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!!

What happened to January?

Finding time to enjoy my daily chores with Waffles overseeing my work

It’s already the beginning of February and I’m asking myself where the usually long and endless January went. January is my least favorite month; it’s usually cold and dark and dreary and you don’t even have the Christmas lights to brighten things up. Usually January lasts for ever but this year January came and went in a flash.

My feeling of getting nothing done caused me to look back, and doing so my feelings of having wasted time slowly gave way to a sense of feeling a bit more accomplished. Here is a quick run down from the farm;

We separated the pigs– The girls are now getting too old to be cohabitating with Otto. This meant that we had to rethink the fencing and gate situation; redo some of it, move the sheep, and make another feed/water station. When it comes to water- pigs drink a lot – and not only that, they refuse to let water stay in a bowl. They make it their life’s mission to make mud out of any pool of water, so whatever water I serve them lasts for maybe a couple of sips before it gets tipped over. I learned that the hard way when we first got them. After an extensive google and You Tube search I picked up a couple of 35 gallon food grade plastic drums which had been used for pickled jalapenos and peppers. (I can still smell the peppers, but it doesn’t affect the water- I even tried it to make sure lol) We attached a large metal “nipple” to the side of it and because of the weight of all that water the pigs can’t tip it over and now have access to clean, fresh water 24/7. I’ve said it before, pigs are so smart! They figured their new drinking system out in a flash! This time Scott eagerly went along with buying the rigid metal hog panels – he no longer underestimates the damage a determined pig snout can do!!

Mud, mud and more mud! Otto now has his small area in front, and a large pen next to his shelter! Now we need to work on getting the girls their own larger pen!

We built the sheep their own run in– complete with a lambing jug. We also created a great hay feeder out of a wooden frame and a hay net. They used to just throw their hay out of the bin and onto the ground in order to get to the really yummy pieces/straws. As soon as it was on the ground they would step on it and it was then deemed inedible by them all. A lot of hay was wasted. Luckily I was able to re-use a lot of it; I threw all that perfectly good hay into the pig pen and the pigs would play/eat and sleep in it! It also made their pen slightly less muddy.

The new run in. Allie will have her lamb in the lambing jug in March.

I started my “meal worm farm”. After the first week I actually thought I was failing at keeping them alive- we saw a lot of empty “skins” and I thought they had died. Turns out I’m much better at this than I thought- meal worms actually shed their skins- like snakes- when they grow. So they weren’t dying, they were growing. I am now sorting out pupae daily from the meal worm drawer and putting them in their own separate drawer. One week later today- and our first little beetle has emerged! Annika looked at it and said- “it’s kind of cute”! Its light red color will gradually be turning black. I think I’m off to a good start.

This little guy/gal has just gotten out of its shell.

I found a vet– after recommendations from one of my customers- Kudos- I signed on with the New Bolton Veterinary Center and their “Small Ruminant Wellness Program”. Dr Pesato came out with three eager vet students and ultra sounded the sheep. So … drum roll … 2 out of 3 are pregnant! They are due in May. Allie, the ewe who came to us pregnant, was ultra-sounded again to make sure all the hoopla hadn’t caused her to miscarry and thankfully she is still very much pregnant. She is looking quite round, so I’m happy she wasn’t just getting fat! She’s due between March 1 – 15. Our family- and anyone else who wants to – are guessing the correct birth date. Winner gets naming rights- as long as it’s starts with a B. I have given up on hoping for snow and cold and have accepted living with mud for the next few months. That makes a March lambing date more tolerable (I’m hoping March is not our new winter).

Allie’s ultrasound… I wish you were able to find out the sex.. fingers crossed for all girls!

