Sunday, January 28, 2007
Thor has the cutest freckles on a pink spot on his snout. Don't know how he got them...his litter mates, Finn and Knut, don't have freckles. The three are a mix of Great Pyrennees, Polish Tatra, Turkish Anatolian, and Italian Maremma. I think Thor looks more Maremma than anything else. Their job is to protect the sheep from any intruders, animal or human. I purchased the boys from an Amish farmer in Clyde, New York up by the Fingerlakes. They are healthy, happy and lots of fun but have yet to be proven...hope they never have to! At 11 months old I'm not sure if they know what their job is...
Every morning when I take the dogs up the hill I am impressed with my barn. When I went to Central New York (at that time I knew it as Upstate New York) to look for a barn and land for my sheep I saw too many barns that were about to fall down or were half on the ground already. I would be afraid to put my sheep in them. This barn had been well cared for over the years. It was built in the 1930's and dairy farmed by the Kupris family for 65 years before I got here. They still live in the original farm house next door. One milk check paid for a huge extension to the barn. The Kupris sisters, now Sisters, built the roof which is perfectly pitched and does not leak. Sister Bernadette's job was to climb to the top of the thousands of bales in the hay mow and change the light bulbs. I will never have that much hay in there, or a big enough ladder. Sadly, most of the land was sold before I got here but I own the Heart of the Farm - the barn!
Every morning I take Thor, Finn and Knut up the hill to play before I do barn chores and go to work. They will be one year old in February and still play like puppies. It always cheers me up and makes the trek up the hill worthwhile. On the weekends I linger in bed a little longer making it light when we go out to play. This morning is so beautiful it sent me back to the barn for my camera. The ewe lambs were playing in the snow...what a blissful sight. The barn is full of sheep, heavily laden with lambs - but the young ones were light and free as birds. After lambing, sheep just don't play like this any more...kind of like humans.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
With the ladies' bellies bulging with babies, I am wondering what the impending births will bring. Last year, my beloved Celeste presented me with black triplets! It was the thrill of a lifetime. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw them. She took care of the three of them so diligently, like it was no big deal. I wonder what she has in store for me this year? Celeste is getting on in years, and I would like to see her take it easy. She has a rather stress-free life here, all she can eat, roomy barn, etc. We are planning on fencing off the brushy area behind the barn, around ten acres, for goat land. Goats love, love, love to eat the bushes, vines and weeds that sheep won't touch. There is a pond back there, shade, and an old apple orchard Celeste and her friends can lounge in. She will live out her days in goatie comfort.
Lydia and Elisha Burkhyte were Puritans who came here from Rhode Island in the late 1700's and settled my farm. They are buried on land across the street, part of the original farm before it was divided. I have thought a lot about them lately, how difficult it must have been for them the first winter, clearing the land and carving a life out of the wilderness. One grave contains their son, Peter, 18 years old and killed in a gun accident. How tragic his death surely was - not only the loss of a son, but the manpower he contributed to the farm. There are many children's graves there, too. I was told some of them are triplets, scalped by Indians. I found the stones lying flat on the ground. I stood them up, trying hard to put them back where I think they fell from. I feel an emotional attachment to them, those early pioneers. I bet their people thought they were crazy, too...leaving an established settlement for the wilds of New York. I heard their descendants went bust during the Great Depression, relocated to California and became wealthy in the wine business. Good for them!
I always wondered this...do chickens sleep? Somehow it seemed they were in an altered state but not quite asleep. But they do sleep, and I can walk by them and study the intricacies of their beautiful feathers - as long as I don't touch them! I am totally enthralled with them...
Chickens aren't supposed to lay eggs this time of year. Egg laying is directly related to the amount of light the chickens receive. But my girls don't know that. Even the new little bantams are laying the cutest tiny pinkish eggs. I thank them with lots of chicken crumbles, cracked corn, bananas, pasta (yes, they go crazy over it) and on very cold mornings, pots of oatmeal. They don't hide their gratitude - they run around squawking and clucking. We eat all the eggs we want, then crack open the extras on the dog's kibble. Very shiny dog coats on this farm. Have you ever listened, I mean, really listened to chicken speak? Since I have had the baby monitor hanging over my cot in the trailer, I have noticed even more intricate chicken tones. They "sing" themselves to sleep and announce to the group when they have laid an egg! And when they are upset - well, put your ear plugs in!
This is what I see when I come out of the trailer - the silos that shield us from the bone chilling winter winds coming out of the north. This farm once supported a hundred dairy cows that produced a million gallons of milk a year. The silos held the haylage and corn they lived on. The mow held fifteen thousand bales and kept the bottom floor, where the cows were milked, above freezing. My sheep and goats don't produce body heat the way the cows did, and I don't have the mow filled with hay. We are still trying to plug up holes and cover broken windows to raise the temperature to a point where the stock tank doesn't freeze. It was 13 F. yesterday morning at 6 am, and 20 F. this morning. I am trying to keep electric cords to a minimum because we are still trying to figure out which box is for what.
