Shades of Ireland

Monday, January 31, 2011

Bo Peep is pooped.....

Being Mama to 70 lambs is nearly a full time job. I only have one bunch that is still not quite got the hang of the self feeders. I am thinking by tomorrow they will have figured it out and make my life much easier.
I cannot believe how incredibly fast they are growing. Right now, they are easily cleaning up about 35 gallons of milk a day.

This is where four of the pens come together and share a corner. As you can see, other than that black lamb, all 40 of these guys are all about the same size.

Neil had this past weekend off from work....... well, working for someone else at least. The weather was incredibly warm and beautiful and we worked ourselves almost to the point of exhaustion. He and Seth got another inside pen built and also got 3 outside pens put together.  My friends, Dorothy and Tammy, came and spent Saturday helping me to get the barn and soap room cleaned up and better organized. Tammy is my soap and lotion making partner and we had made quite a mess this past summer getting all that stuff made.
Now I have to shift gears and use that space for milk processing.

Then we got word about the weather forecast for tomorrow. Merciful heavens! Mother Nature can be so cruel. On Saturday, it was 72 degrees. Tonight, we are waiting for the snow to get here. We are under a blizzard warning for tomorrow and expecting nearly a foot of snow.

We have been scrambling getting ready. I am afraid that it will too cold for the younger set of lambs that we just moved out. So we had to rearrange things to make room for them to come back into the barn. I stripped and cleaned all the pens, rebedded them and brought the gang back in. Ammonia is a respiratory nightmare for animals that are kept in a barn. I work very hard to keep it pleasant for all of us.

The guy who owns these lambs and milks their mothers is in quite a fix. He has ewes dropping lambs everywhere. Yesterday, he had 30 more lambs at his place. I can't take them because we are just full up. We feed these lambs whole cow milk that I enrich with a supplement. I have a big barrel and several large milk buckets that I store it in.
The red barrel is a rain barrel that Seth made for last summer. It is being repurposed for the winter....
The sheep guy buys this milk from a nearby Amish community. Since the blizzard is coming, he made sure that he brought me all the milk that he could find. He stopped at a  farm that he had not been to before. The young lady who was milking was so relieved to sell him her milk. They have a "station" where they all take their milk to sell as a group. She was dreading having to drive the horse and buggy ten miles to the station throught the snow in the morning to deliver her milk. He is going to try to make it back late tomorrow to make another pick up. If he makes it through to all the farms that he buys from, he will be a very popular guy in the Amish community!!

So, while I am juggling feedings, mixing milk, making bucket feeders, trying to keep up with the sheep, we still are milking Holly, the Jersey cow, and bottle feeding this calf.

You might remember him. He was the little guy born in the last bitter cold and snow. His mother was just not able to make enough milk for him. So, he is now going to be Adam's bucket calf for the county fair in July.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lamb Relocation

Yesterday, Adam and I were on our own. Everybody else was off at work so we had to handle everything at home. That doesn't happen very often. Since Adam is so much younger than the other three, he has always behaved more maturely than other boys his age. He is a builder, fixer, and all round tinker.

The oldest lambs were old enough to be moved to an out side pen. I decided that Adam and I could handle the job. I got a really good lesson in just how "male" my baby boy is.
I wanted to weigh them before moving them out. I went over to get the bathroom scales. I planned on just letting him stand on the scales holding a lamb and then subtracting his weight. Good basic subtraction. By the time that I got back, Adam was cutting holes in one of my good towels and trying to run ropes through it so that he could make a sling. Then he planned to get my milk scales amd hang them from the rafters. After somehow restraining a half wild lamb in the sling, he was going to weigh them on the milk scale. He was sorely dissapointed when I insisted that we just use the bathroom scales because this was just for our records. We really didn't need certified scales......
After they were all weighed and recorded, we started carrying them out to their new pen. This just sorely upset the boy. He explained to me that he had a better way. He was so earnest that I just let him run with it.

His solution was to get my garden wagon and put the biggest pet carrier that we had on it.

It had to put on with the door to the back so that he could back the wagon up into position to load the lambs.

I was the catcher and he was the loader.

Turns out that we could easily fit three or four lambs in there comfortably. Since we had already carried 2 over there by hand, it only took two loads in the lamb relocator.

Ready for the road!

After we pulled them the 50 yards or so to their new pen, he carefully backed the wagon into the gate as iff it were a 26ft stock trailer. Then he decided that these lambs needed a ramp to come down.

The lambs were less than thrilled with the prospect of trotting down this ramp and were quite happy to stay right where they were.

