Monday, May 30, 2011

Silly little clippies

Here's our 2011 wool clip, drying a little in black bin bags in the 85 degree F sunshine this Memorial Day afternoon.

Nine fat fleeces. There's another bunch like this upstairs in the barn. We'll go to the mill soon, to exchange this for spun yarn again. We're almost out.

Down to t'mill, lad, as they say in Yorkshire.

We were pretty lucky to get our shearer to come out this morning. He was expecting that the day's work had been called off due to a heavy thundershower last night. But I heard the rain start and so wrenched myself out of bed and put the sheep in the barn within a few minutes.

They were just damp, not wet, by the morning and the last of them to be sheared weren't even that.

When the shearer comes each sheep loses about ten to fifteen pounds of weight of fleece and dung tags each, in one swell foop, and I'm sure it's a lot easier to stay cool.

I can imagine some dieters just gaga at the idea of losing fifteen pounds in a day, but the sheep don't like it much. Our shearer is an old pro, though, and knows all the right moves: the right muscle to push to make a sheep stretch out a leg or the right way to hold the head to make a nice fold-free curve of shoulder for the shears. It must take lots of practice. He's a little older than me and has been shearing since the sixth grade. That's about age twelve, for you Brits.

Forty years a shearer.

I told him if he could just keep it up until I retire, then I'd learn myself. I'd have the time to do it, at least, if not the suppleness of joints.

In other news, poor Poppy lost her twin male lambs. They went off to our buddy John Mac's place, to graze his grass and save hm from mowing lawns, and eventually become his and Nancy's winter dinners.

Such is the way of all male lambs, since like many young males of the species, they aren't good for very much else, but Poppy isn't one for tradition.

She's most upset about it, and has been bleating for them all afternoon.

I was pretty tired, though, after being up at three in the morning, so I was able to take a nap anyway, despite the bereft sheep mother bleating outside the window.

What a miserable heartless lamb-stealing bar steward I am! Napping during a mother's moment of grief. Yet the more I do this stuff, the less I think about it.

We were actually a little surprised at all the fuss, because she didn't much care for them when they first showed up, and we had to bring one of them into the house to warm up because she wouldn't lick it like a proper sheep mother.

Last bit of news is that I managed to find us a new lawn mower for five bucks at a yard sale.

Here it is. Looks brand new.

The guy said it wouldn't run, and that was why it was for sale, but I guessed it just needed a carb cleaning and some fresh gas. It looked too new to be completely out of action already.

In the end, the carb was fine, no sediment or resin, although stripping it for cleaning probably ensured a good start because all the old gas would be drained out of the float bowl as a result, allowing the new gas to flow in. I also blew out the jet with compressed air for good measure.

All I had to do then was to weld some cracks on the pressed metal blade housing near the wheel mount holes. The previous owner had tried to shore up the wonky wheel mount with a bit of license plate, but welding did the job properly.

Then I cut the front lawn with our new five-dollar mower.

It cuts just like a brand new, hundred and ninety dollar mower.

Either this mower, or the larger one I found last fall, has to go over to the Bale House for the occupant to use over there. I've been looking out for one since the grass began to grow again.

I don't care which mower goes. I just care that the grass is cut in that clearing where Aimee and I had our first "dates" all those years ago, clearing land for a house.

If you take the trouble to cut down a lot of trees like that, the last thing you want is for them to grow back.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Evening in apple blossom time

It's been nice-enough weather so far this long weekend in Maine. For the Brits reading this blog, we have a holiday Monday for Memorial Day, and so I have a nice break from summer fieldwork.

Aimee has been out in the field and in the lab, but that girl knows no rest. I may take a day off from work, including farm work every once in a while, but Aimee always seems to be doing something.

The vegetable garden is mostly planted, just the very tender-most plants to go, basil and pepper.

The onions shot up because we used mostly our own starts and they were several times larger than commercial onion starts. It's easy to see where we switched back to commercial starts, halfway through the second row.

It will also be a lot easier to weed the bigger onions than the littler ones.

