First comes pigs, then comes……RATS!!!

The saying that someone “eats like a pig” makes perfect sense once you have heard a pig munch on something. They smack.. loudly! Although it’s adorable in the pig pen, it’s not quite as adorable at the dinner table. They also make a mess when they eat, rooting for the best pieces. Even if they are fed their food in pellet form and it’s pretty much all the same, they still root for the best pieces and it’s inevitable that there are lots of crumbs and pieces left all over the place. Unfortunately it’s not left over for long. The rats that live in the woods suddenly realized that it’s near perfect living around the pigs. They provide food. They provide shelter (the rats burry under their thick stall mats) and lastly, the pigs are too slow to catch them as they scurry through their pens.

I am not particularly afraid of rodents, just weary of the potential diseases they can transmit. And of course, I do NOT like them running over my toes at twilight when I’m standing still filling up the water tanks. They actually don’t just transmit disease, they attract predators who like to eat rats, such as racoons and fox. Neither of these are welcome here especially when we are – like now- expecting more little piglets. Although the racoons look sweet enough, they have long and sharp claws (they are well known for ripping the head of chickens by sticking their hands through the opening of the chicken wire) and they are often infected with rabies.

I brought the issue up to my sweet hubby who dutifully started setting up the traps.

Since I try to avoid killing animals that are only doing what they are meant to do we used the live traps to catch a mother and her two kits. We then drove (we as in the royal we.. it really was Scott!) to a state game land preserve where we released them. Well, with the racoons gone, the rats now felt free to take over completely. And they apparently are a lot smarter than the racoons. And us. They consistently were able to eat the bait without springing the traps, whether they were live traps or the killing ones I eventually resorted to. We even found traps kicked down the hill- but still empty. So what do you do if you can’t catch them, and don’t want to put out poison? (Birds and other animals may eat the poisoned rodent, who then get poisoned in turn. It’s really bad for our birds of prey, but I also wouldn’t want one of my pigs to find it and eat it.

Having had this rat issue many years ago in MA when I had the alpacas, I knew what to do. I was reluctant… it’s rather time consuming.. but after searching the web for better and quicker alternatives and coming up empty handed I almost gave in. Reading that one pair of rats can multiply to over one THOUSAND rats in a year pushed me over the edge.. or in this case.. pushed me to search for some adoptable ferrets. And we found them, a brother and sister, 3 years old in search of a new home.

Meet Fiona and Shrek! (He used to be called Banjo- but Annika renamed him!) Sweetest little things ever. They love sleeping, and pretty much sleep 22 hours a day- no matter if they are held or in the middle of playing!!

Ferrets are natural predators to rodents. The smell of them got all the rats that I had in my MA barn fleeing just by the mere scent of them. At a later time we had mice in our basement- an old stone foundation, sigh- and instead of getting the ferrets I got some ferret poop from a friend. It worked like a charm. We were completely mice free. So Miss Fiona and big boy Shrek are ferrets with a job. We collect their poop and place it outside where the rats are living, and inside our new friends are patrolling the garage and mudroom in their new harnesses. I’m excited that we could adopt these adorable little fur balls- they play like cats but without the claws, and are afraid of absolutely nothing.

In the end we are hoping for a rat free, racoon and fox free healthy environment for our pigs, sheep and chickens! And now I’m a lot less nervous about welcoming our next batch of piglets- Miss Olivia is due with her first litter of piglets around Thanksgiving! Stay tuned!

PS If you by chance have an issue with mice or rats and want to try a more gentle way of getting rid of them- contact us!

Happy New 2021!

All the animals were settled with new bedding and clean pens in time for Christmas Eve so we would be able to have a relaxing Christmas Day. HA. How does that saying go? Fate laughs when you plan? Or something along those lines. Christmas Eve came and so did the rain storm and winds. When I looked outside on Christmas Day morning I felt my heart sink while wondering if the Meishans were actually still in their pen- the winds had brought down several trees and broken several fence posts and crushed fencing in many places, one being their pen. Oh well.. We spent most of the day clearing out mud and fixing fences. But we did it together and all the animals were fine which was the most important part.

One very special Christmas gift: We have welcomed 6 Swedish Flower Hens to our farm. Not only are they a Swedish breed, but they stem from my part of the country! Granted, when I lived in Sweden I never once knew that there were different kinds of chicken breeds. I was a typical city girl in spite of my love for animals. Apparently you are never so Swedish as when you live abroad! It helps that they fit in well with our little farm; the breed is rather rare still, are incredibly pretty and lay extra large eggs. They are what is called a land race which means they developed by them selves simply from the strongest ones continuing on. They are intelligent, calm and friendly birds.. and I’m crossing my fingers (and toes) that the two young cockerels we got turn into very friendly roosters. If you read my last post- our Oreo tuned into a bit of a night mare (and has found a new home!). I’m told the Swedish Flower Hen roosters ( they are called Flower Hens even if they are male simply because of the pattern of their feathers which resembles flower petals) usually co-exist well in a flock, and with Oreo gone there are definitely more than enough hens around for both of them. I’m already excited for eggs to hatch and new little chicks to welcome.