I Bokashi! Do you Bokashi? Another thing I started this month! I am very lazy by nature.. if something sounds too complicated I won’t get going with it. So even if I have always tried to compost my food waste, I have never really attained that “black gold” which is the end result of a great compost pile. Instead I’ve been plagued by banana flies and a jar of icky, sticky gross smelling stuff. Bokashi is a process that converts food waste/organic matter into a soil amendment which adds nutrients and improves soil texture. The biggest difference from regular composting is that the input it fermented, not decomposed, and that you can add it straight to the soil after a 2 week wait period, so it’s super fast! It’s fast AND easy; you can put anything into it, meat, fish, the weird science project you found in the back of the fridge, and all other veggies and fruits. I love it. I put all my leftovers and food waste in a yogurt container, and in the end of the day or when it’s full, I transfer it to a big bucket, sprinkle some bran inoculated with the micro organisms needed for the fermenting to start on top of it, put on the lid and done!! The bucket, which has holes drilled in the bottom to let the liquid seep out, sits inside another bucket for this reason. At least in my house! You can spend the close to $100 and buy a nice set up from Amazon with a tap for the “tea” but I’m cheap, so a couple of buckets work from me. I have already gotten my first cup of Bokashi tea- which I dilute 1/10 with water and use as a fertilizer, so now I have happy house plants as well!

My first cup of Bokashi tea! Filled with beneficial micro organisms.

Garden planning. It’s almost time to start getting those seeds going. I had found really cool red and almost black carrots, green, yellow and crazy streaked tomatoes, purple beans and a variety of interesting yummy sounding vegetables. With all the land and huge gardens Scott was saying we had to garden!! Turns out our soil consists of a thin layer of dirt, then just clay and it is super alkaline to boot. I realized not much would yield fruit in such a poor growing environment so I have spent a lot of time (and a free class through the Penn State Extension) figuring out how to fix the problem. I’m sending in a sample to do a “real” soil test but have in the mean time decided to use containers and straw bales while working on the soil.

With straw bale gardening the quality of your soil doesn’t matter, and the straw will help building better soil after use as well!

I think that’s most of it, or all the big things at least! Between working our “regular” jobs and the daily chores feeding animals and cleaning pastures- we have busy days, every day, but not too busy to enjoy our little farm. And not too busy for family and friends! So happy February everyone! If January went fast, I’m sure February will be just as fast, especially while preparing for our first little lamb to arrive! Maybe I should throw the girls a baby shower??!!

Small Pigs, Big Attitudes

It all started with me going to rent a trailer to transport the sheep. While waiting for my turn, I looked around the feed mill and store, and there they were, two tiny little pigs in a display cage for guinea-pigs and bunnies. The sign read: “Mini Pigs. Red female, black male”.

Wise to the Mini Pig market, I hardened my heart against them and drove my rented trailer home. (Mini pig facts: Pigs grow until they are 4-5 years old, the smallest healthy mini pig still weighs 75 lbs. “Mini” simply means less then 300 lbs! There are sellers who starve their piglets in order to keep them small. Buyer beware.) However, over the next few visit to the mill they were still there in their tiny little display cage with their noses pressed up against the plexi glass front, wanting attention. They looked so sad. I was told they were only 6 weeks old (had been there for weeks) and that they got fed once daily. I noticed they had no water in their cages- yes pigs root and spill everything, but water is even more important than food for a pig. Scott heard all about my heart ache over these little pigs – via Face Time – as he was in Japan- and told me to go ahead and bring them home. Scott has every bit as soft of a heart as I do!! I do count on him being the voice of reason, so when he says go I run! Annika promised to care and take the whole responsibility for the piglets- since “Mom, I ALWAYS wanted a pig” and was happily exclaiming that she would even bring them with her to college (emotional support pigs??). She promptly threw her self into researching everything she could about how to feed, care for and raise mini/potbelly pigs. She went shopping for supplies and once I was done with work the following day we went to bring our new little piggies home.

Annika called ahead – resulting in the “sold” on their cage!

