FLOCK REDUCTION

However this isn’t the flock reduction that you might anticipate!

Last night, many teenage chickens left our farm for their new home a few miles away, and our chicken flock is back to a manageable size. Even the youngest of them can’t qualify as “chicks” now.

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We didn’t plan on breeding chickens, but our Speckled Sussex hens had other ideas!  Three hens (with no encouragement from us) produced 37 chicks this year.

It all started in June, when one of our Sussex ladies vanished. We feared the worst as there had been skunks and raccoons about, but in early July, Mayzie re-appeared with 12 baby chicks.

When they were 8 weeks old, Mayzie declared them grown, and went back to the chicken coop. We found a good home for the chicks, and things were back to normal…except that in the meantime, two more Speckled Sussex hens had gone missing. We dreaded the strong probability that there would be more chicks.

As if it were choreographed, on the day after Mayzie’s brood left, Juneau presented us with another dozen!

Two weeks later, we found Snowy sitting beside the house looking oddly shaped, but well.

Her secret: a dozen more chicks. Note not only the fluffy chick bump , but the tiny feet under her feathers.

We have enjoyed the chicks so much (they honestly do rival lambs for cuteness), but we fervently hope that these three ladies don’t decide to grace our farm with more  babies next year!

I should mention that we have been truly impressed with the good mothering of these speckled beauties. They fiercely defended their babies from any  perceived threats (cats, dogs, and small children), raised them up to be intrepid foragers…and kept track of all those chicks. They can count to 12!  Besides being excellent layers (when they do give us their eggs), these hens are intelligent, trusting, and full of personality. They have captured our hearts.

The other hens in our little flock (they share the coop with 3 Buff Brahmas, 3 Light Brahmas, and 2 Ameraucanas) are good natured and beautiful, but these three Speckled Sussex are the only ones that have names!  Our young Buff Brahma rooster is the father of the chicks.

We did keep two of Snowy’s pullets…how could we not?

 

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Suddenly it’s winter

It was a gloriously long and warm autumn, lots of rain in the valley, and snow in the mountains. As a result, we are going into winter with more forage remaining in pastures and hayfields than we have seen in all the autumns that we have lived here.

We had a few little snowfalls, but nothing that made it necessary to move the sheep to winter pens. We continued to feed out in the pastures until a week ago.

Then last Wednesday, when temperatures were to plummet  to single digits, with strong winds and severe wind-chill, we scurried around rebedding sheep barns, moving sheep to winter pens, and pulling up the remaining electronet fencing. We also dug out our old horse blankets and crammed those big (slightly portly) draft horse bodies into them. Too bad that I didn’t get a photo of the results! The horses don’t usually wear blankets, and after the winds stopped, we took them off. In our typical windless cold clear sunny days, they do just fine.

On Thanksgiving day, it began to snow…more that night and still more the next day. Light tiny flakes but adding up to 8 inches or so. It feels wonderful!

We were to go to Eugene during this time to be with Ben & Erin & baby Cameron, but I had been ill with a cold, and Brook then came down with it too. We didn’t want to take any viruses to Cameron, and so we stayed home for Thanksgiving, had a video chat visit with them, and enjoyed photos that Erin’s father took.

But we can hardly wait to spend real time with this precious baby….soon, very soon.



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Isn’t it always the way….

This Wednesday…inside.

And outside!

The first of two shearing days.  We thought that spring was coming this week….the blackbirds had returned, there was some open ground, and the chickadees were singing their spring song.

Happily we were able to keep all the sheep in their respective barns and do our skirting under cover. The cloudy skies kept the temperatures relatively warm for this time of year, and the sheep seemed unscatherd (granted they were bedded heavily and fed up well, but this year, they were almost relaxed).

In two of the barns, the shorn sheep were put back into the pens instead of being turned outside  as usual. They were cozier that way, and out of the wintery weather.

