Returning to Innisfree

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, 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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