Sunday, February 28, 2010

A puddle of lambs, a frosty doe, and Wings...

"A puddle of lambs" as son, S. says.  
If you click the picture to enlarge it, you will see that some lambs are sleeping on top of each other.  If they had mothers, they would be snuggled in next to her, but they only have each other. 
These are the eight bum lambs which I see every morning at about 7:00. 
They are all sleeping together in a puddle but when they see us and hear the rattle of the glass bottles, they perk up and jump to their feet, each one begging to be first.  I sneaked up on them at this particular time.

The number of bum lambs changes constantly.  Some of them will be grafted to new mothers.  Some new lambs will be added in when their mothers reject them or when there are triplets and the mother doesn't have the milk to sufficiently feed them.  Our goal would be that they all had mothers, but it's likely not going to turn out that way with all the triplets we've had.

At last count, there were just 17 ewes left to lamb.  Another day or two and we will be done with lambing and will only have to feed them and keep watch to see that the lambs are all staying healthy and well-fed.  We have been putting all the ewes and lambs in the barns at night, making sure the lambs mother up and have a chance to get out of the cold and wind.

While driving to a friend's house this afternoon, this young doe jumped in front of my car.  I stopped and let her cross the road and then clicked a quick picture of her through the window.  The picture looks blurry, but there was dense fog all day and it really did look hazy.  Trees and power lines had a heavy coating of hoar frost, and so did the animals.

I picked up an old book, Wings by Gene Stratton-Porter, which has been lying dormant in my bedside basket for quite some time, and I'm glad I took it up again just a little less than a month from the Spring Equinox. In March we will begin to see a few of our old feathered friends fly back home for spring and summer and Gene Stratton-Porter rallies my hope that spring will come again amidst the snow and cold of today.   I'm a big fan of GSP and have many of her books and I'm grateful that my public library still carries several that I don't own.  I love the way she describes scenes in nature.  It is as if I am walking through the field with her and we are about to come upon a nest of eggs.  We see the mother bird fly up so we come in close to examine the color and size of the eggs as well as the nest built with mud,  horse hair, rough stems and fine grasses.  Reading this book makes my nature-lover's heart  long for spring and the nest-cradles that will soon be made in our own trees and in the prairie grasses and on the bare ground.  Read this passage below and see what I mean.
 Of the dozens of nests Bob had located there was not one so exquisite as this vireo's, for at the branching of two elm twigs, no higher than my head, she had built a pendent cup lashed to the limbs with bits of string and hair, wound securely round and round and evenly carried to nearby limbs.  When it was solidly timbered, securely fastened and softly lined, to Bob and to me, who had watched its progress, it seemed complete, but the little bird-mother, with exactly the same loving impulse that is in the breast of a human mother when she adds lace and ribbon to her baby's cradle, set about gathering heavy, rough, snow-white cobwebs and festooning them over the outside until the nest appeared as if dipped in ocean foam.  She stuck through these webs a number of fantastically shaped little dried, brown, empty, last-year's seed-pods, as a finishing touch, then Bob took off his hat.  He said she was a lady so no gentleman would stand covered before her. 
Back to my reading now.  The next short chapter is Molly Cotton's Hummingbird.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gramma day....




It's melting, melting, melting.....

Bathroom makover finished!

Bathroom before (with new flooring)

Vanity before my refinishing project

After stain and finish.

Bathroom after

Vanities redone in red oak stain finish.  I basically finished them right over their current finish using this process.  It saved me lots of time and effort and I really love the results.

I added an antique looking clock and hooks for towels

I'm really happy with my upstairs bathroom make-over.  The color on the wall is a soft brown called "Meadowlark" in Valspar paint.  I changed out the lighting too.  We have no natural light in this bathroom so I couldn't take a picture of the lights and make it look right.  I ordered these from Amazon.  Here's the pic from the site.
My goal in this project was to repurpose as much as I could and make it an inexpensive make-over.  The flooring was brand new and the most expensive part of the make-over, but we really needed new floors. The light fixtures were new, but I thought I got a pretty nice buy on them.   I used a small can of stain for the woodwork and finished off a can of my DIL's polyurathane.  I bought a can of paint for the walls, a can of spray paint for the knobs on the vanity doors, a $10 wall clock, $24 coat hook rack for towels and I bought 5x7" art cards by a local artist for $2 each and framed them for as wall art in the bathroom.  