Seasons

With the changing seasons come different tasks on our little farm. We’ve been owning livestock for over a year now and have experienced farming in every season including my least favorite one, the mud-season (which frankly covers much of fall, winter and spring).

Mud makes everything just awful and well, muddy. Pigs naturally churn the ground with their little hoofs, or trotters, and when you add a lot of rain you get several inches deep or what feels more like feet deep of just mud. Even the high traffic areas of the sheep tend to get wet and muddy. All this mud is bad for their feet, so lots of work is done hauling wheel barrels down our hill filled with stone and wood chips. Farming down hill is SUCH a labor intensive choice, ugh. Conquering mud is an ongoing war we intend to win!

The only “good” mud I know of is the mud we help them make!!

After having gone through the seasons and their different tasks once already, we have been able to approach events with a lot less panic! We recently got our 4 Cotswold ewes inseminated (AI) for the second time. The time leading up to the big day includes flushing the ewes (which simply means that you feed them more nutrients so that their bodies gets the “message” that there is enough food around to carry more than one baby- fingers crossed), inserting CIDR’s and giving hormone shots. Last year I had sleepless nights wondering how it all would work out but this year it all seemed like a walk in the park. On the way home from the fertility vet we stopped again at our lunch place from last year (fabulous sandwiches, great fries and fantastic ice cream creations. Who knew sweet potato would compliment ice cream? Yum!!). The girls had to stick to eating hay while we enjoyed our food – outside this year. New for this year’s breeding protocol is a ram on loan from my friend Kikki at Tamarack Farm Gotlands. Seb is a white Gotland ram, a Swedish breed of sheep, and Kikki who has been doing a breed up program for Gotlands has achieved the goal of getting purebred Gotland sheep. Seb’s job is to help the girls get “in the mood” for babies.. by frankly smelling like a ram, and courting them. He will be on duty should the AI procedure be unsuccessful for any of them. With the help of science and Seb we are hoping for many bouncing baby lambs come next spring!

Hopefully our new mini barn will be ready in time for lambing. So far only the foundation has been started. In order not to feel too stressed about where my girls will lamb I’ve told Scott that I’ll just move all the ladies into his garage for lambing if their barn isn’t ready. It seemed to motivate him to make sure to finish the barn. 🙂

Breeding pigs and knowing when to expect piglets has also gotten easier since we now know more of what to look for! Two days prior to Thanksgiving we had our second group of piglets, this time from our new pig Olivia. Olivia has the sweetest personality of all the Mangalitsas on the farm, and we’re in awe over her mothering skills. She constantly works on making her house comfortable by rearranging the bedding. She throws straw over her babies to keep them warm and lets them sleep between her legs, as if she’s hugging them.

She is calm and protective and she constantly talks to her piglets and doesn’t mind the way they crawl all over her.

The piglets are adorably sweet, and now at 2 weeks old they are getting quite rambunctious and entertaining to watch with all their antics. Olivia and our new boar Oliver were both additions to the farm after we sent our first boar Otto (remember Otto– the one I picked up in Scott’s Subaru?) to greener pastures because he was too aggressive.

The summer madness of getting 17 new baby chicks (chicken math) and housing them all over the sunroom and garage has now made way for a much more comfortable routine. All grown up chickens means less pecking at each other and more getting along. They know which coop they belong to (we have two coops) and they are happy to go back inside once we ask them to at dusk. They all have started laying eggs in mostly various shades of brown, from light to dark chocolate brown, but also blue, cream and olive green. Currently 4 of the “old timers” (older by 6-10 months) have started molting. The coop and run are covered in feathers and the hens look truly bedraggled and sad. It’s cold for them without their feathers, so on windy days they tend to want to stay inside and watch TV….just kidding- that’s the family joke as their heaters look like black screen TV’s.

The only one to disturb my chicken bliss is Oreo, the rooster who was supposed to be a hen. He is a big boy and proudly crows and struts around, keeping a watchful eye over all 18 girls. A nice rooster is worth his weight in gold.. well almost. His job is to protect the hens and put himself between them and any dangers. And he’s supposed to know that his humans are the bosses, not the other way around. Oreo never got that memo. Roosters are experts at surprise attacks… One moment you walk peacefully through your yard and the next you are being attacked by a crazy ball of flapping feathers. There is true fear once you have experienced an angry rooster. Just check it out YouTube.. it may look funny, but it’s not when you are the one running! After the first two times it happened to me refused to leave the house without a stick or some kind of a weapon to defend myself with. Annika laughingly told me that “he only does it to you mom”, to which I responded: “give it time, He will come after you too…. ” and sure enough. Now it’s Annika who is afraid to leave the house when she spots Oreo in close vicinity to our front door. I on the other hand have gotten braver, especially after reading that you simply can’t back down. Although easier said than done… I now stand my ground and if he still goes after me I turn the tables and run after him until he runs from me. It’s quite the undignified display; me, an adult middle age woman running after a rooster yelling either that “I’m the boss” or “I’m going to kill you” – depending on the situation. Like I said, intact males!

