Thursday, January 29, 2015

Still Cold

It just doesn't let up.  Minus 18 F. this morning.  I knew it was cold when my hands were so numb under my gloves I couldn't open the rabbit cages.  I had to run them under hot water in the milk house to get some feeling back.  The sheep are eating a ton of hay.  Fortunately I have it to give to them and I'm not holding back.  I was at Julia's helping with Kelsey's second ewe who gave birth to another huge single ewe lamb.  Mother and babe doing well.  This ewe, a large Cotswold/Merino type purchased at auction, was so overwhelmed by the birth she did not want to get up.  I nursed out some colostrum while she was lying down and gave it to the lamb, then we moved the towel under the lamb away a few feet.  That got Mom thinking about getting up.  A little rocking back and forth on our part helped.  It felt good to be able to help my neighbor with her sheep.  Rushing out in the darkness under a starry moonlit sky was a little exciting.  I couldn't help but notice her barn full of cows was a lot warmer than my barn full of sheep.  Sheep have wool and internalize their heat.  Cows give off heat.  Best I can do is wear several layers of pants and good sweaters.  Commuting in this weather is not fun.   Driving back and forth on icy snow covered roads is very stressful.  More snow is forecast for tonight.  Winter continues to have an icy grip on us.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cold Again

Up early to make coffee and get the dogs out.  Takes me five minutes to pull on the layers I need.  Everything has to be covered.  Izzy, Rat Terrier, refused to go out the door. The ice and snow is very hard on dog  feet.  A couple of my dogs have tough black leathery paws and they can stay out forever.     I saw a tiny drop of blood on the step.  I bet that was poor little Izzy.  Cooper's paws are especially tender.  He does his business very quickly then I bring him inside.   Minus 15-18 F. here.  Hard to tell with so much frost on the thermometer which is outside the wall of the milk house.  No wind.  We had one day of reasonable temps and it went up to 32 F. inside the barn.  Positively balmy.  Looks like some blue sky today.  I watched snow squalls all day from my classroom window and hoped everything was okay back on the farm.  When I did get home I found I forgot to slide the north side barn door - also called Thor's Door - closed.  The bunny/guard dog area floor was covered with snow.  I'll have to get it out of there before it turns to ice.  Toting buckets of feed and water are tricky enough as it is.  I haven't turned an ankle yet this year and don't want to.  The knee I injured skiing, then was aggravated by Lilly knocking it backward, is giving me fits.  Don't know how I'm going to bend down in the lambing pens when the babies come.      I have a doe expecting bunnies any time. Went out several times to check on her last night.  She has a lovely nest built, but with minus 0 temps the best angora nest might not be enough. I'll have to bring her inside but she will hate that.  Unhappy bunny moms might eat their babies, or ignore them.  Will ponder this dilemma over coffee while staring into the flames where I do my best thinking.  I have an old girl down.  So sad.  She's ancient, at least 13 I think.  I saw her knocked around by the younger sheep and that might have been the straw.  I have her on a bed of hay with a blanket over her in the barn.  Gave her Nutri Drench and watched her black tongue lick it all around her lips.  Most people don't keep their sheep long enough to let them get to this point, but I have several.  Will get spouse to help me take the other old girls out of the group and into a protected area where I can spoil them until the end.  Some sheep hang on forever.  We've been through so much together and I'll miss them. Most sheep only live 8-10 years.  Not long enough.  New blood is on the way, but not now, in this ridiculous cold.  Thankfully.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Random Thoughts on a Cold Winter's Night


Waiting for coffee to pep me up.  I'm trying not to drink it during the day, but there are times when I need it.  It's Thursday night.  Spouse is coming home from his week of teaching weatherization in Albany.  Won't that be a more toasty warm, tidy hotel room with clean sheets and bed time at 6 pm.  He can sleep 12 hours a day with no problem.  I get half that.  Will be less when lambing time comes.
Long, cold week.  Warmed up this morning.  Only minus 5 F.  Yesterday morning, minus 25.  That's a record for this farm in the nine years I've been here.  The barn was one big ice cube.  I got everybody taken care of and get myself to work, but I do worry about what I'm going to find when I get home.
The van is still at the end of the lane.  "All Weather Tires" are no good in snow.  If I keep this van I'll get another set of studs, especially if he is going away for a week at a time in January and I can't start up the tractor to plow.  Carrying my groceries up the lane in the snow is not fun.  If my arms could talk they would complain bitterly.  I make them carry water, feed, hay, and now fire wood.  Luckily they are still strong enough to hold the doggies, kitties, bunnies and, soon, lambs.
Truth be told, I love the winter.  The stars are extra twinkly and the lovely white snow sparkles like diamonds under my head light.  Too bad Chobani built their massive factory complex five miles down the road.  They've ruined the sky for star gazing.  When I moved here nine years ago the Milky Way was a white streak across the sky.  Not now.  I fantasize about moving way out but I don't know if I could find a spot as pretty as here.  I don't want to see any neighbor's lights. All I need are my animals.  I'm becoming more and more of a recluse.  People are tedious and complicated.
I'm not seeing any signs of my sheep being pregnant.  Hard to tell because they are big and fat anyway.  That's the way it should be.  Big Jim Baldwin, my shearer and friend, scolds me for putting out too much hay and making them fat.  Can't help it, I'm the Jewish Mother of the sheep world.  Thanks to Julia, my dairy farmer neighbor who does my hay, I can give them all the hay I want.  There was a time when I didn't have enough hay and they were fashion model thin.  Those were the starving times.  No longer.
I don't know what to do with my old ladies.  I love them so, but they are withering away.  I used to keep sheep until they couldn't move and their knees would go bad.  Sheep only live 8-10 years but if you take real good care of them they can last until 14, 15 maybe.  I think I'll put them in a separate pen where I can spoil them and the young sheep can't push them around.
I'm sewing a couple of bags for Mia's friends out West who've had babies.  I love to sew.  I should be knitting more but when I sit down I want to sleep.  That's what working in the cold does to me.
Spring is on the way, and so are my lambs.  What a joy.  I think I've got one more big lambing in me.  We'll find out.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Blessed Event