Monday, January 22, 2007
This trailer - or, "R.V." as I am told, has been my home for the last six months. I was living in my lambing trailer, but Matt came home with this 20 year old gem, purchased from some farmers in western New Jersey. He bought some cantaloupes from them on the side of the road and spied this trailer in the brush. The rest is history...or, I wish it was history. I will be living in this glorified tin can until my barn apartment is ready, which may be another month or so. The water lines freeze regularly, which makes getting ready for work after barn chores very challenging. Two little electric heaters, and six dogs, make it warm enough to be comfortable - as long as the power is on. Life on the frontier is rough!
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Barn kitties do an important job. Before I had my kitties I had a few older lap cats in the house (I would never dream of letting a cat outside). Then the rats moved in. They were everywhere, even chewing the wires in the truck engine and squeezing into the bunny cages to eat their pellets. The floor of this barn was undermined by rat tunnels years ago, and we knew they would come back when we moved in. They did try, and judging by the only 2 rat corpses we found, and the few rat screams in the night, we think the cats won. I take very good care of my barn kitties. I feed them regularly and get them fixed. A well-fed healthy kitty can work better than a starving cat burdened with kittens. When it's really cold some of them take a break and sleep with me in the trailer. It's tough policing a 20,000 square foot barn and they need a vacation once in a while!
These are the faces that meet me every day and say, "Feed me and feed me now!" They have lambs growing inside them and need lots of nourishment. We feed them hay, grain and free choice minerals. At this stage we are not producing our own hay. That takes a tractor, a mower, a baler and a hay wagon that rides along behind and collects the bales. We buy local hay which has not always been easy. It was a terrible year for hay here in the northeast...way too much rain. It takes four dry, sunny days to bale hay. Day 1 - cutting. Day 2 - drying in the sun. Day 3 - fluff up the hay with a rake so the underside can dry. Day 4 - pick it up and bale it, then get it in the barn. There were not too many sets of dry days to do all this. Local people are keeping what they need for their own stock, then selling it to regular customers. We have been fortunate to find some of last year's first cut from a neighbor but that's not good enough for pregnant ewes. A local farmer had a horse hay deal fall through and we are buying beautiful second cut from this year's crop from him. And the grain? For the first time we have bulk grain delivered and blown into the hay room. No more slinging 50 pound sacks over my shoulder and carrying them around to the feeders. I drop it into a wheelbarrel from a chute in the ceiling. It takes about 2 hours every night to give everyone hay, grain and water, not to mention the hour and a half every morning. And that's every day, even on Christmas!
Saturday, January 20, 2007
I had a nice chat with my dearest friend, Jan this morning. We worked together in the Special Ed. dept of my last high school. Jan invited me to stay with her when I travelled back to NJ to do the Delaware River Keeper Craft Show last December. Jan and Dave gave me the royal treatment, waiting for me with an umbrella when I pulled in after a weary drive and unloading my wares in a rainstorm. They gave me wine, and delicious food and offered me a bath in Jan's clamshell jacuzzi. The last time I relaxed in a jacuzzi was in Aspen, Colorado, in 1979. No kidding... I turned the jets so they shot the water on my two aching feet and the small of my back. AAAHHHHHHH.... Jan tucked me into her daughter's four poster bed and off to dream land I went. The next morning I swung my legs over onto the white carpet and tiptoed down to breakfast (and nothing stuck to my feet!) Jan's palatial abode is on the market. If you have a million dollars burning a hole in your pocket, you can have it. She is anxious to sell it so she can buy a piece of property up here in Central New York by me. It seems my wild, crazy willy-nilly agricultural fibery lifestyle appeals to Jan! Can't imagine why?
The wind howls and drifts form outside but our first little lamb of '07 stays warm in his red alpaca sweater, snuggled up against Mom in their jug - the traditional name of the place where a newborn and mother get to know each other. That way the lamb doesn't have to chase the ewe around and get warn out, and the shepherd can make sure Mom is getting her nourishment, nursing is going well and the little belly is full. Maggie tours the barn regularly, but nothing going on - yet. I feel like I should lie down and take a long nap to make up for the sleep I will surely lose in the nights to come...but too much to do. Have to clear out a work space in the former milk room for my cutting table and sewing machine. Big Daddy is working on our living space as I write. It can't happen fast enough - two electric heaters working 'round the clock barely keep our little RV warm. Don't even ask about the portopotty - sore subject (and cold behind!)
It was feeding time and we noticed one ewe just pretending to eat. She would go over to the feed bowl, put her nose in it, then turn around in circles. She was making an unusual sound, over and over again. We soon found out why, she was talking to the lamb who was about to come out. She talked him right out into this world...and is he adorable. We call him "Numero Uno."