All in all, we have gotten into a very comfortable rhythm on our little farm. Due to the pandemic Scott no longer has to commute an hour to work. He also does not go to the gym as farm work provides a fantastic work out! He averages 11,000 steps a day (of course he keeps track!) — most if it with tools or something heavy in his arms — and that keeps him in shape! Since he wakes up long before dawn he has taken over all the morning chores on the farm, something I’m VERY thankful for since I now get a huge break in the am before going to work. We are busy, happy and content. We constantly feel we have so much to be grateful for here at Gratitude Acres.

Interacting with our sheep and other animals makes us remember many of the lessons taught by Jesus Christ. Now in December the farm also gets decorated with lights which adds to the feelings of joy leading up to this wonderful Christmas Season! We wish you all peace in these times of troubles, and weather you are a farmer or not, there is peace to find in Christ. I learned that through missionaries that I met in my 20’s back in Sweden. Please reach out to these wonderful young women and men if you want to learn more about Jesus Christ or if you feel troubled. They are found in almost every country sharing the happy message of peace and love. I’m adding a link here to “Meet the Missionaries” where you can find out who they are and how you can get in touch with them (via voice or video call now during Covid times). We wish you a wonderful peaceful December!

” To eat or not to eat… meat… that is a question”

I’ve been asked more than once if I’m really going to eat any of the animals we have or will raise. It’s an interesting question.

Last fall my daughter Annika, my mom and I drove to southern Virginia to visit SVU, one of the schools on Annika’s college-list. The trip was fun, the area amazing, the foliage beautiful and the school fantastic. While stopping for a bathroom break Annika and I observed a big truck waiting at a red light. It had lots of wire cages stacked one on the other reaching high, and in these open to whatever-the-weather-is-for-the-day were turkeys crammed in. It was cold outside and these poor creatures did not have any shelter for the winds when the truck was moving, nor did they have any room to move.

The turkeys were all laying at the bottom of the cages, no doubt cold, windblown and scared out of their minds.

This is no doubt how those turkeys on that truck started out.

We are getting close to Thanksgiving again, and these trucks are not an unusual sight. I hope you will consider buying this year’s turkey from a local farmer. They need your support, and you deserve a really great alternative to the common store bought meat.

I love this picture!! It is true that a picture says more than a thousand words. This is Kim and her daughter Natalie. Together they own and operate Ironstone Farm in Pottstown, PA where they raise pastured happy turkeys, chicken, cattle and pigs. Click here for a link to their website.

Commercial meat chickens live a short miserable life as well. When in the process of getting the feathers off (after they are killed) they are dunked in scalding water. The water they are dunked in is so dirty and gross, full of feces and grime. No wonder we have to basically overcook our chicken to make sure we don’t get salmonella. Check they labels of the chicken you buy.. most of it states “no more than x% of water added”. I do wonder about the quality of the meat. A friend who has in-laws in the poultry business told me it actually takes longer sanitizing the building where the birds are kept and raised (they are usually ready to be processed after 6-8 weeks) than it takes to raise them.

While getting ready for our pigs, I researched different housing options and how to best shelter mom and piglets when farrowing (having babies). I mostly found ads and articles about farrowing crates. These crates are not much bigger than the sow, they are so narrow that she can’t turn around in them. She can lay down or stand up, and in order to decrease the 30% mortality rate for the piglets (no wonder), there are bars between the sow and her piglets so all the babies nurse though bars. Mom can’t even turn to check on them. The pictures I saw were awful. The commercial sows spend most of their short lives in these small confined areas so that they will be easier to manage. The piglets are taken from mom sometimes as early as 3 weeks so she can get pregnant with the next litter fast. When I saw the pictures I studied their eyes and were struck by how desperate and sad they all looked. Pigs are the fifth smartest mammal in the world which means they are smarter than a dog. When we hear about dogs being treated like this we react. Click here for a link to an article by the humane society regarding farrowing crates. I do encourage you to read it.

The difference in how those pigs looked and ours is amazing. My pigs run and jump. They PLAY. They nestle in close to each other when napping. They are social and sweet and tough all at the same time. They are curious, they come running when they see us. They beg for treats (and get them). They dig big holes in the ground, they wallow in mud baths and wander amongst the trees- which they often use as a scratching post.

These two “kiss” and snuggle. Pigs are happiest when they are together and hate being alone.

This is Peppa Pig and her first litter of piglets. They have fresh air, mud and green grass. Just what a pig loves.

I have spoken to many who have chosen to become vegetarians and vegans as a result of how the commercially raised livestock is treated. I respect them for their will power, but their path is not mine. I like meat, so now that I’m aware of it, I’m changing how I buy it instead. Last year’s turkey came from Kim, and it was delicious.

