Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Waiting for the jet to leave

The weather has been tricky lately, as regular readers know. We had three feet of snow over the period Thursday to Sunday, and now, with all that snow still on the ground, are expecting rain Friday and over the weekend. That will make for avalanches in our mountains, if it falls as rain that high up.

But for right now it's 2 degrees F. Pretty cold for nearly March! In like a lion.

The weather in this part of the world is dominated by the jet stream and it's wave-like form (Rossby waves). The jet stream moves north and south with the season, while the waves meander from west to east across the northern hemisphere.

As that jet stream moves south each fall, we advance into winter with a snowstorm pretty much every time the wave meanders over Maine, followed by a clear spell of cold Canadian air while we're in the trough of the wave.

As the wave meanders north, spring comes in lurches. The storms that accompany each wave front first turn to sleet, then all rain. After each storm it gets cold and clear, but less so each week. Each rain storm also reduces the snow cover a bit, until the jet stream finally migrates north out of the region in April, after which we get much warmer weather.

I'd heard it said that this was an La Nina year, which makes the waves deeper and more southerly. I wondered how and went on line to wikipedia to find this good diagram.

I guess the whole point of this post is to let you all know that spring will eventually come. Don't worry for us. We're used to it.

By April we'll have tomato starts, lambs and frogs everywhere. And mud. Lots and lots of mud.

Out like a lamb. A muddy lamb.

Snow work part two

This is what we found this morning when we finally pushed open the front door after last nights nor'easter.

About two feet of new snow, on top of last week's one foot, on top of a few inches old old hard snow.

Time to break out the Kubota again. It took about four hours of plowing and shoveling to get us all broken out and ready for the somewhat delayed work week again.

The storm track, which tends to follow just below the standing wave of the jet stream, is crossing Maine again. For several weeks there it was south of us. Now it's moving north. Believe it or not, we see this as a sign of spring.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I got done with my several hours of plowing and shoveling today, finding myself on the porch roof.

I decided to take the elevator down. The snowbank I jumped into was a very nice landing.

Haggis was pleased by this new game and jumped in the snow himself to come play.

The Zen of Snow

This was in my email inbox first thing this morning:

Dear Unity College Student, Faculty or Staff Member,

Due to the weather, Unity College will be closed today, Monday, February 23. The College will resume its regular schedule tomorrow.

Best, Mark Tardif, Associate Director of College Communications, Unity College


Now if I could just get out my front door...

We had almost two feet last night. I have to get out there and feed, but I'm waiting for my oatmeal right now. This should be a nice peaceful day around here. With just the right amount of outdoor exercise.

And, even if the power goes out, we'll be set with the genny back on tap.

I'm thinking of a nice stovetop dinner, a good book and a good nap this afternoon, a little bad TV with the wifey tonight. Not going anywhere.

No need to give those hard working snowplow guys any more people to worry about.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Snow work

We had another foot of snow on Wednesday night and Thursday. We were both busy at work, and the snow didn't fall fast enough to close roads or college. (The nice thing about a snow day is, you get extra time to move snow.) As a result, we had to leave it all until Saturday morning. Aimee's little car was still buried, and so she took the truck all day to go shopping and to go clean off her desk at the college, leaving me to sort it all!

No matter. As I mentioned before, somewhat to Aimee's chagrin, and not without somewhat snarky comment, possibly snow removal is still a man's world in Maine.

It certainly seems to be so at the Womerlippi farm. Empirically so, I would say.

Not that I'm complaining.

Because, sexist thoughts aside, it was nice to get out. The sun was bright, the snow lovely, and the tractor, as always, shifted several times more than it's own weight in snow in a matter of minutes, leaving us nice tidy piles and plenty of room to work in the dooryard.

A "dooryard," by the way, pronounced "door yahhhd," is the term Mainers use for what Yorkshire and other English folk call a farmyard. Ours comprises functionally the various spaces between the garage, mailbox, barn and greenhouse. I say functionally because that's the area that gets used for dooryard chores: splitting wood, fixing cars and machinery, shearing sheep, moving grain, fodder, and water. I get ninety percent of my annual exercise in the dooryard.

