Monday, April 25, 2011

The Great Escape

Today's news of tunneling escapees from the prison in Kandahar came as no surprise.

After all, if our chickens can do it, why couldn't Afghanis?

Our birds got a life sentence recently when our neighbor lady Jean decided to put in flower beds to the rear of the house. Jean explained that she didn't want no stinking chickens digging up her new bulbs, and no, we couldn't fence the chickens out of the flower beds, because there were other plants here and there around the house she wanted to protect.

Actually, she wasn't quite that direct. Jean is very polite. But you get my drift here.

Our chickens would have to be fenced in, for the first time in their lives, instead of being fenced out of the two main Great Farm vegetable gardens: ours and the one belonging to our other neighbors, Jean's son Hamilton and his wife Andrea, and a few smaller ones around our house.

We maintain the fence around Ham and Andrea's garden because they're our birds. We also have a good fence around all our gardens. But, good fence or no, this scheme would no longer be good enough.

Jean's pronouncement came in the late fall, so I had some time.

So I dutifully stockpiled fence posts and concrete and wire, and, as soon as the ground began to thaw, dismantled quite a few other fences here and there, to recycle the components.

But progress wasn't fast enough. We had lingering snow. We had rain. We had no money for new fence, especially chicken wire. (We're spending it all on hay!) The birds were still free, spring was a-springing, and so Jean made a call.

The fence project would have to be accelerated.

So, Saturday morning, off to the farm store I went, list in hand. I chose to go to the Tractor Supply outlet in Bangor. I needed to get the snow tires changed over on the Ford wagon, and such things are generally easier done in Bangor, so I pulled the wheels and found the street tires and took those with me in the back of the pick-em up truck, dropping them off at the tire place along the way.

The choice of stores was my first mistake.

Tractor Supply is a national, for-profit hobby and horse farm chain, and they cater to the horse and pony, playing store-wide country-musak and displaying the check-shirt and blue jeans variant of American rural culture. Their clothing section is bigger than their hardware section.

This is not where we live. Waldo County is agriculturally diverse, home to the largest annual organic farm fair in New England and perhaps the largest in the entire USA. We also have a lot of 50 to 300-cow Maine dairy farms operating on the corn silage and hay rotation. There are vineyards, pasture poultry and pasture pork operations, llamas, dairy sheep, cheese-makers, a three-turbine farm wind farm, small scale ham smokers and even an organic compost operation that uses fish waste from the lobster fishery, but there aren't a lot of checked-shirted, barrel-racing, calf-roping country music fans.

So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when the teenage helper at Tractor Supply didn't know a t-post from a u-post; when there were no bundled u-posts for sale, only expensive singles; when the oats didn't come from Maine and cost 30 percent more than Maine-grown oats at our local feed store; when everything was 20 percent more; when there were only six rolls of chicken wire to choose from, and when there was only one-inch hole-wire and not two-inch.

It didn't improve my nagging feeling of being in some other state to discover the store manager had a marked southern accent. I may be biased and even perhaps prejudiced, but is it completely wrong of me to subconsciously prefer my Maine farm store staff to have native Maine accents? Especially when I'm being ripped off?

The final insult was paying $13.99 for a five-pound box of galvanized fence staples that cost $1.69/pound at our local hardware store or at the farmer's cooperative where we normally shop.

Although some feed prices were cheap, obviously that's the ploy: Bring them in with cheap 16-weight mixed feed and mark them up twenty percent on everything else.

So, if Tractor Supply market researchers are reading this webpage after routine googling, please note, not only do we not dress like that and listen to that stupid music here in mid-central Maine, we don't farm like that either.

After all this shopping and the afternoon rain, Saturday was wiped out. The fence job started on Sunday morning. I left the chickens in their coop while I put up the first sections, thinking I would need to watch carefully to see how they reacted.

Chickens, you see, are smart birds, particularly our chickens, and can often find their way out of a fenced area.