The Border Collies had two great days of sheep-watching…notice those bright eyes:

Angus thought that a dog could fit under this gate, and proved it…..but was busted immediately!

Everything had to be done under cover; we set up our skirting table inside the barns:

We were cozy if not all that warm…..

Again the star of the show was Clint Godwin, who comes all the way down from Northern WA to shear our flock.

The best shearer that we have ever had…thank you Clint!

And thanks to all our dear friends who help us at shearing….we love sharing this time with you!

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It’s about time!

Yes, I am still alive….

Between haying time and so many weeks of work away from home this past month, there has been precious little time to catch up on blogging. Haying our fields is finished, with the hard work done by Brook and his dear brother Lewis (who came out from Maryland to help this year).

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Lewis shares Brook’s “oneness” with machines and had a very short learning curve at mowing and baling. He loved it and says that he will do it again next year! What a saint he is….
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Lewis’s friend (and ours) Katherine came out the second week to join us…actually she and I arrived in Boise the same day and drove to Pine Valley together. Katherine and I tackled the garden and weeded, weeded, weeded. When I had to move on to other things, Katherine kept working in the garden….bless her.
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They both live in more urban areas, but have farmer’s hearts….here they are as “American Gothic”:
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Brook ran the balewagon, picking up hay, and moving them to the barns as Lewis baled…and after I got home, I helped him position the balewagon for each stack. He manages on his own, but it is so much more time efficient with me on the ground.
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We came up short on hay this year, as did almost everyone else that we know….an idiosyncrasy of the long cool spring? Our delays in irrigation while getting the wheel-lines set up? Who knows? The result of all this is that we are haying some leased land this week while I am home to give us enough fodder for winter for our (too many) animals.

This field is an alfalfa/grass mix and so will go into the older barn where the bred ewes will overwinter, and be half of their daily hay ration while they are growing next year’s lambs.

Speaking of lambs and too many animals….I will be putting lambs and adult sheep for sale on the blog in the next few days. Hopefully on a brand new “sheep-for-sale” page that (our brilliant and talented) Ben is creating for us. I have hesitated to ask him since he is so busy with paying clients….but he says that it will happen soon. Stay tuned….

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A Chicken in Sheep’s Clothing

This note is for Michelle…and other chicken lovers.
And seeing a few winter photos will be welcome in the hot summer temperatures…

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The comfort is that some independent chickens find ways to be safe away from the coop. Sally decided last summer that she wasn’t a chicken at all; at least she no longer wanted to live with those other birds. For a while, she camped out in the lower sheep barn, where she brooded in a corner of the feed room. She had no rooster for company and no eggs hatched….so eventually she gave up on the project.

When winter came (as you can see from the photos), Sally moved to the upper sheep barn where she slept with the sheep and followed us around whenever we were there. She was (and still is) quite the picture trotting along beside us when we arrive, asking us clearly to give her some breakfast. She has no fear of the dogs and happily they are very polite to her. One day this summer, Sally even came into the horse corral to get me, and led me back to the barn clucking insistently. For her part, she definitely knows her name and comes when she is called.

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When the sheep come out for hay, she goes into the winter pen and nibbles along with them. Here she is about to go around Finn, our youngest Border Collie.
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If she slept outside, I would worry, but she has always sought some sort of cover. These days, Sally perches at night on the wall of the sheep’s sleeping area. But last winter, she slept down with the sheep, buried in wool to stay warm.

Sally stars in the skirting part of this spring’s Shearing Day video (about 3 minutes into it), and if you carefully study the last frame or two, you will see the silhouette of a chicken standing on a sheep’s back in the big open door!

We love Sally and hope that she lives with us for many years….

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Water Magic

Or….More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about Irrigation!

To those who have used wheel-line irrigation, my romance with this system (new to us this year) will seem a little over-enthusiastic. But the magic of water under amazing pressure…just from gravity, just in flowing down from the mountains…has me hooked.

