October is my January

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For most people, January is the beginning.  A fresh start. In December, we set goals for ourselves and make promises we hope and intend to keep.  We reflect back on the previous year and make changes to our lives for the year to come.  But, for me that "new year" begins somewhere between October and December.  Whenever the air chill forces me to bring out the wool sweaters from the basement and wash my quilted/insulated coveralls that I have had since I was 14 years old, and well worn Carhartt coat.  Today, I began to feel that sense of the new beginning that is approaching. It will happen long before January 1st.  Much sooner.  It is about to be a new lambing season.

      After leaving the house this afternoon, I grabbed my wool sweater, wool ear warmers, and gloves and headed to the farm to do my daily round of chores, pick up chicken feed, and harvest the remaining tomatoes that were "can worthy." Winter is coming. Temperatures are dipping below freezing tonight, and I had to bid farewell to the summer garden.  It is bittersweet.  We worked hard planting, weeding and harvesting from that 700 sq. ft.  In return, it provided us with hundreds upon hundred pounds of food. It served us well.   I walked through the garden, and it is quite a pitiful site.  Weeds overgrown in places, bare spots in others.  Tomato plants  tilting and falling, some fruits eaten by birds and bugs.  Pumpkins are still bright,  but tardy to the harvest party.  Soon I can pick the rest of the sweet baby pumpkins and transform them into chili, pies, breads and other festive foods. For now, they stay among the remnants of summer gone.  

  With summer gardens gone, comes lambing season.  Or seasons?  For us it seems to span several seasons. Mostly early December through April, but a few lambs will be born in summer. But, a new year awaits.  I rode the 4-wheeler to the pasture where the sheep were grazing. I stopped and yelled for them, made a few loud thuds with a closed fist on my 4-wheeler to get their attention.  Instantly, as if knowing exactly what I was saying, they look to me and come running.  It is not my presence that triggers them to come, it is my voice. Harriet, one of my favorite and friendly ewes leads the way.  She is visibly pregnant, but still runs with purpose, and makes it to the front of the line.  The other half of the flock veered into the line formed by Harriet and towards me they ran.  I opened the gate to the orchard grass pasture, that thanks to the recent and needed rainfall, grew several inches and is bright green. One by one, the flock descends upon the grass with enthusiasm, bordering on aggression, and chomps and eats as much grass as they can.  Magnus brings up the middle of the flock and begins kicking and screaming in his typical Magnus way.  

    I sit on my 4-wheeler and watch. Observe.  Counting each of them as they come through, if I can.  So much of what I do everyday at the farm is simply watching.  Listening.   There is a lot of physical work that must be done. Lifting, carrying, pushing, hauling, moving.  It is a daily occurrence at the farm. But, it is just as important to sit and watch.  Sheep can be such stoic creatures.  One minute they are fine and the next day you'll find them near death. It is a natural defense to predators and threats, or so I have read. If you are sick, you better fake it until you make it, or something is going to have you for dinner.  So, as I watch and observe, I do my best to make notes in my phone of ear tags numbers and the health status of each ewe that stands out to me.  Orange 24:  "She looks healthy.  Pregnant. Udder starting to bag up." 

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  I can see there a several mamas besides Harriet that are starting to look profoundly pregnant, while others are just barely in the early stages of pregnancy.  I have learned a lot over this last year, and rejoiced in great moments, and sat sobbing in they hay on other days. I am hopeful this year will bring new lessons, (hopefully much less painful) and hopefully, an infinite amount of joy.  I miss the smell of baby lambs, and I desperately need to scoop them up in my arms and watch their tails wag as they nurse from their mamas. Oh my New Year, I cannot wait for you to get here.   

