Thursday 26 March 2015

Signs of Spring

It's still a bit tough to see that spring is coming but there a few signs... 

This morning I saw two robins outside the kitchen window.  The were inspecting the lawn that has appeared above the septic tank.  Robins were then a topic of conversation in the grocery store this morning.  I so enjoy the small town feeling that is here!  Perfect strangers say good morning or begin a conversation.  It is welcome; like spring.

Much of our snow has melted but there is still a lot of the ground covered in it.  It was cold enough yesterday that I walked out to explore an as yet unexplored part of the property.  The forecast was for rain so I had to get out while I could still walk on top of the snow.  It was gloriously sunny and all three dogs had a blast.  Ruby remains intrigued with walking on frozen water and the ponds we came across were solid.

The temperature is warmer today.  Rain began late morning and now in the mid-afternoon it has turned to wet snow.  The sheep are in the barn.  And so are the Maremmas.  I inhaled lunch and suited up in my barn gear to check on the whereabouts of the dogs as they were not seen when I returned from my shopping.  Millie was sound asleep in her spot in front of the freezer in the Big Barn.  Rather than snooze in her pen, Ruby was flaked out with the sheep.  Well, the dogs were flaked out while the sheep were lying down and chewing their cud.

In the last week Millie has made it clear that she belongs in the Big Barn.  This has taken a long time if you consider she arrived at the end of the first week in June last year.  A few times I have found Millie in Ruby's pen in the Big Barn.  Granted there is a pile of comfy straw there, however I sometimes think Millie is trying to usurp Ruby as only the top dog could do.  I created a comfy spot for Millie inside the doggie door and in front of the freezer to encourage her to come inside to sleep at night.  For most of the winter she has chosen to sleep:  outside in the pile of hay; under the overhang outside her doggie door in the Big Barn; in the lean-to at the Small Barn; or, inside the box stall in the Small Barn - when this was made available to her.  Now the rams are in that box stall.

Ruby barks a lot.  That's part of how she does her job.  Both dogs walk over the fence where the snow is very high.  And they focus out back - where the coyotes are.  They still get on the road sometimes but not much.  They get themselves out of the Front Field and back in.  They know to return to the sheep.  When they come to the house I put them back with their sheep.  Dog treats are always in my pocket. 

Sometimes it seems like Ruby is taking off again, barking at some invisible intruder, and Millie is scrambling after her to make sure she is okay.  A few times I have observed Millie laying in the hay pile while the sheep eat around her, listening as Ruby barks at the gremlins she imagines in the back acreage.  Millie is tired and lame and a bit overweight after the winter.  She has just completed her second round of treatment for Lyme Disease.  The spay surgery does result in weight gain, so the Vet has informed me.  Very food focused, Millie eats everything.

It must be spring because I am out of hay.  I have purchased two pick-up truck loads of forty bales each, so far.  We can't get up to the Big Barn and only have limited storage space in the Small Barn.  Likely I will order more before the pasture is a reliable feed source.

Another sign of spring is the bulging sheep bellies.  Well, some of the them.  Since lambing will be stretched out across a few months this year, some ewes are looking quite pregnant while others are not so much.  In anticipation of swelling bellies, the sheep have been receiving grain for a few weeks now, and I increase it a bit each week.  I bought a new bag of oats and called the feed store after I opened it.  It's very dirty.  The fellow at the feed store said it's all like that.  We're lucky we have any since last year's grain crop was so poor.  The spring was so wet farmers could not get grain planted.  In addition to dirty grain there is little to no straw to be had this year.  My hay supplier will have straw this year as he planted winter wheat in the fall.

Yesterday I was shocked to see the sheep venture away from the barn.  They don't go through the snow unless they must.  However, they all went out and almost to the driveway.  It didn't last long.  They determined there was nothing to eat and returned to the barn.

As I prepare to head out to do afternoon chores, another huge sign of spring are the longer daylight hours.  This is so very welcome.  The sheep get to stay up later as I don't put them into the barn until sundown.  Usually they are already inside when I go out.  The longer days have also led to increase in egg production.  I just need to sell the excess eggs.  I have a sign now but took it down when we went away.  I'll have to get it back up.

It's coming, spring....just like Christmas.

Saturday 7 March 2015

From Away

We are away right now, enjoying a lovely visit with Darling Daughter and her Dear Husband.  We are in Pasadena, California and nearing the end of our time here.  Although I have enjoyed the time here I will be glad to be home.

 The Maremmas have been trying their farm sitters - the way students will try on a substitute teacher... We are very very thankful to those who have taken on farm sitting tasks which has allowed us to get away.  Again, three sets of helpers were needed for us to be away.  Three seems to be the magic number.  A big hug of thanks to each one of you!

There is much to do when we return... 

Lambing will begin in a month, around April 9th.  The rams, Abe and Birch, need to be removed from the flock.  The expectant flock needs to be vaccinated and at this time in their gestation it will provide some protection to the newborn lambs when they hit the ground.  Grain feeding must begin.  In the late stages of gestation the ewes cannot consume enough roughage to meet their nutritional needs so grain is necessary.  They consider grain candy, so, I, as the Candy Man, will increase my popularity immensely.

Calves are coming.  I have been communicating with our dairy farmer friend from here to arrange for three bull calves and some more hay.  With the prolonged and intense cold these last few months we fed more hay than planned.  Plus, I over wintered more animals than originally planned, so a small delivery of hay will be necessary to carry us through to good pasture.

I have yet to bundle the newly milled wool rovings into packages for sale.  I must get this done soon as these sales will help with the hay and calf purchases.

I recently purchased some used garden hose reels.  These are for electric fence wire.  I have bags of wire, much of which gets knotted.  Winding it onto the reels will be very helpful.  On wheels it will be much easier to string out the wire along the temporary posts.  In addition I want a strand along the top and bottom of the Front Field's permanent posts to minimize coyote access to new lambs.  Spring is also a good time to clear the brush away from the bottom of these fence lines to set up the string of electric fence.  Too much brush will ground out the current.  As a bonus, I have some more garden hose that came with the reels.

And we are still awaiting the arrival of another barn cat, a Bogart for our Humphrey.  Several dead rats have been found now so Humphrey is doing his job well.  An addition will give him company and a sporting companion, too.  There has been a hold up at the source where the woman at the rescue where we are getting the cats has experienced a family crisis.  Perhaps the dust will have settled by the time we return.

There is the vegetable garden to plan as well.  We thought we would try some heritage seeds this year.  I have yet to order them and must do so soon.  There is a provider in Easter Ontario but it will be necessary to order them for mail delivery.  This year we have a rototiller of our own which will allow me to do the job across more than one intense weekend.  Last year we broke new ground while this year it should be easier.  I don't know how much manure I can get onto the site beforehand.

I will have to consult with my neighbour regarding a shearing date.  We will use the same shearer.  He takes about two days to do her much larger flock.  This fellow, Charlie, shore the lamas for me last year.  I will not shear Henrietta this year but leave her coat for another year to get longer.  I will observe her closely too to see if she is as bothered by bugs this year as last year.  I did get bug spray for them but they didn't like the sprayer.  Shearing day was a fun day last year with the folks who came out to help, so I will plan that again.

And we have to find a tractor.  It really is a necessity.  It may take some time to find and shop around.  We need it for mowing, hauling wood and other things.  I will also have the new job of snow removal next winter.  If we get a front end loader we can switch to round bales of hay too.

The weather here in California has been quite cool - for Californians - until yesterday.  I finally got to wear sandals.  And although the cold snap broke at home for a few days we are aware that the cold has returned and it continues to be well below normal temperatures for this time of year.