Saturday, June 26, 2010

still not sure

I have no idea if Maude is pregnant or not. Yesterday she seemed languid, dripping, heavy, and slow. Everything she did looked and acted like the labor descriptions in my sheep books. This afternoon she was back to her old, crotchety, self. Right now I wouldn't be surprised if she dropped a set of twins or bit me. Maude is a mystery, always will be.

I would like to have a lamb around though. It would be good practice for next spring. We'll have to wait and see.

I moved the turkeys outside this week. They're all doing well. I've kept them inside the small pen for their own protection from the big hens and geese. When all the birds in the coop are used to them, they can join the fuss. Though I plan on making them sleep in the barn in a few weeks since that many turkeys don't jive with chickens. One turkey with a handful of chickens: no problem. Four turkeys and it's the Jets and Sharks.

Tomorrow: time to start those fences.

maude, this morning

Friday, June 25, 2010

holy shit

So I know my sheep are on the chubby side, but Maude...she's huge. Not only is she huge, her teats have dropped, and her end is looking very very raw and red. I don't want to cry wolf, but when I got these sheep I was told that Sal's castration didn't go as planned....

There might just be a lamb at Cold Antler this spring.

meet josh

It's only a change of time.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

specks in the distance

When's the last time you ran around your yard in the dark with a jar with holes poked in the top? Tonight I was outside in the humidity, catching fireflies for an hour. My skills have slipped. At a certain age you stop catching and start watching and it's enough. But tonight I wanted to remember what a glowing jar felt like in hot hands.

I can't help but believe the farm is teaching me how to become the person I hope to be. I want to find some sort of very rusted old grace and obtain it, hold its reins, and know it. A way to understand things without having to comment, or to react to things without a reaction. I'm tired of filling up silence and space. I want to be so comfortable with myself and my life I would grow roots if I sat still too long.

It took a weekend in pure misery of bacterial poisoning to teach me the intense lesson of careful work around animal processing and raw meat. It forced me to make the place cleaner, more orderly, and to take better care of myself and what I consume. It drove me to get my well water tested (the test came out fine) and to slow down. I take more care in preparation of not only food, but in my own day. I wake up early enough to have time to sit, drink coffee, and stretch. And understand the luxury of a life that has time to sit, drink coffee, and stretch. I am grateful for it.

The fox too, has helped me. As angry as I was when the deaths were occurring, today I realized that five eggs a day, one rooster, a half dozen new layers and meat birds—is what I can reasonably handle. It also got me in touch with new people and friends: trappers and trackers who know how to deal with and prevent fox attacks. Because of that blasted animal I now have a more manageable home and the farm has met new faces. He's also made me walk the entire property line, looking for dens and signs. Being outside on a June sunrise and staring across my land, seeing the sheep just specks in the distance: is a gift from a fox I hate. Sometimes a farm takes the world and tilts it. Same place, just slightly different and with new things to understand.

When the weather report says there's no chance of thunderstorms. I still hope for one. Slim chances never did a damn thing o stop chumps from hoping. It's impossible to become jaded, because every now and then one still surprises you. And you can't help but get excited when clouds come and the wind picks up. It's hardwired like that in some of us, hope I mean.

When I was a kid, holding the flashing jar in my hands was the best part. Now it's letting them go.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

farm update

The farm has returned to peacful equilibrium, or maybe I have. The panic and stress that racked me a few weeks ago is starting to melt off and the farm. All its residents (including me) are existing as one unit again. Chores have fallen into a longer-evening-shorter-morning-routine that really suits me. After sitting in a desk chair all day I come home to the farm, turn up the ipod, and take care of all the feeding, water hauling, mucking and fence moving. In the morning it's a simple feed-n-leave.

Three meat rabbits were lost, but the other three have fully recovered and last week another three were born to take their place. The fox hasn't been seen in quite some time, and (crossing fingers) he's had his fill amd moved on. The three surviving angora kits are also doing well, also on grass. The sheep are shorn and light on the hoof, and I think I stopped all the escape holes in the fence that Joseph has wiggled through and made a bee-line for the grain on the covered porch. And the bees are thriving too. They're about ready to have another super added to give them all the space they need to expand their hive.

The poults are growing fast and fat, and all healthy. Turkeys are supposed to be as fragile as glass lambs but I've never had a problem with them. I feel if you can get a poult through the first two weeks you're home free long as they have proper protection from the elements and predators.

The garden is in high production and while the salad greens are starting to bolt, the pumpkins are flowering and beans are too. So much good food on the way: onions, potatoes, peppers, cucs and more...