Chris and Breeze, our llamas, checked him out and claimed him as one of their own charges, to guard and protect. Mom and Baby are happy and content, as a lake effect blizzard rages outside.
Many more births to come, but this shepherd slept well with a baby monitor over her head. Here's hoping all my lambing goes this well...
Monday, January 15, 2007
We woke up to icy bone chilling rain, dogs piled up against us on the pull-out sofa bed in the trailer. First thing on my mind...did I fix the coffee pot? There's nothing like pushing that button and waiting for the aroma. I got some Starbuck's for Christmas...hmmmm. The next thing that filters through the fog - lambs. Gotta get the gear on and get out to the barn. Silkies first, then fleece pants, then two pair of my own fiber socks, Muck Boots, turtleneck, thick wool sweater, Carhartt vest (can't beat the pockets) GoreTex Bean jacket, skull cap, barn gloves. Dogs wake up - have to get them out of the trailer post haste or else! I stumble to the barn, go through the milk room into the lower barn. Thor, Finn and Knut are in their pen, waiting for me to let them go. I do a quick, quiet walk up and down to check for lambs - nothing yet. Lots of big bellied moms lying down. Ordinarily they would jump right up but their heavy loads keep them down. Take the doggies out and stand in the icy rain while they play. Back in the barn - the dogs pee on the barn door to let visitors know this is their domain. Climb the ladder to the mow and get the hay down and fill the stock tanks - collect eggs for breakfast. Bantams seem to be settling in and the new roosters are crowing away - music to my ears! It's such a happy, farmy wake-up sound. French toast today - it is Martin Luther King Day and we are home on the farm for the day, snug and warm in the barn.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
This chicken house was built by a woman who farmed here many years ago. A more modern version of the barn was built around it. It was used more recently as a calf room. We put our nest box unit up on the wall in it, and can enter it from inside the barn. I was aghast to find that the TV man nailed the dish onto the chicken house, as the wood was softer and easier to drill. It is an historic building and must be saved as part of the collective history of this farm. I still can't get over having all this housing for my critters, who have endured all kinds of weather in crude run-in sheds and wire runs. It gives me warm fuzzies to know they are protected from the elements (them, too!)
Mary moved to Brookfield from Cape Cod not too long ago. She was looking for a place to raise sheep and maintain her Border Collie rescue home. Mary is an endurance rider and took her pony across Newfoundland and then Ireland! She and her dogs make a living by chasing geese out of golf courses, parks, etc. I was hanging out on the farm one day last summer when Mary pulled up in her Suburban, with a Border Collie navigating, of course. She came to find the "sheep person" who moved into the neighborhood. Since I had not seen a human in many days, it was a welcome visit. One evening she brought one of her blue-blood grand champion dogs over to help me graze my flock. My sheep are not the easiest to work, as they are with dogs all the time and are not afraid of them. Mary's dog would never, ever grip, or bite, a sheep - so he just threw himself up against the sheep to move them. What a display of professionalism on the part of the dog - and a lack of foresight by Maggie, who forgot to lock up the llamas. They were not happy about a strange dog in with the sheep...all lived to tell the tale!
Mary has just had a litter of pups from grand champion parents that come from Scotland and Wales. Here she is with her LGD - livestock guardian dog, Katie, who, together with her mate have complete care or Mary's Katahdin and Cheviot sheep. Nice to have a shepherd friend nearby in this land of dairy farms!
My Brookfield neighbor, Mary Liebau (google her and you will be amazed at what this woman has accomplished in the equestrian world) gave me a crate full of chickens. I stopped in to say hello and visit her litter of Border Collie pups (Mary runs a BC rescue and competes with her own dogs). Mary had just been given a flock of Bantam hens and roosters by someone who just didn't want them anymore. It must have been an ordeal just catching them, so I guess they were serious about not wanting them. Mary asked if I would like some...could any real bundaflicka say no to more chickens? Not this one! So they came home with me.
I have a flock of Murray McMurray's "ornamental package" chickens, who have been faithfully laying eggs for me since last Christmas, when they were six months old. They started laying at the darkest time of year, when chickens are supposed to stop laying, and haven't stopped. I don't want them to think they have been replaced by this group of little chickens, who resemble mourning doves more than chickens. They are so big and buxom and lovely. I just adore them. The new girls, along with their very handsome, very feisty, rooster, are residing in the hen house while the resident chickens have the run of our 20,000 square foot barn. This does not make egg retrieval easy, as the girls have many nooks and crannys they like to hide their eggs. I am hoping the new group will use the nest boxes provided in the chicken room where they live. I can't imagine what the new eggs will look like, as the chickens are so very little, and so adorable. Right now they are checking out their new digs, scratching around and making curious little cooing noises. Chickens are so very cool...