The pigs are growing like weeds, already twice the size they were when they came. They've decided chasing chickens is good sport for pigs.

The southern face of the house is sadly peeling its layer of construction paper because we haven't been able to get all the shingles finished on the west side so we can move around to the south. Procrastination station. I plan to start dipping shingles tomorrow, if I can devise a sensible method that uses less of the sealant we've been using.

Notice Shenzhi-cat hovering next to the bird feeders in hopes of catching a bird, the bad cat.

The apple blossoms are quite lovely and I've just been delighted by them this year. Last year they didn't last so long and we didn't get as much benefit. Here's the Golden Delicious in the North Paddock (west). This tree hasn't been pruned yet, but it yields large, edible and worm-free apples most years. They don't keep well, but they eat well.

The stump is an elm that succumbed to the Dutch Elm infection and was made into firewood. Elm doesn't make good firewood, so I may not do that again. I'll cut them into chunks and compost them along with all my other large brush piles.

It was hard to split, too.

The lilac is almost in full bloom, and already attracting butterflies and humming birds. The baby chicks are out in their chicken tractor for the third day now. They seem to like it. They run around and jump about, getting strong and in shape.

The older hens are all cooped up now behind a new fence five feet tall. They just kept getting out, and so the fence systems needed to keep them in (and keep our neighbors happy) got more and more elaborate, as the chickens still kept getting out. One particularly scrawny Golden Comet is the ringleader. Today's evolution of the five-footer is only the most recent elaboration.

It's all been a royal pain.

Let's hope it works this time. I'm really getting tired of chasing these bloody chickens.

I suppose I could always make an example of the ringleader, the way the Gestapo handled the French Resistance.

Pour encourager les autres.

I don't think Aimee would let me do that.

We may need to have a little "accident" around here.

Aimee knows what a pain it is, though, because she managed to let three chickens out herself while she was in the barn greeting the pigs when she came home this afternoon.

They headed straight for my garage/workshop, so, thinking to trap them, she followed them in and closed the garage door behind her.

I then stood outside smiling to myself while hearing this squawking and fluttering and crashing and cursing and banging. Finally, it was just too much and I cracked up, laughing out loud enough to be heard inside the building.

At which point, poor wee Aimee lost her temper with me and the chickens, rolling up the door again to glare at me before stomping off, all the while telling me what I could do with myself, and letting me know that if I wanted the chickens in the barn, I could bloody well catch them myself.

So I did. With a lot less fuss and bother.

But I still think it was funny.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Zombie farmers and chary chicks

So I got done with the rescue course, and then there was that day I played hookey to get our garden in, which turned out to be a very good thing to do since the rain came back the very next day, and then the wind research field season started and I'm already sleep-deprived.

I ordinarily wake up with the birds, which means, this time of year in Maine at 44 degrees of latitude, that I could expect to wake about 4.45 am or so. But, my head is full of specifications, parts list, schematics, and to-do lists, and so I've been waking at 2.30 or 3 am instead. I then almost automatically begin puzzling on some anemometry problem or equipment problem, and each time I've been unable to get back to sleep.

This is not that unusual for me. I tend to run a sleep deficit during any period of higher stress, and catch up later when the stress bleeds away. In a really stressful time I also get migraines, but I haven't had one of those since I gave up my two-year interim job as Provost of Unity College, a few years back.

Each night after work this week I've fallen asleep during the BBC six o'clock news. This too shall pass, I expect. I'll get used to the new routine.

But I'm looking forward to the upcoming three day weekend so I can take a few naps.

In other news, I came home from work yesterday to find Aimee sat on the lawn, watching the chicks, now almost pullets, being placed in the chicken tractor for the first time. This device has a tiny coop, just large enough for a few pullets, and then about 20 square feet of open bottom with access to the grass underneath. (I'll take some pictures this weekend.) There's a cunning little ramp from the coop to the grass which folds up and becomes a door.

Accordingly, there's a moment each spring that the first brave chick plucks up enough courage to go down the ramp for the first time, and this is what Aimee was watching for.