I have one more bathroom to re-do, but it will have to wait until spring when I can be less distracted by lambing and calving.  My daughter thinks I ought to re-do all the kitchen cabinets now in the same red oak stain finish that I did in the bathrooms.  The size of that job intimidates me, but I know I'd love the look.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bean soup and Johnny cake....

Have you ever noticed that the simple, homestyle meals are the ones that everybody remembers best when they reminisce about home cooking?  We've had lots of people at our table and whenever I make a basic, traditional family recipe, it's always a hit.  Beans and Johnny cake would come under this recipe category.  I ate it at home regularly as a child, and the tradition continued in my own home.  Just the other day my daughter called.  She had left-over ham and wanted to make bean soup!  Another generation carries on with homestyle recipes. 

Not until I read the Joy of Cooking many years ago, did I realize that there was a recipe for Senate Bean Soup which is served every day at the Senate Restaurant.  At the request of a couple senators back in 1903, the tradition of serving bean soup had begun and still remains.  I suppose those men had a hankerin' for their wives' home cooking.  Common as it is, bean soup is comfort food, the food that says "home."

 I suppose everybody has their version of "Johnny cake" but ours is just a simple cornbread made in a cast iron skillet.  I did a little research a long while back and Johnny cake might have been a version of what was once called journey cake.  It could be whipped up easily while on a journey because the ingredients were basic.  Cornmeal, water, salt.  Likely it was not as delicious as our version of cornbread, but if you had a little molasses or honey to drizzle over it, I'm sure it tasted mighty good on the wagon trail.  

Skillet Cornbread
1 c. flour
1 c. cornmeal
3 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. melted butter or oil
1 egg
1 c. sour milk or butter milk*

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
While you prepare the batter, grease a medium sized cast iron skillet on the stovetop on medium heat.  
Combine all ingredients together in a bowl.
Pour into hot skillet and bake for about 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

* Make sour milk by adding a tsp. of vinegar to milk.

There are only thirty head of ewes in the barn tonight.  We think we will be finished lambing by early next week.  It's a good thing too because I'm getting tired of my night shift.  I took a two hour nap this afternoon before walking up to the Big Shed.  It was 43 beautiful degrees today.  Oh, for the love of warmth!  

It was a joy to come in the house after evening chores to a crock pot of hot bean soup.  I had a bowl and a half and two helpings of cornbread with butter and honey.  MmmMmmm.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lamb update...

Sue is trying to ignore the fact that a lil lamb has snuggled up beside her for a short time.  
Last night I nursed two lambs along in my mud room.  They perked up after being warmed and fed with a syringe, but I am sad to report that they did not make it.  For some reason, they refused to suck on their own, even with much coaxing. This is one of those hard truths in raising livestock.  We do our part, we give aid, but ultimately, the animal has to have a will to live. 

On a happy note, one of the bum lambs got a new mama and all is well with him.

On The Edge pillowcase crochet-along...

Cassie at YouGoGirl is hosting a pillowcase crochet-along.  I have only ever crocheted the single stitch (or whatever it's called) so I will need hand-holding, help, and patience with that part of the project.  If you'd like to join up with us and create some cute, cute, fabulous pillowcases, click here.   You really have to see the cuteness to believe it!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Nine and counting....

Nine.  That's the number of bum lambs we have now.  A half  bottle each. Some bums were the runts of triplets, some were taken from sickly mothers, some were rejected by their mothers.  All of them have a story, as short as it may be, just like us.  Jesus wasn't kidding when he said we are His sheep.  People back then knew a lot more about sheep and crops and agriculture than we do today, and they could relate so well to His parables and comparisons.  It was not hard to grasp Jesus' word picture of the Shepherd and his sheep.

This morning the picture at the lambing shed was not a good one.  We had a ewe who died and left a lamb all snuggled up next to her.  In another pen, a lamb died all curled up in the corner, the mother paying no attention to it at all.  I think she didn't like it or want it.  I tried to give her another lamb.  First I skinned her dead lamb and put  the sheepskin jacket onto bum lamb.  We call this process grafting.  Often a ewe will take a lamb because she smells all the familiar smells of her own lamb on the live lamb, however, this ewe was not fooled  and did not care for her foster child whatsoever.  She began banging it and beating it into a corner so I could see that that idea was not going to work.  She would just have one lamb and no more.  In another part of the barn, an old ewe, the oldest of the herd, had birthed a large lamb and I could see she had another one on the way, but she was struggling.  Son, J., caught her with the crook and held her head while I went in and found the lamb had a leg back.  I gently tugged on the free leg and the head and helped her birth him.  It worked perfectly and she has a set of twins that are healthy thus far.  Sometimes the older ewes have trouble raising twins due to their age, health, and lack of a good milk supply, but others can do  the job just fine.  She will be watched.

