Sunday, May 27, 2012

Re-enacting the African Queen?

In case you hadn't heard, Aimee and I are both on reduced workload for the summer. We work on 9-month contract and so can take our summers off unless we are silly enough to sign up for extra work.

We were, of course, silly enough.

We each accepted both administrative and research responsibilities, in varying degree. I have paid research and unpaid administrative responsibilities, while Aimee has paid administrative responsibilities and unpaid research. But both of our research programs require fieldwork, so we are at least outside for that work, even if it is "extra."

But our workloads are less this summer than in other recent years; in fact we both have the lowest level of such responsibilities that we've had for at least four years. I have only one research day a week and perhaps one or two additional meetings, while Aimee will rotate out of her administrative role on June 30th, a day she will celebrate quite fervently, since she's had enough of this responsibility for a while.

So a few vacation-style trips are perhaps in order. After all, we do live in "Vacationland".

The Womerlippis don't really "do" vactions (or "holidays" for you British readers). Farm animals don't take kindly to being left alone for any great length of time. And although at any given time we can find lots of applicants from among our students, farm-sitters are expensive, and usually don't work out that well. It's just not reasonable to expect that a short-term replacement can step into the very complicated operations that run the farm, and also deal with emergencies such as those described in the previous post.

We do take separate trips sometimes, leaving the other to look after the farm. Aimee likes to learn new things in biology, so she takes trips to study up on something, or to go to conferences and the like. I enjoy historical and human ecological field trips, especially to Britain, and regular readers will find reports from several such trips on this blog. Most recently, I've had to visit family, particularly my sick parents, both of which are gone now, and although I've often been able to do some sightseeing while visiting my family, the need to take frequent and repeated trips each year has been a big strain on the family budget, so further British and indeed any expensive excursions at all are "out" until the damage is repaired.

This combination of circumstances pretty much leaves day trips around Maine as our primary vacation option for this year. Which is, actually, just fine. Why not? We are lucky enough to live in a place that other folk spend a lot of money to come see.

And so we have a few such trips planned for the summer. And I will of course detail them faithfully on these blog pages for readers to enjoy.

Here's a report from our first and rather successful such excursion. I had been thinking of a paddling trip for a while, but wanted a nice easy flat paddle to get us in the swing of such things. It helped that I had to clean out the barn attic -- where the canoes have been stored, shamefully disused, for many years -- in order to admit a new and larger supply of hay, since we now own a ram who must be kept safe in a pen all summer, and must therefore eat hay

The boats were duly lowered down and the hay dust and squirrel droppings removed with the hose. I rigged up a rack for the truck and searched up the cooler, paddles, life-vests and, of course, the fishing poles and tackle box.

But where to go?

We live in a state that seems at least one third water. Good paddling opportunities abound, and indeed if we really wanted to paddle a more or less totally unexplored river, we could just hand-carry one of our boats down to the bridge over Great Farm Brook, not two hundred yards from our dooryard, and force our way through the alders into the mile-long flowage behind the beaver dams. With luck, and a fair bit of dragging, we could get all the way to Jackson village two miles downstream. I doubt anyone has attempted this paddle in years, and there are trout in our local brook, to boot,

But I didn't think Aimee was up for quite such a determined adventure right off the bat, so I perused the map and the internet for a while and finally settled on Lazy Tom Stream, up by Kokadjo, Maine, up beyond Greenville on Moosehead Lake.

This area has been the scene for several search and rescue call-outs, so I'm no stranger to Kokadjo and Greenville and environs, but I'd never actually driven up there just for fun. Lazy Tom Stream was cited as a good place to see moose, a small flowage like this would be safe from the stiff breeze forecast for the day (while the bigger lakes would be too choppy for a small canoe), and I could guess there would be trout.

The drive was about two-and-a-half hours. The official put-in is a rough turnaround and campsite just after the bridge (at latitude 49.69 north, longitude 69.43 west), but we missed this amenity to begin and instead carried our boat through alders to a spot just above the bridge.