I recently spoke to the butcher about having our first pigs sent to market. Is it easy to do? Absolutely not. My pigs have names. They have different personalities and since we don’t have many, so we know each and every one. I know they have had the best lives we could give them, and they are healthy and happy. They are not stressed, they breathe fresh air and not the toxic fumes of manure that causes them to get pneumonia (which then gets treated with antibiotics). I feel that being sad to see them go is a fitting tribute to their life, they deserve to be mourned as a thank you for their sacrifice. I can live in peace with my conscience knowing I’m eating “happy” meat. After all, it is said that we are what we eat!

Mother’s Day!!

It’s the end of Mother’s Day and my heart is full of gratitude! Walking out I am surrounded by my ewes who are proving to be wonderful mothers. When I look at how the sheep love and care for their lambs it makes me think of my mother, and her love for me. I have many laughs at how many things they do that remind me of all human mothers, not necessarily just mine!!!

Having had a whopping 3 (!!) lambs born on our farm to date, I have been able to observe three very distinct types of mothering. I was not prepared for seeing such differences, and it’s been great fun!

Allie was first to have Daisy back in March. Unfortunately for Daisy she arrived without a sibling and with no other lambs born around her time. Her three aunts were all very sweet to her- which caused some angry headbutting from Allie, her very overprotective mother. After giving birth Allie tolerated me, but just barely. She stomped her foot when she spotted Scott and Annika and very clearly showed us that she’d rather have us not be there at all. When Annika was putting a coat on Daisy, Alma did in fact jump up on her… which didn’t endear her much to Annika- LOL! Her Daisy has taken the longest to become really friendly with us as she picked up on mom’s cues…clearly we were not to be trusted! As she grew she eventually made her own discoveries and realized that our hands often held treats, and she is now – at 2 months- getting to be quite sweet and often comes up for some attention.

Then we have Anna whom we call our “Power Flower Mom”. She had her baby without us there but she had no issues with any of us touching her little boy whom we named Bamse. His name means Teddy Bear in Swedish and he’s certainly living up to it. The reason I call Anna my Flower Power mom is because she has this “que sera sera” attitude about her offspring. A day after giving birth I let Anna and Bamse out for a bit of air.. and she happily just walked right up the hill to a grassy patch, not looking back once to see if her little lamb was able to follow or not. Luckily he was. Anna loves food so when she is out grassing she will simply just keep moving on- leaving her little Bamse napping in a field or next to a tree.

Bamse seems to prefer hanging around us and get cuddles. He is SUCH a charmer!

My third mom is Alma. She is my “Helicopter Mom.” Her little Buttercup can’t be more than a few steps behind her without her either calling for her or turning around to check on her. The first week she angrily pushed little Bamse away when he came too close to Buttercup but now seem to realize that his mom is abandoning him far too much (in her opinion), so she has stepped into active baby sitting duty! Buttercup and Bamse are basically inseparable. Where you find one, you find the other- and Alma!!

Buttercup is much more careful; she keeps her distance more than Bamse, but much less than Daisy. She is full of jumps and personality and stays close to mom, straying only when Bamse is getting her in trouble, but is always quick to answers mom’s calls!

The one thing they all have in common is that they all love their babies unconditionally- even when some come out looking like a different breed with their black little noses! Our own children are not always like us either, which can prove hard when we don’t understand why or how our kids- or our moms- can react so differently than what we expect. That is when we need that unconditional love.

I am very grateful for my mother who does love me unconditionally- even through-out my teenage years of which she said; “You were 15 for 5 years!!” She supports me, pushes me to do and give my best (annoying at times), gives me her honest opinion (which of course I didn’t want as a teenager trying on a new outfit but that I value now), she counsels with me and sets an example for me in a million different ways. Many of the things she did, I didn’t even realize until I had my own children. I continuously learn from her example and wisdom. When I was discussing my upcoming marriage to Scott with her and I wondered aloud how it would be to have him travelling for work, and for him to divide his time between 3 states on top of that. (At the time he worked in CT, had most of his children in PA and was planning on living with me in MA. My mom’s immediate response was to express her support. My dad travelled all the time, every week for many years when we were young kids. My mother expressed her gratitude for him working so hard, and his sacrifice of being away from his family all the time for work. She told me that she made certain that all the trivial things of housekeeping were done so that when he came home the weekends were easy and fun and friction free. She told me how much she admired my dad for always being willing to go do things with us all on the weekends in spite of probably being travel wary after a week away and how she learned to like doing things her own way while he was gone. She said she looked forward to every weekend when he came home- it was like a mini vacation.

I realized how much my mother’s chosen attitude to her circumstance has benefitted not only my dad but me and my sister as well. A more selfish woman could complain about being left alone all the time, resenting having to be the sole caregiver of the children week after week. No one is saying it’s easy or not justified to feel like that, but that attitude would have harmed their relationship and it would have harmed my and my sister’s relationship with our dad. Mothers and children are so tightly connected most of the time, and if mom is not happy with dad and complains of him being absent… I am forever grateful for a mother who made life seem so easy, fun and magical. Who always knew what to do, and how to fix everything.

A couple of turkeys! Me and my mom.