The bum pen has struggles of its own.  One lamb in the bum pen whose mother died,  is not well.  He will hardly suck a bottle.  He chooses to lie huddled up in the corner.  He might not make it, but I decided to bring him home and try to warm him up with the heating pad and give him a dose of cow's colostrum.  It's the best I can do, and if this doesn't fix him, nothing else will.  Even our border collie dog, Jessie, is watching this little lamb with interest.  She always does this when we bring a lamb into the mud room.  Somehow she knows what we are doing and she watches and attends with me.  With sheep and all livestock, you quickly learn the lesson:  there is life and there is also death.  So often the two go hand in hand.  None of the things I have described are unusual; all are a part of animal husbandry.  Not one life goes by without the shepherd's notice, no matter how short or how long that life is. 

"I am the good shepherd; and I know My own and My own know Me...."
~Jesus from John 10:14

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking initiative against depression...

Ewes in waiting

 Last Sunday in church, our pastor mentioned that he had seen many parishioners  lately who say they are suffering from depression due to the long, cold winter we are having.  Just after he said it, I realized that I had not been feeling blue or depressed during this winter.  It is something I fight since I am "one of those people" who tends to need a lot of sunshine to keep a cheerful countenance.  Even through winter's harsh cold, I spend at least a little time daily outside walking to catch some sunshine and fresh air. I love to walk, and for me that means many things.  It means I take time to observe, think my own thoughts, refresh my mind and body, pray, meditate.  I read a quote just today that I can wholeheartedly support.  Brenda Ueland says, "I will tell you what I learned myself.  For me a long, five or six mile walk helps.  And one must go alone and every day." Walking outdoors just seems to keep my spirits brighter, but I have known that gray cloud of depression, and it is not a good state of mind.

The other thing I have learned is that if I will just get up and do something,  whatever that may be -- washing the dishes, tidying the bedroom, shaking the rugs or  cooking a meal -- depression and fretting must go.  Taking my mind off my condition and moving onward to "do the next thing" relieves my weary, fretful attitude.

Just a few days ago, I read the devotion below from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  His recommendation to arise and do the ordinary things before us,  spoke to my heart.  Just when I think my life is mundane and trivial, God shows me Himself in the simple, the ordinary, and the routine things in my days. Yes, even in feeding bum lambs, God teaches me and loves me.  (There are six bums to feed now.)

Taking the Initiative Against Depression
"Arise and eat..."  ~Kings 19:5
The angel in this passage did not give Elijah a vision, or explain the Scriptures to him, or do anything remarkable. He simply told Elijah to do a very ordinary thing, that is, to get up and eat. If we were never depressed, we would not be alive—only material things don’t suffer depression. If human beings were not capable of depression, we would have no capacity for happiness and exaltation. There are things in life that are designed to depress us; for example, things that are associated with death. Whenever you examine yourself, always take into account your capacity for depression.

When the Spirit of God comes to us, He does not give us glorious visions, but He tells us to do the most ordinary things imaginable. Depression tends to turn us away from the everyday things of God’s creation. But whenever God steps in, His inspiration is to do the most natural, simple things-things we would never have imagined God was in, but as we do them we find Him there. The inspiration that comes to us in this way is an initiative against depression. But we must take the first step and do it in the inspiration of God. If, however, we do something simply to overcome our depression, we will only deepen it. But when the Spirit of God leads us instinctively to do something, the moment we do it the depression is gone. As soon as we arise and obey, we enter a higher plane of life.

~Online devotionals from My Utmost For His Highest 

I have been asking God if He would send spring early this year.  So far, I haven't heard the answer so I may put in another request even though.... "He knows my need even before I ask Him."  (Matt 6:8)  I am continually pulled in by this chapter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A warm day....

 Three sets of prints in the snow:  sharptail grouse, man, and tractor.

I spent quite a bit of time at the lambing shed today.  A ewe had triplets.  One lamb came at 5:00 a.m.  Her lamb was small and that generally tells us there will be at least one more.  If the lamb is quite large, it's usually a single lamb.  She didn't have a lamb later on in the morning either which seemed odd.  Finally one of the men decided to check her.  Yes, there was another lamb inside.  No.  Two more.  So they helped her by pushing them in, finding the feet, and pulling them out, one at a time.  These lambs were born at 9:00 a.m., four hours after the first.  The guys thought they'd be dead, but they turned them upside down to drain any fluids that might be in the lungs and they began to breath.

