Friday, December 23, 2011


Here's the first applicant for the job vacancy recently announced. And it looks like he's got the job.

His name is Ernie and he's a rescue dog. He came to us from National English Shepherd Rescue, or NESR. He was a troubled puppy, apparently, but is now much improved in temperament, thanks to the efforts of NESR, particularly NESR foster carer Heather Houlahan, who has her own blog here.

Ernie's history is somewhat mixed. He was a pedigree English Shepherd puppy sold to a couple in Cambridge, MA. We have the papers. They apparently couldn't manage him, which is unsurprising. These proper shepherd dog types that actually still have the herding instinct -- Border Collies, Australian and English Shepherds -- generally make very poor candidates for an urban existence.

They need a proper job to do, and they need more or less constant companionship, either from their people, or from another dog.

When young, they are best apprenticed to an older farm dog who knows the ropes. In their proper farm environment, when they're not herding sheep, they're on guard, and so although they like to play, they're never really off the clock. Having known Ernie for a day or so now, I can easily imagine that if some ill-advised attempt was made to keep him in an apartment 22 hours a day, with his only exercise in streets and parks full of humans and other dogs that he couldn't get all properly herded up and in the right pen, then, well, he would likely have gone stir crazy.

(So would have I, by the way. That kind of existence is not for me. I like my sheep barn, my woodpile, my apple trees and my gardens.)

These hapless Cambridge urbanites gave Ernie up at 7 months to NESR, and to the expert care of Heather, who had him mess in with another half-dozen shepherd dogs on her farm, a lifestyle not unlike our own (only we have fewer dogs). Ernie was exposed to the proper kind of shepherd dog lifestyle, and got a little farm training, as well as a second chance at a more contented, playful kind of late puppyhood, without the stresses of an urban existence. He calmed down, learned some of the ropes, and figured out what his job in life was going to be.

We're very pleased with him so far. He's very well-behaved, he minds his manners, he already is house-trained and puppy trained, he can sit, lie down, walk to heel, and go in his crate. He gets a little stressed out by cats and small children, but we expect that our moggies will sort him soon enough.

He has all the proper shepherd dog instincts for protecting the farm, and getting all his people all herded up together, and so on. He's still plenty young enough to begin his sheepdog training. It shouldn't take us long to get him to move sheep on our farm where there are lots of fences and alleyways that make the job easy. But I'd like to have him try the more open-ground kinds of techniques, where the dog learns to go all the way around the herd and bring them back to the handler.

Something to look forward to for me and Mr. Ernie.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Help wanted -- General Farm Dog

This may seem awfully callous, but we're going to replace our farm dog Haggis as soon as we can. There's a huge hole in my life where my dog used to be, and Aimee misses having a dog around the house too. I realized just yesterday that this is the first time I've been without a dog since 1988, which was the year the sainted shepherd dog of shepherd dogs, Liza Jane, appeared in my life (and promptly got herself pregnant by another dog I got that year, Thumper, a Blue Heeler cross, to begat, among others, Cocoa, who was definitely not a shepherd dog at all but who lived with me until we got Haggis in 2002). My college room-mates called Liza Jane "Mick's dog wife." She was a Montana dog born and bred, but lived in Maryland, Georgia, and Maine, and accompanied me on some huge adventures.

Before that, long before that, I had a different shepherd dog, a Border Collie-cross, called Paddy, which takes us back to about 1973 in the world of Mick's dogs. Paddy used to do my newspaper round with me when I was a teenager and accompanied the RAF Leeming Mountain rescue team on many an adventure. We often would follow the dog to find our way on the hill. This was more accurate than map and compass, although I'm not sure what this says for our map-and-compass skills. (Patrick Elvis McGinty Womersley was the full name my sister and I gave this great dog, who died of a very old age in the 1990s, 17 or 18 years old.)

Paddy, Liza Jane and Haggis were all what I've heard described as "velcro" dogs -- they stuck with me whatever I happened to be doing. They were equally as good at riding in the truck (or an RAF Land Rover) as going for a walk, flying a kite, or herding chickens. This is a characteristic of the various shepherd dog breeds, and probably why I miss them so much.

There's also an as-yet unfulfilled need around here for a shepherd dog that can actually successfully herd sheep. We move our sheep from pasture to pasture all summer, and although the sheep generally know where to go, it would be helpful to have a dog to help round up any strays.

The other more serious reason we need a shepherd is for the coyotes. These predators have already heard that Haggis is gone, and are moving in steadily. I've heard them within a few hundred yards each night since. I can keep them at bay for now by making sure to go outside early and late every night, and by leaving the scent of a man wherever I can. But this won't last forever. Lambs are due in April.

Help Wanted.

Vacancy at Womerlippi Farm
General Farm Dog

Shepherd breed or shepherd cross, prefer Border Collie or Aussie
Male or female, must be neutered
Must like sheep, chickens, old people, small children, in that order
Must hate coyotes, bad stranger dogs, bobcats, and hunters who can't read maps
Loud bark, must be worse than bite. Prefer no bite at all, except when applied to the types on the previous list

Pay and benefits
Room and Board, own bed, kibble and canned food, allowed to clean out pots and pans, treats, grooming, regular walks, own seat in pick-em-up truck, full health care, personal herd of eleven fully-trained sheep

Applications received until position filled. Reference, background and health check required

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Haggis gone

Photo: Haggis and me in happier days:

Aimee and I are completely gutted after having to put Haggis down last night.

