Saturday, April 24, 2010

the first farm weekend

This morning's dawn was met by me riding a 200-pound sheep into the sunrise. Well, "riding" isn't really the correct term—I was being dragged. It was not yet 6 AM and as my favorite wether pulled my not-so-small frame across the hillside—it occurred to me that most normal people were still in bed. Little did they know us crazy small farmers were out having amateur rodeo hour. My friend Zach and I had loaded the sheep into the Subaru the day before. Had I known then they were planning to teach me some lessons about gravity and hoof-speed: I might have left them there.

Bruises aside, I was happy to have all of my animals (save Finn, who I am waiting till I have electric fencing to call home) back in my care. And that bit about leaving them in Vermont, that's a little dramatic. Truth is I have grown far too fond of my first three sheep to do anything but shear and feed them. There will be lamb and wool on this farm, but these guys aren't food stock. They are the training wheels I fell in love with. Even the mean one.

Zach, his wife Shellee, and their daughter Madeline were visiting from my hometown. They were here to help tear down the old farm and set up the new one. Not many folks jump at the chance to wrangle livestock, so I not only welcomed their visit, I bought new towels.

The family arrived Thursday night, and was helping feed chickens and filling rabbit fonts by 5:30 Am the next morning. After farm chores were done Friday morning, we drove over to Sandgate for the flock. I backed the car right up to the gate. hoping the loading would go smoothly. I opened the hatch to the tarp-lined back seat and threw some grain in. Sal thought this was marvelous and tried to jump in but was too heavy. I lifted his front end up, and then squatted on my knees to boost him into the back seat. It worked. Joe followed with little effort and Maude...well, was Maude. She balked, tried to run away, was caught, and then had to be lifted a foot at a time into the back seat. But we got them all loaded in a matter of minutes. As the hatch slammed I felt the weight of the world lift off my chest. All of Cold Antler was now heading home.

Zach seemed unfazed sitting shotgun in the beat Forester while Maude stuck her head in the space between the two front seats. (People who ride in cars with sheep are my kind of people.) After the drive back to the new farm, we moved them into the small holding pen cobbled together two nights earlier with the help of some coworkers. It was a simple affair: just field fence and some t-posts. Thanks to my friends Phil and Steve—who had come up for beer, pizza, and fence-building Wednesday night— I had the joint ready for some sheep. We had prepared knowing it would be a few days before the sheep shed was dismantled and delivered, but the forecast called for sunny days and they had the shade of a few apples trees. I thought they'd like their new pen and spend some happy time inside it come the weekend.

Sal didn't.

As I walked up the hill to the sheep pen, hay under one arm and somewhat groggy (I was still waiting for the coffee to perk)—I realized Sal had escaped. He had boldly shimmied under the fence in search of greener pastures. The trio had mowed the pen's grass to nothing in a few hours and the endless field around him was too tempting to stay put. I walked right up to him and pat him on the head. Morning Sal, I nodded. He kept eating, in love with the high, lush grass. I dumped the hay into the pen for Maude and Joseph (who had remained in the pen) and walked down to the car to grab some of the grains we used yesterday morning to bribe them into the station wagon. When I returned to the rogue with the grains, he ignored me some more. Wow...This had to be some seriously good grass... So I went with plan B, which was to grab him and push him back under the fence.

This was a mistake.

Sal was not interested in being man handled and started to trot away. I held on tighter. I stepped over him, straddling the 200 pound sheep between my legs, crab walking him towards the break in the fence. To steady him, I leaned the bulk of my weight over his upper back and foolishly thought this would lull him into submission and he would trudge back into the pen. He did not. He took off. I was just along for the ride.

For a few moments I was half riding/half being dragged across my new pasture by a grass-crazed fiend. I bounced as he cantered, holding onto his long wool like a chump. Finally I yelled for him to stop, and out of shock at the noise, he did. Both of us panting, my back covered in sweat, I was then able to follow the original plan of shoving him back under the lame fence. I placed a roll of spare Red Brand in front of the hole and walked back down the hill to the house. I had no idea if he'd mind the improvement or roll it out of the way again. Honestly, I didn't care. I hadn't had any coffee yet and I was panting like a sheepdog. My guests were still fast asleep. I hoped the neighbors weren't up to see the hootenanny. I hadn't even shook hands with them yet...