There's a tractor's eye-view of our dooryard, looking tidy and fit for the work week. Dad always used to say, whenever we went as a family on a drive in the country, that we'd finish up lost, in a farmyard or churchyard.

Jewel the ewe-l has dropped her lambs in the womb and "made a bag." Her belly is dragging in the snow, poor girl. Looks like two, or maybe three. I hope not three. Could be any day, but last year she did this early too, and it was weeks before she actually gave birth.

We also have two new hens, courtesy of Ed and Amy. Rhode Island Reds. They're settling in with the usual pecking order adjustment. Hens are such fascists.

We'll keep you posted.

PS: Here's Guardian article about how, in Iceland since their collapse, women are increasingly those running the country, while men are less influential because they are blamed for the collapse.

See? If they'd just stuck to what they know: Moving snow.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Taking a walk with the dogs in the snow

I decided to try my luck on the beaver pond trail. The snow has been melting and settling, but it hasn't set up like it so often does in spring, when you can walk on top. Still, it only took a modicum of "post-holing" to get down there.

When I arrived, I discovered the dam had broken and the pond level had fallen several feet, dishing the ice in smooth glassy, wavy channels. The beaver lodge was sporting beaver tracks, as was the whole area. I didn't see any beaver, but the tracks, with the belly slide clearly showing, are unmistakable.

The dogz didn't much take to post-holing, and dogged me all the way down, refusing to go ahead and break trail. Mary was pretty sad about the whole thing at one point, just as I took the shot of her in the distance. Next thing you know, she's digging for a squirrel. Crocodile tears.

So I broke trail for them. But there was no gratitude. On the way back, they ran off home, hoping for an early dinner I guess, and I thought they'd abandoned me. But I turned a corner and there was Haggis's shaggy red butt. He was waiting patiently for his slow old two-legs.

He's a good dog.

Pruning an apple tree

We have about twenty-thirty old Great Farm apples to get back into production, all different types, some of unknown variety, possibly never to be identified. This is a little early in the year for pruning, but as there are so many, I thought I'd get started. My neighbor Hamilton gave me the idea because he was cutting back trees to allow cars to pass on his driveway.

This is my first try. The various guidebooks and bulletins I read said you could prune an overgrown apple two ways, a stiff pruning every year for a few years, ending in what would still be quite a tall tree, inconveniently so, or by "dehorning," pruning back the main scaffold branches to essentially start over from a much lower pollard.

I meant to try the former, but the lack of an apple ladder that could help me reach the high branches meant I cut lower down than intended, and I just kept going with that. We'll do a couple trees a year, and see what the results are. Possibly we'll have to get that apple ladder. A craftsman in Brooks, our friend Peter Baldwin, makes very good ones.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Renewable power in Jackson, Maine

People are getting upset about energy in Maine again. This is not surprising. In such a cold wintry place, energy is vitally important, and anything that important is always controversial.

The most recent controversy is over wind energy in Jackson, my home town. Which is funny to me since Jackson is really a beautiful almost unbroken, rolling hilly forest, and energy here is abundant.

Our old Maine farmhouse runs primarily on Jackson-made energy from recent sunlight, and far less on fossil fuel (which is really ancient sunlight) from away. As a professor who teaches about energy efficiency and renewable energy, and as a climate policy wonk, this is important to me, and has taken a fair amount of effort with insulation and caulk and spray foam to achieve.

But it does run on sunshine.

Visitors are often confused, however, when they look for the solar panels and wind turbines that most folks seem to expect when confronted with a "green" house. But the fact of the matter is that it isn't quite that hard or expensive to run a house on green power.

The primary source of green power at our house is sunlight. This is collected by 15.5 acres of grass and trees. The grass goes into eight sheep, who use it to make meat and fleece. The meat we eat, in the form of surplus lambs. The fleece, most recently, has gone on to a student's experiment in fleece insulation, of which perhaps more later. But it's really the trees that are the thing.

15.5 acres of fairly rapidly growing trees is about 15 cords, or 1,900 cubic feet, or 54 cubic meters of new wood per year, primarily hardwoods, primarily ash. This is about 20,000 kilograms, or 20 metric tonnes. That much ashwood contains 350 million btus of energy, or about 103 megawatt hours (MWH).