He'd been doing well on the prednisone. It didn't solve the laryngeal paralysis, but it kept his throat from getting sore, and so he could eat, and of course he was happy enough to be able to eat and sleep and be with us.

That's really all he ever asked of us, even when healthy. Such unconditional love.

But we couldn't find the smallest dosage that would do the job without side effects. Last week we dropped the dosage on the vet's instructions. The choking and inability to eat got immediately worse, so we called the vet and upped the dose again. The side effects began to kick in. By Tuesday he'd developed nausea, one of the side effects, and by Friday he was again starving to death, only this time from the nausea instead of being unable to eat because of a sore throat.

He worsened a good deal during Friday while we were at work. I came home to find him in terrible shape.

He wouldn't touch his food, couldn't keep anything down at all, and wouldn't even come in the house for weakness and pain. I had to pick him up to bring him in. As I picked him up, I discovered there was this additional symptom of abdominal pain, which could also have been caused by the prednisone -- stomach bleeding is one side-effect. He and I both rested for a few moments, he on his bed, me on the couch close by, while we both waited for Aimee, and he seemed like he might begin to feel better, but then he vomited about a half a gallon of almost pure water, and so I realized he'd been drinking away because of some internal pain, most likely bleeding in his stomach.

Aimee came home later, and although we prevaricated for a minute, we quickly made the decision to put him down there and then. Even if we could find a way to fix the side effects of prednisone, his inability to pant easily would make it impossible to stay cool once the warm weather returned, and would even be difficult during the very coldest weather, when the house is often cosy because of the wood stove, and even healthy dogs tend to pant.

We were prepared for this after these last two months of Haggis's illness, but not totally. Haggis has been such a good dog and such a great friend to have, and so loving. I was going to have to do it myself with the rifle -- our own vet closes at five on Friday and taking him to the emergency vet in Brewer, Maine, forty miles in his condition, with that much pain, just to be put down, wasn't a sensible option or in his best interests.

Aimee stayed inside while I put him down. He was trusting and safe in my hands until the very end, and even wagged his tail for me when I held him after the shot as he took his last breath.

I honestly can't tell you right now whether knowing he trusted me so and was happy to be with me even while dying makes it worse or better.

But I am glad he is no longer in pain and misery.

We'll bury him quietly today on our own land.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lonely boy Bentley

Here's our new ram Bentley, now on his own for the winter, until the lambs are born and the ewes are safely past the period when they might come into heat.

He wasn't at all happy about this.

I took away his ewes yesterday afternoon, distracting him with some food, while I slipped the ewes out of the gate. Once he realized they were gone he began ramming the gate and baaa-ing in frustration, except that in a full grown ram, what passes for a baa is actually more of a grrrrr!

Tough. He'll have to stick it out. Most rams are such knuckleheads that there is no choice but to keep them separate from the rest of the herd much of the time, in well-fortified pens. Rams must lead solitary lives much of the year.

You can put rams of the same age class together out-of-breeding season. They can't do too much damage to each other when they're well-matched, and they're not that inclined to spar when there are no ewes to compete over.

But in season, and when one ram is clearly more dominant, they must be kept separate, or they'll destroy each other. This happened to us a couple of years ago, when a visiting ram, Snorri, beat the living daylights out of our old ram, Abraram. I had to put old Abe down with the rifle and make mincemeat out of him. I decided then and there never to have two grown rams on the farm at the same time ever again.

The other thing I did yesterday is cut away Regina's forelocks where she had become wool-blind. Wool-blindness is when a sheep can't see for fleece over her eyes. Corriedales can be prone to it, especially when crossed, as ours are, with Romney blood. Regina is the yearling in the background. You can see her eyes. That's how you know that this is a new photo of her.

Here's a chicken that looks like it wants to come in the house. For a warm-up, maybe? Or to eat Haggis's food?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Haggis update

Our red shepherd dog Haggis has been a very sad puppy lately, and we've been sad too, as we wrestle with his health problems.

It's a major change in the happy equilibrium of the farmstead, although we're coping, as folk generally do when such things occur.

He recently developed laryngeal paralysis, a condition in which the larynx becomes unable to open and close with each breath as it normally does. The effect is that he wheezes and sucks wind for all but the slightest exertion. He can no longer take a walk unless it's just a mild toddle of a hundred yards or less, nor can he do very many of his other important jobs, such as herding chickens, woofing at the mail lady, or following us around the farmyard.

Obviously we've been trying to decide what to do, and have considered having him put down, or doing so ourselves. There's an operation, but it's uncertain in outcome, as well as thousands of dollars in cost, and we're practical people. We love our dog, but we're not paying thousands of dollars to keep him alive when he might not do so well afterwards. He'll take his chances, as we all must eventually, despite the best of modern medicine. We know we'll have to put him down eventually.

He's been so good-natured and uncomplaining about the whole thing, and has worked so well on finding his own new equilibrium, that for now we've put such thoughts out of our minds. One thing that helps is that he now gets a pill twice daily which works to reduce the bruising and inflammation that comes with this condition. He is now eating heartily, although he no longer can swallow the couple pounds of kibble he used to put away each day. He gets canned food instead, and has let us know through doggy sign language which of the various brands he prefers.

