Posted on February 5, 2020 by The Midlife Farmer
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??!!
Posted on January 30, 2020 by The Midlife Farmer
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.
Posted on January 13, 2020 by The Midlife Farmer
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!
Posted on December 1, 2019 by The Midlife Farmer
“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
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.
Posted on November 23, 2019 by The Midlife Farmer
I don’t think I would ever describe my nature as being murderous, however, recent events have proved me wrong.
Today I walked out in my back yard/budding fruit tree orchard only to discover that I had several damaged trees. I was devastated and heart broken as I every day look at my trees since they make me happy (It really is the small things). I studied the damage with concern; broken branches, scraped up bark and one tree completely broken, before I resolutely walked back inside. I quickly made my self a sign fully intending to post it at the side of the road. It read “HUNTERS WELCOME”.
I think we all have some both good and bad character traits. What it comes down to is a matter of choice; we can give into whatever bad stuff we are feeling (it’s tempting, it’s that immediate gratification) or we can chose to cultivate the things that make us good people (which is a lot harder but with definite longer lasting rewards). Professor Dumbledore told Harry Potter; “It’s your choices Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Often doubting my own abilities, I love this quote since there is never a shortage of choices!!
Our farm goals also came into play; am I farming in harmony with nature if at first trouble I feel like shooting the poor deer who vandalized my trees? The deer undoubtedly thought he was the lucky one to have just discovered the newest restaurant in town. Since I’m raising pigs for meat I obviously don’t have anything against eating meat, but I wanted this particular deer shot in pure revenge even if I told myself it was to prevent any further tree damage. Admittedly not my finest moment. I came to the conclusion that the only place where this sign should get posted was on this blog!
Some quick googling and texting to my hubby provided me a few more humane methods to deter deer. Scott suggested that I should stop by my hairdresser and ask for a bag of hair, he swears that deer don’t get close to it. Personally I’m wondering if that’s just an excuse hunters use when they don’t catch anything…. 🙂 My awesome hairdresser gave me whole bag of hair and I have now draped every tree with a generous amount of long black and brown hair.
Online I found a fellow apple tree grower who swears by his method and that a neighboring apple tree orchard had done this for the past 50 years and NEVER had deer bothering their trees; They hang up suet holders between every 4 trees and add half a bar of Irish Spring soap in each of them. Scott who was equally sad about the trees stopped at Tractor Supply on his way home and bought not only the suet holders but also a big roll of deer net. He put it up immediately since he was leaving for Europe the following day. Kudos for working until the wee hours of the night!
The suet holders are now hanging around my trees, and to be on the sure side I added the whole bar of soap to each. Every time there is a gust of wind, it now carries with it the smell of Irish Spring! I think it smells good, but hopefully the deer don’t.
Only 3 weeks after planting our trees we have one that is completely gone and 3 that are damaged.. if this pace keeps up we’ll have zero trees left come spring so I sincerely hope the deer keep away.
The deer did leave something else behind.. a deer tick I found crawling on my hand (oh ICK). I must have picked it up while wrapping the trees (I figured it couldn’t hurt wrapping the trunks in vet wrap – the stuff that clings to itself- to aid in the healing of the bark). And on that note I’m heading to the shower since I now have the creepy-crawly’s big time.
Posted on November 12, 2019 by The Midlife Farmer
Normal people get a farm and then animals. We are NOT normal people. We decided to start farming without having barns and fencing and places to store feed, and instead we are building fencing and shelters as the animals are arriving. For the sake of your blood pressure and day to day stress levels I would definitely recommend everyone to do it the “right” way and not our way. I can also warmly recommend that you NOT place your animals and shelters down a steep hill. Unless of course you really like to get in shape and love running up and down every time you forget something!
On the Saturday morning our sheep were arriving from Alabama, I was working like a mad-woman putting up the temporary electric net fence to supplement the permanent fencing while Scott was laying his last hand on the “Shig-shack,” which is what he renamed the the pig shed since they were going to share it with the sheep for a few months. My original time schedule which was tight already had been further accelerated because Heather, from whom I bought my sheep, was traveling North to NY and kindly had offered to put my two Cotswold sheep in her trailer. I naturally said a quick yes as it saved me a 26 hour round trip. I happily announced to my husband that I didn’t have to drive back and forth to Alabama to collect our sheep. He looked a little puzzled and quietly asked where we were going to house the sheep. His next question was “why only two?” Usually I am the one who jumps in with both feet. To have a husband who is actually every bit as crazy as me in this regard is refreshing! We had made a projection of how many sheep we could have on our acres taking into account future lambs etc. and the magic start number was 4. I was wondering if I was overdoing it with the chickens and pigs and now sheep, all within a month and thought it wise to only get two. It didn’t take me long before I quickly texted Heather, and the 2 ewes were now 4!
