Saturday, March 5, 2011

splattering the robe

In the Zen Buddhist Tradition there's a ritual I truly adore. Those who choose to take the vows of Jukai—to become dedicated students— sew a small special robe in the shape of a rice field. This garment is called a Rakusu. It's a collection of delicate scraps of fabric patched into a hand-sewn quilt worn across the front of the body. The ordained wear it over their sitting robes as an affirmation of their vows (and so other students are aware of the level of their practice). It takes weeks to create these relics by hand. When the final product is done it is magical. A handmade meditation.

Stories passed down tell of Zen teachers who looked at their students' robes with discomfort bordering on disgust. The students had too much pride in the work, too much attachment to an item that would compost into soil if left out in the rain too long. So to keep their students awake to the point of this world (to live free of attachment and suffering) they would splatter a bit of ink, or tear a corner, or squash a berry into that beautiful robe. Anything that would remove that silly desire to keep something owned as worthy of permanence: from being seen as an object instead of a purpose. It kept folk's eyes on the prize, so to speak.

I once heard a Baptist pastor say that you never see a U-haul following a hearse. He was a great Zen teacher.

Gene Logsdon says the best investment a small farmer can make is in their truck. It does a million different jobs, and makes an agricultural life possible. You get a stock trailer, hay hauler, and car all wrapped up into one. In a way, buying a truck is a homesteading Jukai. It is your Rakusu. As an object of utility it doesn't need to be shiny and show-room ready. It just needs to practice. It needs to be a truck.

The seven-year-old Dodge Dakota I bought yesterday came with a few dents and tears. There's no point in being overly proud in something already imperfect. Just 24-hours after driving it off the lot I have it coated in mud, strewn with hay, and coffee-rin stained. To own it I had to trade in the truck that had carried the farm this far. It was sad to see that little Ford go. Sadder than it should be.

Gain and Loss. Ink and berries.

Consider the robe splattered.

this shepherd got a ram!

P.S. Gibson is pulling through.

ER trip tonight

Thursday, March 3, 2011

news that didn't happen

Liset, I think, I hope, is doing much better. It's getting harder to catch her to give her the prescripted dosage of Glycol. That first day I could walk right up to her grab her. Now we play an eye-locked game of chance trying to hold her still long enough to inject the goo into her mouth. But now she's excited to eat her grain and hay and seems to more a part of the flock now. She's still lean but "with it" Keep her in your thoughts. I depend on each of these girls to help produce the future of my flock.

Good news: Murray McMurray is sending replacements for ALL the birds I lost. All 27 will be here next week. And everyone coming to the workshop will have their pick of the current healthy birds in the brooder now. I'll sell some started pullets later this summer for side cash. It will work out. Chickens make a lot of sense now, folks will scoop them up in pairs and trios.

I have some news (that never happened) to share with you all. I came across the perfect pony this week. A small 37" gelding named Rebel. He was a fully trained 6-year-old, road-ready, drafting pony down in Sharon Springs. Small enough to share my sheeps' sheds and hay and large enough to pull a small plow. He could cart, pack, and help spread manure around the farm. I dreamed of this pony. He was perfect. I went so far as to make plans to have him delivered. I told friends at 28: my dream of finally having a pony was coming true. My new ATV was just a few hoofprints away...

I emailed the trainer to apologize. I can't take him. With lambing, a new truck, a chimney, and so much ahead: a pony isn't a wise choice. I was justifying it because it was so perfect and priced so well, and who knows when a bombproof working horse could be delivered to the farm again? but I need to know what this farmer can handle. Maybe I could have welcomed Rebel into my life without a hitch? But I prefer to not find out the hard way anymore.

Some day I will have a working horse on this farm. This year I'll focus on a working chimney and used 4x4 truck.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

United States Poultry Service!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

liset's big scare

I know everyone is expecting an adorable chick post. I was expecting to write one. I took photos, video, the works... But life has a way of happening at 6:48 on a Tuesday morning. Sometimes it's not all fluff and feathers. Sometimes you're covered in sheep shit trying to inject glucose down a sick ewe's throat.

