Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Love is….

Posted on | July 9, 2014 | 4 Comments

….the summer garden.

This post designed to make gardening look so awesome that you, too, join those of us who spend our free time weeding, watering, hauling compost to melons, staking (and restaking) tomatoes, spreading straw over potatoes, onions, and carrots, trellising cucumbers and beans, pruning herbs, mowing or mulching between the garden rows, and, of course, harvesting.  Any time spent inside the air conditioning is for hopelessly scrubbing at the dirt embedded under your fingernails and in the crevices of your cracked gardener hands, plotting against squash bugs, and planning the fall garden.

And, of course, arranging the harvest into impressive, delectable food art to inspire future gardeners.  Because misery loves company it’s all worth it in the end.

Step away from the pool, people.

Come on into the garden.  It’s sweltering buggy lovely in here.

Plus, that leaves an empty lounge chair by your pool for me.  As soon as I finishing putting in the pumpkin beds….

Second Cuts: A Guide to Shearing Your Sheep For Felting.

Posted on | July 8, 2014 | No Comments

I forgot to tell you that I sheared the sheep.  I forgot to tell you because it happened this spring when we were busy with fishing and farm tours, strawberries and sports award banquets, birthdays and brooder room set-up.   So much was happening at once that I was forced into reactive mode instead of proactive mode.  Not to say that we are usually proactive around here.  We’re not.  There’s way too much procrastinating around here to be considered proactive.  But at least I can say I am usually forced to be reactive because my time and energy is always consumed with unplanned emergencies—a kid home sick from school, a deer deciding to take out the front fender and headlights on the car, pasty butt on the chicks, Colorado potato beetles spreading from the potatoes to the eggplant, finding out it’s Dollar Day at the Goodwill only when I drive by and see the overflowing parking lot and line of people around the building, etc.

This spring the emergencies couldn’t even compare to all the preplanned events that were eating up my time.  Why did I think 4 kids in 4 different sports was a good idea?  Why?  Why? So it wasn’t until we were on farm tour that I realized everyone’s sheep, except for mine, had already been sheared. I mean, everyone’s sheep.  There were NO unsheared sheep.  Even the hair sheep had been trimmed to keep them comfortable in the rising temperatures.  As a matter of fact, most of the sheep had been sheared so many weeks earlier that their fleece was already growing back.  It was embarrassing.

I had noticed that my sheep were starting to look like bath mats from behind….

….but I didn’t notice it until I was quickly feeding the animals before dropping Pretty off at volleyball, picking up Big from lacrosse, getting Middle into his baseball uniform before The Other Half got home from work and rushed him to his game, taking Little to soccer, and frantically calling my parents to let them know which child had been left stranded where and needed to be rescued and carried on to the next activity.  So there wasn’t much I could do about it at the time.

I was determined to shear my sheep myself.  I learned shearing from an experienced shearer.  I knew about positions and unzipping the wool and first and second cuts.  I knew about clippers and blades and cuts and grazes.  I also knew I wasn’t going to buy an expensive pair of clippers.  And I knew that I wanted to try shearing without the motor and the noise and the danger of the clippers taking off huge chunks of skin (my skin or the sheep’s skin).  So I borrowed a pair of hand shears and reviewed some shearing sites.

While I was reviewing the sites and their accompanying photos, I remembered how much my back hated the proper positions of sheep shearing.  Plus, I remembered how similar the positioning of the sheep was to wrestling with the sheep.  Also, I remembered that shearing is best with an assistant to help:

1.  Wrestle Herd the sheep into a containment pen.

2.  Wrestle Position the sheep during shearing.

3.  Keep the tarp/sheet/plywood in place that is protecting the fleece from the dirty barn floor.  That’s because the tarp/sheet/plywood is sure to get knocked out of place during the wrestling positioning of the sheep.

4.  Toss the soiled bits of wool (i.e those soaked or encrusted with urine, poop, or disgusting unidentified debris) off the tarp/sheet/plywood so that it doesn’t get mixed with the good, clean fleece during the wrestling positioning of the sheep.

With The Other Half at work and the children still in school, waiting for an assistant was likely to push the 2014 shearing into 2015.  So I did what any dairy goat farmer who happens to incidentally own sheep would do.  I put those woolies on the milk stand.

There is a special relationship between a dairy goat farmer and her milk stand.  The milk stand is a sacred tool for a dairy goat farmer.  It is for milking, trimming hooves, giving shots, applying DE, and, occasionally, holding a doe still for breeding.  Or around here, a step stool for the little bucks to reach the big does during breeding.  It is for sitting on, keeping tools arranged on while working on a barn task, and stacking buckets or supplies when not in use.  It is the ultimate jungle gym for goat kids during kidding season.  It is even a roost for the annoying Silkie pair that insists on sleeping (and pooping) on it every night, regardless of how I try to block off their access.  A dairy barn just isn’t a dairy barn without a milk stand.

And if what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, then what’s good for the goat is good for the sheep.  Probably.  Maybe.  Eh.

I started with Isaac and Simon.

