Today's project was to repair the gate to the main sheep stall in the barn, and to make a new lambing pen (or "jug"), since the one we have is occupied by Maggie and one of the other ewes is likely to drop at anytime.
Aimee got into a fix here the other week when Abraram decided to charge her as she was reaching through the gate to get a feed dish. He not only trapped her arm against the gate pretty good, and gave her a nasty bruise that made her cry, but he splintered the gate at the same time, he hit her so hard.
I heard her yell and came running, but it was too late. So I have to fix the gate. Which means I can use the bad gate for a hurdle, to make a temporary pen.
It's helpful to use lambing pens or jugs when lambing in Maine winters -- you need to keep an eye on the lambs, they need to be close to their mothers, and it makes it more likely that they will avail themselves of the heat lamps we provide. Newborns are tiny and fragile and wobbly, and not yet ready for the rigors of the sheep stall where animals thirty to forty times their weight may step on them. Out in green pastures, as in Britain, the sheep don't get so close to one another as they do in a stall, and there are no solid wooden walls against which lambs can get squished.
But this year, with so many pregnant ewes, we need a second jug. So I did what I normally do when I want to build fence or a gate, and took myself off to the apple-ladder mill in Brooks.
This rural industrial enterprise is owned and run by a friend of ours. He makes apple ladders from big-toothed aspen, a tree considered "trash" and cut to waste by many loggers, because they cannot distinguish it from the other more common, quaking aspens. Both are sometimes called poplars or "popple" around here, although they are not at all like the Italian or Lombardy poplars I grew up with, common ornamentals in Sheffield.
Big-toothed aspen, as a waste tree, is available quite cheaply in Waldo County, Maine. It has qualities similar to spruce, and our experience is that it resists rot well enough to use untreated for fence and gates, assuming you expect to make new ones every five to eight years.
A metal five bar gate costs $90 or more dollars, and only comes in fixed sizes. A home-made one can be made any size you like.
One made of reject aspen apple-ladder sides, at $1/stick, costs $8 plus an hour of labor. It doesn't rust, looks more traditional, and can be used for a hurdle if it ever won't serve as a gate anymore. And when it finally falls apart, you can cut it up and burn it in the wood stove.
So here are shots of the inside of the mill, a Heath-Robinson/Rube Goldberg kind of place I always enjoy. At the top is the device for drilling holes for apple-ladder rungs, and the pile of rejects. I built all the walls of our barn with these things, and routinely use them for benches, tables, workbenches, and other projects.
And a shot of the snowmelt pouring off the roof of the mill. Today was again warm and sunny.
Finally, the finished gate, quite handsome, I thought. This lumber turns gray quickly, after a season, and then dulls, but remains pleasant to touch, especially when polished by human hands or sheep.