Friday, July 22, 2016

The Morning Commute

The drought here wears on.  Since the second week of May we've had less than 1.0 inch of rain.  The only things green now are the trees and the thistles.  :-/

The sheep are in the south pasture again.  Stuff they left last time looks interesting now.  We've also started to feed hay in the barn feeders at night so they have something to munch on if it's too hot to graze much during the day or pickings are too sparse.  It's leftover hay from last year.... we'd really like not to dip into this year's hay since it doesn't look like second cutting is going to happen.  We should have juuuussst enough of the first cutting to get us through a normal winter.

Since the pasture isn't green and yummy the trek out of the barn in the morning is a sedate affair and the girls were easily distracted by me standing by the fence.

If anybody knows a good rain dance we'd sure appreciate you doing one on our behalf.

Friday, July 15, 2016

So Long, And Thanks For All The Hay

The yearly sojourn to Kentucky to visit Sara and all the people and animals at Equinox Farm was modified from a car trip to a truck trip.  Not having any lambs this year, and so no new faces to join that flock, we were going to go in Julie's vehicle as it's easier to maneuver and better on gas.  But then an email arrived asking if I had any crossbred rams who would like to go live in Kentucky and be put to "work" (wink, wink).
As a matter of fact.....

I ran the idea past Rocky and Jared and they agreed that while they liked it here just fine they really didn't want to live out their days being celibate.  They are both half Cotswold, built well with nice fleece, and could have a very nice life siring commercial lambs and hopefully improving wool too.  We had the vet out to do paperwork, rigged up the gridwork that fits within the truck cap, arranged space for the spare tire which doesn't hang beneath the truck anymore because the screw thingy that held it up rusted out....grrr...., filled empty jugs with 'home water' and off we went.

The boys rode like old pros. We really appreciate rams that are quiet by nature and handled enough that a sudden trip like this isn't a rodeo.

We offered water at every stop (four) and at one Quik Fill there was this great old car next to us.  Guesses?

Yep, a Rambler.  Not sure if it was from when they were still made by Nash or afterward when American Motors picked up the brand.  If I had a million dollars I'd fill a garage with old cars just to pet and admire them.  Old cars have class!   :-)

The trip went well and the boys were installed in their new place before the end of the day.  They have a nice roomy space in the barn to acclimate.  The barnyard has some grass but not a lot and that's good - they are essentially eating standing hay here because of the drought. Sudden unlimited grazing on lush pasture would not be a good thing.

They have never seen a dog except Holly and we were a little concerned that they'd be scared.  Not to worry.  The guard dogs are very sweet and the rams were totally unconcerned.

Really, really unconcerned.  Rocky was getting his ear washed and I expected the dog's tongue to come out the other side the way he was working.  Or maybe the dog was whispering to him.

"Ppsspppssssppspssppsss.   Don't worry, I'll take care of you here."

It was good to stretch after the drive (11 hours) and we had a lovely look around at the farm where the boys would be living.  Besides the sheep flock and guard dogs there were herding dogs, chickens, guinea hens, peacocks and a nice orange cat.

One of the fields with the bulk of the flock on pasture there.  The boys are going to think they've died and gone to heaven.

Here's a cool structure.  It's a cistern to catch water coming off the barn roof.  A previous owner of the property dismantled the piping system which could supply water troughs around the farm.  Seems monumentally dumb to me to render it inoperative but maybe it wasn't holding water anymore.  After I got back home it dawned on me that I'd seen that brickwork before.  That Sara!

The boys never made a peep when we left and I'm sure they're happy there.  Now to wait for lamb pictures!

The next day featured a gathering/yarn swap at the farm which turned into a spin-in/knit-in in the barn alley.  How great is that?  Big fun was had by all and spinning and knitting help was there in spades.  

Bullwinkle went on walkabout toward the end and seemed intent on finding something edible  learning to spin.

He immediately understood the value of a Woolee Winder and checked them out on both a castle wheel and an e-spinner.

He inspected the actual yarn and declared it a fine job.

I'm not a morning person but the front porch is so inviting....

Sunday included a church service and then the afternoon was spent with the amazing Sara taking video of me as I walked through the use of our skein winders, teasing boards, blending boards and Quad Kate.  It will be a while before those get posted as I have a lot of cutting and splicing to do.  There's a darn good reason I got a C- in public speaking in college.  :-/

Monday came all too soon.  The sun wasn't quite up yet but the sheep were grazing right by the driveway.

"You all come back now, hear?"