For a while there, before the pills, we wasn't eating at all and indeed lost a lot of weight, from 88 down to 76 pounds. This was weight he could afford to lose. Haggis, like all Womerlippi critters including human ones, was previously quite well-built, if not a little fat.

He can't afford to put that weight back on, because a fat dog pants much more, and Haggis can't easily pant without sucking air, and so the new diet will have to be monitored.

He spends his days much as he did, except that in the past he would get up and do things, and now he doesn't much. He still likes to follow me out to feed the sheep, but he's no longer right at my side. He instead picks a central vantage point and monitors my work from there.

So far he seems satisfied.

A shepherd dog is often quite critical of human efforts in sheep care. Shepherd dogs are the experts. Humans are still learning. We need to be watched constantly. Even a sick shepherd dog has his duty to the sheep.

(Sometimes we call him Corporal Haggis since he's so very dutiful and diligent. Good NCO material. Always ready to serve.)

He can be coaxed into taking a very slow toddle off towards the wooded trail where, this time of year, we used to walk a full mile together and with Mary-dog, at least once and often twice a day. He generally stops at the point where the trail begins and looks at you as if to say, OK, that's enough for me, and then we go back.

At night-time, he no longer climbs the stairs to sleep in our room. He tried that just once a couple nights ago, but the room was too warm for him, and so we took him back down. If the house gets warm, he asks to stay on the porch or be allowed outside.

His greatest pleasure, apart from just being around us, is to roll on the lawn.

I think that as long as I see him roll on the lawn with such pleasure, and as long as he's still so pleased to see us each day, we can work this out.

I am pretty bummed to lose my walking buddy, though.

It's hard to take yourself for a walk when you've always had a dog to take.

We did consider getting another dog sooner rather than later, but are cognizant that it would be very upsetting to Haggis to see me take another dog on a walk. We can't do that to him.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New pac boots on new snow

It's Thanksgiving Day in America. I'm thankful for warm feet.

My old pac boots blew out. They developed a crack in the rubber, and so whenever the snow was slushy, the felt liners would get wet, and my feet would get cold.

This was no fun for me. Since I have to go out every day to tend the sheep, I prefer to have dry feet.

The old boots came from LL Bean and so we took them back to the store and received partial credit of $51. But I didn't like the looks, nor the price, of the replacement LL Bean snow boots. At $210, they were expensive, and they weren't even what I think of as proper snow-pacs. All futuristic-looking black plastic, they might not have looked out-of-place under a Darth Vader costume.

So we went online and discovered that although the LaCrosse company has also switched to fancy new boot types that look like they come out of the "Transformers" movie, they still sell their old-style classic Snow-Pac.

At $110, these were good value. I've had a previous pair of LaCrosse snow pacs, and they work great.

With the serious winters we get up here, you have to take boots pretty seriously if you want to be safe and comfortable.

Warm feet are happy feet.

I gave my $51 LL Bean store credit card to Aimee. She'll spend it.

The snow arrived early Wednesday morning, and it blew pretty well until afternoon. As soon as it stopped I went out with my new boots to start up the tractor and plow.

Then I took some pictures with my forty-dollar camera. I had to switch to the "macro" setting to snap the new boots, and I left it there for a shot of a layer that was happily laying until I disturbed her with the camera, and this ewe-nose.

Tillie, our number one sheep, wanted to get in on the camera action.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Laundry machine mangled

Here's the filter of our laundry machine, a GE front loader only five years' old. Those stringy shreds are plastic swarf from the guts of the machine. The inner basket became out-of-round somehow, and tore these shreds off the tub.

To the point where not only did it make a horrible noise and have to be shut down, but the tub became perforated by the wear in several places.

I off course stripped it down completely to inspect the damage, and then priced the parts online. The half-tub section we needed was $160, the stainless steel basket $545.

We went to Home Depot and bought a new model, slightly larger and stronger, on sale for $499.

But we went for the extended warranty this time.

Now I have our garden cart loaded with laundry machine parts. I have to waste them. They look brand new. I may try to sell them online.

Low dollar, though.

Hopefully someone can afford to fix their machine, that way.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Apples for sheep and Haggis's cough

We had Open House at school today -- a hundred and thirty students, as well as parents and even some grandparents, came to visit. As a result, Aimee and I were both tired when we got home and both took a nap. Aimee's still asleep.

I woke up feeling better after an hour or so, and went out with Haggis, AKA coughalopagus these days, to see about some sheep treats.

Our neighbors apple tree has shed all these golden delicious type apples, which are very sweet and tasty for sheep after so many frosts. Their sugar content must be sky high. The sheep crave them, and so do the whitetail deer, who come out of the woods at night to eat them, and then melt away in the early morning before deer hunters see them

The sheep saw me filling the buckets under the tree and started bleating for apples before I was anywhere near done.

In other news, Haggis has been back to the vets and has his diagnosis: He has laryngeal paralysis, not lymphoma.

This is a good thing, as such things go, because laryngeal paralysis is a good deal less terminal than lymphoma. He's going to die of old age in a few years' time, not cancer in a few short months.

This is a satisfying diagnosis too, in that it explains all his symptoms, the coughing, the inability to cool down in summer, even the response to his exposure to the cellulose insulation.

It doesn't make him feel any better to know any of this, but we're glad he's getting better. He has to take cortisone tablets twice a day, and we upped his rations because he lost so much weight. He fell to seventy-four pounds from eighty-eight. He's especially spoiled because it's hard for him to eat dry kibble because of his sore throat.