Wedding, honeymoon and perspective

After a short engagement of less than 90 days, we married at the historic courthouse located in Hamilton. It was not a justice of the peace wedding, but since we met in law school, it seemed fitting to say our vows there.  The reception was held at one of our favorite places, Hueston Woods Lodge.  We spend a lot of time in those woods and at the beach, so it was our first choice to have our reception there. After the wedding, we traveled to San Francisco where we rented an RV and traveled along highway one on the coast. We had no itinerary, schedule or reservations.  We simply boarded that plan with the intent of living in the moment and seeing where our days would take us.  We met folks along the way who gave us suggestions on where to go, and they didn't disappoint.     

California was beautiful.  The landscape is ever changing from sand dunes to forests, to beaches and cliffs, to farming fields and small towns.  The air smelled so incredibly sweet to us Ohioans, and the highways and roads were nearly litter free.  The grass seemed so green it could be mistaken for astroturf. Wild and bright yellow flowers filled the fields and cattle grazed on the foggy hilltops that overlooked the Pacific.  It was dreamy and breathtaking.  Traveling with the intent to immerse yourself within the natural landscapes can put your life and your place in this universe into perspective.  How small and insignificant I felt standing beneath redwood trees that had been rooted in the soil for thousands of years.  This world is such a magnificent place and there is so much to see and experience. I am forever grateful that for the past year, my days are spent outdoors where I can see new life emerging, the cycle of life ending, and nature change within the seasons.  There is a healthy rhythm that follows my days and it is one that works within mother nature.  When you travel to beautiful places such as California, it is easy to find your home landscape "less than", unfulfilling or even depressing.  But, I think about how those californians don't even know that their air is filled with the eucalyptus aroma because they smell it everyday, just as we may take for granted the beautiful falling snow and the crunching of vibrant leaves in the fall.  To a Californian, those sights may be wondrous if they have never experienced them before.  There is a lot of beauty in this world including where I live.  California was dreamy and I want to explore more, but I will not take for granted the beauty that comes with living here.  Everyplace is beautiful if you look close enough,  and make an effort to not take for granted what you have surrounding you.  Whether it be mountains, oceans, forests, grasslands, I will appreciate them all.  Beginning our journey as husband and wife with an adventure of the unknown on our honeymoon was a beautiful way to start our lives together. No matter where life takes us, we have to stick together as husband and wife, best friends and partners. Adventure awaits! <3 

“It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Believing in magic

I have always loved a good fairytale and believe in the magic of the imagination. Call me a dreamer or an old soul and maybe I am a little of both.  As a kid I remember coming home from school and putting on my cowgirl boots and my sister's hand me down yellow dress, an apron and running out to play and pretend I was Laura Ingalls Wilder. I am not sure what drew me to pretend to be her. Maybe it was because I WAS living the life of a farm kid and we played the Oregon Trail at school. Not exactly circa 1800's but I had cows and an imagination and fields to play in, so that was close enough for a 10 year old to feel like I was "half pint." I've always been fascinated by history and my paternal grandmother would tell me stories about the items in her house.  Everything had a story. Everything. You would know parts of the story just by turning the picture frame over, or lifting up the tea cup to see the white medical tape on the bottom with a little note about the history of that item.  I am thankful for those memories because I realize now, as an adult that I look at the world as having layers upon layers of stories.   

When I am walking out in the fields at the farm I often think about the history of the land.  Who has stepped here before me? Who swam in this cold spring at Prices Creek before me or went there to collect drinking water?   Many people I would assume.  I don't think you can be a farmer without believing in magic or having an imagination. There is just something magical about being a key player in mother nature and knowing that I get to witness life and death on a daily basis. There are so many times that farming can be brutally hard; like when a beloved animal dies, disease strikes, weather works against you, or when prices plummet.  It breaks your heart every time.  You'll question your methods, think about alternative ways to compensate for the losses, cry, get angry, and seek advice.  But, when those moments pass you'll begin to remember the magic of why you do this in the first place.  

Twins. So different, yet the same. &nbsp;

Twins. So different, yet the same.  

