Mo Bloggin'

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Archive for the tag “sheep”

Autumn excitement

20161018_084137I can’t believe it’s almost the end of October already. The falling leaves and bare branches, cold temperatures and fall rains all seem premature somehow. Every year I am virtually dragged into fall kicking and screaming, not ready to give up summer. But alas, it is here.  The autumn months are beautiful, no question, with the leaves turning and all the fall harvests and ripenings, but after just a few weeks of rain I’m already dreading the three or four months of rain yet to come. I need to make peace with this.

Earlier this month we had a visitor to the farm. I’d run out on Saturday to do my usual weekend errands. I came back home and pulled up the driveway to the gate. I saw one of the sheep run across my field of vision as I got out of the car to open the gate. They normally get excited when I come home and run up to the upper pasture gate as I drive up the hill. But intuition told me something was up and I immediately worried about loose dogs (not my own, which were inside the house). 20161005_172937

I opened the gate and walked over toward the pasture quickly. The sheep were all bunched together, moving, except for that black one up by the…  OMG. That’s not a sheep! A black bear had come to visit! I clapped my hands loudly and walked toward the bear (in the pasture with the sheep, but not really after the sheep, as far as I could tell). “Go on, bear!” I hollered at it. He moved down the hill away from me, toward the NE corner of the pasture, then sat down to chew on his foot (maybe he stepped on a thistle?). He knew I was there, but wasn’t nearly as concerned about my presence as I would have liked.  He went over the pasture fence and headed up the hill toward the chicken coop – and the beehive. I got in the car and drove up the hill quickly. The car driving up scared him a little, and he moved to the edge of the yard to where the grass meets the woods. I got out and walked towards him, clapping my hands again, and telling him to go on (the dogs heard me from inside the house and started barking). He looked at me for a long moment then moved off into the woods, loping to the fence and off the property. Then I went inside and let the dogs out to reinforce the message.

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Sorry for the blurry exposure – I was a wee bit excited.  The sheep in the foreground (Minnie, I think) is looking at me to fix this situation.

It was pretty exciting to see a bear like that. I’ve had them come through before (though it’s been a few years) and generally at this same time of year August/September, but in those other instances I just heard them (moving through the brush) or, my first year here, seeing the aftermath (tipped over the empty garbage bin, got into my bird feeder, got into my chicken feed – I no longer feed the birds and keep the chicken feed locked in the garage). This was the real deal, and in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon. Wow!

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A few feathers is all that was left of a good sized rooster.  A stealthy bobcat strike. 

The next day I was out working in the yard and the chickens were out. When I went to check on their feed and water later in the afternoon I saw we were down by one. The rooster obviously got got – a few feathers and a little blood and evidently the work of a bobcat. I found a feather or two by the back fence line, but it was clean and quiet, just like a cat. Dang.

On Monday night I was sitting in my living room, up late and working on an editing job, and heard the chickens squawking. I heard a thump and went to look out the window at the coop. I didn’t see anything in the porch light, but figured maybe it was the bobcat again so I let the dogs out. The barking excitement told me they were doing their job. After a bit Farley and Daisy came in at my call. Pal didn’t. He sometimes will stay out running around for 30 minutes, but considering the activity recently, I started to worry. I called him and got nothing. So I got a flashlight and went out, Daisy and Farley happy to come out for more 2 a.m. fun. I saw a white streak run by in the dark but when I called him he didn’t come, which is unusual for Pal, as he has a pretty good recall. At least he was okay.  The chickens seemed to be fine – a little shaken up and a couple off the roosts, and I shut the coop door and propped it with the fence post (it doesn’t close all the way).  Meanwhile Daisy had taken up barking maniacally at the foot of a maple tree near coop, like a coonhound with a treed coon. I went over and shined the flashlight up the trunk, but I already knew what I’d find, judging by the noise. The bear was back. He looked down on us from a rather flimsy looking branch about 30 feet up, clacking his teeth and bawling every once in a while (the best way to describe the noise – not a growl and not a roar, more like a moaned complaint). I had to physically haul Daisy off to the house. Farley came with us, and Pal now, too. I watched/listened from the bathroom window and after about 20 minutes I could hear branches cracking as the bear lowered himself to the ground and ran off over the fence. I felt bad for the bruin, as he was obviously scared, but hoped that the hazing by the dogs would convince him to move on and that human dwellings weren’t good places to hang out.