Now he gets a whole can of dog food, not once, but twice a day. With a cortisone tablet stuck in it.

What a spoiled puppy. He spends much of his day sleeping off all this overeating, lying still and trying not to cough.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Bentley, our new ram, arrived Friday causing quite a stir among the ewe-thful inhabitants of Womerlippi Farm.

But he was unable to get directly down to the job for want of some work on a secure pen for him. Rams are inherently large and rambunctious critters and need to be pretty well caged in 24/7. The population of the Great Farm may be low these days but it includes one pensioner and one toddler, either one of which could easily be hurt or even killed by a charging 250 pound ram, and so we needed to be sure that our animal was secure.

I started Saturday by making an eight-by-five foot shed-roofed ram shelter. This didn't take long. I used the nail gun and the miter saw, among other labor-savers.

Then came the problem of moving it to the right spot. Made using two-by-four hemlock with plywood sheathing, the new building was heavy. This had to wait for a couple of hours on Sunday, after we discovered Bentley pushing his way through the woven wire field fence to get to the ewes. He was easily disentangled, by the simple expedient of pulling on his back leg, but it was clear that he could pop the welds on the fence anytime he felt like it, unzipping a large ram-sized hole for him to toddle through on some lustful adventure.

Seeing the writing on the wall, I was off to the Farmer's Union like a shot, to get some sturdy welded cattle panels which seem like they will hold him.

One half of his pen was already fenced with pig panels, made of the same quarter-inch steel rod as the cattle panels, plus two strands of barbed wire. This arrangement may eventually need to be replaced with the taller cattle panels.

Bentley secured, I did the usual Sunday chores, and then jacked the new shelter up a couple feet off the ground with the vehicle jacks and jack-stands. While it was so conveniently situated to save my back, I gave it two quick coats of white waterproof and rot-proof paint.

The next job was to take the sides off the utility trailer so the ram shed would fit underneath the jacked-up shed. This also went fairly easy.

Letting the four target ewes and Bentley out into the Back Forty to get them out of the way, and thus at the same time beginning the official Womerlippi Farm mating season, I used the Bolens tractor to maneuver the ram shed into the proper position. Then came the metal roof, which I'd left off to save some weight and to give me less width to get past that coppiced ash tree in the ram pen.

By late afternoon Bentley and his harem were suitably imprisoned.

All in all, I'm content enough with the fruits of my labors.

I think he can still get out if he wants, by going right over the pig panels and their barbed wire, but the five foot cattle panels stand between him and the baby and granny ewes, and as long as that remains the case, I don't think he'll escape. But as soon as I have an extra hundred dollars, we'll switch out those pig panels for cattle panels.

I don't mind the expense. We'll need them for the pigs anyway.

Here's a shot of Bentley in action. I have to say, he is an energetic fellow. Molly here got the proper treatment several times during the afternoon. But his doohickey doesn't seem to extend the way it should. It seems to remain quite firmly sheathed.

I do hope this isn't a problem. This ram has been an expensive project.

We can probably afford more cattle panels, but I don't think we can stretch to Viagra.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Here's "Bentley", AKA "Birch Branch 30," our new ram.

Bentley motored over from Pittston today, albeit in the back of an ordinary American farm pick-em-up truck, not a swanky British motorcar.

He had scratched his nose somewhere along the way, and so had to be sprayed with Blue-Cote, but other than that he seems fine and certainly has a suitable set of equipment dangling behind.

I say suitable, because Mr. Bentley is what you might call a journeyman, and he has a journeyman's job of work to do, which is to impregnate the four ewes that we have ready to breed this season.

(There are two "granny" ewes, Tillie and Jewel, and four baby ewes, but they all have to be kept away from Mr. Bentley, lest he molest the yearlings before their time, and so he doesn't trouble the grannies.)

Of course, the arrival of a new ram was cause for some stir among the ewes.

"Hello sailor!" "Why don't you come up and look at my hay sometime?"

Unfortunately, the grannies led the pack.

Dirty old ladies. At their age, too.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Around the farmyard in the storm

I went out with the forty dollar camera to see what I could snap, so you can see what it looks like up here today.

Here's the view up the driveway to the barn. Notice the heavy snow on the power line. We'll be lucky if we don't lose power today.

The house itself is cosy and warm inside the blanket of thick insulation there now is under those excellently-dipped shingles.

I can't imagine how the old couple that once lived here managed to get by without any insulation! I've been sealing and insulating this place for five years now, and it's still not quite done. But it is very cosy.

Ten inches of snow on a sheep fence. I'm glad I bought in the rugs that were hanging here until a few days ago.

Here's faithful Nellie, one of our more affectionate sheep, coming up to be petted in the snow.

Nellie, Molly, and a white fluff ball of a ewe lamb, whose name according to the wife is either Roxy or Rhea.

(I can never keep these names straight in my head.)

Haggis in the deep snow, and a nice natural curl of snow on the side of the greenhouse.

October snow and a sad, sorry dog

A big nor'easter came early, barreling up the coast and smothering pretty much everything from New Jersey north to Nova Scotia in the white fluffy stuff.

We had fair warning, and although I'd been plugging away for weeks at the pre-winter farmyard and dooryard chores, I took fair note of the forecast and put a good day's work in Saturday, cleaning up the rest of the equipment and other items lying around the place, fixing the fences and gates that needed to be fixed before the snow, and otherwise taking care of business.

