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.
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 🙂 )
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.
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…..
….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
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!!
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.