Sunday, August 9, 2020

Hot And Dry

Late June and early July offered a stretch of great hay weather - hot, dry days with low humidity and only a few soaking rains which we could see coming and dodged around.  Unfortunately, it has stayed that way.  I love hot weather and look forward to summer more than most people but unrelenting heat with no rain is tough on the sheep and harder on the pastures.  We can manage the flock to keep them in the shade and under fans during the day but no rain just slows grass growth until it gives up and goes dormant.  We rotate the flock through different pastures but for the plan to work we have to have regrowth in the pastures they leave so there's something to come back to later.

Right now they are in the first pasture for the second time.  Normally it would be lush and growing as fast as they could eat it.  This year it's barely half the volume it should be and what's there is almost crispy in some places.  They graze it down and there it stays. 

Most of them are in good shape right now and the pasture includes a lot of clover which is very nutritious but they do spend more time than usual walking around looking for the best areas.

The section in the foreground has just been clipped back.  The farther pasture with the sheep should be much greener with fresh growth.  Not so much.  :-/

The field at the bottom of the slope is the next one they will go to.  It's showing some growth but not much.  Also depressing are all the dead ash trees standing in the woods, killed by the Emerald Ash Borer.  Will ash exist in 50 years or will it go the way of the American Chestnut?  Guess I won't be here to find out.

Andy just finished clipping the pasture they most recently vacated and fertilized it too.  Now it just needs rain.

It's easy to get anxious when something as critical as weather is so totally out of your control.  A good remedy is a walk and Holly is always ready to assist.

Pie helps too, but I didn't have any handy.  ;-)

Sunday, August 2, 2020

When Antiques Aren't Cool

I love antiques like crazy - antique cars, tractors, furniture, prints and lithographs, tools and dishes.  I'm not so much a fan of antique power poles.

The electric poles that run through our sheep pastures are the originals, having been set in 1946.  Yes, that's 74 years of weathering and abuse by the elements.  Almost four years ago the power company determined that the poles could fail soon and should be replaced.  (Ya think?) 

The cross arms rotted off decades ago and they mounted the wires directly onto the poles.

Since declaring the poles unsafe, the guy wire on one of them broke leaving the pole tilted at a twenty degree angle and had to be replaced (just the wire, not the pole) and the pole just off our property in the neighbor's field broke over completely and had to be replaced.

We are increasingly nervous about this situation.  Multiple calls to the power company representative for this area over the last couple of years to prod them about replacements yielded only vague promises that 'you are on the list - it should be a few months'.  Last month we climbed up the food chain a few rungs and discovered that the field man for this area had never even made a work order for doing replacements.  They assure us that a work number now exists and rattled it off to us so that we could call and check on the job's status, so I guess that's something.

The poles are hollow at ground level thanks to ants and rot.

The center pole, without a guy wire, is taking a decided lean and is probably kept upright by the wires to other poles and Divine Grace.

We've taken to bringing the sheep in from the field any time there's a storm with even moderate wind which is tiresome and nerve-wracking.  This is not something we can fix ourselves nor hire done so we just have to wait and remind them that they do NOT want to pay a lawsuit for electrocuted livestock. 

We are patient people but this is getting ridiculous.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

In Our Own Little World

Hello, blog.  I'm sorry I neglected you.  It wasn't you - it was all me.  I got lazy and kept putting off making entries and time snowballed and here we are in the strangest year ever.  Festivals and meetings are canceled, travel is limited and socializing is rare or virtual.  But aside from the lack of fiber festivals our life hasn't changed to speak of except for wearing a mask in the post office and grocery store.  We've always kind of been up here on our hill in our own little world just doing our thing.

And now, thanks to the artistry of my cousin, Ned Spiller, who is a Master Model Railroader we are now literally immortalized in our own little world!  Behold!

The entire train layout is designed to be circa 1954 and while our tractors are slightly younger than the models the flavor is spot on.  There's even a tiny Holly under the tree by the front door.  :-D

A bit of artistic license was used to smallify the buildings so they would all fit but the details are exact.

When planning the hay baling scene Ned asked the personnel at the model supply store what kind of green fiber should be used to look most realistic.  Without missing a beat the man replied, "That depends.  Are you baling timothy or alfalfa?"  No detail is too small to get right!

