Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Fall Has Fell

 Despite the hot temperatures there is no denying that Fall is truly here.  I thought the drought would impact the color change in our foliage and trees would yellow a bit and then drop their leaves.  Just the opposite is true and we've had the best color display in some years.

The fall flowers are blooming much more heavily that I would have thought possible given how water starved the plants have been.   The view across the neighbor's property down the valley is a river of goldenrod.

The sky is clear, unbroken blue day after day.  We did have one afternoon of wispy mare's tails which normally mean rain but we didn't get any.  I think this one looks like The Nexus (skip to about 1:10) and given the strangeness of 2020 I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been.

The weeds wildflowers in unkempt corners are making me glad I didn't spend a lot of energy cutting them down earlier this summer.

Even humble ivy that's crept up trees and along the ditches has turned brilliant red.

Normally the sheep would still have been out on pasture for a few more weeks but we had to bring them in and start feeding hay four weeks early.  We made enough of our own for a normal year but we didn't have enough for extra weeks of feeding.  We were lucky enough to secure 20 big square bales and after an initial trial of three bales - which the sheep were delighted with - we had the rest delivered.

Keeping the flock off pasture requires a different daily routine including scraping the barnyard area clean every morning.  Here, the girls seem to be giving our effort an inspection.

We left the auto waterer in the feed bunk to encourage exercise and because the chore of rerouting water into the barn isn't really necessary until freezing temperatures start.  Fortune is looking longingly at a kitty that she really. wants. to. sniff.

Another aspect of feeding hay is the need to coat the flock to keep the wool clean.  Thus began the annual Washing of the Coats.  I do about a dozen a day and triage them after they are dry for holes and weak leg straps.  Soon there will come a day of mending.

We don't normally need to keep the sheep cool AND in the barn but this year with a week of mid-80s predicted we knew we'd have to take some kind of measure to keep them comfortable.  When we used to have a building full of ram lambs in the summer we had a large box fan going for them but it hadn't been needed for a few years.  Time to press it into service.  First Andy had to create a 2X6 the right dimensions to support it.  The buzz rig was pressed into service as a big table saw.

This will move air!

Mounted where it is, at the end of the pens, a good flow of air will move the length of the barn and push stale, warm air out the south end where the rolling door is normally open. 

Holly sez:

"Bleah.  It's too hot and bright out here.  Let's go in for a drink."

Dogs are so sensible.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Stranger Things

So.... 2020.  Quite the year, huh?  I'm waiting for either the asteroid to hit us or the aliens to land.  It's been that strange.  This particular bit of weirdness is the drought in our area.  Rains have been extremely spotty and fifty miles away things look normal.  Not us - we have a drought.  We aren't California-dry, but we are dry enough to burn up the pastures and have to pull the sheep in four weeks earlier than usual.  There is just nothing out there to eat and they are pulling grass out by the roots.  We can't let them damage the pasture or next spring will be a disaster.  We have enough hay for a regular winter feeding season but not an extra four weeks.  We've never had to buy hay before - ever - but, well.....2020.

We are very fortunate to have been able to secure 20 giant square bales from a neighbor.  The good news is that the hay is very good and the sheep accepted it right away.  The awkward part is the size.  We are used to feeding small square bales that weigh about 40 lbs.  These weigh 700 lbs.

If they don't already know, somebody needs to tell NASA about the poly twine that binds them.  We can carry the bale with the tractor by slipping the tines of the bucket under the twine and lifting.  Tough stuff!

The bales come apart in tightly compressed flakes which we load on a cart and roll into the interior of the barn and then heave in the manger and pull them apart by hand.  Andy's wearing a mask due to allergies, not Covid, just in case you wondered.

We've found curious things in our own hay bales over the years, usually unfortunate snakes or frogs, once an entire eight point deer antler, the occasional rock, but in today's bale we found this. Clearly it's a fragment of some tool but it's a puzzling mix of lightweight fragile wood and machined hard plastic.

The six holes go all the way through but don't show any signs of wear.

The plastic is embedded in a nicely machined wooden slat at a purposeful angle and we're guessing the plastic bit is a bumper or spacer of some kind that another moving piece slid over but we can't puzzle out what this is a part of.

.One of the more innocent mysteries that is the year 2020!

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!