Thursday, January 29, 2009

Keeping an eye out for lambs

I had my first Jolt of lambing season several days ago. This is when I look out my kitchen window and happen to notice an ewe standing far away from the heard. I try my best to focus my eyes to see why she might be away from the herd. I can make out that her nose is at the ground and she… she … looks like she’s licking something……Oh shit! I- mean- shoot! I grab the binoculars for a closer look, fully expecting to see a white and pink blob under her face. Nope she’s just eating frozen grass. This will happen off and on for the next five weeks.

I know exactly when the goats were bred and the day in which they will begin kidding but the sheep are a little more al’naturale. I put the ram in with them early September. Goats and sheep have a five month gestation so reasonably bouncing baby lambs could be popping out at any time but after doing the math I figured it wouldn’t happen until first half of February. But, the deal is I only have two ewes bred this year, so it should not be the major undertaking as in the past.

I wanted to lamb and kid a little early this year so not to conflict with April plant sales. April is the month when the greater part of my yearly income has been made off the sale of tomato plants. But this year is going to be different. Being on my own gave me a unique opportunity to plan a little better based on what I knew I could handle. So from now until the end of March I’ll be on the lookout for lambs. However that being said I have to contend with the cold temperatures and the lack of green grass. So it’s a trade off. I’ll try it this year and see how it goes.

My friends Ann and Ed who also raise sheep have been lambing since December. Not ideal for them or the sheep but that’s what you get when a ruddy ram jumps the fence. Ann and Ed raise Katahdin another type of hair sheep. I’m going to buy eight ewe lambs from her this spring. Hair sheep are the only sheep I have worked with but after reading a wonderful book called Trafficking in Sheep by Anne Barclay Priest, I have started to look at fiber sheep. Look at. not buy. Not yet at least. I would have to learn the art of sheering and that scares the dickens out of me but the way Priest describes her learning curve in the book piques my interest especially when she talks about training her collie. Definitely a good read. Might check out a fiber breed or two………Hmm...I would love to make sheep’s milk cheese. Uh oh. Let’s just get through April.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Prepare for the worst expect the best?

It looks like my neck of the woods is in for a cold week. The forecast calls for ice pellets and freezing rain starting this afternoon and continuing through Wednesday. That means today is about survival and preparation. I don’t think the forecast is dire but it’s always possible like in the past I could lose power and need to stay put. I’ll spend the next several hours bringing in wood, collecting enough kindling for a week, filling up a few five gallon water drums, putting a new bin in the composting toilet and getting the animals plenty of water in their tanks. Then I wait, and if a storm does hit I’ll read and stay warm by the fire. I might try to catch some episodes of “Survivor” on TV and righteously chuckle to myself and think: they have no idea! That is if I have electricity.

I’ve got enough food in the freezer to last a month and the cold frames are full of lettuce, spinach, chard, arugula, and broccoli greens and they’ll be fine. I’ve got cheese in the freezer and eggs in the coup. No chance of scurvy or malnourishment for me, maybe a little OCD however.
I’ll admit I’m a little gun shy around ice storms. I’ve been through two of them on the farm, the first I was here alone and really having a hard time, unprepared as they come. Cabin fever hit within two hours and for the next seven days I was a complete basket case. I laugh at it now, have to. Last year I had a little company but not much, the difference was I was ready. We lost power for nine days. All was just fine. I cooked on the wood burning stove and read under the soft glow of oil burning laps. Oh, that reminds me I lost those in the divorce so I better replace them pronto!

I’ve come a long way since that first ice storm.
Here are some photos of the place last year. Being from Seattle it’s pretty much the biggest weather “thing” I’ve experienced, so I might sound a bit over excitable.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Loving Spot

A journal entry a few months back read:

The sunrise this morning was breathtaking. The horizon was painted deep purple with many shades of fire. I watched the changing color stretching across the rolling hills behind the silhouettes of my grazing sheep. Magical!

