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Returning to Innisfree


Bits And Pieces

The last several weeks have been surreal. For us, and for many of our farming friends around the world (those that we know “in real life” and those that we know through social media), the uncertainty of recent events is coupled with the knowledge that our farms must continue. Beasties need cared for, projects need to be completed, equipment needs maintained, plans for the growing season need to be made. Lots of needs to take care of! And because we have the blessing and good fortune to both work from home, things happening off the farm take on an almost dream-like quality. My family and friends are rightfully concerned about their employment and the needs of their children/elders. We are all concerned about the local/state/national/global consequences. And none of us know how long this will last.

I made a grocery run the other day. Although people were feeling the emotional effects of what is happening, most everyone was polite and patient as we waited at the deli and meat counters, looked over the canned and frozen goods, and waited again to check out. The local IGA grocery only has three check-out lanes, and carts were at least five deep at each lane. The young lady running the lane I was in kept apologizing for the delay, so I told her she was going a fantastic job, and none of this was her fault. We still have to “stock up on compassion,” as one Facebook meme said.

Life on the farm continues, and some significant (to me, at least!) things have happened recently. One of those things is we emptied the barn of about ¾ of the hay bales that we had. That may seem puzzling, but this is hay that was baled in the summer of 2018 when we still had the cattle, who eat a LOT of hay. And waste a lot of hay, as well. We sold the cattle spring of 2019, and still had a barn full of round bales. Sheep and goats definitely don’t eat the quantity of hay that cattle do, and as this has been a milder winter than usual, we knew that there would be way too much hay. Put an ad up on Craigslist, run the numbers to know how much to keep on hand (to get us through to the summer 2020 hay harvest), and “adios” to the rest. It’s shocking at how big the barn looks now!

20200318_101838-1

After several starts, stops, and restarts, we’ve decided that the hair sheep just don’t fit into our plan for the farm, so we will be focusing on the Shetland wool sheep for my fiber business, and the Kinder goats for meat and milk. One post on a Facebook group for sheep, and a lovely family from northeast Ohio drove down to pick up all of my hair sheep ewes and lambs for their flock. Can I just say how much less stressful it is to load sheep than it is to load cattle? I don’t even think my blood pressure elevated! Now I will be focusing even more on raising quality Shetland sheep with good fleeces for spinning into yarn. If you’re interested in fiber, check out my site studioatinnisfree.com  It’s a bit sparse (except for yarn) right now, but will be bursting at the seams with fleeces after shearing happens in April!

07 yellow crocus

The crocus are blooming, so spring is still on the way, even though it snowed about 3” a few days ago (it didn’t last long on the ground, and made it a muddy mess). Shetland lambs will be arriving at any time, and the grass is greening up. Some starlings are building a nest in the maple tree outside my window, and it has been exhausting to watch them fly back and forth to get bits of hay, sticks, chicken feathers, and other nest-building materials. These birds are hard-working! I will be starting a whole pile of seeds (lots of things that can be pickled or fermented!) this week and I’m excited to be gardening again. I’m sure that tune will change in June when the temperatures are rising and the weeds are high, but there is joy in watching tiny seeds sprout. Not quite as exciting as lambs, but very close!

07 seeds

The temperatures are slowly rising, and the natural world is waking up – I hope you are able to join me outside and enjoy early spring!

Not The Mama, But I’m Now The Mama

There are weeks in the early spring that can be utterly exhausting. Sometimes things go as planned, and life is very good. Life is still good when things don’t go according to plan, but I get a lot less sleep and need a lot more caffeine to keep the ball rolling. Or, in this case, keep the milk flowing.

Breeding animals can be fraught with peril. There are so many things that can go wrong, from the health of the male and female before “the deed,” to the mama’s needs during gestation to keep that baby growing, to the birthing process itself. And once the baby (or babies) is here, things can still go awry. Ideally, even a first-time mama will recognize the squalling creature behind her as her own progeny, clean it up, and help it find the milk bar. Less ideally, mama needs some persuasion to let baby nurse for the first few times, then realizes that this is how it should be. And then you have those who want nothing to do with the life they’ve just brought into the world. They may clean it, “talk” to it, and even let it snuggle up to them to sleep, but when baby heads to find milk, that’s just too much. This is when I bring out the bottles and milk replacer, and start losing sleep.

(As an aside, I’ve had this happen to experienced mamas – they will be fine for years, then one year, nope, that baby isn’t mine, and you can’t make me nurse it. I don’t know what causes this “no thank you” switch to flip, because the next year, the same animal will be the best mama ever. Any thoughts on this phenomenon?)

