all the weathermen were talking about – thunder and lightning and lots of rain expected. I began improvising shelter for the sheep. The shed was a maternity ward of 3 jugs (and 4 ewes and babies – Cinnamon and Nutmeg where sharing the big one with their singletons; Duna and her twins; C-Kerry and her premie twins) and now I needed a fourth for N-Kerry, plus some cover for the other sheep in the general pen. The storm came on like a freight train, with the rain pouring down in buckets while I was still nailing up tarps and plywood cover. I got everyone settled (two sets of clothing later) and went out later in the evening to check on the mamas and feed the premies. I looked over to see Trixie under my new corner shelter. Good girl for using the shelter…er…oh, sh**! She was in labor! It was 9 p.m. or so and the rain was still coming down in buckets. Water was running down the pen in sheets (it is on a slight incline – the corner where Trixie labored was in the lower end) – and the gutters were overflowing. I’d climbed up on a ladder during the afternoon rain to empty the leaves/blockage, only to have the French drain overwhelmed, and with the water flowing like a river, I realized Trixie’s thick straw bed wasn’t going to be thick enough.

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Amid thunder and lightning and torrents of rain, Trixie’s ewe lamb arrived.

At about 10 p.m. she produced a lovely little ewe lamb, and though I would normally prefer twins, on this night, and in this year, the singles are fine – I’ve got enough on my hands! I dug channels into the pen floor so the water would flow away from her and the lamb, and put up a temporary fence to keep her there and under cover, and (mainly) to keep the other sheep out. So at 11 p.m., with the light on in the shed and the pen’s spotlight on, I was out in the pouring rain digging and getting Trixie set up in her makeshift jug with her newborn lamb (hay, warm molasses water, more straw for bedding). Fortunately it was pretty warm, despite the monsoon drenching we were getting. Due to the crazy setup with the multiple jugs and my limited space, I had to be part monkey to move around in there, using the hay feeder to climb over the partitions and into the pen, over and over and over. I was exhausted by midnight, yet still had more to do. And still it rained.

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It wasn’t pretty, but it would do the trick for a day.

It was at this point that my water situation said, ‘hey, what about me?’ and crapped out.  With pouring rain outside, and I came in at one point to get some supplies and wash my hands and WTF, no water from the faucets.  I went outside to see if I’d left the yard hydrant on (I knew I didn’t but couldn’t think what was going on). I waited 10 or 15 minutes and had water again, and figured it was just something to do with the power in the lightning storm (though the house hadn’t lost power…grasping at straws). I still wonder at the timing on this.

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The next morning. A little muddy, but strong and healthy.

At about 3 a.m. I finally got things buttoned up enough so that I could go inside and sleep for a bit, admonishing the two remaining ewes, Pebbles and her daughter Minnie (who is Trixie’s mama), to wait until the weekend, when the weather was supposed to clear up a bit.  Thankfully, they did.

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Pebbles’ newborns.  Big brother watching as mama cleans up his new sister.

On Monday afternoon I came home from work to find Pebbles in labor. Pushing and struggling and half presented. I hadn’t even gone in the house yet (to change clothes, let the dogs out, etc.) and rolled up my sleeve and reached in as Pebbles labored to realize that there was one leg back. I pulled it forward gently and a fine ram lamb was born a few moments later. There was a little more fresh blood than I would have liked, but I watched Pebbles closely; thankfully it slowed and stopped. Within half an hour a ewe lamb was born. Pebbles took care of both of them expertly (this is her third lambing – twins every time) but the little ewe was definitely not as strong as she should have been.  I began tube feeding her as well. Her little ears were floppy and though she got up to nurse, I’m wasn’t sure how much she was getting. It was touch and go for a few days. I spoke with the vet and got some selenium to give her, and also tried to give her some vitamin B (injection). She just languished as her brother got strong and bouncy, and I worried. I made an appointment to bring her in, then spoke to the vet again in the meantime. She okayed another selenium injection and recommended the vitamin B injection, so I tried again. I don’t know how much got into the lamb, but the second selenium injection seemed to do the trick. She started to perk up and her little ears began to stick out straight, like they should. Both of these lambs are especially cute, with their mama’s big eyes and sweet expression. And both are very friendly. The little girl is a definite keeper (it looks like she’ll turn gray, too, just like Pebbles did).

