Thursday, September 17, 2020

Goodbye to Two Good Friends

I am remiss in not posting the passing of two really good barn kitties.  Although they passed on a while ago they deserve a formal mention.  Every animal has a personality, likes and dislikes, and quirks that make then individuals.  We don't have "just" barn cats, we have cats who live their best life in the barn.  Farewell to siblings Chloe and Clem.

Chloe  2008 - 2019


Clem 2008 - 2020

Both gone but not forgotten.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Signs of Fall

Our hot, dry summer is easing into a warm, dry Fall. 

The goldenrod is almost at peak bloom and bees of all types are taking advantage.  There seem to be two types of the plant around here.  This kind, with airy sprays of bloom like fireworks going off is more common.


But we also have a variety with more finely cut leaves and small globs of bloom where the flowers are arranged in clumps. 


The bees prefer this type at the moment.  I see a honey bee and two other small bees of some kind.


Although still terribly dry we are having some morning dew and the webs of little grass spiders show up well in the lawn.


"Come into my parlor...."


The cooler morning temperatures create a river of fog down in the valley.  Every year I'm reminded of how good it is to live up on a hilltop where you aren't stuck for hours in the fog every morning in the Fall.


Even when the fog lifts and trails away over the ridge the valley will still be stuck in a clammy mist all morning. 


We've been to the woods last week and Andy cut some hemlock trees.  He's building hinged panels for a fellow shepherd who needs some new ones.  From the woods to the sawmill to the shop.  That will keep him occupied for a few days.


Holly loves to walk up the length of each downed tree.  Such a silly girl.

"Nope, no squirrels in this one.  Let's cut another one down and look!"

The sheep are currently going to the farthest pasture to graze everyday.  They are having to work for their vittles this summer.  There was barely enough regrowth to let them go back there and they spend a lot of time grazing to get what they need.  No lush mouthfuls they can fill up fast on.  We did offer hay in the bunk when they come in at night but they were not enthused so they aren't that hungry but we'll have to move them off that pasture again very soon.

We let them out of the yard in the morning and they follow Andy across the smallest pasture behind the barn.....



.....through the gate and down the hill.....


....and spread out down by the woods for the morning.  They are hard to see - click to biggify.


We have a separate group of old and infirm animals and they go out into the closer, flat pasture that heads north.  Pickings are a little better for them out there as there are fewer of them for that area but we keep hay in their mangers in case someone doesn't feel up to trekking out and being on their feet for hours.  

All that wide expanse and they stick to the narrow sheep trail and march off to work in single file.


Even old sheep have a good work ethic.

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!