A while later, we checked on the lambs and Hubs decided we ought to try feeding them by bottle because he wasn't sure if the ewe had enough milk for the three of them.  At our house, there is one deep freeze that is mostly full of cow's colostrum.  I took a pint out and began to thaw it to feed these little lambies whose mother didn't even lick them off.  I wondered if she didn't feel very well?    When I got to the barn, I found one of the triplets dead and the other two cold and wet and quite hungry.  It usually takes some doing to get newborn lambs to suck a bottle.  They would rather have the teat, but in this case, mama ewe wasn't "mothering up" very well so they had little choice.

I pulled up a five gallon bucket and turned it upside down for a chair, grabbed a wet lamb and put it between my legs with it's head facing away, and I proceeded to force the nipple into it's mouth, maneuvering the jaw to open and then allowing it to close down.  From here on, there was a lot of sitting and waiting and fiddling to  get the lamb to suck.  These things take time and patience.  The big barn door was slid open today since it was very warm -- 50 degrees by noon.  The roof was dripping and I was staring off out the door. There wasn't much to look at except for the snow, but I could see the top of the hill where the county road goes by and I saw the mailman stop at the boxes.  Other than that, I just sat there thinking, "Here I am, sitting on a bucket in the barn, trying to get a scrawny lamb to suck a bottle.  Nobody knows I'm here and it really doesn't matter much in the scope of global economics.  But I'm here, and I want this lil fella to make it."  Then  I thought of the shepherds back in Jesus' day, watching their flocks by night,  and I wondered what they might have been thinking way back then.  "Here we are, out here with a bunch of stupid sheep, watching them sleep and watching for coyotes and waiting for morning to come.  Why are we out here anyway?  Who cares?  I wonder if there will be anything for breakfast at home?"  And what happened next?  A heavenly host of angels appeared announcing the birth of the Savior of the World to them.  They were to be the first to see Him, and the first to spread the Good News!

Well, no heavenly host of angels came down from the clouds today, but a simple revelation did.  I have been meditating on the verse from Matthew 6 which says, "Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?"  If God cares for the hungry sparrows and if He set me to feeding the hungry lambies, well then,   He cares for me too and all those people that I love and care about.  He's watching over us all, thinking of us all.  We don't have to worry or be afraid because He is with us right where we are whether we are in a lambing barn or a sky scraper, in a ship in the middle of the ocean or in the middle of a hard situation we don't know how to handle.  He knows our needs; we can trust Him.  I know this sounds simple, but when you are out in the middle of nowhere feeding lambs, you think about things like why you are here on this earth.  Some folks wouldn't think that taking care of sheep is very glorifying, but if it's His work and He sets me to it, then it glorifies Him somehow.  That's good enough for me.  I draw near to Him and He draws near to me and that, I think, is what matters at the end of the day.


I had a little time to go for a walk today too.  I just had to spend some of this gorgeous day appreciating the things around me and walking out in the midst of a warm dripping day because I know the next few days are going to be cold again and the snow will come again, so I intended to enjoy the day God gave.  I noticed that many of the ewes were lying on their sides with their full lamb-bellies sticking up, bulls were stretched out soaking up every bit of sunshine they could.  The cats were sitting on fence posts and lying on hay bales soaking up the warmth. I let the chickens out of the coop so they could go scratch and pick through the straw and the manure piles. I noticed the tracks in the snow and the comings and goings of  the sharptail grouse and the gray partridge.  Every beast and bird was all about soaking in the sunshine today and so were all of us human creatures too.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures, great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well!

Maker of Heaven and Earth
by Cecil Frances Alexander

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Take a bite!

Can you guess what I've been doing?

How about now?

A little sifted flour on the cupboard
A little rolling
A little cutting
A little baking, just till the edges have a golden tinge

A little powdered sugar, vanilla and milk make the glaze
Red Hots
and a Helper to sprinkle whilst I frost.

Take a bite!
It's a Valentine's Day tradition.

"Come live in my heart and pay no rent."
~Samuel Lover

Saturday, February 13, 2010

....a bushel and a peck

Happy Valentine's Day with Love.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This and that....

  Cow trails in the snow

The cows have quite a walk every day from their feed grounds to their water tank.  They make interesting trails in the snow. 

