October 29, 2016

Saying Good bye

We had to say good bye to a friend today.

Junior and his brother Buddy were the first two animals we brought to the farm.  We moved here 2005.  The farm was owned by a family who ran horses in the pastures.  We spent the first year moving fences, reseeding the pastures and prepping for animals.  Then in the spring of 2006 we found a couple of rams for sale at a near-by farm.  The brothers were under a year old and sweet animals.  The owners brought them to our farm in the back of a Subaru hatchback with a sheet thrown down.

As they grew they battled with each other.  Some times we would come home to find one or both bloody from ramming.  Buddy also was very aggressive with us. So when it was time to choose which to keep and breed with, we chose Junior.

Shortly after that, Jeremy's Grandpa called and asked us if we could take a bummer calf that had been bottle fed by the neighbor girl and now would not go out to the pasture.  Gladys moved in with Junior and became fast friends.  They would head butt too.  However, Gladys grew quickly and got very big.  Junior quick trying to play with her when she got fed up being rammed, put her head under his belly and threw him.

Junior was a loving soul.  His warm eyes were always gentle and playful.  But he was strong and had no idea that he could do damage.  If you hopped the fence to see him and you weren't ready he would knock you to the ground.  One afternoon, our neighbor Lola came over with a cast on her arm.  She was asked by another neighbor who was having their tree pruned if she could move Junior so they could clean up the branches.  We weren't home and Lola thought since Junior was so sweet, that she could move him by tempting him with some oats.  When she opened the gate, he thought she was there to play and rammed her.  She fell over, realizing she should not be trying to move him. As she got up and turned to leave, he rammed her again and broke her arm.  She was embarrassed when she came over to tell me because, as she said "I know better than going in with a ram."

But with a fence separating you from him, Junior was a lover.  He would come a-running when he saw anyone coming.  He would run down to the road to greet walkers and kids on bikes.  He loved getting his nose rubbed and the treats people brought.  Junior was almost famous in our little area.

He was also loud.  When you opened the front door, he heard it and would call out for oats or hay.  Is call was short and loud - BA!  I remember when a friend of mine came to visit.  She was from Seattle and not a farm-type person.  She arrived at night, pulled up and got out.  I heard Junior call to her.  I opened the door and she said "What the hell was that?!"  "That's our boy Junior."

About a year ago Junior feet started giving him trouble.  We treated for hoof-rot, but he never showed any symptoms of hoof-rot.  We trimmed and trimmed his hooves.  But nothing worked.  Then his knees started to swell with arthritis.  We treated that with aspirin and molasses.  Finally he was too sore to go out and graze.  We moved him from his pasture to the pig pen (we didn't raise pigs this year).  That way we could easily feed him and he could be next to the ewes.  Notag, our matriarch ewe, would lay against the fence and him on the other side.

For a while, he stayed the same, but the past week or so he stopped getting up to eat, even when we were serving oats.  He lost a lot of weight.  So we called Dr. Scott.

Tonight, Jeremy, Jordan and I all sat petting his nose and telling him we love him as he passed away.  We buried him under his favorite tree in his pasture.  We will miss him dearly.

Junior with Jordan when he first came to the farm.
Playing in the snow.
This is how I will remember him the most - getting some love through the fence.

Our handsome boy.

August 21, 2016

Way too many eggs!

This time of year (summer) the eggs are coming fast and furious!  I already posted about how to freeze eggs for use in baking over the winter.  Here is another idea.

My mother-in-law, Barb, is always trying new recipes.  She found a delicious recipe for making 12 "egg cups" that you freeze and pull out to eat individually whenever.  It's perfect for breakfast when we are in a hurry.  And since Jordan is starting high school in two weeks, we will always be in a hurry for breakfast.

Bake Ahead Morning Egg Cups
25 minutes plus freezing time
Makes 12 servings

3 oz sausage
½ red bell pepper, chopped
2 T onion, chopped
1 ½ c baby spinach, washed & chopped
9 eggs
1 T flour
¼ c milk
½ c shredded cheese

Heat oven to 350 F.  Saute sausage and onion until sausage is no longer pink.  Add bell pepper and cook for 3 minutes.  Add spinach and cook until wilted.  Remove from heat and let cool for 5 min.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, flour and milk until smooth.  Stir in cooled sausage, veggies and cheese.

Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with olive oil.  Spoon mixture into cups.  Divide evenly to make 12 servings.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool in tin for 10 minutes; then cool completely on baking rack.  Freeze separately and then place in a large ziplock bag and keep in the freezer.