Since they were raised here as bottle fed lambs they are extremely gullible.  They don’t know that sheep are normally skittish and standoffish.  They think normal means a chin rub every morning and wagging your tail when you get a good chest scratch.  They assume other sheep ride in the back of the truck, follow the farmer back into the barnyard after the goats lead everyone out during an escape, and wait patiently outside the garden for the weeds to be thrown over the fence.  They don’t even mind a horn trim with the tree clippers.

Suckers.

Sure enough, all it took was handful of hay to convince them to climb onto the  milk stand.

Suckers.

Then I just picked up my borrowed shears….

had a seat on the 5 gallon bucket milk stool, started at the bottom of the sheep’s belly….

and worked my way right over the top.

Getting started was a bit sketchy.  Differentiating between the muck that needed to be clipped off from the genitalia that was best left in place was kind of tricky from the milk stool position.  But once I arrived at the top of the sheep’s back, I was in standing position and the weight of the wool pulled the fibers quite tight and away from the skin for easy shearing.

Oh, to be sure, it was a study in second cuts.

And some received a more bizare hack job than others.  For no known reason.  I felt like I was shearing Samantha the same as everyone else.  But apparently my subconscious was thinking, “Wouldn’t zig zag look nice for spring?”

In spite of everything, the sheep looked quite majestic as they shed that winter wool.

Plus, each fleece came off in a single, complete, hangable, washable, baggable piece.

The only injuries were to the thumb I used for blocking the shears when working around thick mats or sensitive areas.  By keeping my thumb just in front of the blade when I couldn’t see clear to the skin, I ensured it didn’t go down into the flesh but stayed close to the surface.

There’s an obvious market for sheep shearing thimbles.  Among dairy goat farmers.  Who shear their sheep on the milk stand.  Why am I always part of the overlooked niches in farming?  Is it me?  Really??

Anyway, the sheep might have looked goofy with their home haircuts….

but they were nice and cool for summer.

Besides, we’ve had worse DIY hairstyles around here.

And Little’s mohawk was leading him to a goal-scoring soccer season.

So what’s the matter with a unique haircut between friends and family?  And livestock.

Overall, I was pleased with my efforts.  Of course, I am easily pleased with myself.  It’s one of the secrets to my success.

And if the wool was unsuitable for spinning, it was perfect for felting.  I have several projects planned that advise starting with large amounts of “waste” wool and saving the expensive dyed roving for the just the top layer.  In the meantime, needle felting the wool into beads for future decoration is a perfect way to spend the slow times during Saturday mornings at the farmers market.

So perfect that several customers asked to buy “waste” wool for their own projects after washing me card and felt while sitting at the table.  Which means I actually sheared my sheep at exactly the right time.  I wasn’t too late after all.

I know, people.

Sometimes I even amaze myself.

Place Your Bets.

Posted on | June 22, 2014 | 3 Comments

A full house is almost impossible around here.  One of the kids is always missing—sports, sleepovers, birthday parties, camp, play dates, any excuse to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  Sometimes we’ve got one pair.  Occasionally we’ve got three of a kind.  Sometimes we’re busted.

In the beginning it was disorienting to count heads and come up with fewer than 4.  My heart would pound and my breath would catch as I’d realize that not only had I finally lost one, but I had no idea what the missing child was wearing.  No idea.  Not even a haphazard guess.  What kind of a mother couldn’t describe to police what her child was wearing before he or she wandered off in the Food Lion???  (Besides a mother that makes them dress themselves, wash their own laundry, and put it away in their drawers and closets on their own.  And should I admit those facts to the police?  Is it even legal to make kids do their own laundry nowadays?)

Even worse, what if the stress made me stumble over his or her birth date like I do in front of the pharmacist after a bout of illness in the kids??  People, it’s confusing to have some children that are born 2 years apart and some that have birth years that are back to back.  (Anyway, who’s fabricating stories in the CVS to get illegal pink eye medicine??)  God help me if the police asked me when I last had all 4 kids together.  Surely we all arrived in the car together.  Right?  I mean, probably.  Maybe.  Um,….were they all in the car when we got here??

Eventually my brain would override my panic and I’d remember that the missing child was at a bowling birthday party or swimming at the neighbor’s house or staying after school for practice.  As the kids grew I even got accustomed to the absences.  Lately it’s unusual to have all the kids together.  I’ve become resigned to it.  I figured the days of all 4 of them trooping through the house, battling over board games, rushing in and outside, building forts, and playing tag through the yard and the woods were almost finished.  Maybe even over.

My parents did not yield so easily.  They weren’t about to fold.  No, they were ready to call against baseball games and sleepovers.  They were ready to raise  the stakes.  And for the past 2 weekends we’ve had all 4 kids together.  All in one place.  All day long.  That’s right, people.

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This Is Why.

Posted on | June 18, 2014 | 3 Comments

The other day we came home to find the sheep and the goats wandering down the driveway.

Sigh.

We put them up without a lot of hassle.  As a matter of fact I didn’t realize the real problem until the next day.

Because there’s a ton of lush grass in the front yard to graze.

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They’re heeeeere.

Posted on | June 12, 2014 | 1 Comment

No.  Not them.

Them.