Up at the lambing shed there are icicles hanging from the roof.  Can you guess which way the wind happened  to be blowing?  (Hint:  We are facing north in this picture)

I loved looking at them. Isn't it just something how the wind can bend the dripping water and then freeze it into crooked icicles?

We've been busy with the sheep these days.  The super-cold weather broke and for the last couple of days we've been in the low 30's for temps.  What a relief to have a little warm sunshine.  

There have been all twins and three sets of triplets born thus far at the lambing shed.  No singles. However, tonight we checked the sheep and put a ewe and a large single lamb in the pen.  It looks like it may be a single, but who knows?  We may go up and check later on and find a second lamb in the pen.  That's the ways it's been.  No complaining here, but we're sure hoping that the ewes that have triplets will be able to raise them.  

This lil guy is our bum lamb.  He was one of a set of twins born to the ewe (from my earlier post)  that didn't have any milk.  Her brother died and we took this one from her mother and are bottle feeding it 4-5 times a day.  Every time we walk through the barn door she bleats for us.  It's her signal that someone is coming with a fresh bottle of warm milk.  We've become her mothers.  If we can, we will graft her on a new mother who has just a single lamb, but we shall see how it all plays out.

In between times, I've been working on my bathroom cabinets.  I have two oak cabinets and one oak closet  that I have all torn down, and I am taking them from a honey oak finish to a red oak finish.  Why oh why did I decide to do this project now?  I don't know, but I've already taken the plunge and I'm working hard to complete it.  There is still painting to do and light fixtures to put up, but I need to finish the cabinets first.  I thought I was going to have to sand the cabinets down to the bare wood which would have been a huge task, but I found another process that spared me all that stripping and sanding. You restain over the existing finish.  It's a miracle!  If you're interested, click here.  I have found that the best results are made on the smaller drawers and doors and that the larger panels of the doors are much more difficult.  I am also restaining the trim around the door and the baseboards to match.  It's going to have a totally different look and I'm excited about it.  I have decided not to work on the cabinets of the downstairs bathroom right away.  They will have to wait until spring or summer after lambing and calving season.

On a children's book note....
I have begun reading The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  It is on the night stand beside my bed, and every night before I lie down to sleep, I read a little bit from this dear retelling of the Bible.  The pictures are done by Jago and I find the art simple and appealing.  This is another new-to-me children's storybook that I intend to share with the Littles in my life.  Thank you, friend Joyce from Plain Ol' Vanilla, for telling me about it.

Tomorrow is Granny Day and I'm looking forward to having our lil Hazel Peach come stay all day.  Her mommy and daddy will have a date night and go to the Valentine Dinner at our church.  That means more play time for Grandpa and me!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Understood Betsy and old Golden Books...

I don't know what is happening to me, but I've got the desire to read children's literature.  I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that I never read books as a child, except for the few books that I was compelled to read in school, and even those were read half-heartedly?  While teaching my children at home, I became obsessed with children's literature, and the kids and I gulped down lots of wonderful books that have become real treasures to us.  Now that all but one of our kids is gone, I have the urge to read some of those favorite books again and to pick up some of the books we never did get to.  Understood Betsy is one those books that we didn't read, but I sure did enjoy it on my own.  I'd love to read it aloud one day to my grandchildren or hand it off to my daughter and daughter-in-love for a quick, sweet read.  I see by the reviews that there are revised editions of Understood Betsy, so if you choose to read it, look for the original by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

Elizabeth Ann, an orphan in her babyhood, was snatched up by her Aunt Frances to be raised up properly with a good education, piano lessons, a healthy dose genuine love and over-protection, along with a fear of big dogs.  When Aunt Frances realized she would have to care for her sick mother and take her south for her health, it was decided that the only choice for Elizabeth Ann was to send her to the dreaded Putney Farm where the cousins did chores and got dirty.  Certainly not the best conditions for a 9 year old girl, according to Aunt Frances, but it was their only choice, and what a happy choice it turned out to be.

Elizabeth Ann was immediately "Betsy" when she arrived at the train station and met Uncle Henry.  After her things were loaded into the wagon, Uncle Henry handed the reins over to Betsy while he did some "figuring" in his notebook and committed the remainder of the drive to Putney Farm to her with the instructions, "If you want the horses to go left, pull the left rein.  If you want them to go right, pull on the right rein."  What a ride it was, and it was only the beginning of the many life lessons Betsy would learn from Uncle Henry, Aunt Abigail, Aunt Ann, and even old Shep. 

Don't miss this sweet story.