Apparently, according to the head chick wrangler, the first chick was just getting ready to go when the second chick in line pushed her out and she fell to the ground in a frightened flurry.

There's a lot of stress going around, I guess.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Getting the garden in

It was a three day rescue course, but it's been raining for two weeks and my field research season starts today. We needed a dry day for tillage, to get the remainder of the cool weather garden crops in, so I played hookey.

The ancient Troy-Bilt rotor-tiller gave the normal amount of trouble starting, but after some coaxing roared into throbbing and very noisy life, and made short work of the thousands of tiny weed seeds that had sprouted.

It's gratifying that these are just the mild airborne weeds you'll always get, these days. The rank quack grass ("couch" grass in the UK) is more or less gone.

By weeding the soil, not the weeds, we managed to clear almost all the quack.

The onions and greens were already in and sprouting up. I put in cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, five varieties of potatoes, including some Blue Adirondack, a new variety (for us), leeks, and last but by no means least, carrots.

A big phew. That rain seemed incessant. But then it often does in Maine. Having the big Kubota and smaller Troy-Bilt tillers helps a good deal. This garden wouldn't be in at all if it had needed to be double-dug.

The chicks are getting big and Aimee has let them out on the lawn once already. Properly restrained, of course, not wandering free.

I didn't see this, but apparently they enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

The sheep are very loud these days. The lambs are big and still nursing, so the mothers are very hungry. They don 't have very good grass in their home paddock, the Back Forty, so they're always wanting to be moved around to the lusher pastures.

They get still grained twice a day and there remains untouched six-inch high grass in quite a few places in the home paddock, so this is just a preference they're expressing, not a necessity.

But the grass is always greener....

Please, please let us out! We're starving, honest we are.

But they've just scoffed down a big feed of sixteen-weight and oats, the bummers.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rescue revival

I'm on a mountain rescue course, a three-day high-angle top-up training, so I won't be posting much on the farm this weekend.

Aimee is looking after the home place.

And she's not at all happy about it.

The sheep are at that difficult point in the year, before they're shorn, but after the green grass is growing. This means they aren't afraid of the electrical fence, and they're very motivated not to stick to the limited rotational paddocks we confine them to to better manage the grass.

Which means they need to be shepherded a lot.

Apparently the sheep got out NINE times yesterday afternoon.

I'm using capitals because that's how Aimee said it: "They got out NINE times." And then she said it again: "NINE times." And again.

So I drove back from my rescue course way across the other side of the state late on the first day. I passed up the chance for free housing and a beer with "the guys" because, well, I like my sheep AND my wife and I don't want to lose either.

I noticed the symptoms immediately:

1) Sheep at the fence line of the Back Forty bellowing "We haven't had enough grass."

(Sheep protest movement: "What do we want?" "GRASS!" BAAAAA "When do we want it?" "NOW." BAAAAA)

2) Strange ad-hoc arrangement of benches on the lawn propping up the Premier electro-net fencing. That gets tangled very easily in use. That Aimee hates, because she has no patience for fence tangles. So rather than fix it, she'd rather prop it up.

3) Filthy white socks in the laundry basket, probably ruined, from likely very angry wifey running out to stop escaping sheep from eating tulips, or from taking off for points west.


This doesn't look good.

So, after taking note of the fact that Aimee would almost certainly quite furious, and resolving therefore to tread very carefully, I put the sheep out on the Island Paddock, taking care to properly and fully electrify the fence.

That stopped the bellowing.

Then I toured the other animals, looking for additional difficulties. All seemed fine.

Small mercies.

Then I took my shower.

Then and only then did I tiptoe upstairs to the bedroom, where my emotionally exhausted wifey was napping away.

But my rummaging for clean socks woke her up:

"Those sheep got out NINE times!"

"NINE times!"

And so the sheep didn't get enough to eat because they kept getting out and had to be locked back up in the main paddock where the grass is thin.

The moral of this story is not that I am the very soul of husbandly patience with wife and sheep. I'm not. I've run out in my socks too, to save the tulips. And when I do, I turn the air blue with language I shouldn't use.

