Thursday, April 30, 2009

Polly Momma

Good morning Polly Momma. Every one is here to see your beautiful babies. Can we see your beautiful babies?

Well that's not very nice, Polly. You don't have to get your panties in a bunch. No one wants to steal your babies. We just want to see them.

Awe, come on. Just step to the side, pretty please?
Well, alrighty then.
(And my kids think I'm an overprotective mother. Ha!)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All Work and No Play

Pearl has another baby under her. A cute little black one. She wouldn't let me take a picture of it though. She has them both safely tucked under her wing and at least nine more eggs under her. In other chicken news, Sammie has a bum foot again. We had to do some rearranging and bring her back into a cage on the back porch. Every day the kid holds her in his lap on a dish towel while I doctor her foot. Yesterday she seemed a little irritated with the process but I didn't think much of it. That is until an egg came rolling down the towel! No wonder she was cranky. She was, like, giving birth for crying out loud. Needless to say the kid was just a little surprised to have a chicken lay an egg in his lap.

Between all the baby chicks and all the working outside my house is a disaster area. I've not had a lot of time to play in Sheville either. But I did manage to finish piecing the spools quilt top. I totally have my priorities straight. Truly I do.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Breaking News!

I found a baby hiding under Pearl! And it has chubby cheeks just like Old Jack! Yay!

Saving the Old Barn

The weekend before last a flat bed trailer loaded with rough cut lumber showed up at our door. The ground was too wet for the trailer to drive back to the barn where the lumber needs to go. So the guys decided to unload it onto the pick up for now and then once the ground was dry the Engineer could just drive the pickup back to the barn.

It seemed like a brilliant idea. Right up until they tried moving the pickup and the lumber stayed with the trailer. Oops. Then they jacked up the rear end of the pickup and moved the trailer away instead. It worked, but then the inside rear tire on the pickup went flat. Oops again.

Things aren't always a bowl of cherries around here.

All of that extremely heavy, fresh cut lumber had to be hauled to the barn by hand. Unfortunately it's so stinkin' heavy I can't even lift a single board, so the engineer has had to do it himself. Some of it is still sitting in front of the garage. And it might just stay there until it is needed. It doesn't seem like the distance from the garage to the barn is very far until you travel it a hundred times. Then it seems like it's about six miles.

That's not the only heavy lifting that's been going on. This dumpster showed up Friday. When they dropped it off I thought "Good grief, we don't need one that big". Then we spent the weekend cleaning out the barn. Hours and hours of walking back and forth to that dumpster. And you know what? It's pretty much full. One hundred years of junk really adds up. (Don't worry, we didn't throw out any of the good stuff.)

In fact we saved a ton of stuff. Notice the framing to the left of this doorway. That wasn't there a couple days ago. Looks like it's always been there, huh?

The new lumber is going up to replace these, uh somewhat challenged boards on the south end. And yes, that tree's going to have to come down along with a few others. The center section where the small ladder is below will have double dutch doors and windows on either side. The left section will be winter housing for the sheep. The right side we don't know what we'll do with yet. It has giant holes in the roof. So far all the estimates for replacing the whole roof have come back to be more expensive than a new roof for the house.

Everyone who sees this barn says it's worth saving. We agree, but that roofing price tag explains why most people just let the old barns fall down. It would be cheaper to build a whole new metal pole barn than to put a roof on this old barn. So I guess for now we're going to try to make it a little more functional by closing in the South side and hope for a roofing miracle.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Favorite Time of Year

Mrs. Kurtz brought three varieties of lilac cuttings with her on the covered wagon when she moved here from their former home in Kansas in 1898. They are now 15' tall and over 30' wide each. They are enormous. Their intoxicating scent fills the air. I have sheets on the clothesline as we speak. They'll be a delight to sleep on tonight.

The nearby quince is just as beautiful.

And looks lovely set off by the cherry blossoms. The cherry trees were planted by the second owners here.

But I'm sure it was Mrs. Kurtz again who propagated the Virginia bluebells.

In fact most of the gardens here are original. Except for a few modern varieties tucked in here and there.

It's nice to think about the gardeners who were here before me.

I wonder if they called the south flowerbed "the garden from you-know-where" like I do? The weeds, oh the weeds!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Did I Tell You About the Time...

Did I tell you about the time the Engineer thought turkey buzzards were chickens? Yep. It's been many moons ago but he did. See, he's not from around these parts. He's a Newfie. They don't have a lot of farms in Newfoundland. I suppose that's because it's really just a giant rock sticking up out of the ocean. Hard to grow much on a rock. So instead, they fish. Oh, and cut down trees. Seems pine trees can grow just fine up there through the crevices in the rocks. (If you've never been to Newfoundland I suggest you go, it's one of the most beautiful places on earth.)