It was the beginning of a very long (but grand) day. A day that started with rodeo and would end with a toddler dancing barefoot in the grass around a small flock of meat birds, soaking up the sun together. How it should be.

More tomorrow. I'm so tired right now I could sleep a horse.


Blogger Heather said...

The dreams are sweeter and the sleep is deeper when it's your own place. Especially in the beginning when there is so much to do. Well, there's always so much to do... :o)

April 24, 2010 at 9:28 PM  
Blogger Meredith said...

Welcome Home.

April 24, 2010 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger Flartus said...

Thanks for taking the time to share. You do love them there sheeps, dontcha? I understand why you're excited about your little collie dog!

Sweet dreams.

April 24, 2010 at 9:33 PM  
Blogger kandy Gray said...

ah hahhahah! ahahah ha huu hooo

welcome home!

April 24, 2010 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Dang it, Jenna. One of these days we will really need video of these things!

April 24, 2010 at 10:22 PM  
Blogger Snyder's Homestead said...

Thanks for an awesome weekend Jenna!!! We will def be up in fall....if Madeline can hold out that long:)

welcome home my friend :)

April 24, 2010 at 10:44 PM  
Blogger Tami said...

Jenna, Your story is crackin' me up (I realize how serious Sal's infraction was, however) I am reminded of the old movie "The Egg and I"...(the fore-runner of Ma and Pa Kettle movies funny movie...and old, about 1946 or 47...:-)

April 24, 2010 at 10:47 PM  
Blogger grace lovelace said...

you are made it happen !!! hay, put the donation button back, & keep it there , lots have it on their blogs .
i want to give & others may want to also.

April 24, 2010 at 11:31 PM  
Blogger Carrie said...

What a great welcome to your new place!

Every time you mention Maude I get the theme song from that old Bea Arthur show in my head..."And then there's Maude!"

April 25, 2010 at 12:02 AM  
Blogger Moose Nuggets said...

Oh gosh! Should not have read this one while trying to nurse a baby to sleep! This one should go in our top 10 posts, and probably in your next book.
I never knew sheep could be such a handful.

How many people did double takes at stop lights while you were driving home?

April 25, 2010 at 12:30 AM  
Blogger Angi said...

I love the part about the little girl and the chickens! Talk about your polar opposites when you think of where a lot of people's food comes from. That little girl would be scarred for life if she had the misfortune of ever seeing a factory farm, but this experience on your farm is such a positive, happy one. You're right, this is the way it should be!

April 25, 2010 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

Hilarious description!

April 25, 2010 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Stargazer 2 said...


April 25, 2010 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Stargazer 2 said...


April 25, 2010 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...

Oh, Jenna! I love you. Riding your sheep to start your day right... We had a similar sort of incident here a few weeks ago. But sans the sheep riding. Sheep can only take so much of being taunted by fresh, green grass!

April 25, 2010 at 1:01 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

That is the funniest thing I've heard all week! I'll laugh at the image of you going on a sheep-ride for a long time, I'll bet.

Congrats on getting your farm set up!

April 25, 2010 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I'm loving this ride - and so extremely happy for you!
I have a question for you and am not sure if this is the place to ask it, but here goes: Concerning the moving of a laying flock - (we will be doing this ourselves in a little over a month and I'm wondering about a few things): What did you use to transport your chickens? (We will be moving 8 of them)
Did you move them at night or during the day (and do you think it matters?) - I've read that a move will throw chickens into a molt, ending their laying for a while - have you experienced anything along these lines?? Also read that if you move them asfter they're asleep at night, that sometimes you can avoid the molt.

I'd love to hear your insight, when you have time... :o)

Congratulations again, Jenna!

April 26, 2010 at 9:05 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

That paints a vivid picture in my mind. The collie is a very good idea -- here's to hoping that he will help you retire from your rodeo career. :)

May 2, 2010 at 10:34 AM  

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