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Posts Tagged ‘sheep’

20160905_103233Since my last post, we’ve been preparing for horses.  The sheep and goats were given to a farmer willing to take them on.  The pasture was fallow all summer, allowing it to regenerate.  In the meantime, Tammi found 1800 feet of used triple split-rail fence.  It has a lovely historic look to it, and will enclose the horse pasture.

Stay tuned as we get ready for this new chapter!

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These just in…

Two of the cats --Simon (the porch cat) and Momma Cat (a barn cat)

Two of the cats –Simon (the porch cat) and Momma Cat (a barn cat)

fancies

Our “fancy” chicks are growing!

goats

Ginnie, Hermione and their mother Myrtle — nubian goats

sheep

Our sheep — Coal — the black ram and the flock of Scottish Highlands

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As we near Thanksgiving…

Our first Thanksgiving on the farm is a somber one.  While we are thrilled with the results of our woodstove, have relearned how to split wood with a maul and have seen the completion of the renovations to the exterior of our old home, we are saddened by the recent passing of our lamb, Bob, a few weeks ago.

It was during the throes of Superstorm Sandy that we became aware of Bob’s illness.  Apparently he had become ill during the storm and was unable to return to the barn with the flock.  Tammi found him laying outside the barn, paralyzed in his hindquarters, unable to walk.  He had been out in the weather all night.  She moved him into the barn onto a bed of straw. We hoped for the best.

At one point, the next day, it appeared Bob was within moments of dying.  He was virtually unresponsive.  But, the next morning, he made a turn for the better. We became hopeful of his recovery.  I suggested we try feeding him the milk we had on hand from when we he was born (we weren’t sure he was taking to his mother at the time).  Bob was able to drink a little and managed to hang on for days.  We moved him from the barn and to the warm room in the coop, where we had raised the chicks.  Bob was still paralyzed, but was exhibiting more spunk.  However, Tammi noticed he was likely having seizures after drinking the milk.  We had called for the vet and were on the schedule for the next day.  We held out hope there was a chance of recovery, but had resigned ourselves to the fact this was very unlikely.

The vet visit was helpful and informative, as always.  Bob was diagnosed with polio, and his prognosis was not good.  We learned his grinding of teeth was a sign of pain.  All felt it best to euthanize Bob at that time.  And so it was done, very peacefully.  Our young lamb was no longer suffering.

Tammi and Brandon found a suitable spot on the land to bury our little friend.  They did so with heavy hearts but fond memories.  In the end, we are thankful for the thrills we had watching young Bob run for the first time and follow after his mother.  We were amazed at his rapid growth and his penchant for jumping on rocks and into the air for no apparent reason. We loved his curiosity — he was the sole member of the flock who seemed to trust us.  After all, it was Tammi who picked him up in the field and made sure he was cared for that first day.

Bob was the first animal born on the farm under our watch.  We can only hope for many more opportunities to experience new life, rather than the months of loss we have had of late.  While the place looks great this autumn — there are few places more beautiful than a Pennsylvania farm during the harvest months — it feels a lot emptier.

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Last week, while driving home from York with one of the now fixed feral cats, the feline couldn’t hold its bladder, leaving a small puddle of pungent liquid on the back bench of the F150 — despite it being adequately covered. The next morning, the odor was unbearable, forcing me to abandon the vehicle to the wife in a fit of rage. “You’re responsible!” said I, as if poor Tammi had been the one leaking in the back. I went to work angry, worried about how it was going to be cleaned.

Late in the morning, I became so worried it was going to be cleaned improperly, I called Tammi to no avail. So, I headed home to see what was up. I also needed to vacuum my car a bit to make it presentable to some coworkers who were to be lunch partners. As I arrived in the driveway, there was no F150 — no Tammi — and no Brandon (who was now off school for the summer). Perplexed, I set about cleaning my car when the large animal vet pulled into the driveway for his scheduled visit. Tammi had forgotten to cancel the meeting meant to review the health of our goats and sheep — especially the pregnant ewe.