I would never have thought I would love pigs so much. It’s not exactly the kind of animal I ever dreamed of having as a kid- or an adult!! I’m blown away by how smart they are; the 4th smartest mammal. They are sweet and emotional and funny. They know when it’s time for food- and they let you know! They recognize you and are shy of strangers until they’ve met them. They were litter box trained in one short day -YAY! They are extremely clean animals and smell less than our dogs- and our dogs are pretty clean in spite of living on a farm.

And did I mention piggy kisses? And the little pitter-patter of tiny hooves on your floors? How about piggie-zoomies? Or pillow crashing? Or when they fight each other to climb your lap to reach your face? And when they nestle themselves into the crook of your arm and start falling asleep? Or play with the three dogs as if they grew up with them? Or scream for your attention when you get home? I’m as much in love with them as Annika who keeps pointing out that I’m the grandma. She’s the mommy.

Annika is in the process of leash training them, and actually took them with her to go shopping at Tractor Supply for me! Needless to say- they were a hit! They did better than some of my dogs (Boomer- I’m talking about you.. ) who always goes to the bathroom in a store and needs to be watched like a hawk- but the piggies did it outside. I’m telling you- they are far smarter than dogs.

Piglets jumped from the floor into her lap! Too sweet!

So far I have to say that having an indoor pig (or two) has been far easier and much more enjoyable than I imagined. Everything has not been just roses- they both had mange due to their old living conditions and needed to be treated. And Snuffaluffagus (Snuffles for short) needed to get neutered by around 8-10 weeks so he didn’t start developing unwanted – boarish- behaviors. They do take time as they are extremely social and they do need training, and grandma does get to feed them, a lot, since miss Annika is just so busy with school and work and friends. I asked her last night about how she felt now that the novelty has worn off and she said; “It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be, but it is worth it mom, they are just so sweet and it’s so rewarding to work with them”. My heart likes the fact that my sweet girl is learning how to care for and have responsibility for living things. She gets to finish her growing up by small pigs with BIG attitudes, and that makes me smile.

Meal worms? Check. It looked good on paper!!

I love to check off items from a to do list. It gives me such a great feeling, I just love it! I’ve even been known to write a list once I completed something just so I could check it off which probably is a little… oh well it’s who I am! 🙂

In true New Year’s Spirit I wrote down a long list of “To be Accomplished for the Farm in 2020”. Less involved than picking out the qualities in my self that needs improving, but after finishing writing it the farm list seemed endless… so what did I do? I picked the very easiest thing on my list just so I could get that sense of accomplishment and the instant gratification of being able to check it off! Want to guess what it was? It was broken down into several steps (more checks for me!!) 1) Finish finding out how to start a meal worm farm 2) Buy plastic drawers for meal worms. 3) Get organic oat bran (turned out I could get cheap organic Oatmeal at Walmart, so I just ran it through the food processor to make it into a soft flour) 4) Order meal worms.

Four items checked off, I’m off to a good start for the New Year! LOL

And guess what? They just arrived!

I was prepared in the sense that I knew how to take care of them and what the growing process was. I was excited to open the box. I was excited to pull out the brown paper bag and eagerly open it up. A cloth bag. I pulled the cloth bag out and THEN it hits me.. the SOUND. It truly was the sound belonging in an Indiana Jones movie- where you first here the SOUND, and then come the critters. I was NOT prepared for the sound… Why did NO ONE of the YouTube video makers mention the sound they make when you get them? Inside the cloth bag they were packed in brown paper, and they were making a rustling sound, like thousands, no millions of mini snakes with dry rustling scales sliding and crawling (OK; so they don’t actually crawl) over each other….. eeew… my toes curled…. and I could see some of them moving through the fabric of the cloth bag. But they needed food and a home so I slowly opened the bag while telling myself to stop being a wuss, they were slow harmless meal worms, how bad could it be? It took me a while to get all the 1500 worms that I had ordered out of the bag and separated from the paper. During the process of separating them from bag and paper (taking very good care to not accidentally touching any) I couldn’t help to wonder exactly how the providers of my worms knew they were sending me 1500. Is there a person whose job it is to sit and count meal worms? Do they go by weight? Guesstimate? As far as I know I could have gotten 1000 or 2000. I myself was certainly not going to count them, no matter what live guarantee I had on them! Because I could see that some were dead (they will be cleaned up by the living ones), but the greater number by far were alive, wriggling all over burying themselves into the prepared oatmeal. And the best thing… SILENCE. No raspy sound of scaly worms slithering audibly over the dry surface of crinkled up paper. They were quietly enveloped by a blanket of prepared oat meal “flour”. Big sigh of relief on my end. A piece of a carrot and an apple slice were added on top- this is their water source- and I was done- that was it. I studied them a while just for good measure- at this point in a kind of delighted disgust and also to make certain that the information I had was correct- that they can’t crawl up the side of their plastic drawer. Which they can’t. Not even a little bit. Phew.