To eat – Remove desired number of egg cups.   Wrap in a paper towel.  Heat 60-90 seconds depending on microwave strength.

Variations – Use any vegetables: mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, carrots.  Replace sausage with bacon.

June 5, 2016

How to Acquire Chickens

Apparently, all I have to do is starting thinking about getting a few more chickens and magically they appear.  Not really magically, but they came to me nonetheless.

We've had a lot of attrition this year.  The chickens are locked in their coop at night - dusk to dawn - but are completely free range during the day.  They have 4 acres at their disposal and make good use of all of it.  But that also makes them susceptible to predators.  Sometimes we find one that has clearly been attacked and other times we catch the perpetrator.

One afternoon, I came home early to pick up Jordan for swim practice.  We were very rushed, as usual, and didn't pay any attention to animals.  Jeremy got home later and went down to the barn to do afternoon chores.  He texted me at practice asking if one of the Buff chickens was dead when I got home.  Honestly, I had no idea (great farmer that I am).  Then he snapped a picture and sent it to me.

In total we have lost half the flock over the year - from 10 to 5 hens.  So this spring I started thinking about getting some chicks.  I didn't say anything to Jeremy or Jordan.  Just started thinking about it to myself.  In truth 5 hens is plenty for our family.  But I have friends at work that like my eggs.  If I got 5 more then I could keep sharing.  As it turns out 5 hens were ready to move to our house.

My daughter has been best friends with a girl down the road for the past three years.  The friends is great and they are more like sisters than just friends.  Unfortunately, the friend's parents are getting a divorce and have to sell their house and property.  The girl, with her mom and three siblings are going to move into town and can't take any of their animals with them.  They had to adopt out their dog (that was a sad moment for everyone).  And their 20 chickens would have to go.  The friend was telling me and Jordan the news. She was so sad about a few of her favorite hens, especially one she called Vivian.

Problem solved!  She need to get rid of some chickens and I needed some chickens.  That evening, her and her dad brought over 5 hens, including Vivian, to add to my flock.  The friend is over frequently and always goes visits her hens.  She picks up Vivian and they have a little hug.  I'm glad it worked out the way it was supposed to.

Here is the happy flock before bed time.

June 4, 2016

Hottest Day of the Year

The hottest day of the year has come very early!  There's a saying in the Pacific Northwest that summer starts on July 5th.  Typically in the month of June the temperature may creep towards 90 F once in a while, but it rains every few days and the evenings are still cold.  So we don't worry about shearing the sheep until late June.

It's June 4th and the temperature is going to hit 98 F today and 96 F tomorrow.  We will crush the all time highs for these two days.  This is following the hottest May on record.  The poor sheep are not taking it well.  And that is how we ended up shearing sheep in the hottest day of the year.

A number of years ago we bought an electric sheep trimmer.  The noise scared the crap (litterally) out of the ewes.  Within three minutes of trying it on Lilly, it broke.  So we do it by hand.  It is grueling.  Hours of cutting wool on sheep who are pissed about being chained to a fence and having us pull and prod.  They often do piss on us to show their dismay.

We start with the most difficult.  Pixie has the worst wool.  It mats and leaves little space to cut between the mat and the skin without nicking her.  But this year wasn't nearly as bad.  Next comes Lilly.  Lilly is the most fidgeting animal I've met.  She fights and fights, kicks, head buts.  By the time we finished Lilly at 10am it was already in the mid 80's and I was sweating like crazy.  Jeremy went up to the house and made a picture of Gatoraide for us to share.  I tried to straighten out my back from a couple hours bent over.

Then came Sue-Sue.  I love Sue-Sue!  She's funny.  While we were shearing all the others, she was sniffing my butt and nibbling my shoulders.  She loves cheek scratches.  Sue-Sue is also the tallest.  Which means less bending over.  My back got a little break.

Baby was second to last.  I thought she would be easy considering that she is the smallest.  But even trying to catch her was hard.  At one point she was jigging and jagging and spooking the rest of the sheep.  Pixie freaked and bolted, jumping between Jeremy and I and kicking her hind legs.  She hit Jeremy in the chest and me in the arms.  It will be a nice bruise later.  Finally Jeremy grabbed Baby and we got her ready to go.