After much coaxing and trying to get them to come out on their own, Adam decided to give them a little stronger persuasion......

The lambs settled right in and had a wonderful afternoon playing inthe sunshine.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Visions of Spring

Adam and I went to Walmart a few days ago and totally lost our minds. We wandered through the garden section and found the new display of seeds. He immediately went for the pumpkins.
Two years ago he had a simply amazing pumpkin garden. He "worked" in it everyday rearranging the dirt between the rows. He built all kinds of elaborate farm equipment out of bicycle parts, scraps and miscellaneous junk around the farm. He invited his friends to come and help with harvest. We had to use all of my yard and garden carts and wagons. In all there were 65 pumpkins of various sizes.

When we moved, the kids and I sacked up all of the soil from my raised beds and hauled it with us. The boys could not believe that we moved DIRT.

We made the effort at putting in a few raised beds but it was late in the gardening season, we had plenty of other things to get done and I was getting sick. At the time, I didn't know that I had a case of tick fever.

Adam ended up dropping the box of seeds in a new raised bed and it grew and overflowed like a jungle. Gourds!! Cucumbers!! Even a cantelope....... The gourds tried to take over the yard and climbed the small chicken pens. It was a terrible eyesore and of course, it was right in the front yard.

He had a bumper crop of small round striped gourds and several bird house gourds to harvest. It was still a big day because our friends Tammy and her mother Dorothy were here and they graciously were part of the "harvest crew".

Gardeners are eternal optimists. I think Adam ended up with 3 different varieties of pumkins, sweet corn and he still has gourd seed left from last year.......
It is late January and we better get to work on those raised beds soon!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Running water

I am so grateful that this farm has a small creek running diagonally across it. In the world of ranching, everyone is learns to "chop ice" at an early age. Everything living MUST have water. That is a fact that we often don't think about because of the ease in which water is available to us. Turn a faucet and there it is..... a pure miracle that we all take for granted.  
During winter when the temps drop below freezing, water becomes an issue for farmers and ranchers. We have become plumbing experts since moving to Kansas. It is imperative to keep the water pipes and hoses from freezing. So we bury the pipes about 4 feet and wind up the hoses and take them inside somewhere heated every day. As soon as my ship comes in, I am planning on buying one of those really nice metal hose carts. I hate winding them up on my arm and draggiung them in. We always need 2 or 3 hoses to reach from the spigot to the tanks so it is quite a load.  
Luckily, in the last 10 years or so, they have developed stock tank de-icers. Plug in a gizmo and drop it in the tank and it will keep the temperature just above freezing. Wonderful invention that is worth every penny of the $30 or so that it costs. Of course, I have the same problem as with the hose -- it takes a mile of extension cords but I am willing to risk electrocution rather than chop ice in the tank every day.

That brings me back to the creek... the wonderful flowing creek that even at 14 degrees--- still has a few open spots so the brood cows can drink. Seth and I had to chop ice only two days this winter when it dropped down close to zero. Even then, there were places that were just slushy and not frozen solid.

The cattle are eating massive quantities of hay to keep warm when it is this cold. Most of them are bred but five have young calves. They must have water to digest the hay and to make milk. They could probably eat enough snow to stay alive but it would be very hard on them.

When I talk to my neighbors, chores and ice chopping are all the main topic.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Birds of Prey

I have always loved birds. I am not an avid birdwatcher but I am able to identify several different kinds. My favorties have always been the raptors. There is something very majestic about hawks, eagles, and even vultures. This time of year, you can see hawks, falcons, and kestrels of all sorts sitting in fence posts along the road or swooping low over the plowed fields.
Being of the poultry raising persuasion, it is hard to balance my love of hunting birds with losing chickens.
Since we have moved here, I have lost several birds to owls at night and I have seen redtailed hawks eyeing my hens. One guy is particualrly bold and I caught him eating one of my young pullets this past summer. He has it on the ground and had almost finished his meal when I walked up on him. He flew up into a nearby tree and perched there and dared me to take his bird. I didn't. I figured all was fair since I hadn't gotten the pens fixed and was letting the hens free range. I have tried to do a better job of keeping them penned but...... I am just a free range kinda gal..... I like seeing my girls scratching about and they all seem so happy. During this last bitter cold spell, the chickens were free ranging because we are basically lazy. I have a big pet water bowl that stays heated up near the house. It is supposed to be for the dogs, but the chickens love it when it is cold. It was just easier to keep the pet bowl full than haul water out to the frozen chicken pens.

