Friday, December 28, 2007

Sheep on Holiday


Rachel and her ewe flock had a little adventure last Friday...
Bombarde had decided all of his ewes were bred so he busted out of the "girls" pen. He made his way to the round pen where Unicorn and his two ewes were and tried to bash his way in. Of course, Unicorn had to bash from his side of the horse panels. Kavan in the other round pen dented the fence up pretty good too. But everything held fast...thank goodness.
This all happened after Clancy and I had left for work. When Clancy came home from the mill at lunch time, he encountered Rachel's ewe flock on Spur Corner. Spur Corner is a hairpin curve on our township road about a half mile from our house. Two old trails, Gotter's and Spur Road, cross there. If the girls had decided to get off the beaten path, they would have had several hundred acres of woods to explore. Fortunately, they weren't fond of the deep snow in the ditches so they were sticking to the plowed path.
Clancy managed to herd them all the way home with his S-10. Dolce led the flock, Rachel brought up the rear, and Anna Belle, on high alert, pogo hopped all the way. Once back in the yard, the girls followed Clancy and his tub of grain nicely into the pen.
Bombarde, on the other hand, was not to be distracted from his siege on the round pen. Clancy put him in the dog kennel and he demolished it before Clancy could finish lunch. On his way back to work, Clancy put Bombarde in the heavy duty sheep hauler we reunite rams in. There was a little too much space in it for one ram, though. Bombarde smashed that to bits too and escaped again. He was back to beating on Uni's pen when Clancy got home from work that night. So he was tossed in the smaller round pen with Kavan and Tormey. (At that point I don't think Clancy cared what happened to him, just so long as he didn't get out again.) The boys probably tussled a bit, but everyone was still healthy and alive the next morning.
Today, Clancy and I put Unicorn's two ewes back in with the rest of the girls and we reunited all the rams. Our box for that had been demolished so we just sprayed them all down with perfume and put them in together. Kavan instantly knocked the little stub of his horn off, and he started bleeding. But that was the end of the fighting right there.
Unicorn, with his impressive horns, is back to being top ram. Kavan, with a sore scull, will probably be on the bottom rung for a while. Bombarde and Tormey are in the middle, just trying to stay out of every one's way.
Hopefully, we will have peace and quiet now until early April when lambing begins.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Almost Time...

Christmas was wonderful this year. We spent an evening with Clancy's mom. We attended the candlelight service on Christmas Eve at our little country church in Puposky. On Christmas Day, we celebrated with my siblings and parents at my brother's house. It was just a lovely holiday through and through.
Wednesday was back to work, and work is pretty busy at the ski hill during the vacation break.
This evening I walked past the chick tub in the living room and noticed little heads peering over the edge at me. I knew the chickies weren't little fuzz balls anymore, but I hadn't realized they were big already.
Only one chick has tiny bits of down left on it's head. As soon as that one feathers out just the last little bit these darlings are going out to the coop. They have totally outgrown the tub, and any day now one of them is going to figure out how to hop through the slight space I left for ventilation. I'd rather not have chickens fluttering about the house. It's bad enough having them in a corner. They are starting to smell like chickens. The bedding has to be changed frequently to minimize the odor.
How do I get myself into these messes? This is the third time in two years I've raised chicks in the house.
All the good reasons for bringing the chicks in are fresh in my mind. Going back over the events as they played out, I'm sure I would have made the same choices. So I might as well just accept the situation. I'm raising chicken's in the house...again. And they are so cute, just like baby animals always are...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Counting My Blessings


I was feeding hay the other morning and noticed the tiny buds on the basswood tree near the ewe pen. It has always amazed me how nature is never static, never pausing, even when we tend to think it is. The heartbeat of life does not give out. The pulse is strong enough to hear through the blanket of snow and ice. The unfurling of vernal exultation would not happen unless life was undeniable all winter long.
Maybe it's my Scandinavian heritage, but I really could hibernate with the rest of the sensible omnivores of northern Minnesota. If I'm not sleeping by 9pm there is no getting up the next morning. Light therapy would help, but I haven't had time to get to town to check into light bulbs. So I try not to fight it...If I go to bed very early and use the dimmer switch on my bedroom light to wake up gradually, I can get through the day without being too grouchy. I can go to work, get the chores done, eat supper with the kids, connect with Clancy for a few minutes each day, and go back to bed again.
As far as drugs go, I'm already on two anti-depressants that are often prescribed for SAD. Light helps...exercise is the best remedy. The other day I danced for two hours to the music of Hairspray. I couldn't sleep for 24 hours afterwards. I think 30 minutes a day would be about right...but I haven't been disciplined enough to start that routine. What a vicious cycle SAD can be!
But I wanted to write about the blessings in my life...
The best thing about this year is that, even though I sleep a lot, I'm not feeling depressed in my mind. I don't have that "all is for naught" feeling. I don't wish I could not exist. I don't want to cry all day long. This is amazing for me. I don't take it for granted.
I'm also really proud of my family. The boys are so fun to be around. They are such great kids. It makes me happy just knowing I get to be their Mom. And I love my husband. He's such an incredible person to spend my life with. I've made a lot of mistakes in life, and yet God has blessed this marriage and held it together when I didn't have the strength to. I am truly fortunate to feel in my heart that my husband is my favorite person.
There are other people in my life that are truly fantastic too...My immediate family is so wonderful to me. Clancy's mom is always there for us. I have extended family that really cares about me...neighbors that are always watching out...co-workers that consider me part of their family...and true friends that pray for me and enrich my life beyond description.
I am not alone. All the love and friendship in my life is a direct blessing, straight from God. He never gives up on me. He understands that spending time in the dark cocoon of an early bedtime is actually a monumental improvement upon the despair I used to wallow in. He's taking care of me, and I know it.
There are lots of little good things going on right now too.
Our five hens give us about 4 eggs a day! We can eat all the eggs we want to now without getting sick...The Christmas tree is up already. It's the first time in probably 5 years that it got put up before Christmas Eve. Our friend, Gail, made another kitchen cabinet this weekend. I now have a cabinet around the dishwasher...and one of these days that dishwasher will get hooked up and one of my housekeeping dreams will come true.
And now I'm running out of time...a busy day is ahead and I haven't even finished my list of blessings. But that is the joy of having faith in God, I think. Once we focus on our blessings, we realize the list is endless. We know we are cared for. We know we are loved. God is looking out for us.
It makes me shake my head in wonder, actually. It's hard to fathom a concept so immense. But I think of it in the most natural sense-like the march of the seasons, or walking across a frozen lake...like instinct...like the line from the last song in Hairspray...
"You can't stop the motion of the ocean or the sun in the sky. You can wonder if you want to but I'll never ask why. So if you try to hold me down I'm gonna spit in your eye and say...You can't stop the BEAT!"

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Best Laid Plans...

Does Bombarde look happy? Well he should. I just gave him another ewe today: Rai Min.

Didn't I announce to the world that I don't breed ewe lambs here at Boston Lake Farm? Well, yes I did. The old adage "Never say never," springs to mind.