I know celebrating Mother’s Day is hard for many. For those of you who are troubled and hurting, I wish you peace. “Mother” is a title that belongs to all women, whether we have lost a child, a mother or are unable to conceive our own child. Not all are fortunate to have good mothers as examples. There are many mothering styles, but we are all important, we all have worth, no matter what. On Mother’s Day I not only think of my mom but of all the many women in my life for whom I’m grateful and thankful: mothers and mothers-in-law, sisters and sisters-in-law, daughters, my many good friends, women I haven’t met but that I’ve read about and that inspire me, even women I don’t actually care much for or even like, but who make me think, grow and question the way I see things. You all have a place of gratitude and love.

Heartache and fear

In these strange times of COVID-19 where everything is uncharted territory I wish to add my sincere hope and wishes that you, your family and friends all are doing well. And if you are one of the many who are not, I’m adding my prayers to those of many for a speedy recovery.

As always, I find inspiration of how to deal with all the situations that life brings from my little farm. I took this picture the other day, feeling like Dorothy on her Yellow Brick Road- my path to my happy place!!

It wasn’t that long ago since I mentioned that it wasn’t a matter of “if” but rather “when” I would lose a chicken to one of the many predators that love a chicken dinner. I lost Lacey, the Silver Laced Wyandotte the very next day, and just a few days ago I lost Peckers which for some reason was a lot harder. I still don’t really know why it was so much harder to lose Peckers- although she was a pretty bird- she was a Barred Rock- she was not nearly as stunning as Lacey. They were both friendly and they both laid big brown eggs. Losing Peckers made me cry. After some reflection I wonder if it might be that although I don’t think I’m very affected by the virus and all the changes it brings, maybe it all affects me more than I thought?

Scott, who like many others these days, is now working from home, saw the fox running by just outside the glass doors to his office, chasing our white Tweety who was running for her life just steps ahead of him. I heard the commotion from upstairs and we both ran out. There was no sight of the fox anymore, and we anxiously rounded up 5 of our 7 girls. After walking around the house we found Tweety who miraculously had escaped the jaws of the fox without a scratch. Peckers were nowhere to be found and I instantly knew the fox had claimed another victim. (Scott did find many of her feathers as proof the next day)

Later that day when feeding the sheep tears were dripping. I was sad and upset, feeling like I just couldn’t do anything right. As I was cleaning up, I cried even more since after another two days of rain I was sick of the wet muddy areas, of wet straw and wet everything. Why was I thinking I could farm? Care for animals? I had failed my chickens. I was raging against the fox, that cold blooded killer. I was questioning my whole philosophy about farming along side nature when nature was so cruel. Why did God create so much beauty and then so much blood-thirst right smack in the middle of things? I became aware of how the wild birds were singing and chirping all around me as if they had not a care in then world. They sounded beautiful, and it upset me even more since I didn’t want beautiful when I felt so awful.

The next day I studied my birds to see if they were still traumatized by the previous days events… and noticed Tweety happily pecking away in the very spot she was chased to within inches of her life the day before. No trauma. No lingering fear. No signs of being upset or even missing their sisters. They were all as sweet as ever- not even the slightest of lingering resentment against me for not keeping them safe enough- only happy sounds as they were begging for extra treats.

How wonderful to be able to let go of the bad stuff just like that! They don’t live in fear of what might happen, they embrace each moment as it presents itself. No grudges, no bad feelings. They don’t dwell on what I could have done better- they just accept what is and show appreciation for the treats they do get! They enjoy the sunshine when it’s sunny and seek shelter when it rains. They run when chased and are at peace when they are not. I compared them to myself…How much time do I waste on feeling afraid? Inadequate? Wondering over words both said and unsaid? Do I have someone I should forgive? Feelings that make me feel unhappy that I should let go of? I think I should be more like my chickens. I need to let go of worries and bad feelings. Change what I can, do the things I am able to do and have faith that all the rest will sort itself out.

Thinking about it, I realize that my chicken are in fact never safe at any time when outside.The fox is now out all times of the day hunting since babies are either here or coming. (My heart softened a milli-degree realizing a mom would have to do what she needed to do to feed her young, even if it was with my hens.) I thought back on how thrilled I was last spring, being able to watch the fox-kits play like puppies, being able to watch them sitting on my deck. And I had to take a hard look at myself since I also realized that tt wasn’t the fox that had changed- it was me. I now had chickens. For a hungry fox I had simply presented a smorgasbord of opportunity. So what should I do? Set a trap for the fox? Not hunting season. Close my chickens in the coop and never let them out? That went against letting them free range. Every time I let them out they RUN out. They absolutely LOVE being outside. Never letting them out would be like sentencing them to jail. I looked into chicken runs- it would provide an outside area where they would be safe. Still confinement, and never big enough.