I took special care to check the generator and tractor fuel supplies and put the starter battery for the generator on a trickle charge for the day. With such wet sloppy snow, and the leaves still on the trees, power outages are forecast, and indeed we've had three or four short ones already.

I then retired for a nap on the couch smug and secure in the husbandly knowledge that it could blow as much as it bl*@dy well liked and all would still be well in the world of the Womerlippis.

Since then we've had a good ten inches and it's still whiter than any English Christmas out there.

It's interesting to me that we live more or less constantly, November to March, within a thermometer's hair of the climate regime at the top of Britain's Cairngorm mountain. I well remember how daunting it used to be, on the RAF Mountain Rescue winter climbing course, to drive our Land Rovers from the warm cosiness of the village of Braemar to the top of the road at the Cainrgorm ski area car park, and then continue up to Coire an t-Sneachda for the climbing.

How many times have I made that particular trip?

But here all I have to do right now to get the same experience, as long as there's a "R" in the month, is to stick my head outside my own front door.

Today's plans include a sensible big and greasy breakfast, followed by a good wait for the blizzard to stop, followed by a couple-three hours work with the tractor and snow shovel, to make sure that when this mess melts, as it surely will someday between Monday and Friday, we're ready for it and the meltwater can all drain in a useful direction.

In other Womerlippi news, we had a bit of a blow of a different kind Friday to hear from our vet that Mister Haggis, our recalcitrant shepherd dog, may have canine lymphoma.

We had thought it was just asthma brought on by contamination from the chemicals used in cellulose blown-in insulation.

A few weeks ago, with Aimee gone for a day or two to some wifely conference or some such thing, I'd taken the opportunity to blow a foot of insulation into the tiny crawl space above our front porch, something I'd been meaning to do for a few years now.

But the crawl space was not yet well-sealed, and every time the wind blew thereafter, cellulose dust would settle to the porch floor below, where Haggis spends his days patiently waiting for us the get back from work.

When the poor pup first contracted a good case of pink eye, then developed a nasty cough, it was a fair guess that the cellulose dust was to blame. Occam's razor ain't no facial hair removal device.

Accordingly, I sealed the crawl space up properly with mastic and trim boards, then decontaminated the area below with a good old-fashioned besoming, making good use of the Swiffer mop and it's alcohol-laden cleaner to be sure we'd gotten most of the light grey dust.

Yet the cough persisted, and so Haggis had to go to the vet's Friday. He was very happy to ride in Aimee's Camry car, and indeed sat without moving a muscle at the tire place, while I bought a nice aggressive pair of all-weather radials to see us safe through the snow and down to Virgina for Christmas. On to the vet's, and he was still happy until he made it inside the front door, when the smell of the place suddenly hit him and he made an abrupt u-turn, heading, or attempting to head, right back to the parking lot!

He loves to go for a ride, but he doesn't like to go to the vet.

On the vet's table he was given a very thorough examination, with all kinds of strange palpitations -- the spleen, the lymph node, the tendons on the back of the rear ankle joint, as well as a good old-fashioned stethoscoping, and so on. I appreciate the work of any craftsman, and this particular vet is clearly a master of the medical massage.

Haggis, for his part, was most upset to be felt up so thoroughly, without any choice in the matter.

The upshot was, we must now do a couple weeks of patient dog-watching to rule out kennel cough, and then our sorry mutt must return to the vet's to have some blood work and a biopsy of the lymph nodes. More than likely, he has the carcinoma, in which case he has less than a year to live.

His coughing proceeds apace, and is most unpleasant to hear. We feel quite sorry for him. It's clearly very uncomfortable. Often, he coughs up some interesting clear frothy spittle. We're in the habit of pausing whatever TV show we're watching using the DVR to let him get it over with. Yet another advantage of modern entertainment technology.

Mostly, he just lies quietly, as in this photo, trying not to get worked up about anything. Sensible dog.

The good part is, he now gets three cheeseballs a day, the cheesy mutt, with his several pills wrapped inside.

And, loyal and true friend that he is, all red hair and soppy puppy love for us both, we know that as long as we're both close by, he's happy enough and content with his lot in life.

If he really must die soon, all he will ask of us, to die a happy dog, is a little more of our time and companionship.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Camry starter solenoid repair for $15

Aimee is off to a biology conference in New Hampshire. While the wifey's away, you'd think the husband would play, but there's a persistent "fails-to-start: starter just clicks and doesn't turn engine over" problem on her precious Camry to fix first.

Otherwise not only will she be upset when she gets back, but she'll also be driving the 215,000 mile Nissan farm truck back and forth to school, and Aimee's not really up for that. The truck is pretty old and has lots of foibles that only mechanically-inclined folks would have tolerance for.

Like the tailgate that falls down of its own accord every 50-60 miles unless you check the catches every ten or fifteen miles. Or the smell of oil-burning-on-muffler that occurs every time the truck is asked to drive more than five miles. Or the gas tank that has to be filled only 2/3 of the way because the filler neck had to be lowered to accommodate the new wooden truck bed when the old one rusted out.

The Camry starter job was going to be easy enough, and indeed if it hadn't been for the SAR call-out last night I would have had it done by 9am or earlier.