"And bring some more of those jerky treats?"

We'll for sure be back!  Can't wait!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

And Then It Stopped Raining

Remember May?  Wet, cold May?  One extreme follows another they say, and that proved true for June.  For the first time ever we were able to cut and bale all our first cutting hay - in JUNE - without it getting rained on.

Andy would cut enough hay to fill the five wagons in a go and we worked day by day to cut, ted, rake, bale and unload one field after another.

It got hot as well as dry.  We had some pretty sunsets but the clouds never carried rain.

Then we started trying to work even faster because the standing hay was actually shrinking - drying out as it stood and losing volume.  You can see the landscape has turned from green around the edges to just dried out tan.  Unless we get some decent rain there won't be a second cutting which would be a big problem.

Thank goodness for the kicker on the baler.  Pulling bales from the chute with a hay hook was a lot easier 30 years ago.  :-/

The sheep spend parts of the day searching the pasture for forage and other chunks of time hanging out in the shade behind the barn.  So far no one is coming in hungry but we've started putting some leftover hay from last year in the feeders at night so there's something to work on if they feel empty.  They are pretty grimy, though.  Lanolin + dust = grungy wool.  When it does start raining again they are going to find themselves locked out in it.
Pretty soon we'll have to turn them back into the south pasture that they've been in once already but there isn't much new there.  The plants are mostly ankle high except for seed heads that are taller and it has the pale gray-green shade of really dry plants.
Still, the sheep have nothing to do all day except meander around looking so they will find enough until it rains again.  
Bale count is 4488.  With no lambs this year it's possible that we could squeak by without a second cutting especially if it rains normally and the pastures regrow as they should.  Theoretically we could keep the flock on pasture into November. 
If anybody knows a good rain dance........

Friday, July 1, 2016


Not us - it's the tractor.  Andy noticed it leaking calcium and starting to get soft out in the field and managed to limp it home before it went flat.  Always easier to fix a tire in the yard rather than out in the wild.

We're lucky to have garage not too far away that specializes in tires and particularly in repair of ag equipment tires.  It takes some special equipment, materials and knowledge to deal with those. The rear tires, fully loaded with calcium, weigh about 800 lbs each.  Even deflated they can squash you like a bug if they get away from you.  Having told them what size tire needed attention they came with the truck fully equipped and a spare tube in case ours was not fixable.

The specialized truck includes a pump, hose and tank to hold the calcium chloride solution the tire is loaded with (plus more to spare if we had lost a lot), an air compressor and hoses for the air inflation part of the job, and all kinds of big wrenches, bars, mallets and the like.

First they had to pump out the remaining liquid and air, then the tire was loosened and spun half off the rim so they could get the tube out.  Then they had to reinflate the tube to see where the leak was.  And there it is - right where the rim would contact a repair, so that likely wouldn't hold.  It was decided that a new tube was needed and having been told the tire size they had the right one with them.

The new tube gets pushed up into the tire, then the tire gets rolled back onto the rim.  The pail in the foreground has a slippery, pasty soapy material that the tire edge is slathered with so things will slide better.  The big bar he's holding has a flattened end and no doubt made specifically for this purpose.

It's a two man job.  The tire dealer's helper gets the tire started and holds it in place and then the other man levers a section back onto the rim.  If the helper didn't hold it the tire would perpetually slide back off one side rather than stretch to roll onto the rim.

Walking it onto the last section at the bottom.

Once the tube and tire are in their proper places the calcium chloride is pumped back in and then the tube is inflated the rest of the way with air.

Thankfully it only took an hour or so and then Andy was up and running again.  Good thing - this is the main tractor we bale with!

And now, just because we need something prettier than tractor tires....our rose, in full bloom.  It's 'William Baffin' from the Hudson Bay rose series.  It thrives on neglect and can take drought and hard soil.  Perfect for us!!

Here's to things that are self motivated and tough!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Top Ten Things - Haying Edition

Farming in general has a lot of specific seasonal tasks - planting time, lambing time, getting in firewood, shearing time and lots more.  One of the busiest and most taxing is hay season.  For a variety of reasons we use small square bales, not the big round ones.  I've never worked with the big rounds so I can't say for certain but I don't think putting them up requires the same amount of human grunt work that the small squares do.  For everyone who's never been pressed into service baling hay, here's the Top Ten observations about it.

You know it's haying season when:

10.  You're too tired and it's too late to go to the store anyway so supper is Spam sandwiches, heated up leftover mashed potatoes and a bowl of ice cream.