My solution? The girls are getting an outside run for when we are not home during the day so they can go in and out at will. When we are home they will free range as usual. Every night they will be locked inside their coop- same as they are now. We are fencing in the whole yard- some with regular fencing, and big parts with electric netting. I realize I will continue to loose chickens, but hopefully at a MUCH slower rate. Nature is after all nature. Maybe it is so to remind us that everything can change in a blink. The world is changing and so must we. The good thing is that we can chose how to respond to changes, to blessings as well as to misfortune. But there is both peace and joy to be found, so we need to do what we can and have faith that the rest will somehow be ok. We are loved. There is purpose. And in spite of heart break we don’t have to be or feel defeated (at least not for long!).

It’s spring, so I am getting more chicks.. I am not going to let the heart break of losing someone prevent me from all the joy I feel having them around me. As a matter of fact, the first batch are chirping happily in their brooder right now, blissfully unaware of the dangers in the world! It makes me happy to see and hear them, they remind me that in the midst of uncertainty, life does go on.

shepherds needed

Believing we would have our first lambs due in May we had planned to attend a lambing clinic on March 14th. Our surprise lamb (surprise because mom turned out to be pregnant when we bought her) proved that when it comes to farming it doesn’t always (if ever) go according to plan- Allie was due anywhere from March 1st to March 15th. Over the months leading up to her delivery I had some serious conversations with our Allie about making sure that a) she delivered prior to the clinic so I could attend the clinic, and b) she delivered without having any complications.

As we were getting nearer March 1st I started to worry… how could I make sure everything would be ok when I was working? The solution: a security camera-or two in our case- that allowed us to watch live feed while at work. If mom started to deliver I could jet home as I work only 15 minutes away. And just in case anyone wonders how to get a teenage daughter engaged in farming… Get an app she can put on her her phone that she can watch while in school!! Works like a charm.. which meant that I got several texts daily asking me if I had seen x y and z!! Over the night I set my alarm to go off every 2 hours and having been on baby watch without a barn camera I was beyond happy to not have to get dressed and go outside just to check three times nightly. It felt like pure luxury to be able to roll over, look at the phone and determine that all was ok. Especially when it was raining! I have to confess, there were more than one time I checked the cameras and sprung out of bed, tossing the phone to Scott for a double check- causing HIM to jump out of bed as well: both of us convinced that we saw little baby lamb eyes or ears. After running down to their shelter we on each occasion were met by some very confused looking sheep who were wondering why on earth we were visiting at such an odd hour. Seriously; how can two people imagine seeing a baby only to both be wrong? Granted, the night vision isn’t quiet as clear with it’s grey tones due to the infrared light, but still!

This is what a night time picture looks like, here Daisy IS in the picture, and snuggled up next to her mama!

As it turned out Allie was showing signs of labor one morning after breakfast and she delivered quickly and without any problems. I came down just in time to see the nose and two front feet- then mom stood up and “plop” – gravity took care of the rest and out came the cutest little (Yellow??!!) lamb!

It was amazing to see mom go into action; no sooner had her baby hit the ground before she turned around and started licking her dry. We let mom do her thing since it was such a tender bonding moment: Allie was talking softly to her baby and baby was talking back. After a while, since it was cold outside, we stepped in and helped drying and warming baby up so she could enjoy her first meal.

With a full belly, and feeling warm and dry, Daisy- as we named her- figured it was time for a rest. Mom had different plans. She pawed her and nuzzled her until she got up. Repeatedly. I thought mom was acting like such a bully and was getting upset with her until I realized that mom knew better than I. Daisy needed a lot of very frequent meals since her stomach was so little and she didn’t get much at each feeding.

Annika and Scott were watching the baby with delight. Allie however stomped her hoof angrily at both of them, and then it hit me… I was the shepherd! Even if both Annika and Scott helped feeding the sheep on many occasions, it was me who spent time with them. I kept watching them, cleaning their shelters and their field, standing around just watching them, petting them, talking to them and yes- unfortunately for the sheep -singing to them. In the 5 months since they arrived as completely wild and untamed animals, they had slowly settled in and learned to trust me. They now like to be petted and rubbed, especially Allie during the end of her pregnancy. I jokingly called it giving her a prenatal massage! I also spent hours watching for signs of labor. When they got out of their field (ahem- Scott), they would follow me back. They now all come up to greet me, starting their baaing as soon as they hear my voice, only to get more insistent when they see me at the top of the hill. I on the other hand know which one it is who’s baaing since they all have different “voices”. I can tell if they are happy, nervous, uncomfortable or stressed. It reminds me of what Jesus Christ said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) A shepherd is someone who takes care of you and has your best interest at heart. Someone you will follow because you trust them, someone who loves you and knows what you need.

Allie let me help her with her most precious little lamb. She was not totally at ease and sniffed my hands and towels to make sure I didn’t hurt her baby. But it was when I saw her reactions to the rest of the family that I noticed the big difference. All my hours with my sheep were now paying off. Allie trusted me.

The world needs more Shepherds, and I don’t just mean that we all need to start keeping sheep or start going to church. We need to be the kind of good humans that children, youth and others around us can trust. Our lives need to be examples for others, not perfect which is impossible, but we need to be kind, good, thoughtful and loving. Our children and their friends need to know they are loved unconditionally and that they can trust us and seek our help when they are in trouble. I keep looking for someone who has those qualities, especially in these times of COVID-19 and political debates. I need a Shepherd I can trust to lead our complicated world.