There were a couple of hens loose in the morning, so I herded them back into the coop. A quick head count told me we were down one.  I don’t think it was the bear, but more likely the bobcat, come to take advantage of the birds being loose. I left for work. And that afternoon I pulled up the driveway see this.

He was back. He was about 15 yards away and stood watching me. I got out of the car and took few steps in his direction, clapping my hands loudly. (Cue chorus of barking from inside the house.) He thought about it for a few seconds, then turned and left. I kept clapping and yelling. Then, when I was sure he was over the fence, I let the hounds out.  Wee!  So much fun!

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Muddy paw marks on top of the gate.  Smelly fly trap to the upper right, and a tipped over water trough just on the other side of the fence. 

Then I went around the property to see what he’d been up to. I’d left the sheep in their pen that day, and from what I can tell, he was maybe IN the pen with them. Or maybe just climbing the gate (I could see muddy paws had been up on the top of the 5 foot gate) and also the other side of the pen. As near as I could tell he was after the smelly fly trap still hanging out there (smells like a dead thing rotting) from the summer. He’d bitten at it but didn’t take it all the way down. The sheep seemed fine – weren’t even breathing hard by the time I got home. And of course there’s this.

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Nice.  But there was no honey in this hive, and no stinging bees either. 

It’s the dead hive, with the live hive full of (angry) bees…and honey, right next to it, still intact. I wondered if I maybe interrupted him when I pulled up. Other than that it was just the fence that was taking a beating with all these visits.

I decided to stay home the next day to keep an eye on the place. I was able to work remotely from home, and keep watch while I did so. The bear came back around noon, from what I could tell by the chickens and sheep behavior, but I don’t think he came on the property then. (I let the dogs out to reinforce things.) Then, about 2:30 he was back.  I saw the chickens go quiet and bunch up again. I got up to look out the front window to see the sheep in the pasture all looking intently towards the north/east property line. I went out (without the dogs at first) and clapped my hands.  I heard him move off, and went to let the dogs out again.  So. Much. Excitement. And I fixed the crunched fence sections for the fourth time.

Again, I hoped this hazing (especially the two tries without any reward) would make him decide to move on. He didn’t seem to want apples. And thankfully he didn’t seem to want the chickens or sheep. I think he was young and inexperienced at being on his own, but hopefully heading towards the foothills and a safe place to den for the winter. We haven’t seen him since that day, three weeks ago now, and I hope he’s safe.

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Gratuitous cuteness: Pal on his 7th birthday last Friday.  He was worried that this unusual attention (me trying to get a nice photo of him on his birthday) might mean something like a nail trim or a bath. Love this little guy!  (Excuse the fugly tape on the chair – it’s a lost cause, but I try to deter the cats from shredding it more by putting double-sided tape on it.)

 

 

Rain and reflections

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Watching the rain fall.

It’s been raining all day today and it’s wonderful. I can’t even believe I am saying that, but it’s funny how weather excesses or extremes, especially out of season excesses, can make you long for the opposite, and even make you anxious.

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Wet bee yard; the package bees (left hive) are still out flying – I love how gnarly they are!

For us here in the PNW, rain in November is relentless and pummels the house and the property. It’s often a little frightening at times for this Chicken Little, as the water sluices down the hillside, the ground turns to muck, and the river in the valley nearby overflows its banks (making the commute home from work worrisome).  As I listened to the music of the rain on the roof this morning I was reflecting at how in November, December, or January, I actually get a little scared when it rains this hard and steadily for hours. It’s not sweet music then, but an ominous wintertime soundtrack.  Today it was calming and comforting.