And I'm on a mission to slowly start expanding the pasture fencing. The idea of money falling into my lap to hire a professional is out of the question, and with a flock on the way carrying lambs—I need to start acting now. So every night I run just a few t-posts and fencing to do a new section. At the rate I'm going I'll make much of the work and expense spread out thin enough to be realistic. And that's pretty much the pace of the entire enterpise. Do what I can with what I have, and pray for rain.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

patting his side

The puppy day in Wallingford started around 10AM, but Gibson and I showed up fashionably late. Since my guests were leaving that morning, and we were only going to watch, I didn't mind pulling in the host farm's driveway at 11. A handmade sign in the shape of a sheep said 'Puppy Day!" was posted, it had to be the right place. Just beyond the gray farmhouse I could see the small gathering of folding chairs and black and white dogs. "Puppy" in today's context meant sheepdogs just starting to work sheep, under a year old. Gibson was a bit too literal of a definition to take part in the shenanigans.

We arrived and my shearer, Jim, waved hello. I didn't know anyone but I did have a border collie on the end of my leash, so it was as good as any backstage pass. Folks waved and pulled me a chair. I sat among the pack of folks in ball caps and leashes and watched a handler in the field send her young dog in circles around the three sheep Jim had brought along. I had so many questions. Was the dog taught to circle that wide, or was it instinct? How do you get a snappy lie down like that when such a young pup is three feet from a ewe? Where did they find a plastic training crook? Can Gibson and I really do this? What gets us from the sidelines to the twenty yard line?

Gibson sat and watched for a while. His eyes locked on the sheep every now and again, and for a three-month-old his attention span was impressive. Mine was less so. I kept bouncing between conversations, questions, text messages on my phone, and the constant flow of panting, smiling dogs at my side. What I love about border collies is the controlled chaos of so many off leash dogs. They just want to be by their owners sides so even a pile off leash at play snap to recalls when they hear, "HERE!"

I had a fine time. I learned much, was invited to future trials, and filled in who's got the top dogs. People were interested in where Gibson came from, his breeding and such. Jim raised his eyes when I mentioned his father, Riggs. "Oh, I know Riggs... You've got some good breeding in that dog.." and I puffed up like a mother hen.

There was a moment in the early afternoon when the clouds got dark, the wind picked up, and the birds all flew into the brush. Clouds burst and it started to rain. I walked with Gibson to the truck and watched the fields from the dry cab. By this point he was exhausted from the stimulus and all the puppy play. He slowly breathed in the passenger seat and I watched the dog in the field, a red collie. The red collies are rare, but work just as true. I saw the handler and his dog in the rain and I swelled with the excitement and envy of any rookie. I wanted to stand in the rain with my dog, and a flock, and feel the purpose and the power and know my place in the world. I sighed.

"That'll be us, kid." I said calmly to the pup by my side, patting his side. "That'll be us."

listen to this

Monday, June 21, 2010

herding, help, and homes

Yesterday was Gibson's first herding clinic. The first of many, I'm sure. We were only there to watch, not participate (at 14 weeks, my pup isn't ready to tackle an angry trio of ewes) but just sitting among shepherds is a lesson in itself. The conversations about dogs, training, and sheep abound. My osmosis you pick up little tricks and tips. You listen to the observations on the the stock in the field, the dogs at work, and the farmers explain their methods. There's also rumors, jokes, gossip and potluck spreads, pretty much what you get with any gathering of people. But the humid summer morning, and the curling black clouds calling a storm, made the day a little storied. A little surreal. I spent all of it on a cooler talking and watching while Gibson play and tackle the other collies. It was nice to see him tussle with his future like that. Here you can see him crashed by lunchtime. While the older dogs were pacing and raring to go, Gibson needed a nap. He fell asleep right in the middle of the circle of chairs.

More on his day tomorrow, I'm in the middle of final edits on this chicken book and that's why posts are thin these days. I'm also just over some company (my sister and her husband) who were amazing guests and helped cook, clean, and taught me how to light and use my new/used charcoal grill Steve rescued from a tag sale fate for me. So much was done with family, and my sister loved the farm. It's hard not to love, even if it's covered in chicken poo and stinging nettle.

And my big idea: I want to help some of you find your own farms. I got here, and now I want to show those who are just as eager how. Buying rural property wasn't hard, I could do it by trial and error—but I learned some things I'd like to share to help anyone out there who is seriously considering buying land by October. And if you're renting right now and think I'm talking crazy... I bet we could find you your own farm by fall. I was able to move into my home with a no down-payment USDA loan, something I didn't even knew existed this time last year. Because of that, a recession, dumb luck, sellers concessions, and annoying the hell out of my realtor and mortgage broker I got a house. You can too. I promise. It's all faith, sweat, and realtors baby. CAF wants to help you find home.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

it's hot in jackson