I woke up this morning excited about a lot of things. I had an order of chicks to pick up at the post office, and there are few cuter mail-order items than baby chicks. I was excited for the workshop this weekend. I sang to the Swedish Flower hen like I was a Muppet Chef while dumping out the laundry into a basket. I had a pot of strong coffee started, the wood stove lit, the brooder lamp had been chugging all night. Damn, things were looking good. I called the post office to make sure my animals were ready. The truck was warm and started like a normal vehicle. The sun was coming up over the ridge line, and the whole house smelled like coffee so dark you could eat it with a spoon. Heaven. All I had left to do before I got my basket-o-chicks was to feed the sheep before I left the farm.

As I was doling out the morning's hay ration I noticed Liset (number 20-06) stumble and walk oddly down the hill. My first thought was hoof needs to be trimmed. I'll check it right after I get back from the P.O. but then I watched her stare blankly at me. Within moments she was standing away from the flock chewing her upper plate in her mouth. She wasn't eating much at all.

This was bad. This was really bad.

I went through the flip-file in my head of sheep diseases. Listeria? No, she'd be circling...Rabies? No drool or twitching. Worms? No, she'd be eating like crazy.... Liset just seemed drunk. Wobbly. Like a waif in some Victorian play about to collapse on her fainting couch.

I ran inside to my lambing supply basket where my neighbor Shellee's number was located on a pink post-it note. Shellee was a large-animal Vet. She knew more about sheep than anyone on this mountain and happened to live a quarter mile away. I called, explained what I saw, and asked her she could come over? She had another appointment but said she'd come by later. Her instinct though was Ketosis; a late-pregnancy disease in sheep. It's a situation where the lambs are literally sucking the life out of her. She said she'd meet me in the farm in moments and bring up some Glycol and an oral syringe. We'd talk more in person.

I stood outside by my running truck and hung up my cell phone. I was no longer thinking about chickens.

I was so worried. These sheep were pined for—a dream come true. They took an entire summer to pay off. I had hauled and stored their hay, carried water, built them a shed and then spent frozen nights removing snow from it. I had studied. I had gone to sheepdog trials, workshops, and everything else I could think to do. What I didn't have was experience. I had no idea what a Ketotic ewe looked like. All I knew was something wasn't right so I called someone who could help. I know that much.

Shellee showed up a little later that morning as I was setting up the chicks in the brooder. She was standing at my front door with a jam jar of Glycol and this plastic-tube device and explained she'd be back later to check on her properly and run a urine test. I didn't ask her the one question on my mind. How do you want me to collect sheep urine?

I had taken the morning off from the office, and was grateful I had. Cathy Daughton was coming over with her boys to get their 15 Silver-Laced Wyandottes. I knew her boy Holden (a teenager) could help me doctor 20-06. When they arrived we set about the business of checking on the brooder and I explained the day's second small crisis. 25% of the birds died in transit or were failing fast. This was because (I think) of bad weather that delayed my order a full day). We did our best to help bring back any chicks that were fighters (and did manage to save a few) and caught up on farm talk. When the birds were as well enough as we could get them, Holden and I went outside to tend to little Liset.

There was a time in my life when walking straight up to a hundred-pound horned animal and flipping it onto its back would have been an impossible to even consider. Not today. In my Polyface sweatshirt (a barter for wool from Wendy down in Swope), my beaten-up Carharrt vest with hoof-trimmers in pocket, Muck boots, and dirty jeans I walked right into the fray and grabbed her by the horns. Shepherds (old or new) are tough stock. Soon she was on her back Holden filled the syringe and handed it over to me so I could slowly inject the energy into her throat. She didn't flinch. She was such a good girl. Holden was an amazing help.

I trimmed her hooves (she was on her back, why the hell not) and offered her more hay. She needed to bulk-up before lambing. This Ketosis is a carb-deficiancy disease. The same disease that human beings can waste away from if their body and brains don't get enough carbohydrate energy. In fact, you force your body into Ketosis to burn fat because the lack of carbs makes your body think it is starving. It's not a good thing, people. Eat bread.