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Gorgeous blue sky on the last mile of my evening commute home.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know that I adore the sun and blue sky.  I realize more and more that I want to see more sky, more openness.  I love the trees, but it gets so claustrophobic sometimes, and especially at this time of year (I’ve spoken of this before), when the jungle-like growth begins to feel like it’s closing in.  And all winter long the constant rain and dark, cloudy skies, combined with the short daylight hours, feels oppressive and beyond dismal, day after day. The weather almost becomes the enemy, something to be fought and/or feared.

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Soggy with rain, the pool refilling with rainwater after last week’s heat.

Now we’ve had a spring unlike any I can remember, with drought-like conditions and record-breaking heat (90+ degrees in April – where the hell am I, anyway?).  This after a previous year of record-breaking weather patterns (2015’s dry spring and summer and record-breaking summer temps, followed by the wettest winter on record) and again I get anxious.  What does this mean for me, my animals, my bees, my planet? So you can see why the rain and cool temps—typical weather for a northwest May (and something to grumble about in a normal year)—was soothing today.

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Rain all day long, yet I’m totally okay with it.

The rain slowed later in the day and I let the sheep out to graze.  I assured them the rain was a good thing for the grass and browse they love, but still they wanted out. Noisy C-Kerry led the chorus of:  “We don’t care if we get wet, we’re sheep!  Just let us out!” The trees and under story are heavy with the rain, and branches are low to the ground with the weight of water. There was even a downed maple branch over the lower fence.  They are enjoying the heck out of it all, pruning and munching on the delicious green growth they love.

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Shearing day last week; one of these is not like the others.

I watch them and am reminded how much I love them. Well, maybe not so much when they’re gobbling up my hops vines, comfrey, or horseradish plants, or the beautiful woodland ferns and other plants (my wonderful Devil’s club!) out back, or peeling the bark off my fruit trees. I’ve learned to monitor them better, but still like to let them out to keep the grass mowed around the house, stretch the feed bill, and ease the pressure on their pasture.  And I reflected on them and my relationship to them—to all my animals—and not only what they mean to me, but what do I mean to them? How do they see me? (A few of the flock must see me with a scythe and hooded robe, judging by how they react to me every. single. time. they see me. Maybe there are hallucinogens in the hay I feed?)

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Eloise at the top of the corner post in the chicken run.

I am reflecting on all of this after reading a blog post by a fellow blogger, also a woman, also a farmer (though she, lucky girl, is able to do it full time).  Like many bloggers (can you believe I’ve been blogging for over 7 years now?) I like to follow other bloggers, especially those who are doing things similar to me: solo homesteaders like Belle Manor Farms and Morris Brook Farm, sheep raisers like Canfield Farm, just a few miles away, beekeepers, nature lovers and wildlife advocates. I’ve been following Celi and her Kitchens Garden blog for at least 4 years now, maybe longer, and I find it a delightful day-to-day account of what she’s doing. Sometimes the animals take center stage, sometimes the hard work of farming, sometimes the garden harvest and cooking of same, and sometimes we go on vacation with her (there are over 5,000 people who follow her blog – !!) – all this with great photos of her farm (by “Camera House” – even her camera has a name and entity – I love this woman!), her animals (spring babies!) and scenery on her travels.  She posts every single day, for which I am very envious, and she has copious numbers of commenters (the Fellowship), which she calls the Lounge of Commenters.  Isn’t that delightful?

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Salal blossoms.

At any rate, Celi had a wonderful post the other day.  Sometimes she just riffs on a thought and it can be profound, with observations as keen and insightful as any philosopher’s, as this one was. It was called A Chair of My Own.

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A recent bee convention over some old honeycomb I had. I got several species of bumblebee, as well as the honey bees and even a yellowjacket or two.