Heather arrived in her big truck and even longer trailer and after the usual hellos she was wondering where the sheep were going. I pointed down the hill and told her I had halters for them. Her response was priceless, a mix between a laugh and a snort while trying to not do either. In a flash I realized that these sheep were NOT pets, and they were certainly not halter trained, but I was used to alpacas, llamas and horses, so really, how hard could it be? We got halters on two of them and took them off the trailer. These sheep weigh about 150-200 lbs. and look like big fluffy clouds. They did however not act like fluffy, docile sheep. Cotswolds are often called the gentle giants. Gentle? Within 30 seconds, one of the sheep had gotten out of the halter in Heather’s hand but since sheep like to stick together she just followed the one still being led by me. At that point Heather thought it would save us some time just letting the other two out of the trailer so they, too, could peacefully follow the one being led.
Lesson learned: NEVER assume that sheep will do what you think they will do.
The other two decided NOT to join us and ran up on the lawn instead. The sheep that was following me quickly decided that being with TWO sheep was far safer than following just one. Now we had three sheep loose on our lawn. My mom and dad who were here visiting were looking at it all with an increasingly panicked look on their faces. “My” sheep was now in full “I’m NOT staying here all alone” mode, and was doing a very believable impression of a bronc, jumping up, down and sideways while I was hanging on for dear life. Gentle? Ha! Heather mentioned getting a food bucket so Scott approached me saying he would take the “wanna-be-a-rodeo-horse-sheep” while I ran to get the food bucket. I quickly instructed him in how to hold the halter- it was a slip knot-type-halter. I turned to go but paused to take a quick picture while Scott said, “don’t worry honey, I got this”. Famous last words. 3 seconds later we had FOUR sheep on the lose, now setting off towards our neighbor’s backyard. They admittedly have a much nicer and greener lawn.
Food bucket in hand I now followed Scott, Heather, my daughter and our 4 sheep who kept going further and further away. If you chase sheep, they don’t come back to you. I dialed my son’s number and quickly asked him to come out and help us. Within minutes our sheep had decided to get out on our thankfully very quiet country road and were heading towards the village. Luckily, a truck driver saw them coming, and turned his vehicle sideways to block them so Scott could slip in behind them and drive them back towards home. As the sheep came back into view, we heard Scott yelling to block the road so they couldn’t pass our house. Mom, dad and I were positioned, and the sheep took one look at us and darted around us back onto the lawn. We slowly approached them, and they decided that it was time to start grazing in our back yard. I bee-lined in to the garage, brought out my second electric fence/net and together we slowly put the fence up around the sheep where they were. Phew. Caught.
Heather recommended that we let them settle down for a while to not stress them too much, so we left them to work on the lawn and waved good bye to Heather who probably was very happy to get on her way.
After 3 hours of enjoying our greenest grass, the sheep seemed nice and calm; time to get the sheep down to their pasture. Scott thought for sure that if we lead the two dominant ladies, the others would follow. I’m not quite sure why I listened, Scott is NOT well acquainted with livestock of any kind. We haltered the two, and lo and behold, the others followed. Mom and dad were at the top of the drive way, to prevent any mishaps, and my daughter had stationed herself strategically at the line to our neighbor’s green lawn.
By now the sheep in halters had had it. They were even worse than before, and in the midst of leading them a man stopped to ask if he and his daughter could get permission to hunt on our land. LOL- I felt like telling him that if he could help get the sheep into their pasture we’d talk, but my husband kindly said no and to excuse us as as we had our hands full. No sooner did the guy leave and whoops- Scott lost his sheep again. My dad bravely tried to throw himself after the runaway- who naturally was on her way into our neighbor’s again- but it was almost comically slow since he’s 84 years old and a LOT slower than a determined sheep.
My poor sheep was alone again, seeing her friends disappear in the distance, a true horror if you are a sheep. She jumped, she bucked, she gave up and played dead. I was seriously wondering if she had a stroke since she just lay there breathing heavily with her eyes closed. I’m not exactly sure how long it took for the rest of my family to turn around the 3 runaway sheep, who had headed back onto the road towards the village. I was sitting with my possum-playing sheep at the bottom of the hill. Gus (son) and Scott came back and together we managed to pull/push her into the pasture.