(I'm a former British serviceman, so therefore expert in bad language.)

The moral is, bad timing for rescue course. After the sheep are sheared, the electric fence will work just fine. But the shearing was postponed because of the terrible weather.

Can't shear wet sheep.

Actually, you can, but moldy fleece doesn't sell well.

So I arranged my approach to the rescue course so I could come home to the farm every night, because the sheep don't understand why they haven't had enough grass.

With only a mild sense that I was missing out on some fun.

I realized long ago that, although mountaineering was part of the pathway I took to farm life, it isn't "real" in the sense that farming is.

I think that's why I'm no longer much of a recreational mountaineer. Long ago, it stopped seeming as real as farming or building or even fixing a car. Or teaching, for that matter, which if done well is inherently real. So I spend my time teaching, farming, building or fixing cars. I still enjoy mountain scenery, and I still love to hike mountains, or even just to hike. Scrambling on rock is still fun for me. I truly enjoy my work teaching map reading to the new intake of future game wardens and park rangers we get every fall at Unity College. But I'm not in a big hurry to go to the alps or Norway or even Katahdin the way I used to be.

I'd rather stay home and look after the farm.

I think I still do search and rescue because that seems real to me.

I've been enough of a part of enough searches and rescues now to realize that when someone is lost or hurt in the woods or hills, it's very good that there are trained personnel to go find them and recover them and take them to hospital.

But I'm much more of a sheep farmer and husband than I am a mountaineer.

I'd rather hang out with the sheep and the wife than "the guys."

Although it would be nice if they would get along in my absence.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Piglets after all

I spoke too soon. I was able to resurrect the camera. I decided to give the battery a charge just in case, and it now takes pictures, and may even have stopped the on-again, off-again business.

Maybe I should drop it more often.

(Or charge it more often.)

Here are the piglets.

I managed to finish their new outside pen before the rain came, so they could explore the Great Outdoors for the first time if they felt like it, but they didn't feel like going out.

I can't say I blame them. That's a whole piglets-length of drop down off the sheep's winter bedding to the dirt level in the pigpen.

Maybe tomorrow we'll move some of that hay to make a ramp.

Serial [camera] killer

There won't be any pictures for a while. I broke another digital camera yesterday. Intending to take a picture of the new piglets, I dropped it onto the concrete floor of my workshop.

This is the third one I've owned since I started writing this blog in 2007, and I've managed to break each one of them. The latest one lasted only a few months, so I must be "escalating" like a troubled teenager, or one of the serial killers on "Criminal Minds." My next camera will no doubt last for only a few days at most.

If it wasn't for our policy that I'm only allowed to buy the cheapest second-hand digital cameras, I'd be upset about this. But I'm not. I have however, realized how easy it is to forget hard-earned lessons.

Before I dropped this camera, it had become balky, for some reason, only working properly after you turned it on and off multiple times.

As a result I had thought to myself , "wouldn't it be nice to have a new one?" and "Maybe I'll get a new one."

Now we see what a foolish idea that was.

I'll get another $25 second-hand one from eBay.

In the meantime, if I want to post you a picture of the new piglets, I'll either have to use my cellphone, or get Aimee to take them with her [nice, new, never-been dropped] digital camera.

I want you all to know, this does not mean that I am never allowed to have nice things and that Aimee looks after her stuff, while I don't.

If it wasn't for me, her car would never get an oil change, and it would still be covered with the winter's salt.

I take good care of big things that don't get hurt if you drop them. And my last serious car accident was nearly twenty years ago now.

I'm just really bad with digital cameras.

Really, really bad.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Zen of Sheep

I was wandering around with the camera yesterday evening at dusk, taking odd pictures for no good reason, except perhaps that wandering around your land with a camera taking pictures sometimes forces you to notice and appreciate things you might otherwise not.

Which if you think about it is a very good reason.

These two male goldfinches were attending Aimee's recently serviced feeder.

Our daffodils are in fine fettle, a slightly paler shade than the goldfinches.