The following is a small list of my rationalizations:
We've had some heavy weather here in the past few days...and now the temperature is supposed to drop. I'm having a very hard time getting all the chores done in the morning before going to work, and in the evening before it gets totally dark. Bombarde and Rai Min were both doing their best to destroy the fence between themselves. I finally had to close off the barn to Bombarde and his two adult ewes to keep him from Rai Min. This evening, as I was laboring under 30 pounds of outerwear, and still freezing, I decided Bombarde and his girls couldn't go without that shelter anymore. Of all the pens, theirs is up on a bald hill. The barn blocks north winds, but these storms are blowing in from the south.
My resolve was worn down by my own susceptibility to the cold. I opened up both barn doors, and rammy-lamby wishes came true.
I might get the group disbanded before Rai Min gets bred. But I have to accept the fact that there will probably be consequences for my sympathetic decision. At least she is a nice big ewe lamb. Bombarde was only slightly larger in size. And at least she is being bred for a May lamb.
Ah...I'm reaching...Tsk, tsk, tsk

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Plowing Out


It snowed and snowed yesterday. This morning, all is calm and it's time to plow out.
I've been keeping track of the weather for the past three years and this is the first time we've had such a nice snowfall this early in December for a while. It seems comforting, somehow.
The boys are out playing in the drifts, and maybe they will go skiing later. Meggie ran outside first thing this morning and barked her head off at the new white world. She always lets us know when anything is slightly amiss in the yard. In her mind, she thinks things are supposed to stay just as she left them. Heaven forbid anything change overnight while she's not there to keep track of it.
Winter has arrived in earnest. All the chores seem a little bit harder slogging through a foot of snow. But it is beautiful, none the less.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Greta's Example


Lately I've been too busy. Instead of planning my day, I feel like I'm simply reacting to the bombardment of a frantic schedule. I need to slow down, prioritize, and pace myself.
I could learn a thing or two from Greta.
Greta eats her kibble leisurely. She sleeps soundly. In fact, right now, after a long night of resting on the rug, she is completely conked out. That potty break out in the -10 degree weather this morning must have been exhausting.
Actually, I think Greta knows that by 9am she will be tossed outside to guard the farm until noon. There is no doubt in her mind that master will be putting her to work, so she might as well relax.
But there might lie the secret wisdom I have been seeking...Greta has one master. One command to fulfill. One purpose...to obey her commands. Beyond that, she has no worry.
How many masters do I have? My family, my job, my animals, my dreams, my physical body, my social obligations, my bills, my housekeeping...I can't serve them all. It is Biblical directive to have but one Master.
Today, I will take a cue from my serene friend, Greta. I will try to focus on my one and only Master. I will trust Him to guide my day, to help me overcome obstacles, and to do my best. If I attend to His command, I will have peace. I will find rest in Him.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Breeding Season Winding Down


I couldn't resist posting this awful photo of Bombarde.
Rams are so ugly when they sniff the perfumed air of breeding season. And yet they think they are so sexy. Whatever!
It seems as though all the ewes are bred by their respective rams, except for Bramble Anna Belle. There is the possibility that she was bred the very first day I introduced Bombarde. But I never noticed any evidence of such, so I think she might be ready to cycle soon. I am really looking forward the fleece on her lambs next year. I intend to retain them unless a major fault shows up. Yes, I am hoping she gives me twins.
I was fortunate to witness all the other breedings this fall. Even so, this year I've decided to use a clean up ram for the first time. Bombarde gets the honors of that job.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bert and Ernie

About this time of year, when I was 6 or 7 years old, I won a coloring contest at our local Pamida store. The giant stocking that I was presented with was stuffed with cheap but fabulous prizes. Surprisingly, some of those toys lasted years and years. The pink bouncy ball had nine lives.
When I recently came across this photo of that occasion, I couldn't help but remember the private joke Selena and I shared as children. It is so evident in this picture of us: I was Bert and she was Ernie from PBS. Our childhood days played out like one long, extended episode of the B & E apartment segments on Sesame Street.
Can you see it? I was long-faced, yellow, and boring. Selena was round-faced, red, and full of mischief.
The day this photo was taken, I was modestly glad that I had won the contest. As a rule, I practiced coloring inside the lines for hours on end each week. My crayon box was my life. I knew I wasn't doing my best if the crayon strayed even into the blackness of the line, because if you tipped the picture in the light, the waxy mark was obvious against the outline. When my mom told me to stand against the bulletin board in the store, I felt it was my duty to smile, but all the fuss made me feel self-conscious.
Notice Selena: Could her smile be any bigger? Of course she was happy for me, but she admits to being happy for herself because she knew Mom and Dad would make me share my new stuff. I don't even think she felt guilty about that. Just happy. "Life is FUN, Bert! Hee Hee Hee."
Just like Ernie, Selena never wasted time worrying if someone liked her or not. Her extroverted, social butterfly, little self barged through life with zest and a loving heart. One of her major goals was to secure large amounts of time for having fun and enjoying herself. In this pursuit, I was her faithful Bert. Gullible sounds more poetic, though...
Once, during our younger years, Selena called up the staircase that Mom said the dishes had to get done. I grumbled downstairs and proceeded to wash away. When I had almost finished, Mom came in from weeding the garden and was taken by surprise. "What are you doing?" she asked. "You told me to do the dishes," I replied. Selena breezed though the room and casually dropped the hint that Mom had only told her the dishes had to get done. Selena had been outside reading Charlotte's Web or something. Apparently, it was all very funny.
Thankfully, one of Selena's other priorities was teaching her older sister (me) how to laugh. I was somber by nature, but Selena managed to coax some humor out of me anyway. An example of her commitment to my lightness of heart was "The Collection!": When I least expected it, she would take a snapshot of me looking my worst. She started an album, and hid it well so I couldn't destroy it. When I was feeling really bummed about life, she'd bring it out and point to one photo after another. She would laugh so hard at how ridiculous I looked and at the story behind it that eventually I would end up laughing too. She still treasures those obnoxious, compromising photos and adds to her "Collection" from time to time. If I had been an optimistic person, I might have held out hope of her outgrowing her pranks. Thank goodness I was a pessimist, because I would have been disappointed anyway.
So now, almost 30 years later, Selena is planning trips to exotic places and singing with the Beastie Boys as she drives to work. I am trying to get some rest without people bothering me, and talking of nothing besides my sheep. But as sisters, I believe we are more than the sum of "her plus me." What would I do if she didn't pester me into being silly? How would she get by if I didn't bring unsolicited, factual information to her attention?
I don't mind being Bert, as long as Ernie is around.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Holiday Gift Idea


My mom and dad make these Oriole Feeders using the waste end-cuts of cedar boards my husband saws at Boston Lake Mill.
They can hold oranges and grape jelly in the spring/summer and suet and bird seed in the fall/winter.
I think they are a great gift idea for folks who love birds and care about the environment. You also feel good about supporting a Minnesota small family business that values sustainability in the forest industry. Each feeder is a genuine True North Woods branded product.
The feeders can be shipped to you, or they can be shipped directly to the ones you wish to give a present to: making holiday giving easy. All the details are on my parents' website: Wille Lumber and Timber Inc.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Predictions

Judging from the mussed look of her, I'd say Windswept Northwind got bred today. This photo of her was taken on Monday though.
It may sound kind of weird, but we shepherds have to keep an eye out for these types of details. It's very handy to know the expected due date for each ewe. Special care can be made during the last week of pregnancy if one knows when the last week of pregnancy is. When I have to be away from the farm for more than a couple of hours during lambing season, I can put the ewe(s) closest to delivery in a jug before I leave so I know that if they come in the lambs will be protected from the elements. Or I'll put the close ewes in the barn at night just in case.
This year Northwind is being bred to fawn Katmoget, Bombarde, and I hope she gives me a fawn Kat ewe lamb or a musket ewe lamb. I won't be able to get those colors and patterns from any other ewe this year. Of course, I would also be pleased with a black Kat ewe or a grey ewe, but there is the chance that Anna Belle could give me those variations.
Notice I haven't mentioned a ram lamb of any color yet? I'm hoping to not get ram lambs from Northwind. I intend to sell her next year and I would like one more ewe lamb from her to keep in the flock, besides Rai Min. Those are my preferences. Only time will tell if I'll get what I hope for.
Northwind has the distinct fame at Boston Lake Farm for being the most protective dam. Fierce, shall we say? Yes, fierce. Fortunately, she is an excellent mother that does not need intervention. This shepherd doesn't have to crawl into her jug too often.
Until I separated Rai Min for breeding season, Northwind was still allowing her daughter to nurse, which probably explains why Rai Min is such a chunk. Northwind also throws lambs that are better than herself, when bred to a good ram. I like that about a ewe. So I am really looking forward to what this gal can give me next spring...right around April 20th I think.

