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.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Rules for Rams

My first Icelandic ram was a movie star ram.  Churchill would have been famous if he had made it to Hollywood.  He would have been more popular than Lassie Come Home.

His behavior was astounding, especially during breeding season.  I had him in a corral with a tall physical fence of field wire and metal T posts, then a dead space, then another physical fence with another dead space; and around all of this was electric netting that was charged all the time, at 6,000 volts.  Most of the time, Churchill took out his energy on Rainier, one of his sons, who was penned with him.  But his patience was thin and he finally calmly walked up to the first fence, clamped his teeth on the metal clip that supports the field fence on the metal T posts, snapped off the clip.  He proceeded methodically down the T post.  Clamp teeth, snap off clip, and so on until he decided he had gone far enough.  It was a cinch for him to pull down the wire after it was loosened from the clips.  And so he stepped over the wire and walked purposely toward the next physical fence.  He did the same to this.  In a matter of minutes he had gone over the second fence, and then he tackled the electric fence.

To a real sheep like Churchill, a 6,000 volt charge was nothing.  He kept his eyes on the prize.  I had barricaded the ewes in a pen near the house.  Unfortunately, Churchill used his horns to tear out a hole in the back, just large enough for him to daintily step in and wreck my breeding program.

He was a gorgeous ram with a deep moor it fleece and his lambs were also beautiful.  His disposition was sweet toward people.  When I went out in the early morning to feed them before I, myself,  had breakfasted, or washed, or brushed my teeth, Churchill was all kisses when I showed up with flakes of alfalfa hay.  I certainly didn't have to dress for daddy.

Since then,  I have had a number of rams.  But now I have rules.  They must have gorgeous fleeces, have sweet tempers, never charge me, have a minimal impact on fencing, and not break into my orchard or rose garden.

And if I get one that breaks the rules?

Let's hope he's penetent.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Lamb in the House

Bummer Lamb learns how to get out of his box before he learns to et his nourishment from sucking on a Pritchard nipple.  He was too weak to stand up to nurse his mother and was in danger of drowning in the rain and dying from hypothermia; and so all the emergency lamb survival equipment was dug out of the drawers and a lamb milk replacer was purchased at the feed store.

He was wrapped up in towels in the newly remodeled kitchen, which was soon to undergo more changes due to the most exhausting examinations of a curious lamb.  He was so much like a puppy, soon exploring the insides of cabinets, pulling cans off the shelves, and, of course, puddling.

He had a terrible case of scours.  I took him to the vet and gave him something sure to cure him but didn't.  This diarrhea was so noxious and sticky; it was  like cement once it dried.  I had to keep prying it off.  I learned that if I did not monitor this stuff, the lamb would be in danger of dying due to "pinning," which meant that it would block his anus and he would be unable to poop.

I tried giving him Pepto Bismo but this did not work well either.  Finally I tried cutting his formula in half and adding a half dose of electrolytes.  This worked.  What a relief that was for me and for the lamb.

However, once Bummer learned to investigate the kitchen, he wifely learned to investigate all the other rooms of the house, puddling as he went.  He quickly developed a taste for literature, tossing books and manuscripts helter skelter and moving on to the computer cables, the telephone lines, and my knitting.  All had to be removed from lamb level.

He greeted visitors at the door and checked them out.  He was not shy.  He did detest the vacuum cleaner and hid out in the closet in the bathroom when I turned it on.

I had to barricade the stairs to my bedroom because he wanted to be near me all the time, puddling wherever he went, and I needed to minimize the housework

He graduated from sleeping in a box to sleeping on the carpet under the computer.  The home office soon became his headquarters.  This was becoming difficult because I did not want my home to be a barn.  But still the weather raged and refused to settle into a warm calm and I was reluctant to make him sleep outside.  I knew the other sheep would reject him as well.

But the day came when he had to move out onto the deck with the dogs.  When he realized  he could not come inside, he was terrified and ran around the house in circles.  Then he settled down with the dogs and watched the kitchen door.  He curled up with Moses, the St. Bernard x Great Pyrenees and hung out with both of the guardian dogs.  They watched over him; and so I did not worry  about raccoons swooping down to carry him off.  He stayed warm and dry.

He learned to nibble on green things instead of chewing on everything plastic, though he did not care for alfalfa hay for a long time.  He liked to eat the ram and ewe pellets I put out.  He tackled a fern leaf now and then.  But he especially liked roses.  He found the path to the blueberry bushes, the strawberries, and the fruit tree orchard.

And I still could not bear to put him into the jail of a corral.  I watched the plants disappearing and wonders if the sheep WOULD, maybe, accept him but knew they would not when he did accidentally wander into a mothering-on pen with an ewe and her newborn lamb.

I so enjoyed his companionship while I walked around and did chores.  But I did get tired of having to sweep the deck several times a day.  And I wanted the roses to bloom.  I wanted to smell the fragrance of the Butterfly Bushes that had been pruned quite enough.  So I did the right thing and put him in a pasture where Marissa and her twins are, separate from the rest of the flock.