I showed the doc around myself, apologizing for Tammi’s absence.  Fortunately, the doc was able to see Twinx and Nellie, the old goats. He was not able to see the sheep, who were out in the field. After a few minutes of examining teeth, hooves and front legs, the doc declared the pair as “very old” – especially Twinx. Apparently she had worn her teeth down to nothing. Both were diagnosed with arthritis and possibly encephalitis. Both were given less than a year to live. “I will prescribe some pain medication to keep them comfortable,” he said. I had no idea they were both in such horrible shape. “They both have lived well past their normal life expectancy” he continued. I was relieved to hear the prior owner had taken great care of them. I knew we needed to tell him of their pending demise.

I returned to work, not having seen Tammi or Brandon. The vet left not seeing the sheep – especially the pregnant ewe.

About an hour later, I received a call at work from Tammi.  She reported Brandon had been out in the field looking for the sheep and stumbled upon a newborn lamb with its mother!  All appeared well.  Tammi jumped to action to find some way to separate the mother and baby into a holding area to be sure they bonded. It turned out this was unnecessary – the bond was obviously strong and the mother was providing more than enough nourishment, though we did worry a bit on the second day.

We discussed the fact that dinner may just have been born. Given my mood about the cat odor and the missed vet appointment, I was still not happy. But, when I returned home that evening and saw Tammi pick up the newborn lamb, I knew another bond had just occurred. There was no way we could butcher the poor thing (I am talking about the lamb, not the wife). It was just too damned cute and my wife had found something else to care about. I realized, some day Tammi will be a wonderful grandmother. Her mothering instincts are amazing!

So, the talk around the farm and at the office was all about the baby lamb. Brandon had declared it was a boy and that he would name it. I suggested we wait until the sex is confirmed. In the meantime, if it is a young ram, my stepson has declared it to be Ram Bam — an appropriate monicker if he should be anything like his father.

That Saturday my parents dropped in to visit from Alabama. They looked about the farm and were enamored with the baby lamb. After some small talk and a tour, we headed out to an antique mall to look for some items and pass some time. One of the items I found for less than 20 dollars was an old metal chicken feeder painted with a Taneytown (Maryland) Feed Mill advertisement. It was a legitimate old antique with a lot of eye appeal. “What better to feed our chickens than an antique feeder!” I declared, confidently carrying it to the check out. “I am actually going to use this,” I said the the clerk with a smile.

When we got back to the farm, Dad, Tammi and I filled it and hung it in the coup. We then continued our visit. After Mom and Dad left, Tammi and I settled in for a movie — The Descendants.  We highly recommend the film, but about halfway through, there was a huge boom outside — almost like the Battle of Gettysburg was being relived in our front yard.  Poor Gertie, who had been laying asleep on the wood plank floor, jumped awake, startled and confused.

“What was that?” asked Tammi.

“Township fireworks!” I replied. We headed to the porch and watched a spectacular display of pyrotechnics lasting a good 20 minutes. “Impressive for Monroe Township!” I declared.

“Sure beats Harrisburg!” said Tammi. Both of us reflected on that comment — realizing it meant a lot more than just the fireworks.

After it was over, I quickly went to close the chicken coop and returned to the house for the remainder of the movie.

In the morning, I went out to retrieve the Sunday paper and open the coop. I was surprised to find all but three of the chickens out in the yard. “What the…?” I thought. I realized I had not checked them before I closed the door. I went inside to tell Tammi.

“The chickens were out all night!” I said. “They were probably spooked by the fireworks.”

Later that day, Tammi noticed none of the chickens were going in the coop — not even to feed.

“It wasn’t the fireworks, Baron,” she said to me. “It’s that damn antique feeder!”

“What?” said I in disbelief. “Get the f*ck out!”

We went to the coop and switched the familiar plastic feeder back in for the antique.

“Money well spent!” said the wife, sarcastically as I hid the blasted thing in the corner.