Yesterday, I walked out of the garage back door heading over to the barn to give the lambs their lunch--- and noticed a big pile of grey feathers under the brooder. On closer inspection, it wasn't just feathers-- the hawk was still under there, too! Grabbed a stick and tried to push him out. He grabbed it with his talons and I pulled him out..... What confronted me, was not for the faint of heart!

This was the same red tailed hawk that I met earlier this summer. Now I realized why he was so bold. He is missing part of his left wing. He is still able to fly but not well. That severely limited his hunting ability and that is why he has been hanging out at the McCarter Chicken Buffet. I left him to enjoy his bantam hen and fed the lambs. About an hour later when we came back, the dogs scared him off. I watched him fly very low and perch across the pond dam in a spindly tree.
So--- I have been thinking about how I am going to add this straggler to the menagerie with out feeding him my hens....... 
 I remember that before deer season, we set up the deer cam over in that area that he seems to favor. We put out whole corn hoping to catch pictures of deer. We did get a few but actually got more pictures of rabbits pilfering the corn. I think that I am going to keep putting out the corn and hope that this hawk helps me with the rabbit overpopulation problem..... Maybe I should set the deer cam back up,too. Might get some intersting shots. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On Duty 24/7

About 2 weeks ago, our neighbors decided to sell their meat goat herd. They had a livestock guard dog named Rosie. I was delighted when Tom called and asked me if I wanted her.

I have had goats for over 25 years. I had "goat dogs" for about 16 of those years. My last pair were a big Great Pyrenese male named Yetti and a smaller mostly Pyr female named Snowball. Snowball came to us as a pup while we still lived in Georgia. She was with us for about 10 years. Yetti was a grown rambling renegade when he came to visit Snowball in hopes of getting a litter of pups. His owner let us borrow him and decided that she liked him better at our house than at hers...... so he settled down and stayed for about 6 years. Both of them died with in a few months of each other of old age.
Before these two, we had a rescue guard dog. Her name was Princess and her deep devotion for the goat herd and my small children was amazing to see. She trained Snowball. When we made the move, she was ancient and I did not think she would live through it. An elderly friend who lived alone with a very small goat herd let her live out her years protecting them.

When my beloved Yetti and Snowball died, I could not replace them. I just couldn't find the "right" dog. I am getting to the age where I just dread dealing with pups and most of the adult dogs that I saw already had really bad habits and were were a problem where they were. Roaming, chicken killing, cat chasers were the last thing I needed.

I had been watching Rosie for about a year. Her goat pasture was right on the highway. Even before we bought this place, as I drove by I would see the goat herd with this faithful dog hanging out with them. A time or two, I saw her on the road and I would send up a quick prayer that she would get back where she belonged and not get run over. It was obvious that she could leave anytime---- but she stayed with the goats.

When we went and picked her up ( in the stock trailer), my biggest fear was that she wouldn't stay with us. We are less than a mile as the crow flies from her old pasture. I kept her locked up over night with one of my old shirts in the trailer. I wanted her to "know" me. My goat herd is young enough that most of them do not remember having a dog that actually lived with them---especially not one this big. Rosie appears to be mostly Anatolian. When I opened the trailer, they were just sure that they were all going to die. Everybody settled down after a few days. One morning I looked up just in time to see Rosie about half way across my cow pasture and it looked like she was heading for home. I don't know how far she got but later in the day, she was back with my goat herd.
She is not used to all this people activity but she is learning. We cannot touch her and she will not come to us. When I go to check cows, she tags along. At milking time, she watches for me to leave her some in her bowl. She and the milk cow have come to an uneasy truce. Chanteclair, the big red rooster, has learned that he cannot eat out of her bowl.
Princess, Snowball and Yetti were all huge, affectionate, playful animals. Rosie is a silent, shadow of a guardian.
I knew that it was going to be alright when she "warned" Seth when he slipped across to the barn in the dark. As soon as she heard his voice, she was fine. When the goats are out eating at the bale, she lays nearby watching. I have heard her barking at night and it is a confident sound. I know that she is handling it. Yesterday, Seth saw her physically chasing off a coyote in the cow pasture. He said that it was quite a sight and out other dogs all stood on the deck and barked to encourage her.

It is a relief for me to know that she is there. We will have lambs and goat kids soon. The coyotes have had free run of this place and have been bold enough to come right up to the house and torment the pet dogs.
They have sat in the new fruit orchard in the driveway and serenaded us. We have pictures of them on the deer camera trotting across the pond dam in the back yard.

Things have changed around here---- Rosie is on duty!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Road trip.... down memory lane!

Looks like we have made it through the single digit temps with only a few pipes in the barn broken. We'll get those fixed sometime this weekend.

