Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Batching it"

I became a temporary bachelor for a few days while Aimee took Roo to see the grandfolks.

This was harder than I thought it would be. I've forgotten how to be a bachelor. I did manage to make fish and chips (above) and catch up on some Netflix, but the highlight of the few days I spent alone was the big strong lamb, now called "Widget", born to Quinn.

Here she is keeping close to mom in the sheep pasture.

I was pretty pleased to get my girls back after their trip, albeit again mentally scathed by another miserable experience, courtesy of American Airlines.

This time Aimee wrote to complain. She's very good at writing complaint letters to corporations, and I've lost track of the gizzits she's gotten that way. This time she got two flight vouchers, each for $200. 

I think she would have preferred a flight that was on time and a flight attendant that knew how to strap in a child seat.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Splinter the chicken

We now have a chicken in a splint.

I found her the other night just as our third "W" year lamb was being born. She had a broken leg. She was hiding in the hay, and had aborted an egg, probably due to the pain. (When chickens are stressed, they sometimes lay eggs without fully-formed shells.)

The best thing to do with a wounded chicken is usually to cull her and make soup, but I just didn't feel like doing so, not the same night that a new life had just been born on the farm. I decided to splint the leg.

Here she is with the splint applied. Obviously, she can't go out for a while, and so we're providing food and water and a heat lamp in the interior of the barn.

Here's the new "W" lamb, as yet unnamed. She's as big as the two-week old ones behind. She was so big, in fact, that she couldn't be born quite as presented, with the legs and head coming together through the birth canal, and I had to pull her legs out one by one before her head could be born.

This is not unusual. About one in four or five of our lambs seems to go this way, especially the big ones. If I can't quite get a hold of the slippery legs with my fingers, I slip a loop of clean baling twine over the legs and use that to get a grip.

In other news, we have an ice storm today, and we can't go anywhere because the driveway is iced up.

The plows have been out with salt and the main roads are probably fine, but our driveway is way too slick, even for four-wheel drive vehicles.

I'm keeping busy with webinars and conference calls. The nice thing about being an academic in today's world is that you no longer really have to travel to access new ideas. This is very helpful for us farmer-teachers, especially in an ice storm.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Life in slow(er) motion

After a hectic first half of the semester, we're on Spring Break.

For me, this began Thursday, as I don't have Friday classes. I'll get seventeen full days before I'm due back at work, although I gave half of one of them up yesterday to "do" the Maine State Science Festival.

This is a fun day out, in which all the science project posters from all the high schools in Maine are judged. While the high school students are competing in the middle of the room, the giant ballroom at the Cross Center in Bangor, we science educators get to give demonstrations and do show-and-tell around the fringes. Lots of tables are set aside for all the colleges, and we always try to do it up for Unity.

I like to bring a lot of science toys for the little kids. They don't get to compete in the science fair until they're older, and most of the posters are a bit beyond them. Here I am demonstrating the simple electric motor for one of them.

We also had help from the Admission Department, which sent three student ambassadors. Here they are with the radio-controlled "Snap Circuits" robot.

Meanwhile Aimee was off shopping with our little one. She came back with a huge back of blocks from Reny's. Fun for all the family.

Here we are earlier in the week, a selfie.

The major project for this spring break is to get all our lambs born safely. This requires fairly constant checks, every two hours or so. I won't be going far. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lambs and other signs of spring

This El Nino winter has been relatively snow free, and Mainers are suffering. There's no snowmobiling, no ice fishing, no skiing, except way up in the mountains, and indeed I even saw a garage sale sign yesterday, something we wouldn't normally see until May.

Our sheep don't particularly care. There's nothing they need at garage sales. They are instead busy putting the final touches to the babies inside them. This is a contemplative process. We have big sheep, and they get even bigger when carrying one or two lambs. They tend to lie down a lot when heavily pregnant, with odd-shaped bulges coming out their sides. They lie down, chew their cud, and build babies.

Eventually, as happened last Tuesday, needs must and the lambs come. We had our first two W-year lambs. They are christened Winston and Winifred. Funny to think we only have three letters to go and then must start back at "A", but then this herd was already at "N" when we got them.

