Friday, July 1, 2011

Farm Story for July 2, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm ,

It is hard to believe that it is already July! It has been a pleasantly busy week here with lots of little routine accomplishments. One of the biggest was that I gave each of the donkeys a very good brushing with the shedding brush. Brushing out a donkey doesn’t sound like much of a big deal unless you know our donkeys. Zeke and Esther have been with us since they were weaned from their mothers about 11 years ago. They are standard donkeys so are rather large. The two have always been together, having been born on the same farm just a few weeks apart. They are tightly bonded to each other but also act like jealous little children when one gets more attention than the other.

Each morning I stand on my side of the fence, talk to the two of them and gently flick the little crusty sleepiness out of the corner of their eyes. Although it takes only seconds, it usually ends in a bit of a shoving match as the two maneuver themselves to be closer to me. Someone usually gets mad and swings their head to smack the other one. They will also nip at one another’s faces. I just stay out of the way as the tantrum ends quickly. This pushy behavior became even more of a nuisance as I entered their pasture to brush them out. I worked quickly with lots of hair and dust flying around me. I often had to shoulder a donkey out of the way or just briefly step back as they kicked at each other. Just as I was finishing up Zeke, Esther laid her entire neck and head across his back so that she could shove her face into my face. A giant plume of dust erupted from Zeke’s back and seemed to all land in my face. So after all that hard work I couldn’t even reward myself with a quick nap as I was hindered by fits of sneezing. The donkeys do look much better and we have enough spare hair now to build at least half an extra donkey should we need one.

I did get the good news on Monday that I had been juried into the Indie Craft Parade. I participated last year and had a wonderful and profitable time so was tickled with the news. It also means that I have to make an effort to keep up with my regular dyeing, spinning and felting for Saturday Market while stockpiling product for this September event. Much of what I do would not be considered hard work but it is time consuming. I wound a fair bit of yarn into the big skeins that I use when starting the dyeing process. The fine sock yarn is especially tedious to wind. A four ounce skein ends up being about 400 yards of potential tangled mess should I get distracted while winding. Dot, our pretty yellow rescue cat, especially loves to help. The instant I look like I am not paying attention she tries to eat yarn. She is quite successful and very annoying. I’ve gotten to the point where any time I need to walk away from a project I must move it into the room where I keep my stash of fiber goodies. I used to try hiding work under a pillow on the couch but discovered that she finds that to be a very amusing game of hide and seek. After having to make several project repairs and even having to discard a few things I decided it was just easier to take a few extra steps and lock up my work.

We have two new bottle babies in the barnyard. We acquired a pair of Lincoln half-brothers after both were rejected by their mothers. The Lincoln is one of the largest breeds of sheep so these are BIG babies! The rams should grow out to be about 300 pounds each. We named the larger one Buddy as he reminds me of Buddy in the movie Elf – just big, dorky and very enthusiastic. I don’t have a name yet for the smaller and younger fellow but I just call him Inky Dink because he looks so much smaller than Buddy. Buddy was a month old and Inky Dink about two weeks old when we adopted them. Both fellows have beautiful fluffy gray curls and very fuzzy faces. They come almost up to my knees which means they take some effort to stumble around when I am carrying big vats of wetted wool to the stable to dye. They love to wind themselves around my legs. I am so careful not to step on them but they make it difficult. They also try to force themselves through the stable door. Although we are already bottling them about 5 times a day, it seems they are just bottomless pits who believe that any time they see Al or me we will magically produce yet another bottle. I am beginning to understand why their original owner was ready to sell them as the cost of milk replacer sure adds up. They will continue to get bottles for a few more months but are transitioning nicely to a little grain and lots of hay just as mama-reared lambs do.

Baloo, our big Great Pyrenees Kangal cross livestock guardian dog, has decided that he adores these two new lambs. I have found him several times now with the littler guy snuggled at this chest while Buddy jumps up and down on him. It is funny how tolerant the dogs are of the babies jumping on them or running underfoot. All of our livestock dogs are very food protective and snarl at anything that disturbs them while they are eating. That is a good instinct that we encourage especially since the dogs are submissive to us and back right down if one of us grabs their food. We have had a few slightly bloodied ears on the goats that haven’t jumped when one of the dogs growled. It is funny to see the dogs quietly and tenderly grown to warn the babies that approach their dishes. The dogs explode at the adult animals but are sweet to warn the babies. I have seen Baloo quietly growl at Buddy and stare him down as the lamb watches in confusion. It seems little Inky Dink has not needed to be growled at but has decided he doesn’t even want to approach a dog as it eats. I would not particularly classify sheep as our smartest animals but they are certainly as smart as they need to be to be successful sheep.

The heat over these last few weeks had really impacted our egg production. The birds are free range and have plenty of shade, a few fans around the different buildings they like to hang out in and a greenhouse mister that gently sprinkles an area near their favorite place to nest but they are still eating less because of the heat. The birds prefer to just sit quietly rather than scratch and range around looking for interesting things to chase and eventually snack on. The change in diet as well as the stress the heat causes means less eggs. I’ve been counting and it seems our production is down by about a third. Unfortunately, this stress often causes an early molt so that the hens’ bodies will go into a resting mode for about a month. They will not lay during that time. All we can do is to wait them out and watch their general health. Sadly, this is more like an August heat wave and was rather unexpected this early in the season. There are just so many variables in farming and we are very grateful when things do go smoothly.

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