First snowfall and orphan lambs

The meteorologists were calling for several inches of snow throughout the day, with the majority falling in the afternoon.  Since we do not live on the farm, I typically plan the time of day I go to the  around the weather. Typically,  I am there first thing in the morning and that way I can take care of any emergencies that might have occurred overnight.  Today, was not different as the later the day progressed, the worse the roads would be. 

I immediately went to check on the twins that were born on Monday to see how the they were doing since I moved them inside.  Upon opening the barn door, I could immediately hear the screams of panicked lambs. The mother had jumped out of her pen and left the two babies inside, which means, they couldn't nurse, thus the screams.  She took it upon herself to jump back in the pen again before I could catch her and force her back in.  Well, that was awfully generous of her.  Maybe she recalls how much she and I struggled, fighting each other to get her in the pen in the first place.  Not a battle she wanted to lose again.  Once she got back in the pen, she started head butting one of the boys away from her and kept doing it each time he nursed.  Now, if you haven't seen a mother reject her young before, it can be pretty aggressive and troubling to watch.  They can literally head butt, kick away, and ram the tiny lamb away from them and into a gate.  Well, clearly she wasn't even considering him anymore so I had to figure out what to do. I did not want another bottle lamb, and there were two mothers who lost lambs that I had been milking that could be potentially his new mama. Option one was a ewe that seemed calm at first, but as soon as you got close to her she would runaway and freak out. Scratch option 1.  Option 2 is ewe "2474", a sweet and very calm mama, that comes up to you and lets you pet her.  She isn't at all frightened by me, or anyone for that matter. She had triplets and all three died. I took one of them home and named him Rudy, and this sweet little guy didn't make it. I took that loss very hard.  He was the tiniest sheep I had ever seen, and I slept with him all night trying to keep him warm.  He had difficulty nursing and swallowing and I was not optimistic that he would make it, but I was hopeful.  He passed away curled up in a blanket where I left him.  The next day,  I found that his two sisters had also died.  They were doing much better than he was, so I thought they had a fighting chance, but sadly they didn't survive.  That is the thing when you get sheep that are already pregnant.  You don't know what their nutrition/condition was during the entire pregnancy. 2474 looked healthy, and acted alert and ate well, but she delivered triplets, which isn't all that common in the Katahdin breed.  I try not to blame myself, as I most often do, because I can't take responsibility for every death as if it is my fault when I have a newly acquired flock.   There are too many variables at play that were and are out of my control.  That being said, 2474 lost all her babies and I felt that she and this newly orphaned lamb might make a good pair. (fingers crossed)  I put them in the pen together and she seemed disinterested in his presence, and he confused by hers.  He kept searching for his birth mama who was out roaming with his twin brother and the other young lambs.  After a while, he tried nursing on her and she did step away a few times, but with me holding her head to calm her down, she stood and allowed him to nurse.  He is a big and strong for only a few days old, so I am certain he will do well with her. Not all ewes are created equal and most farmers will tell you that.  But, there are always a select few that you get close to because of their personalities.  2474, is one of those ewes and I need to come up with a name for her, because just having a number doesn't suit a sweet gal like her.  

-B 

   

 

 

The snow was slowly beginning to fall at the farm when I arrived this morning. &nbsp;

The snow was slowly beginning to fall at the farm when I arrived this morning.  

Tiny baby Rudy taking a nap on Rae's bed, while Wilson towers over him. &nbsp;

Tiny baby Rudy taking a nap on Rae's bed, while Wilson towers over him.  

The orphaned lamb and his new mama, 2474. &nbsp;

The orphaned lamb and his new mama, 2474.  

lesson in patience.....