Anyhoo, when we met he was living in the city and hadn't had much farming experience. Sure he was in Indiana, but the cities in Indiana are a lot like cities anywhere. Full of concrete and shiny glass buildings. One fine day I decided it was high time to leave the big city and venture out to my parents house. (Who you may recall are real farmers.) My kids were about age 11 and 6 at the time and riding in the backseat when we passed a cornfield with a handful of turkey buzzards scattered about. He looked straight at them and said "Oh look, chickens!" I was afraid the kids were going to pee their pants they were laughing so hard. They've never let him forget it.

So anyway if you are a frequent visitor here you know he's come a long, long way since then. But he still has his moments. Like last night when he insisted he needs a $10,000 tractor to mow 1 1/2 acres. I had to try to politely explain that the real farmers would laugh at him if he were spotted driving one of those things around the yard. Yes, 1 1/2 acres would be a HUGE yard in Newfoundland, but in the rural Midwest...not so much.

It's always an adventure. Oh, the stories I could tell. Remind me to tell you about the time he left me at a party in Newfoundland and I couldn't understand a word anyone was saying. Or the time he fell into the creek the day he met my parents. Or many, many other cultural misunderstandings.

I love you , Dear! You amuse me. But I think you can live without a $10,000 tractor. Nice try though.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Conspirators

I thought it was a little weird that I wasn't finding any eggs in Old Jack's side of the coop. I mean I knew Pearl was in there laying on some eggs. Last I'd checked she had four eggs and I added two of Blackbeard's to see if they would hatch. But every time I'd been out there recently she acted as if she would take my arm off and beat me with it if I even tried to get anywhere near her nest. So, like any reasonable person, I left her alone.

I knew Precious had been broody just before Pearl and concluded that was why she wasn't laying. When they go broody something in their body chemistry just shuts the egg factory down. And it takes a while for it to get fired back up. Then there's Minnie. Minnie hasn't laid an egg yet. That I know of anyway. She's done nothing to provide for her room and board here on the farm. She has no accomplishments. She just sits around and looks pretty. Probably should have named her Paris.

Sweet Pea though had been doing a fine job of laying. Every day in fact. A perfect, tiny, green egg. So was she now hiding them? Nope. Was Pearl scaring her away from the nest boxes? Nope. Come to find out Sweet Pea would go in the coop daily and kick Pearl off her nest so she could lay her egg. Then Pearl, being the dutiful little mother hen would get back on the nest covering up the evidence. We now have THIRTEEN perfect, tiny, green eggs under Pearl. I only figured this out because I caught them in the act.

Pearl, and her eggs, have since been relocated to the back porch so she won't end up sitting on a stack of eggs two foot high.

I'm tellin' ya, it's always something.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

It was our intention to make a decision today. To decide which sheep would come live with us. I thought it would be easy. But let me tell you, when your faced with hundreds of the cute, fuzzy little buggers it's REAL hard to make a decision. We're lucky to have such a great breeder nearby to have such a wide selection, but jeez Louise how can I ever decide? They were all cute. And they all seemed friendly enough. Then there is the decision of do I want little lambs or yearlings? Or maybe a wether (castrated male) lamb? And then there were the different breeds. This breeder raises both Shetlands and Shetland crosses. Oh and let's not forget all the different colors of Shetlands and they are constantly moving!

So I only made part of a decision. I know I want Shetlands. They are a great primitive breed that has not been so "improved" that they've lost all their natural instincts. That means they are pretty hardy and easy to care for. They are small and have short tails that do not require docking. They are very good mothers. Shetland's produce a wide range of beautiful natural colored wool that is perfect for hand spinning. And the ewes don't have horns.

I don't plan to show the sheep anywhere other than on this blog, nor do I plan to breed them for sale. I don't need them to be registered. Pet quality sheep are just fine for my needs. Given all that I did decide I want this yearling in the middle of the picture below. She's petite for the Shetland scale. I'm short, I can relate, so I think we belong together.

But I also want a couple of lambs. This one is adorable but I'm pretty sure Theresa would have tackled me to the ground had I tried to take it. She's keeping this one for sure. Her spots make her quite valuable in a breeder's flock. I couldn't make up my mind on the others so we will wait until they are ready to be weaned from their mothers in June. That will give Theresa more time to evaluate who she wants to keep for showing and breeding and who she's willing to part with.

Theresa's daughter happened to be practicing for a shearing contest during our visit so we were able to get a first hand demonstration of the process. Shetlands actually shed their wool naturally which allows you to roo them (just pull the wool off by hand) but hand shearing them can speed the process up immensely. (Electrical shearing is obviously a better option if you have lots of sheep.) She also showed us how to trim their hooves. She certainly knew her way around the sheep, I'll bet she does well showing them in 4-H.

