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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Winter Signs

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This morning the ground was white with snow…the first this year. It was beautiful, but thin enough that the sheep and llamas footsteps revealed the grass beneath as they ate their morning hay. It all melted by mid-morning; this afternoon, it began to snow again…winter’s arrival wasn’t a dream. But the next few days promise to be sunny and bright. In the teens at night, above freezing in the day. Perfect weather for this time of year….

The breeding rams are back with their “buddies”, lots of snorffling and posturing, but no real fights! Maybe the alfalfa that we gave them was too appealing; or maybe they found the way they smelled just too disgusting!

Usually I dowse them with vanilla extract the night that they are tight-penned. This time, I used a perfume that I have had for ages, but don’t wear as it is too strong a scent (for one who rarely wears perfume anyway). It was perfect for the purpose!

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They hate tight-penning, and so do we…always an adrenaline rush when we are cramming the breeding boys into an already packed pen, and trying to keep everyone else from escaping. And we always wonder if we have them tight enough (we use wether padding…sorry boys) so that the rams can’t get any space to bash each other.

The next morning is the opposite of Christmas: when we go out hoping that there isn’t any damage…that they are all standing and still alive! Thankfully they always are.

I wonder what they do all night; surely they must settle down somewhat. But in the morning when they see us arrive, the pushing and shoving escalates; they know the routine, and that they are about to be released from their confinement. To add to their irritation, we take time to put ram-shields on the more dominant boys, which they wear for a few hours that day. They hate that too! But it keeps them safe from their foolishness….

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Our New Border Collie

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Constantine has had a rough breeding season. He was given 7 ewes (two blacks, a moorit, an emsket, a shaela, as well as two Ag sheep….musket and grey who carry solid). As of November 8, no one seemed to have come in season. Constantine had checked them carefully many times each day…nothing for three weeks!

But he was polite to them and ate along side of them, although when the group got their grain feeding (breeding season is the only time rams here ever get grain), he made sure that he got his share. Even then, Constantine was as polite as one could expect a ram to be…

Then on the 9th, he became more Border Collie than ram…he ran here and there, holding the ewes in a tight little group…away from the hay, away from us, even (it seemed) away from the water and shelter. Each time one of them moved, he ran to bring her back to the group…he went “come bye”, he went “away”, he “walked in”. When we came out for morning chores, here were his ewes, tight against the fence. No Border Collie could have done better!

The ewes seemed very puzzled and nervous at this turn of events, and we were worried about them. We put hay in lots of places all around the pen, to give them a little chance of getting something to eat. There didn’t seem to be any good reason for the change in his behavior. Brook thought that it might be extreme frustration (it had been a long time since the rams had been put into their groups), and joked that Constantine must have told the girls that they weren’t moving until someone was willing to breed with him!

I was ready to take him away from the ewes if this behavior continued, but by the next morning, we were relieved to see that things seemed much calmer….AND to our amazement, 5 of the ewes had rumpled wool on their hind quarters! All these ladies had come into season at once, it seems, and Constantine couldn’t fathom how to deal with his sudden good fortune, so he held them in one place until he figured it out.

Now it appears that the other two girls have also been bred. And all is peaceful and serene; the ewes seem relaxed…so does Costantine. They all eat hay together, and sleep together, and tell us they are starving together. Constantine will miss his lady-friends when (this weekend) he re-joins the boys in the ram-group. And we are bracing for a lambing storm the first week in April!

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Idling at the airport

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I am on my way home from a week’s visit with my mother, my brother and his family. My flight is delayed for nearly an hour, but I should still be able to meet my connecting flight in Denver. The free wireless in the Columbus Ohio airport affords me the diversion of writing a short post.

It was a such a good visit, casting me back to my childhood, and as usual, I find being there quite surreal. I had a great time, and enjoyed taking my mother to all the places that she had longed to go; she isn’t able to drive anymore and feels quite frustrated by it. We visited a friend of my parents in Miamisburg (near Dayton) in one trip. In another we went to see friends in Columbus…the husband was my father’s best man, and the wife a classmate of my mother’s. Mom loved it and I enjoyed seeing them too…they were favorite grown-ups (to my child-self). It is so much fun to hear all the anecdotes about my mother and father…how they met (a blind date) and about their lives when I was young.

