Thursday 30 October 2014

Get Away

It's hard to get away from the farm.  Animals require feeding at least once a day, at least those inside or on limited pasture.  Water is essential and should be freshened.  With the coyote situation it is harder to get away, even for a few hours of running errands.

I requested daughter attend her PhD convocation as she had not attended any other graduation ceremonies.  Knowing the date of this event and noting it was one week prior to my mother's 75th birthday, I suggested to my siblings we get together the day following the convocation since I'd be in town.  Unfortunately, our sister was planning to be away.  On the one hand, kudos to her for landing a series of speaking engagements in Australia.  On the other hand, she would be absent for these family events.

We mustered together a number of folks to check on the animals and feed and water over the two full days we would be away.  The beast requiring the most interaction was Beau dog.  And counting sheep was a task to be done numerous times on account of the coyote situation.  It all came together beautifully.

A couple from up the road came by twice on Friday and once on Saturday afternoon to count sheep, play with Beau and feed him dinner.  Apparently, he bonded with Ruby and they are now best buddies.  Another friend came and stayed overnight, checking critters and amusing Beau.  On my antiquated cell phone I received text message updates, photos and videos - which would not play.  The photos included Beau on the couch, happy chickens eating breakfast, and Ruby in her usual spot at the gated doorway of the Big Barn.  And on the Friday night, before our friend arrived, the neighbour-girl did evening chores, feeding everyone and locking up the sheep for the night.  It was  truly a community effort that allowed us to attend the family events.  We are very appreciative of the many hands that allowed us to get away.

Okay, we do look alike a bit, mother and daughter.  We are all very very proud of this very awesome young woman and her amazing accomplishments.  We will miss her as she sets up house in California for a few years for her post-doctoral at CalTech.  She and her husband - yes, they will finally live together in one place, in one country - are coming here for Christmas.

Before heading out to lunch at a restaurant we met at Mom's for a visit - she had yummy chocolate.  Sister's absence was filled with her photograph :)  She was certainly there in spirit.  Happy 75th Birthday, Mom!

When we arrived home on Saturday evening all was in good order.  We each headed off to do respective evening chores.  The sheep were already in the barn, peacefully lying down and chewing their cud.  Their 'dog-thing', Ruby, thumped her tail on the ground in excitement.  As long as she stays low and down they don't whack her.  Less and less do I find her in her pen; she stays in the larger area with the sheep.  The chickens were roosting and their egg laying Christmas light rope which is on a timer was still on to brighten things up.

I fed those who needed feeding, checked water, gathered a few stray eggs and tucked up everyone for the night.  We petted Millie and Beau and unpacked ourselves, finding our respective comfort zones and tasks to get settled back into home. 

Saturday 18 October 2014

Atypical Friday

Not a typical, but atypical.  I know of no one else who has ever spent a Friday this way.

As I walked up behind the barn I saw hubby's car.  He was home early.  I saw him and called out to him.  "Get your rifle, Honey."  He could see I had mine.  I'd been out for an hour and finally found the carcass.  The sheep 'notified' me when I saw them rushing around the barn, herded in tightly, heads and ears up, eyes half looking behind them.

I'd been in to town earlier and so my rifle was locked up tight.  I ripped through the procedure to get it out, grabbed the ammunition, a coat, hat and jumped into the easy to don rain boots.  I tried counting the sheep but they were jittery and jambed together.  It's easier to count them when they are spread out.  I counted twenty-six three times and did not want to believe that one was missing.  After all, I often had to count three times before I actually got twenty-seven. 

Millie had come into the field with me.  Only a half hour before she and Ruby and I had been out with the sheep for over an hour.  We had been exploring the bush alongside the field.  I had collected some old glass bottles.... 

Millie went right up to the sheep and nuzzled their faces, a behaviour I had not yet seen.  I had not seen Millie try to get this close to a sheep nor had I seen the sheep allow her to get that close.  They were not feeling good and Millie knew something big was up.  Since Ruby's arrival the sheep have been more accepting of Millie.  Unlike Ruby - I refer to her as their 'dog-thing' - who is full of puppy playfullness, Millie is calm and clearly is trying to make them safe as she heads out to the field first thing each morning.  Millie is once again trying to befriend the sheep but they are not the sheep with whom she was once best buddies.  It remains confusing for Millie and as much as Ruby is very grounded at the barn, Millie avoids going into the Big Barn.