This is when I learned that a very nice man trying to help got out of his truck but forgot to put it in park with the result that it drove itself off the road down a hill taking down several smaller trees before being stopped by a large tree. The truck owner managed to drive around the hill and back up on the road after a while, and other than losing the side mirrors, he seemed to be ok which was a miracle in itself. Still, we felt horrible since it really was the fault of our sheep. Once turned around, the three runaways simply walked right into our garage where they stood looking for something to eat.
When Scott again mentioned taking two sheep down and having one follow, Gus and I wisely said no. Not that it did us much good. In spite of wearing not just one, but TWO halters, this Sheepoudini was able to get out and run away, for the third time. Ever had the feeling that no matter what you do it won’t work? I had it. Scott and Gus were on her tail, got her cornered briefly and as she started taking off for the road again, Scott cut her off and tackled her. Gently. Scott waited with her while Gus resolutely drove up the John Deere (lawn tractor, not real tractor). It did have a dump cart attached and at this point I figured it must be less stressful for the poor sheep – and us – to simply put her in the cart. On the cart she played dead for most of the time. Who knew all sheep knew that game? Not until she was laying on the ground with the halter off did she open her eyes and then she simply stood up and walked over to her friend and started grazing. We decided to repeat this process with sheep number 3 and 4. It wasn’t pretty, but took less than 5 minutes per sheep.
7 hours after they arrived, and minutes before the dark, the last sheep was FINALLY in the pasture. They checked out their new home, and seemed quite happy to get their grain, hay and water.
I was a mess. My rib was severely bruised, I had twisted my ankle, ripped a nail and had several bruises on my legs including a set of hoof prints on my forearm. My step counter recorded 17,000+ steps and 64 flights of stairs (counting the elevation of our hill). I was exhausted but I was happy. My sheep were home and all else could wait until morning.
Posted on November 8, 2019 by The Midlife Farmer
I recently had the pleasure of having the house full of my family! My parents came from Sweden and my son and his sweet girlfriend arrived from Colorado. We had a lovely time with dinners and friends and of course some very unexpected events.
Having already seen the pigs in their pasture from the deck of the house, my parents soon wanted to walk down to see them close up. We took our time walking the path down the hill as it’s rather steep at a few places. My 21 year old son Gus went ahead, but then came bounding up the hill, shouting “Mom, the pigs are GONE”. I quickly joined him assuring him that they most likely just had nestled deep into the straw for a morning nap. These little darlings nap long and often, but usually stick their heads up once they hear my voice since that is equivalent to treats treats and they have taken to protest loudly if I’m too slow in handing out the goodies. Alas, there were no little faces, no happy squeals, and definitely no pigs coming galloping towards us. The pen was empty and very quiet. I looked around the field, up the hill and down towards the pond- not a pig in site.
Just two weeks prior, my daughter had yelled to us that “the pigs are out” but at that time they were on the path steps away from the pen just munching away on fresh grass and were easily lured back into their pen by tempting them with a few apples. After that incident I told my softhearted husband that electric fencing was a must. He had been against it thinking the fence was enough and was quite insistent over the fact that there were no signs of attempted porcine jailbreak. My reply had been that the sign of them “trying to get out” would be that they WERE out. However, I still yielded to his wishes and instead got boards to screw in all around the bottom of the fence line. Their last escape had proved that if their snouts got under the fence while rooting and they noticed that they could lift it up they would be out in a blink! Pigs are said to be as intelligent as dogs. Dogs figure things out, and I’m now wondering if pigs actually are smarter than dogs…. hmmm.
Gus and I split up searching and after 10 very long minutes he called me- he had found the pigs WAY back on our property heading up a hill. He said that he called to them, and Otto, our boar, had turned to look at him but decided to ignore him and instead turned back in the direction he was heading until he heard my voice. Luckily my voice and the sound of a food bucket filled with treats made the difference and all of the sudden he was trotting downhill with the 2 little girls in tow. Otto, being older and BIGGER most definitely is the ringleader. He was immediately rewarded by a piece of apple and then all three of them trotted along the path with me all the way back home, where they got the rest of the apples. They in fact stayed closer to me than our three dogs do when we are out walking.
With the pigs safely returned to their pen we turned our attention to figuring out how they had gotten out. We, that is Scott, was in the process of building them a shelter, or as he called it, the Shig Shack. You see, the shelter would be shared by both sheep and pigs for the winter months until the pigs were bigger and needed more room and we had gotten the sheep shelter in order. He had temporarily sectioned off that part of their enclosure, with emphasis on the word temporarily, and had also removed a fence post behind the structure to be able to get more room to work. He had worked on their shelter long after dark, and then forgotten about how the fence had been compromised at those spots. The pigs must have been thrilled when they the following morning discovered that they were able to go exploring.