In the morning, Neil, Salena and I will be loading up and heading down to Stillwater, Ok. Sis has an appointment to tour the Oklahoma State campus. I can remember making this same trip with my parents--- many years ago. I was  Jr. at UGA and thinking about coming to OSU to work on my Masters degree. I didn't make there as a student....... you see, I met this really cute guy...... I did, however, make it there as the wife of a student. Neil got his PhD there and I worked as a lab tech for the Animal Science Dept. Our oldest son, Charlie, was born there.  I have been back a couple of times for meetings and conferences. The last time that Neil saw Stillwater, it was about 22 years ago as he was leaving in a Ryder truck.  He is in for a big shock. It is not the small college town that we used to know.

The boys will stay home to handle chores and keep things to a dull roar -- I hope.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I am dreading going out this morning. It is bitterly cold with the thermometer registering zero. The wind is slight but out of the NW and I just know it will slice right thru me. I can see the eastern sky just starting to get light out of the office window. I won't even think about going out until the sun is fully up--- hoping for a little more warmth.
My heart is just so heavy for my animals. I know that I have provided the best that I can for them but...... it just so cold....... all we can do is just endure until it warms up.
This morning, the boys and I will suit up and head out for chores.
Adam will  make sure the chickens have a drink of warm water and their feeder is full. He is also in charge of Ellie May, our goat who is in quaranteen here at the house. She is due to have kids in about 3 weeks and is bedded down in a hut at the edge of the woods.
Seth will give the weaned calves a little grain and a bale of alfalfa hay. Then he will do the same for the 6 horses and fill up the hay rack for the goats and the milk cow.
I will milk the cow and wash up the machine---- if we have running water in the barn. Then I'll walk out to check the beef cows. I am pretty darn sure that we will be breaking ice on the pond and creek for them to get water.

Since we will be bundled up with coveralls, gloves hats, wool socks and rubber boots, the chores will take a while because with all that gear, it is almost as if you move in slow motion.

Right now, farmers and ranchers are all filled with a sort of resigned dread because of this deep freeze. We are all just holding on until tomorrow when it is supposed to warm up in to the 30's. Friday will be a bit warmer.
Enduring, perservering, holding on until it gets better. Doing what needs to be done in the meantime. A timeless tradition in agriculture. That is just part of what I love about this life.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Casualties of the Cold

The computer informs me that it is a bitterly cold 11 degrees this morning. Even though the weather service has been predicting this for over a week, I just kept hoping that it wouldn't really drop this low.

Just before Christmas, a friend of mine gave me a Holstien heifer bottle calf. She was born during the last very bitter cold snap and had gotten severly frostbitten. Her rear legs were swollen but she was alert, vigorous and eating, so of course, I had to give it a try. We bottle fed her for a few days and then I bought another invalid cow. This was a sick Jersey cow and after a week of good feed and medication, she was able to provide enough milk for the calf. I called the cow Holly and this calf Ivy.
After almost a month, it became evident that Ivy was more injured than we thought. Her hind feet were slowly dying and begining to be very painful. It became obvious that they were eventually going to drop off. We put her down and now I am milking Holly every morning and night.

This morning, I am anxiously waiting for the sun to come up. Yesterday, I told you about the group of bred cows that we bought in November. I decided to take one more look at the girls before I started afternoon chores and see how the hay supply was holding out and to make sure the creek was still running and not frozen over completely.  I got quite a surprise when I rounded the tree line and saw Granny Cow with a newborn calf. My heart just sank. I had really thought that she would wait a few more days until this weather cleared up. She is a wise old cow and had gotten up under a cedar tree out of the wind and snow to give birth. The calf was pretty dry and while I stood there, it hopped up and bawled. It had obviously already been up and nursed. I backed away quickly because I didn't want to alarm her into moving it  away from the trees.

When we bought these 6 bred cows, we knew that we were taking a gamble on the weather. I bought 3 that were preg checked as in their third trimester and the other 3 were in the second trimester. The last 3 will calf at pretty much the same time as our herd when the weather should be warming up and grass begining to grow.
The other calves are a week or so older and vigorous enough to fend for themselves and can take shelter in the tree line.
This is why we pull our bull out of the pasture in late Febuary and don't put him back in until about the first of June. We don't want our calves born in the cold of winter. Ranchers calve in the late fall and early winter all the time. Their cows live out on the range in much tougher conditions than my girls have it. It's a gamble that you will lose some......... but, dang, I hate it.

Morning update: IT IS COLD!! I suited up and ventured out to check for this calf before doing any chores. I found most of the herd bunched up under some really big cedar trees. The calf was in the middle of the bunch and doing just fine. Brindle let me get close enough to check before she warned me off......