For my Grandma's Library, I just received a treasury in the mail.  A Golden Book collection of Farm Tales.  If you are my age, you probably remember the little Golden Books that we loved to read as children and some of them we bought for our own children.  Oh, the adorable pictures!  Oh the sweet stories!

You remember.....
The Shy Little Kitten
The Animals of Farmer Jones
Baby Farm Animals
The Little Red Hen
The Jolly Barnyard
....just to name a few.

They just don't make children's animal books like they used to when the illustrations reflected the actual colors and shapes of the animals.  I bought my book second-hand, but I see that Amazon carries a newer version of Farm Tales, minus The Little Red Hen as told by a reviewer.  I can't wait to sit with lil Hazel Peach and flip through the stories with her.

I have another favorite book treasury to share, but it must wait until after Valentine's Day.  It's meant to be a gift for my grandgirl.  Not that she reads my blog at 18 months, but her mommy might!  ~wink~

Monday, February 08, 2010

First lambs....

The red mark on the ewe's side is a painted brand.  Lazy YJ

The first lambs are born on the coldest day of the new year.  It was -10 degrees when I got up this morning and left for the shed to check on the ewes.  Sure enough, there was a set of twins born.  They were healthy and perky, but the cold can really take a toll on these scrawny lil creatures if they don't get up quickly and nurse.


This afternoon this ewe had her twins outdoors.  The temperature had gone up to 0 degrees by then, but since her lambs were born outside on the snow they needed to be warmed.   I brought them into the barn, set them on a heat mat and then turned on the Nipco heater and tried to warm up the lambs.  Hubs went up to check on them later on and found that there was no milk in in one side of the mama's bag so we made some replacement milk (whole milk and corn syrup) and I found a small bag of frozen sheep milk left over from last year that we added  to the replacement milk and fed them both by bottle.  By this evening, the lambs were very perky and happy.  It's amazing what a little warm colostrum and milk can do in the belly of a cold, wet lamb.  It totally turns ON their system.  We may end up taking one of the lambs away from this ewe due to the spoiled side and lack of milk.  If so, we will give the lamb to a ewe who births just one single lamb.  

Just so you know, in our herd it is very common to have twins.  Last year we had three sets of triplets and one set of quads.  We gave the "extra" lambs to ewes with single lambs and the remaining lambs were raised by their mothers.  Otherwise the weaker lambs would end up starving.  Usually, two lambs per mama ewe is the maximum number for the lambs to be healthy and well fed.

As I type, there is no wind and it is very still outside.  The thermometer reads a freezing -14 degrees.  Tonight we will get up every couple of hours to go up to the shed to check on the sheep.  All the ewes are in the shed; the straw on the floor and their body heat will keep it quite cozy.  Still, the ground is very cold and wet newborn lambs will chill down quickly in these temperatures.  This is precisely why I prefer May lambing.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Bathroom renewal begins....


 It's been twenty years since we built our home.
Twenty years since the toilet has been loosened from its foundation.
Twenty years since the fixtures have been changed.
Twenty years of abuse to the floors.
Twenty years since there has been anything different except paint color.
Twenty years of serving a family of seven faithfully.

When you start a project like this, just a simple project like putting down new linoleum in the bathrooms and laundry room, the unexpected happens.  The bolts holding the toilet down are rusted through and break off.  The hoses that carried the water into the toilet break after they are wrenched off.  The hose fittings to the washing machine, after twenty years of bad water and now good water, became cemented together and had to be cut from their faucets and then those faucets had to be re-threaded so they'd take a new hose fitting.  Baseboards that were removed from the walls were held on by rusted nails that didn't want to budge or break free.  Such has been the case since we decided to do a little updating.  

I am so grateful for a husband and sons who are handymen.  They can do just about anything.  I suppose that comes partly from necessity.  When you live 55 miles from the nearest lumber yard or plumbing store, you learn to how fix things and to make do.  Our men are smart.  They know when it's best to replace things or call in an expert rather making do.  We've been doing a little replacing when it comes to the plumbing.   Better to replace now than to have water problems later on.  And the experts were called in to lay the flooring; they did a beautiful job.

So far, the bathroom renewal has amounted to replacing the flooring and replacing some of the hoses and fittings on the toilets.  There will be more to come -- light fixtures, faucets and drains, and my favorite -- new paint.  New paint always makes everything seem fresh.

