Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Snow Big Deal

The top three photos were taken from my front porch this morning, and the one on the left is the blooming forsythia on the deck.  I took photos because I had nothing else to do.  The power went out shortly after I got up...but while I might (and did) whine, I really had nothing to complain about.  I got the coffee made and the toilet flushed before it all went dark.  Slogged down to the barn and did chores, and when I came back to the house...ta da!  Let there be light!  Power had been restored.
As long as I'm mentioning the barn, I'm going to expound on a personal theory of mine.  I firmly believe that God is a man.  Any female who has been on a long motorcycle ride out into the boonies, gone hunting at the crack of dawn, or had to drop her drawers in the snow knows that if She were female, She would have planned things differently!  (Too much coffee, okay?)
Passover dinner at my friends' home was cancelled this year because the flu/cold that's making the rounds caught up with Joel and Judy.  I've been so honored to be included at this event...and it is so special.  I missed the camaraderie, the ritual, and the food!  Just as I've come to love Scottish haggis and tatties and neeps, I so look forward to gefilte fish, brisket, noodle kugle, matzo ball soup.  And Japanese mochi, sashimi, sukiyaki.  I might as well face it...I'm a foodie!  My friend Linda sent me the recipe for olive oil matzos, and I made them for the first day of Passover...wonderful crisp crackers that I made with a blend of whole wheat and white flour and a sprinkling of sea salt.  Easter is coming, and I'm already looking forward to that dinner...and my family. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

And Rain Reigns

Ah, well...spring is fickle.  Morning was beautiful, sunny and warm, yesterday.  The barn was finally starting to dry out and I could do a better job of cleaning the stalls.  Animal Control Dave stopped by and took a report on the last incident.  Evidently Animal Control also works on the three-strikes rule and my neighbor gets one more shot before a hearing will be held.  I hope it doesn't come to that, because that means the chickens would have to suffer one more attack.  He was going to visit my neighbor next, and maybe that will make her a believer.  As he was leaving, we both noticed the dark clouds over the valley.  I started battening down the hatches...firewood up to the porch, woodstove lit, anything that could blow away put away.  The wind kicked up and the clouds moved in, but the rain held off until just as I was putting the kids into the barns for the night.  Stumpy and I avoided a soaking. 

NASCAR was rained out in Virginia on Sunday so the race was held yesterday (Clint made a respectable finish in the top ten and Jimmy Johnson didn't win).  In spite of the disrupted days, I did remember that today was trash day...mission accomplished!  The weather report predicts a week of rain.  What can I say?  It's spring.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Peace Reigns

There were no untoward events this weekend, and no dogs sighted. 

I treasure any time my kids can spare, and hoard their visits in my memory as jewels.  I am at that stage of life when, thankfully, days pass more slowly, and I try to remember that others still race against the clock and the calendar.  When the opportunity for a visit arises, I take full advantage for total enjoyment.  It is an indescribable pleasure to discover that those gap-toothed kids, those goofy, rebellious teenagers I remember so well have become intelligent, sensitive, responsible, funny adults with whom one can discuss anything under the sun.  I like the way they think.  I respect their opinions.  I admire them as people. 

I saw the first robin this morning.  In the past, I have seen as many as seventy-five robins at one time in the yard.  Somehow, as they dart around with hunched shoulders while looking for bugs, they remind me of Richard Nixon...a whole flock of Richard Nixons.  The large doves with the clattering wings have arrived at the feeding station, and the mourning doves still cry in the dusk.  The hummingbirds are coming back in droves.  The days and nights are still chilly, but the sun is shining and it's a glorious morning.  Peace reigns.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Calm Before the Storm

Buckle your's gonna be a bumpy ride.  After a peaceful, productive morning yesterday, I needed to go to town for supplies.  When I got home, I sat in the truck for a minute, watching and enjoying my chickens scratching for goodies in the leaves...and then my neighbor's dog appeared and began savaging one of the red hens.  Ohmigawd, not again!  I came roaring out of the truck and down the hill and managed to scare off the dog before it killed the hen, who limped as fast as she could back to the chicken house for a cuddle.  Animal Control was called again.  Evidently they didn't make much of an impression on my neighbor last week.  I'm hoping for better this time.  According to the paperwork I was sent, allowing a dangerous dog to run loose is a misdemeanor crime, and I am willing to testify in court.  A range war between neighbors is a terrible thing.  As I've said before, this is an area where we depend on each other much more than in the city.  I loathe this feeling of vulnerability.  I hate the thought of an enemy.  Be that as it may, my chickens depend on me to keep them safe, and if it costs the price of a neighbor to do that....  I feel like a member of The Soprano's crew, and I'm ready to "hit the mattresses."  As I told my friend Linda, it's going to be a lesson in "don't mess with the old broad."  (Well, that's not exactly the word I used.)