Brook and I worked so hard to assemble the used wheel-lines that we had purchased this year…days and days of work, frustrating complications, and worry over our pastures getting too dry before we could get the wheel-lines functional.

Our fear was allayed by a wetter and cooler than usual (and long) spring. Brook did flood-irrigate two of the fields before he left to join me in OH, but other than that, Mother Nature gave us all the time we so desperately needed.

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The wheel line itself as well as the individual sections appeal to my sense of beauty:
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And when we turned them on, the water was beautiful…and there were rainbows!
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We have 3 of these lines and each of them has to be moved twice a day…we walk up from the bottom of the hay-fields and turn each one off, opening the lower end up so that it can drain. We begin with the 1/4 mile line since that one takes longest. After they are empty of water, we move each of the lines by 60 feet. (we do have to use a little motor to move the center section; the rest of the wheels roll along).

And then we start them sprinkling again…one by one.
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All in all, we walk about 3 to 4 miles a day irrigating the pastures, good exercise in a lovely spot, birds singing, green all around. It doesn’t get much better than this….
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unless you add the camas that was blooming under our feet when we put the lines together…
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‘Tis the season

I know that it has been a long long time since I wrote anything…and there is so much to catch up on. This photo was supposed to be part of a post that didn’t get written:

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It was taken around 3 weeks ago…but amazingly at present, we still have sheep and horses out on pasture. The sheep are being supplemented with hay; the horses are grazing the upper hay fields and although there isn’t any tall grass, the 50 or so acres that they have to roam in provides enough forage that they are still VERY well-nourished!

The three rams from our flock used for breeding this year have been returned to the ram-flock…back to the world of group huddles, hurled insults, cheap shots, and full-on head-butts.

I love our rams, but this time of year finds me waxing Darwinian. We intercede when things get too rough….but thank goodness the numbers of boys spread the bad behavior around, and mostly the squabbles don’t amount to any serious damage. Photos of these fellows and their girls will follow…

But in our breeding pen, there is one ram still with ewes:

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This handsome lad is Shady Oaks Spats who is here on lease and will return to his own flock in a couple of weeks. We brought him in to breed some of our ewes carrying spotted genetics. He is an ideal ram in all ways… perfect HST markings, carries the modifier, has a soft uniform fleece and great conformation. And in addition to this, he has a sweet respectful personality (not a surprise since he was raised by Marybeth). I adore him and I can’t wait to see his lambs!

Here are his girls:
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Sheltering Pines Musette…a modified black whose fleece appears to be a true dark brown where it hasn’t met the sun.

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Sheltering Pines Sarah…a spotted emsket ewe with a soft silky fleece, and a special darling of mine. Sarah chose me and we have been best friends ever since. She is the mother of Sterling, whom you will see in a later post.

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Sheltering Pines Flute Celeste…a lovely petite ewe with a light moorit fleece, very lustrous and soft.

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Dodge Cascadia…has thrown HST lambs in past, although she herself isn’t spotted. She is relatively new to our flock, but gave us an outstanding moorit ram in 2006 (so much for selling boys!).
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This is Sheltering Pines Plein Jeu..an HsT katmoget whose fleece has am amazing amount of color underneath. She had to have the tips of her fleece trimmed, but I thought this photo was better than the sheared version. In any case, it shows her sweet face and her beauty mark! She gave us a very special katmoget ewe-lamb last year.
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Bluff Country Premonition…her long soft black fleece is amazing. She is a sweet friendly girl who carries spots…and passes along her fleece quality to her lambs.

Well friends….it’s almost time to go out for afternoon chores. The hours fly by faster than usual…the short days are forcing us to cram so many things into the daylight hours!

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Inside the “event horizon”…

“An event horizon is a boundary in spacetime, an area surrounding a black hole…light emitted from inside the horizon can never reach the observer, and anything that passes through the horizon from the observer’s side disappears.”

That is where we seem to have spent our last two weeks!

