Saturday, August 11, 2018

More Livestock

It's that time of year around here - Monarch butterflies are in the air although not in the numbers I remember from years ago.  Their population has been in decline for some time and apparently there are people - legions of them - who work to help Nature by raising the caterpillars and releasing the adult butterflies.  My friend Amy the Fibergoddess from Stone Edge Fibers collects young ones and raises them every year and she inspired me to do the same.  (She also pointed me to a great facebook group - Raising Monarch Butterflies.)

We have an abundance of milkweed and it's actually an invasive weed that farmers try to keep out of their crops.  Not only does it spread by the pretty, fluffy parachute-like seeds that the wind carries but roots send up new shoots and can remain viable underground even after some herbicides have been used in an area.  We see it growing on the edges of fields and in fence rows and have several large islands of it that have sprung back with vigor in alfalfa that was cut in June.

Mortality in the caterpillars in the wild is pretty high.  Despite being nasty tasting, which is supposed to discourage birds, they are preyed on by other insects and are subject to viral and bacterial diseases just like all other living things.  Caterpillars fend for themselves so taking them from the wild and raising them to adulthood doesn't interfere with any family/pack/flock social structure.

I carried a small Tupperware container with me while walking Holly and found several to adopt!  The bigger ones were set up in an empty plastic dog biscuit container with the lid altered to have mesh on top.  I broke the tops out of some plants in the field and stood them upright in the container.  Everyone seemed very content.




I also found an egg on the underside of a milkweed leaf.  They are very small - the size of a grain of salt but smooth and barrel shaped.  I put the leaf and a couple very small caterpillars (cats, as the 'professionals' call them) in a Tupperware container with the lid snapped on.  Opening it a few times a day gives the littlest ones sufficient fresh air and also keeps the humidity up for them.  In just a couple of days the egg hatched.  That's the newly hatched 'cat', on the leaf below 'Liberty'.


I put the containers on the sill of a north facing window.  They need light but I didn't want to put them in direct sunlight.  At night they go into the breezeway which is a secure 'cat free' zone (Real cats!) so mayhem doesn't occur.  I put sticky notes on the lids to remind myself how many residents each container holds.



It didn't take but a couple of days and the largest ones were looking for a spot to make a chrysalis.  I moved them to a larger container with mesh over the top.  They promptly crawled up there and made the change.  Tactical error on my part - now it's hard to move the mesh top without disturbing them.  Live and learn.


As other cats matured and started looking for a place to make the change I let them stay in the container they were housed in until they picked a leaf to stick to.  Then I plucked the leaf and clipped it to a bare branch I had set in the big container.


Once they pick their spot and make a "J" I'm certain they will stay put and change.


By this morning I was up to ten chrysalis in the big tub and the very first, oldest one (about 2 weeks old at this point - note to self, keep better track of how many days the various stages take) had turned clear and I could see the black and orange of body and wings, albeit all scrunched up.  By afternoon the butterfly was out!


After letting it rest and stretch I moved it - him, it's a male - to a goldenglow blossom to finish his butterfly exercises.



At the moment I have nine more in chrysalis, three mid-sized cats and three eggs that I just found today.  Reading some of the facebook posts about things that can go wrong with them is dismaying but so far they all seem to be developing normally and it's satisfying to see the milkweed leaves being devoured and the caterpillars growing.  I can manage a seasonal increase in the livestock around here when there's a happy set-you-free ending!  And maybe it will help them recover just a little.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Providence

The old locust tree by the front door has been a source of worry for some years and we considered having it topped a few years ago when the others around the house were done.  We I was too sad to think of all of them being reduced so much so we didn't trim that one.  This spring we revisited the idea.  The honey bees hadn't survived the winter and it seemed like a good time to bite the bullet and do it.  We called our tree guy but he didn't get back to us and we let is slide.  Then new bees moved in to the tree and we didn't press the matter. 

Last night a storm front came in with wind and rain.  Early this morning, after hearing a gawd-awful WHUMP we looked out the front door at this.



The rain system came in on an east wind which is unusual for the summer when the tree is fully leafed out.  Wind plus wet leaves plus age equals destruction.  How bad would it be when we really went out to look?


The broken section miraculously fell exactly in the only place it could and not cause major damage - squarely in the narrow area between the house and garage.