The water was lower than I had expected, and we bumped over some rocks and had to drag our boat for a bit here and there, hence the title of the post. Not wishing to play the more stereotypically female, Hepburn role, Aimee insisted on taking her turn with the dragging. There were the usual jokes about Humphrey Bogart and leeches, but none attached (although one was found later on the hull).

We were able to reach the "source" of the flowage, a riffle (49.70 N, 69.44 W) beyond which progress would have meant leaving the boat, or dragging it empty. There is deeper water upstream of this riffle, at least according to the satellite picture on Google Earth, but we left it for another day. Instead I tried for a trout, while Aimee studied the local flora and fauna, taking pictures of a freshwater mussel and caddis fly "houses".

There were a few small fish to be caught in the pool below the riffle, but we couldn't stay long enough for that. The dogs had been imprisoned for the day on the porch, which would get too hot in the late afternoon. We ate our picnic lunch while drifting quickly back on the breeze. It was fun to just lean back and steer the boat and let the wind do all the work.

On the paddle back to the put-in we got to see a moose, a yearling cow, who stayed close by the stream for quite a while.

All's well that ends well, and we were pleased with our day out, especially the moose. More to come later in the summer.

Of course, my lovely wife is probably insensible of the rather large amount of husbandly forethought and planning that went into such a pleasant family adventure.

And since she says she doesn't read the blog, we'll just keep it that way.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Making sure your animals are all in the right places

That seems to be the key to farming: Making sure all critters stay where they're meant to be.

This has been something of a challenge lately, as it often is in the spring of the year. Here, to prove it, is a fine photo of a human Womerlippi animal, trapped in a device meant for small chickens.

But that was the least of our problems, and easily rectified.

Once the photo was taken, that is.

The greatest problem was the ram. I'd been out early to feed, and all was well, so I went about my business, checking email and drinking coffee, prior to a planned-weeks-in-advance trip to a wind assessment site. At some point I got up to get more, and happened to look out of the back kitchen window at the ram pen, which is well-positioned so we can keep an eye on Bentley, the most dangerous of our critters..

No ram.

Not good. The gate seemed awry, to boot.

I headed out pretty fast, all thoughts of a second cup abandoned. And there was Bentley, in among the ewes and lambs, in the North Paddock, where he wasn't supposed to be.

Our ram Bentley weighs perhaps two hundred pounds and is pretty solid muscle, as well as extremely knuckle-headed. He can pretty much walk right over any normal stock fence. As a consequence we keep him in what is most easily described as a small fortress built from quarter-inch welded wire "cattle panels" five feet high, held up by very solid cedar fence posts, with two extra rings of barbed wire. In this case, the only time so far he's gotten out, he'd hammered at the weakest link, the hinges and gate-post, splintering the side of the gate where the hinges located.

The research trip was instantly postponed. Bentley was fine for now, with grass to eat and ewes to swoon over him, he'd stay in the North Paddock for the time being. But although he was obviously enjoying the new-found freedom, and the grass when normally he would eat hay, he couldn't be permitted to stay there for any length of time. As soon as he was bored, he'd walk right over the flimsy field fence and go walkabout.

I salvaged the broken gate and took it round to the door of the workshop. A quick study of my lumber stocks revealed a very solid ash-wood board, well seasoned. Thinking, "I'd like to see him try to splinter that!", I quickly built the board into the gate on the side where the hinges sat. I also reinforced the rails with plywood gussets, and generally beefed the whole thing up thoroughly.

Rehanging it was a tad tricky, given the extra twenty or so pounds of weight I'd built into it, but eventually we were able to get the gate swinging properly in place. A couple minutes extra work with hurdles to make a separating "chute," and a bucket of grain later, and we had the ram back where he should be, albeit decidedly ticked off to have his grazing and carousing curtailed.