Anyway, I had to head back to the office in about an hour. I debated just calling in the day to be here and keep an eye on the failing birds and the sheep but I had to go in. The office is what keeps the hay, vets, and chickens here in the first place. Also, the vet wouldn't be able to come back till after five anyway. I left the farm worried and confused, but content I was doing everything I could. I'd save my call-in days for lambing.

Work went by fast. I had completed most of my tasks on Monday in anticipation of today's morning off and so I scuttled through spreadsheets and emails. Soon as five clicked I was back on the road. Shellee had called to say she was coming back to the farm for a urine test at 4:30 and I could meet her for a diagnose when I got home. (By the way, if you turn a sheep on its back and hold its nostrils shut it pees. Fun fact for your evening read...) When I pulled back into my driveway I saw the vet-truck there and Shellee and her helper, Billy. They did the test and it turned out positive. My heart pounded. Liset was in the beginning stages of Ketosis and it could kill her if untreated. I asked Shellee what to do?

The remedy would be energy. Get the girl on more hay, twice-a-day Glycol down the throat, and start her on grain early. She would most likely recover, but this hit could mean her ability to produce milk is all but shot. Her lambs might be destined to be bottle feeders. Billy—a long-time sheep and goat keeper—said she would be fine and lambing would be fine too. My own opinion was too raw to decide either way. This morning when I woke up I thought all was well with my sheep's world. I chose to lean towards caution and do everything the Doc says and hope for the best. Tomorrow morning I'll have a date with the Glycol syringe and a skinny sheep. She might hate me for the drugs, but I'll buy back her love with Coarse-14 grain. I'll do what I can.

Now it's after 8 and things are calming down. The house sounds like a weeknight house; dryer tumbling, dogs eating kibble, computer keyboard tapping away. The remaining chicks are healthy and I'll pad the order with more Rhode Island Reds coming into Tractor Supply tomorrow. I think if I call the hatchery I might even get a refund? Right now though, I think I'll take a long hot shower, make some hot tea, and call it a night. I had a long day and another one of sheep-flipping and spreadsheets waiting for me tomorrow. I love this farm, but occasionally love is friggin' exhausting.

I promise my next post will feature adorable chicks.

FYI PDF on Ketosis in Sheep and how to treat it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

images of the new brooder

A few folks emailed or commented that they would like pictures of the Daughton Brooder. Here you can see it in all it's glory. Right now it is lit up and waiting the 84 chicks being picked up early tomorrow morning. My laundry/mud/stove room now has the joint glow of a heat lamp and woodstove. It might be the warmest room in the house. Strike that. It is the warmest room in the house.

get your birds! announcing a memorial day weekend chicken 101 workshop!

Morning everyone! No chickens came in the post today, tomorrow will be the big chicken delivery of 2011, however I do have some news. I will be opening up the farm Memorial Day weekend to have another Chick Days workshop that Sunday. If you'd like to come to the farm for an all-day workshop on chicken 101, please email me for details. All attendees will go home with three baby chicks, and a signed copy of Chick Days and all the information they need to raise them right. If the weather cooperates we might even have a bonfire that night with music. Chicks, lambs, a green farm and fiddles. Does it get any better than that?

email for details

Sunday, February 27, 2011

the happiest sheep in washington county

going broody

Last night Tim and Cathy Daughton pulled into my snowy driveway, and I was glad to see them. Friends on a Saturday night are always welcome, but this night I was feeling extra welcoming to company. I had just spent the last few hours moving snow off the sheep shed roofs and getting a sinfully long shower. Feeling like a new woman—all cleaned and with roofs still intact—I was eager to see them. I felt like I earned their company by making sure the mama-to-be ewes still had a shelter on the hill. When you start farming, everything turns into effort and returns, even drop-in guests feel like a karmic blessing after fighting snow drifts in the dark.