I love having sheep. The breed that I keep is called St Croix, a type of hair sheep, a meat breed rather than a fiber breed. They do not require sheering. The original sheep of this farm came from my ex’s father who could not take care of them any longer. When they came to us they were pretty healthy but required some basic care like trimming nails, etc. Last weekend Linda and I trimmed a nail on one ewe that was out of control, this nail was pointed toward the sky and curling up. It was getting difficult for her to walk or lay down. She had even begun to lay with that leg set out strait in front of her rather than tucked underneath her, like the normal preferred position of sheep and goats. I had tried to cut it back many times but could not get my trimmers to cut through that rock hard hoof. Horse trimmers did the job but it was a slow process, but she is like a new woman now.

My sheep are bred and managed for meat. They are friendly and curious but they are not acclimated to humans like the goats whom I do not eat. (Another story all together). So when I need to treat or help an ewe give birth I have to be very sneaky about it because like the chickens if you even look at them funny they think you are after them. (When a chicken thinks I'm after him/her, I usually am, and it’s usually a him). Sometimes I will even nonchalantly back up to an ewe or a ram and then grab them very gently but firmly and all is fine, but if I walk right toward them looking them right in the eye, they’re gone. I have had to chase down a few sheep and tackle them which is not my preferred method but I have done it.

Right now I only have two older ewes which came from the original stock and two young ewes that were born last year. I have two rams but one is withered (Spot). Yea, I named him. Naming is frowned upon in some circle. Usually live stock pets never work out but last spring we took five rams to be slaughtered and Spot was not one of them. He gets to be with the ewes and frolic all he wants. I bottle fed him as a lamb when his mother rejected him. Knowing full well he was intended for the food chain, I did my best to keep him alive and healthy but he was different, he followed me around like a puppy. My mistake is that I treated him like one, letting him trail along as I did chores and checked the mail box. I chose to “wither” him because his “spot” excluded him from breeding stock and so it was off to the butcher or off with his balls.

At first Spot handled the banding pretty well. After the band was placed around his scrotum he just walked off and ate some grass, a few minutes later he was on the ground having what looked like a seizure. I ran to his side, tried to comfort him but you guessed it he ran away. He stayed away from me for a while but I had to check on the wound I had inflicted so I had to catch him. After the chasing and tackling I determined he was just fine. He let me hold and pet him and seemed to enjoy it greatly although I felt abusive and horrible for doing such a thing to him. It only took about a week for us to be done with those pesky testicles, and we were best friends again.

Spot is all grown up now, we’re not as close as we were back then but we still have affection for each other. He’s getting big, obviously self confident, beautiful and gentle, he seems to look out for the girls. I have a friend who lives close by who is already lambing. I’m going over there this morning for a visit. I am thinking of purchasing some new stock from her maybe eight or nine lamb ewes. My older ewes are at least six years old and will, like Spot likely die of natural causes but I probably don’t want to breed them next season.

Having sheep for me means I have meat in the freezer that I raised myself, I know the joys and heartache of raising animals for food, but I would have it no other way if I choose to eat meat. It is part of this life I have chosen for myself. But I can say in my 42.5 years of life, I’ve seen nothing more beautiful than watching the sheep graze against the backdrop of a passionate sunrise.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I’ve decided to take a break from green house shopping to spill some words about perfection.
I am having the hardest time choosing a greenhouse. It really shouldn’t be that difficult. I found two that will suit me just fine. They are what I can afford and bottom line, plants will grow in them. But….. I keep waiting for one of them to be more perfect than the other, to stand out somehow and do a little jig. The thing is if I’m at this any longer I’m the one that’s gonna have to do a jig on some corner trying to make a buck cause I couldn’t make a darned decision about a greenhouse! Whew!
So I’m sitting here thinking (a normal position for me)and I’m wondering; is it the greenhouse that I’m afraid won’t be perfect or is it the nurseryman (this would be me)that I am afraid won’t be perfect. A friend asked me last night “Are you afraid of failure of success?”
Both; failure because I feel like I’ve had my share of them and I’m not sure how much more I can take and success because I’m not entirely convince I deserve success.
But……This is something I can surly bore my therapist with.
Bottom line: A good grower will do fine with either one period.
All the stars are in alignment. It looks like my Organic certification will be fine, I have friends willing to help. I have financial resources to buy and I got pulled over last night on HWY 48 and didn’t get a ticket.
Should Jesus himself have to come down from the tree house and give me the business? I’ve gotten all the signs this is the right thing to do.
I’m doing it. I’ll work on the self confidence issues later.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wave of hope