That wasn't the end of our misplaced animal woes. We had a heck of a time getting our older ewe Jewel into the trailer for the trip to the butchers. Jewel, if readers remember, received the death sentence a few weeks ago for the crime of bullying young sheep mother Molly, but the sentence was delayed while the butchers rebuilt after a fire. All was ready, and I even managed to lure her into the barn with some grain, but some sheeply sixth sense intervened, and she easily detected me coming around the back to close the back door on her and escaped my clutches. It took a good forty minutes of assiduous work for wife and husband with temporary fence and even a dog to get her caught again. This was annoying, for sure, but I couldn't very well blame her for putting up a good fight.

 It was only the very next day when two sheep wriggled through the fence to the herb garden. And the day after that, while Aimee was training her chicks to grass, one particularly athletic young hen climbed all the way to the top of her makeshift cage.

Finally, we had two male lambs that were to be sold on for summer fattening, and that needed to be loaded for the short drive to their new home. This time things went better. I was able to catch one in the barn, and the other was caught outside with some grain.The trucking went easily, and I came back with the payment, the first farm income this year.

(There would have been some egg money, but some low-life stole it from the egg-cooler we put at the bottom of our road.)

I'd say at this point that all animals are where they're meant to be. I'm not sure for how long this situation will remain, but I am grateful for small mercies.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shearing day

Probably the biggest day in our farm calendar is the day we get the sheep sheared. There are only eleven adult sheep right now, so this shouldn't seem like such a huge event, but it is.

The main difficulty always seems to be lining up a sheep shearer. We had first called our regular shearer about three weeks ago, leaving a message on what we thought was his answer machine, only to have him call us back almost a week later, leaving a message for us to email him.

So we dutifully emailed him, once, twice, three times. When that didn't help, we called the first number again, only to have his spouse call us back, leaving a message saying that they had separated and were not "talking much any more," but that she would call him for us.

Finally he called us one evening saying that he was on vacation in the Virgin Islands and wouldn't be back until the end of this week. I took down his new number and said we'd call him at the end of the week, but started to make back-up plans.

We've known for a long time that one day there may not be any sheep shearers available in this part of Maine. It's always been in my mind that if we want to keep these sheep, I'll need to learn to shear. When sheep shearers take vacations in the Caribbean during shearing season, it suddenly seemed like that time might already be on us.

(What's the world coming to?)

So once again I began watching You-Tube videos about grinding blades and the best shearing positions, and I even experimented with our old Stewart Shearmaster machine on one ewe that had lost some fleece and needed a tidy-up.

Suffice it to say that Aimee was not impressed with the results.

But the very next evening a different shearer who had kept our number from a similar go-around last year called us to see if we had any new business for her, and we jumped at the chance to get the sheep sheared properly as soon as we could. Virgin Islands be blowed! Fly strike season was already on us. We needed to get those fleeces off those sheep right smartish.

So we made the earliest date with the new shearer, called "Edie, short for Edith," that we could, and I made my usual preparations in the barn.

We were impressed with Edie. Here she is at work with our big ram, Bentley:

And here's the finished effect with Quetzal. The poodle bob on her tail is the result of the protein deficiency mentioned in the last post, and will either fall off or blend in with the new fleece when it grows out.

Finally, here's a shot Aimee took from inside the barn looking out. Edie used a serious sheep shearing machine made in Australia, which also impressed us.

All in all, things went very well, and we were very relieved to have successfully gotten the sheep sheared for another year.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Flogging a dead (Troy-Bilt) horse and other human ecological activities

Our ancient Troy-Bilt tiller gets yet another makeover
The Womerlippi's ancient Troy-Bilt "Horse" tiller
(This post cross-listed with

Yesterday was the first rain-free day in a while, and it was also my first Official Non-Work Day of the summer. There had been Weekends and even half- or partial Days Off earlier in the year, but those had been before the End of Classes.