The rest of the layout is extensive and includes multiple levels, towns, stations, tunnels, roads, railroad crossings with working lights, trees, rocks..... you name it.  Here is but a small part -

The addition of our farm to the layout was a total surprise.  Next time we visit I'll take my 'big girl camera' so I can get more details.  It's too amazing not to share!

Friday, August 30, 2019

Those Bees

For the last several years we've had honey bees set up shop in the trunk of the locust tree right by the front door.  One year the hive survived all winter but most years they perish for one reason or another and sometime in June a new swarm moves in.  They prosper for a few months and then send out another swarm.  A new swarm will send out scouts to find a place to live and until a place is found they will sit quietly in a big cluster and wait for the scouts to suggest a new home.

We try to find a beekeeper to come and collect the swarm if it's anywhere within reach.  Lots of beekeepers like to get 'free' bees!  Chances of surviving the winter if they start late in the summer are slim.  There isn't time to make sufficient honey to support themselves through the cold months and they need a certain number of bodies to keep warm enough too.  Being added into a 'kept' situation  - usually added in to an existing hive to boost the numbers - is their best chance.  Some years they are in a helpful location to collect.

Here, two swarms emerged at the same time and clustered on opposite sides of the flower bed by the road. 

The beekeeper who collected them had to work on her hands and knees.

It was quite a nice bunch of bees!

Other times they have landed where we have to be creative to reach them.

A loaded hay wagon proved just high enough to be able to reach the branch and clip it off, putting the whole thing into a box.

In any case, the point is to end up with the bees in a box.

Monday the bees did it again.  Our usual beekeeper friend was unavailable so we made the acquaintance of another person through a referral - Mr. Hearn.  He came with a helper and only lives about seven miles away.  They came well prepared with hive box parts and could drop the bees directly in rather than use a cardboard transport box.

The swarm was about ten feet off the ground right on the trunk of a crab apple tree - not a place where you could clip off a branch and drop the whole thing into a box - and it was awkward to stand with one foot on the stepladder and one foot on a branch.  But they were prepared and had soft brushes and a big sheet of cardboard to act as a slide for the bees.  It was cold and windy and trying to spit rain and the bees were crabby.  I apologize for the crummy video - filming against pale sky was too taxing for me and the camera to figure out.  You can hear the clumps of bees thumping on the cardboard.

Once the majority of bees were brushed off the tree they brought the box down and picked out a few twigs that had fallen in.

While most of the bees had tumbled into the box there were a few hundred buzzing around.  We used some tote bins from the garage to lift the hive closer to the place the bees had been and enjoyed a nice conversation while the flying bees figured out where the queen had gone and willingly went into the hive by themselves.  I don't think there a dozen bees around when Mr. Hearn left and without a clear purpose they would end up going back to the hive in the tree and not just die.

So the bees have a new home and we have new friends.  Mr. Hearn has invited me over to the bee yard for some work sessions next month and I'm happy to go learn and be an extra pair of hands.  I guess it's time to invest in a bee suit!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Better Late Than Never

And it's never too late to share something fun, right?  And the annual trip to Kentucky to visit The Crazy Sheep Lady at Equinox Farm is the 'funnest'.  We always have a list of activities we want to get to but never manage them all. 

One of the biggest things we did was make poor Frankie work give Frankie a training session each day. Frankie is a Standardbred and comes from New Vocations Racehorse Adoption.  He's a very nice horse with tons of potential. Sara has been working with him daily since his adoption and he is coming along well, but had not pulled a cart with two people in it and I had never been in a cart so it was a new experience for us both!  I think I had a lot more fun than he did. 

It was very hot there (Kentucky....August....uh, yeah) and I was the only one happy about it.  Sara always puts her animals' comfort first and Frankie has a slick anti-fly costume (light mesh, not hot) which really does the trick to keep them from bothering him so he can concentrate on the lesson.

We started with a warm up of just walking which is more work than it sounds like since he had my added ballast to haul and the field does have a slight slope.

We did some big figure-eights and I learned the whip functions like a rider's leg, just reinforcing the rein with a very light touch.

"Stop walking uphill to stand for a picture?  Don't mind if I do."