My daughter just stuck her head in- naturally while Face Timing with her friend Madie and looked at my screen. “They are here?” she says. Madie’s voice comes through her speaker “Your mom has BUGS? IN the house?” ” Hi Madie!!” Annika runs down to look for herself. Her voice is clearly heard to the second floor. “Oh my GOSH!! They are moving and crawling all over, I am OUT of here“. I’m calling behind her- “I figured I put them in your room” “Ha-Ha, very funny” comes the distant answer- followed by the slam of the door as she takes off for work. Now that I’m thinking of it, maybe I should put them in her room… and see how long it takes before she notices. Could be a good incentive for her to clean more often!!

The next phase will be for the worms to become pupae, at which point I will have to separate them from the worms (New item created on my farm list about how to do this without actually touching them). And from there they will turn into the Darkling beetle- who also do not get out of the box (can only hope that is correct as well!) -who then will go on to lay eggs which then completes the circle when they become worms. I better get mentally prepared for the beetles. I’m not much for bugs- thus my rule of “only animals in the house that do not require live food” for the whole time the kids grew up. I knew what I was thinking “better food for my chickens- but what was I THINKING??

Here are some pics from the past weekend of some of the ladies… the inspiration to this craziness. They are all grown up and looking fabulous!

Mealworms: The Other-Other White Meat?

“Looking for the perfect holiday entrée? Something nutritious yet easy on the Earth? Something with a subtle, yet distinctive, je-ne-sais-quoi flavor? Have you considered the humble mealworm?” “Before you click away in disgust, remember that the creeping, shelled, 10-legged crustacean we now so lovingly dip in butter (ahem, lobster) was once considered so repulsive as to be inhumane to feed to prisoners. And in many parts of the world, insects are already a popular—and important—menu item.”

So starts an article by Katherine Harmon in the Scientific American written as far back as December of 2012. And before anyone starts feeling sorry for my husband and kids, I was NOT looking for new and exciting food items to add to our menu and diet. What led me to this article was brought on by a simple quest to try to save some money.

If you have ever walked down the isle of the chicken feed section in a feed store, you will soon realize that mealworms are a very popular item in the chicken world. (Actually, you feed these worms to lizards, fish and other critters as well.) You can buy a small 10 oz bag for $11.99 or you can get a whopping 11 lb bag on black Friday sale for $59.99 (usually $79.99). In all my years of having chickens, I think I have bought maybe two of the small bags. Yes, the chicks absolutely love this dried non moving protein source, but I always thought it was too expensive and used to justify not getting this treat since my girls were foraging outside daily. They are quite capable of catching their own bugs, which they of course did.

However, seeing and talking to numerous “chicken parents” and seeing how truly attached people are to their hens, and how dedicated they are to their health ad well being, I’m starting to feel like I’m the bad chicken mom. During the Black Friday sale, I saw several of the 11 lb bags of meal worms being bought, and that has now led me to question my own chicken keeping. I would not want my girls to feel deprived in any way; there are not many bugs around during the cold winter months. Still not quite prepared to shell out the kind of money dried mealworms fetch, and figuring we are talking about a worm, exactly how hard can it be to “grow” some for my own use? I took to Google, and lo and behold, found several video tutorials on how to set up your own mealworm farm. Looks and sounds easy enough.

