sweaters at the ready: first snow!
When i got to Jackson, walking into the farm house was downright cold. 55, said the thermometer in the kitchen. Not awful, but when you just came in from a heated cab of a toasty pickup truck in a wool sweater, and before that, a disturbingly warm office.... 55 is like walking into a meat freezer. I didn't fuss about it. I knew that within an hour I'd be experiencing "farmer heat" a term I coined around here to explain the phenomenon where static movement makes the house seem cold, but soon as you light the wood stoves and spend an hour doing chores, you are your own furnace. So I did just that. I lit the Bun Baker in the living room, and the ol' Vermont Castings in the mud room and set outside to prep the livestock for the coming snowfall, however light it may be.
I carried two bales of straw on my back up the hill to the sheep sheds. They sheep munch on the yellow, nutritionless bedding like we munch on potato chips as I spread it around the 15x8 foot shelter. (For those not sure what the difference between straw and hay is: straw is dead grass used for bedding, it is yellow. Hay is dried, green grass, used for animal food.) I then added bedding to the annex next door. Soon all the sheep were inside the shelters, the comfort-lovin' lambs Knox, Ashe and Pidge were already making nests. I noticed Ashe (my only success at raising a decent breeding ewe last year) had a striped of black going down her right horn. I never saw anything like it, it was stunning...
I then went and filled two buckets with sweet grain and brought them to the sheep, along with a bale of good hay I set up in the shelters. With the sheep ready for the apocalypse, I headed down to see Jasper. The snow was coming down harder now, wind was picking up. I shut Jasper in the barn stall, closing the bottom dutch door for wind protection for the babes in the pig pen. Jasper paced around the small run by the barn, looking like he was about to have a tantrum. He wanted to run but he'd have to wait. A slick, steep, hillside for a horse that needed a farrier to trim his feet would just mean slipping and sliding and a possible injury. When the snow melted off Friday evening, he could run in the mud. Tonight he was staying in the barn. I gave him a little grain to bribe him indoors, mucked the run, and by this point I was sweating bullets and my face was ruddy. I went inside the barn and made sure Jasper had clean water, two flakes of Nelson Greene's Second Cut, a mineral lick and such. I scratched the poll of his head, he munched happily. I had just watched the documentary BUCK on Netflix, and a stallion colt literally jumped on top of a man and bit through his skull to the bone, covering his cowboy hat with blood. I thought about how the most impatient version of Jasper involves a playful nip and a trot around me in circles with some whinnies. In comparison to some horses, Jasper is a saint. I kissed him and told him I was lucky to have him. I meant it.
The pigs snorted through all this horse love. They have learned Jenna=FOOD and this is their new religion. I walked over to them, scratched their bristly heads, and dumped some pig chow and a load of cracked corn (for body heat) into their feeder. They ate greedily and I threw in some extra bedding for them to bury themselves in.
Do you remember that fall chick I showed you a few weeks back? It has grown into a fine little chicken, and mama and little babe had decided Jasper's stall was a safer roost then the tree outside the coop they usually are in. IN fact, all the tree birds came down and had made peace with the dry, bedding filled, coop and were finding their social order inside. The geese walked around yelling the whole time. I shut the coop door to keep the wind and snow out and turned towards the house. Two little chimneys sent white smoke into the air. I stopped to take a deep breathe of the crisp air tinted with woodsmoke, hay, horse and grain. My hands still felt like lanolin coated them from petting sal up in the sheds.
I went inside and the wave of warmth hit me. Between the stoves and my own body heat I was taken back by the windless, snowless, heat of the place. It was only 56.9 degrees inside now but it felt like 85. I stripped out of my heavy layers and got a glass of water. Farmer Heat in Full Force! The house was amazingly changed through the suggestion of fire, candles, and my time outside in the wet 30-degree world of the animals. I put the morning's coffee pot on the Bun Baker and threw more wood on the fire. Tonight I was staying close to my fire, books, and coffee. And I could do so knowing outside every animal on this farm was safe, dry, and out of the wind and rain. It's the kind of thing fiddle tunes are written about.
This morning the farm is covered in 2 inches of wet snow. By the time the sun is high I have a feeling it will all have melted away. But it was a fine preview of what's to come, and a good practice run for this North Country Shepherd.
Winter, I welcome you.