We only use a little more than a third of this production. The rest is sequestered in the growing forest. This helps make up for the fact that our current forest management regime is intended to reduce the smaller trees to make room for grass for animals, leaving larger ones for firewood and cover.

So that would be about 33 MWH total from firewood.

By the way, when I see the bright orange light from our woodstove door, I immediately think of the stored sunlight it represents. This is a comforting thought, especially in the middle of winter.

The next largest supply of energy is from electricity. We purchase our power directly from a company that owns and runs wind turbines, and that aggregates power from Maine hydrodams. There are environmental impacts from both, but the hydrodams have been in place for many years, and are more or less accepted parts of the Maine landscape by now, with their own ecologies and human and wildlife communities, so we opted for hydropower. In the future we may switch all or part to wind, mostly to show support for this new Maine industry which I find valuable, and which is beleaguered by local environmentalists and neighbors. But for right now, our power comes from hydroelectric dams. It gets put into the grid, and the electrons set in motion by the spinning generators at the dam get mixed up with all the other electrons, but we take out as many as are put in and as we paid for, actually less electrons than are made to move for us, taking into account transmission losses, and so we purchase and use moving electrons, or electricity that is made by hydropower, which is also made by the recent sunlight that evaporated the seawater and river and lake and groundwater that became the rain that filled the dam.

So again, we are running on recent sunlight.

Our house uses about 4.8 MWH/year of electricity, mostly for light, entertainment, and refrigeration, but also a little for heat. This is a little less than the national average of about 10 MWH/year.

The house uses about 850 lbs of propane, a fossil fuel, which is about 0.38 of a metric tonne, and contains a further 5.3 MWH of energy. This is very old sunlight, and is used for hot water and cooking.

Finally, because heat energy from wood is less regulated, and requires our presence to feed the woodstoves, we run an oil furnace in the background all of the time in winter. This is also very old sunlight, and its use in our house is strictly controlled; and so it only takes over when the heat from the woodstoves die, or when I decide to nudge up the thermostat to take the chill off more quickly than the woodstoves can. The furnace thermostat is set to 60 degrees F, and so on a cold day it kicks in a few hours after we leave. This uses between 50 and 150 gallons of number two heat oil per year, an average of 100 gallons, a further 4 MWH.

So the total of all this energy is:

Firewood: 33 MWH
Hydropower: 4.8 MWH
Propane: 5.3 MWH
Heat Oil: 4 MWH
Total: 47.1 MWH

Percentage of total household energy consumption that is renewable is 37.8/47.1*100, or 82%.

We could definitely do better than this, but to be reasonable, we also drive two cars, which together consume about 600 gallons or 2,700 liters of gasoline, which is another 25 MWH, quite a lot more energy. Since we can save some of this energy simply by only driving one car whenever we can, which also saves quite a bit of money, we would be financially better off right now not by trying to save more household fossil energy consumption, but by trying to carpool more often. These last few weeks of the spring semester we have been able to carpool an average of 60-70% of the time, which compares well to last semester's 30-40% of the time. Of course, our ability to carpool is directly related to the timing of the teaching and meeting schedule that Unity College gives us. If our schedules are at normal 8-4 working hours, then we can carpool. If not, if one of us has an early or late meeting, the other must either leave late or come home early to feed the animals and the woodstove.

The extent that we are able to carpool, and the amount of time that our cars last, is also directly related to our ability to save money to buy new energy-saving appliances and equipment for the house, or to buy a more efficient car.

This is all a pretty carefully constructed system of rational trade-offs, I guess. But it works for us and we are able to progress towards less overall fossil energy use per year. We are reaching the limits of what can be achieved cheaply with insulation and caulking and firewood. The next stages -- an electric or plug-in hybrid car, a new solar thermal hot water system, possibly combined with an electric on-demand hot water heater for when the sun doesn't shine, these are all relatively expensive.

But even then, the heart of the system will be the 15.5 acres of woodland, whose green leaves we hope to see spread soon this spring to catch some more of that sunshine for us.