I have also learned that live mealworms, although technically having less protein per lb (you simply get more dried than fresh worms per lb) have a lot more nutrients in them since they are “gut loaded”. Gut loaded simply means they have a stomach full of nutrients- which the internet states isn’t true for the ones you buy live at the pet stores. So not only can I save money, but I can offer a more nutritious snack that will keep reproducing itself. And raising them myself, I know they are non GMO organically raised- lol! All I have to do is to take care of wriggly worms and the black Darkling Beetle that lay the eggs that produce these wriggly meal worms!!

The Darkling Beetle, pupae and mealworm

The things you do to keep your animals happy!

I guess there are worse things to eat as a human than mealworms- although worse depends on where you are from… In Sweden where I grew up black pudding ( sausage made out of blood) is a common thing, which sounds awful to many but yummy to me! The Scot eats Haggis ( sheep liver, heart and lungs mixed with spices and cooked inside the stomach), they eat tuna eyeballs in Japan, grasshoppers in Thailand, fried spiders in Cambodia, SPAM in the US hahaha- cause who knows what’s in Spam?!

I am not quite ready to let go of my more traditional food items so I will strictly use the mealworms to keep my chickens happy and healthy. And since I will know where my mealworms come from I can without any hesitation claim to have GMO free and organic eggs!

For the very adventurous, I am including a recipe of Meal Worm Toffee that I found on Bugs4Beginners.com, which they say is a “classy addition to a simple dessert like vanilla ice cream.” The Tequila worm seems like nothing compared to this. “Any roasted or dehydrated mealworms will do the trick, but for an extra pop of flavor, use cinnamon-fed mealworms. “

If anyone would like to give it a try, let me know and I will feed my future worms some cinnamon- if you really feel you need that extra pop to go with the crunch! And please let me know how you liked it!! 🙂

Total 1 hr; Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup roasted or dehydrated mealworms
  • 2 Tablespoons water

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Prepare Mealworms If you are using ready-to-eat mealworms, skip to step 3; all you have to do is open the bag. If you are using frozen mealworms, follow provider instructions on the package. If you have raised your own mealworms, you will need to euthanize them in the freezer a day ahead of time, then boil for 3-5 minutes to kill any parasites, and drain. The easiest way to boil something tiny, like mealworms, is to bring water in a small pot to a rolling boil, then place mealworms in a fine mesh stainless steel strainer, and lower into boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Then, all you need to do it lift the strainer out of the boiling water, and rinse the mealworms, still in the strainer, with cool water.

2. Roast Mealworms To roast, preheat oven to 320 degrees Fahrenheit (160 Celsius), and spread mealworms over a pan or piece of tin foil. You don’t need any oil, they are fatty enough. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until they are fragrant, and lightly crispy and dry to the touch. Be sure to watch carefully, as they can burn very quickly! Remove mealworms from oven, and spread across a new baking sheet, which you have covered in parchment paper. Set aside.

Toffee Warm water in a small pot and stir in sugar. Continue to heat and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove any undissolved sugar crystals with a wet pastry brush or wet paper towel. When sugar has dissolved, increase heat to a boil, without stirring mixture. Continue to boil until toffee has reached a beautiful golden color; approximately 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. Pour Immediately pour hot toffee all over mealworms and parchment paper, in the baking sheet. Pick up baking sheet and rotate slowly, so toffee will thin and spread out. Set aside to cool for approximately 10-15 minutes. When completely cooled, break toffee into shards and enjoy, preferably as a topping on ice cream or cake. If you will not be consuming the mealworm toffee immediately, it will keep for 1 day stacked between layers of wax paper.