Marissa does not accept Bummer most of the time but he has made friends with one of the twins.  They are younger than he is but they are larger.  Bummer is deformed, looking like a bull dog, with his front legs bowed, squatting forward like a bull dog, and he pees from his belly button instead of the usual way.  The vet said that the bowed legs are a birth defect and the urinary problem happened when the umbilical cord separated improperly.  His mother, a grey badger face Icelandic ewe named Ma Joie, is 13 and has never had a lamb.  She probably should never have become a mother and did not know what she was doing.

But Bummer is running around, relatively happy, feisty, and learning to be a sheep.   His identity problems seem to be correcting themselves.  He may have wondered for a while if he were a dog or why his momma is on the other side of the fence but he seems to be adjusting.  He still comes to me when I call him and he is still insatiably curious about his environment.

I still have to keep rescuing him from his curiosity, as he investigates a tiny space that leads to a larger pasture and then he can't figure out how to get back to the smaller one where the real food is.  But now he has a partner in crime: one of Marissa's twins, the smaller one.

He is black and she is white.  I look forward to knitting with their wonderful wool.  And at least they are still easy to find.      

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Spring is Wet

The rains did not come as usual.  But the rains did come.  They came as invaders would come to a country, laying siege to the land, digging enormous moats between entry gate and stepping stone to the house, leaving hulks of mud.

And in all of this storm and stress, a lamb is born, too weak to nurse its mother and ready to drown.

Which is why I am so busy these days, mixing lamb milk replacer with electrolyte and warm water.  I am cleaning up after this bummer lamb.  I did so want a lamb from this ewe.  She is so old, a badger face Icelandic, so old and old and old, but still with her spare figure and never had a lamb.  Silly ewe had to birth in the middle of the worst weather we have had yet, March 29, and so I brought this jet black tiny tea-cup-sized lamb into my kitchen, warmed it with my own body heat and towels, and squirted what I could get  from his mother's first milk down his throat.

It is hard to believe, now, looking down at this ram lamb, still so very small, and see how it has thrived, especially in my heart.  It is curious about everything.  Shoes, an ancient straw hat that had belonged to my mother, cardboard boxes, plastic wrap.  Everything except hay and sheep food interests him.  He would never have survived because he still has a hard time finding the Pritchard nipple, even when it is right in front of him.  He pokes at this side and that.

The guard dogs have adopted him.  Moses loves to sniff and lick the lamb, and to give him a bath with his tongue; and the lamb seems to like to share their food, which I discourage as much as possible.  He follows Moses up and down the outside stairs.

I have taken pictures of him with the digital camera, from day three, under my walker, and to the present, hanging out with Moses.  But I don't have time to plug in the camera to the computer today!

So, there is hopefully a next time!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Here We Go With Pictures

Finally Sean has come to show me how to get pictures from a camera into the computer and then into the blog!

Hopefully these shots of Sean with a hat will show up.  Later on we will add more pictures.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Do It Tomorrow

February was not a nice month for Treecroft Farm.  There was a lot of construction going on and in the middle of it, two of my sheep died.  First, I found my ram lamb Little Guy lying by the feeder early one morning when I went out to feed the sheep.  His body was still warm.  He had been fine the evening before, ate all his supplement as well as hay.  It took me all afternoon to bury him.

Then, the following week, I had the vet come out to look at two older ewes who were losing weight and had lost most of their fleeces.  Since they were eating como loco and otherwise seemed healthy, I was still concerned.  The vet came and caught Ma Joie, a badgerface.  He was in the middle of taking her temperature when he said that he heard an ewe on the other side of us struggling fro breath.  We rushed over to her but it was too late.  It turned out to be my favorite little brown ewe Athena. She, too, had had no signs of illness.  I had been in the shelter all Sunday afternoon and none of the sheep were having problems breathing.  No coughing, no snotty noses.

The vet suspected a parasite problem and examined the hay I was feeding, which was a good grass hay.  I built feeders and do not feed the sheep on the ground; I have a regular worming and vaccination program.  The sheep are not due for anything until mid-March.

The next day I called the feed store and asked them if the sheep hay I bought was supposed to be alfalfa or grass and they said it was straight alfalfa, very fine cut; so I told them what the vet said and they came and exchanged the grass for the alfalfa.  We assume that was a delivery mix up.

Then I called the vet to find out the results of the fecal sample he had taken. The results were not bad at all (100 worm eggs per gram) and this blew the vet's whole theory.  I did some reading and checking in my book on sheep health; it is possible Athena bloated or had something caught in her airway.  I contacted Laurel Gates who also raises Icelandic sheep; she said that she, too, felt the local vets did not know very much about sheep.  She had sent carcass samples to UC Davis when she had a similar problem.  That turned out to be a flu, which is rare in sheep.  The fleece loss was due to a brown mite, and that problem went away by itself.  Like Laurel, I avoid pesticides.