Just recently, a group of our neighbors from Jackson, Maine published a newsletter and web page opposing the wind power developments proposed for the Mt. Harris ridgeline to the north. I probably know that land as well if not better than anyone, since I explore it extensively each fall while teaching map reading to the trainee park rangers and game wardens of Unity College, or on my own or with Aimee on Sunday walks.

It is a very beautiful area, the scenic jewel of the Great Forest of Jackson and Dixmont.

There may be quite a lot of very large wind turbines on that hilltop soon. Our neighbors are really anxious, and many do not wish to see the turbines go ahead. They are asking a lot of very awkward questions at Town Meetings and in their paper and web site.

For my part, I think the company, which is the same one I get my hydropower from, should perhaps think about a few less turbines. While my neighbors might think about accepting a few, or even getting one or more that are owned by the community.

As for my neighbors, I wonder if we sat down together and added up all our energy consumption and studied all the difficulties and problems that are caused by each and every kind of energy, well, I wonder if we might not then realize that the turbines are possibly a better investment than patrolling the Persian Gulf, or building new nuclear power plants, or waiting for climate change to revise the entire north-eastern forest ecosystem.

The problem is, I think, a) we don't do that. Instead we shout at Town Meetings. And then b) even the country as a whole doesn't do that, which is why a power company I otherwise support can get away with turning this part of Maine into an energy exporter for other parts of the country, essentially an energy colony. And then c) I'm a very boring, very rational old college professor who just wants his students to grow up fast, and put away childish things like yelling at each other, and think about it as well as they can.

Believe me, I understand the limitations of my wishes very, very, ruefully well.

I don't believe in black and white when it comes to energy. Even my firewood pile, which is probably one of the cleanest forms of energy, still produces solid waste in the form of ash, air pollution in the form of particulate, and environmental damage each time I cut down a tree and cut it up for firewood.

A few wind turbines on Jackson ridge would probably be a good thing. They might help us all learn to run as much as we can on recent sunlight here in Jackson. I for one would like to use this energy. It would be better if the community could get the most benefit out of them, particularly if we owned one or more of them, and it would be better if there were less of them than are proposed.

The community probably has it in its power to require some or all of this, but it would take a good lawyer to figure it out. To begin, we might start by doing our energy sums.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The long climb out

Last weekend's thaw is to be followed by one today, with an 80% chance of rain. Awesome. With six to eight more weeks of winter more or less guaranteed, you wouldn't think one day of cold rain would matter so much, but it does. The rain helps compact the snow, and when the cold returns, you can often then walk pretty much anywhere in the woods without snowshoes, at least in the mornings.

That makes for exercise for men and dogz, which makes for a much happier Mick.

This time of year the jet stream is starting to move north, taking the "standing wave" system that bulges Canadian arctic air down into Maine with it. As the wave moves north, the amount of time we spend in arctic air masses is less, and the amount of time in warmer Atlantic and southerly continental air is greater.

We still get storms, and generally even more storms in March than in February, but we also get more temperatures out of the 10s and 20s, and into the 30s and 40s (Farenheit).

Just in time for lambs. Watch this space to see pictures of this year's offspring.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Barbeque pork ribs (or chops, or roast)

I was scratching my head a few weeks ago, prior to the Superbowl, wondering what I could cook that would make a nice change for the game day, and came up with this, a great way to use up the bits of the pig that aren't bacon, sausage, chops, loin, ham. Like ribs, blade roast, other odd parts, as well as our canned tomatoes. I got the basic idea from Aimee's Mennonite cookbook, but elaborated on it.

You take your meat, put it in a Pyrex type dish that has a tight fitting lid, and brown it in a very hot oven without the lid to begin, 450 F, to seal in the juices.

Take it out and let it cool a bit.

Add liberal quantities of sliced onions and garlic cloves, chipotle seasoning (smoked chili pepper), salt and black pepper, and your favorite hot sauce (we use Aimee's dad's, now famous across three states). Just sprinkle all of the above evenly over the meat.

Add a quart of canned tomatoes and enough water to just cover the meat. Doesn't matter if a bit pokes up here and there.