Oh, Brother


Megan spent her whole first summer herding chickens. After they went to the coop, she started fixating on the sheep. Good.
Behold, a border collie completely focused on her flock. Wrong flock.
Megan would rather stare at the chicks than get pets and love. If they move she almost comes unglued because she wants to put them back into a chicky ball. I think Megan will be getting a lot of outdoor exercise until I can find a better place to put the chick box.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Harsh Reality


Two chicks have been lost. I found one of the remaining 4 outside of the cage. Clancy and I suspect the missing chicks wiggled out of the cage and were consumed by the other chickens. Is that possible? I know chickens will eat mice. It's the only explanation we can think of...unless an ermine snatched them...
We brought the last four chicks inside. Hopefully they will be safer in the house. We removed the cage from the coop. The hen will just have to adjust to the flock again because I really do draw the line at having full grown chickens in my house.
Clancy also threw the rest of the eggs away. They seemed a bit heavy. A seventh one was hatching yesterday and it never made it. The hen was also so busy with the chicks that she seemed to forget about the unhatched eggs.
I feel so bad that two chicks were lost in such a short time. I wish we had brought them in last night. But then last night there didn't seem to be a reason to separate them from their momma. Life is just not always smooth and free of loss. Even though I wish it could be.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!


So far 6 chicks have hatched. Some have feather feet like the hen. Some are clean legged like the rooster. All are bantam-sized. It's so cheerful to hear them peeping. They vigorously scratch at the crumbles and sip at the waterer. Then they scramble back to mommy and disappear under her wide body. Such tiny bits of fluff with so much life!
We Erickson's wish you a very blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Peeping Snowflakes

The boys have been anxious about the nest the broody hen is sitting on. I was about to loose hope for the eggs too. The mama has been faithful to the nest. But what if the eggs were damaged by cold before we transfered the nest to the coop?
Well, Clancy did chicken chores this morning after the boys were off to school. He came in to tell me he heard peeping in the coop. I could hardly believe it. When we lifted up the hen, there were four fuzzy little chickies and nine eggs in the nest. Tonight, there was another chick, not yet dry from it's hatching.
These chicks are the tiniest little miracles. Just beyond their mother's protective wings, winter is leaning heavily against the chicken coop. Low clouds sweep down with chill and frost. Inside the coop, fluffy chicky snowflakes are piling up.

Just in Time


Early this morning, I moved the electronet to some clean ground by the barn and added my new ram, SheltrgPines Bombarde, to the pen. Anna Belle and Northwind were delighted to meet him.
Northwind didn't even notice that I had just removed her eweling, Rai Min, to a barn stall. Rai Min noticed, though. She has not stopped her frantic crying yet. I have a theory that the trauma of separating a lamb from it's mother is a fixed measure. It doesn't seem to matter whether you wean early or delay the separation until adulthood. The distress the daughter experiences will be the same. Rai Min is crying in her pen, only able to see other sheep through the slats of her stall wall. Sian and Delyth, her older half sisters, are crying from their breeding pen. This is also the first time they have ever been separated from their mothers, and they are behaving like babies.
The maiden ewes around here might not be happy, but the shepherd is thrilled. I have been interested in Bombarde since Becky first brought him to Minnesota. Since then I have had the chance to see his first lamb crop at River Oaks and I was very impressed. A huge Thank You to you Becky, for bringing Bombarde all the way up to Grand Rapids. I am so excited to have him in my flock. He improves tails and hind quarters. He is F2 Roban Dillon. And he is also fully resistant to scrapie-RR/AA.
There are some other reasons that I like him too: Bombarde carries the pattern for Katmoget and Grey. So all of his lambs will be one or the other, unless covered up by a white pattern gene. Since I prefer the heathered look and the ability to dye the lighter fleeces, I'm looking forward to my spring lamb crop from him. He's also moorit based, so one of these days I might get a musket ewe lamb. After three years, I still don't own a moorit based ewe. I really would like that to change without having to buy one.
Bombarde also has the type of fleece I like to spin: soft and crimpy. It is a bit short but I actually like that. His River Oaks lambs were unbelievably soft and I'm hoping he contributes as well here at my farm as he did there. Bombarde is also not a hulk of a ram. He has masculine features, but he is smaller and finer boned than any of the other rams I have owned. Up to now, Clancy has been doing most of the ram handling. Small size was one of the Shetland traits that convinced me to choose this breed. I want my sheep to be small enough for me to handle. In the future I will try to use rams about Bombarde's size. Bombarde may also carry a polled gene. I've paired him up with Anna Belle in hopes of getting a ramling that might answer a few questions about both parents concerning their polled possibilities.
So now all of my breeding pens are together...just in time to let me focus on Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Where Wishes are Born


Two of three breeding groups are together as of this evening.
Unicorn, a yearling ram that has not been used to my knowledge, met Boston Lake Sian and Delyth for the first time. I hate to say it, but he thought he was pretty hot stuff and those girls were having none of it. He chased them around and around the pen. The two maiden ewes were concerned only with fact that their mothers were not there to protect them from the big white creep. After 10 minutes they were still anxiously baa-ing at the gate to go back to the ewe flock. Unicorn was panting with his tongue hanging out. He couldn't understand why the girls didn't fall in love with him at first sight. He fell in love with them at first sight!
Over in the other breeding pen, the scene was quite different. Old Allister was the quintessential gentleman toward experienced ewes, Rachel and Dolce. The pace was slow and courtly, and infinitely more effective. Neither of the girls were running away. (I'm thinking back to the first time I put Rachel in with a ramling. She was thoroughly disgusted with her situation and with me.)
Anna Belle, Northwind, and eweling Rai Min are still in the electronet by the barn. At the last minute, I decided to jump at the chance to buy a ram I've admired for a while. Hopefully, I'll be able to bring him home on Monday. He'll go in with these two ewes, while Rai Min will get pulled into the largest barn stall to wait out the breeding season.
Not only did the breeding groups get assembled today, but Clancy also trimmed the girls' hooves and gave them BoSe shots. I usually say "Clancy and I", but truthfully, I run the gates and doors and tell Clancy what to do. He does the hard stuff.
It felt good to get so much done. I have to keep my eyes open for breeding dates, and reintroduce the rams after breeding season, but most of the hard work is over. April 12 is the first possible lambing date. I'm hesitant to count my lambs before they hatch, but if things go well, next Spring will be the largest lambing I've ever had.
All winter long I'll be dreaming of the lambs I want: Hopefully Rachel will give me a blue-grey eweling. I hope Anna Belle passes on her incredible silky fine fleece. I would love to get a modified lamb from Dolce and Allister-technically a 50/50 chance. Northwind could give me a katmoget with a tiny tail. Please let Unicorn sire lambs that inherit his fleece.
Wish, wish, wish... That is what makes it so exciting to have more than one ewe lambing next spring-the chances are greater that some of my wishes will come true.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Choices