Upon writing, it’s now been 5 days since Daisy was born, and Allie is back to wanting attention, cuddles and affection again, confident that her baby is OK. Yesterday I put my chair in the field, plopped Daisy in my lap and oh how I wished I had 3 hands, one for mom, one for baby and one to take pictures with… but here are some I was able to take! Scott also came down for some snuggles (although not with me 🙂 )

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Chickens are unbelievable! If you have never had chickens, and live somewhere where you are able to keep them, my advice is: Get some!! Chickens are popular among all sorts of people everywhere and for all kinds of different reasons.

Ours just started laying eggs! I had counted on them to start at 6 months old, but 4 of them are ahead of schedule and started at 5 months!! What good girls!

You can eat them (and you’re not the only one- I think every predator out there loves chicken dinner), they lay wonderful, healthy eggs, they keep your back yard bugs and slugs and ticks to a minimum while providing your lawn and gardens with “eggcelent” fertilizer! They have different personalities, both within a specific breed of chicken, and then of course there are so many different chicken breeds, colors and sizes to choose from.

Waffles is a Golden Crele (the color) Legbar. The little puff of feathers on her head completely matches her quirky and friendly personality which is typical for the breed!

Many get into the biology and science of colors, mutations etc and start breeding for specific traits. Kids and youth (and adults too!) take their beauties to shows and fairs. There are chicken clubs (not the sandwich) and associations, Facebook groups and of course a never ending supply of chicken books and magazines. They are easy keepers, don’t take much time and the biggest bonus of them all: They make you laugh!

My hens are all very different, and as they grow, they actually get more and more friendly. When I come home, they all come running towards me, wings flapping, running as fast as they can wobbling from side to side. Have you ever seen Jurassic Park? They look like a smaller (and a lot less scary) version of a dinosaur when they run. And they are highly offended when I close the door behind me and leave them outside. I often find them waiting for me, looking in the window panel next to the door.

My chickens are super social and love company. When I walk around the yard they insist on following me around. Lately I have to laugh looking at myself as I’m walking around with 3 dogs, my daughter’s 2 little Potbelly Pigs and the chickens. I feel like Mrs. Doolittle. And although I don’t speak their language, we understand each other perfectly.

My friend Jessica came to visit and we got a few minutes sitting outside watching the kids… naturally with the chickens at our feet!

If you have chickens, you may even end up with the actual answer to the old question of why the chicken crossed the road. Personally I think it’s because they saw something they wanted to eat!! Which brings me to another benefit.. they eat almost everything. Between the pigs and the chickens I have very few things that actually make to it to my Bokashi compost bin! Over winter, I ended up sprouting some of my old stash- expiration date 2015!- of alfalfa seeds. Both the chickens and the pigs loved it! I think I may have to start a fodder system which will provide healthy greens year round, and hopefully cut down on the feed bill!

Your popularity rate is sure to increase as you will find yourself giving away fresh eggs to friends and family! You are bound to end up with more fresh eggs than you can eat yourself, another benefit of owning chickens! With the right set up, owning back yard chickens is not only enjoyable, it’s also a great stress reliever. They force you to take some moments to quite literally smell the flowers and you will notice how the stressors of your day vanish as you relax, walking or sitting surrounded by your feathered friends and their friendly cluck-clucks.

Running Hot and Cold

My sheep have been running very hot these days, with temperatures in the almost 60’s. They’ve been panting under the weight of their lovely wool. It’s been, for the most part, a very warm winter and their heavy coats have made them stay out of their shed to try to stay cool. After much deliberations with the shearer, I booked a shearing date and then anxiously started following the weather report. We had to move it once due to rain, but the girls were eventually all shorn yesterday. I now have over 37 lbs of beautiful (and very dirty!) wool that I have big plans for!

Shearing is hard work, you have to balance a 175/200 lbs sheep while shearing their coat off in one piece. One good thing about sheep is that (most of them) once they are off their feet, sitting on their bums or laying on their sides, just comply and stop fighting to get back up. I say most of them, because especially Astrid had not gotten that memo!

And what do you think happened once the sheep were shorn? Yup, you guessed it, it got cold. Freezing actually. And windy. The sheep all seemed to be doing ok for the evening, but in the morning the next day when we went down early, we found the sheep huddled together in their shelter, looking very cold. Scott looked at me and said “See- next year you should listen to me and shear later”. Fitting into the shearer’s schedule “later” would have been too late as it would have been much warmer and our girls would then suffer and risk over heating- while being very pregnant which then puts the baby at risk. (-And they say farming is easy?) So I opted for the early shearing date and crossed my fingers for continued weather in the 50’s. No such luck.