When he heard about the escape, Scott stated that an electric fence sounded better and better. I have since read that pigs are every bit as good at getting out of their fenced-in areas as are goats, which are quite notorious escape artists! I guess the difference would be that where goats jump, pigs simply use their weight and snouts to push through!
I am still amazed about how they just followed me back home. I had no idea that pigs were that tame, or that sweet. But I have to admit that I have never looked deeply into a pigs’ eyes before, and never really realized how mindful they are of you. Now that I have, I can tell you that there is a LOT of thinking going on.
I can at this time not decide what I enjoy the most: seeing my pigs come running towards me when they see me or hearing the sheep baaing as I approach while sticking their noses out through fence to sniff me and give me kisses- well that’s what I tell myself- most likely they are looking for treats! I did not know that the pigs play as much as they do. Otto and my little Cockapoo enjoy running back and forth on each side of the fence, chasing each other back and forth, with short stops of coming nose to nose. The two little girls, who I think are growing quickly for being a slow-growing breed, often play with each other as well, pushing and nuzzling each other, running around in circles and throwing themselves down. When rubbed, they all lean into my hand and slowly sink down, laying on their side with their eyes closed. And if you really want to see a pig smile, provide them with a hole filled with water for them to roll around and splash in!!
Posted on October 31, 2019 by The Midlife Farmer
When the message that the chicks had been delivered to our post office came as the clock struck 5 pm I literally RAN up our hill to see if by chance postmaster Steve was staying open late waiting for me. He did better than that, he arrived at my driveway at the same time I was getting into my car. He carefully handed over a box and I was delighted when I heard the faint peeps from inside- there were at least several that had made the trip. My daughter noticed the commotion from upstairs and opened the window shouting “wait for me- don’t open it without me!” (Our dedicated postmaster did receive a well deserved plate with cookies for his efforts the following week!)
My Pet Chicken, the online site I got my chickens from, again came through with flying colors just as they had in the past; ALL 8 made it in good health, nestled in lots of “stuffing” with a heating block to keep them warm.
Naturally they were all completely adorable, and the “name game” immediately started. The Australorp is Toothless (after “How to Train Your Dragon”- the movie), my Buff Orpington is Sunshine, the Silver Laced Wyandotte is Lacy, and we also have Spaz, Eagle, Peckers, Waffles and Tweety. I had decided to keep the price per chicken in the “normal range” but after having read about the Cream Legbar I ended up calling to have her added on to the original order of 7! This rather rare breed lays blue eggs, and since most of mine are brown egg layers – except for Eagle who is an Easter Egger and lays green eggs – I just “had to” get her! I’m actually able to show much more restraint when it comes to clothes shopping than chicken and other animal shopping 🙂
It’s quite amazing watching them after you put them into their new home; they immediately start acting like real chicken, scratching for food, finding it and eating! I got second thoughts about my waterer though, a nipple drinker, and became very nervous thinking they might get dehydrated while while learning how to to use it. I quickly made a trip to our local feed store to buy a “regular”chicken waterer and found a laughing daughter when I came back home – the chicks had already figured out how to drink from the nipple while I was gone. Clever girls.
The only negative thing I can say about our girls is that they grow way too fast. We notice changes in them almost daily, and now they are in what I call their teenage stage. They are half grown, with a mix of feathers and fuzz making them look very weird, just like lanky and awkward teenage boys. They spent all of 3 days in the garage before the nights got colder and I worried about them not being warm enough to get out from under the heater to run around. My surprised family came home that day to find our little flock living very happily in our sun room. They do create a ton of dust by running around chasing each other, hopping up and down from their log and by pretend flying, aka flapping their little wings! I do have to say that the dust is outweighed by far by us being able to sit at our table and listen to their happy chirpings. They do outgrow this baby chick-talk eventually so I’m enjoying it for as long as it lasts. Our little farm is feeling more like a farm now that we have chicks (even if they are in our house)!
Posted on October 14, 2019 by The Midlife Farmer
Many years ago I saw a picture on face book of a Valais Blacknose Sheep, or VBS, and I fell in love instantly. Back then, the breed did not exist in the US- it originates in Switzerland, the Valais region, so I looked at import rules, and there were no imports allowed of these adorable little sheep. The reason they have been dubbed the cutest sheep in the world is quite apparent when you see them. Add a calm and almost dog like temperament and you might just be looking at the perfect sheep.
(I’m unable to give credit to whomever took these adorable pictures so I’m hoping I’m not breaking any blogging rules by posting it!)