Many of the comments added to the conversation and further enlightenment, as they often do.  And I reflected on my own situation, with my own self-imposed cage(s), and then on to my own animals and their habits. How DO the sheep see me? Little Trixie and her brother Mungo seem to love me, with Mungo especially coming at a run and staying with me for as long as I’ll scratch his chin, even when the rest of the flock has run off to the ecstasy of release to fresh grass.  It warms my heart that the two of them, and their mother sometimes, would rather be with me than with the other sheep. Is it intentional? Do they know that this will keep them from the freezer permanently? Those feral ones who behave as if I’m coming with a noose when I’m just bringing them dinner…well, they are creating their own reality, as I will be reviewing this year’s shearing and making some decisions based on their fleeces (my freezer is almost empty and I’m beginning to really enjoy mutton).  And just that has me reeling with recognition.  I struggle with my own choices in life (mostly related to job/income) and how my perception of things colors my reality: the fear/s that keep me where I am, instead of where I want to go, who I want to be and what I want to accomplish before this gig is up.

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The bird dogs covering the driveway action: squirrels at one end, cars and motorcycles at the other, and croaking (teasing) ravens overhead.

And what do the dogs think of me, and our life here?  Or of the dog park of their life on the farm, but confining in its own way as well.  I think they know the oasis they provide for me (I tell them, and thank them, often), and hopefully know how profoundly grateful I am to them for keeping me afloat emotionally, mentally, and every other way there is.  I cannot repay them for all they give me, which is why I am so “lenient” on them with regards to making them behave. I sing to them as I make them dinner, or when I come home to their unbridled joy at seeing me (and me them!).  I make up the songs as I go, usually sung to an old, well-known tune, and I know it makes them happy when I sing (because they know I sing when I’m happy).  I also know they love it when I laugh, and I see how hard they work to keep me happy and laughing.  I joke that they have me very well trained (when I buy 10 boxes of biscuits at a time the clerks always ask me about it; we go through at least 3 (1-pound) boxes a week here).  But who am I to these creatures that mean so much to me?  Is it as profound to them as it is to me? I think of each of them and how they came to me, the obstacles they overcame to reach me, or for me to find them.  Is it just me, or is this as profound for everyone here?  I think of finding my first sheep, the serendipity around all of it…though I think it’s more than just chance, or coincidence.  Do they think that too?  How about you, and the animals in your life?

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Gratuitous cuteness: the old guy, traipsing into the house with his swamp legs after a dip in the swampy little pond-ette on a hot spring evening.

Making every day count

A dear friend sent me this card several years ago; it’s becoming more and more true as time goes on. I have it pinned to my wall at work.

It seems to be a phenomenon as you get older: the acceleration of time. When you are 9 years old and are granted an extra hour past your bedtime, it’s as if you got a week.  After school is out in June, the summer off stretches like the Serengeti in its endless horizons.  Now, decades later, an hour goes by in five minutes, and three months would barely be enough time to get caught up on sleep, and maybe one project out of the five on your Big List.  The time warp that comes with having too many things to do in not enough time is real, and also a product of our increased responsibilities and the age we live in, where demands come from all directions, and we end up staring at a 3”x 4” device in our hand to escape it all (which of course, only makes the loss of time more acute).  The key, it seems, is staying present.

