Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Retire. Live quietly. Raise chickens ...

It's a big deal here to watch the chickens. They love being out in the yard and looking up into the window, watching me watch them.

A friend commented on how much I am spending each month to feed them. Less than she spends on her dog's food and then on the vet bills. And there will be eggs. I am counting the days to when the hens should start laying. Five hens at one fifty-pound sack of organic crumbles per month at $23. And I don't have to use a can opener; no cans to recycle, just an empty paper bag when I reach the bottom.

To make it more efficient and easier on my back, my friends put a metal garbage can inside the run. There is a bungee cord on top to ensure the wind does not blow off the cover. The hanging feeder is suspended from a heavy duty hook screwed into a rafter. All I have to do is lean on my walker and swing the feeder toward the can, lift the plastic cone off the feeder, shovel the crumbles into the feeder, replace the cone, replace the metal cover.

Voltaire apparently never discovered the art and joy of raising chickens. He advised us all to live quietly and to garden. He didn't have a TV but he was missing out on the entertainment of chickens. I don't have a TV. These days there's lots of complaining about political ads. I think they are immoral, asking for financial donations. None of the political parties are charitable foundations. They don't do research to find cures for childhood cancers, for example. Nor do they feed people.

Why spend time and money on people fighting with each other? No need. All one has to do is make a few observations of the real life around you.

An egg is a real thing. There are three Wellsummer hens and two Rhode Island Red hens. They are even-tempered, calm, clean. One of the Wellsummer hens is a little bit larger than the others; she has the role of leader. She is out of the coop door first and is last in the coop at night. In fact, they will all go inside except for her. Then she will go in, but she comes out again. She dashes around the entire run, pauses, hops into the coop. In a moment she comes out again and repeats the sequence. If I come into the yard before they have all fallen asleep, she will pop out again.

It should all be worth it when I start gathering in all the chocolate-colored eggs.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Sky was Falling

The new run is finished. Thus, the coop is wrapped in a hardware-cloth frame.

I opened one of the side doors so the chicks could come out. We have been so eager to see them flying around.

But the chicks would not come out. They peered around the door. They balanced on the threshold. They flapped their wings. But they would not come out.

There is a ramp and all they have to do is hop down on it.

So, after all this anticipation and hard work, we had to settle for catching one of the Wellsummer pullets and putting her down on the ground.

She hid under the coop. Eventually she did go back inside the coop.

And she stayed there.

They have agoraphobia.

It was blustery and cold. Fat drops of rain began to fall. So, tomorrow is another day.  Maybe the chicks, eight weeks old, will feel like having an adventure. Maybe they will be a bit more daring.

I closed everything up.  I fed Bummer.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Urban Sheep

It was time to leave the isolation , as much as I loved the area. Bummer and I were fortunate to find a spot zoned as county though it is well-connected to incorporated city amenities, like food shopping, a hospital, restaurants.

Bummer took some time to adjust. He must miss all the trees, ferns, and poison oak to eat down. Maybe he misses the deer. I doubt he misses the mountain lions. I know he misses Moses, who passed away in his sleep June 3.

The new place is fully fenced. Bummer has the shelter of a spreading cedar, though right now it is taken over by nesting birds and the constant chatter and activity has driven him to lie down on the grass and stare at the tree from a safe distance.

The backyard was overgrown when we moved here in December. Bummer has chomped down and cleared out the wildness. We discovered a French lilac, now blooming, in a corner, and that has to be surrounded with something to save it from destruction.

He is curious ... and took his teeth to a wire on the house wall. The result was that I was out of landline phone service for about two months because the constant storms kept the phone company busy. Meanwhile the fence was routed in a small section to protect the wire. Lesson learned.

I am able to clean off the paving stones around his manger and friends help cart the spoiled hay and droppings to the garden area. The yard is riddled with gopher holes. I put up a couple of wind chimes, which they are supposed to hate. I wanted to encourage hawks and barn owls that love to eat gophers and more large birds do seem to hang out on the telephone wires. But their focus seems to hover on the chicken coop in the front yard so I am afraid to let the small hens out until they have a run that is fenced over with hardware cloth. The run that I ordered from is inadequate. It is way too small. The entire coop need a bit of adapting to my disabilities. I can't bend so a contractor is raising it onto a platform. Hopefully I will be able to care for the hens myself, without bending.