I started by reinforcing the sheep wire with chicken wire. I then strung a length of hot wire across the top of the sheep wire.

To round off the job, I added a length of sheep wire to essentially split the North Paddock in half.

(Making "West North Paddock" and "East North Paddock"? All paddocks need names.)

This sounds easy but was actually six hours of fairly painstaking work.

By the time I got all this done, and got started with what I was supposed to be doing, in the proper order of things absent the phone call from the neighbor, which would be to get ready for spring sheep grazing, I still wasn't feeling that confident.

Aimee and I had been catching and re-catching escapees all day long. This wasn't so bad by itself. It took me most of the day to get the chicken wire job done, so there were places to get out all along the line that hadn't been reinforced yet. But when the whole supposedly chicken-proof pen was complete, I admit, I was rather hoping to rest on my laurels.

But as I was loading the tools in the small trailer to start on the sheep job, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, one chicken, then a flurry of three chickens, somehow wiggling over the top of the gate.

Before I knew it, they were all out, and heading off for the far corners of the farm yard.

I gave up for now and instead did in two hours what I should have started with all along, and fenced the New Paddock and got the sheep on some grass. I raced through the job and will need to go back and upgrade some fence posts (as soon as I can get to a farm store that sell bundled u-posts!), but the sheep were so happy to eat green grass, even Jewel the ancient ewe-l was kicking up her hooves for joy like a spring lamb.

Despite having happy sheep, I was pretty grumpy, and the usual difficulty teaching the new lambs to move paddocks didn't help my mood much. The five o'clock and six o'clock hours both passed with me running around the North Paddock with the shepherd's crook, chasing errant lambs, while their trailer-trash mothers munched away oblivious in the New Paddock. I finally sank down to rest and eat dinner at 6.30 pm.

I was starving, having completely skipped lunch. I was also very sore and even a little sun-burned.

So much for my Easter holiday.

I can see we're going to have a long hot summer of trying to keep these damn chickens in. Obviously I'll need to start with a new type of gate.

If all else fails, we'll have to build a coop.

We'll call it Gitmo.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A cold spring, or is it?

Photo: Last year's much earlier spring grass.

I have been bothered a little by the weather lately.

I have a number of projects to get done, but primarily I need to finish some fencing, to satisfy a neighbor who wants our admittedly marauding chickens off her land.

She gets free eggs and free slug control, but apparently is no longer willing to host the birds. We'll keep giving her eggs, of course. There's no reason to make a big deal about our birds. They shouldn't be over there in the first place.

But the weather hasn't cooperated with fencing, or at least it seems that way. The snow lingered late into April and the frozen ground prevented fencing. Now that the ground is thawed, massive rainstorms have moved in each weekend.

I have only two weekend days each week, and usually lose part of those to college work each time, grading or events, so a weekend rainstorm that is poorly timed can use up all my remaining time for farming.

And yes, as an official Yorkshireman I do work in the rain, but light mizzly (misty and drizzly) Yorkshire rain at 50 degrees F is a lot easier to work in than Maine's heavy spring downpours at 38 degrees F.

But at least it's not snowing. Although we did see a little snow in the air yesterday afternoon.

We're also out of hay, and so I'm buying in expensive stuff each week at $45 a round bale. It's beautiful hay, and good feed for the nursing mothers, but sheep waste a lot from any bale. I want to get them on grass as soon as possible, but the grass seems stalled.

So I wanted to know if my apprehension that the spring has been cold and the grass stalled out is actually true, and I also wanted to know if the La Nina conditions that came upon us late last fall were causing it.

I'm an experienced enough scientist by now to know that trying to decide for yourself if current weather is different than normal is fraught with difficulty, because our observational abilities are so poor, and our natural subjectivity intervenes very easily. Luckily, I keep a farm diary online, and so have dated pictures and narrative reports of weather in past years.

