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.  

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Gray and Damp

My internal alarm clock woke me up at six.  I did the best I could to stay up later but was gone by about one.  The rain washed away the little snow we had and it's still misting.  Mia gave me a Barnes and Noble gift card for Christmas and I used it to buy myself two full pounds of French Roast coffee.  I have a slow brewing button on the coffee maker so the water really soaks up the grounds.  When it's done I add another cup of water and turn it on again.  I still get good coffee.  Annie gave me another frother so the foam really stands up to the Joe.  A sprinkle of Vietnamese cinnamon from my sheep friend's Enchanted Pantry and away we go.  Love the stuff.  There is so much I want to do today on the farm I don't know where to start.  Sipping my coffee while staring into the flames is a good place to start.  I have a bag of mohair at my feet,  Sifting through the fibers is very meditative for me.  Back to work tomorrow.  Will take a bit of getting used to after two weeks off.  Wish I could have spent more time in Maine with the grand kids, and Matt would have been on board with it, but I sensed it was time to go.  I was already taking up too much room on the sofa, so to speak.  Another reason why I keep my life so rich and busy around here.  When lambs come I won't know how many fingers I'm holding up in front of me.  Better get things done now.

Saturday, January 03, 2015


I made it to the little village PO before 10:30 and picked up my mail.  The hours have been cut back so drastically but I suppose I have to be glad it was not closed.  I swung by Liz Vermeulen's sheep farm to pick up some custom mixed minerals she graciously offered to sell me.  My soil is selenium deficient and it 's tough to find ways of supplementing adequately without giving the sheep shots of it.  The sheep like these minerals and look funny with their white noses after dipping in it.  They jostle and squeeze to get into the mineral bucket.  We got everyone situated then drove to Utica to attend the weatherization agency Christmas party at Aqua Vino.  The artichoke/spinach dip was to die for and the company very pleasant.  I like this hard working group of people who strive to keep the poor, the elderly, and the disabled warm in NY.  The boss gave Matt recognition for getting the agency accredited and teaching the Quality Control Inspector certification.  I gave out bags of soap and hand creme to his workers.  We drove home in the most miserable icy rain on slushy roads that had not been plowed.  I was grateful it was not a full blown blizzard, but ice is no fun either.  The little Saturn spun out once on route 8 but we managed to get home in one piece.  I went out for chores and was done by 11:15 or so.  It was kinda cool to be up in the spooky hay mow, although the new lights help make it a little less spooky, listening to the rain pelting on the roof.  The sheep are very grateful for my efforts, even late at night, and line up on either side of the feeders, munching happily away. Climbing back down I saw Knut come into the barn with his dinner, a large wild rabbit.  He was very proud of himself and laid down next to it, guarding it from any curious cats that might want to take a sniff.  When he was ready he put one paw on the rabbit and ripped the head off, chewing it up, ears, bones and all.  I didn't stay around to watch but went about my business.  Within minutes it was all gone.  I figured he didn't need any dinner and fed Thor his canned beefy dog food on top of kibble with eggs.  Back inside I'm reluctant to go to bed as this is my last night of staying up late on my vacation.  I adore my late night quiet time.  It's really the only time I have to myself, after every living creature under my care is fed, watered and bedded down.  The fire is stoked and full of logs but I'll need more by morning. I should have gone out to the silo room and brought a load in but I'm not going out there now.  I'm sure the barn yard will be a sheet of ice by morning.  I'll deal with it then.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Cooking Mohair

It's very cold here in upstate New York and the wind is howling.  I like to get a dye pot going in the milk house where the plumbing is as it helps to keep pipes from freezing up and the kitties love it.  They sit all around the pot on the warm stove top!  There is a milk house heater going but this is even better.  Today I'm dyeing some black/gray mohair from my sheep friend, Libby Llop, out west in Caledonia, NY.  At the last Fingerlakes show I scored some really beautiful Dharma Dyes colors from my art professor pal, Carol Crayonbox.  This "Oxblood Red" was in the dye box.  I love natural colors, but I also love to overdye the silvery black fibers.  You have to use a darker color than the fiber or you will not accomplish very much.  Purple is a common choice for me to use on dark fibers.  This Oxblood Red looks real good.  The challenge comes when I need to spread the wet fiber in a safe, warm place for drying.  That's when I'm really patting myself on the back for getting most of my wool and mohair washed and dryed in the summer and fall.  I'll be dropping off a load to Dreamweaver in Sherburne, only 20 miles away, where Heather will spin it into yarn for me.  I have too many animals to spin it all myself.  Sadly, Heather has sold her mill, but she tells me she will be able to spin some for me before the new people take over.  My bad for not utilizing her local resource before she decided to sell and concentrate on her husband's dairy farm.


I'm surprised to find more eggs in the chicken room than usual, especially when egg production during the darkest time of year diminishes dramatically.  I'm feeding the chickens very well and keeping adequate water in there for them and I think that makes a difference.  I don't have a light on them, but there is a light outside their room in the barn.   I enjoy bringing eggs to school every day to cook for my students.  The school gives them breakfast but they are often still hungry.  Brownies, cookies and cakes all require eggs for baking.  The kids make fun of my "poo-eggs" as a little bit of the hen's behind is often stuck to the egg.  Think about it - in a chicken factory the eggs fall down a hole as soon as it leaves the chicken.  On the farm the hens are able to sit on their eggs until I steal them.  They always protest as I am taking their babies away from them.  I tell them that's how they earn their keep, and give them cabbages to keep them happy.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

First Day

I always think I should do something celebratory on the first day of the year.  There is so much to be done on the farm on any ordinary day that it's pretty much laid out already.  I am dragging a bit as I have been since Christmas when I visited Eric's lovely home in Maine and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I blame it on the cold, on eating too much good food, on the Yule Glug, etc., but it's been several days and I don't have those excuses any longer.  I think it's just plain laziness after working very hard throughout last year, on the farm, on shows, in school, etc.  We don't take "vacations" as farmers rarely do, unless they are very lucky and have people who will step in and take over.  We don't.  I slip away to Eric's for Christmas, or to sheep shows.  Matt travels around the state teaching weatherization and stays in nice hotels.  We take "working vacations."   Working outside in this cold takes some getting used to.  I can't dress too heavily as I just end up stripping off layers in the barn as I heat up.  I come back inside and positively swoon from the heat of the wood stove.  Not complaining...wood heat is the best heat in the world.  I think I will make soap today - almond, one of my favorites, and do some sewing. Last night was very quiet.  I fell asleep while spinning on the sofa and woke up in time to see the Ball Drop.  I tried to call AJ and Mia but got no answer.  That's okay, I know they were partying and that's a good thing.  Matt was snoring away and limp dog bodies were lying all about, with little legs kicking, dreaming doggie dreams.  I stoked the stove up real good as the temps were diving.  I have a nest of three little bunnies who I bring inside every night or they would surely freeze.  I think I will comb some bunnies today, too.  Love the bunners and love their angora fiber.  Now we begin our long journey back to the light and the heat.  Spring is a glorious celebration here in the North Country.  Lambs will be coming soon, and so will Maryland Sheep and Wool, that marvelous gathering of the fiber art people, where everyone understands exactly what I am all about, and wishes they could be as lucky as I am to have this beautiful little farm...and my animals.  It's all about them.