06 goatlings on cinderblock

(A rare shot of my goatlings standing still!)

The first day, I tend to feed every 2-3 hours, getting colostrum into the lamb or kid. This “first milk” is so important to give the lamb antibodies and “wake up” its immune system. After 24-36 hours of multiple small feedings, I start mixing lamb milk replacer in and space the feedings to every 4 hours for a week or so. I’m keeping a close eye on how much each lamb or kid is eating to determine when I can increase the time between feedings.

As long as the mama isn’t trying to hurt the baby, I will keep them together, because after the first week to 10 days, the lamb will start nibbling at the hay it sees the adult eating. I’ve separated the lambs before, and in my experience, it takes the lamb longer to realize that hay is food when it doesn’t have an example to watch. Sometimes separation is necessary, but I avoid it when possible. It’s so satisfying to watch the lambs and kids as they start eating hay – another hurdle in the “baby to adult” marathon has been cleared!

For weeks two and three, feedings slowly switch from 4 times a day (8am, 2pm, 8pm, 2am) to 3 times a day, which works out to 8am, 3pm, 10pm feedings. I can sleep through the night again! I also add probiotic powder to their milk to keep them from getting scours. They still might (at least in my experience they do!), but the effects can be lessened by keeping that good gut bacteria working. By this point, they sometimes start drinking less milk from a bottle because they are eating more hay. Again, keeping a close eye on their development and growth is critical to make sure nothing bad is happening – are they pooing and peeing? Are they alert, playing? It’s not a chore to “have to” sit and watch them after they have their bottle to check their condition. Running and jumping babies are just so fun to watch!

06 flying goatling06 goatling in hay(That blur to the left of the top picture is what the goatlings usually look like, and the bottom picture is where he came to rest for a snack!)

The question of weaning is one of those hot-button issues – when to wean and how to wean will depend on your situation. I tend to wean slowly because I worry about them getting enough to eat, even when I can see by their round bellies that they are getting more than enough. Mine will be weaned by the time the flock is put on their spring pasture, if not before. Beating the same drum– observe and adapt as the lambs and kids grow. Sometimes 9 of them are ready for weaning off the bottle, and that tenth one still needs some supplementation, even after they are on pasture.

Bottle babies are a lot of work but give great rewards. My bottle-fed sheep and goats are the friendliest of the flock. Sometimes too friendly because they associate me with food!

What are your tips and tricks for raising bottle babies?

Let The Sun Shine In

sun and blue sky

Is winter ever going to end? Will it forever be cold, brown, cloudy, and filled with that nagging cough that just won’t stop? Yesterday was overcast with some snow showers; today is cloudy with a chance of rain changing to sleet. Tomorrow and the day after? Same as it ever was, but it will be windy, too. The sheep and goats are so very tired of eating hay and keep meandering around the paddock looking for anything green to nibble. The house dog, part Malamute that she is, wants out, then back in, then out again, and prowls around the house with her stuffed bear, crying and whining. Human tempers are short; we’re run down, cooped up, and wondering if those who “snowbird” in southern states might be on to something. The Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs appear to be the only ones who actually enjoy this cold winter weather. They’re outside romping around, play-fighting, and happy with their life.

It's so...bright!

Today looked a bit brighter. Literally. I walk out to start the morning chores and am greeted by the sound of baa-ing, which isn’t unusual, but this particular baa-ing was coming from outside the barn. Looking to my left into the barn paddock, I see most of the flock (the goats don’t stray too far from the hay feeder – they are 90% sure that outside the barn is certain death during the winter) sunning themselves. Some are nosing about for grass, but the majority are lying down, contentedly chewing their cud in the sun. As always, when they see me, they all get up, head into the barn, and start eating hay. It’s more like angry-eating, as they give me the side-eye for the lack of green grass.

(If you’ve never seen a sheep angry-eat, it goes something like this: sheep calmly walks up to hay feeder, looks directly at you, rips hay from the feeder with a wrenching motion of their head. Looks directly at you again, chews with as much force as they can muster. This is usually accompanied by a loud, plaintive baa whilst chewing, causing bits of hay to fall out of their mouth. One of my older Shetland ewes manages to narrow her eyes at me during this performance, and she will stamp her foot. It’s rather Oscar-worthy – best dramatic performance. Angry-eating can also occur on green pasture when they’ve eaten all the grass they “like” and I’ve not moved them, so now they have to eat the grass they “don’t like.”)