As for the ENSO, and in particularly the La Nina cycle, it's a very difficult phenomenon to sort out. Much complexity is involved, and there's no simple, direct connection. I do know for sure, because I've been monitoring, that the jet stream has been making the deep standing waves that are one sign of La Nina conditions. But I didn't know how strong the current La Nina index was.

So let's start with the local data. Here are the relevant farm blog posts from around this time in previous years:

Clearly, by April 25th, 2010, the grass was much further along than it is now.

In 2009, we had a dry spell at the beginning of April, and I distinctly remember this work day on the 12th April because it was so gross. The trees are bare. There was no grass until later in the month.

There isn't a clear photo of the paddocks in April 2008, but this post, on May 12th, 2008, about other signs of spring clearly shows Aimee's tomato plants, a little further along than they are now, a little later in the year. The trees in the background are just greening up, which they should be doing this year too, by May 12th.

So my own data is inconclusive, but if anything tends to make me begin to think that this weather is not particularly different than normal.

The semester is ending a week earlier, the end of the first week in May rather than the end of the second week in May, so that might be the main reason for my perception.

Most likely explanation, this is more like a normal year, while last year was warmer because of the El Nino conditions that prevailed.

As for La Nina, my favorite US science agency, NOAA, says La Nina has weakened, but effects will linger. They provide the following, recently updated discussion:

"La Niña will continue to have global impacts even as the episode weakens through the Northern Hemisphere spring. Expected La Niña impacts during April-June 2011 include suppressed convection over the west-central tropical Pacific Ocean, and enhanced convection over Indonesia. Potential impacts in the United States include an enhanced chance for below-average precipitation across much of the South, while above-average precipitation is favored for the northern Plains. An increased chance of below-average temperatures is predicted across the northern tier of the country (excluding New England). A higher possibility of above-average temperatures is favored for much of the southern half of the contiguous U.S. (see 3-month seasonal outlook released on March 17th, 2011)."

So New England shouldn't be feeling much if anything in the way of La Nina effects at this point, and summer should be about average. Of course, that meandering jet stream, until it calms down, will mean bigger then normal spring storms, and alternating cold and warm periods, but the net result shouldn't hold up spring very much more.

Good. Maybe the grass will start to grow now.

I'd like to see a nice green farm soon, like the one we had this time last year. I have some fence to build and I'm tired of shelling out extra dollars for hay.

And today's supposed to be a nice day, so that's a start.

Now I have to go eat breakfast and give the sheep another expensive bale of hay.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A big mess

Today was the day when the last of the snow was finally gone and the road grit and firewood shrapnel needed to be cleaned up.

The Town of Jackson's plow truck, like most in Maine, has a large gritter on the back which spreads a mixture of sand, gravel and salt on the roads each winter. A major spring chore is cleaning up all thus material before the spring rains take it into the rivers, or before it gets picked up by the wind and blown in people's faces.

In our case, since the plow truck will frequently venture across our lawn, we have to rake it up and often reseed grass too. You can see the big piles to the left of our mailbox.

This nasty material had been frozen to the ground, but finally the ice was all gone. I hooked our York rake up to the Kubota and proceeded to rake it all up. There was much more than usual and so I needed a place to put it. At the back of the north paddock is a gate which has become overgrown with tall weeds and brambles, a gate we will need one day for access to a large area of potential new graze, and so I dumped it there on the theory that I could use it to make a roadway that wouldn't allow brambles to grow at all.

The firewood shrapnel was mixed in with the gravel, but I raked it out by hand and took it to one of our big brush piles.

Now the rain has started and the lawns are getting washed clean. By the end of next week they should begin to green up.

The lambs were not very happy to have to go out in the rain today. Can't say I blame them. It's blowing a houlie out there.

I have to go out later myself, for a search and rescue training. Oh well. Time to break out the old Goretex. I have some left over from my RAF Mountain Rescue days.

By the time this storm reaches Scotland it will be a real Force Ten Highland gale. I can remember some MRT training days like that.