The chickadee was a little blurry. He wouldn't sit still. And I have no idea why Aimee put the band of corn in the thistle feeder.

The sheep were playing sheep games. Cooped up all day while we were attending Unity College graduation, they were very happy to be allowed onto the Back Forty after dinner.

I wasn't going to let them out, since thunderstorms were forecast, but was forced to relent after I found silly Nellie with her head fully caught in the six-by-six inch mesh of a fourteen gauge sheep fence, obviously trying to reach the greener grass on the other side.

She was most upset to be caught, bleating very nervously. But this didn't stop her eating grass. Even though she was stuck fast and bleating, she was still tucking in pretty well.

I had to snip the fence twice to get the silly girl free. Her reaction was interesting. Once the wires were snipped, making a twelve inch hole that she might easily withdraw her head from, she just kind of stood there for a while, before finally pulling back and walking off shaking her silly wooly head.

Later, after I let them loose, she and Jewel had a big game with all the lamps, running up the hill then stopping, looking around at each other panting; then turning around and running down the hill, stopping and looking around again, panting; then running up the hill....

You get the idea.

Not exactly the most complicated game in the world, I know, but everyone was enjoying it, especially Jewel. I was watching from the back yard, while Aimee could see the lambs running, but not Jewel, from the window of her sewing room.

Sheep games don't have too many rules.

Very simple games do quite well for sheep.

I expect I could learn something from that if I thought about it.

These lambs are staring at me saying, well...

..."when are you going to learn?"

Friday, May 6, 2011

Peopling the peep pen

Here we are at the real farm store, the one run by Mainers that sells Maine stuff.

We're picking up the peeps.

I like picking up the peeps because peeps make Aimee smile. As ever, we drove all the way back home with the box on her lap, her nose in the peepy peepbox and a happy smile on her face.

Aimee has been branching out in her capacity as head Womerlippi farm Peep Wrangler.

As well as the good old Buff Orpingtons (Borpingtons?) and Golden Comets we've had for years, she ordered Barred Rocks and Golden Laced Wyandottes.

(I had to look up the spelling of Wyandottes.)

Some of these are for other folks at the college. Apparently there's a discount for bulk.

"Three pounds of assorted peeps and a bag of peep feed, please."

But we're keeping some Barred Rocks and Wyandottes, I am reliably informed by the Head of Peep Wrangling.

I'm assigned to peep delivery later today. How these poor folks are going to manage a box of peeps under their work desk for the rest of the day is their problem.

In other news, Monday was my last 8am class.

Actually, it was a 7.30 am exam, but the net effect is the same: No more early morning departures from the farm for at least three months.

To be ready for an 8am class, I have to pretty much be at the college by 7am or 7.30 am at the latest. It takes twenty-five minutes to get there, so I leave at 6.30 am. But I have to feed sheep first, so I'm eating breakfast around 5.30 am.

Today, in celebration, I ate breakfast at 7am. And then sat down to post on this blog.

What a luxurious feeling!

I will be doing wind power field research over the summer, but those are actual 8am starts, not "be ready to teach a class at 8am starts," so I won 't leave until 7.30 am.

It's amazing what a difference an extra hour makes.

Haggis and I used it to take a nice walk in the woods yesterday. Haggis liked his walk.

He also likes the peeps.

Haggis, a certified Australian chick-herd, loves his peeps.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


In case you're wondering why these photos were posted with no commentary, it's because we've been having trouble with our FairPoint DSL, and were cut off again, for the fiftieth or sixtieth time, after the pictures were saved, but before the commentary was saved.

Consumer alert: If you live in Maine and have a choice of Internet service providers, don't get FairPoint. It's certifiably crap service. Worse even than British Telecom, and that's saying something.

We didn't have any choice. FairPoint is the only DSL provider in Jackson. We could try satellite, but it seems expensive and the reviews say you can't stream video. Our FairPoint disconnects us at least once every hour, but it does stream both NetFlix and the BBC.

(What would I do without all those BBC iPlayer documentaries?)