What happens, apparently, with these Camry starter motors is that the solenoid (the big electromagnetic relay that carries the power from the battery to the starter whenever the key is turned) had worn out its own contacts. These little l-shaped copper contacts do all the work of passing all those starting amps to the starter motor itself every time you start the engine.

They were easily sourced online, just by googling "Camry starter solenoid repair." They came first class mail, less than a week, cost less than $15 counting shipping, while the replacement motor from our local discount starter firm cost nearly $130.

$15 bucks and an hour's work saved me $115. That's $115/hour.

Almost lawyer's rates, that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ravioli! (Eventually)

Aimee bought me the ravioli-maker attachment to my pasta machine for my birthday.

(My fiftieth -- a half-century on planet Earth!)

It took me a few days to have the time and mental capacity to risk wifely ridicule, and try to make some ravioli.

Unfortunately, ridicule was forthcoming anyway. And, I suppose, not without warrant, since this mess was the result of my first try. Not proper ravioli by any stretch of the imagination. Aimee laughed and laughed. I like to hear her laugh, so I didn't mind so much, but I wanted some proper raviolis!

However, a little tweaking and reconfiguring and learning of technique, and we had it down. The key seems to be to make sure you have slightly stickier pasta sheets than are normal for regular noodles (fettuccine noodles are what I usually make), and that your filling is very regular and smooth in composition. My first attempts used filling that had big chunks of grated zucchini, which got in the way of the roller edges and so prevented the sealing of the ravioli pockets. I blended the same filling down a little, used slightly stickier dough, and it worked fine.

The second-last photo, a little blurred, shows last night's dinner of home-made ravioli with home-canned tomatoes, homemade pesto and a thick slice of home-made wholewheat bread. Very tasty, filling, and nutritious.

The final photo shows the frozen noodles the next day. This was a great success, and bodes well for future mass-production. If you dry them a little on pastry sheets, flipping them once to dry out each side, they seem to freeze well in Ziploc bags. (This would be a good place to use those Ziploc bags with the vacuum pump, so you might squeeze out all the air and prevent freezer burn.)

I think I like my ravioli maker. It's also a great way to use up surplus eggs, of which we usually have plenty. Eggs go into both the noodle dough and the filling. If I used rolled wax paper or parchment to catch the finished pockets, I could make sheets of finished noodles several feet at a time, let them dry, and freeze them. Currently Aimee buys me bulk frozen ravioli and tortellini. It's an easy dinner when you come home late from work, and goes well with our homegrown tomatoes and pesto. But now I can make our own ravioli instead, enough for three or four dinners at a time.

I expect this to become another winter pastime, like knitting with our knitting machine. And the noodles will dry quickly whenever the woodstove is going.

The next question is, "what to put in the filling?" I need some good recipes for filling that use other local or home-grown ingredients we have on hand and in good quantities. Ground lamb and tomatoes with rosemary would be one good possibility. Bacon and mashed potato? Pesto and cheese? The possibilities seem extensive.

What did I do with the mushed-up monstrosities that were my earlier attempts? I popped the worst messes in the blender with some mashed potato and ground it all down, then called it gnocchi dough, and froze it for later. The second tier messes, the ones that actually had some shape to them, I cooked up and kept for snacking on later.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A walk with Haggis

It's the long weekend for the Columbus Day holiday here in Maine. I pulled our spuds yesterday, not a great harvest, but adequate and better than might have been expected considering how much potato blight we had.

That left me stiff and sore this morning. The weather was due to be warm, so I wasn't much up for any more garden chores. Aimee was off to some biologists' fungus meeting in Waterville.

Haggis and I decided on a good long walk.

We drove up to the Dixmont Hills, just across the county line to the north. A good three miles or so and maybe 800 feet of ascent, just enough for a couple hours exercise in the golden-dappled woods of autumn in Maine.

Haggis is funny when hiking. He's an old dog now, and likes to spare himself if he can, and the Dixmont Hills are steep in places.

Probably he's thinking to himself, "if that mean old master would just take me on a good walk like this every day, I wouldn't be so old and fat and slow."

I know the general feeling. I get much the same inclination during the deep snow of early winter, when walking in Maine is damn near impossible. Any moderate walking fitness I may build up the rest of the years seems to bleed away during those two months.

Not that Haggis won't run along most of the day. he just takes a lot fewer side trips than he used to. If Haggis can see a trail and thinks he knows where to go, he'll run still ahead. Not too far -- just enough to let you and he both know that he's not quite past it yet, but not enough to give him more work to do.

If you're bushwhacking, he sets right in behind you and dogs you until he can see the trail again.

He gets hot, too, so any crick or wallow is a good excuse for a nice cooling dip.

I took pictures, but my cheap old camera was set to the close-up setting, so they all came out blurred. Here's one from way back, but the same season of the year.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

It's a wet weekend in Maine after a nice week of Indian summer. We're in domesticated mode.

Nothing like a cat in the lap for that.

Charlie-cat likes to cat around in the bushes on his forays and so he picks up stickers and burrs.

Then he decides he needs a little hair-do, so he jumps up on the couch and settles in my lap until I comb out all his burrs. Even when I'm done, he stays until get a dead-leg from cat-constricted circulation.

Shenzhi-cat brought in a dead vole, the killer.

Haggis, for his part, has a sore eye, and many have pannus or CSK. He went to the vet Friday. He's on cortisone drops.

The sheep are wet and soggy, but don't seem to mind.