Cook at a low heat, <350 F for at least an hour, preferably more. Take off the lid and cook another 45 minutes or so until the tomatoes and garlic cloves are beginning to dry out and roast and get pasty.


The pork will fall off the bone beautifully, and the roast tomatoes will be very flavorful.

Better than... England slaughtering Italy 36-11 in the first round.

That dam ice

So much I had to use the chainsaw.

A small victory

Yesterday was a good day. We got our generator back. Score one for rationality and old-fashioned workmanship.

The short version of this very long story is, Aimee and I own another house, a straw-bale house which we built ourselves and lived in for three years before we came to the Great Farm.

For the last few years it's been on loan "temporarily" to another family who needed a place to stay. But this arrangement, which costs us money and denies us the use of the house for guests and friends who might come to visit, has become tedious. The folks who live there were in fairly dire straits when they moved in, but things have gotten worse for them, not better, meaning they believe themselves unable to help with expenses like taxes, ground rent, house insurance. I say believe themselves unable, since they do own a property someplace else and so presumably have some resources. But for right now they tell us there's nothing they can do, they have to keep living there and they have no money to help. And of course it's not an option not to pay taxes, insurance, or ground rent. So, like the fools we are, we pay, in the hopes that we will one day have our property back for our own use.

We could just ask them to leave, and if they didn't leave, have them evicted, but there's a kid involved, and we can't bring ourselves to do it. We're not so much mad at them, just upset that we lose so much money, and sad that they can't do any better, worried for the kid, and unable to help anymore than we currently do.

It's one of those bad situations that would probably be made yet worse for all concerned if you tried to do anything to fix it. Especially in winter.

But, in the way of all things, there are occasional glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel. Getting the genny back was one.

This is a fairly substantial, good brand name, residential standby generator, and represented a major investment for Aimee and I when we bought it to outfit the Bale House, which runs on solar power, but needs a generator for when the sun doesn't shine, or you want to use a power tool or other heavy load.

We not only spent a lot of money on it at a time when we had only one income (and two sets of PhD-scale student loans), but we agonized over the choice and cost in the way we do, in the way all careful families do, and just recently were agonizing again over buying a new one when it became clear that Maine power cuts make it hard to water our animals.

This was especially painful to contemplate since we knew we already owned a generator. Aimee's car cost less than this generator did.

Like most expensive machinery, this generator is complicated, and requires careful maintenance of the professional sort where you actually follow the instruction book. No problem for an ex-sumpy. Just the kind of jig-saw puzzle I might actually enjoy, once I got the heavy beast into my nice clean dry warm shop where I could approach the problem with lots of time and rationality.

But it was more or less guaranteed that it would quit working for anyone who wasn't willing to put in, or couldn't afford, the time to maintain it properly. When it did, I hoped I could get it back, and that the damage wouldn't be so great that it couldn't be repaired.

So this was the case when I unloaded the truck yesterday.

First we cleaned off the snow and accumulated grunge. Then we took off the engine cover panels and began the standard one-by-one small engine diagnosis.

1) Is there battery power to start? No. Put battery on charge.
2) Does starter still work? Use power supply to test. Starter works but engine is hydraulic-ing. (Meeting resistance caused by some liquid in cylinder.) Why?
3) Remove spark plug, run starter, blow out cylinder. Engine now turns over.
4) Might as well check for a spark while spark plug is out. Good spark. Things are looking up.
5) Replace spark plug. Engine still won't start. Why?
6) Is there fuel? We have one gas cylinder part full, one empty. Check to see if engine would start if it had fuel by removing spark plug and dripping a little gasoline into cylinder. Replace plug, try starter. Engine fires and catches a little. No fuel supply.
7) Why no fuel supply? Battery panel on rear has been removed and lost. Fuel regulator is exposed. Check ambient air pressure holes on regulator. They are filled with snow. Take gas torch lightly to regulator, melt snow. Try starter. Engine now starts and runs, but cuts out after five seconds.
8) Why does engine cut out? Try again, notice LED code is flashing on control panel. Four flashes. Go consult manual online. Four flashes is low oil pressure. Why no oil pressure? I already checked the oil, but remember that the oil dipstick on this machine doesn't accurately reflect the oil contents, especially when it's cold.
9) Is there oil? Undo drain plug to find out. No bloody oil. (This makes me a little mad, but I need my rationality back, so I suppress the thoughts I'm having.)
10) Having checked the correct oil quantity in the manual, add oil. Run starter to suck oils from remote filler into machine. This is probably why there's no oil. You have to turn this engine over to get the oil pump to actually draw the oil into the crankcase from the filler through the filler tube, especially in winter when oil is thicker. Anyone who didn't know this would not be able to get oil into the machine, but might think they had. They probably spilled it all instead.
11) Engine now starts and runs.
12) Is there power at the power take off? Yes.
13) Now we're into routine POL and service. Charge battery, add fuel, connect power receptacle to replace the one I left at the Bale House, all done.