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Minnie watching Pebbles with her new babies.  It won’t be long now.

The day Pebbles had her twins, Minnie was hanging around the activity with a decidedly funny look to her. So I wasn’t surprised when I came home from work the very next day to find her in labor. She was pushing hard with minimal results, and again, I reached in and found a leg back. I pulled it forward gently and in short order a nice little moorit ram lamb was born. Minnie didn’t get up and seemed a little distracted, so I pulled him forward so she could lick him, which she did readily. A few moments later, I realized why she was not fully engaged – a black ewe lamb slipped out of her so easily, and so quickly after the first that they must have been nose to bum in the birth canal.

And lambing season was officially over at MacFinn Farm, just two weeks after it started.

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Twins!  Born nearly simultaneously, and Minnie wasn’t sure who to lick first.

Lambs @ MacFinn Farm 2017!

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Cinnamon, now 8 years old, with her 2017 baby, a single, perfect moorit ewe lamb.  Ginger.

As you may know, I only breed my ewes every other year. And due to my lung thing and overall poor health because of it, I skipped last year too.  So it’s been three years since I had lambs. I could hardly wait. (But then again, more time would have been nice, given the month I just had!)

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Lamb daddy.  Sir Terry, a very handsome ram with great conformation, beautiful fleece, a lovely temperament, and great bloodlines. I was lucky to have him stay with us for 5 months.

Sir Terry, the handsome Shetland ram, came to visit in late November, leaping into the back of my Honda like a golden retriever when I went to pick him up.  The girls acted like brainless ninnies for the first half day – especially all those virgins, who’d never seen a ram before (5 of the 8 ewes I was breeding were maidens at 2 ½ years old), but they eventually settled down, and Terry became part of the flock for five months. (And when it came time to leave he did NOT jump into the back of my Honda – it was a bit of a wrestle to get him away from his girls and into the car.)  I saw some action in those first few days, and charted my due dates accordingly.  But it was a full week after that (and with a ewe I never saw consorting with the ram!) before I saw my first lamb. But true to form, Cinnamon was first to lamb again this year – a beautiful moorit ewe lamb, the image of her mother – and Minnie was last again, with twins that were born nearly simultaneously.  And a rollicking ride in between.  I ended up with 12 lambs again this year (the same as 2014 when I bred only five ewes, compared to this year’s eight ewes).  There were four singletons and four sets of twins, with a total of five ram lambs and seven ewe lambs – a nice ratio.  I got four white lambs, three moorits (brown), and five black (some with white) – a couple of these blacks will end up being gray or another light color.

Meg (Nutmeg), Cinnamon’s daughter, produced a fine white ram lamb a couple of days after her mother, the only one born in the rough (in the pasture, vs. in the pen) and he’s the image of his sire – gorgeous wool and a perfect little fluke tail, just what I am breeding for.

A few days after that, I came home from work one rainy afternoon to find two weak lambs in the general pen, and a very stressed out C-Kerry.  I got her into a separate jug (term for the small, individual pen for mothers with new lambs) and realized I had a problem.  The lambs were very weak – who knew what happened in the time from birth until I found them (guestimating 4-6 hours).  It had been raining, and although they were mostly dry from mama cleaning them up it was still chilly, and they may have been stepped on or worse (the other sheep can be quite aggressive with butting/ramming).  I got a heat lamp on them and quickly realized they needed to be fed – they were too weak to nurse!  C-Kerry was NOT happy about me grabbing her to milk out some colostrum, but I got about 2 ounces down each of them (they were too weak to suckle a bottle so I tube fed them).  The boy seemed a little stronger than the girl, but both were pathetic little things, with floppy ears and weak baas.  The next day I tried milking C-Kerry some more – I would get about a half ounce each time, before she got too fractious.  She was wonderful with the lambs once she settled down, and very attentive and watchful, but was very clear that she didn’t like to be milked by a human.  But they were so weak they couldn’t nurse much (at all?) on their own.  So I made up some milk replacer and kept tube feeding them.  Then I contacted my Shetland shepherds on my chat list for advice and got good instructions on what to do.

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Lambie intensive care.  They were best left with their mama, but so very weak.