This weekend went by much too quickly, as they tend to do. I spent all day Saturday at the Cattleman’s Winterschool and Country Living Expo, a regional event for those of us farm-minded. What seems like hundreds of classes are offered, everything from “Introduction to Turkeys” and “Repairing Small Engines” to “Beginning Pork: Raising Pastured Pigs,” “Sheep Necropsy,” and “Chainsaws for Women,” and you get to pick 5 (one hour each, plus lunch). I’ve been to this several times, though it’s been a couple years since I’ve gone.  The last time I went it turned out to be a frustrating waste of time; the event has grown exponentially, and the growing pains being that some classes offered really aren’t suitable for a one hour session, others where the volunteer instructor doesn’t really know how to stay on track with time.  Two years ago 3 out of 5 classes were a complete waste of time (one had a substitute instructor that didn’t have any agenda; another was barely into the first page of the multi-page handout at 45 minutes in…).  I was so aggravated at the waste of time and money that I swore I wouldn’t go back.  I skipped last year, and heard about several very good classes that I missed.  So I decided to try again this year.  I was a little smarter about my choices.  Instead of just choosing topics that interested me, of which there are many, I also quantified it by asking myself “can this topic be adequately covered in one hour?”  There are several two session classes, more this year than ever, so there is the realization that not every topic can be covered in 60 minutes.  This year I only had one class that didn’t work.  Instead of toughing it out and getting frustrated, I left and changed to another class I was also interested in (this was over the lunch periods, so was doable), which I was much happier about.  Even so, the second class was a bit of a hash as the dual instructors, who were both extremely knowledgeable on their topic, didn’t have any kind of linear agenda, and were also blown off course quickly by the myriad questions.  So many questions in fact that it ended up almost as if there were two classes being taught side by side.  They came back together in the end, and the information was such that I didn’t expect much (i.e., I knew this would only be a ‘dip your toe in’ sort of class, not any real learning), and felt satisfied at the end.

Temple Grandin at Cattlemen's Winterschool and Country Living Expo - a great talk!

Temple Grandin at Cattlemen’s Winterschool and Country Living Expo – a great talk!

One of this year’s highlights was the two-session talk by Temple Grandin, well known in the animal community for her groundbreaking information on humane handling (especially livestock, but all species, including dogs).  She was humorous and passionate, and though most of the information I already knew from reading her books, it was delightful to see her in person. The last two classes of the day were the best, and mostly because of the instructor, who not only knew his stuff, but was a natural instructor.  He had excellent information that was clearly presented, and with a relaxed, easy manner (even with humor! Always a plus); and even with lots of questions he was able to stay on track.  It seemed he crammed much more into his one hour than any of the other instructors were able to.  It was a good lesson even beyond the information being presented.  All in all it was a good day, if long.  I was able to hook up with people I knew—the plus of doing this for several years now is that I’m meeting and getting to know more and more in the sheep community.  One gal there this weekend was a name I’d heard over and over and over (and who actually lives quite close to me), and when I saw her I went and introduced myself.  It was nice to finally say hello, put a face to the name, and make one more connection in the ever widening community of shepherds.

Sunday morning with the gang.

Sunday morning with the gang.

I was, by some miracle, able to make it home in time to get to the feed store (only 10 minutes to spare!) thus saving a trip out today. So, after a lazy morning catching up on some sleep and book reading, I went outside and did some garage cleaning/unloaded the hay and straw I bought last night, cleaned and freshened the bedding in the sheep shed, and cleaned and filled feeders and waterers for the sheep and chickens, and added some enrichment treats to all as well.

Some spent hay and straw with cracked corn thrown in, fun to scratch for goodies.

Some spent hay and straw with cracked corn thrown in, fun to scratch for goodies.

As the weekend winds up (I still have about two hours of work I brought home from the office that I need to get to), it feels productive and full, and like maybe it didn’t go by as quickly as some others, where I didn’t get as much done.  A good weekend, with just the right balance of stuff and nothing, and a good reminder to make it count.

Love to wake up to this view.

Love to wake up to this view.

Hay Woes 2012, or, The Ongoing Saga of Feeding Fiber Sheep, Part 1

(no, not feeding fiber to sheep…)

It was a beautiful day this past Saturday, a gift of sunshine on a weekend day in November.  Northwest Novembers are typically considered the worst month of the year, weather-wise, so anything other than rain is a plus.  It’s early yet, we still have Thanksgiving coming up (storms with power outages and flooding are not uncommon on that weekend), but still, Saturday’s sun was lovely.  It was chilly, with a healthy frost on the ground (and thick morning fog, here in the fogtown of this river valley), but I’ll take a little morning fog and cold temps in exchange for sunshine and no rain any day.