A quick run to Walmart provided the supplies needed for me to construct a very easy tie-on fleece “tube coat”. My girls were not entirely sure they liked it and quite honestly, they did -do- look rather ridiculous. They got over feeling silly very quickly once they realized they were warm again. Tomorrow when the days AND nights are back to being warmer they will go back to looking like “normal” naked sheep again (Pretty similar to the story in the book Scott’s daughter gave him for Christmas – “Farmer Brown Shears his Sheep” so I’m calling jinx)! Scott is determined to be the one shearing them next year! For those of you who know him- please remind him of this!! Or maybe even better- talk him out of it! 🙂 I’m perfectly OK letting some tasks fall to professionals.

They went from looking like this…..

…To this……

….And lastly to this!!!

And naturally the color choices do represent my wishful thinking. Astrid who didn’t get pregnant is my “black sheep”. Allie, who is due any time now is wearing blue since I have someone interested in her baby if it’s a ram lamb! And lastly Alma and Anna who are due in May are sporting different shades of pink since I’m wishing for sweet little ewe lambs that can take my breeding program to the next level!

So what then are my big plans for all this wool? Well, first it needs to be picked clean from all debris such as hay and poop, washed (and washed again while trying not to end up felting it by mistake) and finally carded prior to me starting to weave with the wool. My goal is to make beautiful rugs! I was lucky to locate and old floor loom that was being sold by the West Chester Art Association. It’s about 70-80 years old and incredibly solid, so solid it will probably outlive me! Since I have never worked on such a loom before, I’m starting weaving classes at the Hand Weaver’s Guild of Philadelphia. Needless to say I’m very excited and full of gratitude for being able to pursue so many new and wonderful things.

“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.”Amy Collette

Counting Sheep

I confess, I’m a “counter”. I take the dogs out and go “1-2-3,” or I will say, “black, brown, blonde, good, I have them all”. It was easier with the kids, since I only had two, it was more a matter of making sure they were still WITH me – Gus, I’m referring to you!! 🙂

I count the pupae as I separated them from the meal worms and the beetles that “hatch” every day as I put them in their drawers and get super excited when I get NINE new beetles in one day!! I know- it’s ridiculous. In the afternoon, prior to the “killing hour” (the hour before dusk when fox, raccoons and other predators are out looking for an easy meal) I round my chickens up and lock them into their coop for the night. And of course I count! I have to make sure I have all 8 of them as one of them, Eagle, has a tendency to wander off by herself. I’m resigned to the fact that I eventually might lose someone to a hawk or predator, but it won’t be for the lack of trying. My hens are all moving targets and not always easy to count- I do go in after closing their door from the outside and “re-count” from inside the garage to make absolutely sure.

Having converted the coal shed that was attached to the garage into the chicken coop has some great advantages! Especially in wet or cold weather. Putting some corn or other treats in their feeder makes them stay temporarily in place for an accurate count.

I am blessed with a view down into the sheep’s pasture from my kitchen and bedroom windows, as well as from my deck and I do the same thing. I count them. A few weeks ago as I routinely glanced out, I found myself counting 1,2,3,4….5,6,7..WHAT??? But I only have 4 sheep?! I recounted.. same number. The silly thoughts that go through your brain in lightning speed.. “Did someone actually drop 3 sheep off into my pasture?” “Did they clone themselves?” “Have mature babies?” LOL. I ran out onto the deck for a clearer view and soon realized that although they were moving around I did not miscount, there were indeed 7 blond woolly four-legged creatures in the pasture.

My pigs- the Mangalitsas who are often called “the pig that look like a sheep and act like a dog” had torn down just enough of the wall between them in their “shig shack” and were having a grand time in the sheep pasture!

The agility and speed and the joy with which a pig moves always astounds me- and it makes me sad since it seems the pig “experts” have missed this fact. While researching the amount of space a pig needs, I turned to the AG extension office where it was written that pigs are pretty docile and don’t need much more that 8 sq feet. Excuse me?? Yes, you can put a child in a crib and keep them there, but they won’t do very well if they never get out. Pigs are smart and sensitive and JUST like a two year old. They farrow (have babies) well together and nurse each other’s piglets. They form bonds with each other and help each other out mothering. The big commercial pig breeders try to make us believe it’s in the pigs best interest to live their life separated by bars from their piglets, with no room to turn around. Living their life standing on slanting concrete slabs that gives them arthritis. They separate mother and piglets after three weeks so that they can breed mom back as soon as possible. They live in a stench that is so bad the pigs need constant antibiotics to stay “healthy”. Not the kind of pork chops I want to eat. And what’s worse- these are NOT happy pigs. If you want to see happy pigs… go to a farm that raises them out in a pasture. THOSE are happy pigs. -Ok- I’m climbing off my soap box now.

In all the commotion dealing with the break out king and queens the sheep who didn’t miss a trick loudly complained about being the only ones not getting an extra treat, so of course they got some extra TLC as well!

The shig-shack has now become just the pig shack and we separated Otto and the girls. The wall between them has been properly reinforced so Otto can’t get in to the girls- no teenage moms here if we can prevent it! The sheep got their own run in- now complete with a lambing jug in time for our pending births.

After all this- I still count sheep. Now eagerly waiting to actually be adding the 5,6 and 7 once the new lambs arrive!!