All is well in my world today. I’m sitting stove side in my small cozy living room enjoying the deep warmth of a well made fire. The dim lamp light provides just enough rays to make out the words in my journal. I love mornings it’s the peaceful time for me, a time of reflection and planning. The darkness outside and the warm comfort of my little house hugs me and holds me tight. I feel a comfort and joy in it that seems to be immeasurable.

For me today is full of hope. I am excited down to my core about our new president and I think today is truly a day for new beginnings. I can find no excuses not to launch myself into the world and take a hold with pure delight this life I have chosen to live. All this because of a new president? That is one of many reasons, but it’s a huge wave of hope and I’m one of millions riding it!

I meet with my good friends Mike and Emily today to get some solid advice on seed varieties that I will be planting for my market garden as well as for transplants I will sell this spring. I’m going Organic, Certified Organic that is. I’ve got the application in hand and I’m taking the leap! I’m very excited. I'm a little scared too but that's nothing new for me. I'll be branching off and selling plants this year. But let me add for those who know me, I have the Tomato Man's Daughter's full support, but mind you I will not be selling Heirloom tomato plants. I might have a few of course but I'll have pepper plants, cucumber. squash and a variety of really neat vegetable plants for gardeners who don't want to start their own seeds. This is a great opportunity and brings me closer to my goal of buying the farm from my ex.

On a Animal note; yesterday morning I noticed the goats are starting to really look pregnant. It’s hard to believe in two months from today I will have dozens of little kids and lambs running around! Now that’s something to look forward to! I've started thinking about getting ready for all of this, and soon I'll start doing. I still have fence repairs to make and a processing room to build.
Speaking of the Animals I better get out there and do some feeding.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Guest House

Rumi - Guest House
This being human is a guest house

Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

A dear one sent this to me as I struggled with the pain of a recent break up. Knowing the separation was the best for both of us it still left me feeling defeated, rejected and abandoned, which was what I had experienced from this relationship for many years of it. But regardless it felt like the final blow to a long hard struggle. An end of a dream we once had together, but also the end of a long nightmare.

Ending a relationship is difficult in many ways, separating things you own together, and ending a life you created together no matter how good or bad it was. It didn’t take long for me to realize through the pain there was a light so bright that it illuminated for me how grateful I was be free. My house guests had always been pain, sorrow, loneliness, and confusion. Now the guest who came was love, freedom and peace. Finally peace.

It usually takes several days after a meeting with my ex of going through the task of separating our life for me to “bounce back”. I’m trying to buy the farm from her and she’s willing to sell, she’s more than helpful in this regard and I am grateful. All seems amicable. But for days after we meet my head becomes full of sadness, self doubt and self criticism. I hear her dad’s voice who once told me I was a primadonna and I would never make it farming. And I start to question if he was right. What makes me think I can do this? Especially by myself? How is it that I think I can manage this place and these goats? What nerve I have for even thinking I could do this on my own. Maybe he was right. Maybe she was right all this is so overwhelming… So this is my guest.

It never takes long for this guest to leave and I go about the task of gently pick up the mess they have left behind, and finally the sun shines again in my heart. I let the hope come back and the dreams start flowing and dancing in my life. The self doubt and defeating voices fade away into a gentile soft un-recognizable murmur and I allow what’s real to be recognized. I let the truth in and that is; I am doing this! I am managing this place now rather well without the struggles I had before. My dreams are becoming reality and I hear the harmony and I feel the rhythm of this sacred farm and sacred life.

This is the guest I prefer of course, but what’s more important is that I now know the difference. So now it’s a matter of scraping the residual negative plaque out of my thoughts. The haunting memories are real and I know they serve a great purpose, but I feel the need to detach from them, to leave them where they are in the past. I gently remind myself, Lisa, let the guest leave and grant them a gracious goodbye.