As I worked through the morning chores, I could feel the slightest bit of warmth on my face, even with the chilly temperatures and slight breeze. The grey of the previous days melted away; spring seemed possible again. We’ve been checking off the “spring is coming” boxes I listed in an earlier post (budding trees and baseball, to name two), but even with those signs, grey days can stifle that optimism.

sheep enjoying the sun

I went back out to the barn to snap a picture of the sheep (who all stood up and stared at me...sigh), and had to laugh at the Pyrs. They were stretched out on their sides, looking for all the world like rugs, soaking up the sun. As soon as they heard the sheep baa-ing in my general direction, they also had to get up and come over for some love, their fur all warmed up from the bit of heat coming down. I’m glad everyone out there is paying attention, but it makes it hard to get a good picture of them basking!

There will be a good many grey days before we reach “sun season” here in Ohio, and the up and down temperatures we’re currently experiencing won’t help that lingering cough (30* temperature changes wreak havoc on my system), but it’s so nice to see the beasties venturing outside and not huddled around the hay feeders inside. We are all enjoying the warmth while it is here, even with the forecast calling for rain in a couple of days.

view from my desk 

View from my desk - blue sky! Sunshine!

Self-Care, Mental Health, and Taking a Half-Day Off

trees by the river

As a woman who is very driven to get all of the jobs done, period, end of story, it’s been a tough challenge for me to accept that (1) I’m not getting any younger, (2) my body is reminding me of that every day in a myriad of ways, and (3) I just can’t keep up this pace forever. I tend to work until I can’t, crash for several days (or longer, sometimes), then pick myself up and wade back into the fray. Rinse and repeat.

Well, I’m tired of the “crash days” – I literally can’t get any work done those days because I’ve pushed myself too hard and too far. The answer? Not a vacation in the socially accepted view of that word. I can’t get anyone to watch the farm and the animals, and I really don’t want to go anywhere for an extended period. Maybe that means I’ve made that life that I don’t want a vacation from? Whatever the reason, more than a day away from the farm is problematic and more stress than I want to deal with (a close parallel to teaching here – it was easier to teach while sick, because getting together sub plans and dealing with the aftermath of being out of my classroom was simply awful.).

How about a day trip? Great idea in theory, until I got to thinking about it. Most of the places I would day-trip to are a good couple of hours away, effectively shooting half the day before I even get started. Plus, those places are materialistic-based, and that’s not where I am anymore. To me, spending the day shopping sounds more torturous than relaxing!

Enter my dear husband, who is effectively a mind-reader and can usually determine what it is that I truly want, even when I’m saying, “yeah, I want to go antiquing all day for a vacation.” His solution? Just take the morning off – get some breakfast, a fancy coffee, hit the used bookstore, check out the downtown stores, and come home when you’re ready.

I have a master’s degree and didn’t think of that.

fancy coffee

And yes, that is what I wanted to do, and that’s where I am right now. Drove to the county seat, got a lovely breakfast from the local bakery downtown, now sipping on my fancy coffee, writing, and watching the people go by. May get a second because it’s delicious. Going to stop by the candy store because they have the British-made gummies that I love. Circle around to the used bookstore. Get a greasy cheeseburger and a cherry Coke (real cherry syrup and crushed ice, folks!) at one of the best local burger places I know.

stack of books

Why an entire post dedicated to a few hours away from the farm? The mental health of farmers has been in the news. Dairy farmers losing their contracts, awful crop years all over the country, the daily and general stress of this way of life we have chosen. In my circle of farmer friends, many are in debt, some are working jobs off the farm to bring in some regular cash, others are unable to get reliable help, all are concerned about climate change and crop production, and the list goes on. We’re worried, we’re scared, and many people (sometimes including our non-farming families and friends) don’t understand.

Friends, we all need to take care of ourselves, however that manifests for you. Take those few hours - go fishing, go shopping, buy that fancy meal or coffee, write, paint, draw, get a massage, meet a friend, sit quietly in the woods. Whatever that “thing” is that you always want to do more of, but put off doing. Don’t wait until your body shuts down because your mind has been overwhelmed by the challenges of the job that you do. The dollars those hours may cost is worth not being sick in bed for days or longer, or heaven forbid, a hospital stay. Is it going to fix whatever stressors are swirling? Doubtful. But just maybe it will provide a recharge for your mind and body.

