I heard the peep-peep-peep- and there they were.....a clutch of newborn chicks with their mother hen. My long barn has many nooks and crannies where free ranging hens can hide their eggs from me. It doesn't matter to them what time of year they hatch chicks. Surprisingly, many do survive. I put tubs on top of the rabbit cages and some of them lay eggs on a daily basis, even at the darkest time of the year when a dedicated room full of spoiled rotten chickens with regular meals aren't laying eggs at all. I don't feed the free rangers. They live off all the spilled grains from the rabbits, sheep and pigs. There is always plenty of food around for them. I love these mother hens. If all mothers were as protective and devoted as these little chickens the world would be a better place.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
What better way to come back to my journal than with a birth announcement? Yes, it's a surprise but maybe not so much of a surprise when I recall how late I pulled the rams out of the flock. There must have been one night when a hint of coolness triggered the hormones in the ewes and there it goes. I pulled Luna from the flock when I became concerned about her weight. My sheep get all the hay they can eat, along with green grass late into the fall, but other factors can come into play. I pulled another aged ewe, Magnolia, out with her, along with Ole' Momma and her pal, both old ladies. Last year Ole Mama surprised me with a set of ram twins, Castor and Pollux, named after the staI rs. When Magnolia grew round with a swollen udder I knew birth was imminent. I was forking hay yesterday in the mow and heard that distinctive "Mommy chatter." Sheep talk their lambs out of the womb. Lambs know their mother's voices before they are born and can distinguish mom's call in a crowded flock. I ran downstairs and sure enough it was happening.
Thank goodness I was hear as the lamb was stuck at the pelvic bones with the shoulder joints preventing them from sliding through. I could see the little front feet on either side of the nose, peeking out from her behind. When I was sure the labor was not progressing, I washed up. I cupped my hand around the lambs head with my right hand and pulled one leg forward. The one leg extension unhooked the shoulder and allowed the lamb to come through. It took a bit of pulling on my part and pushing on her part, but soon the long yellow torpedo slid out. She began licking the ram lamb and I knew we were going to be okay....or so I thought.
Friday, October 23, 2015
It's finally Friday. I have the Hamilton Farmer's Market tomorrow and then, glory be, I intend to stay in my pajamas until at least nine in the morning. I count 13 days going full tilt. I'm still catching up after NY Sheep and Wool. I went to bed early last night after grooming my nightly angora bunny. It was ten pm and the TV remote wasn't working - low batteries - and I thought I may as well give in. I love to stay up late at night as it is truly "my time" all to myself. Trouble is, ten pm is too early for me and at 4 am my body told me "you've had enough rest." I dawdled around making coffee and playing with the dogs and cats. Got myself bathed and ready for milking. Spouse met me down the hill where our "herd" lives and told me I was on my own as he was giving a test early in Syracuse and had to be on his way. I got the job done without too much trouble (as in Rocky nosing around Coco's udder while I'm milking which Coco doesn't like) and was walking back to the barn when I saw Ole' Mama calling into the woods on the ridge. Matt had put down hay to the sheep in the barn, or so he thought, when I became suspicious. Why isn't she with the other sheep in the barn? Well, there were no sheep in the barn. Guess who - me - had forgotten to close the gate after grazing the night before. I quickly suppressed the panic rising and checked the time - 7 am. I still had to feed the pigs, rabbits, rams/bucks in the back and chickens along with bringing kibble inside for the dogs. I called Reba and she immediately recognized the urgency in my voice, as if I was saying to her "we have a job to do right now!" She saw me grab the keys and ran with me to the van. We raced up the hill - no time for hiking up - and there they were. Phew! What a pretty sight they were, spread over the upper pasture. I parked and we ran up the embankment. GET 'EM UP! Reba ran across the field as the sheep hesitated. What? They are coming after us now? After letting us graze out here all night? They got the idea when the speedy hound, long ears circling with her rhythmic strides, came dashing toward them. I saw the whole flock disappear down the hill and I ran back to the van. Sure enough, Reba chased them all back in the barn. Now, I don't approve of running sheep, but this shepherd has a job, with critters to feed and water before she leaves for work. I got everybody taken care of with water jugs all topped off. The hand full of comfrey leaves I picked for one bunny off her feed was dropped along the way but if that's all I forgot, well, I'm okay. I think a little sofa time is in store for me after I get home and check everything out. Some of the sheep are looking a little rotund. Lambs on the way? Did Louie get his last licks in before removal to the pen behind the barn? We shall see....before the real cold weather hits I pray.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