My first chore of the day was to meet Sally, a fellow shepherd, with my latest acquisition in my Grail quest of finding the perfect hay feeding situation for the sheep.  It’s a beautifully constructed slow feeder, made by a local craftswoman, and allows the sheep to eat with two of the biggest grail factors completely obliterated: no waste (insert angels singing) and no vm (shorthand for vegetable matter (i.e., hay bits) in the fleece).  I have my fingers crossed that it will work for Sally, because I’m hoping someday it will work for me too.

Here’s the back story:  I purchased the feeder in September, when I began feeding hay to the sheep while they were still in the tired pasture.  After a late summer with little rain, the grass just wasn’t growing out there, and even with evening foraging excursions outside the pasture, they were hungry.  The slow feeder is solid, well constructed with attention to detail, and though a little spendy, it wasn’t overpriced.  It’s basically a box with a heavy grate that you put over the hay which allows the animals to pull hay out in mouthfuls, but prevents them pulling out great wads that then get dropped on the ground and wasted.  I put it out in the pasture and filled it with hay and life was good.  Great even.  After a day, and the sheep gobbling up the hay like they hadn’t eaten in weeks, there was zero waste.  I was amazed and delighted.  I filled it repeatedly in the next few days, with the same result – no waste and happy sheep.  I was doing the happy dance.  Then I noticed Minnie (and occasionally Fergus) standing in the center of the hay feeder instead of eating from the (out)sides.  She just leaped in and helped herself.  I was a little concerned that she’d get hurt jumping out, possibly getting stuck in the grid that holds the hay down, but she leaped out with aplomb.  Of course, as she spent time in there, munching away (maybe resting in there too?), she didn’t bother to get out when she felt the call of nature.  I realized after a couple of days that there were urine soaked areas of hay (because no one would go near that hay) and even little sheep raisins (poop).  Dang.

So the waste issue reared its ugly head again, this time due to soiling.  I called the feeder’s maker, Brenda, and we discussed ideas.  She offered to put up some vertical slats along the sides, sort of like headstalls, so the sheep could put their heads in between to feed, but it would hopefully prevent Minnie from jumping in.  I made the trip back up to her shop – an hour’s drive – and she put on the slats.  I was hopeful.  I put it back out when I got home that afternoon, and by the next day, Minnie was back in, munching, peeing, and pooping happily from the center of the box.  The box was getting stained and stinky and I finally pulled it out.  Maybe when she gets bigger I can try again. 

In the meantime, Sally emailed me.  She’d contacted Brenda independently and had gone to Brenda’s shop to see the feeders.  Brenda is a horse person,  and designed the feeder with equines in mind, and the smaller sizes and modifications are only for other species (sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas).   I’d sent her a photo of my sheep using the feeder and she shared that with Sally when Sally contacted her (I’d given her permission to use the photo for her ads).  Sally recognized the sheep as Shetlands and asked Brenda who they belonged to.  Brenda couldn’t remember my name, but remembered where I lived, and Sally deduced it must be me and sent me a note.  She’d been my connection a couple of times,  once when she was picking  up a primo pasture seed from the dealer in Oregon and offered to bring up a bag for anyone interested in our area, and another time she offered to pick up a mineral mix sold by another Shetland breeder on the Olympic peninsula, since she goes over there regularly.  So we knew each other via these connections (and the Shetland chat list).

I’m hoping the feeder will work for Sally.  So far so good, according to the report tonight, and she is just as amazed as I was at the reduction in wasted hay.  She has a small boy that she’s concerned will do the same thing as Minnie, but I think if the slats had been up from the start, perhaps Minnie wouldn’t have developed the habit right off the bat.  For now I’m back to using my hay nets, a good solution for the most part, except for vm issues.  Thankfully the vm problem is moot with the current batch of hay (like, 75 bales worth) I purchased for the winter.  Unfortunately, the waste issue has come back into play.  More on that in Part 2.

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