9.  As you unload a wagon it dawns on you that the thump and squeal of the elevator mirrors a Justin Bieber song - "Ba-bee, ba-bee, baby, OHHhhh........ Ba-bee, ba-bee, baby, OHHHhhhhh."  Great.  Now that earworm is stuck in your head every time you unload.

8. You lose track of the days.  Thursday?  It was just Monday.  How'd that happen?

7. After sweating and grunting and working for three weeks you shed a few pounds of flab which is great until you realize this is probably the best you're going to look all year.  Meh.

6.  You wear through the legs of your jeans handling bales are hear yourself sound like the cliche 'old people' - "They don't make clothes like they used to!  This denim is like tissue paper!  It's this $#%&$ stuff from overseas!  When I was a kid you got hand me downs from when your father was a kid and they never wore out....."

5.  You develop a farmer's tan so stark that it precludes you attending weddings, graduation parties, picnics or other public functions in anything other than a short sleeve top with a round neck.

4.  You watch the bale count climb with more breathless anticipation than any presidential candidate gathering delegates.

3.  You drink more iced tea in a few weeks than you do the entire rest of the year.

2.  Checking the Weather Bug app on the phone six times a day and comparing it to both the newspaper's and radio's forecast doesn't seem excessive.

and the Number One way you know hay season has arrived........

1.  You drop your drawers in the bathroom and chaff flutters down like confetti.  Wheee!  Looks like I'm a winner!

We're at 2,920 - just over half way there!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dog Day Afternoon

Angel is recovering well from knee surgery and can now Go Walkies on leash with Holly as long as there's no vigorous romping around.  The girls were keen to go down the road and when either one stopped to investigate something the other one came over to see.  Must be like shopping with a friend - "Oooh, look at this!"

Crossing the town line the road changes from paved to dirt.

A nice slow stroll downhill is fun even when it's hot but then you have to turn and walk back.

"Mom, the ditch is full of buttercups, not water!  That's just wrong!"

But back at the yard the big water bowl was filled to the brim and big drinks were had, followed by a flop on the grass.  Holly even dipped one foot in to cool off.  That's all she would have done even if the bowl were a pool - she's not a water dog.

A walk with a pal, a drink and then a rest in the shade - that's the way summer is supposed to be!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fickle June

April and even May are supposed to be the months with big temperature swings.  This year June followed along.  Last weekend was the Central New York Fiber Arts Festival  and I took a day and trekked out there to investigate.  It was gray, rainy, very windy and in the low (low) 50s.  I ended up wearing four layers and lunching on hot sausage with peppers and onions topped off with hot coffee to try to keep warm.

The venue is very nice.  Long tents of vendors were laid out facing other tents that had a fleece sale, workshops, kids' area and sheep shearing trailer.  Despite heavy rain Saturday the grounds were not muddy and the vendor booths inside were fine.  The tents were high and quite bright inside despite the gray day.

There were supplies for spinners, knitters and other fiber artists and also a lot of finished goods for non-fiber people.  I picked up a couple of well-crafted items that are destined to be Christmas presents.  (Ha!  Got started on that  list!)

There were several vendors with fiber animals in their space and one farm brought one of their LGDs (livestock guard dog) along too.  This sweetie is Aziza (I think that's right) and she's an Akbash.   She's nine years old and is built tall and long bodied with a very coarse, short hair coat. She was a great ambassador.

She was unfailingly polite and friendly to everyone and people were petting her all day.  She never seemed concerned at the strangers petting 'her' lambs, but she did bark a deep bark when a border collie went past the end of her tent.  These little Tunis lambs were her charges for the day.

Another fun attraction was The Gypsy Tinker's wagon.  I must admit, it's a mighty seductive way to travel to shows - cuter and less costly than a commercial camper and the owner built the entire thing herself on a good old Tractor Supply trailer bed.

Apparently, Gypsy wagons are a 'thing' and popular with people who have construction ability and a nomadic bent.

Wow, if you could just pack all your vendor materials in the back of your pickup with some extras in the wagon and hit the road.......

All in all it was a fun day!

That was Sunday.  Tuesday it was sunny and 70 at home and Andy turned this....

...into this.

We unloaded three wagons last night and two this morning and he finished the field before 1 PM this afternoon.  That made somewhere over 900 bales, so we're off to a good start. We haven't been able to bale hay in June in some years - it's been wet until July.  We need rain, but if we can't have rain we'll sure take hay!