On a gentler note, the weather turned cold yesterday and it rained during the night.  The temperature was thirty degrees this morning and the ground is covered in ice.  Every leaf I see has a tiny icicle at the tip, now sparkling with the rising sun.  My son Larry and his daughter Taylor are coming up tonight.  I'm looking forward to their company and the opportunity to try out a new recipe.  After so many years of cooking for so many good eaters, it's been difficult to cook for one, and I love to cook!  My six-burner stove and double ovens have gathered dust while the microwave has gotten a workout.  The crabapple tree that I bought last year and that is still in its nursery pot on the front porch has burst into beautiful white blossoms.  While it is a lovely welcome to visitors, I have had it on my to-do list for months and I have to get the darned thing in the ground!  It seems my guilt has to rise to a certain level before I'm motivated to act.  I think it's getting close.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Small Friends

Flute Snoot and Braveheart are two mice who visit the barn every day.  I throw down a handful of grain in a corner of the milking room when I come in and as soon as I settle with a milker, my guests appear.  There are mouse holes all over the room, and Flute Snoot comes up right by the grain.  Braveheart runs all the way across from another corner, the equivalent of many city blocks, given his size.  There are other mice who occasionally visit the buffet, but I can count on seeing these two small friends regularly.  If a barn bird surprises Braveheart at breakfast, he'll do a bank shot off the wall and dart back to his burrow.  Sex is arbitrarily assigned...I don't honestly know if "he" is a he.  The Flying Wallendas have never received individual names as they go flying out of the feed dish at dusk so quickly they're little blurs as I put the girls to bed.  A mother mouse is raising a litter in the cabinet where I keep the medical supplies.  She and I have come eye to eye several times.  Mamacita must be a relative of Braveheart, because she will face me down to protect her babies. 

After milking yesterday, Sheila made a couple of passes, calling, around the barn and then wandered up the hill to the alfalfa.  Animals don't seem to rail against their fate, but accept that it is what it is.  I'm not sure that isn't more touching than her sorrow.  I heard from Sarah...Uma and #21 have made friends with their new playmates.  She has renamed them Cleo and Clyde.  I will give this news to Sheila this morning. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sheila's First Day On the Job

Milking Sheila for the first time yesterday went really well.  Her teats are a milker's dream.  Forrest Gump might say, "They're like a box 'a chocklits...ya never know what you're gonna git," and this time I hit the truffles jackpot.  Unfortunately, the process reminded her of the missing babies.  While I tended the others, she circled the barn, calling for her little ones, her cries becoming more and more frantic.  It tears my heart out.  Sheila did calm down later and grazed quietly for the rest of the day. 

It's daybreak, and an army of wild turkeys is marching through my yard, speaking to each other in low tones.  The beasty boys were active earlier while it was still dark, and the turkeys are smart enough to keep a low profile, even though there are twenty or more in this flock. 

Since Sheila is now my fourth milker and the demand for product has gone down, I've got enough milk on hand to start making cheese again.  I've got a batch of feta draining now...yum!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bye, Kids!

Guy came to pick up the babies yesterday and I got to snuggle them one more time.  He told me #21 would probably travel to Oregon when he is old enough.  A friend really wants a buck for his farm up there, and Guy owes a favor.  It makes me very happy to think that Sheila's babies will carry on her lineage with lots of bouncy little kids in the future.  Sheila came out of the stall for the first time since delivery, and Tessie immediately felt the need to put Sheila at the back of the line again.  The only good thing about this fight was that it took Sheila's mind off the kids' departure.  Everybody, and especially Poppy, seemed happy to get back into their own room last night.  This morning will be Sheila's first experience with being milked.  We'll see if our months of dry runs will pay off.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Totally Messed Up: The Sequel

I've got to do some kind of reality check!  As Yogi Berra said, "It's deja vu all over again!"  Last week I mixed up Sunday for Monday and made a futile trip into town.  Yesterday I knew it was Sunday (NASCAR...yes!), but I almost waited too long to get to the feed store.  I'm used to telling time by the sun, not the clock.  Last week I missed trash day because I slept until almost 6, and I determined not to do that again.  Today I was so proud of up extra early and loaded up the truck in the dark.  Got down to the big road and was amazed that I was the first one to get my barrel out...that never happens.  Well, of course I was first.  It's Monday and trash day is Tuesday.  Duh. 

It's going to be hard to say goodbye to Uma and #21 today...they're so darned cute.  They are the same size as little stuffed toys, and unbelievably soft.  I could fit both of them into a grocery bag.  Their face markings give them little smiley faces with bright button eyes.  Just like human babies, they are born with blue eyes.  At two days old, yesterday they were giving little baby hops and leaps, and Uma curls up in Sheila's food bowl for her naps.  I've always kept the kids until they were weaned at two months, and I'll miss holding these little ones for bottle feeding and cuddling.  Sheila and I will go through the pangs of loss together.