Just a few.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sheep school

Yesterday was one of the twice-a-year days when we host first year students from Unity College's Captive Wildlife Care and Education degree program for training in animal handling using sheep.

The sheep need the handling, while the students need the experience, so this is a good trade for all of us. The sheep, for their part, get all their shots, their hoofs trimmed, their dung tags removed, and so on, the 3,000 mile service.

While the students get what we believe is exceptionally good experience, handling large, balky and even hostile animals.

Timing is everything, and in this case the timing was great for the students, but not so good for the sheep. We had hoped to get the students in before lambing, but as usual the stupidity of the college schedule defeated our plans.

If I ever happen to meet the absolute moron it was that decided one fine day that something useful to humanity could be learned in a fifty minute class, and then filled up students', and faculty members' days with these classes, carefully spaced apart so as to allow only a minimal amount of time for practicing difficult things or concentrating hard on tricky jobs, or, well, just plain thinking about things, well, I'll have something to say to that person.

My idea of a good class is at least a half a day, maybe more, of practical application solidly linked to theory.

We had two hours and ten minutes, and made the best of things. I had everything set up ahead of time, and we worked our way though the animals as methodically as we could in the time available.

We started with a good scrubbing of student's welly boots in disinfectant, to remove or kill any disease organisms from other farms, or the zoos and wildlife centers that these students regularly visit.

We then had a good briefing, in which their major professor, Cheryl Frederick and I emphasized that what we were about to do would be hard work, dirty, unpleasant, risky to the animals, and based on hard science. This is an important moment because the students in this particular program sometimes arrive with what I call the "Animal Planet" mentality, which is something along the lines that cute, fuzzy animals are entertaining, and that because I'm in this degree program and not, say, straight biology, I don't have to take the hard biology classes that are required, or at least, I don't have to take them seriously.

These students, along with the Marine Biology students, I'm sorry to say, routinely get the worst grades in genetics, cell biology, and similar "hard" courses, as well as in math. They often see these more abstract courses as unpleasant and unnecessary.

(This is particularly frustrating to Aimee, who often comes home quite angry about it.)

Whereas in reality, all serious modern animal care and medicine is applied biology, and if students don't pay attention in genetics or cell biology, they may not fully understand procedures, and, in their future careers, at best they'll have to resort to the use of rote systems and depend on others to actually work out systems of care, being handicapped in doing it themselves by their ignorance of the biological basis of care.

At worst, they'll kill animals.

Which we nearly did yesterday, more of which later.

So the students got a five minute briefing in which we connected the systems of care they would learn to the biology in classes, emphasized the hard work and need for grit and guts in handling the animals. Seeing a few glazed eyes and minds already wandering (which is normal for first years, but not good, a sign of poor high-schooling and short attention spans and the like), we made eye contact, and I made sure they were paying attention with a mild but gruff warning.

Once we had their full attention and minds on task, we got stuck in.

With only two hours to go, everything had to be set up ahead of time. Earlier I had penned the sheep into the back of the barn, where they spend the winter. This is a safe place for them and they were quiet and settled. I stepped in and started handing out lambs, one by one. Each lamb got a subcutaneous injection of tetanus vaccine. The students gave the shots. They had earlier been told how to do it, and then we showed them how, with the first lamb; after that each student got to inject a lamb, and later, the ewes.

The best place to inject a sheep with tetanus vaccine or any other subcutaneous medicine is in one of the four "armpits," the area of bald, loose skin on the inside where the limb meets the body. It's easy to pinch up a flap of this skin, insert the needle, and inject the medicine right under the skin layer, avoiding muscle tissue and blood vessels.

The students had been warned that as soon as the ewes were separated from the lambs all kinds of noise would break out, making it hard to concentrate, and this duly occurred as babies were separated from mothers.

Each lamb was then returned to the lambing pen, still isolated from the mothers.

The next job was to work on the mothers themselves, and just naturally the angriest mothers presented themselves first at the gate of their pen, very hostile, and bleating for their babies. It was a simple matter to let them out one at a time, catch them, and take them outside into the sun for their routine work.