This is the face I see waiting for me every day in the pre-dawn hours. Coco is enjoying her lush little pasture by the tractor shed. Rocky and Blackie, the two bull calves that came with her, keep her company. We get about two gallons of delicious creamy calcium-rich raw milk every morning and night. Raw milk is calcium rich and contains all the good enzymes that pasteurization removes. The kitties get the morning milk and I strain and bottle the night time milk for us. I make yogurt and mozzarella cheese with it but haven't quite mastered the butter yet. I adore the yogurt and swear it is habit forming. I'm not surprised as raw milk yogurt raises your seratonin levels. Milking requires a lot of work as in washing and bleaching bottles, buckets and pots in addition to caring for the cows. Matt has really taken to the dairy man role and supervises the care of the herd. He gets us set for milking and is in charge of "teat dipping" which prevents bacteria from entering the teats. Matt does not want his cows to be in icy rain or snow and has built stalls with a milking stanchion in the barn. It will be a lot easier for me to get to them once the barn yard freezes over. I won't have to slide down the slope to their field with buckets of water and grain. Having my own cow to milk is a dream come true. I always wanted it but put it out of my mind due to "hay issues." Now I have a reliable farmer filling my barn with hay. Coco comes with her own dramatic story, which I will relate another time.
Monday, October 19, 2015
My "Yarn Pockets" seem to be taking off. They are my alternative to the expensive ceramic yarn bowls that are so popular right now. Ceramic bowls would not last long in my house. One swish of Bertha's tail and there goes $80-$90 bucks. I make fabric bowls to match my Bundaflicka Knitting Totes and the patrons are catching on. They are great for keeping your knitting tidy inside a larger tote instead of the ubiquitous but vulgar plastic shopping bags. Yuck! I store sewing notions inside mine and have several on the shelf. Mia keeps her make up inside a Yarn Pocket in her bathroom...but then Mia has always been very clever and neat about her things.
I'm still making Bundaflicka Buttons for my totes. They can't compare with Kim's natural horn buttons but I'm having fun with them. Sometimes I bring a sample of fabric in to the craft store to pick out several colors of clay to combine for a custom button. Sometimes I just use what I have in the house and mash clay together to see what happens. I always use them at some point in time. People marvel over them and ask what are they made of? If only they knew how simple these buttons are to make...
Kim knits the cutest hats. I love this sheep pattern which is very popular in the sheep world now. Kim uses hand spun wool and angora yarn for a very warm hat. I have several of Kim's hats that she's knitted for me over the years. I like wind through my hair but I don't like snow melting on my head. Kim has made sure that doesn't happen and I'm very grateful.
I was delighted to see some Herdwick sheep at Rhinebeck this year. Herdwick sheep were the favorite of Beatrix Potter of Peter Rabbit fame. She supported a huge flock of them in the Lake District of England where she purchased and donated thousands of acres to the National Trust to save the land from development.
It's hard for people to wrap their heads around my Farmhouse Blocks. They look at them curiously and ask "What is this?" I explain how I collect all the end pieces and trimmings of my big blocks of soap and put them in a pot. When the pot is full I melt them down and pour the soap into cardboard boxes. This process takes several days with much mashing and scraping of the sides of the pot, being careful not to suck up the scorching fumes. I love the way they look, each one different and interesting, with bits of soap throughout. Even though the soap has been boiled for several days there is a lovely lingering scent of all the various mingling essential oils. This is the best soap I have to offer, as "milled" soap is harder, denser, and creamier than other soap. People use them for felting and bathing.
Sewing is my first love. I've been sewing all my life and now I've hit on something that I love to make and is functional and beautiful. I managed to snap some shots of a few of my Bag Ladies as they left the booth with their new Bundaflicka Knitting Totes. They were happy to oblige me and I got the feeling they know I put my heart and soul into every one.