There's no sense wondering what tomorrow will bring...I'll just wonder what day it is.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

That's Life

Bedtime for the kids last night was chaos.  Because Sheila and the babies are in Tessie and #19's stall, the two-year-olds had to go into Poppy's room.  Ruthie wasn't sure where she should go, but she went into her own room.  That left poor Poppy out in the hall and she was not happy and she was very vocal.  Poppy is very much a creature of habit and gets discombobulated if her grain dish is not in the same place every night.  Sheila and the twins are doing well.  I didn't get to spend too much time with them yesterday...was still fuming about my irresponsible neighbor.  I haven't yet heard back from Animal Control, so there's no end to that story yet. 

I contacted the new owners of Uma and #21.  They will come to get the kids on Sunday or Monday.  Lottie (aka Queen Latifah), one of the goats I had sold them last year, just had twin doelings and Hannah, their other doe, is due to deliver any day, so the kids will have plenty of milk.  Kids are normally taken from the mothers after twenty-four to forty-eight hours and bottle fed until they're weaned at two months.  This seemingly heartless practice makes for much better goats in the long run, people friendly and much more gentle.  It's harder on the mothers and me than the kids. 

One always hopes for doelings.  Bucklings have an uncertain future.  An intact buck can only be used for two generations in the same herd without risking inbreeding complications.  Wethers aren't productive, but are good pets and brush eaters.  They are usually sold for meat, as was Buck #20 and most of my other wethers.  It's emotionally wrenching when I let go of one of these little guys, but...that's farm life.  Sarah and Guy haven't decided what they're going to do with #21.  Once they leave Farview, the fate of bucklings is no longer in my hands.  #19 will probably live out his days here, useless and loved. 

At dusk, the traumatized free-range chickens crept out from hiding places and made a dash for the hen house.  Little chicken brains don't seem to figure out that they can get back into the pen the same way they got out.  Due to Bess's diligence, I think real tragedy was averted yesterday.  That's life.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Woof!  This has been quite a morning.  I was a little late getting down to the barn, and as soon as I opened the first door, I heard a noise I hadn't quite (yet) expected.  Peeking over the half-wall, I saw that Sheila had just dropped her first kid!  Threw some feed for Lucy and let Cindy, Esther, and Inga out to graze.  Rushed around and let Poppy and Ruth out, and threw some grass hay in for Tessie and #19.  Picked up the baby and found we had a little doeling, Uma!  (First picture.)  She still had part of the sac around her cleaned up and hand-dried while Sheila was busy trying to pass her second baby (second picture is of the bulging sac and, although they can't be seen, front two feet of baby #2).  Got a shot of Uma before the second baby, a little buckling, #21, was born.  Sheila had a relatively easy time with this birth, and I caught the little guy before he hit the ground.  Not being totally prepared for this "blessed event," all I could do was whip off my shirt to dry him and clean his nostrils and mouth.  Put Tessie and #19 out into the field.  Got Sheila and the babies settled into a stall and ran around the barn to get the first milker as usual.  Got all the milkers done, the nonmilkers fed, and was crazy to get back in to see the babies and make sure mama was okay.  The last photos are of Sheila resting, cleaning up #21, and Uma waiting for mama to stand up and make breakfast available.   

I came back up to the house to process the milk and get a bucket of warm molasses water for Sheila (does lose a lot of body heat during delivery) and process the milk.  I had no sooner put down the milk bucket when Bessie told me something was wrong outside.  This is where the bad starts.  Ran outside to find my neighbor's dog mauling my chickens (again!!).  Roaring like a mad thing, I chased it down the hill, came inside, and, shaking like a leaf in a high wind, called Animal Control.  At the end of February when I found one of their dogs on the deck, I had called the family as a courtesy to let them know that their dogs were on the loose...silly me...thinking they would take care of the problem.  Obviously I was wrong. 

And this is where it's going to get ugly.  Last year, after their dogs had come on my property many times and chased the chickens, and I had made multitudinous phone calls to make them aware there was a situation brewing, finally the dogs started killing...and I involved Animal Control...several times.  The letter I received from the family was unbelievable..I was accused of being a "bad neighbor...not willing to work with sympathy...someone to beware of and guarded against."  It was my chickens being killed...and I was the bad guy.  I can imagine that this will not have a happy ending.  But it's better than me shooting their dogs, which I am legally (and attitudinally) able.  These are not bad dogs...for them, it's instinct and pack behavior.  I do not blame the dogs.  I have piles of feathers from one of the Barred Rocks and one of the red hens...I finally got brave enough to go looking for far, so good.  A bald hen is a live hen.  I'm just hoping they're scared and will come out at sundown. 

It's been a dramatic day at Farview Farm.

Singing Pigs

If one is going to get ill, I highly recommend the twenty-four-hour variety.  It was/is wonderful to feel back to normal (a relative thing, normalcy), and so quickly.  On the day I wasn't feeling so great, I yelled at Esther to quit her every-morning Maybe I Will and Maybe I Won't dance in front of her bowl of cereal and just get on with it.  Yelling at a goat is like that saying, Don't try to teach a pig to doesn't work and it irritates the pig.  It's an exercise in futility. 