 The new floor, by itself, has made a huge improvement.  I can't wait to get started on the rest of it, but it will take time.  We will be getting baby lambs any day now and so my home improvements will come in spurts.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


After spending the day in the Big City with three of my sons, and after taking in a homeschool group meeting and grocery shopping just before coming home,  J. and I were bushed as we got out of the car at 10:30 p.m. to carry in the groceries.  We opened the car doors and that's when The Big Stink hit!  It's the unmistakable Stink of Skunk.  Your eyes begin to burn, your throat gets tight and you swear you can taste it.  The dogs had been sprayed.  Ugh.  They looked ashamed, as though they both were wearing the Cone of Shame around their necks.  [interruption thought:  If you haven't seen the movie, Up, you must.  Dug, the dog in the movie, could talk, and I'm sure if my dogs could have talked last night, they'd have said, "We're really sorry Jody, we love you, really we do!  Please, can we come inside and sleep on our rugs?  Please?"]  The dogs knew they had been naughty to play Chase with a skunk.  The whole garage reeked like skunk and of course, the dogs did too.  Instead of sleeping in their cozy mud room, Jessie and Sue spent the night in the stinky, dirty garage, and I hope they had plenty of time to think about what they had done to deserve it.  Oy!

I spent the morning cleaning the garage.  You must first know that ranch garages are not the same as town garages.  They are far dirtier because there is no street to drive on.  Only gravel and dirt around.  Also, a garage is someplace where things from the barn accumulate.  Things like cow insecticide, Bloom and Grow calf feed, calf milk replacer powder, firewood.  Of course there are other things that I'm sure town garages have like golf clubs, weight machines, garden tools, an extra refrigerator or freezer  and a car.  I moved a lot of stuff out of the garage and put it back where it belonged in the first place, and then I proceeded to use the snow shovel to break up the hard mud on the floor that comes in on the car tires.  I poured a couple of gallons of hot bleach water on the floor and scrubbed it with a broom and then swept it out as best I could.  Then I ran the string mop over it with some more clean water.  After it dried a little, I did what every good housewife ought to do -- sprayed a nice mist of lavender water around the entire garage.  At least it'll be sweet smelling for a little while.

After it warmed up after lunch, it was time to bath the stinkers.  It has been so cold lately that bathing dogs outside is really not the best idea, but today it was perfect on the front porch with the sun shining down hard and warm.  I have a concoction that I have used many times on the dogs for just this purpose and I will gladly share the recipe with you just in case your darling dogs run into a skunk.  

Dog Deodorizer
1 gallon warm water
1 quart hydrogen peroxide (3%)
1/4 c. baking soda
1 t. Ajax or Dawn dish soap

Mix it all together.  Before using, wet the dog down well.  Then pour the solution over the dog, little by little, scrubbing here and there as you pour.  Let it stay on the dog for 5 or 10 minutes before rinsing thoroughly with warm water.  It is amazing how well this solution works.  I have even used it on the garage floor when we had skunk odor in there from a walk-by skunk shooting.  I always, always keep one or two bottles of hydrogen peroxide on my shelves just in case there's a skunking.  It happens here more than I like. 

The poor dogs, really think they've been bad when they have to be tied up and washed.  They are ranch dogs, after all, and that means that they do not get bathed as regularly as town dogs do.  They enjoy smelling like wet bull manure or dead deer carcass or like musty, mousy grain bins or cow afterbirth.  I can live with most of these smells, especially since our dogs are Outdoor Dogs and don't spend much time inside, but skunk odor, no way!

After their baths, Jessie and Sue were released and I gave them all of my cheerful "Good Dog" cheers, and they had the best time shaking off all the excess water and and chasing each other around, rolling in the snow scratching their backs, rubbing their heads into the snow to dry off and to get some of the clean smell off of themselves.  This really is the funniest thing and I always smile when I see them enjoying themselves so much.  They go from shameful tail-between-the-legs to sheer happy Snoopy Dances in minutes!  As a good housewife, the lavender mist was brought out again; I lightly misted the dogs' backs and necks.  It won't last, but I tried.

Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails. 
~Max Eastman, Enjoyment of Laughter

If you're a dog lover and have never read a Hank the Cowdog book by John Ericson, you're really missing out.  Go to your library now, check one out, and read it aloud to your kids.  Don't forget the Texas drawl.  You'll get a nice "ranch flavor" as you read.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Shearing Day...

Today was the day for shearing sheep.  Not a very nice day here, in fact, it was cold.  I don't think the thermometer ever got above 20 degrees but there was no wind which seems to make such a difference to us.