On day 3 I called the vet and got them in to see her the next day.  Diagnosis?  They were premies!  It confirmed a suspicion I’d been having, but the vet estimated they were 7-10 days premature, and this was probably the main reason behind the weakness I was seeing.  The vet gave some vitamin D and selenium injections, and the wee ewe got some antibiotic for the pneumonia she seemed to be flirting with, and off we went, back to mama at home.  The boy responded to the injections almost immediately.  His floppy ears started to stick out like they are supposed to, and he definitely had more energy, with a few little lamb bounces that very evening.

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I think we’re going to make it.  They slept under the heat lamp for most of that first week.

The girl took a little longer, but by the weekend (they were born on a Monday), they were both going in the right direction.  I stopped feeding the boy about then, but still gave the girl a few feedings into the next week. C-Kerry has been a stellar mother to them – holding very still and even moving her leg out of the way when they got up to nurse.  They were smaller than the other lambs the same age, and the girl was very hocky – her rear legs meet at the hocks – but they slowly seem to be straightening as she gains strength and grows.  She lost part of her baby coat, and looked quite moth eaten for a while. I am chalking this up to the antibiotic injection she received as well as the overall stress she went through. But with Daisy’s recent diagnosis of ringworm, I watched the her closely (skin is clear, with new wool growing underneath the baby coat coming out).

But what about the 5 other ewes and their lambing, you ask?

The day after C-Kerry had her premies (so 3 ewes lambed, with 4 babies so far), Duna, my least favorite ewe (I’ve kept her for sentimental reasons (loved her mother)) decided to have a nice little white ewe.  I was home to see the birth, and moved Duna and the baby into a jug a short time after the lamb was on her feet. Duna was doing everything just as she should, but a little confused on why the lamb kept trying to go “back there.”

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Some dirt crumbles on her back, but Duna thought she was just perfect.

It was a nice-ish afternoon (we’ve had SUCH rain this year) and I was dinking around outside the pen (picking up sticks for the yard waste bin) when I looked over to see Duna pushing again.  They don’t push like that for afterbirth, but it had been nearly 4 hours since she had her ewe lamb.  Then the “afterbirth” raised up and shook its head.  OMG!  I went into the pen with her – after more than 3 ½ hours, she was already over the moon over the ewe lamb she’d had, but what was this?  She licked at him tentatively, but wasn’t hugely interested and went back to her ewe.  I wiped down the little guy with a towel – he seemed strong and vital, even with all that time between the births (normally twins come within 30 minutes of each other).

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Only minutes old and his mother and sister were ignoring him.

Duna was a little more interested after I cleaned him up some, and licked at him as she should.  But still, she wasn’t that attracted to him compared to her girl.  Then she decided he didn’t get to nurse.  Not a full-on rejection, but darn close.  I watched into the evening and realized I had to intervene. I haltered her and held her still to let him nurse – he latched on pretty well, but she was NOT happy.  So I tube fed him as well, to be sure he was getting something.  The next morning I wrestled her down before going to work so he could get some food.  But I ended up tube feeding him more than he got from her.  That evening, while on the phone with a fellow shepherd (Sir Terry’s owner, in fact), we brainstormed.  I thought about using an essential oil on him, but my friend said to use it on the ewe lamb instead.  It was aniseed oil, and sure enough, with the ewe lamb smelling funny, Duna let the little guy – a moorit – latch on and tank up.  I could see his little sides bulging by the time he was done.  Whew!  Crisis averted.  Or so I thought.  By the weekend it was obvious she wasn’t going to let him nurse.  He was resourceful, and tried some of the other ewes as he could, but again, intervention was needed.  So he – now called Rudy, or little fella – is my first bottle lamb.  I’ve been able to leave him with the flock, which is better for him, but was feeding him at least four times a day, more often as I could (with my work schedule, it’s hard).  He comes running when he sees me, and drinks his bottle like a champ (although I am now weaning him – he’s six weeks old already).  He’s smaller than some of the other lambs, but he’s growing, and is spunky and strong.  He’s going to be a tough one to let go…

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Rudy getting his evening bottle from my sister, who came out to experience MacFinn Farm lambdimonium over Memorial Day weekend.

To be continued…

Into each life…a little luck must fall

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After the wettest winter on record, we are finally starting to see some sunshine. It is very welcome.

So I guess I’ve had a month.  I know, I know, what about the LAST SIX months and my blogging drought?  It’s been an eventful six months, but really, the past six weeks are what I’m going to blog about today.