Baby held still.  But her wool was a sold mat. Like one of the brown Welcome mats for the front stoop but with little strands attaching it to her body.  We could cut about a quarter inch at a time.  Shearing a sheep a quarter inch at a time take a long, long time.  It was a couple of hours.  And she got nicked a couple of times.  Not bad, but a little bleeding.  I was dripping sweat off my nose and chin and was actually a little out of breath at the end.

Then Notag.  Notag is the best sheep, next to Junior, of all time.  She just hangs out.  The halter and chain weren't completely necessary, but helpful to keep her in one place.  It went very fast.  Thankfully!  My hands were loosing strength and starting to swell.

Now I'm in the living room, with a fan blowing on me.  Showered (cold) to remove all the wool and dirt and pee.  I took two ibuprofen, but it's not helping much.  I'll two more soon.  Typing is hard, like typing with ski gloves on.  At least they are not over heating (it's now 95 F).  We do a pretty terrible job.  It looks like prison cuts.  A true montly crew.  All uneven, tuffs everywhere.

Here is a before and after of Lilly.  You can see all the wool around my feet after the shearing.

November 13, 2015

Frank the Squirrel is a Bastard!

I get it.  Squirrels are storing up for winter. And everyone loves an easy meal.  But they are stealing more cracked corn and oats than the chicken and sheep are eating. And we are on a budget!

It started a couple months back. We keep the scratch and oats and chicken feed in plastic garbage cans under the pole barn between the chicken coop and sheep stalls.  Every day when I came down to toss some scratch and oats around, the lids were cockeyed or on the ground. I was like, what keeps flipping the lids?  Then I saw him - the largest squirrel in the world climbing out of the chicken feed.

This guy was huge.  I mean, draw a mask around his eyes can he could be a raccoon.  The cats are scared of him.  And that wasn't all. He had a whole gang of smaller squirrels on lookout in the trees.  They started chattering as I came down and the big one, which I named Frank, was able scurry (more like lumber due to his weight) away.  The first time I saw him, I said out loud to the animals "Holly shit! That's a huge squirrel."  They baaa-ed and clucked their agreement.

At least the mystery was solved.  It's Frank who is stealing from us.  Now, what to do about it.  I'm not feeding squirrels the organic, expensive feed the animals get. The squirrels can get a job and buy their own food.

First, I replaced the garbage cans with ones that have handles that lock up and prevent the lids from being removed.  Plus the plastic was thicker and heavier than the others.  For a few days, all seemed good.  Except Frank was obviously angry because there was poop and pee all over the lids.  And then I came down one day to find a hole chewed right through the plastic (see picture).  How the hell did they do that and not loose a tooth? I assumed that Frank forced the lesser squirrels to do the dirty work.  A true Godfather. In some sort of show of victory Frank also peed and pooped in the feed.  I had to toss it all out.  Nice.

I went back to Wilco and got metal garbage cans.  Try chewing through that you little bastard! The lids also fit tight.  Apparently Franks has supper natural strength or can organize themselves to work together because a few days later the lids were off again.  Seriously!?  Those lids were tight!  Hard for my daughter to remove.

By now, Jeremy was actively trying to shoot Frank with the BB gun.  A BB won't kill the squirrel, unless you are an amazing shot and can get 'em right in the temple or eye.  Honestly, Jeremy wasn't interested in killing Frank, just discouraging him with some stinging pain.  I'm not usually a fan of torturing animals, but Frank has got to go.  Guess what, Frank was barely phased by being shot.  Apparently his fat layer is like titanium.  I'm convinced he is genetically engineered.

I'd also taken to screaming obscenities at Frank every time I did chores.  Anyone walking by down on the road would think a crazy lady lives here.  The animals were getting worried too.  Their normally calm, kind speaking mom was running at the poll barn yelling"Frank, you little bastard!  I'm going to kill you!"

Next, we attached bungee cords across the lids.  For a month now, Frank has been trying to chew through the bungees (see picture).  He hasn't gotten through yet.  Or I should say that his minions haven't gotten through yet.  They probably cry at night with tooth aches.  At least it's easy and cheap to replace a bungee if they finally get through.

I wish that were then end of the story.  I win, Frank loses.  But no.  Now they are raiding the chicken feeder.  I came home to two swinging and eating like it was a rid at the amusement park. I have no idea how to deal with this.  The chickens are free range, but they need the supplemental feed this time of year.  I can't keep the squirrels out without keeping the chickens out.  I hate to say it, but we may need to put a contract on Frank and change from the BB to the 22.