The phone rang and I heard Julia's voice say, Maggie can you do me a really big favor?  Kelsey, her son's girlfriend, is in Pa. and her sheep has been in labor all day.  There is something sticking out of the back of her and I don't know what to do.  Can you help me?   Of course I said yes and I would be there in fifteen minutes.  I threw together a newborn lamb kit and  took off for Button Falls Farm, about three miles away.  The barn was full of cows, calves and the gutter was going around, pulling out the poop.  It is still real cold here, and those big cows were not making it warmer.  She pointed to a corner and there she was, a little sheep, Shetland type I think, covered with wiry hair and burdock.  She turned around and I was instantly relieved of my fear.  I saw a nose and two toes on either side.  Sheep are supposed to come out like Superman.  Sometimes they don't and we have to intervene.  This little ewe has had two previous stillborn births.  I hoped I could change that.  I climbed over the stanchions and took a look.  They told me this sheep is wild and has never been touched by humans.  Oh, joy, I thought.  I caught her and asked Destiny, the son's girlfriend, to hold her.  Get on your knees and give her a big hug I said.  The girl seemed to relate to that and did as I asked.  Julia was busy trying to thaw out her frozen milk line.  Her son brought me a hand wash, as I did not have any iodine.  I got my hands as clean as I could - I don't like gloves - and went in to investigate.  Mom was not happy about this but Destiny did a good job of holding on to her.  I circled around the cervix which was stretched tight with a very, very large lamb. I found the shoulders wedged behind the pelvic bone.  There was the problem.  No matter how long and hard this brave ewe pushed this giant lamb would never be born without help. I cursed my big Swedish hands.  I never mind them until I have to go inside a sheep vagina.  It's tight as a drum in there.I managed to elongate and slip one hunched shoulder past the pelvic bone.  That gave enough room for the other to slip past.  I cupped my big hand over the lamb's head and with my other hand holding the legs I started to pull downward.  The lamb was still stuck but without a hard obstruction.  I pulled and kept a steady tension on the lamb.  Mom was screaming and I was telling her how sorry I was.  Finally I felt some movement.  The lamb was coming out, slowly. It seemed like forever, but it was coming.  The long black submarine started to slide.  The lamb's tongue was out of the mouth and I feared it was dead.  It dropped out on the hay, flat and still.  I rubbed hay on the nose and mouth to clear it and I saw a little jerk.  Alive!   It gasped and I did too.  We were all cheering and gloriously celebrating.  I showed mom her baby and she started licking.  This "wild" sheep is the ultimate mother, chortling and licking the lamb's face, then all over every inch of the body.  I did my "clip-dip-strip" routine, clipping the umbilical cord and dipping it.  I got my little jar and reached under the mom for a teat.  She was so into her baby that she didn't even flinch when the waxy plug popped and that life giving fluid squirted out.  I got enough from both teats to give the baby a stomach full with the barrel of a syringe.  I call it cheap insurance.  Julia says it was the most important meal of it's life and I agree.  I stayed a while, hoping to see the placenta pass but it didn't.  I had to leave to get ready to go to a gallery meeting.  I got a look at the daddy and instantly saw why we had a problem with this birth.  The sire is a huge Leicester type ram, more like my sheep.  No wonder the lamb was so big, combined with the fact that is was a single.  Twins are usually smaller and come out a little easier.  I can attest to that.  I called later to find out how they are and Julia was so appreciative.  I was such a thrill for me and got me in  the groove for my own lambs who will be coming this spring.  This wonderful little mom, who previously gave birth to two sets of dead twins, has a lovely ewe lamb she will never have to be parted from.  It's a beautiful thing...