There's something very different about the first day that a teacher gets off each summer that is after the end of classes. That's the day in which there is no stress, for the first time in a long time.

Teaching is a stressful occupation, or at least it should be, if you're doing it right.

It takes some level of stress or tension to change a mind, either your own or the student's. A teachable moment is a natural moment of stress or tension in which the student and teacher together encounter some new fact (new to the student and sometimes to the teacher too) that both student and teacher care about a lot. At that point, a mind can be changed, either the student's or the teacher's or both. If there isn't some level of stress for the teacher and the student in any teachable encounter, it's unlikely that anyone's mind is being changed.

And you have to leave open the opportunity that the mind that can be changed is yours. if you don't allow for this, then you can't be much of a teacher, at least in my book.

The stress builds up as the semester goes along, as minds are being changed left right and center, including, one hopes, the professor's, until it reaches a maximum point right before final exams. Then it begins to bleed off, as the workload and the number of stressful encounters with students and classes of students diminishes. Eventually, after the last final exam which for me this semester was Wednesday evening around 7.00 pm, all stressful encounters come to an end.

What does a fat, over-educated, slightly grumpy English professor of Human Ecology do during the summer?

(I'm slightly grumpy only because I'm fond of the truth, of facts, and there isn't always enough of either around to keep me pleased.)

Well, when I'm not measuring the wind or the sun or some other meteorological phenomenon in support of renewable energy planning, and not planning curriculum with my fellow Unity College faculty members, I'm growing food with my wife Aimee, also a Unity College professor, on our small farm,, in Jackson, Maine.

I find food-growing to be a relaxing and occasionally profitable summer occupation. It's also usually less stressful than teaching. And it's, very obviously, the highest form of applied human ecology.

My job title is, after all, Professor of Human Ecology. I'd better have some human ecology that I actually do, hadn't I?

What does a Womerlippi Farm day in the early summer look and feel like?

"Long and varied", is a good answer.

Friday's farm activities began with feeding sheep and chickens at about five in the morning, followed by a dog (+ human) walk of about a mile. Dog walks, including humans, are applied human ecology. We then moved the sheep to fresh pasture. We have about five or six rotational paddocks, which we graze on about a three-week rotation using an adaptation of the New Zealand system. Here's a photo of two of our young lambs in one of our paddocks. You can see the mobile electrical fence in the background. The system depends on the use of these fences to establish small paddocks that can be grazed for a few days by the herd, then given a rest period. We like to grow our paddocks out to about eight inches of length, then graze them back to a sheep's regular bite, then rest them for as long as it takes to get them to eight inches again. This system works well, due to the excellent application of human and ovine ecological knowledge.

I then spent an interesting half-hour stripping, cleaning and lubricating a set of sheep shears, and then "crotched" a young ewe, a first-time mother, who's experiencing loss of fleece due to protein stripping.

Energy flow, in this case ovine nutrition, is of course the basis of ecology. Ewes have to use up a lot of energy and protein to feed lambs, and this can sometimes create a break in the cycle of fleece-growing, meaning the fleece actually falls out, usually in the area of the udder and crotch. Which makes sense if you think about it, since that's the area closest to the mammary glands. Our ewes get extra protein in the form of oats and some bagged feed, but in this case it just wasn't enough. I sheared off the offending loose wool to prevent parasite infection, and made a mental and very human ecological note to increase the ration.

The next activity was rototiller maintenance. The first picture above is our very ancient Troy-Bilt "Horse" tiller, a venerable machine that has already had a motor replacement, among other major surgery.

The Womerlippis are a three-tiller family, having a classic 1973 Kubota B6000 tractor with original tiller attachment (the daddy tiller), the Troy-Bilt (mommy tiller), and a tiny new 50 cc light tiller (baby tiller). We use our tillers to kill weeds and maintain soil quality in our extensive vegetable garden. I'm an expert general mechanic, and our tillers are kept up as well as our cars, if not better. Tiller mechanics is an advanced branch of human ecology. The tiller is used to ensure efficient energy flow, and is itself a machine that uses energy and must be kept efficient and safe.