My mother is on the left of the photo, Ernid in the middle and Polly on the right (holding Mom’s little dog, Sarah):
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As you can see from the first picture, we had beautiful autumn weather….and the view from my bedroom window was wonderful. But now I long to see the mountains and pastures at our farm. And to see my dear Brook and all the 4-legs who share our life. It won’t be long now!

In this circumstance, I recognize that I how hopelessly I am addicted to modern technology. I had a long video-chat with Brook, sitting in a cafe here at the airport. Telephones are fine, but to talk face to face makes the miles melt away.

Our son Ben called me on the cell-phone several times while I was in Ohio; it is magical to hear his voice when the phone rings. Granted this is an ordinary part of modern life, but I am old enough to recall when cell-phones were brand new. I remember putting that foolish notion aside easily; the publicity was that with cell phones, folks could reach me whereever I was…why would I want that????

But I love it…and now depend on the cell-phone, my computer and wireless technology. I will go sit and knit and wait contently for my plane to leave. The connections to the rest of my life are all there!

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Living with my prejudices

The breeding groups have been together for a week at this point. By our calculations, the ewes should begin to cycle one week from now if Noah (the teaser wether) had any effect on them. We will see….certainly all is peaceful in the groups right now.

In the meantime, I am fantasizing about spring lambs from just the right crosses. But in choosing the 4 rams this year, I had to chip away at several rigid opinions; I guess letting go of prejudices is good for one’s moral fiber!

Here are the rams…I will post ewe photos later on.

Cedar Haven Maximillian is a lamb.
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We have always felt that it is better not to breed with ram-lambs. We have in the past, but it wasn’t long ago that we decided never to do it again…and Brook would rather not do it this year. There are so many things that one can’t know about by the first autumn. But this time, there were 3 patterned ewes that we wanted to cross with a solid no-pattern ram. And Max has rather spectacular horns, a luscious light moorit fleece, great conformation, and a sweet temperatment….and he appears to carry the modifier.

Cairn Farm Nicolas has tight horns, but the finest, softest, most exquisite fleece in our flock.
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Nicolas has a stunning single coated emsket fleece with good length. Despite these qualities, we have only used him in a very limited way so far, because I don’t want to have to agonize over horn development. This is Nickel’s last breeding season (he has 4 ewes this year), and at lambing, we will have his fleece genetics secured in a few different lines. We hope to get another ram of Centaurus’s quality.

Sheltering Pines Constantine is 50% UK breeding
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I never ever thought that we would have an F1 AI sheep, but here he stands! I have long (and loudly) maintained that all the patterns and fleece types could be obtained without resorting to modern UK genetics. Then Constantine stole my heart just a year ago with I saw him at Stephen Rouse’s farm. His personality is so very sweet, and his long silky wool is soft and fine, not at all “primitive”, and I am smitten by the gulmoget smile. I love the fact that he doesn’t have the short crimpy fleece that is so typical of UK lines (hmmm-are my biases showing?) Ironic that this is likely the only reason that Stephen ever considered parting with him, but I am immensely grateful that he did! Constantine has 7 ewes this fall, all of which are solid, or carry solid. We should have some lovely gulmogets in the spring.

Stonehaven Willym is the one choice that didn’t require me to give up some long held belief.
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Willym has it all…a soft fine fleece, great conformation, amazing horns and a sweet friendly personality. And even though he is a “light badgerface”, he has maintained his katmoget markings well. He is being bred to 3 girls with lustrous silky fleeces that should be perfect crosses for him.

Off to dream of beautiful lambs!

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JOY!

We got back to our from a longish visit to the West side of Oregon on Wednesday night…tired from our travels, behind in a zillion things, but still smiling from the events of the weekend.

Our son and his sweetheart got married on Saturday in the gardens in Portland.

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Ben and Erin have been best friends for 5 years now, and they know that they want to spend their lives together. What joy for Brook and me to see these two special souls vowing to love and care for each other for the rest of their lives….may they be as happy as we have been.

Now we are blessed to have a son AND a daughter. Ben has always been our “sun”….we are so very proud of the wise and gentle man that he has grown up to be. And we have come to love Erin as a daughter…the words daughter-in-law seem so inappropriate to express how we feel about her. The french name for the woman that is married to one’s son seems much closer to describing it. She is our “belle-fille”….our beautiful daughter.

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Popularity!

This year the wether chosen as the “teaser” for the breeding ewes is Noah. He is such a handsome fellow, with a gorgeous emsket fleece, but horns that were too close for comfort. His big dense fleece sells so quickly each year; it is sad that he didn’t get to pass that on.