A romantic notion of sheep handling might have left the lambs with the mothers, but this might have resulted in lambs getting crushed while mothers were caught.

Again, students need to learn to let go of soppy sentiments and plan out systems of handling and care that are best for the animals and realistic of the difficulties involved.

Taking the angriest mothers first this way was good, because that meant we got all the most difficult sheep done first. And of course, first of all was Nellie, then Tillie, then Molly, then Poppy.

Tillie is probably our Number One best mother, and most experienced. But Nellie is the most caring mother we have. Molly is an easy third, and Poppy is just learning, so the order in which the angry sheep appeared at the gate was just naturally the exact order of their ranking of motherly ethic.

Our Corriedale-Romney cross sheep are big, solid and very strong, no pushovers. A Corriedale ewe is just naturally one of the finest and feistiest mothers in the animal world. All the mothers wanted very badly to be back with their babies.

It was no mean feat to catch each one, give her a shot, trim hooves and dung tags.

Once fixed up, the mothers could then go back to the paddock,, and each set of lambs could then be brought out, given five cubic centimeters of vitamin paste (containing selenium for protection against white muscle disease), and then released to the mothers.

The noise level slowly dropped.

A moment of quiet drama ensued when a student accidentally nicked one of Tillie's arteries with the needle while giving the tetanus shot. Bright red blood leaked out of the wound under the skin, making a bulge.

This might easily have caused Tillie's death. What happens is that the slug of liquid medicine in the blood vessel becomes in effect an embolism, and if it enters the blood vessels of the heart, can stop that organ beating.

This is called thrombosis, and humans get it too, when we have a "stroke."

Luckily it was one of Tillie's arteries that was hit, not a vein, based on the bright red color of the blood that we saw.

Arterial bleeding from a puncture wound will usually stop, so I wasn't worried about Tillie bleeding to death. But I was worried about a thrombosis.

But again we were lucky in that it was an artery and not a vein, and so any medicine that made it into the vessel would have had to have been pushed through capillaries and the tissue they serve, and so necessarily dispersed before making it to a vein, then to the heart. In addition, the pressure in an artery is greater, so it's harder to push the medicine in to the blood vessel. More likely the arterial pressure pushed the medicine out, and we had instead a bulge of blood mixed with medicine under the skin, which would go away eventually, and the medicine would still be effective.

This accident was partly my fault for not mentioning as positively as I should have that it was important to get the medicine just under the skin, and not in a muscle or blood vessel.

I showed the students how to do it, but I didn't tell them this last part.

And not all students were perhaps paying full attention to the demonstration.

Again, if we could only have them for longer periods, so things weren't so rushed, this kind of mistake would be harder to make.

Once we realized what we had done, we just stopped work, let Tillie go, found her lambs and gave them back to her, and then just watched her for a few minutes to make sure she didn't keel over.

And she didn't.

Phew. Good lesson for students, better lesson for instructor.

One way to be sure that you haven't nicked a blood cell is to pull back on the syringe after the needle is inserted but before depressing the plunger, but this is usually not needed for a simple subcutaneous shot like this one.

Next time I'll be even more gruff about getting everyone's attention, and make sure each student sees the demonstration before doing the job themselves. Also, when I was training to be a military medic we practiced on skin/muscle analogs -- loose skinned oranges, actually, but I'm sure we can buy something bespoke from a hospital supply warehouse.

The student that gave the faulty shot was very surprised when we assigned her to give the very next shot. But you have to get right back on the horse that threw you while the adrenaline is still in your system. If you don't fear may take over, and you may never succeed at learning the job.

She did a much better job of the next injection. Well done.

After a while all the mothers were happily reunited with their lambs and the mayhem quieted. The remaining sheep got quite a bit of attention, except for Jewel, the second oldest ewe, who characteristically fought us all off, and went into the paddock without treatment.