Clancy and I did some flock maintenance Sunday afternoon. We moved the ewes to the barn and reduced their electronet pen to one roll. The barn makes catching sheep a whole lot easier.
We also moved the rams into the two sturdy round pens. Each one got his hooves trimmed and his condition evaluated. We still have to trim the girls. That will happen next time Clancy and I have some daylight to spare.
This season is presenting some tough choices:
Mid October, on the advise of a consultant, I began force feeding a mineral mix to my flock. Forage tests have shown that my pastures contain less than half of the recommended mineral doses sheep are supposed to consume. Each lambing season was getting a bit more odd. And my first home-raised Shetland X Icelandic ewe actually had a weak lamb last spring at a different farm. (She was sold just a few months prior to lambing.) We suspect Selenium deficiency. I'm not a fan of force feeding any type of salt mixture. But I have noticed a large spike in water consumption. So I suspect my sheep were not eating much of their mineral free choice. So far I cannot see any negative affect from this change.
Our vet also recommended giving a BoSe shot this fall and then again next spring just after lambing. The bottle says not to administer the shot during pregnancy, so we need to give those shots very soon. I'm leery of giving these shots too. However, I've reassured myself that the shots might buy me some time to get soils amended, to get a mineral mix designed just for my farm, and to avoid a nightmare next lambing season.
I did not de-worm with commercial product this fall either. To make sure the sheep consume the salt I mix it with molasses, corn, and crushed alfalfa cubes. When I started this in October, I decided to add a portion of de as well, since the sheep had been without it all summer. One ewe expelled a few small worms. Everyone else looks good. Eyelids are pink. The flock was aggressively rotated on new pastures this summer. I will continue the de and keep my eyes open for any warning signs of worm load.
I took a good hard look at my rams yesterday too. Unicorn (the white ram shown above) will be used for the first time this season. His place here is secure. I won't part with him until I see some of his grown lambs.
Old Allister is quite bony. I've been feeding him supplements, he's been on good pasture all summer, and he is second in command to Uni. Because he was new to the farm this year, he was de-wormed not too long ago. For all that, and compared to the rest of the flock, he's not as stout as he should be. I am actually beginning to worry that this old boy is not going to have the easiest time of it over the winter. Then again, maybe he is one of those scrappy old gents that do better than one expects. Because I'm really wrestling with his condition issues, I have decided to use him on every ewe that he is not related to. That way, if I feel he needs to be put down when it gets cold, I will have captured his crimpy, dense, uniform fleece in my flock. Even if this is his last breeding season, he should be happy with so many girls in his pen.
Kavan was thoroughly examined on his way to the new pen. He has iset in his fleece now. But it is very uniform iset, if that makes sense. He still has a gorgeous, even, dense, crimpy fleece. And he is still a burly framed boy. Even his horn has begun to grow back-as if we has simply cut it off at skull level. But Kavan threw a ram lamb last spring that has just a slight under bite. So I checked Kavan's mouth, and sure enough, he has a slight under bite as well. I've seen worse. But considering Allister (Kavan's sire) has a perfect bite and no iset fibers, and that the two have almost identical structure, I have decided to put Kavan in the freezer. A very hard choice. His temperament is so good that it just breaks my heart. But I have three of his daughters, and they did not inherit his fault. So his contribution will be preserved.
Last, and Least, is little runty Tormey-the softest lamb I've ever produced. His fiber is just like a cloud. He's a darling little pest. He does have that slight under bite though, so I won't register him. We are hoping he will be worth butchering by next spring. This winter he can act as a companion to one of the big rams.
Breeding groups didn't really solidify in my mind until I had that good look at the rams on Sunday. I'm certain now how I will sort the girls-mostly: Allister will have Anna Belle, Rachel, Dolce, and Northwind. Unicorn will have Sian and Delyth. Tormey and his twin sister, Rai Min, will spend a couple of weeks in two separate areas of the barn. When I throw breeding groups together is any body's guess. I'd like to wait until December 1 for May lambs. But I want to get my electronet out of the ground early this year, so I might put them together sooner. One more choice to make.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Farewell Freedom


The new chicken coop requires a few more minor repairs before it is completely winterized: A board near the base needs to be nailed back on. Grandpa's old nesting boxes will have to get hung on the back wall. The two lambing jug gates should get removed and a real roost should get installed in the corner. But for now, all chickens are accounted for and living in the coop.
The chickens are not that happy about it. They seem fairly bewildered by their new confinement. Since May they have had the run of the farm. They roosted anywhere they pleased (always somewhere I didn't want them to.) They laid their eggs in places only the dogs could find. And they made sure the path from the parking spot to the back door was thoroughly pooped upon.
Yesterday brought great excitement for us on the chicken front: For quite a while, two of our hens, (a barred and a buff Brahma) have been roosting in some secret place. Then a few days ago, the Brahma disappeared altogether. We were so disappointed to loose her just when we finally had a coop for more protection. I was heartbroken because buff Brahma bantams are my absolute favorite type of chicken.
Yesterday morning she turned up to scratch with the rest of the flock. A while later, our youngest son called us outside because he had found something special-the Brahma sitting on 13 eggs in a little nest near the edge of the forest. We hadn't lost her at all, she had just gone broody. And our son had watched her carefully until she returned to her nest. With much care, we transferred her and her eggs to a wire rabbit cage that we placed in the new coop. We are really hoping at least some of the tiny eggs hatch out. This little hen has been roosting elsewhere for so long it is possible.
Last night we abducted the rooster and his three faithful hens from their roost just outside our dining room window. (They literally watched us eat our supper every night.) Our plan was to get all the chickens in the coop and then keep them in there. The chicken-napping was successful and we had 5 of the 6 fowl contained. We had searched long and hard for the last barred hen but couldn't find her.
As usual, our kids knew all about her hiding spot. Apparently she roosted in their favorite climbing tree-a cedar in the old windbreak. Sure enough, Clancy and I found her perched clear out at the end of a low limb-perfectly camouflaged. We had walked under her many times and would never have found her if the boys hadn't tattled on her.
So by 7 pm last night, all of our chickens were safely tucked into the coop. And there they shall stay until we get a fence built to enclose the tiny building. No more wild and free chickens until next summer. We were rewarded this morning with our first fresh egg of the year. Hopefully more will follow.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

"Chasing Blue Demons"


Clancy had another small show open last night in Bemidji at the Wild Hare Bistro. It will hang through the end of November.
After the reception, where we indulged ourselves with fabulous food created by the Wild Hare (love you guys!) we enjoyed another destination on the First Friday Art Walk: The Bemidji Community Arts Center.
Three incredible women artists are showing at the BCAC. The entire show, in three separate galleries, was so powerful and moving that I don't have the words to express how I felt. Paula Swenson, Susan Kedzie-Webb, and Bridget Riversmith created works that are worth seeing. SO worth seeing. I intend to visit a few more times to soak it all up before it is gone. I encourage others to take time to view this beautiful show, too.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Speechless

Last Sunday, Clancy finished installing the maple flooring in my kitchen. This was his birthday present to me, or so I thought.

I got busy vacuuming up the mess because our good friend, Gail, had just called to say she'd be over a little after noon. Clancy and I had decided a while back to hire Gail to build our cabinets, since she is an excellent cabinet maker and we love to have things in our house made by friends. I assumed Clancy had asked her over to take the measurements against the new flooring while he had the temporary sink-cupboard pulled out.

When I switched off the vacuum and walked through the kitchen to say "Hi" this is what I saw:

Gail and Clancy installing the exact cupboards I had drawn sketches of, over and over, for years.
I was undone.

