Sunday, November 14, 2010

Getting it sorted, and the bitter end

That very British phrase, "getting it sorted," or just "sort it," applies to this recent GFD entry.

We've been enjoying brilliant weather thanks to an "omega block." This is a very stable weather pattern for us because the jet stream gets, essentially, stuck.

If you don't like the weather in Maine, the saying goes, wait a few minutes. It's really not quite that fast, but you get the idea. The jet stream generally changes Maine weather from warmer to cooler and back again every few days, with storm fronts associated with most of the changes. But a "blocking high" of sufficient magnitude can hold the jet stream in place for a week or more. In summer this is murder because we sweat and the bugs are rampant. In November, without a blackfly to be found, this is bliss. The omega block twists the jet stream into the shape of the Greek letter Ω. The only Mainers who might dislike this weather would be the deer hunters, whose woods get noisier every day as the leaves dry out.

It's hard to stalk a deer, or even get in to your tree stand quietly, if every step puts out 45 decibels!

But I'm a farmer, not a hunter. Good working weather any time of the year is bliss, but especially this time of year when we need it most but are least expecting it.

The good weather, combined with a relatively moderate workload now and for the next couple of weeks for both the Womerlippi professors, has meant we've been able to do the pig/sheep transition chores easily in the hour or so of daylight after this last week of work, and on Saturday afternoon.

The transition chore switches the use of the main pen of the barn from a pig sty to a sheep shelter, and requires us to 1) get the pigs off to the butchers, 2) remove about a ton and a half of already-begun-to-rot bedding and manure from the pig sty to the compost area, 3) dry and sweep the pig sty (usually it doesn't dry nearly as easily because we get rain and therefore humidity in the fall), 4) repair any damage (pigs being pigs), and 5) put in bedding as well as feeding and watering hardware for the sheep.

This dual-use space works well and has done so for three full cycles now, although the transition doesn't always go as smoothly as it did this year because of our college workload. The farm is set up to require only twenty minutes work morning and evening, with major routines like pig butchering and compost-making occurring at intervals on the weekends or holidays. But we get weekend schoolwork too, and so if, for instance, pig-butcher-transport day occurred on the same day as a midterm grading project, things would not work out well.

This year we refined this system by adding a new door so the sheep no longer have to traipse through the compost area to get into their new shelter. That was yesterday afternoon's job, right after Open House at Unity College in the morning.

So I spent the morning shaking parents' hands and explaining what job prospects little Johnny might have, assuming he could get through four years of college science, and then to start my afternoon I fired up my number two chainsaw and cut a big hole in the side of my barn, re-enacting a scene from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

This was an interesting experience for me because to get the chainsaw cuts to align well with the studs of the barn, and to not weaken any studs, I cut from the inside out, and so the barn filled up with blue two-cycle engine smoke. Then I sistered in some cripples and a header. By then I needed a nap. (Talking to 17 year olds is tiring.)

After the nap, I made a dutch door, fitted it, and then let in the sheep.

They seemed quite pleased with the remodeling.

Today we'll fix the tractor which has sprung a coolant leak, and then use it to mix the wet manure from outside the barn with the drier stuff from inside, so that both compost faster. Moisture is important for making compost. Too wet and you get stinky anaerobic decomposition, too dry and you don't get decomposition at all.

We may also take poor old Tootsie to the butchers, if they have time to "do" her. We made this decision while driving to school yesterday, although we gave it some thought. We think this would very likely be her last winter. She's just old. And although otherwise sound, she's been barren now for several years, and now lame for five weeks. If she's going to stay lame, she'll not eat well, and things will go downhill from there. Better to take her now, and have it be an easy end, than to let her die of some dread sheep disease that lasts for days in the winter or spring cold.

And if she does get a disease, she can't be eaten, which is a waste.

We have three retired ewes like her, but the other two aren't lame, and it's good to have an older ewe around who knows "what's what," to keep everyone else sensible. Older ewes have a calming effect.

In any case, we wouldn't have freezer space for all that meat. Best to spread them out over time, while we "bring on" replacement matriarchs.

Sad, but sensible. And a necessary part of running a farm.

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Welcome to our Farm Blog.
The purpose of this blog is for Aimee and I to communicate with friends and family, with those of our students, and other folks in general who are interested in homesteading and farming activities.

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