I had noticed that the lower pulley on the Troy-Bilt's clutch was loose, or appeared so. I wanted to get access to the pulley to inspect it, and so stripped the tiller down to that purpose. Unfortunately, the clutch mechanism's guide rods were rusted in place after years of use, and couldn't be removed without major surgery. I contented myself with inspecting the pulley attachment, a circlip, by flashlight, deciding that it was impossible to get to and wouldn't actually fall off for at least another ten years, and with changing the gearbox oil which my work had exposed to view and which at that point could be very easily changed, thus achieving some human ecological (energy efficiency) gain for my several hours of greasy labor.

By which time the garden had dried out for the first time after a week or so of rain. It was time to plant.

We've been planting steadily now for about four weeks, and only the warmest outdoor crops are as yet un-planted. Knowing when, and when not, to plant is a high human ecological art around here, given our extreme but rapidly changing climate. Yesterday I put in a long row of dry beans, the variety Vermont Cranberry, as well as a row of mixed types of cucumbers, and a partial row of good old Scots kale. The first two are considered post-last frost day crops around here. The statistical last frost is not until Tuesday (May 15th), but the NOAA weather service is reporting warm nights until at least Tuesday and so it was a good human ecological gamble that last frost had already passed, and even if it hadn't, the more tender crops could be covered with "floating" row cover to prevent damage.

I also weeded our herb garden.

Those activities took me up through suppertime.

After supper it was time to move the sheep back to the largest paddock where they usually stay the night. That job called for a sheepdog.

The sheep had been out happily grazing thick grass all day. Usually after a nice day, they just run straight back to the paddock, but not last night. They were enjoying the evening sunshine and a last little bite of graze. Like playful children, they didn't want to go to bed yet.

The Womerlippis keep two sheepdogs for times like this, but only one of the two, Ernie, is any good at his job. Leaving the recalcitrant sheep milling around in the dooryard, I went back to the house and got Ernie. The sheep gave up almost immediately after they saw the dog. Ernie followed them through the gate, and then, as his instinct should tell him to, came back to allow me to shut the gate. Ernie is an English Shepherd dog, and his excellent herding instinct is the result of around 2,500 years of selective breeding by (human) English shepherds, and before that Roman shepherds, expert applied human ecologists all, of which I'm only the most recent, and, when it comes to sheepdogs, the least expert. But, like Ernie, I can at least claim a good and long lineage as an English shepherd, as well as fair to middling human ecological instincts.

The last farm job before going to bed was to feed the chicks. We have a small brood of chicks incubating to replace some older laying hens.

Here they are in the brooder....

And here they are earlier, with Ernie and Flame (our other sheepdog, an Australian Shepherd) looking on.

That final chore of the day took me through to about nine in the evening, and time for bed. My first official "Day Off" started at five in the morning and went until nine at night and was nothing but work. Today started at much the same hour.

But it was also a lot of fun, and very satisfying. 

A less stressful application of human ecology, but human ecology nevertheless.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spring rains and other updates

We're having some good old Maine spring rains. On and off for the last few weeks, we're getting everything from fog to drizzle to "occasional" showers, to more than "occasional" showers, to what we have right now, a good, old-fashioned downpour.

The rain is good for the garden, assuming that it stops and the sun comes out. And it brought to an end a period of hire forest fire danger. Living in the deep woods like we do, it's never good to have the land dry out that much. We've cleared plenty of "defensible space" around our house these past few years, but there were some sizable wildfires around here at the beginning of last month, and I'm glad they're done now.

Every day I take at least one good walk with the dogs and sometimes two, rain or shine. We get to walk through the deep woods and see the progression of spring through the different tree species. Now only the ash are left to bloom, but since ash are about seventy percent of the trees in our woods, that means that there's still a lot of light penetrating the canopy, and the smaller trees and shrubs take advantage of this hiatus. I notice the wild strawberries and raspberries in particular, probably because they're edible, but there are lots of other plants and a few wildflowers doing well. There's also a lot of sodden ground, so these walks require wellies.