It is a very humbling experience to realize people love you and care about you, want you to be happy, and were listening to you when you talked about your dreams.

This is the new cupboard that will hold the sink. We still have to install the counter top, the sink from the house I grew up in, and the hinges on the cabinet doors. (The first-choice hinges didn't fit because the wood used for construction was thicker than modern cabinetry.)
My dad gave Clancy the wood-gorgeous clear white pine. Clancy successfully conspired to have the cabinets built and he supplied the materials. Gail made the cabinets in record time. And even though I intend to paint them a creamy white, I think they are beautiful already. (the walls are not really electric yellow-more of a butter yellow)
Words cannot express how thankful I am to the friends and family in on the surprise. My mother took care of the boys the whole weekend so Clancy could get the floor finished in time. I did wonder about that, Mom. Selena kept the secret. Gail was absolutely silent. :) And my dear Mom-in-law gave me a new sink faucet for my birthday to celebrate the progress on the kitchen. You are all too good to me.
Even though we've been too busy this week to make any more progress on the kitchen, I sit on the floor in there every day, just admiring the beauty of what is to come. Needless to say, the dogs and their scratchy little toenails are drawn like magnets to the unblemished new flooring. They know they are not supposed to be in this room. But the kitchen does have the best sunshine in the house.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Big Red and the Incredible Hulk


Winter is on the way. Time to get a few things tucked in before the snow flies. As usual, a long series of steps are necessary to cross even a single task off the to-do list...
Objective: Get the chickens into a coop.
Two weeks ago the chickens were advertised for a ridiculous price in the local paper. My own boys and my young nephew were quite excited about spending the potential monetary gain until they realized they would have to say "good-bye" to the chickens. Oh, the tears. A nice young girl called about the chickens. I told her, reluctantly, they were no longer available.
I surrendered the cute little renovated playhouse to the "Save the Chickens" cause. It is the perfect size for a small flock of poultry. My small flock of sheep have outgrown it.
Challenge: Position the coop near the house.
The soon-to-be coop is sitting out in the middle of the sheep pasture. No security, no electricity, no chance I'm walking clear across the farm every freezing winter morning to feed chickens. Built on skids, the tiny building was designed to be portable. It does, however, require a bobcat or a tractor to pull it.
Facts: The bobcat is unavailable this weekend. I do not know how to drive the tractor myself. A hulking pickup truck is marooned in the only acceptable location for the coop.
Solution: Clancy.
Although my husband has plenty of more important things to do, I have reached the end of my patience with the whole chicken situation. I announced Thursday that the chickens would get moved this weekend. I am relatively sure Clancy agreed to my ultimatum because he intended to move some dirt with the tractor for a neighbor on Sunday anyway.
This evening, Clancy pulled the battery out of the old Massey and installed it in the old green Ford he uses perhaps once a year. (It was supposed to be the snowplow truck but the plow broke. So now we use it as our "in and out" vehicle during spring when the road is impassible with mud and we park our daily drivers two miles away at Mom and Dad's place.) Being the primitive beast that it is, the Ford roared to life with a ferocious spew of blue smoke. Temporarily engulfed, it chugged away from it's heavy cloud of fumes to it's new resting spot beside the shed that used to be a chicken coop. Then my dear husband lugged the battery out of the truck and back to the rarely used tractor. Being the primitive beast that it is, the tractor roared to life with a ferocious spew of blue smoke...
Clancy took a run up and down the driveway with the back blade since he had the thing running. Tomorrow he'll crawl the tractor two miles an hour toward the neighbor's house which is three miles away. When he returns, from what he estimates will be a four hour job, he will pull the new chicken coop into position and I will cease to nag him about it. I seriously wonder if he has factored travel time into his schedule. We shall see...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Trumpeter Swans



Since last Friday, Trumpeter Swans have been flocking to Boston Lake. They seem to be gathering together for their upcoming migratory flight.
One pair of swans, and their two pearly grey cygnets, have been on the lake for quite a few weeks. They swim as a family unit distinct from the incoming swans.
On Saturday morning, as I drove past the south end of the lake where the road actually is the shoreline, I counted fourteen swans. They were so close to the road that I held my breath and slowed the truck. Incredible. Eventually they drifted farther away from the shore and I went on my way.
Later that same day I snapped this photo. Unfortunately, I had just adjusted the camera to produce the least-dense image possible. Again, I missed my opportunity to share a really stunning photo of these magnificent birds. But I will never forget the awesome beauty of seeing so many Trumpeters at once.

Friday, October 19, 2007

It's Going to be a Great Day!



I love this day. For the longest time I thought I was the only person on Earth that was fortunate enough to have October 19th be her birthday. My condescending little self felt just a tiny bit sorry for everyone else. The day I discovered that thousands of other people were born on this same day I burned with indignation and jealousy. Obviously, I had a lot to learn about sharing!
I usually dig out my old photo albums the night before my birthday, so I can reminisce over years past. Last night, as I looked back at my childhood photos, I noticed that my mother always took great pains to make my birthday a special day for me. Thank you, Mom.
Birthdays were pretty simple back then, but they were shared with people I loved. Mom always made a beautiful cake. The cake was always served on the very-special-and-oh-so-novel-rotating-cake plate that played "Happy Birthday" like a music box. I got to wear my best dress around the house. Mom fixed my hair and sometimes put ribbons in it. My grandparents were invited over for the evening, as well as my cousins and neighbor friends. And as hard as it was to bear back then, I got to savor the anticipation of opening my presents all day long. The experience was one I looked forward to with delight every year. And even though I keep getting older, I still feel a sense of celebration over the fact. Which is way better than dreading it...I did that when I turned 30 and it was no fun.
It has become a habit to reflect on my life around my birthday. I'm a whole year older. Am I where I want to be? Usually there is at least one glaring problem that I resolve to give attention to in the coming year. This year there are two. (Truthfully there are dozens but I asked God to help me narrow it down into a realistic goal.) One is largely spiritual. The other is purely domestic:
1. Taken directly from Beth Moore's Breaking Free Bible study: "Being created for God's glory means two marvelous truths to those who are called by His name: *God wants to make Himself recognizable to us* and *God wants to make Himself recognizable through us*" This statement fell into my heart and illuminated areas of my life that are sorely lacking in commitment to Christ. I feel very compelled to focus on this in the coming year. I also feel relief, because I knew something wasn't right in my soul, but I hadn't really identified it. I believe God answered my prayer for a clear direction.
2. I must make cleaning my house a habit. When it comes to housework, I feel just like Jonah when he was asked to go to Nineveh: I run in the opposite direction. Last night I listed things I would rather do and (this is gross) treating full blown fly strike on my ram's head wound ranked higher than doing the dishes. Something has to change. I used to pray that I would learn to enjoy house chores. Now I'm just going to pray for the self discipline to DO them. This means I will be singing aloud to my Roger Miller CD at the top of my lungs at least once a day to drown out the voice in my head screaming "I hate this job!" I'll have to employ the CD, because I know for a fact I have never accomplished more than 5 consecutive minutes of house cleaning without it. Hopefully my family is willing to audibly suffer for a more organized home.
So what am I going to do on this blustery October birthday of mine?
I'm going to shower with rose scented soap this morning. Then I'm going to put on somthing that matches the gorgeous scarf my dearest friend, Kimberly, sent me. (Thank you, thank you! I love it!!) After that I'm going to drive to Gonvic to discuss my farm soil's mineral deficiencies with a nutritionist that can provide a custom mineral/salt mix for my flock of sheep. If all goes well, the boys and I will stop for ice cream while we are up there. Back at home I will have to clean house! and get the boys ready to go camping. Drop them off with their chaperons. Then get myself ready to be surprised. Clancy hasn't revealed what his plan is, but he mentioned that I would probably want to put on clean clothes. (Translation: "Please be wearing something besides rubber boots and that nasty barn coat by 5:30pm.") Sounds like fun...whatever it is.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rachel and Her Flock