Before leaving we had to say hello to the fellas. They are quite handsome but we won't get getting any of these. I had a billy goat with horns when I was a kid. That's all the horn experience I need for one lifetime. If this sheep thing works out for us and we want little lambs of our own we'll be buying a pregnant ewe and or doing the rent-a-ram thing. Sorry buddy.

So now we just have to finish up getting ready for them. I put another coat of paint on the sheep shack. We just need to put some sort of latch on the doors to prop them open in the wind, build a hay feeder and put down some straw bedding and it's ready for occupants.

Waiting until June to bring them all home will work out to be just about perfect timing. That will give us a chance to reseed where the old burn and compost piles were. The old burn pile should make a nice mound for the lambs to play on don't you think? I can't wait!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Home on the Range

Oh, give me a home
where the chickens all roam
And the ewes and the little lambs play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day

Home, home on the range
Where the ewes and the little lambs play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day-eee

Okay, so I might have been in the sun too long today while I was painting the sheep shack. It's another beautiful day. The girls love their new found freedom. I think it's frustrating poor little Blackbeard though. They were so excited at first they wouldn't listen to him when he called to them. Finally he gave in and just tried his best to keep up with the flock.

I'm still nervous about letting them free range. But I think it's the only way I'll get them to stop pecking out feathers. Poor Bertha still has that bald spot on her neck. I thought I would keep Old Jack and his girls in the enclosed part, but now I'm wondering if maybe Blackbeard could use Old Jack's help? I miss Bob. The big lug. Bob would keep them in line.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hello Sunshine

After three very wet, cold and gloomy days it was nice to get a day with nothing but sun. But I really, really hate it when the chickens do this...

Don't they look dead? They're only sunbathing but man they sure look dead. Scares the daylights out of me every time.

While the chickens were practicing their death scenes (drama queens) the guys were able to finish up the fence today. We ended up fencing off about 2/3rds of an acre. I tried to fit it all in the photo, but some of the right side had to get cut off. (click on it to bigify) The fence starts just to the left of the chicken coop then goes straight back to the woods, turns to the right and runs behind the small red barn and on for another thirty feet or so before it turns back and then crosses behind the new sheep shack and back to the coop. This will allow Blackbeard and his ladies access to free range and mingle with the sheep.

I worked outside as much as I could but I kept getting drawn back indoors by all the fuzzy cuteness going on around here.

Our little Lazarus (or Liza if it's a girl) is doing well and has started growing wing feathers already.

Polly has turned out to be an excellent mother.

She's had her two little ones up and scratching for food all day.

And inside the brooder it's all about the sock. Doesn't matter where you put it. Everybody wants to be on the sock.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gimme Shelter

Take a few 4x4 posts, some 2x4s, a few sheets of plywood and five sheets of metal roofing, screw it all together and boom you've got yourself a sheep shelter. They have pretty simple needs, they really only want a place to get in out of the wind and rain.
The Engineer even made a fancy Dutch door for it so we can corral them when we need to . Now all it needs is a coat of barn paint. My plan is to lead them in here each evening with treats. Hoping if they're tucked away at night they will be less tempting to coyotes. We're adding a solar powered electric wire to the no-climb horse fence around the perimeter but that doesn't always stop them. And we sure as heck know they're out there. We can hear them. It creeps me out and I live in the house.

This little sheep shack will serve us well this year while we fix up the barn. We found out it was attacked by carpenter bees, then a woodpecker came along and attacked the bee larva. Just like that old woman who swallowed the fly. Fortunately, the woodpecker may have exterminated all the bees for us. Unfortunately, he did some serious damage during the process and lots of wood is going to need replaced.

When the quote for a new roof came back to be more expensive than putting a roof on the house it sealed the fate of my Turkey Town/Banty Shanty plans. Instead we'll be patching up the old roof and closing in the south end with some rough cut lumber. We'll just use the center part of the building as feed/hay storage and a couple of hospital/lambing pens. Then we'll fix up a spot on the left side for a winter sheep shelter and fence off a winter paddock surrounding the barn.

Meanwhile I stopped by a fiber festival on Saturday, just to check things out a little bit. Figured I might learn something about the sheep raising business. Now, I'll have you know, I completely and totally intended to only use the sheep's wool for quilt batting. I need another hobby like I need a hole in my head. But after dipping my hands into all those wonderful bags of fiber and watching the ladies spin it into the most amazing yarns, I couldn't help myself. I came home with a book, a drop spindle and a pound of Shetland roving.