We now have a functioning standby generator. Amen to that.

We're not taking it back to our guests. They have their own, and although it's a good deal less suitable than the one we have, it's at least theirs and so they are wearing out one thing that belongs to them, not to us.

And I walk around the rest of the day quite pleased about all this. The good feeling doesn't leave until the morning, when I discover there's a thaw, the temperature is 40 degrees F (yippee!) and we have an ice dam on our porch roof leaking water into the building.

Another problem to fix. But it will keep me happy for at least the morning.

Then we get to watch the Six Nations rugby, England vs, Italy, Wales vs. Scotland, albeit delayed on Setanta.

Please don't tell me what the score was!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Jump-starting a lamb: On intubation and related matters

Jewel with lambs last spring in the lambing jug

This is a supplement to the previous post, in which I mentioned having an intubation kit handy in case you would need it, but failed to mention when or why or how to use it.

Intubation int his context is "tube-feeding" or force feeding a new-born lamb who is failing to thrive.

Newborns have wet coats, from the amniotic fluid. They need to dry their coats to stay warm, especially if they are born in a Maine winter. If they don't dry their coats, and the weather is even slightly cold, they will die very easily of hypothermia. You can lose a significant number of your newborns this way. This is why we put so much emphasis on ram separation in the fall of the year -- that's the way you delay parturition, by delaying breeding or "tupping." And it's also why we think early lambing in Maine, even to make sheep shows and sales, or Easter lambs, is bad practice: bad for the animals, that is.

When you get a cold newborn lamb, there's a sequence of increasingly drastic actions. What the lamb needs is warmth and food, and you have to make sure it is getting both.

First, check for a suckling response. Stick your (hopefully clean) finger in the lamb's mouth. If the mouth is warm and the lamb suckles strongly, it can likely feed if you just get it to the nipple. The ewe likely has plenty of milk, so milk some directly into the lamb's mouth. Hopefully your aim is good. Or stuff the nipple into the lamb's mouth and then strip some milk. If the lamb swallows the milk, and if you get enough in, and if you have a heat lamp providing adequate warmth, that may be all you need to do. If the lamb can't find the nipple, or suckle, on its own the next time it needs to feed, in an hour or so, repeat the process. Eventually it should get stronger and find the nipple on its own.

Lambs are equipped with a built-in shepherd's feeding alarm called a tail. If the tail is wagging, the lamb is feeding and all is well!

If there's no response, and the inside of the mouth is cold, make sure the animal is breathing and the respiration rate has not already dropped so low that it is beyond saving. I can't tell you where to draw the line, but a lamb making only a handful of weak, shallow breaths a minute, that is cold to the touch, and cold in the mouth, is likely not going to make it.

Hopefully you catch your lamb before it gets to this stage. As soon as we find a cold lamb that has a cold mouth and a weak or non-existent sucking response, we know we have to bring it in to the house. We start by putting the lamb under the wood stove where the temperature is 80-90 degrees F, for a few minutes. Then, keeping close to the stove for continued warmth, we try to bottle-feed some colostrum replacer, pre-warmed, just like a baby's bottle. We use a soda bottle with a big lamb nipple on. If the lamb has only a weak suckling response, we squirt some slowly down the throat, making sure not to choke the lamb. If it suckles and feeds, however inexpertly, all will be well soon. A couple of ounces of warm colostrum replacer and another twenty minutes under the stove to dry off and warm up, is all the lamb needs. The lamb will usually perk up and look around, and can soon go back with mother, with you taking care to check the heat lamp is providing warmth.