They had sent me a message saying they would be stopping by with a gift: a custom-built brooder box that was made from salvage from their own farm. It was an amazing gesture just to offer such a thing in the first place, but I never expected what they had in store for me....When they walked into the farmhouse my jaw dropped.

In their arms was a structure to behold. A 4'x2' wooden box with a collapsable hinged wall (for easy cleaning/sweeping out) and a wire-hinged roof to prevent escaping chicks. It was a masterpiece. Tim had really outdone himself. Inside the brooder there was plenty of room for the 84 birds on their way. Before they had arrived I was nervous I would have to get a furniture box to accommodate them, but this was perfect. It was so far beyond anything I could have built or ever expected. We'd be just fine when the post office called.

The 84 birds aren't all mine. 25 of them are, but 36 laying hens are for next weekend's workshop attendees, 15 are the Daughton's Silver Laced Wyandottes, and eight more are my friend Noreen's. My own personal order is a mix of meat and egg birds to start off the season with. I ordered ten Cornish Rocks and a mixture of Cuckoo Marans, Ameraucanas, Gold Polish and Brahmas. (I like a colorful egg basket and that pretty much covers the spectrum.)

I'm all set up now. The box is ready to rock with all the comforts a new bird could ask for. It has a clamped brooder light with a 250 watt bulb blasting heat (a small thermometer is right under it on the shavings to make sure I hit that magic number: 90). A new chick-sized feeder and water font are also set up and stocked. Right now is just a test run. I try to always set up my brooder and keep it going the night before the birds are due to arrive. This way I'll be able to track temperature changes into the night, see what works and what doesn't, and make sure all is well. I got my bag of chick grit, medicated feed, reference books, and high hopes. This time next Sunday a bunch of folks will be here at the farm to pick up some of these little guys and take them home to their own farms and backyards. Each person also gets a copy of my book Chick Days which features three laying hens from hatchlings to adults. In the book the birds are Amelia the Ameraucana, Tilda the Rhode Island Red, and Honey the Buff Orpington. So for the workshop everyone who attends will get the same breeds as in the book. I can't wait to introduce some readers to their first-ever chickens!

If you are coming to the workshop, this is what you should have ready:

Sunday (not Saturday!) March 6th 2011 10AM-4PM
No March 15th workshop! Everyone is coming on the 6th!

For my place:
Notebook and pen/business cards
Small cardboard box with pine shavings in it
Optional hot water bottle or
Heat packet in cloth pinned shut
Waterless Hand Sanitizer
Your appetite: we're having homemade pizza and pie

For your place:
Brooder (TV-sized cardboard box is fine!)
Pine shavings
Water font and chick feeder
Medicated chick feed (not laying hen feed!)
Chick grit

I say bring a notebook to jot down ideas, book titles, websites, and other Antler's phone numbers and email addresses. I think ten people are coming, possible more with spouses and friends so it should be quite the event! The small shoe box will be all you need to bring the peeps home. A source of heat inside is a plus, but for anyone just driving an hour or two you should be fine in a heated vehicle. I have no idea where you will all park. I am working on a shuttle from the vet's office at the bottom of the mountain up to the farm. In my mind March would mean spring. I was a damn fool. There's three feet of snow out there. We'll figure it out. Please leave a comment to let me know you are coming and how many of you there are.

Anyway, The post office in Cambridge will call me first thing tomorrow morning or Tuesday to come and pick up the packages of chicks. I'll drive them the 3 miles back to Cold Antler in the passenger seat of the heated up truck and then walk them into the dog-free laundry/wood stove room. There I will carefully remove each bird and dip its little beak in the water font (you need to do this, as birds aren't born knowing how to drink water). Then when each bird has been expected for a clean vent and bright eyes it will be free to explore it's warm new home. When all 84 are watered and examined my work is done until the font and feeder need changing. So I can just ooh and ahh at the chorus of little peeps. It's going to drive Jazz friggin' crazy. At least this brooder is husky-proof.

Expect adorable chick photos and updates soon! And all of you interested in future workshops, I plan on doing another one just like this Memorial Day Weekend. Any takers?