Today was a rainy 55 degrees with lots of mud.  LOTS.  I hopped into Ruby (F-150) to head to the farm, and she wouldn't start. She would turn over, but nada.  No go.  So I swapped my farm essentials into the Subaru and headed out to the farm.  I went about my business doing my usual feeding, when I cracked my head on the long iron barn door latch when I completed dropping the hay down to the sheep.  It was a paralyzing kind of hurt where I immediately felt nauseas.  Not a good way to start off the day. I was hit in the head by a falling 2x4 two years ago, which left me with a huge knot and a black eye for two weeks. Not even then, did I get the sensation I did today.  I guess steel hurts worse than wood.  

After getting myself reoriented, I walked down to the barn to divvy out the hay rations and found that the 2nd pen that my niece and I set up last week with a few very pregnant ewes,  had a new guest.  A huge, and beautiful colored ewe lamb.  (you can see more of these photos on instagram.)  I decided to leave her in the pen with the other 5 mamas, because she was big and healthy and I didn't worry about her getting roughed up.  

Next on the agenda was to check the ewes in the field.  I spotted a new set of twins out in the field and decided to take advantage of the warm weather, by getting the sheep ALLLLLLL back in the barnyard lot.  The plan was to herd them into the barn and try and sort out the bigger pregnant ewes into smaller pens under the barn cover.  The barn is set up in such a way that I can separate into several groups. I find that it is much more manageable to separate a flock of 80+ sheep into groups of 15 or so in smaller pens.  I don't feel so overwhelmed when I see the sea of wool, and the babies, if born before I can pen up the mother, are less likely to lose sight of their mama.  Sounds simple right?  Move sheep into barn from field.  Easy as Sunday morning.

The first thing I was going to need in order to get them back in was the 4-wheeler (aka quad).  I went back to the barn and tried to start it, with no luck.  I changed the spark plug two days prior, so that's not it, but I decide to double check anyway.  Still nothing.  Gas? Check.  At this point, I was going to flood it if I kept trying, so I left it sit and headed back out on foot to the field, with a flake of hay in tow.  The leader is always Magnus.  If you can get Magnus to follow you, the sheep will come.  Problem is, donkeys can be moody.  Magnus can either be your shadow and right next to you at all times, or he can come up to briefly say hello and then retreat to find a dusty pile to roll around in.  If he is in the latter mood, this would make things much more challenging.  As my luck would have it, he was just in that kind of mood.  Even though he wasn't feeling all snuggly today, I did get him to follow me and slowly the sheep marched their way out of the field into the much smaller field outside the barn.  To give you a visual of our set up, think of the farm as a wagon wheel.  The hub of the wheel is the barn and all the spokes are fields. We have a small field coming off the hub that allows the sheep to graze, but not get into any of those spokes (aka other fields.)  Then, inside the hub where the barn is located, is a small  are with concrete.  That is what we call the stack yard.  It basically is the concrete lot outside the barn.  I wanted to work my way from big field, little field,to stack yard, then barn.  

After about three hours, I accomplished the above-goal.  Magnus was in a pen, sheep were in a pen and I gathered the new twins and got them inside the nursery pen. I was able to put their mother in with them.  The temperatures are about to drop and we are expecting snow Thursday, so I felt relieved (and exhausted) that they are all safely inside the barn area.   

It takes a lot of work to get animals where you want them to be.  But more so, it takes patience; a lot of slow movements, and a calm demeanor. When sheep feel panicked or threatened they will run. Sheep run fast. I do not.  A two day old lamb can outrun me even on my best day.   So, if you want sheep to move and go where you want them to go, you had better allow ample amount of time and not be in a hurry.  Especially if you don't have a herding dog, are on foot and are alone in doing it.  But, I did learn something today, that I CAN do these daunting tasks alone.  It seems damn near impossible at the time, but it really isn't. You just have to be creative with your methods. I am so happy, that with the several inches of snow that will be upon us Thursday, the sheep are on mounds of fluffy bedding and should they give birth, they will all be snug and warm. I may not be able to move very fast tomorrow, and I still have a headache from earlier, but those sore muscles are gentle reminder of how lucky I am to be doing this everyday.