It did break a modest branch off the flowering crab next to the garage but it never touched the nice wind chimes that were a gift just recently.



Quite the mess.


It was literally half the tree and nothing we were going to clean up in a few minutes.



Also, a very large limb was teetering on the edge of the upper storey roof but we weren't about to try to get it off in the wind and rain.  You can just see the broken stub of it superimposed over the vertical trunk of the standing tree.


What about the bees?


The front of the tree looks pretty damaged but the crease where they fly in and out wasn't much affected.  There were a few bees walking on the trunk but it was raining and barely sixty degrees so one would hope the quiet normal behavior meant no big disturbance in their world.

Sometime during the morning while we were doing other things the big branch took itself off the roof and somehow rolled or twisted out and away from the house and windows.  Again, there was an amazing lack of damage.  Even my garden gargoyle suffered no harm despite the tree trunk coming to rest just nudging his wings.  I think he should have had his hands over his head at this point.


The afternoon brought sun and a chance to clean up.  We still marvel at how the tree missed everything important.




Andy nibbled away the leafy branches first with the chainsaw and I pulled them away into a big pile for removal later.  Once he could reach it, Andy got the tractor bucket under the broken trunk and lifted/pulled it off the porch railing and could cut it loose from the standing tree.


Once the sun came out and the air warmed up the bees became very active and worked busily going to and fro as though nothing had happened.


Our friend, Red, came over and helped and it really went very quickly.


The profile of the yard is quite different and it will likely change again soon.  Our tree trimmer got another call from us today and he was here this evening to look over the situation.  He doesn't see a problem with topping the remaining tree and will get to us as soon as possible.  For now the tree looks like this.


And we are counting our blessings!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Gathering In

It's easy to think of autumn as the harvest season but it's mid-summer and we're overlapping the harvesting of both hay and winter wheat.  We are somewhat behind on where we *could* be with the hay - we are still doing first cutting but have had great hay making weather and could have been done if we were a crew of ten people.  Being as it's just the two of us and we're in (ahem) advanced middle age Andy only cuts enough hay to fill five wagons - about 650 bales - at a time so we can get it unloaded and in the mow before the next batch is ready.  We are closing in on five thousand bales and put up the first half of the second to last field today.

It lies about a mile up the road so Andy takes the baler with one wagon and I follow with a second and then make trips to bring the rest while he bales.  The moms with lambs were way at the end of their pasture.  They have gotten very cosmopolitan and don't flinch when big machinery drives past.


The sun was high and the light is harsh at midday but the hay is mostly timothy and still very green although the picture doesn't show it well.


Fields that we don't use have been rented for several years to a neighboring farmer and last year he tried putting in winter wheat.  Other years he has raised both corn and soybeans.  Corn grows reasonably well on this hill ground if it's prepped correctly and the weather is right but he had a couple of bad years weather-wise and switched to soybeans.  That really didn't work out well.  The crop grew alright but just when he should have been starting to run the combine we got five inches of rain and you could barely walk across the fields let alone drive machinery across it.  That was a loss.  The winter wheat seems to be a success!

I think wheat is one of the prettiest crops when it reaches maturity - graceful and romantic in a bucolic sort of way.



Lovely, solid fields of grain ready for the combine.


And he'll have the other product of  a crop of wheat - the straw.  This will be baled and sold, so there's two products for the effort and expense to raise one crop.  (Although that means he has the expense of  another line of machinery, so it's not like the straw is totally free.  Ag economics is complicated and usually leaves you thinking 'Is that all we made??' when you go over the books.)  We're glad to see him have success after some years of dicey results.


When I brought the third wagon he was already emptying the combine hopper into the big trailer.  Later, his daughter, home for the summer from college, took over driving the combine.  He said it was a good place for her to practice as the fields were small, flat and dry.  She also manages a herd of beef cattle on their farm, doing everything from making breeding selections to arranging slaughter and cutting of selected animals for the on-farm store's meat case.  Nice to hear of a young adult being so involved with the family farm.  Whether she stays with it or not she will still have a better understanding of business and hard work than the great majority of her peers and that can only work to her advantage.


Granted, it's apples to oranges, but it was amazing how fast he had gobbled up so much of that field while Andy was still on the second hay wagon.