Together hubby and I walked out to the field and surveyed the scene.  I had brought my camera to take photos of the carcass.  The sheep were grazing restlessly nearby.  They had followed me out the second time I went out to search. 

At first I did a quick check of the field.  I could see neither a carcass or coyote in the field.  I went back to the barn and counted sheep again.  I counted fourteen ewes and thirteen lambs.  Clearly, a lamb was missing.  I made a mental note of my favourites and they all seemed to be present.  I know, I shouldn't have favourites....  Now I knew I had to find the missing lamb.  I searched the entire field edge, looking closely into the brush.  At the very end of my search, there it was - a dead lamb with grass still in its mouth, chewing unfinished.  He was still warm.  I looked at my watch and sixty-five minutes had now passed since I first looked up from my desk and saw the frightened sheep at the barn.

Hubby was all decked out in his hunting clothes.  These allowed him to be camouflaged, warm and somewhat waterproof.  In addition I sprayed him down, including the soles of his feet, with a no-scent product to allow him to be less known to Mr. Coyote.  It was now about 3:15 pm; he'd gotten home early and was now at work in a different capacity.  I would not see him again until just before seven.  He lay in wait for Mr. Coyote to return to the carcass while I took the sheep back to the Front Field near the barn.

I spent an hour on the phone trying to figure out how to navigate the system(s) to get a Livestock Evaluator to accept my application for compensation for the coyote loss.  This was our fifth loss - plus a major and expensive injury - seventh attack, and tenth sighting.  Hearing them is in addition to these stats.  I could no longer go without compensation; I was losing too much money.  Dear reader I am sparing you the details of the challenge of navigating a contradictory government bureaucratic maze.  I managed to arrange for the Evaluator to come the next evening. 

The Friday evening barbecue plans were postponed.  I had put soup in a double boiler on low so it would be hot and ready whenever we wanted it.  I puttered around outside for the evening, awaiting hubby's return.  I was near the sheep and the dogs, observing behaviours and ensuring safety.  I cleared out a shed and set up for salting hides which I would retrieve from the butcher and then salt to preserve them until ready to ship to the tannery for finishing.  In addition I retrieved from the shed the heated buckets I would need when the freezing temperatures required them. I put up a few items for storage and in the process secured a few rodent passageways into the shed.

I was putting the sheep into the barn when hubby appeared at the back gate.  "I'll help you"  I called out.  It is very awkward to navigate the secured gate with a rifle in hand.  He was
cold and had had enough.  There was no longer sufficient light for the task at hand.  Together we lifted the heavy lamb into the wheelbarrow.  We put it in the big box stall in the Small Barn where it was safe from scavenging and so that the Evaluator could look at it the next day.

There was a fleeting visit by a coyote.  It quickly circled the carcass.  It was so quick that hubby does not recall seeing it's head or tail.  It seemed to be assessing the situation and the return of the entire family was a distinct possibility.

We were away the next day attending a prior commitment -  a gun course, my third one, all part of this new life punctuated with unwelcome visits by coyotes.  The sheep were not put out back but left in the Front Field.  Both Millie and Ruby are very attentive to the sheep when they are in this field.  When we got home I only had to count them once to get the right number, now twenty-six:  fourteen ewes and twelve lambs.

The compensation I will receive - providing all bureaucratic hoops are jumped - is far less than would have been earned had the male lamb lost instead gone to the butcher's next week.  As the Evaluator was leaving this evening he said he has been at one sheep farm seven times in two weeks for many losses, and the farmer has already shot two coyotes during that time.  This does put things into perspective.  Yet, it is such a shame to lose lambs in such a worthless way.  I feel very little control when these things happen. 

And, what a loss of a fine Friday night!

Thursday 9 October 2014

Dogs, Colour & Reno


I say "Good dog!" a lot.  As well, Ruby hears frequently "Off!" and "No Chase!".  She is learning and once she settles a bit knows to sit when she comes to me and then I will pet her right away.  She is very excited in the morning.  And she sometimes chases the sheep.  In turn the ewes are getting kind of hard on, immediately setting out to bash her when she is near.  I've only seen and heard Ruby stand up to the sheep when they get near her food.  Millie on the other hand would never get bashed by a ewe.

With the addition of Ruby and the intense bonding we experienced over the time of her spay surgery, Millie is getting much closer to the sheep.  She rarely parks under the veranda now.  And most of the time she will stay in the Front field which is a safer place from which to chase cars.  I really discourage the chasing of cars in front of the house as she gets right on the road.  The fellow who drives the big red motorcylce says very unpleasant things when chased by Millie.