We did see moose tracks in the mud a couple weeks ago, something I should have reported here but forgot. They came within a hundred and fifty yards of the house, then veered off into drier ground and were lost.

In the garden only the spinach and peas are up, but the onions will be next, followed by the potatoes. In the new greenhouse we have fresh greens already, but not in great quantity. I transplanted the first tomatoes into the new greenhouse. I often transplant tomatoes sooner rather than later because the old glass greenhouse gets way too hot on a sunny day, and having the new greenhouse gave me and excuse to do it even sooner. Last frost is probably past, considering that we have humid weather forecast up through the "official" last frost date, but I'll wait a week or two past then to transplant the outside tomatoes.

The sheep are miserable in the rain with their heavy fleeces. Although they don't have any fleece to talk about, the lambs are also unhappy. We need to get those fleeces off as soon as possible, but our shearer hasn't returned our calls. He may have dropped out of the shearing business, which is a blow. If I can't find an alternate shearer, I'll have to buy some tackle and pick up where I left off all those years ago, learning to do to for myself. We do have an old electric shearing machine, but it's not a good one, certainly not good enough to do all these sheep, and so a few hundred dollars of expense and several days of delay waiting for shipping will ensue, if we can't get the regular shearer or a replacement to come. B*&gger.

College is almost done for the season, with graduation and a presidential inauguration on Saturday, followed by a day or two of staff training next week. I am not quite cut loose for the summer, given that I have responsibilities to the wind research program and to some remaining curriculum work, but plans are much smaller for this summer than last. I should be able to enjoy the farm a lot more, and I'm looking forward to it.

Which is good, considering we're already growing by far the largest and most complicated vegetable garden operation we've ever grown. Almost twice the space, a new greenhouse with three times the inside growing space, and Aimee says she wants four pigs, not just three. Only the sheep operation is limited to its traditional size. And, I suppose the chickens. The older chickens are down to seven, two of which Aimee wants me to "soup", but there are some baby chicks coming along in the brooder.

No photos of any of this, I'm afraid. I haven't been in the mood to take pictures since my fourth attempt to buy a cheap second-hand camera online proved futile. The saga of Mick's digital camera's purchases is a long and sad one. Suffice it to say that there are now a total of five digital cameras, four second hand and one new, lying around here, not one of which works properly. Aimee says she wants to get herself a new camera, and if so, I can have her old one, which is a nice one that Judy and I got her for Christmas about four years ago. In the meantime, I borrow it every now and then. But unless your camera is pretty much in your pocket, you don't take that many pictures around a farm.

There's just too much stuff to do.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Peaceable Kingdom

I'm woken around 3 or 4 am by the pressure of my aging bladder. If I'm lucky, I can turn over and get another hour's sleep. But sooner or later and always before the sun is up, I'm woken again, either by the bladder, or, more often, by the patter of canine paws on the laminated flooring.

Flame wants to pee.

We have learned, after having Flame for nearly four months, that she must be taken outside immediately. Otherwise she will make her way down to the kitchen floor and piddle there. The laminate flooring in the kitchen is warped and cracked by generations of Womerlippi farm dogs having piddled there. We won't change the flooring. It's not worth it. Within a week, some dog would have piddled on the new flooring.

As for Flame, she doesn't mean to be a bad dog. Her manner is sweet and gentle, her heart is in the right place, and above all, her conscience is clear. She just can't help it. She's a rescue dog. She spent the first one-and-a-half years of her life in a cage with a mean Rottweiler. She's only house-trained as long as we can see her and she can see us. Otherwise, she piddles on the floor.