NY State Sheep and Wool has come and gone for 2015. This magical show should be called "Farm Aid" as it clears my hay debt for this year and basically validates everything I do to support the farm. Kim and Daryl met me at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds and helped me set up my shop. It's no easy feat to pack and transport a farm store in a mini van. My faithful friends did most of the lifting and toting. We wrapped soap in the motel room Friday night after stopping at WM to buy another folding table. I forgot how much room I had in my booth. Not a problem for Daryl and Kim as they love to shop stateside and bring the loot home to Canada. Saturday morning dawned cool and sunny. The crowds came and I sat at the little table full of Shepherd's Friend Hand Creme and watched as my hard work of the past few weeks was picked up by my patrons and carried off.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Friday, October 09, 2015
I absolutely adore mohair. It is strong, lustrous and beautiful. Mohair soaks up dyes like nothing else. The angora goats that produce mohair are exotic and gorgeous to look at. I tell everyone that spins and knits socks to blend some mohair in with the wool to make a strong, sturdy yarn. The heels will never wear out. Mohair grows twice as fast as wool. Sadly, many people shy away from mohair as they think it will itch and ruin a yarn for next-to-the-skin wear. There is coarse mohair and soft mohair, just like coarse wool and soft wool. I like to blend both together.
The fields are still green with grass and I'm letting the sheep out to eat as much as they can before the snow comes and the pond is frozen. We won't be able to reach this upper field come December. All the sheep water will come from jugs I carry from the milk room to the hanging tubs in the barn. With 75 plus sheep that's a lot of water. No flabby arms here. Why not use a hose? Come January it is so cold in the barn that a hose left lying on the floor will freeze in minutes. I'm spending as much time as I can walking the land. The colors of the piney ridge are breathtaking.
After a dry spell of several weeks we are enjoying some rain. Nobody enjoys the rain as much as my ducks. They love the puddles that form when the water pours off the barn roof. I have water in several places on the farm, but most are far away from the barn which is the only place where the ducks are safe from foxes and other predators. The White Boys are a major deterrent to threats and little Tanner dedicates herself to keeping the smaller varmints like porcupines away. The smart ducks bed down in the middle of the barnyard, surrounded by Thor, Finn and Knut. I have a total of 18 ducks. Soon the barnyard will be frozen over with a sheet of ice covered in snow. The ducks will come in the barn and the only water available to them will be what I give them. They need to dip their entire heads into water in order to preen properly. Winter is a tough time for duckies. The worms they love are burrowed deep in the ground. The ducks look dirty and rather bedraggled come spring. I wish I had an indoor pond for them.
Mia came to celebrate my birthday. She brought me a whipped cream strawberry filled cake from the Swiss Chalet Bakery in Morristown. Aside from the from-scratch German Chocolate Cake my mother made for me this is my favorite birthday cake. We took it to Michael's Fine Food on Route 20 in Sangerfield, a cozy setting where they expect you to spend the evening and relax. Mia also brought sparklers to put on the cake, a first for me. It was quite the spectacle when the waiters came out singing with the sparklers blazing. The next day my cake was covered with bits of metal. No problem - I just scraped it off. Mia surprised me with lots of goodies, including a mother lode of good from her apartment. She is moving and couldn't take a lot of stuff with her. I am now the grateful recipient of most of the Shabby Chic furniture I gave to her three years ago when we furnished her Madison apartment out of my tractor shed. She also gifted me with electronics and some real classy pots and pans. Best of all she gave me her almost new sectional sofa which actually fits perfectly in my tiny living space. The dogs are getting used to it, although I see them gazing longingly at their old Salvation Army sofas that are on the burn pile waiting for a match. I am thrilled to get the beautiful lined curtains I made for Mia's apartment which had lovely large high windows. The yards and yards of luxurious fabric will be cut down to cover my little windows and keep out the icy wind. I love my daughter...
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
I counted four mother hens with newborn chicks following them around. The moms find places to hide their nests where I can't find them and pull the eggs. One hen hatched eight chicks on top of a rabbit cage. Luckily I heard them peeping and got all of them down safely. I've put them all in cages in the past but truth be told the moms do better on their own free ranging. They teach the babies how to forage and periodically tuck them all under their wings to warm them. Warmth has not been a problem lately as it's been hot and dry. It rained all day today and will be wet all week. I suspect the mother hens have all their little ones inside. It's a miracle my cats have not consumed the tiny chicken nuggets. The bantam moms are fiercely protective and launch attacks into the cat's faces if they come too close.