I just love my girls!
Now that it's fall, I have a lot of flock maintenance to do. The ewes need to be evaluated for internal parasites and de-wormed if necessary. They also need their hooves trimmed. Our soft clay soil doesn't wear the hoof material away very well.
These aren't really hard jobs. I just set up my three sided catch pen made out of cattle panels. I install it between the place where two rolls of electronet meet. Then I feed the girls their corn treat in there for a few days until they don't worry about stepping in and out of the small space. Once their flight response has been sufficiently dulled by greed, I close it and capture the flock.
The trick is to catch Rachel. (The grey ewe front and center in the photo) She's a savvy ewe that has no desire to be my pet. I usually defer to her preferences because, after all, she is the matriarch and I respect her judgement. But I can't just let her run wild through the countryside without hoof trimming and shearing. So twice a year, I have to employ the catch pen. In the spring I use it to take her out to pasture. In the fall I use it to bring her back up to the pens near the house. The rest of the girls would follow me and a grain bucket. Those girls are greedy little cuddle-bugs that won't leave me alone. I usually can de-worm each of them without the rest of the flock even catching on to the fact that, one by one, I'm sticking a syringe into their mouths. But not Rachel. She always knows what's up.
The last two times I used the catch pen, Rachel refused to go into it with the rest of the flock. She decided to forgo the corn for the sake of her independence. Eventually, I got fed up and just took the other ewes to the destination. Rachel was left behind in the old pen. By the time we got back from working with the other ewes, Rachel had accepted her fate. I put the pen back by her fence, opened it up, put corn inside, and waited. She walked right in. I let her eat the corn. Then she willingly walked toward the flock while Clancy and I pulled the pen in that direction. (I suppose it's hard to be queen without one's subjects.)
It's rather tedious to accommodate Rachel and her demand for special treatment. She's a smart ewe, though, and I've learned to respect her decisions the way I accepted my grandmother's decisions. I always think of Rachel as older and wiser than myself. In the end, Rachel is the easiest ewe to handle. She dislikes being caught, but once she is caught, she accepts the situation with grace and cooperation. Her more friendly underlings are perfectly willing to be caught, but they are exceedingly intolerant of being parked on their hind-ends to get their toenails clipped. Rachel is a dream to trim and shear.
So that is what I have to look forward to: 6 ewes that are happy to walk into the catch pen, and 1 ewe that refuses to do so. 1 ewe that sits quietly for manicures, 6 ewes that try to turn themselves inside out to escape the insulting shepherd. I better get busy if I'm going to have those girls ready to meet the rams by Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Surprise...

Last night I tried and tried to get one of my good autumn photos to load. I was so tired of grey in all my posts. I wanted some color! But those photos were too dense for my dial-up.
Look what I woke up to this morning. SNOW! And lots of it. With my grainy old cam-corder I snapped this picture of a sumac branch against the snow. It will have to suffice for the color I craved since the whole farm turned shades of grey last night. I took it around 7am so the light was pretty bad too. You probably get the idea though.

The winter storm really raged last night. Winds were strong from the west and they coated everything with more than 2 inches of wet, dense snow. Snow ball snow.
I took a little walk this morning only to find my lilac bushes by the lake and the round pen bent low under the oppressive weight of clinging ice and mush. They looked like drop cookies pressed down with a fork.
The electronet around the ram pen was down in three places. I can hardly believe I didn't have rams all over the yard this morning. It would have been easy for them to just step right over the fence buried in the snow. I'm grateful they decided to behave.

Monday, October 8, 2007

North Side-Completed!


Here it is...the north side of the house with all of it's siding. Woohoo!
We worked in the light rain yesterday to finish the last bit of siding and repair the fascia.
The scaffolding was too high for our ladders so Clancy had to crawl in and out of the bedroom window. He reminded me of when we were actually building the house...we used to tromp in and out of any window hole on the second floor. There was also a huge pile of sawdust inside where the boards got cut.
It seems like a snail's pace to get the siding finished. But we've come so far. To get a better perspective it does help to look back at where we were last year at this time.
Onward to the South Gable Peak!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sunday Brunch Buffet


North Side-Continued 2


We almost made it up to the gable peak last night. But not quite. There are about 6 boards left to go. Clancy stained most of it by the light of a large halogen bulb while I made pancakes for our late supper.
Heavy rains moved in early this morning. We have some pre-stained boards we can hang if the conditions under that peak are not too wet. The piece of fascia that blew down in a storm can be reinstalled. Then we can remove the scaffolding and celebrate one more side completed.
(Except for the tiny amount needed to frame the front door. But that can't be completed until the door frames are put in. We hope to achieve that this fall still, but the larger areas are priority right now.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Here...Chick Chick Chick...



Red Light-Green Light! It's a long name for a hen, I know. But this little chicken plays the game so well, it is a fitting moniker.
All of our 6 chickens were bought from our local kindergarten class when they were little puff balls. Teacher pried them from the death grip of 5 year-olds with sticky fingers and put them in a little cardboard box for us. Needless to say, those chickies fled from human touch the minute we set them loose on the farm.
Well, a few weeks ago I noticed this hen seemed to be nearby quite often. Pretty soon she was constantly 3 inches off my heel. If I turned to look at her, she froze. I guess I didn't see her if she stood still.
Of course, if I was on my way to give a bit of treat to the ewes, I'd toss a bit to this hen. Admittedly, I was flattered that she had decided to take an interest in the people that supposedly run this farm. All I have to do now is step out the back door and this biddy comes hustling across the yard to greet me.
Eventually, the rest of the flock caught on to our little game and the rooster had to take charge of the situation. He sprints into second place so Red Light-Green Light doesn't get all the credit for the corn. He likes to keep the other hens thinking he has something to do with the bounty raining from the short heaven that is my old ice-cream pail. Surely, it must be his crow that calls down the manna.
Plump little Red Light-Green Light follows me even after the scratch has been flung. Maybe she thinks I have something better in my pail just for her. And what do you know: a few kernels left that I offer in my hands. She gingerly pecks them up. I gently reach out to stroke her feathers since she is so near. NOPE-that's not going to happen! She maneuvers just out of reach. Too many memories of kindergarten class, I guess.