Monday, January 10, 2011

First Snow at the Farm

 I love my job! Yesterday, we knew this was coming---- Heck we have been waiting several days for it to get here. So the boys and I spent our time getting ready. Wrapping water pipes, bringing hoses into the barns after filling up all the water tanks and putting out plenty of hay.

In the upper right corner of the first picture, you can see a black cow with a small calf. It was born about 5 days ago. Yesterday afternoon, I realized that I hadn't seen it in over 24 hours. That's a big deal for me so I took off looking for her. This cow is a first time mama and I haven't been very impressed with her parenting skills. She has no qualms about laying it down and then heading to the opposite side of the farm for most of the day. I searched the entire pasture-- twice in some places and felt like I had walked 10 miles. Never did find the calf and was begining to think the coyotes had got it. I was even making plans to haul this mama to the sale barn. What a pleasant surprise this morning!

 This is Charlotte. I have no idea why they all stood or laid out in the snow..... they have plenty of timber for cover. They seemed to be enjoying it as much as I did. No wind makes a big difference.

Buttermilk and friends at the cow buffet.... It is amazing how fast they will go thru these bales when it is cold.

I should be a skinny woman........

But, I most definitly am not. I am not a hundred pounds over weight but I am certainly seventy-five. I am not even real sure how it happened but now that the weight is here, it plans to stay.  I am a very active woman. In the past few weeks, I have even begun to jog a a few mornings a week. Not very far or very fast and it is not a pretty sight, but it IS jogging.
I usually go over to the barn and jog to the gate. It is only about a 1/4 of a mile but it is a start. The dogs are delighted to run with me except for Prissy, the Rat Terrier. She is certain something is terribly wrong and tries her best to stop this foolishness by growling, barking, and hanging on to my leg...... I am glad that no one is around to take a picture.
I didn't tell my family that I had started this early morning program. About the second time out, I had just gotten started when suddenly my phone rang. Seth, my 17 yo son, asked me with great concern in his voice," What's wrong?? Why are you running??!!" When I tried nonchalantly to tell him that I was just exersizing, he incredulously wanted to know if I was ok......

I am a great walker. Most cattle barons in this part of the world drive their pick up trucks out to check on their cattle. I have always walked out and inspected the girls. Now that we live on a 155 acres it is sometimes a bit of a hike but I do every day. More often if I am expecting a calf. We have "farmer cows" meaning that they are very used to people and usually come when called or at least will come if offered feed.
This past Novemeber, we bought six bred cows at the stockyard to increase our cow numbers and try to make some money to help pay for this place. Two of them were farmer cows and blended right in. The other four were definitely "range cattle", meaning that they came fro a huge ranch and were not used to seeing people on regular basis and when they did --- it was bad news!

All my girls have names. I named this bunch of renegades,too, just because I am foolish enought to think that they ought not be left out. Dumpling and Notch obviously came from the same ranch. They have the same mysterious looking unreadable brand on their left side and their ears are identically notched. These two have settled down and pretty much blend into the herd and don't have a problem with me moving thru on my daily check.
The other two are a different story. Buttermilk and Brindle are both about 9 yo according to the vet at the salebarn and obviously have spent their entire lives together. Buttermilk is a cream colored cow that calved first with a red heifer with a white face. I knew there was going to be trouble with this pair. Mama cows are naturally protective but in this case she has back up. Brindle, a red tiger-striped cow, was more protective of this heifer than Buttermilk. As soon as she spotted me in the pasture, she would begin to try to hustle Buttermilk and the calf away. That worked for a day or two but soon the baby had other ideas. She decided to come check me out. Buttermilk was a bit alarmed but Brindle was outraged. Luckily, I had decided earlier this year to start carrying a cattle stick since the bull was a bit too forward sometimes. I managed to keep the calf pushed arm and stick length away from me and between me and Brindle. I simply HAD to bluff her down because I knew that I couldn't outrun her. The next  morning, I began my jogging routine.
A few days later Brindle had a fine strapping bull calf. I still walk out to check the herd but I keep a wide berth between us. I know that I am still too close when she puts her head down and begins to paw the ground....... that is at about 75 yards. She is getting better and I am still undecided about keeping her. She IS an excellent mother.......and I am getting faster.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Trying Again

I've blogged a time or two before but something always seems to happen. I get busy and don't blog for a bit. When when I go back, somehow something has changed and I can't get back in, I can't remember some password or the server purged all the inactive blogs and it is all gone or I am locked out-- never to post again on that blog. Maybe I'll be more diligent this time....... maybe.