If you can't get milk in the lamb with a bottle, if the lamb is breathing but cold and limp, that's when you intubate. You get the intubation kit from outlets like Sheepman's Supply. We use our butcher block table to do the deed comfortably.

The intubation kit consists of a smooth tube with a funnel-like apparatus. First, unless it's brand new and still in a sterile wrapper, sterilize the tube and funnel by heating in a pot of water to 160 degrees, and airdrying. Do this ahead of time, putting the equipment in a new Ziploc bag for storage.

The tube is slid down the oesophagus, and milk is funneled into the lamb. To make it work, and not kill the lamb, the tube has to be in the stomach, not the lungs.

First, lubricate the tube with a little clean warm water.

Then, "adopt the position."

The way you get the tube into the stomach first time, every time, is to stretch out the lamb's neck and head so it's a straight shot. Slide the tube carefully and slowly into the lamb's mouth as far as it will go without any restrictions. Never force the tube in. It should slip in gently. For medium-sized breeds like our Corriedale crosses, it's about a six-inch trip down there for the tube. Any choking reflex means you pull out quickly and start over. Generally, if the tube is six inches or more into the lamb, and the lamb is breathing but not choking, you have probably hit the stomach.

Once the tube is in, and the lamb stable, attach the funnel and gently, slowly, pour in a couple ounces of warm (around 95 degrees F), fairly dilute, colostrum replacer. You can lift up the lamb's head and neck a bit to let gravity help. If you get any choking or overflow, you have put in too much, so stop.

As soon as you have got some milk in the lamb, you can slide out the tube, and put the lamb back in that nice warm spot, which for us is under the woodstove. The glucose in the colostrum replacer will start hitting the lamb's bloodstream almost immediately. After five or ten minutes, the lamb should start to fidget, and then start looking around.

Congratulations! You just jump-started a lamb! You are now officially a shepherd, having passed the most basic life-or-death test of shepherd skill and lore.

Especially enjoy that lamb when you see it play. It nearly died, poor bugger.

And next year, keep that ram away from the ewes a few more weeks into fall. If you really want to eat lamb at Easter, use your damn freezer and eat your fall lamb!

If you really want to win a sheep show prize, well, don't. Grow up. Animals are not made for you to build up your weak ego. Try a sport, or take out a lottery ticket, or some other prize-winning activity instead.

Extra bit of advice from a guest, Colour it Green diary:

we went on a lambing course prior to our first experience and the vet told us to have a go at tubing - afterall, once things are that bad for the lamb what else do you have to lose. we got to practise on dead lambs, which was very useful. when our ewe had triplets last year, we did end up tubing the youngest and the changearound was like a miracle.

One thing we did learn that was useful was to estimate the length of tube from mouth to stomach outside of the lamb before passing the tube in, so you know how much to expect to feed in.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What to do to prepare for lambing?

A young person in the community has six ewes and asked this question. After 2 lambing seasons. we're old-timers.

1) Increase feed grains for ewes as the time comes close, eight weeks or so out, to help the lambs make weight in the uterus. Oats are good, but in Maine you need selenium supplement, so a sweet feed with vitamins, minerals including selenium, should be part of the mix, or they should have a sheep/goat protein lick available with selenium, or they need shots of selenium (Bo-Se brand is the norm).

2) Related to selenium deficiency, read up on White Muscle Disease (WMD).

3) Pregnant ewes need Clostridium sp. vaccine (Tetanus vaccine) four weeks or so prior to parturition, or best guess. While giving the shot (subcutaneous), trim surplus fleece from vagina, and check for the udder getting bigger and firmer ("forming a bag"). Good time to trim hooves, too. Handle them carefully to avoid miscarriage.

4) Sort out a restricted lambing pen ("lambing jug") to separate ewes and babies, and ewes close to their time. Put in a heat lamp. It's too cold in Maine not to have a heat lamp. Four by five feet is a good size.