Monday, October 1, 2007

North Side-Continued



Well...we've had some delays. The weather didn't cooperate this weekend for us. Reinforcing the scaffolding also took a lot more work than planned. But you really don't want to be that high up with a support hanging by one nail.
This morning I had to run to town to get another gallon of stain. This afternoon I used the sunny weather to pre-stain a bunch of long boards. When we work on the peaks it is nice to not have to return to that height to stain everything.
Last night, Clancy called me out to see the view of the house shown in the second photo. I cried. It was the first time in all these years that I have seen this angle of the house with siding and without scaffolding. I think it looks beautiful-even with the construction mess.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sally



I don't like to think about it, but my Sally is getting old. She's at least 11 years old, maybe more. We don't know exactly because she was a stray my aunt Lori rescued from alongside a road.
Greta is funny. Meg is outgoing. But Sally is the best dog we have ever had. She reads our minds. She's completely loyal. She worries about us worse than a mother hen. She always seeks to please. She also has lovely manners.
Our staircase has a turn in it. Sal claimed the landing as her own when we first moved into our house. She peers down at our family life from her vantage point until something interests her enough to bring her clicking down the stairs. Greta and Meg do not disturb her favorite place. The boys love the idea that she is watching out for them if they come down in the night for a drink of water.
Thankfully, Sally is still very spry. She is always game for a walk or a tussle with Meg. The other dogs do not cross her authority. She takes her job of guarding the farm very seriously. Though she favors guarding the landing more and more. She likes her tie-dyed bean bag there. But who would blame an 11 year old dog for that.
Yesterday, while I was helping Clancy side the house, I noticed a chipmunk brazenly eating from the chicken feeder out in the yard. Greta was lounging on the porch and we tried to send her after it. She took note of the little varmint. She pricked her ears when it bounded away via the nearby dog kennel. She returned to her lounging. So much for that.
About an hour later we noticed the chipmunk was back at the feeder. This time Sally was lounging on the porch. I pointed out the rodent to her and she was off like a bullet. The chipmunk dove for the safety of a pile of lumber. But Sal's snout was only a hair's breadth behind it and she jerked the little beast out from it's hole. In one fluid motion she flipped it into the air, snapped it's backbone in one bite and brought it to my feet. Amazing. She must still feel pretty good if she can move that quickly.
I wish she would always be with us. Sally is the dog that taught me how much I love dogs. I can't even pretend that she didn't train me. Each dog that has been a part of my life has been dear to me. But I know Sally is the first dog to teach me that I am dear to her. She is special in ways I cannot describe. I can't teach another dog to be like her. Her presence is simply a gift from God-and from my aunt Lori who trusted me with her.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

North Side


This is the north side of the house as of noon today. Winds are gusting up to 30 miles an hour so Clancy is taking a bit of time to add reinforcement to some of our scaffolding. Hopefully by this evening I can snap a photo that shows some progress. Rains are supposed to move into our area by tonight.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Trumpeter Swans


Today couldn't be more beautiful: blue sky, drifts of brown crunchy leaves piled up against every windbreak...
The swans were floating just off the shoreline of Boston Lake this morning. They moved farther out into open water as I approached to take their photo. Too bad I only had my ancient digital cam-corder on hand. Trumpeters are exquisitely beautiful, and that was not exactly captured with this shot.
More beautiful than its gracefulness is the voice of the Trumpeter. These swans do call out quite loudly when they are alarmed or when they greet incoming swans, or fly over the farm. But they talk to each other quietly out on the lake as well. The honk is so subtle that it seems one shouldn't be able to hear it. Except that its purity rings through the air like the clearest chime of a bell.
The whispers of swans to each other can't fully be described. I scarcely believed in its reality the first time I heard it. All I have been able to liken it to in my own mind is the sound attributed to angles' trumpets in the Bible...heard from the distance of heaven.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rai Min



This little gal is my Spring '07 keeper lamb. Her name is Rai Min. If she develops into the type of ewe I want in my flock, next year I will register her as Boston Lake Rai Min.
Even though she is a chunk of a lamb (almost as big as her yearling half-sisters) Rai Min will not be joining a breeding pen this fall. She and her dam will take the season off together in their own pen, and then they will join the ewe flock after the rams are pulled out.
My reasons for not breeding ewe lambs here at Boston Lake Farm are based on our resources and my gut feeling. I really want to see that second fleece coming in before I decide whether or not to retain a ewe for breeding. Our weather is harsh and our soil is poor in mineral content. My lambs develop at a slower pace than lambs at other farms I've visited. A full year and a half of growth before the first pregnancy gives me a chance to evaluate a sheep for size, final conformation, fleece, temperament, and thriftiness under my conditions. Since my farm is only three years old, my breeding ewes are still the foundation ewes I bought from other farms. Boston Lake's first registered lambs (Sian and Delyth) will be bred this fall. My dream is to one day have the flock name, Boston Lake, represent a Shetland sheep that fits my ideal as well as thrives on my farm land with minimum input. I don't expect that to happen over night, but I do dream about it almost every night.
Rai Min is quite a bit bigger than her twin brother, Tormey. He had some setbacks as a young lamb. First he contracted Lyme's Disease which kept him from eating until he felt better. Then I pulled him off his dam a little early to keep his sire company while Kavan's broken horn healed. Then he contracted a non-contagious form of pneumonia. Since he was in a large outdoor pen at the time, we think it was from inhaling something (manual) or maybe just from all the stress in his life. Kavan was pretty good with him, but the little guy certainly did get the short end of the stick in his daily life. His pathetic little situation came to a head the day I put him and Kavan out on grass near the other two rams. To prove his masculinity to the rams across the way, Kavan ran poor Tormey ragged and mounted him several times. Quite literally, Tormey was flattened by the weight of the larger ram. He was pulled from the situation immediately and could hardly walk. Back in his own pen, he got special attention and recovered in a few days. However, the trauma of that event with Tormey cemented my decision to not breed ewe lambs. I know if ewe lambs are big and strong enough they can do it. And if they get extra feed during their pregnancy they can do it. But even though I'm very pleased with Rai Min's growth for the summer-I don't think she is ready for an adult ram. I don't have a ramling to pair her with. I'm not really sure of how soft her second fleece will be. And I do not have space and facilities to feed her separately all winter long.
Slow practices, such as not breeding ewe lambs actually make a lot of sense for a small farm like mine. At least for a small farm with my goals. It reduces the number of lambs I have each spring, which in turn reduces the amount of lambing space I have to prepare for. I only need extra pens for that short time span of breeding season. Otherwise, there is one ewe pen and one ram pen. Going slowly also reduces the number of lambs I have to make decisions about every year. I haven't developed a market for my lambs yet. So far I've been able to keep the best and eat the ones that don't match my standards. My Shetlands don't bring in much money this way, but they do contribute greatly as homestead livestock. They are my beautiful pets, my interesting genetic project, my wool providers, my lawn mowers, and one of my meat supplies. Quite a contribution for a non-income-generating venture.
Rai Min will have her first chance to contribute to my flock goals next fall. She has awesome conformation and a tiny tail. Her ear set and her bite are excellent. She carries moorit recessive. And even though I was not wild about her birth coat, she is softer than I expected last time I had a chance to pet her. She was also quite crimpy, which was a pleasant surprise as well. If Rai Min can produce a lamb with her good conformation and growth ability, as well as a softer fleece than her own, she will probably replace her dam in the flock. That is my hope for her.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

South and West



Here's what the house looked like on Thursday. We've done quite a bit more work to the North side, which you can't see from this angle,since then. I'll take a picture of that when it's finished.

Autumn Glory



My favorite season is in full color: AUTUMN. This photo is looking across our hayfield. I took it last Thursday while it was very windy and raining leaves. I think Autumn is even more temporal than Spring. Each day less and less is golden. Each day more vitality is lost for the year. With Spring, each day unfolds the promise further. Autumn requires us to say goodbye.
Today the wind is blowing again and whole trees are bare now. The Ash and Basswood are the first to fall. The Aspens are still green. When most of the other trees have lost their beautiful leaves, the Aspens will stun the barren dun-colored landscape with brilliant yellow. As they shed their color it looks like gold coins are falling from the sky.
Each day I can see farther into the forest. The atmosphere thins and the air becomes crisp. No wonder civilizations considered Autumn to be the one time of year when the veil between this world and then next is the most transparent. As the chlorophyll dies in each leaf, more light can pass through. Foliage seems lit from within. As the density of the forest decreases, we can see through that which could not be penetrated by light or view before.
My birthday is approaching. I naturally begin to reflect upon my life before I turn a year older. Maybe it is the season. It seems all of Nature is gathering herself to the quiet refuge of slumber. But before she rests, Nature says her prayers and praises God.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Relax


My son took this photo. Greta is all conked out, and Chloe is surveying her domain in a reclined pose. How I love the way animals can completely relax.
Selena called me today on the cell; just to ask me how I was. I guess I've been a little stressed lately. The pain in my neck and shoulder is flaring again. And I've got a lot on my mind: Lots of decisions to make and not really a clear idea of which direction to go.
I've been praying about it. I have faith everything will work out for the best.
Now if only I could nap in the sunshine with my pets all day instead of behaving like a grown-up...wouldn't that be grand? :)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Success!