Do what you can still do. That's what I think. With help from friends, you can do a lot.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Color of Rain

January 11, woke to the color of rain.  Such a storm of hail for me to walk through along the length of the deck to the covered porch.  I called Bummer, and called and called, while hail and rain pounded off the the roof.  Maybe for twenty minutes I stood out there, hunched under my orange rain hat that makes me look like  I'm under a toadstool, calling.  I was becoming hoarse.  Still no Bummer.  I began to be afraid.  I begged, "Please don't make me go out there looking for you."  I thought about all the hungry critters that might have carried him off during the night.  I thought about the people who sneak around, chase him into a corral, and close him off, where I will find him shivering and hungry, unable to get to his feeder.

Still no Bummer and still lots of rain.

It lessened  and I yelled out that it wasn't raining so hard and he could come out now.  "Bummer, it's stopping!  Bummer come on!"

I kept looking around, scanning the slope, becoming ever more fearful.  Had someone closed the gates on him, the way they had before a few weeks ago?  Had dogs gotten through the fence?  Had some creature eaten him?

I thought maybe if he heard me opening the door of the shed, heard  the metal can banging around, and heard me rattling pellets into the pail, then, maybe . . .

I was halfway down to the shed when I thought I saw movement.  I thought I saw his little black head, his sweet little face, poking between the bars of the gate on his shelter.

Yes, there was Bummer.  He was a smart little guy.  A very smart sheep who knew I would be coming to feed him at the same time I fed him every day.

Usually when I call to him, he answers.  Maybe he did and I didn't hear him over the storm; the hail and rain were overwhelming. As he ate his pellets, I stroked his ears and talked to him.  "Smart sheep.  Nice and dry."

Nadia, the Great Pyrenees, refused to leave the house.  When I went outside, she ducked out, sniffed, and backed into the kitchen. Moses the St. Bernard also went inside.  I had to mop the floor . . .

What do wool growers do with the wool they don't sell?  They hoard it.  I wash almost all the fleeces and store them in cardboard boxes.  When I do start spinning them up, I put the yarn in a bag.  The shawl pattern I have been using takes a lot of yarn.  But if a friend comes over, I like to give her a hank.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Cosmos Chocolate Blooms

I've been broken hearted and in mourning.  Due to continued harassment of the sheep and declining health, I chose to give away my flock of Icelandic sheep.  Degenerative disk disease and osteoporosis made the daily chores of feeding and cleaning life-threatening activities.

I kept only the bummer lamb.  He still thinks that I am his mother, only now he thinks that he is the boss.  He has given me three bags of wool.  Each fleece is fuller, loftier, and softer than the last.  His first fleece was solid black.  Now it is more silver than black.

I so wanted a lamb from his mother.  MaJoie was thirteen and had never had a lamb.  She was a spotted gray badger face.  Her mother came from Yeoman Farm in Canada to Thistledown Farm in Portland, OR, and on down to my place.  She died at a farm in Fortuna.  I lost half my flock at that farm, one year when I was recovering from surgery.

The sheep are spirit creatures.  Like llamas, they want to get close to you, exchange breath with you.  My huge sheep dogs, the Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherd, are the same way.  To keep peace on the farm, the sheep dogs become one with the flock and with the shepherd.  It's a special bond.

That is part of why I have been so sad.  I dream of the sheep and miss them but I can no longer safely muck out.  In fact, I can garden only in containers.  I have a number of pots on the deck.  One has the cosmos chocolate; it's blooming now.

Friends installed hand rails and, using a walker, I am able to make it down to Bummer's stall to feed him.   He loves to bang his gate and to protest loudly if I am late.  Then he will let me scratch his ears.

Sometimes the isolation here does get to me.  The neighborhood is car dependent.  During the rainy season, storms knock out electricity for days.  When there is no power, there is no running water; I am not able to use the phone or the computer.

When that happens, I talk to the dogs and live like the Amish folk who choose to live without electricity.  Electricity and running water, especially hot running water, are such great luxuries.

Of course Bummer doesn't care.  He cares only that his meals are on time and that he has clean drinking water.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How Wars Get Started

I consider myself peace-loving and I am anti-war but I understand how wars get started.

People in the cities think they will move to the country and live happily ever after, with few diesel smells, hardly any blaring from horns and sirens, expecting the stillness of antelopes and immense blue skies and over it all, at night, the absolute wonder of stars.

It doesn't work out that way if they move into a zone that accepts agricultural activity.  Agricultural activity includes livestock.  Livestock are smelly and noisy and you either learn to adjust and accept this or move back to town.  Otherwise, you might be starting a war, if not just making country people unhappy.

I heard one story about city people who moved into the country.  The farmer who owned land next to them for years kept his donkeys pastured not far from where the city people now lived.  At five every morning, the city people woke to the braying of the donkeys. To them it was a nuisance, and they insisted the donkeys be moved far away.