Another day's lesson was more structured and involved maneuvering between cones (gates) and poles (bridges) while at a trot.  He had never done this before, but never blinked.  Trotted right through everything like a pro!

Julie also took a turn in the cart and everyone had a good time, especially Frankie when he got his 'good boy graze' on the lawn after his bath.

Speaking of grazing, we had our fair share of good eats over the weekend including an amazing tomato frittata and home baked peasant bread.  Sara uses good old cast iron for cooking.  I should go down into the basement and see if I can resurrect Andy's mother's pans.  I'm sure they are better for one's health than Teflon.

Poor Betsy nearly faded away from hunger, neglected as she was while we were busy having fun.  Doesn't she look mistreated?

Of course the sheep are a big part of any day's activities so there was lots of scritching and cookie handouts besides regular chores.

The oldies have their own section of barn and pasture so they don't get roughed up by the big, able-bodied sheep.  Don't worry, the gray one laying flat out in the middle is just Rebecca Not-Boone napping.

What?  Can't a sheep take a nap without being accused of looking dead?"

The sheep in this flock are all pretty "special" and have a lot of latitude at chore time when gates are left open.  Here Cheeto acts as look out innocently minds her own business while the two youngsters investigate the tack room.

"Nothing to see here, lady.  Just kids being kids."

"And now he's smelling a chicken.  Maybe nobody will know we're together if I don't watch."

Good old B. Willard......

"Are you just going to let those kids do that?"

"I don't think I even want to go in there.  All kinds of crazy stuff going on."

I did do a teensy bit of work over the weekend.  Sara let me borrow her box picker.

I ran several pounds of dyed Cotswold locks through it in preparation of using my drum carder at home to make spinning batts. It was awfully pleasant to work outside on the porch of the Wool House.  The picker did a great job opening the fiber up and I've since ordered one for myself.  It will speed things up a lot.

In just a few minutes it turned this.......

into this......

Sara has some amazing gardens and beds of flowers, both for the beauty and for butterflies and bees.

She wanted to add a few particular plants to the farm so one day we went to a big nursery about an hour away.  One of the attractions there is a butterfly garden which features all Kentucky native butterflies.  It was a lovely place and two or more employees were present at all times to point out the different species, tell people what the flowers were, warn you when the misters were going to come on and I suspect to keep people from pocketing things they shouldn't.  

There were a LOT of butterflies everywhere.  You did not have to hunt for them!

And of course we wouldn't be proper fiber people if we didn't do something involving wool.  Sara had a big project for the Tour De Fleece this year and plied together a LOT of balls of spun singles.  She had wondered if That Andy could come up with a way to wrangle balls for plying.  He did, and so we had to try it out!

First though, because she had used those balls already we had to generate more.  She had some roving from Rocky and while she spun some on her e-spinner I borrowed a wheel and spun an equal amount resulting in two balls to ply together.  Tilly did quality control.

It was so pleasant to sit on the porch and spin.  Peep, the cardinal, kept coming to the feeder to grab seeds to feed his kids.  They were in the bush and not real visible here.  You can just see his spot of red on the bird feeder.

Anyway, here is the Ball Wrangler in use.

Andy made it to hold four balls at once, which may be a bit excessive.  It holds the balls nicely and the hole in the upper deck keeps the yarn feeding straight up so it will unwind from the outside of the ball without hanging up or getting tangled.

We did discover one aspect that needs tweaking - when the balls are very small they pop up and off the dowels.  We've already come up with a way to address that, it just needs doing.  

When the yarn was all plied Sara involved another friend who sat on the porch and visited and whipped out four crocheted granny squares.  Now we all have a keepsake from that weekend.

The weekend flew by.  Lots of things I didn't get pictures of because they happened too quickly or I needed both hands or I was just living in the moment and didn't think to snap a picture.  All too soon it was time to head for home.

The sun was just coming up when we put our bags in the truck.

Folklore in that regions says that foggy mornings in August mean a snowy day in winter.  Sara wants snow so I'll hope this low mist counts.

Frankie and some of the early risers in the flock were out grazing already, mist or not.

Once the sun touched it, it was gone in a moment. 

The chickens were up and having breakfast on the 'patio' of the wash room.  Comby came by to say 'so long'.

"And bring some of those Party Mix cat treats next time!"

So we definitely have to come again.  Comby says so!