Aimee and I have the weekend off completely for once, which is nice. I've been doing door-sealing, weatherstripping, and ductwork-insulating jobs, ready for a hard winter.

Aimee wants me to make her leek-and-barley soup later, another sign of dropping temperatures.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hoofs and dags and Captives

Saturday was the first of two field trips each academic year in which Aimee and I host first year students from Unity College's Captive Wildlife Care and Education program at our farm.

This program, called "Captive" for short among students, trains applied biologists for careers in zoo=keeping and other animal care work at a professional or managerial level. Students may also go into veterinary careers.

It's a very popular program with young women, but there are a handful of young men too. The students are characterized by a particular fondness for animals.

Aimee and I enjoy having the students to the farm because a) it takes away some of the very back-breaking work of sheep care, and b) it's fun to watch the students literally come to grips with the sheep. The professors who run the program, Sarah Cunningham and Cheryl Frederick, are routinely delighted with the arrangement too, because of the great experience for their students at a crucial time in their education.

It's a good trade for all concerned, but especially the students, who like all students need to learn some important lessons.

Sheep are cute and fuzzy, especially our little lambs, but they're also wild and woolly, and will struggle mightily to get out of the shepherds hands.

They also smell.

A lot.

They smell a lot. And it's not a good smell.

I'm not sure how many "Captive" students question their career choices when, often for the first time in their lives, they are told to grab on to their damp, stinky, heavy, powerful, struggling animal and make her assume the proper control position for hoof care or medicine, or whatever peculiar and seemingly perverted task is called for, but if they do, well, that's a good lesson, isn't it?

One that had better be learned sooner rather than later in the college career. If you don't like handling sheep at this point in your career, you aren't going to like giraffe or hippopotami or grizzlum bear very much later, either, and so it may be time to go off and get yourself a communications degree, or join some other less contact-oriented line of work.

Today's task was FAMACHA® care, as well as the ubiquitous dung tags or "dags" for short, and a little hoof trimming. Nothing too difficult, but, as always, animals need to be immobilized and properly handled to manage all this, and it's probably the handling part that is the main lesson.

It's certainly the main emotional lesson. As we routinely tell the students, sheep care is a bit like rugby, and indeed it's no surprise that the regions of the world that produce the most domestic sheep, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and of course my own homeland of northern England, also produce the best rugby players.

There are no half-way measures in rugby and sheep handling.

You just have to get "stuck in" and grab your sheep. This kind of gumption is not that easy to learn quickly, especially if you're a fashionable young lady from suburban America who has just left her teenage years.

There are other good lessons. FAMACHA care provides one. The main point of this routine is the control of the barber-pole worm, Haemonchus contortous. Infestation by this parasite is exhibited by the symptom of anemia, which itself is exhibited by lack of red blood cells in the blood vessels of the eyelid.

If the eyelid is white or creamy colored and almost devoid of red blood cells, then you treat for worms using a broad spectrum anti-helmintic such as Ivormec.

Notice the scientific language. The lesson is less about FAMACHA or worms, and more about science and its practical uses. First year students fresh out of high school in the first four weeks of their college career are apt to cherry-pick the lessons they like and the lessons they don't like. Routinely, the lessons they like are the ones with warm fuzzy animals, and the lessons they don't like have long words, math, and lots of complicated science reasoning.

This is understandable. One necessary character trait for a good college teacher is empathy for the student. It's a long time ago now, but I still remember well enough being an seventeen-year old RAF aeronautical engineering trainee, and being fascinated by fast fighter jets and less interested in the math, science, and engineering of flight.

But an empathetic student, faced with a sad wormy sheep, being taught by an empathetic professor, can begin to grasp that the proper care of this animal depends on her properly learning the science of worm management, and thus the science of biology, particularly cell biology and evolutionary ecology, is required.

And thus, dear readers, another applied biological scientist is born, and the world, or worm, turns once more.

Two sheep needed to be wormed, which was occasion for another big word : "intubate." Lacking a proper drenching tool, the Womerlippi Farmers get Ivormec into a sheep's stomach and importantly, not into a sheep's lungs, with an intubation kit that was originally designed for hypothermic new-born lambs. It's a little awkward but works.

The sheep had been out on good pasture all summer, so their hooves were nice and didn't need much trimming.

They didn't even have too many dags, which was in some ways a pity because dagging is a disgusting job and at this point in a college career a Captive students badly needs to have to do some truly disgusting animal care job or another.

They did fight a bit, but the proper holds and positions take care of that. A sheep can't move at all if held properly in any one of half a dozen holds. The students learn quickly to get the animal into the proper position and keep him there. Only one lamb escaped treatment, by scrambling rather athletically over a gate we thought was too tall to scramble over.

You never learn not to be surprised at what animals may do.

Three groups of students were handled in this way, nearly fifty students in all, but only ten sheep, counting the one that escaped. Three or four sheep per group.

Still, everyone got to get their hands on a sheep. And a good day was had by all, except possibly the sheep.

There was also a bit of talking involved, as we explained scientific care routines and bits and pieces of sheep medicine, and a little farming, all by reference to science. It's relatively easy to actually get lessons into the student's brain, once you've got his or her attention using the hands-on or haptic teaching method, wet wooly animals optional.

We call this approach praxis at Unity College. It's a relatively unique feature of our pedagogy. And it works.

Which saves an awful lot of effort and money. You'd be surprised how much expensive education is out there that doesn't work nearly as well.