So I groan lightly so as not to wake the wifey and get up and take her and Ernie out before Flame piddles in the house. They piddle happily. They and I taste the air and check the weather. We go in. I leave them on the porch. I do this because we've learned by now that if we don't leave them on the porch, either Flame or Ernie will go upstairs with their dirty paws and climb onto the bed -- my side of the bed! -- and snuggle down inside the sheets while wifey is sleeping blissfully. If we let them do this, I'll have to wash the sheets again that evening after work, when I'm already tired and grumpy. So they stay on the porch.

Except that then they play. When they play they are noisy. Very noisy. These two can break furniture and knock full-grown (fool-grown?) Englishmen over by slamming into either while playing. They also growl and sing and whine at each other while playing, especially Flame. Wifey would, no doubt, like to sleep. She usually does. Husband would like to read the paper and drink his coffee in peace and quiet, especially considering it's 4 or 5am and he can't go back to bed because he won't be able to get back to sleep.

So we separate them. Ernie, the better-behaved of the two comes inside. Husband makes coffee, chiding Ernie all the time not to go upstairs and get on the bed with his dirty paws. Eventually Ernie, the better-behaved, lies down under husband's paper-reading, coffee-drinking red leather armchair. The first sip of coffee, the first newspaper article. Ahhhh....

All is well in the kingdom of men. For about five minutes.

Then the ewes, who have lambs that they must feed whenever the lambs wish to feed, and who deeply appreciate the injustice of this, cry out for grain. If we have to feed these little lambs, they say, you have to feed us. They can do this right under the bathroom window, not ten feet from the husband's chair. The bathroom window is double glazed and fixed tight against the Maine night, but that doesn't matter.

Mind you, it's only just now getting light. But the ewes can see enough to eat, and they can see the lights on in the house, and, being sheep, they don't have the intellect to appreciate the nicer things in a life's morning, the coffee, the dogs settled for once, the online newspaper. And so they bleat. Loudly, in fifteen-part harmony.

Older ewes sing bass. Younger ewes sing tenor. Lambs are sopranos. The ram's bleat is more like the growl of a dog, or a bear. It's not really a note at all, as we understand sound. It's a vibration. A challenge, "Come and feed me, you fat lazy English b%^%$d, or I'll knock you over."

And then Flame, who hates to be alone, and is also hungry, starts to whine.


So we get up and feed first the dogs, who are closest to us, and thus take priority. It's also convenient to keep the dogs occupied while feeding the sheep, or the dogs will harass the sheep, especially the lead ewes or the ram, through the fence. Lunging and barking and hurling doggy insults across the wire is not conducive to the harmony of the farm's morning.

Then we feed the sheep. First they get some grain. Oats and bagged feed, a three-to-one mix, about a cup per ewe, raises strong lambs and protects against white muscle disease. The ram, who is twice as big and ten times as mean, gets three times as much.

Then we check their water and top it off if the hose isn't frozen. Cold water on one's husbandly sweat pants (which one wears for pajamas or to lounge around the house around here, three point-five seasons of the year) or down one's wellies is not particularly conducive to husbandly morning harmony, but, well, wetness happens on a farm. And water, dear readers, is the least worrisome of wet things available on this small farm.

Then they get hay or led out to grass. And then we feed and let out the chickens, who are the least insistent of all the animals, but who can still work themselves up into a pretty good clustercluck each morning. Occasionally a chicken will have worked itself up to the point that it will exit the coop directly from the perch in full flight, a chicken-missile aimed directly at the sleepy husband's chest or head. Very harmonious.

Then we take the dogs for a good mile walk, down the dale to the brook on the snowmobile trail, and back up again. In our pajamas. With wellie boots and a smelly wool sweater. We never meet anyone on our walks, so why worry?

Finally, last of all, we feed the husband. There may even be a second cup of coffee.

By which time all is peace and calm around the farm. Finally.

Until the wife gets up.

And she wonders why I go to bed and get up so early.

How do you spell "oblivious?"