My friend Linda has questioned my animal husbandry abilities because I haven't accurately predicted Sheila's due date.  Goats gestate for two hundred-fifty days, give or take five days.  They're pretty much on the money, but that presupposes that one knows exactly when they were bred.  Sheila was sent off to visit the buck when she wasn't in season, and she stayed at Sex Camp for the better part of a month, so the best I can do is watch her for signs with no calendar to rely on.  She's bagging up (udder is filling), staying apart from the herd during the day, and the vulva is swelling.  The tendons in her back are still pretty firm.  When they go mushy, delivery will be that day.  Just like yelling, there isn't much I can do to hurry this process along.  Given the beautiful weather we're enjoying (a week ago there was snow), I don't want to keep her in the barn until I'm sure she's in labor.  You'll know when I know, Linda!

Linda also writes that she is taking a first-aid class...a great idea.  I had my own crash course with practical experience while raising three boys.  Broken arm and wrist, broken teeth, innumerable stitches, whole-body road rash from skateboards and motorcycles, black eyes galore, one was run over by a car.  Boys...ya gotta love 'em.  Linda isn't the first to say, "Ah don' know nuthin' 'bout birthin' no babies," but since this is close to the fiftieth kid I'll have attended, it's not my first ride at the rodeo.  It just takes singing pigs here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Philosophical Maunderings

A long time ago I read that there is no heavier burden than great potential.  Living alone, I think there is no lonelier burden than responsibility.  There is no one to whom one can hand off or share.  Illness is a spectre that lurks in the corner of my mind for that very reason.  I don't get sick, haven't even had a cold in probably six years, but I was sick yesterday.  I desperately wished that someone, anyone, would come and milk the goats, feed the chickens, tend the dog and cats (and pick up the rest of the sticks!).  Well, there's an old saying, "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride."  There was nothing for it but to pick up the milk bucket and go about business as usual...comes under the heading of  "pull on your big-girl panties and get 'er done."  I will admit that cleaning the barn got short shrift, and the sticks will wait for another day.  Thankfully, the dark cloud seems to have passed and today is going to be a much better day.  And even better, Sheila didn't have her baby yesterday. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pick-Up-Sticks Farview Style

I might have mentioned that we've had some pretty strong winds this winter.  Yard clean up is an annual springtime chore.  Fallen branches were dragged to the burn pile separately.  The cart is full of twigs from the front yard oak, and that's from not even half the yard, but that's all my back would stand for (bend for?).  There are rules to this game of Pick-Up-Sticks:  you have to start at one edge of the yard and work your way across.  You have to pick up what's in front of you and not skip around getting the bigger, easier pieces.  Once you begin, you have to keep at it until you can't bend/stand one more time.  I don't know what the penalties are for infractions, because my supervisors are always on the job and keep me on the straight and narrow.  Bessie's responsibility is to lay in front of the cart and keep it safe from marauding twig thieves.  She lulls possible intruders by keeping her eyes closed, but I know she's on the alert.  Pearl is the ramrod on the job.  She stays at my side, making sure I don't miss anything or try to break a rule.  Frank...well, Frank does his best, but he loses interest in work and would rather play with the leaves.  I pick up sticks for aesthetic reasons, otherwise the front yard would look like a hedgehog, and for practical purposes.  It won't be long before I have to drag out the lawn tractor and mow down the weeds and I don't want to mess up the mower blades.  There isn't any grass, but we do try to maintain appearances.  The sun was warm, a soft breeze blew, the mourning doves played a minor-key accompaniement, I could keep an eye on Sheila...there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Killer Chickens

Because the little girls are fed primarily a diet of scratch (corn and mixed grains) and lay pellets (whatever it is, it's good for them) with some oyster shell thrown in and leftovers whenever there are some, it's easy to forget that chickens are omnivores and will also eat meat.   Watching the girls peacefully pecking for grain and taking sun baths (when there's sunshine), one doesn't think of them as killers.  Yesterday I moved one of the waterers in the hen house and a mouse and I came eye to eye.  In that second of immobility while we both said, "Ohmigosh!," a hen darted in faster than a mongoose on a cobra and had that mouse nailed and dead!  The hen ran outside with her trophy and the flock took after her.  It was like watching a miniature version of a National Geographic special about Mongols on horseback playing polo with a sheep as the hen ran the pen with the mouse held high and the rest of the girls trying to take it away.  It was a pretty dramatic way to start the day!