I have not lost any more sheep.  Everyone seems fine.  They have great appetites.  Cleaning out the sheep shelter has been a problem because there have been too many people working around here.  A new deck was just completed Friday.

We have had torrential rains and several moderate earthquakes. Together they messed up the front of the house, taking out a large section of slope and fence.  The driveway slope was sheered off about three feet its entire length.  About 30 feet of fence had to be rebuilt, using ten foot metal T posts. Unfortunately, the daffodils planted on that slope have not appeared.  The land is still slipping and I am not sure what to do about it.

Hopefully, soon, it will be spring and plants can be set out.  The soil on the slopes is very fertile, with lots of humous.  From what I have read, soil fertility plays an important role in soil erosion control.  I have a lot of Escallonia, Butterfly bushes and Rosa Rugosa growing elsewhere on the slope.  That part was not affected at all by the storms.

I can't do everything in one day.  That's for sure.  I have been trying to catch up on the spinning, too.  Finished a bobbin of multicolored yarn and have that hanging up to dry in the house, where the wood stove warms things up.  Started a bobbin of creamy white with tan and brown streaks.  I think this is another part of Xerxes' lamb's wool.  I haven't made too many mistakes in it yet.

It helps to keep my hands busy.  Then I don't miss Little Guy and Athena so much.  Nature is at work all the time.  Death and destruction are a part of it.  Making things new is a part of it. Change and renewal are a part of it.  Taking care of the land, little by little, day by day, is what I love to do.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Requiem for 997 Worms

I am not unlike everyone else.  Happy New Year.

That being said, let's keep looking forward and deal with it.

I am out 997 red worms.  I ordered 1,000 but only 3 managed to survive the transit.  Miracle worms, that's what they are.  I tracked this order, a guaranteed 2-day shipment, on a daily basis.  As time passed the estimated delivery date, my anxiety grew, especially since the computer screen did not register any updates from December 19, where the package was "in transit," and the estimated arrival date was December 22. No shipping details were given.  After the carrier left the worm farm on December 16, there was a huge blank page.

The computer screen did not register any updates or give details until Thursday, December 29.  Then I gathered the information that the carrier from the worm farm did not arrive at the first UPS station in York, PA until December 27.  Was there a disaster on the East Coast that held up the carrier from December 16 until December 27?  Did the red worms have to go through Limbo, row across a Styx River, undergo a Final Judgment, or a questioning process by a St. Peter Worm?  Once the 1,000 worms left their happy worm farm, went beyond a dead space and arrived at the first UPS station on December 27, they made swift progress across the country. UPS applied heroic measures, leaping from one city to another. On December 27, the worms left Middletown, PA at 10 PM; arrived in Philadelphia at midnight (now December 28).  At 6:30 PM the worms departed Philadelphia; arrived in Newark, NJ, at 8:46 PM; departed Newark at 11:22 PM.  The remaining weary travelers spent the night on the road.  On December 29 at 1:19 AM, they hit Louisville, KY.  At 1:58 PM they were on the road again; landed next in Oakland CA, at 3:61 PM. From thee it was easy sledding to Eureka. Their destination (Treecroft Farm in Bayside, CA) was just around the corner.  There was a significant difference between the estimated arrival, December 22, and the actual delivery, December 30. This does remind me of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

However, the awesome tracking steadfastly posted the most recent update of December 19 with only the information that the shipment was "in transit."  No changes in tracking on my computer screen happened until Thursday, December 29.  But the worms were already dying before they arrived at the first UPS station in York, PA.  Packed in dry peat moss, without food or water for 12 days, they were in Limbo from the 16th to the 27th.  The sad journey puttered across county with possibly hundreds of worm cadavers.  December 28, the box rushed from Louisville to Oakland, CA.  In the wee hours of the morning, the sack of worms left for Eureka, CA.  Ina few hours, they were hanging on a gate post in a plastic bag in my driveway, Friday, December 30.

Of course the worm bin was set up and waiting.  Moist bedding, including coir, compost and shredded newspaper hugged the bottom tray of the Worm Factory.

997 worms have not bounced back to life.  The heaven I had prepared for them was, in fact, a graveyard of red worms.

However, the good news is that three have definitely survived and are busy wriggling.  I hope they enjoy the coffee grounds and eggshells I buried in there.

I hope they reproduce.  If not, this is yet another organic farm fiasco.  High expectations, setting goals, hard work, commitment and then disappointment instead of the accomplishment that one looked forward to.

Life persists, enduring thirst, starvation, lack of oxygen, stress. How many of us would make it that far and then have to hang a while longer on a gate post, wrapped in a plastic bag?

But like my cousin Tony says, "They're home now."

In a sense, it is like Celan's "Death Fugue" for those who did not survive.  And Tchaikovsky's "William Tell Overture" for those who did.