Everybody has stuff happen here and there.  It’s just been a while since I’ve had things stack up quite like this (outside of the ol’ lung thing of 2014 through 2016 – ha!).  I get that everyone has troubles, that stuff happens, but it’s been a long, long time, maybe never, that I had a Series of Unfortunate Events like I’ve had in the past six weeks.  In that time I’ve seen my car mechanic (twice), a well and pump technician, the veterinarian (twice, for three different animals), a plumber, an electrician, and an appliance repair person. All the while, my work load (the paying gig, that is) was going nuts,(busy with deadline after deadline). I also had numerous calls and texts to the well/pump fella, multiple calls to the two vets I’m working with, and, I won’t lie, a few tears here and there.  So, as of this week, I am hopeful, and trust completely, that this mensus horribilus is over!

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Lambie intensive care.

I thought the car problems were bad, starting at the end of April (engine suddenly losing acceleration – not power – as I was driving down the freeway – wee!, and again then on a back road, and then the check engine light coming on) but that was only $700 or so between diagnosis and fix (she’s still not 100%, but at least dependable again).  The well problem, cropping up about a week later, could have been easily 10 or 20 TIME$ that amount to fix.  But with the help of some awesome coaching by the well guy (who came out and inspected for an initial potential diagnosis) I narrowed it down to a serious leak in the pipe from the pump to the house. When I finally discovered it – directly under the bathtub, which resides on an alcove of sorts on the outside of my foundation: who knew? – I thought for sure I had a spring under the house! Enter the call to the plumber. But despite the stress of searching for the source of the problem, crawling under the house to dig up the pipe/s, and then waiting 4 1/2 days without water for the plumber’s schedule to open up, I got lucky. That was hard to keep in mind when I was going outside, ahem, with the dogs, or heating water for an old fashioned wash up in the tub (using bottled water). It was camping at home, and if it weren’t for the animals I would have skipped out and stayed with a friend.

And of course both of these pale in comparison to the animals being unwell, and especially the dogs, my other heart(s).  The lambing issues were unusual and, for me, new.  I’ll detail these in another post – it was a crazy two or three weeks!  Daisy cropped up with a weird fungal infection on her face and it took a little time to figure it out.  The cure was a gnarly antifungal drug the vet prescribed (and I reluctantly agreed to).  But before I could give her more than one dose, she presented with a weird abscess (best guess) in her face/upper jaw.  She was unable to open her mouth all the way, and the area around her left eye was swollen and she was squinting.  Another trip to the vet (we walked the two miles because the car wouldn’t start) and the cure for the abscess was a round of clindamycin.  It took four days before I could definitively say the medication was working, so I asked the vet for a second week of the drug, just to really kick it.  The great side effect benefit was that it cleared up the fungal infection too.  Yay!  No need for the antifungal I didn’t want to give her. How lucky is that?

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Fresh from the vet, after he scraped and took samples – top of her muzzle and on the side, next to her nose.

Along the way with this major stuff is the not so major stuff (concert ticket problems to resolve with Ticketmaster; the cat escaped out the door one rainy evening and killed a hummingbird at my feeder – I cried and cried and cried over that tiny body, whose death I caused;  a couple days later I accidentally stepped on a banana slug and killed it – I didn’t cry, but I felt so bad about that), and of course the good things too.  The concert tickets worked out and the show was FANTASTIC (U2 The Joshua Tree tour) – providing a much needed break (and, amazingly, that night was also a break in the near-constant rain we had before and after).  AND, because of where the lighting and sound tent was located on the floor, they moved us to new seating.  My $90 seats (which I was really pleased with) suddenly became $400 seats. WOW! Add to this the realizations about my own strengths, and then the truly blessed things – gifts you don’t even realize at first.  Like a well/pump guy who generously shared his time and knowledge with me (via text and phone), over two weeks, and never once getting tired of my latest “what dis?” ignorant question, pointing me in the right direction again and again and coaching me through the digging and discovery.  It’s “funny” because I originally called a different well guy (I was running out of water in the house and I didn’t know why) – one that I’d used before – and they were so backed up with work that they referred me to the one I ended up calling.  And, it turns out, truly a blessing in disguise – he was WAY more helpful than the original would have been.  I got really really lucky.  The electrician that I called was the same, coming out on a Friday evening on the start of a holiday weekend.  I was fully prepared to spend the three day weekend without water, but he came out and tested everything.  It turned out (as I discovered the next morning) that this was a false alarm on my part; there was no electrical or mechanical issue, but I was so ramped up with worry about what the well and tank were doing that I thought I was seeing something that wasn’t actually happening – embarrassing but true, and a $176 lesson.