The weather now is glorious...bluebird days if ever there were.  I got to do some outdoor chores, and didn't light the woodstove at all.  Sheila and I are still ladies-in-waiting. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Totally Messed Up

It seems I haven't got complaining about the time change completely out of my system.  Got up at five-thirty yesterday, which is a reasonable hour, except my body knew it was only four-thirty...too early by anyone's standards.  Going by the clock, I surprised the goats an hour early and their internal time pieces said they weren't ready for breakfast yet.  To make matters worse, there was no race yesterday, and without NASCAR to punctuate the week, I don't know what day it is.  Needing some supplies, I drove into town, only to discover the store I needed was closed.  Closed?  Of course it was was Sunday.  Drat!  A forty mile trip for nothing.  And, still needing those supplies, I'll have to do it again today...and I just love going to town. I feel better.

The mourning doves have migrated in, and their sad calls are heard morning and evening.  There is another dove that will come later.  Mourning doves are small birds, but the other ones are really big, as big as pigeons, and when they're startled, their wings clatter like machine guns.  The other day I heard a ruckus and saw a grey squirrel being beseiged by three red-headed woodpeckers.  It had evidently gotten too close to either a nest or a stash of acorns, and the woodies were dive-bombing and squawking, driving the squirrel out to the very end of a small, bouncing branch, and finally out of the tree.  Sheila is waddling around in the last stages of her pregnancy, with an expression that says she'd really like to be done with it...and now would be good.  The not-so-reliable weathermen are predicting a week of sixty- and seventy-degree days, so I guess I don't have so much to complain about after all. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cabin Fever

This crazy, on-again, off-again weather is making everyone cranky.  Yesterday was a full-blown rain, hail and wind storm, and today the sun is shining.  Everything is frozen over and the ice is thick on the deck.  The cats go from door to door, a la Robert Heinlein's cat, Pete, in Door Into Summer, looking for the one that will open into sun and warmth.  (I highly recommend that old book.)  Bessie Anne races around the house like a mad thing, trying to get some exercise.  Stumpy, in the laundry room, beats a tattoo on the dryer, bored out of her little bird brain.  Completely out of spare rooms, I put Sheila in the barn hallway last night, just in case she decided to kid during the storm.  I actually dusted furniture before there was enough coating to write in...a sure symptom that I've caught cabin fever. 

Notice that Frank went down for the three-count and Pearl ends up The Winnah!  Girls Rule!!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Just Wait

As the saying goes, if you don't like the weather, just wait a day (or sometimes five minutes).  These pictures are taken two days apart.  The snowfall was pretty wimpy and only stayed until late afternoon, but it just goes to show how fast it can change. 

I'm also "just waiting" for Sheila to drop her kid(s).  We're at that stage when I'm continually checking under her tail for signs of impending delivery.  (Again, it's a good thing no one is watching me...I'd hate to think what would be said about me now.)  There are two tendons running from the spine to the hip points that are normally taut as bowstrings.  These soften and stretch just before birth to allow the pelvis to expand, so I'm also feeling her back end for those.  The girls are perfectly capable of delivering on their own, but it seems to give them comfort to have me close by when their time comes, and I never get over the awe of watching the miracle of birth. 

It's time for my semiannual tirade against the time change to or from (I've lost track of which is "real" time) Daylight Savings Time.  It makes me nuts and totally upsets the schedule.  The goats and chickens all run on the daylight they can see, not what the clock says, so what good does it do a farmer to move the clock hands?  The best analogy I've heard is that of cutting six inches from the top of a short blanket and sewing it to the bottom so your feet will be covered.  There are only so many hours of daylight, winter or summer, and changing the time will not create more...period.  Case in point:  the girls go to bed at sundown.  Right now the sun sets at six o'clock.  I received a dinner invitation for six o'clock.  I could put the girls to bed a little early and still make it on time and enjoy the evening.  However, with the time change, bedtime won't be until seven.  The chickens will not go in their house until sundown.  Do I go to dinner, leave in the middle of the meal, come home and put the girls to bed, and go back, stay home and miss the rest of dinner, or let them stay out and try to find them in the dark when I come home? 

Why isn't a chicken worried about the economy?  (Because she always has a nest egg.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Top O' the Hill

I've thought so often that it is such a good thing that I live on the top of the hill with no neighbors above or close enough to see me.  Mark's comment (which cracked me up!) from yesterday just reinforces that thought.  Going for the layered look in winter will never get me invited to the Red Carpet, and I'm not going to discuss my summertime attire any further.  Suffice it to say that guests should give fair warning before they come to the door, lest we both be embarrassed.  Landing on my back in the wet chicken pen, feet in the air, was not a pretty sight.  Once upon a time, Steve got the idea to extend the water lines for irrigation, borrowed a ditch-witch, and dug trenches all over the yard.  He went on to other, more interesting, projects and I was left to go about my chores, walking along and then periodically leaping into the air to cross the ditches.  I thought at the time that were anyone watching, they wouldn't see the trench...only this bizarre woman with a bad tic.  It isn't hard to imagine what passersby would have wondered had they been able to see me sitting on the roof for an hour or so.  I'd gone up there to clean the chimney cap and discovered I couldn't reach the ladder to get down.  I know my friends whom I'd called to the rescue via cell phone got a good laugh.  Roaring and darting with arms spread as I play a game of  Catch Me If You Can with Bessie Anne might garner a few strange looks.  It's also a good thing I can't be heard.  Living with a sailor for close to twenty years, I did expand my vocabulary and, given the circumstances of the moment, can erupt like a veritable Vesuvius with a string of choice expletives pouring forth.  I also sing.  I sing to the goats a lot...and sometimes just for the fun of it.  Doesn't sound a lot better than the cussing.  Yup, it's a good thing I live on the top of the hill.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mentors & Mentees