I love this photo of Dolce. It was taken the first year she lived here. She looks so serious, which is misleading: in fact, Dolce is a lovey-dove.
Today I started staining the siding that was hung yesterday by Chuck and Clancy. Thank you again, Chuck, for all you have done to help us with our house. I began at 9 am. When Clancy got home from work around 11am, we put up more siding. By 3:30pm, when it started to rain, we had the entire west end of the house sided and stained all the way up to the peek of the gable! WooHoo! Clancy would call out measurements and install the boards, while I cut the boards and ran them up the ladder to him. We made quite the pair: he's very afraid of heights and I get vertigo easily. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. We pushed ourselves to finish the staining and all the details because we knew we'd never convince ourselves to go up there again once we came down.
I would have taken a photo to share if it hadn't started raining. Thunderstorms and showers are likely tomorrow as well. Won't be able to side until it dries out. Then we have to shimmy up another one of the gables. I'm not going to think about it until I have to.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A lot for one week

This week started out with a shock. A family friend and distant relative of Clancy's died suddenly. He was not very old; he and Clancy graduated together. He left behind a wife and 12 year old son. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.
My little moorit ram lamb continues to cough and is in isolation while he receives his shots of LA200. Tormey (who has been nicknamed LeRoy) is very vocal about his displeasure with this situation. Anytime he hears a voice, he starts in with his baa's. I've learned to ignore it for the most part.
Thursday morning we put all three mature rams into a small enclosure so they would get used to each other. They tousled as much as they could in the limited space. After 48 hours the rams were standing side by side to eat the bit of hay without a fuss so I decided to put them out together. The minute Kavan was released he faced off Unicorn. They charged about 5 times before Kavan accepted defeat. By that time he had broken off the last stub of his injured horn and had blood pouring down the side of his face. I got him all wiped off and praised God we were expecting frost that night. The idea of treating him for months again just exhausted me. I decided to do minimum intervention this time around. I would keep Swat on the wound and if he started going downhill I would butcher him. That was not a fun decision. I just checked on him again and he has a large scab across the entire hole where his horn used to be. I decided to leave it and just apply the Swat since it is supposed to be warm today. I am truly hoping he will be OK in the long run.
Friday I spent the whole day in town doing errands and buying supplies to make placards for Dad's business. Foolishly, I wore high heels. I seriously need to hem my favorite pants. Friday evening I made all those placards using foam core, tag board, card stock, and the computer. I think they turned out really sharp; and Mom said some folks commented yesterday on how nice they looked.
Saturday, most of my family went to Grand Rapids to help Dad with his booth in the Goods from the Woods Show . I really wanted to go but Clancy and I needed to use the good weather to side the house. And that is what we have been doing since yesterday morning. Except for the two hours that the electricity was out. It was quite windy Saturday and a tree fell on the overhead wires that come across the lake to us. When the utility truck finally pulled up and the guys got out to let us know they had the problem fixed, Tormey ran up to the fence beside them and bawled until his horrible cough set in. How embarrassing.
Today is more of the same-Siding. Hopefully the electricity will stay on and we'll get a lot done.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Button Holes

My mother-in-law, Nancy, is a fantastic lady. She's funny, she has never meddled in my marriage to her son, she spoils my boys with all the things they never get at home (ice-cream bars, cable TV...), she always remembers what I want for Christmas, and she lets me go on about my animals. (She actually asks how they are doing and everything.) Nancy is even more wonderful than all that, but I figure the animal part sums it up. How many people let me talk about my animals...really? Why do you think I started this blog?

What's more, Nancy never listens to the lame excuses I make up when I'm trying to stall for time. She knows what's good for me...

A little background knowledge: Machines scare me. Maybe I should describe that better: Machines give me anxiety attacks. I will do almost anything to avoid using a machine-especially one I've never used before.
(Think-gas pumps, automatic check outs, photo processors.) In spite of my fear of machines, some of the things I want to do most in life-like make wrap-around skirts, and spin lots of wool-sort of require the use of more sophisticated tools. Yes, one can use a needle and thread and spindle the old fashioned way-believe me, I do those things already, quite often. But I have limited free time. I have analyzed my situation and come to the conclusion that I would tackle larger projects if a machine were involved. A machine such as the dreaded... Sewing Machine: cue the lightening bolt and thunderclap, please.


Quite a few years back, Nancy offered to teach me how to use her sewing machine. I loved the idea but I wiggled away from the task of actually confronting that machine as often as I could. Sometimes Nancy would introduce a lesson about the machine. My chest would constrict, the blood in my ears would throb, and my eyes glazed over like a deer in the headlights. Desperately I would make up an excuse to put the whole ordeal off until another day.
Nancy's a smart lady, though. At some point she must have realized I would never willingly sit down to that machine. So she laid a trap, like a spider with it's prey, to snare me into learning something new. (A really nice spider-think Charlotte's Web) One day when I made a quick stop for tea at her house, she asked me to look at the baby quilt she was piecing together for me. (I had done all the embroidery work.) She told me to take a seat. Much to my horror, the machine was on, and completely cued up to sew that quilt. All I had to do was press my foot down on the peddle. There was no polite way to bolt from the room. In my state of shock, Nancy's voice was very far from my ears, but I did manage to do what she told me. And there I was-zipping along. Everything was pinned out for me: all I had to do was sew. It turned out to be a lot of fun.

She taught me how to knit the same way: I put it off forever. She decided it was time. I came over for tea to find myself seated in her rocker with a pair of needles in my hands that already had stitches cast on. I got my tea after I finished a few rows. I was hooked.
Several weeks ago, Nancy asked me to help her figure out the button hole mechanism on her new sewing machine. A few years ago she had given me her old machine as a gift. Of course, I put it off-I know, very lame. So a week ago she announced she would bring her project up to my house on Saturday and I could do the button holes for her. Part of me panicked, the other part of me knew there was no getting out of it short of one of us getting really sick. And I wasn't too sure my health would count in that off-chance possibility. I was stuck. Worse, I worried about it all week.
Along comes Saturday. I used pen and paper to record every minor detail of how Nancy set up her old familiar button hole attachment. I sat down when I was told to. I resisted grabbing the fabric when the machine started to run away with it. And I made a button hole. Simple. It was SO easy. I made another one, and another one, and another one. (It was a long button-up dress) Next thing I knew there were no more button holes to sew. It was delightfully fun.
And so, once again, my dear mother-in-law triumphed over my stubborn fear of all things mechanical. I love her for it!
With her help over the years, I have learned how to sew and knit. And I've learned that I can actually deal with things that have moving parts. I even had the guts to try out the peddles on a spinning wheel at Becky's house. Now I want one of those too. Nancy, thank you so much for having patience with me and believing in me. I love to knit. I can sew to "save my life." And now I'm a whiz at button holes! You're the best M-I-L anyone could ask for!