That’s right.  Summer squash is here.  Zucchini, cocozelle, patty pan, white bush, straight neck, and crookneck. Read more

Good Job.

Posted on | June 11, 2014 | 5 Comments

I suspect we have a predator in the hen house.  Last week one of my chickens limped her way to the feed room for breakfast.  Upon examination she did not have any visible injuries, no bleeding, no lacerations, but her leg appeared pulled out of the joint.  She recovered.  A few days later I found a dead chicken laying in the pasture.  She also did not appear to have any visible wounds but I thought her neck was broken.  Both chickens were part of Michael’s harem.

As the less dominant rooster in the flock Michael often roosts on some old pallets in the buck pen with a small group of his hens rather than fight for a spot on the roosts in the chicken barn.  The injury and death was very discouraging. Read more

Size Matters.

Posted on | June 5, 2014 | 4 Comments

I realize there are instructions on seed packets and information on the plastic plant stakes in veggie transplant trays.  But, really, who pays attention to that stuff?  The seeds are getting sown in whatever manner that they fall from my hand.  I’m not mixing them with sand (from where??) or putting them in a salt shaker or drilling individual holes with a stick.  I will cover shallow seeds with a toss of dirt from the shovel or push large seeds in with a  fingertip.  That’s about all the personal attention any seedlings get from this farmer.

After all, why do I need to sow the seeds in perfectly spaced rows?  I consider thinning seed beds that were oversown as a feed supplement to the animals in the barnyard.  The fat pony would never touch a large, dried up carrot or mealy over-sized radish when she was raised on tiny, sweet mini-carrots and spicy bits of radish roots.  Even we are accustomed to the delicate and fresh shoots of new seedlings.  Who wants a well-formed but boring head of lettuce when you can nosh on delicious snippets of loose leaf bibb and buttercrunch?

It’s the same thing with vegetable transplants.  The squash plants are going into the squash bed in the manner in which they will all fit.  Ditto the tomatoes, the peppers, the eggplant, etc.  Because is the writer of the plant stake going to come and add 3 feet to my raised bed to get the correct spacing?  No, he’s not. And until he arrives to haul down 2 wheelbarrows full of compost to add 3 feet to the row, the plants are just going to make due with the room available.

Besides, some of the seeds don’t germinate and some of the transplants die.  That’s Nature’s way of making appropriate spacing in the garden.  Who am I to argue with Mother Nature?  Not to mention that I’m bound to step in a soft, newly sprouted seed bed at least once while backing in the wheelbarrow or carrying a bale of straw or driving in a garden stake.  And even though I garden in flip flops, they are size 10 flip flops.  Size 10 takes out a lot of little seeds.  And if the transplants are a little too close for the plants to grow comfortably, try dragging the garden hose over them when you’re watering.  Severely crushed plants will wither and die and some will get torn out by the roots.  At the very least, limbs will get cracked off, ensuring no single plant branches out and takes up too much room.  This is called “pruning”  and all the professionals do it.  Probably.  Maybe.  Eh. Read more

Lull.

Posted on | June 4, 2014 | 2 Comments

So The Other Half got up, put the dogs out to go to the bathroom, made lunches, signed permission slips for all the movies that the kids will be watching instead of doing school work during the last week of school, put some kids on the bus, drove some kids to school, let the dogs back in so they could begin their morning nap on the couch, and filled and started the dishwasher.  Which meant that when I finally rolled out of bed at 8:15 am (O.M.G. 8:15 am!!!!) the house was quiet and most of the chores were done.

I stood downstairs for a minute, baffled.  I was well-rested, the kids were gone, the kitchen was clean, and I had 10 hours until I had to go to work.  What in the world was I going to do with myself???  Luckily Big had left the last of his chocolate Easter bunny on the counter so I settled in for some nibbles as I planned the rest of my day.

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Loose Chickens.

Posted on | May 31, 2014 | 4 Comments

There’s a lot of debate regarding free range chicken.  Technically, the government considers “free range” to mean that the birds have access to the outdoors.  But it doesn’t actually mean they spend any time out there or that it’s more than a gravel yard.  Most people (as opposed to the government) consider “free range” to mean chickens that are allowed to roam around a natural area, foraging for some of their food and choosing their favorite place for a dust bath.  Although, with the rise of egg mobiles and portable electric netting, lots of chickens are rotating through fields and woodlands in movable pens.  Which some people consider to be “pastured” chickens instead of free range.   Of course, there are also “cage free” hens.  That simply means keeping chickens in a facility without cages.  No limits on crowding and no guarantee of sunlight or open ground, just no cages.  There’s “humanely raised” chickens—-a definition that is totally up for grabs.  Or there’s Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved—-with documented standards.  Very documented.  Like so-long-I-only-managed-to-read-the-first-30-pages-before-I-lost-interest documented.

Around here the chickens are fenced out of areas instead of inside them.  They are fenced out of the landscaping in the front yard.

No swimming in the pond, ladies.

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Open Season.

Posted on | May 16, 2014 | 2 Comments

You might realize summer is approaching when the hummingbirds arrive at the feeders.

Or when the broccoli and greens have to be harvested every day to keep them from bolting.

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