I have found over the years that those who search out and buy goat milk are, in my opinion, special people.  They are not faddists or health nuts, but they do appreciate fresh, pure, tasty, and good.  They also seem to appreciate the lifestyle that provides their milk.  One family has been coming to Farview for over five years now, and I've watched their daughter grow from bottle to grade school.  They've remained loyal through those times when the girls are dry, coming back when the milk flows again.  Mother and father are hardworking, honest people who are raising their child with time-honored values.  They have become friends, and I look forward to their visits.

I'm going to lose a customer soon, as I sold them two milk goats last year and they'll have their own supply sometime this month.  This is a young couple who will have their second baby this year.  The father is making a go of full-time farming...not easy these days.  They raise chickens, some cattle, pigs, and now goats.  I talk goats and babies with the mom, and she is learning to card wool and wants to learn to spin.  Just as I learned handwork from my mother, I am so happy to be able to pass on the things I know how to do.  These are worthwhile arts that could be lost to future generations.  I will start her on the drop spindle and move on to the wheel.

A young man recently started buying milk.  (I was going to say "kid," and then realized that anyone under forty is a kid to me now, and those in their fifties are just youngsters.  Good grief.)   Ben worked on a farm back east and learned to love the lifestyle...and the milk.  Yesterday we spent time discussing the making of cheese, chevre and feta.  I could probably keep the secrets and sell him the product, but it is such fun to see someone who wants to learn, to take the process "back a step" as I want to do.  To be able to mentor these, yes, I will say kids, is a real privilege. 

It's snowing this morning.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Early Morning Adventure

Determined to beat the trash truck (mobile refuse disposal unit) to the big road, I geared up at barely first light this morning...and got stopped dead in my tracks.  There were five separate episodes of heavy hail yesterday, and most of it was still frozen on the ground.  The truck doors were also frozen shut.  I was finally able to pry open the passenger door and climb ever-so-gracefully over the console and into the driver's seat.  The windshield was iced over and the wipers frozen to the glass.  My anxiety level undoubtedly helped the defroster heat up as I sat there and waited...and waited, listening all the while for the beep-beep-beep that signals the arrival of the trash truck (MRDU).  As soon as a porthole-size opening appeared in the frosted window, I ventured forth.  Gray Rock Road had taken on all the aspects of a slip-and-slide and it was fortunate that I had bagged up all the trash in the barrel, as everything bounced out into the truck bed.  So pleased that I got to the mailboxes ahead of the MRDU, I found I couldn't get out of the truck any easier than I had gotten in.  Grace is not my middle name, and I was grateful that no one was around to see (and laugh).  Mission accomplished. 

It seems I whine a lot about the cold weather, but I'm just getting warmed up for summer (terrible play on words, that).  At least in winter I can double up on pants and socks and put another log on the fire.  When you get down to skin in the heat of summer, there's not much else one can do but sweat.  That's when I really, it gets too hot to's more of a whimper, but I'm very good at it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Timing Is Off

Nature and NASCAR are out of sync.  On a day when I could, should, and want to be outside in the sunshine, it's race day and, loyal fan that I am, I stay inside with D. W. and the other "boogity boogity" boys.  This morning it is again cold and overcast and I'm going to be stuck in the house, like it or not. 

Yesterday held such promise, too.   In the early morning, the jackrabbits held a bunny convention in the front yard and when the meeting was over, I watched eight or ten of them using the driveway like a freeway at rush hour.  It appears they prefer to use a "road" rather than go cross country.  Down in the barn, a black-and-orange towhee joined the ranks of the sparrows for breakfast.  I must have what seems like one day, the huge oaks went from totally bare branches and stark silhouettes to heavily laden with leaf buds on every twig and a softened outline.  About the only productive thing I did all day was to accept the challenge of changing the dryer vent hose.  I had concerns that I would get it taken apart and not be able to put it back together again.  Me, working in a confined space, was challenge enough, but all's well that ends well.  Since it's threatening rain again today, at least my timing was good.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Gray Day

Having spent the last of daylight hours the day before hunting for MIAs, I had not restocked the firewood on the porch.  One thing I will not do is go to the woodpile after dark.  I am not afraid of spiders and snakes, but if there are awake or hibernating slithery or eight-legged things, I want to see them first.  Consequently, the woodstove had gone out and yesterday was spent trying to get the house warm with damp wood and a cranky stove.