The moms and lambs were working their way back toward the barn harvesting grass as they went.  The lambs are growing well and and looking less like babies and more like teenagers. It won't be long before we address weaning.  I'm sure we could do it any time now, but at the moment there's no pressing reason to separate them.


We have an abundance of yellow swallowtail butterflies this year and they were also busy harvesting nectar from flowers.  There are two in this photo - there were three but one flitted off.



We are only in late July - still many crops to be harvested and gathered in for the winter.

Friday, July 13, 2018

And Stay Out!

The pasture the sheep were rotated out of is starting to put on some new growth but the lack of rain is really holding it back.  They are still being turned into the farthest pasture at the bottom of the knoll and in this heat they troop up and down the hill a few times a day for a drink, walking past the short new growth that's just across the fence.  The pasture they are in isn't as poor as it looks right here but some of them have been giving the old fence a workout by pushing their noses as far as they can to reach a few tender blades of new growth. Some sections are now loose and floppy and bellied out. 


Fuzz is apparently one of the chief offenders because last evening we found she had "accidentally" fallen through under the fence (that's what she claimed - once the nose goes, the rest of the body follows, she says) and was stuck on the green side while everyone else watched with envy.  They must not have seen her actually go under of there would have been a mob scene and chaos.  As it was, we got her haltered and back where she belonged but nobody had fun doing it.

So today Andy Fuzz-proofed the fenceline.  It's not in sad enough shape to require a major overhaul but something needed to be done.


Behold our fast fence fixer!  Looks like some kind of wicked vampire killing device. It's a good sturdy foot long ash stake. Note the nail on the upper end pointing down.  Andy made two dozen of these and we worked our way down the line, catching the lowest wire under the nail and pounding them in tight anywhere the fence was floppy.


We used them all.  Some places needed two since the ground dipped and made the gap just too inviting.


Even out in the open the flock decided the pounding was something Not Good and they took themselves to the very farthest end of the lower pasture.



When they work their way back and come up the hill for a drink I'm sure they'll test the fence (at least Fuzz will - sheep learn really fast when food is concerned) and then we'll see if we found all the weak spots or not.  Fuzz will tattle if we missed some.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Time To Go Camping

Camping - where you get out of the house and live closer to nature without the familiar amenities.

The sheep are now camping in the bunk at night for the duration of this hot spell.  Being creatures of habit they are bound and determined to stay in the barn at night, making themselves hot, breathing stagnant air and turning it into a quagmire.  For their own good we have barred the barn door, set up a water tub and bedded down the bunk where they can stand under four gigantic fans when they come off pasture for the night. Even without the fans going it's a dry, airy space and very pleasant although the decor is plain.


They grumbled quite a bit the first night.  Everyone wanted to get to 'their spot' in the barn to settle in but the gate stayed closed and they eventually gave up and slept in the bunk.


There's a barnswallow nest on top of the old fence charger (no longer used but never removed) and the youngsters will be fledging soon.  Hopefully they'll be less likely to come to grief without the sheep tramping back and forth.  The barn cats are a danger but a careless hoof would kill a youngster too.  We love our swallows.


The parents were really not happy with me standing beneath the nest and I caught both of them swooping at me. (Twelve o' clock and nine o' clock)


Andy opens the barnyard gate and heads to the lower one while the sheep meander behind.


Once through the lower gate they head over the knoll to the lowest pasture.  The pasture they have cycled out of, to the right, was clipped and is starting to green up again although it's still pretty short. 


Because the lambs and mommas are fenced close to the back of the barn we had to move the outdoor water station for the main flock.  Instead of the usual place on the east barn wall, it now sits along the fenceline below the locust grove in a fairly flat (with the help of a shovel) spot.  You can never have too many hoses or Y fittings to run water somewhere!


The lambs are growing well. So far we see no drawbacks to lambing in May.



And with only eleven it's a lot easier to make friends with everybody.


This is Peppermint Patty, the lamb from Taffy who is the very round large ewe from the last post.  She may follow in her mom's footsteps and be willing to eat just about everything.


A moorit boy (brown) and one of the colored Cotswold twins.


Ophelia is the mom of the colored Cotswold twins.  She's very personable and her lambs seem equally quiet and friendly.

"Of course we're friendly!  We are good and smart sheep.  We know who feeds us."

Friendly sheep are sooo much more pleasant to work with!