Thursday, January 08, 2015


Sub zero here.  Everything frozen to the touch.  The windows in the barn are covered with frost.  Water freezes very quickly.  I have stainless steel dishes for the bunnies and have to knock out the frozen water twice a day.  Sometimes it won't knock out and I have to pour warm water on the bottom to loosen it.  It all takes time.  The bunnies have learned that they better drink quickly or be thirsty.   I stopped to buy them broccoli on the way home and it froze before they could eat it all.  I feed and water everybody in the barn before I go to work, and sometimes when I get home, then again after dinner.  Bunnies, sheep, goats, chickens, dogs, cats.  I make sure everyone has had a drink.  Matt takes the dogs out (so he can have his morning smoke) then forks down hay.  The eggs I collect are frozen, except for the ones I pull out from under the hens, which are warm and lovely.  I always feel guilty and accept the pecking of the angry moms.  It's what I deserve for stealing their babies.  We had several school districts with delayed openings today.  Too cold to stand out and wait for the bus.  The sun did come out, but it remained awfully cold.  I wore my silk underwear and was glad I did.  Almost as thin as pantyhose and incredibly warm.  Will do the same tomorrow.  Temps will moderate a bit in the coming days, thankfully, but then it might be warm enough to snow.  With Matt going away on business next week I might get snowed in.  I would plow myself out but don't think I can get his 1946 Ford tractor started.  We'll see how it goes.  For now, it's tidy up the kitchen, make my chamomile tea, stoke the stove, and spend some serious quality time on the sofa with the doggies.  It's a three dog night.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

My Workshop

Construction continues on my workshop.  The soap making kitchen is almost ready for use, when the large stainless steel sink is cut in.  The opposite side of this wall will be lined with tall cabinets for storing my fabric safely.  There will be a large cutting table in the middle of the room with a platform and doors underneath for storage.  The pantry closet is completed and will be filled with canned food, jam jars, etc.  I actually have a broom closet for the first time in many years.  It will be wonderful to work in a room with natural light coming in from both sides, so important when working with fibers and cloth.   The knotty pine is a lovely wood, my choice, and is a resource renewable in 20 years, unlike maple and oak, which takes 60-80 years to grow.  The back splash is an easy-to-clean  commercial kitchen product which will stand up against lye and other caustic substances.  The formica is really pretty, thrifty, and indestructible - a necessity for me with all the chopping and cutting I do.  Estimated time of completion is early spring.  It can't come too soon for me.


Not For Sissies

It snowed off and on all day today, even though the temps were diving to a place where snow doesn't usually happen. Work went a little better than yesterday, thank goodness, and the angry student was a little less angry today.  He was almost ashamed of his behavior yesterday, typical of a young person frustrated with his failure to succeed, and approached me with a favor first thing this morning.  He handed me a strap of fabric and asked me to make him a belt.  His was broken and he didn't want his jeans to fall down.  I took it as an overture of friendship.  He could easily have run a rope through the loops and tied a knot, but he wanted to interact with me in a way that he knew I couldn't refuse.  I sewed a belt complete with buttonhole and button and he went about the work he had such resistance to yesterday.  No outbursts of "You're not helping me!" or the familiar, "NOBODY likes you!"    Who can you lash out at besides the mother who has abandoned you?  Your teacher!  Anyway, we're okay now.   The day wore on and  I ran out of work at 3 to head home, hoping I wouldn't find frozen pipes, etc.  The roads were fairly slippery but manageable.  I regretted wearing jeans today, as they are not warm at all and let the chilly air in.  Not a good day to slide off into a culvert.  The drip I left on in the kitchen apparently did the trick. I still had running water.  The dogs were very happy to see me, especially so when I let them lick up the gallon of milk I dropped on the floor as soon as I got in the door.  I'm always trying to carry too much, and the warm mittens I had on were slippery.  The milk exploded and ran all over the place.  Our walk was brief.  I forgot to cover my entire face and it burned from the cold wind.  The dogs did their business and were waiting for me at the door.  Two of them were walking on three legs as they kept picking up one painful paw at a time.  Back inside to the fire I had built up before we went out.  Everyone in the barn looks okay.  I have to remind myself that we have been here eight years and have survived okay until now.  The barn windows are frosted over.  It's 20 F. in there at 7 pm with a long night to go.  As long as I can keep them watered and hayed we should be fine.  If the power goes out I have plenty of wood to burn and candles to light.  We've been so spoiled with mild temps so far this winter and now we have to buckle down and deal with it.   Three more months of this weather, I reckon.  Not for sissies.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


I knew something was up when he didn't answer his phone.  Spouse calls me like clockwork when he is coming home from work....mostly to let me know to get dinner ready.  When he did call he told me he bought a "new" truck - a 1989 Dodge Ram pick up, and that I shouldn't mind because, after all, I had bought myself a few new sheep.  Okay.  I'm thinking - just what we need - another old vehicle to pour money into.  Matt has never met a lost cause used car that he didn't like.  It seems this truck was a farm vehicle, with one owner, and was used to haul vegetables, hay bales, etc.  All it needs, he says, is a new gas line which he will install himself.  He only paid $200 for it and it only has 117,000 miles on it.  He says he is going to put a cage in the back for hauling animals.  Obviously he has prepared his argument ahead of time.    I'm noticing how excited he is, like a boy with a new toy, and I'm starting to realize I can put two round bales in the back.  Anyhow, it is here and it matches my pole barn.