There were intense days getting ready for, and an equal number of days picking up the threads of our lives after a very special event: Cycle Oregon came to visit in Halfway! The population of our little valley exploded…about 1200 souls live here in normal times, but during those two days, we were joined by around 2700 traveling with Cycle Oregon!!! It was a mind-bending experience….after they left, it was hard to fathom that many people had actually been here.

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The folks who do this ride come from all over the world; they are supported by an amazing infrastructure while they bicycle from 50 to 80 miles/day. Meals and camping accommodations are included as well as bike and body maintenance….

During their visit, Halfway and Cycle Oregon collaborated for food, music and dancing, and local artists and artisans here in Halfway village gathered as an Art in the Park event. I didn’t think to take a photo of our little tent, but we were there too. We met lots of wonderful folks, exchanged stories and the cyclists bought mementoes of their visit from all of us.

We sold out of my Gansey hats and I have orders for more. The throws made from our Shetland wool were admired, and some of them went to new homes. And we sold yarn and spinning kits (drop spindle & 4 colors of roving)…there are a few cyclists now doing a new kind of “spinning”!

The second day, Pine Valley farms and craft studios were open for visits;
we offered a farm / wool tour:
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and an open house at Brook’s guitar workshop:
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By now, we have worked our way back to almost normal, but soon the “hecticity” of getting ready for Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival may drop me inside the “event horizon” again!

I am here, just invisible….

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Summer is here!

Last week it was still spring…and chilly in the mornings and evenings.

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Yesterday and today hot weather arrived, and the snowmelt from our mountains is roaring down into the creeks that stripe through our valley. There isn’t spot from which you can’t hear the water flowing! Soon the sound will intensify as rocks are tumbled along with the rushing water. So thrilling to see all that water; so distressing to be able to capture only a fraction of it for irrigation.

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We have begun using that water (irrigation season began on May1), have already made the first watering cycle through our 5 hay fields, and are well into the second cycle. Lots of walking for us and for the dogs, but it is good useful exercise, and the green pastures and blooming trees are lovely.

We have just begun to sprinkle irrigate the sheep pastures, and are grazing all the sheep full-time. Such a good feeling….

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The lambs were gradually and safely introduced to the electronet fencing, and all seem very respectful of it. Until last week, they had only seen the little green blades of grass around the periphery of their winter pen…now in grass up to their tummy-level, they are thrilled to be “sheep”. The first day they ran a bit, but now when they and their mothers are turned out each morning, they are “all business”!

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The REAL DEAL

Winter is here!!! Last night we had our first significant snow…9 inches. And all day, it continued to snow lightly, softly.

Here in our valley, it usually snows straight down, as there is no wind in the winter. Snow piles up amazingly high on the fence posts:
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The whole farm was a wonderland, and any chaos that had escaped autumn organization was covered with a clean white blanket:
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The dogs were having a wild time, running and leaping together in the snow!
Wolves in Border Collie disguise….
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The ducks had a tough time negotiating the snow, (and were no doubt blinded and confused in all that whiteness), so I tramped a path to help them get to their little pond.
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The colors of the sheep were lovely against that pure white background. Their fleeces are at their most beautiful in winter, and keep them snug and warm:
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After everyone was hayed and watered, Brook found a spot to take a view of the upper sheep pens, and the nearby horse corral. All of their hay is kept undercover in the new barn. What a joy….not having to deal with leaky hay tarps, and losing bottom bales to the damp ground!
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We are all nestled in…for a long season of winter care. We see the sheep and the horses at close quarters twice a day, and talk to them, appreciate all that they are in a way that summer can’t provide. But I find myself struggling for words to describe the depth of satisfaction and comfort I feel in caring for the needs of our animal family…every bit as rewarding as turning them out on fresh grass, even more so. They are so eager to see us arrive with arms full morning and evening. Granted our strong connection hinges on their inability to forage for themselves in the snow…but more importantly, on our giving of our time, our care and our love.

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