But through all of this, I learned a lot about my little house, about how things work here, and about my own toughness and determination, about my ability to cope (sometimes not so well, frankly; other times, amazingly resilient) and what I can accomplish on my own.  No car? No problem – I’ll walk, or take the bus. No water? No problem, I’ll make do with bottled water and camping at home. Lambing problems? I can handle that with the help of a vet or two (and I have to say, large animal vets are the BEST), a knowledgeable sheep community, who, when I reached out to them, were willing to help me troubleshoot and recommended care for my unwell newborn lambs. Well or pipe problems? Call for expert help, and roll your sleeves up to help yourself along the way. The well guy – Dave is his name, of Ralph’s Pump and Well – told me that I likely saved myself $1,000 by doing all the diagnostic legwork and digging myself. I couldn’t have done it without him, and told him so (and owe him a beer), but it was worth the hard work to save that money and also to learn not only how things work around here, but what I can do, and a little more of what I’m made of.  Plus, it was good to have something to do besides wring my hands and wait for “rescue” by someone else.  Action is always good, just as stillness can be good (I needed the latter when my brain tried to spin worry out of control).

All is well now, my leaking pipe is fixed, my car is running, Daisy’s fungal infection cleared up (and without giving her the $80 worth of gnarly systemic medicine for 12 weeks – I really could have used that $80, but very, very happy I didn’t end up putting her on that drug), the three weak lambs all toughed it out, fighting to live as I fought to save them.  Sheep are such tough critters! And the washer is now “fixed” – no small feat, considering the juxtaposition of the hoses and lack of access thereto (the washer itself was fine, but with all the water problems, grit had filled the hoses to the machine) — so I can do a two-week backlog of laundry. Clean sheets and blankets galore!

And thank my lucky stars, remembering that upon us all little rain must fall.  This one brings back a few memories, too. Take a listen…ahhh.

But let’s talk LAMBS! See next post for lambdimonium! 20170427_182826

Happy New Year Musings

20161209_091400Happy New Year!  When I look at the calendar and see 2017 it seems so surreal.  It’s such a science-fictiony kind of date for those of us born near the middle of the last century.  But here we all are, still grunting along, with the proverbial two steps forward, one step back still in heavy rotation (one might agree that equation is backwards, in light of the year just past).  There were a lot of “good riddance” attitudes as 2016 faded into history, as there are at every New Year.  Each year deals its own challenges as time and life progresses, be it natural disaster, personal losses, or global events. This year it seemed as if there were more of the “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” type sentiments (as if the turn of a calendar page could transform anything), with several high profile celebrity deaths happening to bookend the year, and in the middle as well.  Our celebrity culture tells us that these celebrities’ deaths are “Breaking News” and social media lights up with mournful responses for each one.  Certainly these people do affect our lives with their talents, entertaining us and perhaps changing our outlooks or inspiring us such that our own trajectory is altered.  Of course even in this, our lives, and life courses, are self-generated, with any course change or goal achieved being of our own volition, or any lack thereof being also our own choice. When people are lamenting the loss of one celebrity or another I remember the Walt Whitman poem “Oh Me! Oh Life!” from his Leaves of Grass, which ends with the potent line:
“[Answer] That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”  And of course the equally powerful natural follow up to that last, magnificent line: What will your verse be? (And yes, I know, I quote a dead celebrity [in a movie] with this line, but there you have it.)

20161205_094623In other powerful revelations, I maintain my long-held belief that the epitome of civilization, the absolute pinnacle of mankind’s achievements—and I’m not kidding when I say this—is: hot running water from a tap.  I am completely serious.  Go without electricity for a week and you’ll find you can cope. If you don’t have modern central heating, a woodstove does an excellent job (and helps with cooking too). There are several make-do substitutions for almost any of modern conveniences, but running water, specifically hot running water, simply cannot be matched.  I learned this many years ago, when a winter storm left me without power for 5 long days. At the time I did have a woodstove, so kept the house toasty-warm that way. And hot running water was maintained with a natural gas hot water heater. So a delicious hot shower by candlelight, with hair dried sitting on a footstool next to the woodstove, kept things civilized.

