News and blog
Well its my favorite time of year again - great riding weather. More important its breeding season. Yup, time to pick the lucky bachelor. This year the lucky guy is Gideon a 2008 ram that I saved for this occasion. Gideon is the smallest black ram so far. In my effort to keep breeding down in size - Gideon is perfect. We'll see how he does with the ladies.
When the weather turns cool - somehow the rams just seem to know its breeding season. They start with the head butting tournaments which sometimes makes me wonder if they will all come out alive. Sometimes 2 or 3 will gang up on another and the chase is on. Sometimes Elka jumps in to break them up. Sometimes I think she likes the entertainment.
SHEEP AT THE FAIR
4 of the 2009 babies along with the 4 goats got to participate in the 2009 Halifax County Fair. Well - they didn't really do anything - just stood around looking cute. And they did that very well indeed. For 99.9% of the folks that came through the livestock barn had never seen miniature sheep much less black ones. It was fun to watch their reactions. Of course the kids went nuts. One couple though is worth mentioning. They walked up to the pen with the sheep and the wife said "look honey at the baby buffalo..." I'm not kidding. I almost fell off my chair. I thought about trying to sell them one at a great premium - they'd be the first on their block to have a "baby buffalo."
There was no judging this year - maybe next year - surely my babies would have walked away with any prize!
BLACK SHEEP SCUPPERNONG WINE
No, I'm not going into the commercial wine making business but since we inherited a Scuppernong grape trellis I thought I'd try my hand at it. I thought it would be relatively easy - crush the grapes throw in some yeast and there you have it. Not exactly. I should be able to bottle my first batch in late November and I have another load of grapes I froze from last year to do it again. With this particular wine you have to let it "age" - a couple of years is recommended. Here's a copy of our official label which I just ordered.
All 15 of the barn kitties are doing well. It's kitties, kitties everywhere. The older ones treat the young ones with disdain - never missing an opportunity to coil up and hiss.
The newest additions are getting ready for the big fix. I'm not interested in starting my own barn cat breeding program. Most of the kitties have resigned themselves to the fact that they will never be indoor cats. No more sad faces pressed up against the living room door - no mad dashes to get inside. Of course, when they come face to face with the 3 giants (dogs) who inhabit the house - I believe they thank their lucky stars that they have a confy existence far away from those big paws and teeth.
I hope the new guys adapt to winter living as the older ones have. The hay stall is very cozy. I've noticed several prefer sleeping with the donkeys or horse. To each his own. It never fails to amaze me how the other animals treat the kitties as if they were a fixture - its as if they were supposed to be hanging out in the pasture or curled up in the corner of a stall. I love watching them.
BABE AND KATE
There is a bit of rivalry I think between these two. Kate looks longingly when I take Babe out to ride. Babe snorts and shakes her head when I take time to hug or groom Kate. Babe is definitely alpha although Kate trumps her in sheer size. I think that should they find themselves in the same pasture Babe would hold her own but stay out of the way of Kate's immense hooves.
There is no question that Opal thinks Babe is her mom. She trails her everywhere and gets very upset when Babe goes out for a ride. I'm thinking of taking Opal along on a ride soon - just pony her. It's cute to see how Opal dotes on Babe - sleeps with her - eats with her - and nuzzles her. One day I took Babe out to tack her up and didn't get the door shut fast enough - Opal ran out. At first I panicked - not sure what to do since Opal is fast. Then it dawned on me. I put Babe back in the stall and Opal went right in. I have actually haltered Opal twice for the farrier and although she did not stand perfectly still as Babe does - she did not try to kick or buck either.
RUBY, JADE AND DUDE
I am fairly certain that Dude has had his way with both Ruby and Jade and that babies should follow next summer. Of course once the babies hit the ground the problem then becomes where to put Dude. I can't put him in with Babe and Opal and I can't leave him with Ruby and Jade. I wonder if they make chastity belts for equines? It's possible that the rams will get a new playmate - not sure how Elka will feel about that.
EGGS, EGGS AND MORE EGGS
Well, I guess if you live in a cage 8 feet in diameter cooped up with a bunch of feather brains - there is not much else to do but procreate. And that's what the doves have been attempting to do. Every week it seems they lay a few more eggs - I take them and donate them to the "Slinky food bank" (remember Slinky the snake?) and a couple weeks later there are more eggs. Right now I have 3 doves sitting on one nest. Paternity will definitely be hard to prove. I suspect you could eat these eggs - I'd guess about 12 dove eggs might equal one chicken egg - but I can't bring myself to do it. Better that slinky enjoys them from afar rather than helping himself.
