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Archive for May, 2015

sheep fence

Two strands of hot wire through the woods are going to greatly facilitate the girls’ daily task of moving the sheep to a new paddock.  We are glad; the sheep are valuable members of the farm community, and have the great virtue of eating knotweed, known around here as riverweed, an invasive species which can take over a hillside in a couple of seasons.

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crows; rain

The crows are after the corn again.  Those green monocot seedlings must look like flags to them, each one waving an invitation to come pull it up and gobble the malted grain from which it sprouted.  How to outwit them?  They see us coming and row them softly homeward, or at least to the dead snag at the wood’s edge, where the sit and wait for us to leave.  Our neighbor up the road recommends shooting several and hanging them in the garden as a warning to others, a method which promises a certain satisfaction whether it works or not.  The twenty-gauge is in the farm vehicle, just waiting for a chance.  Too bad the turkey hen which has been visiting the corn patch isn’t fair game as well.

Texas is getting too much rain too fast, rain we wish it would send up our way; although we have seen a little rain each week, it seems to us well below average, and the ground is getting hard for driving step-in posts.

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There are deep footprints through the plots of mangel-wurzels, oats and field peas, and Country Gentleman corn, where three cows got through the open lane gate while we were milking and did spring dances in the soft, wet earth.  They probably didn’t do much real damage, but beds aren’t as pretty any more.  Where the potatoes are just beginning to come up, weeds are threatening to get ahead of them, so we have to begin laying on the mulch trusting to our memories to tell us just where those seed potatoes are.  Ten beds, fifty by seventy-five, rotate between field corn, potatoes, mangels and squash, with a cycle of turnips and beans to follow the potatoes, and the squash and corn undersown with clover.   The beds of mangels and rows of corn alternate with paths we are slowly converting to Dutch while clover, the small-scale, low-tech version of contour plantings of corn and fallow.  The interplanting of clover should shade the soil, hold moisture, slow erosion (a serious issue on our sloping garden), foster beneficial insects and fix nitrogen.  It also makes work, since the paths must then be mowed or hand-harvested of their legume crop, but is this any worse than having to weed them?

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Friday is my morning to sleep in, since I have an appointment from midnight to two ack emma the night before, but last Friday I was up by five fifteen, not because I wanted to be, but because I could hear a ewe somewhere on the hill saying something about discomfort and unease.  It was too dim still to see more than an assortment of white spots against the dark hillside, but I could see that one spot was separated from the rest, so — muttering under my breath, because the girl who usually cares for the sheep was up at the barn milking and so couldn’t be sent to investigate this mystery — I pulled boots and a vest over my jammies and went out to see what was what.

It was Rosemary, last year’s bottle lamb, now a well-grown ewe and trying to birth a particularly large, beefy ram lamb.  All I could see was two big feet, and I could hear the thermos of tea in the kitchen calling to me, so I told her she had thirty minutes to make business happen and went back to the house.  Earl Grey and milk and a leisurely half hour on the front porch made me feel better, but not Rosemary.  Those feet were not moving, or if they were they were going back inside.

We have helped reposition a poorly laid calf, but never a lamb, until now; we’re here to tell you, the lamb is a heck of a lot easier.  Two little girls and one medium-sized woman, and five minutes of concentrated attention, that’s all this one took.  From our home birth days we diagnosed the problem as shoulder dystocia and a cervical lip, which sounds way more dramatic than ‘stuck lamb’, but we got’er done, and that’s what matters.  A lovely boy, name Johann after my father, who died the day before.

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If you ever see a cow standing with her neck arched, mouth open, saliva dripping from her jaws, respiration about eighty breaths per minute, get her out of the sun.

These early spring days hit the cows harder  than hotter days will do in July, when they are acclimated to it, but what do you do with a cow who has water, shade and salt and prefers to stand in the sun and pant?  It was time to take that group of cows across the road to a wooded pasture, so over she went with the others, and after an hour in the shade was frisking with the rest.  Still, we don’t like to see a cow get in that condition, and she wasn’t the only one; there were two among the lactating cows which were approaching meltdown.  These were on the woods on the east side of the pasture, where the shade is thinner in late afternoon, so in the morning we gave them a paddock on the west side so that they would have the best shade between noon and four o’clock milking time, which did the trick.  Thank goodness; we don’t want a bunch of cows with heat stroke.

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We walked out to look at Sweetheart this evening before bed.  She is four days past due calving, but seems unconcerned about it, a state I can’t appreciate, having always been wildly impatient under such circumstances.  The night promises to be cool, and we sat in the orchard with children on our laps trying to stay warm.  Other children slid under the hot wire to play with Rosa, the month-old black heifer calf, who came to see what was up and then stayed to play a game of peekaboo with a pair of tennis shoes.  The children lay on their backs in the grass and the cows, who can never resist a recumbent human being, came and sniffed their hair.

This year we are moving faster over the pastures, watching the orchard grass head out and trying to make our way all the way around in forty days on the second pass.  Despite the scant rainfall, the regrowth has been rapid, and we are teetering between wondering if we will be short on forage in July, or if we should clip behind the cows.  Guesswork, really, there are arguments both ways —

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killdeer hatch

This time of year chores take longer, with bigger paddocks and faster moves, and we spent three hours around milking time moving fence, examining pasture conditions, and switching water systems from one side of the road to the other.  Setting posts for the lactating cows’ new paddock I almost stepped on a little grey and white creature about the size of a walnut, a tiny killdeer just three days out of the shell.  What he was doing in the orchard when the rest of the family was behind the monastery I could only guess, but the wind was blustery in the extreme today, and I would guess he was just blown over there.  I marked him with a post so Shawn wouldn’t step on him, and when the paddock was built took him in my cupped hands (I could have held four in the same space) and carried him up the hill.  Pretty soon one of the parent killdeer heard his little peeps; I couldn’t see the adult at first, only hear its replies.  In the short grass near their nesting site I set down my little baby and backed off.  Mama (Papa?) made short dashes toward the place where the baby peeps were coming from, and came away with a tiny shadow.

Mission accomplished.

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