I’ll have been gone for maybe 4-5 hours, but I’m already feeling more relaxed than when I left the farm this morning. That could be the stuffed french toast and coffee talking, but if it works, I’m going to run with it. Apparently, I need to run with it a bit more often than I have been. I can’t care for my family, my animals, or my farm, if I don’t keep myself in good working order. I had forgotten that, but now I remember, and you can remember, too. Work as hard as you can, and care for yourself as hard as you can – if you’re caring for yourself, you can care for others even better.

Rounding Third And Heading For Spring

There’s a meme going around that says, “January was a tough year, but we made it.” Maybe you’re nodding your head in agreement. I know it was a long, strange month for us. It’s not that it was horrible weather or anything catastrophic happened. According to accuweather.com, the warmest day was 67*F on the 11th, and the coldest day was 26*F on the 19th. Many days were in the 40s. It was overall a dreary month, and it rained a lot more than it snowed. I went through a 4 foot by 4 foot round bale every 5-6 days with the sheep and goats, since they didn’t have anything else to do but eat hay and bellow at me when the level got below the “magic line” and the feeder was TOO EMPTY, OHMYGOSH WE’RE GOING TO STARVE! To be fair, there are 32 of them, and a lot of pregnant girls, so they were eating for two (or three). I’ll cut them some slack. So why was it such a long month? No specific reason, but it seemed like it would never end, and we would be stuck in a Groundhog Day-style repetition for all of 2020.

January was indeed a “tough year,” but we made it to February, and even though I know we have a ways until spring and warmer weather, the signs are there that spring is on the way. I take our farm dog, Lola, on a walk in the pastures every morning. She runs around sniffing at all the things that tickle a dog’s nose, and I’m usually lost in thought planning the day or mulling over a project/problem. Yesterday is when I first consciously noticed – the blackbirds and bobolinks were singing. Who knows how long they have actually been there, but I noticed them, and suddenly, I was able to see more signs of spring. The air has that wet, “warming up” smell; there is an oh-so-slight tinge of green under the dry brown-and-tan stalks of grass (and even a couple of brave dandelions!); many of the bushes and trees have a reddish glow as new branch growth emerges and the buds start popping out.

03 lilac buds

On a whim, and because I simply dislike wearing shoes and socks, even when sensible people would wear such things, I pulled off the shoes and socks to lay bare feet on the ground. Oh, my. My first thought was, “I think I just froze my feet to the ground.” At the risk of sounding like even more of a nature hippy than I may already be, I see why it’s called ‘grounding.’ The emotional effect of having my two feet firmly and directly planted on terra firma was intense. I highly recommend it – go find a green space, get those shoes and socks off, and ground yourself to this planet we’re on! If you’re so inclined, an internet search will yield links to both scientific and experiential evidences of the benefits of direct contact with the ground. As with anything on the internet, use your sense and judgment.

03 baseball dandelion

If the title of this essay puzzled you, it’s an homage to the late, great Joe Nuxhall, baseball player and announcer for the Cincinnati Reds. His broadcasting sign-off phrase was, “This is the ol’ Lefthander, rounding third and heading for home.” I’ve been a baseball fan as long as I can remember, and baseball is my other sure sign that spring is on the way. Pitchers and catchers for Cincinnati reported to spring training on February 15, and position players a few days later. As they warm up for the regular season, the weather does, as well. By the time they arrive in Cincinnati for Opening Day (yes, with capital letters – it’s a holiday!) on March 26, the signs of spring should be all over. Of course, I say “should” because this is Ohio, and Mother Nature can be capricious. Opening Day may be 60 degrees and sunny, or there could be a foot (or more!) of snow on the ground. The day could start at 60 degrees and end up with snow, or vice versa.

I haven't forgotten about lambing as another beautiful sign of spring on the farm, but that's a topic for another post!

I appreciate the slower pace and time to rest that winter gives, but as an April baby, always look to spring’s arrival. The longer days, greener views, warmer breezes all breathe life back into the stillness of winter. Until then, look for the signs – the birds, the trees, and the crack of ball against bat.

 

2020 and 20/20

grassy path by fence

The last few years have been something of a blur, punctuated by unexpected (and a few unwelcome) changes. Seeing as it’s early in 2020, let’s look back at 2019 and look ahead to what 2020 may bring to our farm.

The exclamation point that started all of this was a significant health scare three years back, which was not a sudden event, but one of those things that you know will eventually happen, and you don’t feel bad enough yet to do anything about it. That is, until it sucker-punches you with a week-long hospital stay, enough meds to knock out a Percheron, the realization that life has irrevocably and permanently changed, and the even more sobering awareness that you may never be “well” again. Along with the consequences that ripple out from that one person to everyone in their sphere of influence.