“I guess this metal contraption scared the hell out of them!” I said. “To them it probably looked like a robot from outer space!”

While the chickens did return to eat, they did not return to sleep. So, we were forced to catch them in the barn, where they were roosting and returned them to the coop. The next day, the same thing happened — chickens did not return. So, we caught them again and cooped them up — this time for three days. We’ll know the results soon…

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Trapping cats is tricky. For weeks, we’ve been trying to capture the handful of barn cats that have been sighted about the place. We believe there are at least four – maybe six: grey male  (aka Louie — formerly Lulu), black & white female (aka Skunk), calico (aka California/Cali), long-haired grey (aka Gandalf), pure white (aka Snowy), orange and white (aka Garfield), and a long-haired blackie with big green eyes (aka Mephistopheles).  I say maybe six because Gandalf and Snowy have not been seen in awhile.

A trip to Tractor Supply yielded a small animal trap for about $35. This worked like a charm – set with a can of cheap tuna. We nabbed Lulu on the first night. Tammi connected with CPAA (Central PA Animal Alliance) affiliated with an animal hospital in York – about 30 miles away – to do the necessary procedure. We drove there in the dark of the night – with an angry Lulu trapped in the cage. Lulu was obviously feral, responding with nasty snarls and hisses anytime one would approach.

The next day, we learned Lulu was actually Louie! However, he was a little less Louie on the way back than he was on the way there! One down — five to go!

The next night, we boldly set our trap again. Tammi strategically set the device in the barn near the cat food. Again, a can of cheap tuna was used as bait. In the morning, the trap was occupied by another feral beast — but this one was no cat! We had nabbed a raccoon! Talk about nasty — this critter wanted nothing to do with the cage and people and being in the barn.  Tammi called around to shelters to see what to do with the beast. It was recommended – as long as it was not rabid – to let it go or to drive it to state game lands and release it. Later that day, Tammi carried the laden cage out into the corral and set it on a cinder block – with the opening facing away from her. She opened the cage and the coon backed out — fell onto the ground — and bolted into the woods beyond the pasture. Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call that the cage was destroyed. Apparently an angry raccoon can do a number on a cheap Chinese-made animal trap.

Undeterred, I was off to Tractor Supply again — and was very pleased to see they had conveniently restocked their supply of cages. It seems I was not the only local buying these things. I imagined our raccoon friend going from property to property — trap to destroyed trap — and the owners subsequently returning to Tractor Supply to restock on the things. It seems the only ones making out in this deal are the raccoon and Tractor Supply!

Anyway, they had a deal — a small cage within the big cage — for free!  I bought two traps and now had four, although the small ones were only useful for squirrel-sized critters. That evening we set both of the big traps. In the morning, we trapped two more cats — Skunk and Cali!  Tammi hauled them off to York for their procedures. As of this moment, we are at least 50% complete on our cat control project.  As for the kittens born a few weeks back, we have seen or heard nothing. We fear the worst. But, nature might be doing us a favor since we wish to limit the number of feline friends on the property, lest they take over!

While all of this trapping was going on, the garden we had planted a few weeks back became an afternoon snack for our goats. Apparently Nellie and Twinx decided the three acres of grass and weeds and assorted flora was not enough for their appetites. No — ! They had to push through the wire fence between the corral and the garden and nibble on the shoots that were popping up. It was a total loss — no more peppers, tomatoes, strawberries —- gone!  Even the sheep (led by the ram) followed them in to have a look. The whole affair was one big loss — $160 for the tilling job — $200 for the plants and seeds — plus all of the labor (mostly Tammi’s).  Tammi was so mad, like an edict from Exodus, she declared that any of the lambs born of that ram would be sent to the butcher! (This is a side of my wife I had yet to see — only being married two years. I took note!)  In summary, we decided to shelve the garden for the year and stick to the berries and grapes already underway — outside the fence!