Bess and I were hypervigilant all day, running to look for the chickens if we heard any sounds at all.  Fortunately, only Rover and one other red hen ventured out of the pen.  The rest, traumatized, stayed inside.  I was glad they were staying safe, but a spark of joy went out of the day because my little girls weren't outside playing.  The two casualties turned out to be Flopsy and Mopsy, named because of their funky little combs, worn cocked jauntily over one eye like red berets.  Of course it would be them.  Inspecting the flock more closely, I could see that several more hens, and Frederick, had been savaged...back feathers pulled out and tail feathers missing, but thankfully no serious injuries.  That, plus the fact that the dead chickens had been left to lie there with no attempts to eat them, indicates it was probably dogs.  This isn't the first time, but since I did not witness the attack, I can't point a finger to place blame.  It does leave me feeling very, very angry.

There is always a bright spot or two on gray days, and yesterday the first forsythia blossom burst forth and I found the peonies were sending up slender shoots.  Kathryn said that in Ohio it will snow three more times after the forsythia blooms...I'm still looking for the dogwoods for the last snow here.

Mark makes me laugh with his "dime-store version" of Heidi and her grandfather in his comment from yesterday.  I read that story when I was a little girl, and then there was the movie with Shirley Temple.  I think of it so often when the warm milk is frothing in the bucket.  It's light enough at six o'clock to see silhouettes now, so my day will soon start earlier.  Time to go play Heidi!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sad Ending to a Good Day

It was finally warm enough yesterday, even with patches of snow still on the ground, to take a book out to the deck and sit in the sun with Bessie Anne and the cats.  I get such enjoyment from watching the hens scratch in the leaves and eavesdropping on their quiet clucking.  Later, one of my customers for milk came by and we stood outside and watched a large flock of geese head back to Canada.  Nearby Boondock Lake is one of the resting spots for these birds on their flight path, and the air is filled with their calls in the spring and fall.  It became overcast and cool again in the afternoon, and Bessie and I snuggled up in the house for a nap.  Neither of us heard anything.  Toward dusk, I headed out to put the critters to bed, but none of the free-rangers came running out like puppies to parade with me to the hen house...something was wrong.  There, by the gate to their pen, were two small, forlorn bodies.  I herded the remaining flock into their house and then, searching, I found a pile of feathers from a missing third by the deck, and some of Frederick's tail feathers under an oak.  Frederick was with the girls in the pen, so he must have been attacked, but was able to escape.  I hope he nailed the intruder(s) good with his four-inch spurs.  I'm sure he was defending his ladies.  Wild things don't usually kill what they're not going to's survival, not fun...and this was definitely overkill.  I feel so bad.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Day Off

I took off yesterday...not from chores, but from the homestead!  I met friends for lunch in town at a real restaurant, not a drive-through, and there were cloth napkins and a glass of wine.  I did not wear bibbies.  We had conversations that did not involve animals.  I felt just like a grown up.  Maybe I'll try it again next year.

Evidently Stumpy was really bored during her day of solitary confinement in the laundry room.  She got herself stuck behind the wastebasket and, having nothing else with which to amuse herself, pecked rips and holes in the dryer vent hose.  Maybe she thought it was a tunnel to freedom.  I stopped at the hardware store on the way home, asking for one of those accordian-pleated hose thingies that goes behind the dryer.  After a short pause, the nice man said he'd show me what they had, and then asked what size I needed.  They come in sizes?  "Oh, 'bout this big."  "And how many feet would you like?"  "Oh, 'bout four feet."  Fortunately, it was too late to tackle the project when I got home.  It's my belief these things are much better done in daylight. 

The snow melted off in all but the most shaded areas, although the frost is so thick this morning, it looks like snow.  Esther, true to her word (at least for one day), trotted right into the barn last night with not a moment's hesitation.  It was a good day.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

And We Shall Have Snow

The snow didn't wait until afternoon on the left were taken about ten-thirty shortly after it started, those on the right at one-thirty, and it didn't stop in between.  These were the big, fat, ploppy flakes that pile up fast, and it was a slog back up from the barn.  When the girls went to bed last night, I brushed off a couple of inches of snow from Poppy's hadn't melted off all day!  It was a day for Stumpy to stay inside, and Bess, Frank and Pearl never strayed far from the woodstove.  Esther picked a bad night to get stubborn and not go into the barn.  She gets a wild hair every so once in awhile and says No.  I coaxed, I cussed, I chased.  I explained the ramifications of her decision should she not change her mind.  She wasn't having any of it.  So be it.  She has Louie's old room to go into, so she'd be out of the snow and weather, but it isn't the same as snuggling up to a roommate on a cold night.  This morning she is in the corner of the pen, proclaiming loudly that she's sorry and she'll never do it again.  Bet me!  She has short-term memory loss and this won't be the last time.  The dogwoods haven't bloomed yet, so this won't be the last snow, either.  Nothing to do but enjoy it.          