Those ripples, not surprisingly, affected our entire farm. No longer were Angus beef cattle a viable option –people were not healthy enough, and, having worked those cattle by myself, I knew in my bones that I couldn’t do it alone. Well, I suppose I could have, but the safety margin was non-existent. I’ve seen what scared or confused cows can do to people, and it is not pretty. I didn’t want that for myself or for the people who rely on me. I returned to the farm full-time from having an off-farm job, and the fall of 2019 became “how many projects can I finish before winter?”. The answer is – a lot more than I expected! New fences, new shelters, old equipment sold, barns cleaned and reorganized for sheep, specialized maintenance projects hired out and completed, plus those thousand-and-one piddly things that lurk in the corners.

sunrise over misty trees

Turning the ship of a farm to a new course has been long, tedious, painful, rewarding, exhausting. In short, all the “feels” wrapped in a 185-acre package and tied up with sisal. But the ship is turning, and we are both pleased and content with where things are going. People are healing, we are learning what the “new normal” looks like, and I am more relaxed than I have been in, well, a very long time. Things are stressful, sure, but that’s farming, right? We say that phrase a lot around here.

Looking ahead to 2020, I have definite goals in mind – finish the “big” fencing project, make our farm more hospitable to native pollinators, make our forested areas a source of income, care for myself and my family, grow the fiber/meat sheep businesses, clear out the rest of the unused equipment. All of these goals are do-able, and all are things that will benefit humans, animals, and land. And for the first time in a long time, I’m not dreading the work to be done. I know 2020 will be as much of a “good” year and “bad” year as any that have come before or will come, but I can see the plan and the goals, and things just don’t seem as gloomy as they did even a year ago. May your 2020 be better than 2019 in all ways!

Farley's Arrival

Keba M HitzemanFarley came to our farm literally by accident. A section of fence had gotten knocked down by some heavy winds, and our 2 Pyrs escaped. One, our 5-year-old male, decided he had somewhere to be and was found about halfway up the road, hit by a car. Not the best way to start the day – being woken up by the sheriff’s deputy pounding on the door at 5:30am. Thankfully, our female had stayed nearby and we were able to catch her.

That left her on her own, and she was too young to be guarding on her own. I’m frantically making phone calls and sending messages, hoping that I can find a Pyr, even a puppy at this point. When the dust settled, I had appointments to see a 3-month-old male puppy and a 2-year-old male who was guarding goats. Of course, they were in opposite directions. We went to see the puppy on Wednesday, brought him home, then went to see the adult on Friday.

His current owner was downsizing her sheep and goat flocks. Farley came to her with a flock of sheep, and had an incident with those sheep that ended up with his back left leg mostly non-functional. She put him in with the goat younglings, and he got around as best as he could – basically a tripod, but with all 4 of his legs. I maintained the whole way down there (a 3-hour drive one way) that I was prepared to say no, but as soon as I saw his sweet face that all went out the window. We talked with the lady about him, discussed sheep, goats, and LGDs, made sure this was what she wanted to do, then loaded him up for the 3-hour trip home.

Farley on ice

The first night, we kenneled him next to the puppy in the field, where they could meet each other, our female, and the flock. The next day we did formal introductions, and the 3 of them acted like they had been working together for years. After a couple more nights in the kennel, we left Farley out with Mattie. The puppy wasn’t happy to still be in his own kennel at night, but when you’re the smallest in the field, you need some protection.

A trip to the groomer, a vet trip for vaccinations, then a discussion on what to do about his back legs. Our vet recommended another local vet who does acupuncture, so I made the appointment to see if she thought he could be helped.

We’ve been taking him every couple of weeks for the last few months, and it has been amazing to see his progress. He went from not putting any weight on his back left leg (holding it up underneath him), to putting almost full weight on it when walking. He “bunny hops” when running still, but the improvement has been remarkable. He runs and plays with the other Pyrs, and even tries to do the “Pyr rear.” He only gets a few inches off the ground, but I’ll take it.

Farley in summer

Will he regain full use of that leg? I doubt it – it happened almost 2 years ago, and that’s a long time for an injury to cause permanent damage. Has his quality of life improved? Without a doubt. Don’t get me wrong, this has been an investment. But he can now do his job better and, at the risk of personification, seems to be a happier dog than when we first met him.







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