5) Make up a kit of emergency items: colostrum replacer, bottles and nipples, intubation kit for reviving lambs, extra heat lamp bulbs, Blue Cote, shears, elastrator and bands for painless castration.

6) As the time comes, watch for bulging sides in the ewes, ewes forming a bag, ewes pacing or making nests, or obviosuly uncomfortable, off their feed

7) If you think the baby is coming soon, separate the ewe in the jug, moving her gently

8) Keep checking ewes in labor during the night. A cold lamb can die while you sleep.

9) Lambs are usually born easily enough, but read up on the ways they can be turned around in the womb, and try to figure out the remedies just in case

10) When born, strip the nipple of the wax plug and, milking the ewe, squirt some milk to check it's there. If the lambs don't feed soon, put the nipple in or close to the mouth and squirt some right in there.

11) Make sure the new born lambs find and get under the heat lamp.

12) Bo-Se shots and tetanus vaccine are good to give to lambs as soon as they're strong enough

Otherwise let nature take its course. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Snow chaos -- someplace else

We don't do snow chaos in Maine. Snow is a fact of life here. So it's always amusing to look down on the lower 47, or the poor old yUKe, whenever we see headlines like "Snow chaos stalls Capital," or the like.

Today's Guardian was no disappointment in that regard. Several inches have fallen in London, which gets hardly any snow in a normal year. Eight inches generally doesn't stop anything in Maine. It takes twelve or fourteen to get a snow day. We might get a delayed start to the school day if it all dumps in the early morning. But we have a massive public and private infrastructure to deal with all this white stuff.

The budget of Jackson Town, pop 900 or less, for instance, is more than 50% snow removal and sand and salt purchase. The town keeps several guys to drive massive plow trucks with massive sand spreaders, and we can have all our roads clear of an eight-inch snow fall in a couple hours, this despite the fact that we have a couple hundred miles of town roads. I expect there are towns of several thousand in rural England that don't have half the endowment of money, men and materials we keep on hand for this job.

I say men. This is definitely a man thing. I can count the number of women I've seen driving snow removal equipment in Maine on one hand. There must be a gene on the Y chromosome that codes for the snow moving instinct.

It's a macho thing, believe me. Aimee says that any woman you see driving a plow truck is most likely to be single, because if she got married the [stupid] husband would take it over.

Then there's the private equipment. Any "real" man worth his salt in Maine has some kind of snow-moving equipment, even if it's just a 4 by 4 truck with a "toy" plow. Snow blowers are the cheapest way to go. For me, our '73 Kubota 4 by 4 compact tractor does all I need and more. Although it takes more time than neighbor Hamilton's Dodge 4 by 4 plow truck with the full size blade, it can actually bucket lift snow up high, or from one place to another, which is needed as the stuff piles up.

What this means is, Maine can get one, one-and-a-half, two, even three feet snowstorms five, six or seven times a year, but it generally only takes a couple hours of daylight to open up the roads and get everyone moving again. Even so, we still close the schools and the college. It's not worth the trouble and danger of the drive, and when I was the college official who had to call the snow day, I would always think of the poor old tires on the poor old college students cars and trucks, and err on the side of safety.

Besides, we need the rest after moving all that snow. A snow day is a restful, peaceful blessing. Pure white Zen.

So all these Londoners should take it easy. They'll be back to slaving away soon enough.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ugly mug ball

I like my lovely wife's face. I think Aimee has a pleasant face, nice to look at, with that German-American farm girl apple-cheek thing going on.

So when she wants to upset me, she pulls a face like this, by rolling her eyeballs up inside her skull. I hate it. It makes me very unhappy. It makes her, on the other hand, quite happy to see me unhappy.

She sent this snap to me so that I would see it when I opened my email. Yuch! She got rammed by Abraram the ram the other day and is all bruised up, so I will tolerate her tricks for the sake of sympathy.

Not to be outdone, however, coming back from a hike with the dogz, I made to kiss her with the ice still on my face. She didn't like that much. Touch of her own medicine.

Our hairy beards must be to help us Yorkshire Vikings survive the cold weather. Imagine what ice like this could do to your bare skin! My beard is particularly thick and hard to manage.

Good. With weather like this I need all the protection I can get.