Aimee's on the verge of launching one of her righteous crusades. I've never known anyone like her for high dudgeon. It's almost as if she were British and someone jumped the queue. She will, if need be, write personal letters to very single officer of a company that's wronged her, for years and years if necessary, badgering them until she gets satisfaction. She never gives up. FairPoint doesn't know what it's in for.

You don't want to cross her.

But it is very annoying to pay $44 a month for what should be reliable service, only to have it break down so constantly.

Anyway, these were just some nice Sunday night pictures to show you what we'd been up to this weekend.

Saturday itself was a dead loss for me work-wise because of the Maine State Science Fair, but Sunday proved dry enough, after enough other dry days, to do a vital chore that badly needed doing, the cleaning-out of the pig sty, the building of next year's compost pile for the garden, and the tilling of the year before last's compost into the garden.

When we first got on this sheep-pig-compost rotation, we thought we could compost the material just for a few short weeks each spring, before tilling it into the veggie garden. But after a couple years of very heavy weeding, we realized it takes a whole summer of hot compost to kill all the weed seeds, especially the hayseeds.

It is mostly old hay after all, so I should have expected it to have a high load of weed seeds once composted.

So weed the soil, not the plants. These days I turn and pile the material up for a second time each spring, let it go for a whole extra year, and then till it in.

The '73 twelve horse Kubota tractor with its proprietary front-end loader and rear-tine tiller works pretty well for this chore. The loader only takes about six cubic feet of material at a time, but since that's easily two hundred pounds of manure, it's a lot easier than using hand tools. The tiller is superb, by far the best tiller I've ever used or seen used, and the tractor-tiller-loader combination together is well worth the six thousand dollars we paid for this rig.

That was nearly six years ago now in any case that we paid that, and I'd venture to say that there hasn't been any visible deterioration or wear to the equipment in all that time. It's all certainly built to last. The tractor itself will be 40 years old the year after next.

Then there's a couple additional shots, the chickens in their new prison-pen, and the daffodils finally getting ready to bloom, two weeks behind the daffodils down at sea level.

The chickens are not that happy to be cooped up in such a relatively small yard. Their grain consumption has only gone up a little, but now they fight over the nicest bugs they find, and one particular bird has taken to jumping up and down at the fence line anytime a human passes by.

I imagine she's asking to be let out, although that would be a pretty smart chicken-communication attempt, wouldn't it?

I expect that next year's birds will be less bothered by it, because they won't have know anything else.

On that note, wifey ordered me to sort out the chick brooder, which I dutifully did.

Chicks arrive Thursday.

The last picture is of lazy sunny dogz on the porch. Mary, the southerner, likes the sun; Haggis, from Aroostook County, Maine, likes the shade. That's a Shenzi-cat bum peeking out from behind the milk churn.

Building Jerusalem in my head

It's been sunny off and on this week, but there's been a bit of rain too. There hasn't been any frost.

As a result, the grass is making up for lost time, and in our most fertile places has jumped up three inches in almost as few days.

I was able to put the sheep out to graze for the first time for a couple of hours on Sunday night after our chicken-fence marathon. They went to the New Paddock, where the grass was long-enough already, but less lush, mixed in with some brown thatch from the fall. This was good because they were able to adjust slowly to their new diet.

Sheep get a bit squiffy if they jump from hay to lush green grass too quickly. This is called "scours" and it isn't good for them.

Later, Friday evening after the BBC America news, we fenced the Island Paddock, and Saturday afternoon (after I got back from judging at the Maine State Science Fair) they went on to that very lush green material, with no ill effects.

Our flock of mothers and nursing lambs were grazed most evenings after work this last week, which reduced the hay consumption considerably.

For which my wallet is very grateful.

I had been trucking up to Newport every few days for a large round bale from Beem Farm, where they specialize in hay and straw. This was very nice timothy hay, which was good for our nursing mothers, but at $45 a bale, it was a bit steep for sheep.