While browsing the internet in search of my perfect 4-legged lawnmower I happened to stumble on the breed up program that is taking place. Sheep breeders have diligently been working to be allowed to import semen, and by using AI (Artificial Insemination) you can inseminate a foundation ewe with Valais Blacknose semen. The resulting lamb (called an F1) will be 50 % Valais Blacknose. When the F1 is inseminated with VBS semen, her offspring will now be 75% Valais (F2) and so forth until the 5th generation is almost 97% which then is considered pure bred!
There seem to be a few different thoughts on how to chose your foundation ewe; many prefer to start with Scottish Blackface Sheep, others have bred to crosses, Lincolns, Teeswaters, Gotland Sheep, Finn Sheep, Babydoll sheep and so forth. I visited several farms and took notes on what they did and what their F1’s and F2’s looked like. I went to a Sheep and wool festival and saw even more sheep! I finally decided to to breed to a Corriedale, since I liked that particular sheep and its fleece. Unfortunately the once I picked out ended up having foot rot, not something I wanted to start out with, so back to the drawing board I went. I was disappointed to say the least, everyone with breeding age ewes had already started their fall breedings in my area. Many sheep are seasonal breeders, and only breed in the fall, another reasons I had like the Corriedales since they were able to breed fall and spring and although too young to breed this fall, I could have bred them in the spring. But now it looked like I wouldn’t be able to start my adventure for another year.
While visiting Mary Jean at Laurel Highland Farms, another breeder of VBS she happened to mention that the Cotswold sheep was one of her favorites. I went home, googled the breed and instantly knew this was the sheep for me. I loved everything about it and it seemed very compatible to the Valais Blacknose Sheep. But even better than that was that I liked the breed as I didn’t want to just dispose of these ewes ones I had my F1’s. It might be hard to keep them all on my small farm, but I feel they deserve better. I haven’t even started yet, so who know’s if I’m making the right or the wrong decisions! What I do know, is that I’m embarking on an adventure and am looking forward to seeing how my instincts will pan out.
Sometimes after everything goes wrong, you are pointed in another direction and I recently I finally found my Cotswalds, 4 mature ewes that have all been moms before, ready to breed this fall. And this wonderful breeder, Heather from Blue Springs Farm is even putting them on her trailer since she’s going from her place in Vincent Alabama to the Sheep and wool festival in Rhinebeck NY and is passing me on the way. I’m unbelievable grateful for everyone who has answered questions, had me visit their farms and befriended me. So many people with sheep are just incredibly nice and go out of their way to help out.
At this moment, I can hear my very fast growing baby chicks chirping in the sun room next to where I’m sitting, my shoulders and arms are dead weight after having been outside until dark digging fence post holes, while chatting to dogs and pigs and I can’t help just feeling such gratitude over being so blessed!
We are busily engaged building shelters and putting in fences for both pigs and sheep. The sheep will be here in a week- woohoo!
Posted on October 1, 2019 by The Midlife Farmer
This is not the first time I have ordered baby chicks on line, but it’s just as exciting. Today was hatching day, and I received my notice that they are in the mail. Their pen (brooder) is set up in the garage and awaiting our new 8 little baby chicks, all of them a different breed. I’m hoping they are doing alright and am anxiously tracking them. According to the latest text from USPS they left the Cleveland Ohio distribution center at 5:31 pm today. I do feel sorry for them for the rough start they are getting… they get hatched, packed in a box with 7 other little ones and shipped off., but I will make it up to them once they are here.
For the first three days of their lives little chicks are provided with enough nutrients from the egg so they don’t need any water or food during this time. They are shipped together and this keeps them warm and hopefully less afraid.
Instead of the regular heat lamp to keep them warm, I found a heating pad that stands on legs, mimicking the mother hen so the little chicks can cozy up underneath it. Less fire risk than the regular heating lamp and more true to their natural instincts than a heat bulb. I’m excited and hopeful they will arrive tomorrow and have notified our terrific postmaster about their arrival to his office.
A quick note about our postmaster Steve. A few weeks after Mother’s Day I get a visit; Steve had driven up from his office to see if the card he had in his hand might be for me. It had no stamp and could not be returned to the sender since the return address was missing as well. The front simply read: “Mama” with our street address, Spring City PA and no zip code. The Spring City post office had sent it on to the Birchrunville post office, and Steve took it upon himself to hand deliver it to me. It totally made my day, and I laughingly admitted it HAD to be from my son. When I asked him about it, he simply said he was in a hurry mailing it so it would get to me on time for Mother’s Day. It arrived three weeks late. My suggestion to him was to simply take a picture of the chosen card and text it to me next time.
Fortunately for the baby chicks, my son is not in charge of mailing them!!