While on the subject of spaying and neutering, it is often desirable to turn a young ram into a wether (sans testicles).  Tammi was dead set on converting our ram into such a creature after the garden incident, but I could not be so motivated. The mere thought of castration seemed so painful, I could not wish it upon our ram.

During our recent heat wave, we decided to shear the two lambs that had not been shorn when we purchased them. This required another trip to Tractor Supply to purchase an electric shearer. Of course, the only device usable on sheep was their most expensive one — and the blade was sold separately. After a $260 investment, I rode home tabulating just how many sheep would need to be sheared to provide enough wool to pay for this thing.

A couple days later, we decided we could wait no longer. The young sheep were full of wool and it was getting hot. Brandon and I went into the pasture and chased them down to the barn. With a little effort, we grabbed the Scottish black face mix — it was easier since it had horns — and led it out to Tammi and the shearers. We decided to leave the young Hampshire for the next attempt.  Tammi set about her work, taking nearly 20 minutes to finish the deed while I held onto the beast’s horns, holding it steady. When Tammi was doing the belly, near the lower extremities, she made an interesting discovery under the wool.

“My goodness, it’s a boy!” she cried — a look of excitement on her face, razor in hand. This was an expression I had not seen in our two years of marriage. Suffice to say, I was not the beneficiary of an equal amount of excitement on our wedding night, though that could be due to the fact she was already well-aware of my masculinity.

“Be careful with that razor!” said I.

We realized our little lamb was actually a young ram, now a wether.

 

 

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It’s not long before a “back-to-the-lander” neophyte farmer discovers the real meaning of farming — waste removal — as in the shoveling, hauling and otherwise cleaning of one’s barn, coop and/or self of sh*t!

It all started with a squish under the foot one evening — that soon revealed a very fragrant and acrid odor that could be only one thing — dog sh*t. Apparently the farmer’s wife had been training Gertie, her puppy, that it is perfectly fine to do her business at the foot of the stone steps that lead to the upper pasture. Scatological Ruminant #1 – Do not train your dog to sh*t where thee tread!

Next was the realization about the little lady leghorns. We had them in a kiddie pool until they outgrew it. Every day, we would change the newspaper. When they were tiny, they left cute little poops — imagine little fluffy yellow balls emitting tiny little pellets — essentially the chick feed they were eating just passing through. Of course, as they migrated to the coop, things got a little more complicated. We spread straw on the floor and let them loose. As the birds grew rapidly, so did their excretions. Thank God, we eventually let them out all day! I can’t imagine a coop of cooped up poop! So, I had to empty the growing pen, where our little pullets grew from chicks to maturity. It was a dusty affair – straw and pungent poo. But, I managed to get it all into one wheel barrow. Scatological Ruminant #2 – When someone says “chicken sh*t!” in anger, and they are not a farmer, they have no idea what they are really saying or complaining about. If they are a farmer, then you know they are referring to a real mess!

The previous owner of our farm stopped by one day to ask permission to remove some of the goat and sheep sh*t in the barn. “Good for the garden,” he said — and proceeded to shovel as much as he could into the back of his pickup.

“Take as much you like!” said I.

I imagined a conversation between Cheech and Chong — the former farmer was an old hippie-type.

“Yeah, it’s good sh*t, man — really good sh*t” said imaginary Chong farmer.

“What do you call this ch*t, man?” said imaginary Cheech farmer.

“It’s goat sh*t, man,” said Chong farmer, “like Nubian or something like that!”

“Hehehe!”, giggled Cheech farmer, “Let’s do some Nubian Doobian!”

Scatological Ruminant #3 – This ain’t the kind of sh*t you can smoke, unfortunately!

Back to reality — he was taking a portion of what was in one stall. There was an entire other stall where our critters were currently living — full of the stuff!

So, this Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, like a good farmer and his wife would, Tammi and I headed to that stall full of straw and goat and sheep sh*t and began to break away at it and shovel it. We had set our sights on clearing the whole thing this morning, but soon realized we could barely get in the door — after three loads.

“Oh my God!” said Tammi, “I hope the whole thing isn’t this deep!”