I have neighbors who don't like the smell of sheep.  No matter how clean the shelter is, there is a distinctive odor.  Sheep farm just like people.  For a sheep breeder, I love the smell of the raw wool.  And they are noisy.  When they hear me moving around out doors, they talk to me; they wail, they get lonely and are often begging for more food or more attention.

The sheep dogs bark constantly at whatever they consider to be an intruder.  That is their job.  It has been bred into them for centuries. They are territorial.

On Tuesday, my friend Annie and I were cleaning out my upstairs.  She was hanging out clothes, sheets, and sheep skins to air out on the died fence just a few feet from my room.  Nadia my Great Pyrenees was up in the sheep pasture and barking.  Nadia is a quirky dog, with her own logic and sense of duty toward the farm.  But this neighbor comes out and starts screaming at her to shut up and then starts throwing rocks at her.  Nadia is on my land and she is doing her job.

Annie calls to Nadia and she stops barking for a moment.  But the guy starts scramming at Annie and throwing rocks at her.

This is a Tuesday evening before darkness settles in.  I wonder, "Is he drunk?"  Or is he so absolutely self centered that he thinks the world turns around him.  Dog bark.  He is about an acre away from the dog and an acre away from my house, so what's his problem?

Was I supposed to start throwing rocks back at him?  Get out my rifle and start shooting?  This creep had just assaulted my friend and screamed profanity as he did so.  If he racked like this to a mere dog's barking, what was he thinking when the lambs complained, especially Bummer, who wants to be among people and not with the flock of sheep?

Annie and I kept on cleaning my room, with the door open for ventilation and the coming and going of house cleaning: shaking the dust mop, smacking the sheep skins free of dust and then bring everything back inside, some things going to the washing machine, others back on to shelves and dressers.

After about a half hour, the neighbor comes back out and yells over the fence, "Sorry for losing it!"

I was glad to hear this.  But I also remain concerned.  In his nasty mood, this guy could have hurt my friend when he hurled rocks at her.  It was a totally unprovoked attack.  I hope it doesn't happen again.

It was on a Sunday

It was on a Sunday morning that Xerxes did not come down to the lower sheep shelter for breakfast.  It had to be serious.  Xerxes does not miss breakfast.

I let Xerxes and two of the ewes roam where they like on the fenced seven acres.  They sleep in the woods and browse as they like.  I had no idea in which direction to go hunting for him.  I figured that if he heard me calling him, he would make enough noise and so I would have a hint about where to start looking.  Neither of those so-called sheep dogs were giving me any help.  On the other hand, their complete lack of anxiety was reassuring.

I started hiking in a southeasterly direction and soon gave up.  My arthritis was not going to let me climb around the slopes.  Lunch came and went and still no Xerxes.  I tried to get help from friends but no one was reading their email, or they were out of town, or they were working a three-day shift.

Dinner came and went and still no Xerxes.  I sent email to Keith Hamm who usually works on the fences.  He was going to come out on Monday morning with a helper to fix the front gate of the sheep shelter.  Xerxes had smashed it in and broken one of the hinges.  Keith and Danny would also go look for Xerxes.

I had an anxious night.  But people with livestock and a lot of land to cover do the best they can.  And when Keith and Danny came, they found Xerxes right away, in the opposite direction of my hike.  He was entangled in fencing.  They cut him loose and he high tailed it for the feeder.  They had to corral him and catch him again because he still had wire around his neck and one leg.

Xerxes is generally a calm guy and he lay without struggling while Keith held him down by the horns and Danny carefully clipped away at the wire.  At last, Xerxes was free.

He has been fine.  His appetite has not been affected.  He is back to bashing the gate.

Sometimes a very young am with horns will get his horns caught in the field fence but Xerxes is almost two years old and has never done that.  I did once have a ram that did this a number of times.  Each time I had to hike up a steep slope and cut him free and then had to patch up the fence that I had had to cut.  I got so disgusted with this that I told him in no uncertain terms in my most annoyed-mother tone that if he did that one more time, he was going to the you-know-where USDA approved facility.

He never did it again.

I have no idea how Xerxes got stuck in the fence.  Maybe something spooked him and he ran into it, became more frightened, and then could not get out.  But however that happened, I don't think he will get into it again.  Besides, he is supposed to go to a new home soon.  There was a very pretty boy born on the farm this April.  I want to keep only one ram and have decided to keep this new guy, who will be named Hobbes.  His fleece is spotted and has a lot of crimp.

And he hasn't bashed in any gates yet or caught his horns in any fencing.