This may not be such a bad thing, as it may soon be time to take her to the butchers.

I perhaps should have mentioned this too to the students, but an old retired ewe like Jewel will die eventually, either as her teeth wear out, or as she gets one or more of the hundreds of dread diseases of sheep. Jewel herself took ill last year, to Listeriosis or "circling diesease" and nearly died.

It's much better for them to die quickly in the slaughterhouse and for us to get the meat (which I usually have ground up for shepherds pie and sausage), than it is to die of starvation from worn-out teeth, or from some dread disease.

Cheryl and her academic partner in this program, Sarah Cunningham, make sure to prepare students for this kind of eventuality. The very first lecture the students get is on death, an immediate inoculation against the "Animal Planet" mentality.

And the first (lesson) shall be the last (lesson).

Saturday, April 9, 2011

All are well

Well, it's two days since Poppy the balky shearling momma gave birth to her male twin lambs, and things have only slowly improved for the two near-orphans.

You may remember that Poppy dropped her first lamb on the cold hard ground Thursday morning, initiating a series of minor lamb emergencies. She failed to lick and otherwise stimulate the newborn, which then failed to get to his feet and quickly became hypothermic, while shepherd-boy here was looking the other way. The little wain was saved only by twenty minutes under a heat lamp.

After which Poppy refused to feed him, or his little brother. Each time they tried ever so pathetically to find the teat, she'd shy away. The little brother was born in the lambing pen onto warm bedding, and so was at least warm and didn't require the heat lamp. But lambs require a feed within the first hour or two or they lose energy and die. The first feed also contains a lot of the mother's colostrum, vital for lamb health.

So Thursday morning we (the Royal we -- herself was off at work, clean and dry) spent quite a lot of time on our knees in the lambing pen holding Poppy down with one or the other lamb on the teat.

Then "we" had to go to work for so-called essential meetings beginning at 11am. Racing home at around 3.30 pm, we arrived to find both lambs alive but a little cold and losing energy.

So it was back to force-feeding for Poppy, our flock's official Worst Mother of the Year.

They survived the night, and it was during the night that Poppy began to relent, allowing small, short feedings if one of us was in the pen with her.

I think she must have realized that this was preferable to being held down. Even so, she was held down for the penultimate time at the 3.30 am night check.

Friday morning dawned to find two somewhat cold lambs still, so Poppy was held down again. This turned out to be the last time this was needed. I hurried off for a long day at a high school energy event with two of our graduating seniors, who were presenting. I made it home by 3.30 pm and since both lambs were standing and it was warm and sunny, I let them out, and instead of holding Poppy down, I gave them each a bottle. They drank a half a cup of milk replacer each, which is a pretty big feed for such tiny babies, so they must have been hungry.

Later that evening I saw them both jump around a little and test out their legs for the first time, a very good sign. Momma Poppy was still not minding them properly, and they were still the hungriest kids on the block.

Finally, during the 3.30 pm night checks I saw both lambs feed together, one teat each as nature intended, for a good long time.

Home free?

We'll have to see. But it was a very hopeful sign.

So far this year we've not lost a single lamb. We've been lucky. Last year we lost three lambs and two ewes (one and two), mostly because we were even busier at work and so not there when lambs were born, but also because we had a warmer spring and so the standard sheep diseases, tetanus, listeriosis, and fly-strike got going before we were quite ready for them.

So, although the cooler, snowier late winter weather has been a downer, it's been good for the ewes and lambs, and good for the Womerlippi bottom line.

(Meaning we lose less money on the sheep herd than we usually do.)

Time to call the shearer, though, and we'll get those fleeces off before the really warm weather comes.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cold lamb

Today's "Lambing Live" drama was a hypothermic lamb. Poppy, a shearling ewe, didn't quite know what to do with her first baby, so she left it on the cold hard frosty ground for quite a while.

I'm not sure how long. It doesn't take long when the ground is iron-hard and twenty degrees.