I felt like an archaeologist digging up a  Mayan Temple in the Yucatan — removing layer upon layer until we hit stone — or concrete.

“It’s six inches thick here!” said I “It’s going to talk all summer!”

It was getting hot, so we resolved to return a couple times a week to chip away at it.

Scatological Ruminant #4:  Don’t let your sh*t pile up too much — gotta stay on top of all of this sh*t — gotta keep up with the sh*t….God this sounds like work!

Just one more humorous item. While Tammi was scraping with the blade, she accidentally sprayed my face with a splattering of poo and straw…

“Gives a whole new meaning to sh*t-faced…” she said.

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Tammi and I were shopping for antiques recently at Bedford Street Antiques in Carlisle.  If you’ve never been there, we highly recommend it === a nice little surprise on a back street in town. The place is full of interesting items at great prices. We happened upon four old painted benches priced very reasonably. We bought them — two went into our master bedroom to line the back wall. The others were stacked in the bathroom to provide some interesting shelving for towels and such. Besides a few other collectibles and knick knacks, I picked up an original copy of the Country Gentleman magazine dated May 16, 1914 – exactly 98 years old!  Tammi pointed to it and I was instantly drawn to the painting of a mother leghorn on the cover tending to her dozen or so peeps.

The other day, I picked up the old magazine and flipped through it, admiring the ancient advertisements — for the Columbia Grafonola record player or Cleveland Grindstones – or Panama hats for $1 – just write to Geo. T. Bungay, 28 So. William St. New York. (I am sure he’ll be happy to part with his hats for a buck each!)  On page 15 was an article entitled “Shall I Begin Farming at Forty-Five?” Obviously, I could not have picked up a better issue!  Here was a “clerk” who lived in the city, contemplating moving to the country to take up farming at age 45. Two writers at the magazine responded to his query.

Here were the gentleman’s concerns:

He has been a clerk in the city and ‘worked indoors his entire life. ‘ He thought working outdoors would be healthier for him and provide a better setting to raise his boys, without the many ‘temptations’ of the city. He asks if the experts felt he could make a decent living to support his family. Interestingly, he never mentions his wife’s feelings about the matter!

Responder #1 – You Can!

Referring to the clerk as a ‘back-to-the-lander’, he encouraged him to do so, suggesting he study up on the scientific methods of farming now prevalent. ‘It is also a fact, however, that a surprising proportion of the pronounced successes in American agriculture are town-reared men…” (I am beginning to be encouraged, here!)  “They have not had the disadvantages of being full of the notions of father and grandfather.”

“…the city man who really studies his job and applies initiative and common business sense is in the position of real advantage…”  (Yeah!)

The writer then went on to ask the man what his wife was thinking – most city women don’t fancy being a farmer’s wife…. (no problem here — it was her idea!)

“…twenty years of close observation and a rather wide knowledge of the United States causes me unhesitatingly to say that the farm is today the place where a man of brains has the least competition…”  (Ha!  I suspected as much – figured that out at the livestock auction!  We’re on a roll!)

The author even goes on to suggest buying his farm in Central Pennsylvania — done!   He encourages him to start now with a garden and to raise chickens!

“…you almost MUST raise chickens…start with twenty-five hens…”  (WTF? That’s what we did!)

Responder #2 – I Did!

“…I say emphatically that the man of forty-five, with $3000 to $5000 in money, with a brain that will work, with a well-made plan and a firm purpose, certainly ought to succeed on the land. Even if he meets with no more than a part of the success he hopes for, in dollar profits, he will be able to realize something infinitely better — a share, right here on earth, in the peace that passeth understanding.”

Clearly, there is no better peace than looking out over one’s parcel just as the sun is coming up – and seeing the chickens beginning their day, enthusiastically pecking in the grass, and the goats and sheep heading up the hill to the high grass, and the barn swallows flitting about, and our puppie Gertie taking a squat — oops — sorry to ruin that scene for ya…

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