Sheep are wasteful of hay. Our sheep, given a whole round bale to eat, will mine through rapidly (leaving a perfect nose-shaped hole in the bale), eating all the leaf and leaving the stem. The expensive buggers then bed down on the stems as if they were the softest straw, which they may as well be. After they've slept on the stems for a night, only the sharpest of hunger will cause them to go back over the now-tainted fodder.

The solution is to eke out the fodder using a hay feeder. We have one, in the barn, but it takes square bales not round, and I prefer our ewes out in the sunshine all day this time of year. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, good for drying moist dungy fleece, and a good deterrent for fly-strike. I'd rather waste hay than get infected sheep.

Actually, there is another solution, which is to chop the hay. Old timers used a device called a hay chopper to reduce the stems a little, after which cattle and sheep would eat more of the whole plant. If I could ever find or make something modern and efficient to do this job for us, I could get our hay consumption per year down about fifty percent.

So the green grass has helped a lot with costs. I also was able to convince Andrew Stoll the Unity Amishman to sell me the last of his 2010 hay, twenty square bales of green mixed pasture grasses which I picked up on Monday during my lunch hour. This fodder wasn't technically as nutritious as the Beem Farm timothy, but it could be fed a bale at a time, and it was the second cut of the season, so there was more leaf and less stem.

The combination of the switch to square bales and the addition of the evening grazing routine has cut the hay consumption down considerably. A round bale is often said to be worth ten to fifteen square bales, and indeed one Beem Farm round bale weighed more heavily on the truck springs than all twenty of the Stoll Farm square bales.

The Amish around here cut by horse power, but run their motorized balers in the barn, feeding the cut in by hand, and so you get a loose bale. But each Stoll Farm bale lasted almost a whole day, whereas the sheep ran through their last Beem Farm bale in only four days.

At $2 each for the Stoll Farm bales, and with each bale lasting longer, our hay bill has been more than cut in half.

Obviously we don't make money nor break even on the sheep business. Revenue from sales of whole live and whole butchered animals and yarn comes to less than $500/year, whereas we spend that much on hay alone, never mind the grain and shearing costs.

It probably costs us about $1,000 a year to stay in the sheep business. We can make a profit on eggs. We break even on pigs. But we lose on sheep.

But after several years of experience we've been able to work out what might work. If we had about a twenty-acre hay field, a bigger tractor, all our own haying equipment, a lambing shed, and four or five times as many animals of slightly better bloodlines, I reckon we might get good-enough prices for Corriedale ewe-lambs as breeding stock, and we could get a good carcass price for a Corriedale market lamb. We'd only get the very best prices for our meat if we put in our own mini USDA- and State-of-Maine certifiable slaughtering and packing facility, and sold our other farm products like Aimee's pesto and the yarn we get made up at the same time. We could then sell retail in small vacuum-packed packages, and get $5/pound or more at the local farmers market and in our own CSA scheme, the germ of which already exists in our pig club members.

Now we know how to keep sheep alive and thriving in this climate, we could make money out of them, I'm sure. But only if we were willing to risk something like $40,000 of capital.

Dream on, Mick! That's the path to impoverishment and bankruptcy. We're not giving up our day jobs anytime soon. I'm happy for now to write off that annual $1,000 loss against a couple tons of compost for the garden, against not having to mow lawns, which suburban chore I despise (and lawn mowers cost money and use gas which also costs money), and against the very great pleasure of seeing lambs snuggle up to their mothers on green pastures in the evening sun, as in the photo above.

For the foreseeable, if we're going to help take any particular sustainable business to the next level, it will be Unity College.

One of the hymns sung during the recent nuptial event in the UK was William Blake's Jerusalem, which particular favorite piece of music I was very sorry to miss, but then it did happen to come during my Friday morning commute.

We didn't get a day off in New England.

Bread of Heaven, however, another favorite (also known as Guide me, oh thy Great Redeemer), came during my morning cereal, much to my republican wife's* anguish since I turned up the volume.

But Jerusalem remains more germane to my mood this spring...

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land

*In the British sense of the word, someone who prefers a republican form of government, most definitely not a monarchy.