I was this close to bringing home a super soft and fuzzy Angora rabbit. And then there was the alpaca. He was awfully cute. Luckily I came to my senses when I realized he wouldn't fit in the back of the Blazer. But now that I'm home I have to admit I'm eying the long-haired cat and the big, shaggy dog with new interest. They might be catching on though. They're starting to act a little suspicious of me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reclaiming the Land

Before we can bring home our new lawnmowers we have to make it safe for them. We have thorn trees like this all over the property. We've been told they planted these in the old days to help ward off predators. I'm thinking they would have been highly effective. No one wants to be impaled with a four inch spike.

Friday we removed the thorn trees and some of the other small scrub inside the half acre or so we're fencing off for the sheep. It's the same area the original owners had fenced 100 years ago. Most likely they used it for a bull pen. If this whole sheep thing works out, we'll eventually use it for a ram. But that's another story.

The woods have made every attempt to take over this spot. The idea was to leave the browse and the large trees but remove enough of the medium stuff to let more sunlight into this area. The second family to live here were not farmers and unfortunately piled up all the waste from the burn pile along the fence line creating a berm which now prohibits this area to drain naturally. Combine that with the dense shade and it gets pretty damp back there. Now that it's cleared out we can dig a small trench and I think solve that issue.

The Engineer really got in touch with his lumberjack roots and got a little carried away though and we ended up with three huge piles of limbs, each bigger than a large SUV, scattered around the property.

Which, by the way, we had stake surveyed over the weekend. We had a copy of the original survey from when we purchased the property, but we never really knew where the east side of our property line was.

Behind the barn there is a ridge that falls down into a meadow with a winding shallow creek running through it. Then, finally, another ridge up and then a plowed field. It's obvious that the first family raised cattle here. I suspect this view was gorgeous when it was grazed and before the trees reclaimed it. We knew our property ended in the meadow somewhere, we just didn't know where.

There is an old welded wire fence, but we know that when the second family bought the property they didn't follow that line. They asked for seven acres, someone came out, did a survey and they all lived happily ever after. ( By the way, if anyone has a clue why there is a metal hanging post next to the big old tree in the middle of the woods could you please let me know, because frankly, it freaks me out.)

The survey lead us all the way back across the creek to the South East corner stopping at this little retention pond I fondly refer to as "Frog Hollow". We watched a HUGE turtle skinny dipping a bit then decided he probably wanted his privacy.

Turning North we traipsed along a deer path through the meadow. On the left (West) of us we could see the old barn. The only thing on our right was the East ridge. Come to find out we own almost all of the meadow.

It kept going and going until we finally found the North East corner. If you click on the picture below and squint you can almost see the chicken coop in the dead center of the photograph. The barn is hiding to it's left and the house is to it's right. What? You can't see it? Well, squint harder. Keep squinting...there, now do you see it?

If we ever win the lottery I'm going to fence off this this meadow and get enough goats and sheep to restore it to it's former glory. It would remind me of the pasture behind my Aunt Martha's house where I used to play in the creek when I was a kid. I'll never forget the day a cow sneaked up behind me and let out a loud MOOOOO. Scared the bejillywhickers out of me. You've never seen a short kid move so quickly through tall grass! Of course, restoring the farmstead here would mean we would actually have to play the lottery. (I hear your chances are better at winning it that way.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Everybody Needs Somebody to Love

They're like potato chips. You can't have just one. A lonely chick will peep incessantly. And that my friends will drive you nutso in a hurry. Luckily the farm stores nearby were selling chicks this weekend. Our sole survivor now has six little bantam friends to play king of the sock with.

You don't know what you're getting when you go there. It's just a big stock tank labeled "assorted bantams". Figuring out what you ended up with is part of the fun. I used Suzanne's method of sexing the chicks. When you pick one up, turn it over. If it's legs draw in it's a girl. If the legs splay out is a boy. And if only one leg draws in it's no good, put it back and try another. I have no idea if it works or not but figured what the heck it's worth a shot.

When I got home I logged on to Cackle Hatchery's website. I'm pretty sure that's where the farm store gets their birds. Anyway I crossed referenced the pictures of the chicks on their site and what I had in my box. I think I ended up with

one Mille Fleur D'Uccle
one Black Breasted Red Old English Game
one White Cochin
two Golden Sebrightsand a Silver Duckwing Old English GameI know for some of you that doesn't mean diddly squat. But the chicken people lurking around out there reading this site know exactly what I'm talking about. Because they have the hatchery catalogs memorized just like I do. I'm sure of it.

Of course bantams aren't the only thing for sale at the farm store. Nope. They sell full size egg laying machines, too. Polly was surprised to realize she was suddenly the mother of a New Hampshire Red and a Golden Comet pullet!

I declare there is nothing in this world cuter than a couple of chicks climbing up and around and under their momma hen. If you need me, you'll find me on the back porch watching them.