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Beautiful overnight frost on my windshield.

Here on my little farm though, I not only don’t have a woodstove (the place is so tiny I have no idea where to put it, and the most likely place would require eliminating half of my already paltry living room seating), I’m also on a well, with an electric water heater. So when the power goes out, I immediately begin water rationing, using water sparingly so I don’t run out the tank while I wait for the power to come back on. Or, in the case of this week, when we have long spells of freezing/below freezing weather, the wellhead and/or the pipes at the tank freeze up, and I’m again rationing water until the weather warms up. The temps dipped on Tuesday.  I saw this pattern was coming on Sunday and Monday, so did laundry, filled the sheep’s water trough, and washed my hair in anticipation of water rationing.  We did okay for a couple days, and still the freezing temperatures persisted.  Generally, if it doesn’t get above 32 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and also dips into the low 20s or below at night, the freezing of the water supply is at risk.  We had this all week, with temps in the mid and high teens at night, and barely climbing to 33 or 34 degrees during the day.  By Wednesday I could see the water pressure was waning, as the water coming out of the taps was beginning to slow.  This meant the tank was emptying and not refilling.  Thursday morning as I was readying for work, she gave up the ghost.  No water.  Dang.

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Sir Terry, the handsome ram who’s visiting for a few key months, and his harem.

I stopped at the store on the way home from work that night and bought 5 gallons of water (because of course I haven’t stockpiled water).  I used all but one gallon that night, as I boiled up a gallon to bring out to the sheep (poured into their frozen trough, it melted some of the ice and gave them some water until it froze over again), filled the dogs’ bowls (because of course those had gotten low, too), and used some for washing up.  On Friday I stopped and refilled those four 1-gallon containers.  Saturday I was still without water and bought another 3 gallons of water.  Though the temperature was slowly rising, it really needs to get to at least 35 degrees for 24 hours before things thaw enough.  This little hillside is a cold hillside, with negligible direct sun this time of year and both the wellhead and the tank being in perennially shaded areas.  On Sunday the temps were supposed to rise some more, but I was concerned it wouldn’t be enough to thaw things.  It had now been almost a week without a proper shower, and going outside with the dogs for potty was getting old (and a bit chilly!).

I went down to the well head – a little box at the bottom of the pasture.  I threw a rug, still warm from the clothes dryer, over the pump.  And realized I needed to do more.  So I cobbled together no less than 6 extension cords (that last 9-footer made it!) and put an electric heater in the box, on low, and left it for a 45 minutes or so while I fed the sheep and cleaned up the garage.  After nearly an hour it was nice and toasty in the box, but the tank up by the house wasn’t budging.  So I took the heater, with only one extension cord this time, and put it in the tiny shed that the tank lives in on the side of the house.  I kept checking on it, and moved it closer and closer to the piping.  Finally, an hour into it (two hours if you count the time at the wellhead), I began to get water out of the tap.  Hallelujah and happy dance.  Let there be water!

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Frosty woods out back. The kicker, to be filed in the “it’s always something” folder, is I absolutely LOVE this weather aside from the frozen water aspect.  It’s been mostly clear, so lots of blue sky and winter sun (yes!), and even when it’s mere 24 degrees out there, I find it comfortable (no wind to speak of, so wind chill isn’t a factor).  The ground is frozen solid, so no mud (HUGE), and it’s beautiful to look at the frost-laden landscape. What’s not to love?

I waited a reasonable amount of time to be sure the water was staying on, and then ran the dishwasher (packed full after a week), and a load of laundry (also full).  Then, when it looked like all systems were go there, I got into the shower for the first time since Monday.  Baby wipes and sponge bathing had kept me reasonably clean, but I hadn’t washed my hair since Monday, and it was wonderful.  I was able to wipe the counters clean with a damp cloth for the first time in days, and really clean things in the kitchen.  Sunday’s temps are rising a little but the ground is still frozen solid, so I’m glad I made the effort.

Hot running water.  Seriously.

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Gratuitous cuteness.  My little pack, all tuckered out after romping outside for a few hours.