Hope everyone is having a wonderful fall and lets all pray for snow shall we!
Some say that we in the sticks don't have enough to do - maybe so. Last Saturday night I went to my first donkey baseball game. It's exactly what it sounds like it is. A game of baseball riding donkeys. Because there is no real way I can explain what this looked like, I have a couple of short video clips we took. Enjoy.
Feeding Time At The Farm
Feeding time is always exciting around here - for the animals that is. It is clear to me that almost alll of the animals live from meal to meal. The barn kitties don't really have to worry since they have food available 24/7 - something the dogs aspire to.
Right now everyone is on pasture - well not the dogs - so no supplemental hay is required. Just because its not required doesn't mean the inmates don't demand it. Both Babe and Kate wait for me every morning and then each has her own way of demanding food. Babe kicks at the door - to which I respond to closing the top part of the door - a sort of time out. Kate starting kicking at the door until she saw the consequences for Babe and decided a differeent approach was needed. She lets out one of her very strange bray/whinny noises. It starts as a donkey bray and then ends up as a huge whinny as if she were calling another horse. Neither strategy works but I do take pity once in a while and toss them a flake of hay to chew on. The rams know any begging is futile. Opal gets to share the gift of hay with Babe. Ruby, Jade and Dude along with the goats who share the pasture with Kate can only get near the hay if they put on full battle gear. A kick from Kate would be like stepping on a land mine. You don't cme out of it in one piece. So they just fume in private.
The real problem comes with trying to feed Bongo and Golda. Elka has her flock trained and they approach her food bowl at their own risk. Golda and Bongo however are pushovers and although Golda is reasonably good at defending her bowl, Bongo is a total failure. When the ewes see me come get the dog bowls from wherever the dogs have carried them - they all run to me as if I were their savior. They act as if they are starving, pushing and shoving to get close to me. In some ways I've created this mess myself. In order to have a prayer of feeding Bongo and Golda I have to toss some grain around so that they are distracted while I give the dogs their bowls.
You may be wondering why I need to fend off the sheep from dog food. Idon't know except that my supposed herbavores are really omnivores - they love dog food. In fact, when I used to feed the dogs a raw diet (had to stop due to cost - it was either their raw food or my clothing allowance -- guess who won). Anyway - when I fed them raw - the sheep would run over each other to get to the food bowls. I even saw one of the sheep steal a chicken leg from one of the bowls and try to run off with it. It makes no sense - but there you have it. The problem is that even though I toss a bunch of grain around for them - the smart ones ignore that and follow me with the dog bowls. When I put the bowls down, they rush in and start to gobble kibble before the dogs can say "hey." So I have to stand guard and shove them away until the dogs decide to begin to eat. Once they start any sheep that gets too close gets barked at and nipped if necessary. I even tried turning a water hose on the sheep to scare them away but they just stood their ground. I guess dog kibble is important enough to endure an unexpected shower.
The house dogs are way easier. For sure they live meal to meal and eacch meal is like they've never eaten before. At least they don't have to defend their meals from sheep :)
You asked for it - here are two pictures of Jim on Kate. Notice in one of the pictures he is tryiing to explain to Kate that the object of the exercise to put one hoof in front of the other and move forward. Kate and Jim and well suited to one another :) What do you think - is Kate a candidate for Prozac or what.......(yawn)
So far its been an incredible summer. For those of you who live in Virginia, you will recall the two+ weeks of 100+ degree weather last year. This year has been a "normal" summer. It's still hot and oh so humid- but wonderful anyway.
NEW WEBSITE PAGES
If you signed up for email updates you already know that I've added 4 new pages to the website. I often get asked a zillion questions for how to care for sheep. I was in that position myself once and it takes a long time to figure it all out. The pages I added are "Caring for Sheep, "Handling Sheep," "Sheep Behavior," and "What Is A Ruminant?" I will keep updating these pages as I discover new information or have personal experiences to share. I'd love any feedback on these pages and also if there are other things I should add to my website.
NEW BARN KITTIES
Some of you may think I've lost my mind - but I went back to the local shelter and brought home 6 more barn kitties. There is solid logical thinking behind this decision. The original kitties (now almost 1.5 yrs old) have decided that they prefer living in the woods and hanging out in the pasture. They come to the barn to eat and often go on long excursions for days at a time. They love to play in the pasture and tease the sheep. It will be interesting to see if they decide to live in the barn during the winter. The second 3 grey year old kittie I got about a month ago (well only 2 actually - one immediately took off for parts unknown) are very personable and do hang around the barn. Our shelter is no kill - that's the good news. The bad news is they are no kill and extremely overtaxed. I have two barns with tons of room for cats to live, play and hunt. I'd rather have the kitties I bring home disappear due to natural predators than to be caged at the shelter. At least they can live and die free. (sounds like something Paul Revere said?)