Today we put him in with the ewes that are on the “2007 short-list” (only about 2/3 of these will be bred this year), and with this year’s ewe-lambs. Noah was mobbed, and for a while, he wasn’t so sure that he was up to being the most popular fellow on the farm!

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He was all decked out with little sachets of heavily scented ram tag-wool, tied to his horns with yarn. The contents were gladly donated by 4 of the boys, all of whom sure that THEY will get to meet the girls later on….maybe yes, maybe no. We will see….

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The ewe-lambs especially found Noah interesting, but they won’t be in breeding groups, and we hope that they don’t get too too fascinated by the pseudo-ram. On the other hand, we want the breeding ewes to start cycling now, and be ready for the real items when they appear around the 18th.

A few of the older ewes swooned over Noah, and followed him around for a while. And after initial disinterest, Noah actually began to act like a courting ram…but didn’t know what came after the sniffing and pawing. That is fine with us.

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The Bargain

When we lived in New England, I could have the illusion that we humans were more or less in control of our environement. But now in Eastern Oregon, where we two-legs are far outnumbered by four-legs (there are even more horses in our valley than people!), I am constantly aware that we live in THEIR world, not the inverse.

This spring, I meant to plant sunflowers, but never got it done…I would wait until next year. Then when we did a second planting of something or other, the seed box got sorted through, and somehow the sunflower seeds were left in the sprinkler’s path…ugh!

So I planted them. WAY too late for them to make it to flowering. I have been watching and waiting and hoping as the plants grew and the blossoms formed. Although there have been frosts, the sunflowers seemed unscathed.

But look who else has been watching them!

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Still I can’t complain too too much. They have eaten the leaves and left the flowers for me….

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Touched by beauty

This summer, for the first time, blackbirds ate our sweet corn, voraciously!….the ears of the first crop were half gone by the time we picked them. Brook did some research and found this balloon (which we hung over the garden) and there were no more problems! We wondered if, being intellogent birds, the blackbirds would figure it out, but they didn’t. All the corn was ours!

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Yesterday I found a lady blackbird caught in some prickly weeds in the orchard, so I released her. She was quiet and unafraid, but she seemed injured, and was unable to stand up or fly. Nothing was obviously broken, but she couldn’t keep her balance. She was bright and healthy looking, not ill at all. Uncertain how long she had been there, I offered her some water, but she wasn’t interested. She tilted her head up each time I talked to her, and seemed so wise.

I put her down in the grass, and she tried valiantly to walk, but fell each time she tried. Whenever I set her upright again, she took my finger gently in her beak, as though asking me to let her do this herself.

But feeling that she might be weak and hungry, I did the obvious thing: I went to the corn patch and picked a little ear for her!

I sat down, supporting her in my lap. She ate and ate, undisturbed by the Border Collies’ fascination, or Brook’s coming up to see her. I was afraid that our cats would find her, (surprised that they hadn’t already), and so I made her a bed of straw and fresh grass, and brought her and her corn cob into the back bedroom.

I checked on her during the evening and she seemed quiet, almost content, sitting against the wall of the rubber water tub that I had her in; I put her near the corn, since it was hard for her to move.

This morning I found her resting there against the corn cob, her eyes closed. She had left her body behind…..and at the last, this beautiful soul had eaten the forbidden corn to her heart’s content.

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Catching up…bit by bit

Since I have been home from OFFF, the weather has taken a turn for the better…autumn-wise that is:
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We have had rain and a couple of decent frosts…not hard ones, but enough to hustle us into processing veggies from the garden. We began with processing the corn for corn pudding.This is the special Sandy Spring version of “Corn Pudding” from Brook’s family…frozen now, but brought out and baked in the oven for special treats during the year. Just corn and salt and butter…it turns into a pudding because the corn has been allowed to mature toward starch before it is processed. So sweet and SO GOOD!

Brook picked from the second planting (the first had been dealt with a while ago):

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I did the shucking, and Brook scraped it off the cobs…we worked in Brook’s shop this time, and while he went to sort out the music, I got ahead of him..for a while anyway:

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We ended up with around 12 quarts from a little over half the second crop…we always plant more than we can eat “on the cob”, and when it has gone by, and is too mature to eat any longer, we have something even more wonderful to make from it…a winter’s worth of corn pudding!

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