Friday, November 21, 2008

baby, it's cold outside

So it's cold here. Really cold. The average nightly temp is somewhere in the mid teens, and every morning when I go outside to feed the animals their water is frozen over. It doesn't freeze solid, thanks to the the thick rubber containers and the layers of hay that insulated them, but it gets a good inch-thick capping which involves some offense from the animal end. The sheep have the ability to hoof their softdrinks open, but if you're a chicken, you just stare at your water despondently until some sucker (read me) bundles up to waddle outside and pour hot water from a tea kettle over and into their fonts. I can never tell who looks more pathetic when I'm doing this. The barred rock hen watching me - or myelf, now at wookie size due to parkas, caps, and sweaters, pouring it with an expression that suggests later that morning I have to go wait in line for bread somewhere in the old axis.

Baby, it's cold outside.

The locals say it's just a snap, and we'll be back in the comfortable thirties soon. But while the cold is here it's making the mornng chores a little more interesting. Sarah joins me to rustle up and herd the morning poultry. She doesn't mind the cold, or if she does, she plays it cool. Frank at the Sands cool. She trots around that farm like she owns it. She will go in the coop and give the hens on their roosts that famous border-collie eye until one of them breaks and then the feathers fly. It's hilarious.* She even managed to "pen" a trio of geese and a duck, using me, a wall, and her own pacing to contain three big birds from going anywhere. Watching her think, figuring out her place in the world, is quite a sight to take in before you get to shower. Keeping Sarah so far has been exhausting. Someday I'll tell you the whole story of this dog-week from Hell, but I'm holding my own, and all she wants is to work and please me, I can deal with that. I'll work on my patience.

We're all waiting for snow to insulate us. It'll make this cabin in the woods more like a maple syrup bottle than it's current frozen-wasteland status, and it'll entertain the farmer; Who can not wait to harness up those sleddogs and hit the road.

*no chickens were injured in the making of this blog post.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

annie's window

photo by sara stell

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

in our dark

When I come home from work the farm is dark. I pull into the driveway and the only light is the glow of the chicken coop and the small solar lights that circle the sheep pen. When I get out of the car the only sounds are the dinner bleats from the flock and the occasional coo from the roosting birds. There are no streetlights, or lamp posts, and if it's cloudy like tonight: no stars either. So it's dark. Which is fine.

I go into the cabin, take out the dogs, and then when everyone's empty we come inside for their kibble dinner. While they chow down, I change from my work clothes into my farm clothes and light a fire in the fireplace. I do this to warm up the joint, and because I like the way it looks to see and smell smoke coming from the chimney while I'm bringing hay to the sheep or collecting the day's egg deposits. There is something correct about being outside moving after so much time indoors sitting still. Wearing my father's old red and black plaid coat, I go about farm work with cold breath in my face. I think it might snow tonight.

There is something very special about smelling woodsmoke in the dark of a moonless Vermont night with hay in your arms. There's no particular virtue in it. It won't shake the ground or even make me smile. But it is special. If I could describe that better to you, I would. I can't.

I think I'll need to sell the sheep, exchange them for some dogbroke ones. I need to talk to my friend Shelli about how she wants to work it all out, but I can't train a young herding dog on angry sheep. I think it's the only recourse in my current, limited situation. I'll wait till spring when the flock can go right on someone's pasture. That seems like the sensible way to go about this, and bring in some border collie ewes who won't kill my Sarah.

It's not fair to have the clueless leading the blind leading the blind and violent. If you could follow that you may have been reading my blog too long.

Monday, November 17, 2008

a must have

There are a handful of things I would consider must-haves on a small farm. Little tools you use nearly every day, but in themselves seem kinda of ubiquituos. Some that come to mind are those stretchy gloves that are partly dipped in latex that help you in a the garden and picking up chickens. Another would be a t-post pounder (which I use nearly every week when a sheep uproots a post of bends one over). But the most vital of them all happens to come in a little green tin, and without its aid I may have gotten into a lot of trouble.

Bag Balm is a salve that I use on everyone. If I have a bug bite that itches, I slap on some bag balm. If Jazz gets a cut on his paw, I clean it and then slap on some Bag Balm. If I trim a hoof too close to the quick and it bleeds, I shout to the friend next to me "Go in the house and bring the Bag Balm!" After I tattoo the rabbit's ears, you guessed it - they get a layer of Bag Balm over the fresh ink. I remember my mentor Diana from Idaho telling me about a cow who lost an udder on a barb wire fence and thanks to Bag Balm, healed up just fine. I tell you this stuff is top shelf.

Bag Balm is a tan salve that has the consistency of a "clean" petroleum jelly. So it's less gross. It includes a mixture of lanolin and hydroxy and together as far as I'm concerned, they can heal the world. (By the by, as a shepherd-in-training, I also like buying a product that uses lanolin). It was invented in 1899 right here in Vermont and I doubt the mixture has changed much since. And the top of the tin bears the same dairy cow and roses that most companies would have considered out of date sometime around 1964 and changed to some godawful typeface and laser treatment. But they didnt cave to the times, and as a designer who loves old stuff, I appreciate that.

If you don't have a tin of this in the house, and you still have pets, livestock, skin or live in a world of bugs. Go buy some.