Part of the attraction to the road is that the coyotes live on the other side of it.  Many evenings now we hear the coyotes howl and yip at dusk just across the road.

With Millie's surgery we locked her into the Small Barn.  She only escaped three or four times - !  She can climb a four and a half foot wall, but not five.  I am still locking her in there at night.  There are a few other animals in that barn now and I am hoping Millie can bond with them.  In addition, we have thought about putting a doggie door into the Small Barn so that Millie can come and go; however, I'm not sure yet.

Millie has improved in leaps and bounds over the last few weeks.  She eats more than she ever has and hangs around the back door from four o'clock until dinner time at seven; she's hungry.  I increased her food again.  She is resting better.  The barn is much cleaner than under the veranda and although she is a happy outdoor dog, she is out of the weather at night.  And she is sleeping.  She has only barked a few times in the last week while locked up in the Small Barn at night.  Before this she worked all night, running all over, barking at shadows and howls and barks and squeaks.  So, she was also too tired to do much sheep guarding in the daytime.

She will now come out to the Middle Field where the sheep are grazing a few times a day.  She will not stay there.  She will however stay in the Front Field for long periods of time.  She can escape out of there but also will slip back into the field.  Interestingly, she blasted Ruby in a major way making it clear that SHE was never to leave that field.

The two dogs play beautifully together.  This makes them both happy. 


A few weeks ago the neighbour girl helped me to weigh all thirteen lambs.  Wow!  In the thirty years since I had sheep it seems, sheep have gained in the rate at which they gain.  My scale goes up to one hundred pounds and most male lambs were off the scale.  Lucky was the smallest at seventy-seven pounds.  The ewe lambs were all around eight-five pounds with one at ninety-five pounds.

By the end of that session, we were both filthy.  You would have thought we had rolled in the manure pile.  I will never get my jeans completely cleaned.  We used the hose to clean up a bit before I drove her home.  Good thing it was a warm day and we could hose down.

As a result I have made arrangements to have lambs butchered over a one month period.  Mostly this is to allow me to manage freezer space.  I will still need to purchase an additional chest freezer.  So, we are taking orders and collecting recipes, looking forward to enjoying some yummy range fed lamb.

I've had to make arrangements with the trucker to get the lambs to the butcher.  I will also have to make arrangements to have the hides tanned.  And I am looking into taking my fleeces to a mill to have them washed and prepared into roving for spinning and some into wool, ready for knitting.  There is a lot to arrange!


Yes, it's Fall and the colours are lovely.  But that is not what I want to tell you about.

I have added colour to my flock.  I have purchased a coloured ewe and a ram who will pass on colour genes.  I have decided to call the ewe "Libby" after Elizabeth Hoey for whom I worked as a teen.  Her coloured flock was a great inspiration and this is the first colourful ewe I have, and she is several colours indeed.  If she were a pony she'd be called a pinto.

The ram is young but will do the job as expected.  He comes with the name "Birch" which I think we'll keep.  I have a marking harness for him to wear when he is put out with the ewes in November.  When he does what he is supposed to do a crayon mark will be left on the ewe.  If three weeks later there are new crayon marks on the ewe, we will know he is not working.  We hope there is only one mark on each ewe.

In addition to passing on colour genes, he has very nice fleece which will also be passed on as well.  His sire was a Blue Faced Leicester.  Spinners love to spin this breed of wool.  The breed is also known for producing good quality meat animals.  So, a good dual purpose breed.  The seller sent me this photo after they left her place.

Libby and Birch


Over the last few weeks a variety of service people have been in and out and we finally have a basement again.  Recall that we planned to renovate to finish the basement as it was just rough drywall down there.  Then there was the flood on April 9th.  So, we went into recovery mode.  So, we have completed the rebuild to recover from the flood; and the Reno, as originally planned.

It is really really nice.  It is bright and white and clean and dry.  Hubby has been unpacking his stuff and setting up his space.  There are 'flood goods' still across the house but we will get it all put away, hopefully by Christmas time.

There are still some shelves to be built, so books will remain scattered or in boxes.  And finally, the sea container in front of the house will go away, hopefully in the next week.  It has been blocking the view of sunsets!

As well, I can finally clean.  There is - of course - a fine layer of drywall dust over everything.  And since I don't expect workmen and shoes and boots any longer, it might stay cleaner.