Of course, we try to watch them like hawks this time of year. I'd been up on night checks at 9am, 2.30am, 4am, and then every forty minutes or so.

But once the sun was up, I was struggling with a big round bale and a balky tractor and trailer, trying to feed the rest of the sheep. I heard the little one before I saw it, and picked it right up, but it was already cold.

Poppy had her own problems. She was backing into a brush heap, totally terrified of what was happening to her body.

To begin, I just bought Poppy and the lamb in and put them in a lambing pen with a heat lamp.

But Poppy didn't so much as lick the newborn even once.

Holding Poppy down, I squirted a little milk in his mouth, direct from the teat, but that didn't bring him round either.

After about another half hour of this, I bought the little one in, popped it in a blue WalMart tub in the kitchen with a heat lamp. Normally they go under the wood stove, but the stove was out.

Yet another use for those blue WalMart tubs. We must have twenty of the things around here.

Then I sterilized the intubation kit, just in case. But I didn't need it.

After a while the lamb was trying to stand in the tub, but his mouth was still cold when I stuck my finger in. Still, he did suckle. When they really go down they can't even do that. So back in the pen with mom he went. He tried gamefully to find the nipple but he was still too weak, and mom was more concerned about her second newborn so she didn't help much. She kept putting her leg in his way, and he'd fall over and have to try again.

So then we laid Poppy out once more, and put the lamb on the nipple. After a little initial confusion, with Poppy pinned firmly under my left knee (complaining loudly at this treatment) so she had no choice in the matter, I got him a good feed.

And then back under the heat lamp. If he follows the usual pattern, he'll sleep off that first feed and then when he gets up the next time he should be strong enough to find the nipple on his own.

And when I last saw them Poppy was giving the cold one a good licking.

And yes, the BBC does actually have a reality TV show called "Lambing Live." It's my new favorite show. Right up there with "University Challenge."

But Aimee prefers "Survivor."

I'm not giving you a link to Survivor.

You can find it yourself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Three more

I came home at 1pm expecting a trip to go get another round bale, but Molly had given birth, so I needed to get mother and child into the second
lambing pen.

Then I noticed Tillie was missing. And, of course, she had chosen to give birth to a little white lamb, in the rain in the mud down at the end of the loafing area.

So it was another game of lamb rugby. Luckily I won, dropping the lamb inside the outside door of the lambing pen just before Tillie dropped me.

Poor little lamb, born in the mud, and to cap it all, Tillie is very aggressive at kicking lambs and hoofing them until they get to their feet. The lamb was just covered in mud as well as blood from the birthing.

Here's the area of mud that Tillie tilled up trying to get this lamb to stand.

Then Tillie squeezed out another, this one black, with no trouble at all. So she has one black lamb, and one white one covered in mud.

Mollie, on the other hand, was sensible this year and gave birth indoors, to a nice clean lamb.

Last year she gave birth all the way at the end of the North Paddock, in the dark.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sh**ty little lambie sits out silly snow storm

We had to bring one of Nellie's new lambs in for a bath. The orange-yellow poop that lambs have while still at the teat sometimes sticks to their fleece. Most mothers will clean it up, but not our Nellie, I guess. Shameless! This lamb had a fairly big old slab of pure lamb-merde encrusted to her leg.

A little soapy water and she was ready to go. Mom was glad to have her back, but says can we use scented dish soap next time?

In other news, we had a fairly big dump of wet spring snow yesterday, seen here on Aimee's beloved Camry.

Yes, there is a car under that snow drift.

We got one last snow day for the year, making six or seven total, plus 14 inches by Aimee's reckoning. I have to say it may have been more like a foot and a half of snow because she was measuring on the picnic table, and there was a stiff breeze throughout the storm which would have blown some of the snow away from the table.