Letting go

img958I made scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning. A mundane, everyday occurrence. Except when it’s not. You see, I (finally) gave up all my chickens a couple of weeks ago, at the direction of my doctor. After dragging my feet on it for six months, I placed an ad on Craigslist and they were gone in less than 24 hours. It was a good time to do it, just as we head into the winter months. They weren’t laying much (I was getting 1 egg a day from 18 hens) and the winter months are hard on them – they don’t enjoy the 6 months of rain any more than I do. Caring for any livestock during the winter months is more work (thawing frozen waterers when it freezes, replenishing straw regularly to help combat the ever-present mud, etc.), so getting rid of them now was a little easier, in theory.

I got an incredible response to the “Free Chickens” ad–over a dozen people, with half of them in the first three hours after I posted, and more coming in until I pulled the ad about 10 hours later. I had no idea old hens would be such a hot item. I replied to the first person that responded and said he wanted them all. He was close, only one town away, and was able to come after church on Sunday.

I went out mid-morning to shoo the girls into the coop, where they would be easier to catch. I donned my respirator mask, tucked my hair under my cap, and got to work. I moved them to the old chicken tractor I bought when I first moved here and needed a place for the hens I’d moved in with. It went quickly and easier than I expected. Then the tears came. I stuffed them back – I didn’t want to be a mess when the guy got here. But I had to go inside for a while.

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Loaded up and waiting.  Trying not to cry.

The fellow got here and got out of his van with three young boys, stair-step in height from age 6-ish to age 12-ish, each armed with a fishing net. We didn’t need the nets, but it was cute that they were ready for chicken catching. We loaded the hens up–there were 15 of them going—into the assortment of boxes the fellow brought and before I knew it, it was done.  I sent them off with 14 free hens,* plus my 25# feeder, the rest of a bag of feed I had, and three waterers. And it was over. After 34 years—most of my life—with anywhere from 6 to 26 chickens in my backyard, I was now chicken-less.

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So quiet and sad.

So now it’s just the adjustment to life without chickens. I know it sounds ridiculous in many ways, but it’s a huge change for me. They weren’t pets per se, but I loved having them in my life. Their simple pleasures in a good sunbath, a juicy worm, scratching in the garden, and dusting in the dry duff under the cedar trees were my pleasures, too. They are entertaining to watch, and their busy little lives were always an enjoyable way to wind down after a hectic day at work and a lousy commute. Plus, eggs. Delicious, free-range eggs on organic feed. These purchased eggs have a funny taste in comparison, and even though they’re pastured, organic eggs (at $6 a dozen) they’re not as rich or egg-licious as mine were. 20161120_123149I wake up in the morning and look out the bathroom window to the empty coop and run, so silent in the morning gloom, when it should be filled with the waking flock, clucking and pecking and preening. I come home expecting to see them come running to the fence, eager to be let out (I kept them penned when I wasn’t home, to keep them safe from predators). While raking leaves I am struck by the silence of not being surrounded by a happy flock scratching around in the leaf litter and filling up on all the goodies they find. A favorite activity was to dismantle a pile of leaves I’d raked up; they were quick and industrious, and could take down a pile in short order (like, while I briefly went to get a bin for the leaves). I feed the sheep after work and think about checking on the hens for a half beat before I remember they’re no longer out there. The coop is deathly quiet now.  It’s even noticeable at night, when they’d normally be quiet anyway, roosting for the night; my coop full of contented hens is no longer there and it’s almost ghostly.

It’s ridiculous how many tears I’ve cried, not realizing until they were gone how they infiltrated my life so completely. I knew I would miss them, but I didn’t know that virtually everything I did outside would be permeated with their loss, even as it was filled with their presences before. I don’t know why I didn’t expect this; perhaps because I never imagined this scenario. Even now, looking out my office window as I type, the vacant run is still and the emptiness is wrenching. I used to look out at them as I worked here, a moment’s respite from my labors at the computer, reflecting or looking for a word, thought, or sentence in my mind as I watched them being all chickeny, happy in their little chicken lives, providing me with entertainment and solace, de-stressing me with their calming, bucolic presence. Plus, eggs.

I’ve tried to rationalize it every which way, knowing that I had to do this for my health, that it’s for the best, that it will save me money at the feed store, that it be easier to have fewer animals to care for (whatever), but nothing is breaking the desolate void of not having them. Except my heart.

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*I’d withheld three hens for a woman on a local FB group I belong to, who’d expressed interest in them; they went to their new home on Tuesday morning, plus one who’d escaped on Sunday.

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