The ewes are due to begin lambing in the coming week and so it's important for us to have them sheared before the lambs start dropping.   Once the warm, heavy fleece is peeled from their bodies, the chill makes the ewes want to go into the shed.  They definitely  feel the change in the weather.  Shearing also makes it easier for newborn lambs to suck when the wool is sheared away from the teats, and that is a very important part of lambing.  We will be shed-lambing which means what it says.  All the lambs will be born in the shed or near the shed and will be processed through the barn so that we can be sure that the mothers and their lambs are a working pair.

I'll take you through the process of shearing with some pictures that I snapped between cooking for the crew  and the coffee break.  First off, the sheep are in full wool as in the top picture.  They are brought into the barn and up through some pens and alleys and up into the shearing trailer.

Here you see the sheep going through the alley and walking up a slope into the trailer that is pulled near the door outside.  Our job, mainly, is to feed the sheep up into the trailer for the shearers.  The alley goes all the way through the trailer and there is a trap door for each shearer to open and grab a sheep.  There is no tying or wrangling much.  The shearing process is smooth and fluid.  The shearer pulls the sheep close to him, lays her on her back and shears the belly first, then the head and neck, up the legs and then lastly over the back so that the fleece is entirely in tact when the shearer is done.  I absolutely love to watch a good shearer do his work.  It looks as though he is slicing through warm butter as the fleece is shorn away from the body.

We had three men here to shear our 204 head of sheep.  The men get paid double for the bucks since they are more than double in size in comparison to the ewes.  Plus, they are usually hard-headed and naughty.   The men got their work done in about four hour's time and that was setting up and tearing down and driving to our house for dinner.  See the young fella in the back?  C. is a 17 year old who just won the champion shearing award for the beginner's division at the Black Hills Stock Show shearing contest.  This is his second year shearing with this particular crew.  The two fellas in front have been shearing for us since I came here about 28 years ago.  These men all belong to our rural community.  Boy, did they give C. a lot of ribbing and man talk about being a champion shearer.  He took it in stride, though, as young men should.

Do you see how the fleece is all in tact as Chuck  shears the ewe?  He keeps gently rolling her around to make long, smooth swipes with his shears.

Out the door she goes!  Once the ewe is sheared, the fleece is kicked out one side of the trailer and the trap door on this side is opened by foot release to let the sheep out.

These two are skirting the wool.  The fleece is kicked out on their side of the trailer and they throw each fleece over that round skirting table and inspect it, removing any undesirable wool from the fleece.  They are particular about removing pieces of the belly wool and the dirty, rough wool from the britches or backside of the sheep.  The "bellies" as the undesirable wool is called, are thrown into the white sack standing in the frame, and the good wool is thrown into that machine that says "stand clear."  The machine is the sacker which receives the wool and presses it compactly into a bale that will be laced closed and taken to the wool house in town to be sold.  Back in the old days, a man would continuously tromp the wool into the sacks and lace them up

I just love the look of  freshly shorn sheep.  They always reminds me of this verse. 
"Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool."  ~Isaiah 1:18  It won't be very many days and the ewes you see here will not be white as snow.  The dirt and dust and hay will stick to their lanolin-greased sides and they will blend in with the landscape once again -- if it isn't snowy.

 I always think of how God compares us to sheep. We really are a lot alike, you know.  We are followers, we are social, and if one is disturbed or alarmed, she disturbs the whole bunch.  Even their coughing  and sneezing sounds like human coughs and sneezes.  When the lambs start to come, we see all sorts of personalities show up.  Some ewes are good, strong mothers and others don't give a flip about their lambs and would rather run off with the herd, leaving their lambs cold and alone.  We must force this kind to mother up.  I won't tell you how, but let's say that part of it is solitary confinement  -- with her lambs.

I'm looking forward to lambing season.  It is hard work, but there's something about animal husbandry that is so rewarding and satisfying.  I enjoy helping with the cows and calves, but the sheep are my favorites because they are easier for women and children to handle.  And who can resist the scrawny, helpless little  lambies?

"We all like sheep have gone astray...."  ~Isaiah 53:6  
"We are the sheep of his pasture..." ~Psalm 100:3
"My sheep hear my voice..."  John 10:27

Addendum:  The wool bales were taken to the wool house and weighed.   We averaged the weight per fleece and it came out to approximately 10 pounds each which is quite a good, heavy fleece especially when the sheep were sheared a month earlier than last year.  Perhaps the colder weather we've had produced that heavier fleece.


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