Anyway - these are very little kitties. And they all have varying degress of an upper resipiratory infection which I hope will clear with good food and care. The following are some of the pictures we took the first day - you get the added bonus of seeing my very cute grandsons. It's a miracle those kitties have any fur left after these boys got through loving on them! You've never seen 3 boys so in love with kitties. They wiped their eyes every day they were here. Unfortunately, they are a tough act to follow - I do not spend 4 hours a day playing with them. They'll get over it I'm sure.
If you look carefully you will see that the little black and white one playing with the cat toy only has 3 legs. He is missing his right front leg. You'd never know it by the way he zips around. I call him Tripod. I'll add more pictures in another week or so.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE PASTURE
The ewe pasture is only about 1.5 acres and is beginning to look a little like the top of my husband Jim's head - spotty. Oops - that crack will cost me my pin money for the week!
I've been wanting to fence in the front pasture and connect them so I can move the sheep between the two but money keeps getting in the way (or should I say the absence of). Anyway, yesterday as I was staring at the piece of land immediately behind the ewe pasture it hit me that with my temporary fencing I could fence off a small area and let the sheep clear out some of that grass so I wouldn't have to mow it. Let's see, I have sheep and goats and I'm mowing grass? What's wrong with this picture?
So that's what I did. I had to lure the sheep out of the gate with a bucket of grain. Yesterday they spent a little time "on the other side." This morning I lured them over again and all of a sudden they were eating vines hanging off the cedar trees. Eating vines! These are sheep who turn their noses up at anything that looks different than a pure blade of fescue. They almost looked like goats. Go figure.
Unfortunately, they are still conditioned to come back to the barn for hay and some grain. I want to break them of that. It may take a while. The really good news is that for the first time in a year - Bongo and Golda got to eat a meal without having to fend off sheep. They were so busy eating vines they didn't notice when I feed the dogs. I doubt they'll make that mistake again.
KATE AND HER ADMIRER
Kate has settled in nicely. The weather has not cooperated enough to allow for getting her saddled up - although Jim did get himself a nice saddle and everything else he needs. Still have not figured how we're going to get him onto her. Slingshot maybe? Lower him on from a tree?
One of Kate's stablemates has taken quite a shine to her - I'm speaking of course of Dude - resident stud. I'm not sure Dude realizes that Kate is, well, uuh, you know, not able to have children. In fact, I'm not sure Kate realizes that either. There has been a lot of hanky panky going on in the pasture and Kate is not innocent in all of this. Of course I do worry that should Dude decide to take some action he might hurt himself..... Here are a few pictures of Dude making his move:
NOTICE THE SUBTLE TECHNIQUE!
THIS IS DUDE'S LOVE LORN PUPPY LOOK
I THINK HE'S SMILING AT HER
IT'S HARD TO ACTUALLY SEE BUT KATE WAS FOLLOWING DUDE AROUND - LICKING HIS NECK AND BACK. NOTICE THE MINOR DIFFERENCE IN SIZE? THERE ARE TIMES WHEN SIZE DOES MATTER.
Well, that's it from the farm right now. Please send me comments - I love to hear from everyone who follows our adventures.
I know I promised you pictures of Jim ON Kate but there is a small problem - getting Jim on her. As you can see from the pictures, Kate is BIG. Jim is 6' tall so you figure it out. I'm thinking some sort of hydraulic lift. I don't think normal mounting blocks go that high.....we did get a saddle for her so we're getting close to lift off but we will have to figure out how to get Jim's ass onto his ass. (Oh I'm so confused.....)
Kate is peacefully living with the donkeys and goats. The only one that has the guts to approach her is Dude and actually I saw her following him around this morning. I think she kind of likes him. Of course if he trys to have his way with her - he'll hurt himself. Not enough Viagra in the world to help him out with her!
We often get uninvited gets dropping in on us. That's okay - we like company. However, as you can see from the following pictures we had a surprise guest (or I should say the doves had a surprise guest) drop in that was entirely unwelcome. Enter SLINKY - our official farm snake. He's a black snake and harmless - but he is a snake after all and does anyone like snakes? Well, Slinky apparently had a hankering for eggs for breakfast so he thought he'd drop into the local fast food joint serving eggs - the aviary of course - always a fresh supply on hand. Jim and I were sitting in the living room chatting when I noticed a black hose fall to the bottom of the aviary. It only took a nanosecond to figure out that the black hose was in fact a snake. How he squeezed through those bars I will never understand - a talented snake for sure. Jim came to the rescue and did his best bob and weave with a stick until he got Slinky out the aviary door and heading for home (which by the way is under the house.) The appreciate doves sat on the highest perch and patiently waited for the all clear sign. They say that black snakes kill water moccasins so I guess I should be grateful he's around - let me think about that.....