(Nellie, of course, who must sadly soon go to the knackers or face one of the inevitable and horrendous deaths that geriatric sheep endure, is the only remnant of those days and she's not one of the originals, just one of the first year's lambs we had, along with the ill-fated "Nugget," who was battered to death by another ram, not on our farm, but on the one he was sold to. I know she has to go, along with Quetzal who is younger but has the particular problem that she won't allow herself to be bred, but I haven't yet been able to bring myself to do the deed. I expect I will, though. Geriatric sheep suffer too much, as do barren ewes that then get bred after too many years out of practice, and I know my duty as a shepherd.)

Last Tuesday looks to be the start of the lamb stream, then. More is to come, probably around four to five more. Tia managed to get her birthing done just before my evening economics class, so Aimee and Roo had to manage, which they did with aplomb. Next up will be Quinn, whose bulges are the largest. There are either three or four more pregant ewes after Quinn. It's hard to tell if Ritzpah, a lanky two-year old, is actually with lamb, but no doubt we'll eventually find out.

In other news, the late winter weather has been so fine that Roo can run around in the yard. She must of course do this in the mud or frost, while avoiding piles of gravel moraine left by the various plow trucks that traverse our roads in season. But running is running and great fun when you're a toddler. Daddy, for his part, has gotten fat this winter. Not that he wasn't before, but he certainly needs to practice his running and lose some pounds if he's to keep up with Roo.

So now, after the ordinary child business of bottles, diapers, naps, breakfast lunch and dinner is done, all of which takes up a surprisingly large amount of time, running in the yard is on the card. I say, "lets go check on the sheep," and our child obligingly tooters over to the cubby where her coat and wellie boots are. She has her own word for this, "-side," meaning "outside."

She has to be helped down the kitchen step, but then can manage on her own. There's a regular tour. We must first let the dogs out, then go to the barn and give the ram or chickens some extra feed. We have to go in the sheep's yard and play with the water in the tub, as well as chase the sheep themselves, especially the lambs. We must visit both the front and back seats of the Land Rover. Being pulled around by daddy or mummy in the green wagon is a must. There are the swings to play on, and of course we must throw the frisbee for the dogs.

An hour or so of this apple-cheeked outdoorsiness is of course very good for parents who want their kid to take a nice restful nap so they can get something done, or even take a nice restful nap themselves.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sunday, March 6, 2016


Despite the fact that our daughter really seems to like omelets very much, and gets them for breakfast at least three times a week, we are experiencing an egg mountain. This results from Aimee's careful planning in the chicken department. She brought in five new recruits last year, four of whom survived, and their additions to the flock make sure we get a very solid supply of eggs.

She plans to do the same again this year. If we maintain our flock at about twelve birds, even if some of them are superannuated, we get enough eggs for ourselves and to give away or sell. These ones are destined to be traded for baby-siting services. We have friends at work that have two small daughters themselves, and they occasionally babysit Edana (really a play date), in return for produce.

Here's the omelet queen hard at work on an omelet.

And here are the royal toys. Apparently materials taken from the recycling tubs are better than real toys. We walk around the house picking this stuff up all the time.

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In the maintenance front, I've been learning a new skill, how to test hybrid car batteries. These are for our "new" fifteen year old Honda Insight, of which I've thus far failed to take a picture for the blog. It's in the college's shop, in any case, where my students and I are experimenting on it, trying to learn how it works. This is the crux of the experiment, whether or not the hybrid battery "sticks" each of which contains 6 "D"-sized cells, can be re-used. So far two of five are unservicable. I have a set of secondhand sticks coming, which will get the same treatment. The battery needs twenty good ones, which must all have a balanced charge before installation. the little blue electronic devices are "Imax B6" balance chargers, which you can get for a few bucks on the Internet. They're a "smart" charger, and can sense the number of cells in the battery and charge and discharge them appropriately. If I can get three or four amp-hours per discharge from a fully charged stick then it can likely be reused. The Imax can also cycle through charge-discharge cycles.

Finally, and although some of my ex-RAF acquaintances probably consider this child abuse, our darling daughter has decided she likes Abba. I'll leave you with the Dancing Queen, age 1.5 years.