It took an hour with the tractor yesterday and two hours today to move all the snow out of the way. We were on our own for this one. The town plow only just showed up, 30 hours after the storm began. But neighbor Ham plowed out to the road sometime during the night, so we were only snowed in temporarily. The power flickered off and on quite a few times and we know that 3,500 homes in the county to the south went without power for a day or so, but despite some flickering, we have power still. It probably helped a great deal that the line crew cleared the Great Farm's power distribution line where it comes through the woods, widening the corridor and taking out hundreds of trees that were crowding the line.

Now it's 40 F out there and getting warmer in the sun, and I expect much of this new snow will melt today or tomorrow, and what is left will be rained on Tuesday, so we expect to be back to spring-like conditions by the middle of the week.

Luckily, no more lambs appear to have been born. I say "appear." We may not know for sure. I greatly dislike late spring snow storms because a ewe may decide to drop her lambs off in a snowbank somewhere. The lambs can't dry off and if not found right away may die of hypothermia. We then find one or more dead lambs after the snow melts.

So we've been extra careful to get out every few hours and observe the ewes, including in the dead of night. Night checks are a drag, but it helps I have an aging bladder and have to get up anyway, while Aimee generally stays up late, and so can check before she comes to bed.

I think Tillie will be next to give birth. She's huge, her teats are swollen, and the lambs seem to have shifted in her belly. Mollie, on the other hand, has a bright pink vulva, so she may be getting ready too.

Of the two year-and-a-half-old ewes who will give birth for the first time this year, and whose P-names I can never remember (Poppy and Penelope?) only the white one is obviously "showing."

This year is "R," and Aimee has decided on "Roxy" and "Rhea." The first ram lamb we see is likely to be "Rivet."

I thought of that one, and am quite proud of myself. I might see how "Rigger" goes down too, whether or not I can get the wifely approval, and then we'll have a series going in honor of RAF technical lingo.

When we get to "S" next year, we can have "Sooty" and "Sumpy" (RAF slang for engine-bashers). Especially if they're black lambs.

Something to look forward to.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dead Cheryl

I thought I would get into trouble yesterday. I killed our rooster Cheryl.

Murderer Mick!

This little tyrant has been tormenting me for months. After my last rooster, which also attacked me regularly, I swore "never again," but relented when one of the hen-chicks Aimee ordered from Murray McMurray Hatchery turned out to be a rooster.

But I finally had enough. I was out in the woods close to the barn with the dogs, trying, of all things, to take a quiet whiz, when Cheryl sidled up. He came a little to the left, a little to the right, coming in at diagonals, getting closer every time, trying to stay on my blind side.

Like I couldn't actually see him! What a sneak. The Libyan opposition could learn tactics from this rooster.

Naturally, I felt just slightly more exposed than usual, with my fly down and all. Is nothing sacred? When a guy can't take a leak in his own woods, there's something wrong with the world. But I kept an eye on him, and nothing much happened.

Until I pulled up my zipper and turned my back to leave, when the little bugger flew at me, all spurs and beak!

This was the last straw. Not only has he attacked me about thirty or forty times, but he lords it over the hens like a monster, and it's only a matter of time before he attacks someone else, our elderly neighbor to the west, or the young mother and baby that live to our north, who come by with stroller every day to get the mail.

A short hour after this, the last of Cheryl's attacks, he was in the crock pot with the power turned up to full. End of. I fed his entrails to the hens.

Waste not, want not.

It was while I was hanging him to be plucked that it occurred to me that I should probably have talked this over with Aimee. After all, she raised him from a chick, and he was a very pretty rooster, in Pittsburgh Steeler colors and all. But Aimee was at work.

This gives you an idea of the capriciousness of my death sentence decision: If I hadn't come home early to watch over the new lambs, Cheryl would still be alive.

So when Aimee came home late after giving an exam, I told her that I'd done "a very bad thing."

"What did you do?"

"I killed our rooster?"

"Oh." "OK..."

"...give me a hand to unload this stuff, will you?"

I guess Cheryl's life didn't amount to much around here.

Pretty good sized bird though. Almost couldn't fit him in the crock pot.