So I was out cleaning the sheep pasture when I noticed one of the barn kitties up in a tree. Not unusual - these kitties don't like to wait for meals - they go after what they want. So I assumed he was zeroing in on some hapless bird. I also noticed Simone and Leah hanging out under the tree looking up. Also not a big deal since the sheep are often amused by the antics of the kitties. All of a sudden a crab apple came flying out of the tree missing my ear by an inch. Simone and Leah gratefully dove for the apple. Simone got it first. Not to worry - a minute later a second apple came wizzing down. Leah got that one. Then the kitty emerged from the tree and trotted off to bigger and better things. So do you think the sheep are paying the kitties on the side to deliver apples? Amazing how animals learn to cooperate with each other.
Speaking of poop (see reference above) - i spend at least 3 hours each day collecting and disposing of animal output. You have no doubt heard that there are only two sure things in life - death and taxes. I'd like to add a third to that one - if you feed them they will poop. In fact, I'm not even sure you have to feed them - I think they'd produce poop anyway. I would like to find a way to make money from what I collect - it could be my ticket to financial security.
There is no question that Babe has held the record for most amount of poop in a single day - until Kate came along that is. Kate's piles well they look a little like Mount Rushmore - lots of interesting curves - and massive. She puts out twice as much as Babe. There must be a world market for this stuff - someone please help me out here!
Donkey poop is no big deal - they are nice and small and firm - kind of the size of a golf ball. They also like to hang together so all I have to do is from the "drop zone" - that's the spot where someone gives a signal to let loose and they all do. Very convenient.
Now the sheep are a different story. They are very talented - they can walk, eat, poop and talk all at the same time. You just try that once - it's an amaziing feat. The fact that they walk and poop at the same time makes cleaning up after them a challenge. The line of output can stretch for 5 or 6 feet. And then if there are several together walking at different angles it can get very confusing. I'd love to train them to stand still but I doubt that will work. Sheep know they are prey animals and the theory is if you keep moving the coyote can't catch you. I guess they haven't quite figured out that they are living in a coyote-free zone. There must be a great use for sheep poop - they are small and perfectly round - like chocoate jelly bellies.
Anyone who comes up with a money making proposition for poop (forget compost - that's so ordinary) - will win a prize - a year's supply of poop !
Well that's all the news that's fit to print (at least on my blog) - hope everyone is having a great summer. I know I am. Would love to hear from those of you following this blog and anyone who lives close enough - come on over and visit. No charge for the deluxe tour and the opportunity to scoop poop for an hour - you surely don't want to miss out on that!
Blessings to all of you from all of us at Follow Your Dream Farm.
It was inevitable. Jim (husband of record) decided he wanted to ride (an equine that is). This will send shock waves through the family for sure. It might take a bit of imagination to see Jimmy on a mule - yes a mule - but its true enough. Enter Kate - a 16 hand (big) mule. Mamma was likely a thoroughbred given her long legs and dad was likely a mammoth jack given her size.
She's a real beauty. Calm, gentle and trail broke. She's not too sure of her new digs - I've had to keep her confined to one of the stall/run outs until the other beasts get used to her. Babe was not a happy camper when we brought her in. She immediately started charging the fence at her. We think it was more as a protective measure for Opal since we think Babe thinks Opal is her baby now. But things will calm down (I hope). I think we'll put her out with the donkeys ultimately. Next pictures - Jim on her! Stay tuned.
Also welcome our two new barn kitties - Smokey1 and Smokey2. They came from the local shelter. They adjusted right away and are very social to other cats - not so the other barn kitties - lots of hissing going on. They'll figure it out. The picture belowis of one of them - but the other is identical. I'm sure there is some Siamese in them given the loud vocalization!