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


In a comment a few days ago, Kathryn noted my "wordsmithiness."  That seems so appropriate for what I do.  I know I'm not a "writer" per se; a story teller, perhaps.  Some days the words come hard, and must be banged out on the anvil of my mind (hard headed?) before they will hold shape.  On a good day, words come flowing like molten metal and my typing fingers can barely keep pace.  There are those days when there is no raw material...nothing happening, nothing to say.  Better on those days to keep quiet rather than blather on. 

Kathryn also rallied readers to leave comments.  This seems to be a somewhat unwieldy site and it is cumbersome even to make my entries.  Plus, I have dial-up and not high speed, so I play innumerable games of solitaire between steps in the process of writing a post.  (I'm not addressing the also innumerable times I get up to let Bessie Anne and the cats in and/or out...they will not organize and act as a troupe at one time.)  Comments are the first thing I look for when I log in, and I will admit it feeds my ego and my enthusiasm and resolve when I find a note there, or a conventional email response.  Just as filing is for the purpose of retrieval, writing is for the purpose of readers, and it helps to know I'm not just throwing feathers into the wind. 

Wind...ah, yes.  The storm continues today, and snow is predicted for the hill country this afternoon.  I stocked up firewood yesterday and stoked the stove first thing this morning.  The plum trees in the orchard have put out pink clouds of blossoms, and I'm hoping the wind will leave some intact.  Last year the winds were so strong for so long that I got not one piece of fruit from any tree in the orchard...such a pity.  At least when the wind blows, I don't have to worry about bellows for the smithy.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An Even Keel on the Ark

Anything I might have written earlier today would have been bleeped like Gordon Ramsey on a bad day.  It is raining again.  I checked with my carpenter son to see if he had the specs on building an ark, but he didn't know what a cubit was either.  The goats had suggested this might be a way out, but decided against it, as there were more than two of them and they didn't want to have to draw straws (no intact males notwithstanding). 

Evidently I'm not the only one who sleeps late on Tuesdays.  I did get the barrel down to the big road this morning by the six-thirty the rain, but the trash truck just pulled up to Fleur de Lys Winery and it's almost eleven-thirty!  Had I but known. 

An hour or so spent in the barn was enough to restore whatever equilibrium I might have.  The barn birds and mice normally give each other a wide berth, but this morning was a turf war over the choicest tidbits and I had a front-row seat for the action.  The girls were eager to take their turn inside out of the weather, so milking went quickly and well.  I normally brush down the goats before washing their udder, but not when it's raining.  I had always looked with great sympathy at livestock standing out in the rain, but Nature has a way of taking care of her own.  When the hair on goats, horses, and cattle gets rain wet, it clumps together in alternately overlapping Vs, so it acts like shingles on a roof, letting the water just run off.  When I run my fingers up underneath, the skin is warm and dry.  I wouldn't want to ruin Nature's raincoat.  The girls are starting to shed their winter undercoat, and when I clean the brush (on a sunny day), the birds swoop down to gather that soft hair to line their nests. 

At any rate, my land-locked ark is back on keel now.  The house is warm, the milk has been filtered, morning chores have been done, and I've got a good book waiting.

Monday, March 1, 2010

By Dawn's Early Light

Who wouldn't wake up early to catch a glimpse of this beauty on the ridgeline to the east?  Once I gear up to tend the goats, I'm "on the clock," and the work day begins.  Up until then, I'm on my time.  I hate to hit the ground running.  I like to ease into the day with coffee, writing in my journal, maybe some letters, and now, of course, these entries.  When I went out to snap this photo this morning, the wild turkeys were loudly claiming territory.  I've discovered that turkeys are natural conservationists.  A flock will gobble loudly while feeding, not to bring others to the feast, but to stake a claim so that an area is not overgrazed.  Bessie Anne is not as enthralled with dawn as I.  She drags herself out of bed whenever I get up, follows me from room to room, and promptly goes back to sleep whenever I light anywhere.  To each her own.

As long as I'm on the subject of fowl, there is a phenomenon that I dismissed as a (sub)urban legend when I first heard it, but I have found that it is absolute truth.  When a flock of chickens is without a male in residence, one of the hens will start to develop secondary sex characteristics...a bigger comb, larger wattles, longer tail feathers...everything that identifies a rooster except the spurs (and the "etc.").  This pseudo-rooster will take on the protective attributes of the male, establishing the pecking order, guarding from danger, and so on.  Twice it's happened, through chance or by design, that I've not had a rooster in my flock, and both times one of the girls has "flipped."  It's a little disconcerting the first time you see a "rooster" that lays eggs. 

My circadian rhythm is definitely set to the progress of the sun...daylight comes earlier now, and sundown is not until after six o'clock.  Not so long ago I was putting the girls in for the night at four-thirty.  I'm all for longer days.