You'd think folks would catch on, but they don't.

Aimee has pictures here. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Getting in the harvest and putting up food

I didn't feel like writing much for the farm blog last weekend after Mary passed away. But it was a busy time, as we were getting ready for a class visit while also deep in fall harvesting and putting up of food.

The class, Agroecology, came by on Monday and spent a good couple hours on an in-depth farm tour. I has set up a tomato canning demonstration for them, but we ran out of time.

The tomatoes canned up just fine, all the same. I took some into college on Thursday, along with other products such as yarn and pesto and pork chops, to show the students and give out in class.

Next on the harvest list would be more apples, but that had to wait for this morning.

It's been an exceptionally good year for apples, and we have departed from our usual practice of making just a few packages of apple sauce/pie filling because of the failure of the blueberry crop at our friend's farm. Lacking our usual twenty or thirty pounds of blueberries, we needed more of some other kind of pie stock to see us through the winter and so the apples have come in handy.

It's always been my intention to get our apple trees all pruned and in shape for the long haul -- they're terribly overgrown, having seen no pruning in thirty or more years -- but that's a slow business. I was pleased that with no help from us this year they produced some very nice apples.

I had already picked a pretty good cart-load of Golden Delicious type apples and made those into apple sauce. Today's cart load were mostly of a different variety -- another of the many unknown kinds we have, something like a Cortland. They proved a superior pie apple, not turning brown and cooking down nicely.

I then took a tour of our apple trees, tasting and bringing in a few samples here and there. Deep in the woods I found a very pale yellow apple that was super-sweet, my favorite so far, but by the time I found it, all the best ones had fallen in the wind.

The next job was to bring in a few spuds, enough for a nice Sunday dinner of ham and mashed potato -- our pig came back from the butchers last Tuesday. Potatoes, like apples, have done well this year, despite the blight. Some of the spuds in our patch were blighted, but most were fine. I'll wait for a hard frost to do the main harvest, and sort them very carefully and we should still get our target two hundred or so pounds.

Aimee came home with the shopping just as I was finishing this very pleasant activity, and so there was a small bustle of work as we brought in the food and some animal feed, then Aimee turned her attention to the basil crop. She'd been shopping for bulk olive oil, parmesan cheese, and nuts, all for pesto. The next thing was to pick the necessary basil. This had needed to be covered last night for fear of a frost, while a more certain frost is forecast for tonight, so today was the very last day to do this job without the fuss of keeping plucked basil plants in water.

For a while now she's been sitting on the porch, listening to "Science Friday" on the Internet, plucking basil.

All very domestic here at the farm this weekend.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mary gone to the great papa san in the sky

Our dog Mary died yesterday, of an overdose of sedatives on the vet's table.

She had been losing weight all summer. By the fall she was vomiting and piddling on the floor much more than usual. We took her to the vets, only to find she was riddled with cancer, so we had her put down.

We brought her home and buried her under the trees in the backyard next to Daisy, another dog, and Maggie, a ewe who escaped the butcher, thanks to tetanus. Quite the cemetery. But there are far worse places to end up than under a few feet of soil and a cairn of mossy rocks in a wooded yard in Maine.

We're not too sad about Mary, since the five or so years she had with us were kind of a second chance for this dog we found wandering and emaciated in the woods in Virginia. By rights she should have died back then, but we bought her up to Maine. She didn't like the snow much, but she did like Aimee's "papa san" bamboo couch. She spent most of her second-chance five years in that couch, which she claimed for her own.

No human has sat there for years.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A big clean-up and shingles nearly done

It's a holiday weekend -- "Labor Day" is the holiday, for those British readers unschooled in American holidays -- and accordingly we've been laboring, but not too hard. Aimee has a couple short rows of shingles left to nail, and she'll have finished one whole wall of the house. This is a truly laborious project -- every shingle is hand-dipped then carefully air-dried on a rack before being put in it's proper place. And yes, my tiny little wifie gets up that very long ladder and onto that scaffolding to personally nail every shingle in place.

As a result, this house which was falling into its cellar hole when we bought it all those years ago, looks like a million dollars. Below is a picture of what it used to look like, complete with part of the mountain of trash we removed from the site.

I don't imagine we'll ever have to do this job again in our lifetimes. Unprotected cedar shingles last for twenty or more years. I have no idea how long they last with such a thick coat of preservative, but I don't imagine I'll live to find out.

My contribution, such as it is, is to set the scaffolding in place and move it when needed.

I'm not allowed to so much as nail a single shingle. Aimee is a serious perfectionist when it comes to cedar shingles.

In other Labor-day weekend labor, Haggis was in need of a good grooming, and we had lost the sharp-toothed comb that is used for grooming a Haggis. He has a very thick coat of under-fur, and this must be de-thatched every few weeks or he gets a bit pongy. This is another Aimee-job.

What was the husband doing while all this labor was happening?

I was cleaning the house. We had some friends over for dinner, which meant the house needed a good besoming. Having guests is just the excuse to clean in all the corners and sweep out the cobwebs.

I'm a handy old besom, for a fella. Even if I'm not allowed to touch the shingles.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Old school

My old buddy Gary sent me these. He's the tall dark fellow.

Guess which one is me? Click on the image to enlarge.

Just to remind myself that I was once as young as our first years.

Or almost.

Please note, the litter handling technique circa 1983. Hasn't changed much.