I remember like yesterday sending my daughter off to school for the first time and I have to say I didn't experience near the pain that I experience each time I send one of my lambs off to a new home....That is why I can't raise animals for food -at least with my lambs I know they are going off to good homes to be pets or lawn mowers-but to send them off to the dinner table - well that would send me to the loony bin for sure :)
But as much as it hurts me to see them go - nothing compares to the grieving that some of the ewes exhibit when their lambs leave. Some are glad to see their offspring go - after a while they get tired of having a toddler bang on them for milk which they don't need. Some yell for a few hours or less and then get on with the important business of grazing. But there are a few that cause me to lose sleep. One is Simone (my black Barbado). She is a wonderful mother - maybe the best I have but of my - when her children are gone she wails night and day for a week. She didn't notice when Aida left because she was the bottle baby of the tripletts Simone had. But yesterday the two sisters left for a wonderful new home. It took Simone a little time to realize they were gone but once she did....well - I found her this morning at the top of the pasture near the driveway looking and wailing. She obviously knew that the lambs left via that driveway. She is eating - nothing stops her from eating - but in between chewing she continues to wail. A muffled sort of wail but a wail none the less.
Only four more lambs to go and then I can relax over the summer until breeding starts in the Fall. In the meantime - listening to my Ipod while I work helps blunt the noise. To those of you who have one of my precious babies - don't forget to send pictures.
Someone (maybe me) left the barn door open yesterday after feeding. Not one to waste a good opportunity - Babe decided to step out for some fun and she took Opal with her. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to follow the trail of a horse (or donkey).
First stop was my barn office - also home to various feed stuffs. The two bags of apples sitting on the table were too much to resist so they sampled - well - all of them. Just sampled mind you - they left two bags of half eaten apples for someone else to enjoy. Next came the horse feed. I keep that feed in a plastic container with a closed lid. Whoever said horses are stupid never met Babe. She managed to open the container and to her credit - she did not eat it all. They found the bag of apple/oat treats but couldn't seem to get that opened. Then they tackled the bag of sheep feed. Judging by the amount laying about on the floor - I'd say they tasted it and moved on.
After leaving my office they moved on to visit the donkeys in the last stall. Looks like they had an across the door chat since they couldn't get in. But it was clear from the path that they tried to find a way in. Opal has a school girl crush on Dude and Dude - well, he likes anything with 4 hooves and a tail. Next stop - rams.
It was clear from the piles that they spent a fair amount of time visiting with either the rams or Elka (who guards them.) I can't imagine Elka was too happy. Finally they decided to go back to their own home but of course could not get back in. So I found them standing right in front of the stall door looking in. A flake of hay was all the incentive they needed to go in. Within 5 minutes they were both laying down asleep. Must have been a wild night.....
I've taken a few current photos of the lambs. They are growing so quickly. It appears I'll have them all sold within another couple of weeks. It will be sad to see them all go but they all go to wonderful homes. Check out the Gallery - Lambs 2009. Here's one of my favorites. It's one of Hannah's rams (babydoll). Notice she's gving him a kiss......
There are many advantages to living in a small town. No traffic. Low crime. Slower pace. But with that comes the downside of no Starbucks, no Target, no Sushi. But we do have a lovely Tractor Supply and a terrific Goodwill. (Jim went to the grocery store looking for capers and they had them in the Chinese Food section - there's your sign!!!)
The town of Virgilina where we live had a population of 159 as of the 2000 Census. Since over 50% of those represented people over 45, there is a better than even chance that there are fewer people today. The town itself owns less than 1 sq mile of land. Downtown consists of a beauty parlor, grocery store, car repair shop, volunteer fire department and a bar/restaurant (called the Cowboy Up).
In spite of what appears to be a blip on the map - I attended the annual Virgilina Summerfest (summer cannot begin without this happening) where the parade lasted 1.5 hours. Yup - you read that right. I lost count of the number of fire trucks and rescue vehicles that participated. Suffice it to say that if anyone needed a fire truck or rescue vehicle within a 3 county radious - no one was home - they were all in Virgilina with their lights flashing. In addition to the fire trucks and rescue vehicles there were a number of antique and not so antique cars. I got the import of 60's, 70's and 80's muscle cars but a 2008 Escalade - 3 of them actually. Go figure. Then there were the Church floats - rather elaborate too. There were also a few horses. Each vehicle participating had someone tossing handfulls of candy to the bystanders. People brought bags, buckets and sacks to collect the booty. They obviously knew the drill.
In addition to the parade, there were craft vendors selling - believe it or not - real homemade crafts - not some overstock stuff - but real crafts. And good stuff too. I didn't know you could make a purse out of the butt section of blue jeans. The food was typical Southern fare including Brunswick Stew for lunch and Barbecue for dinner. For those who have not tried Brunswick stew you are not missing much. It's sort of like a chicken stew that's been pureed. I'm serious. The settlers used to make this stuff with Rabbit, Muscrat or Squirrel. It might improve the flavor if they used a more exotic meat.
Final note. Although I make fun of my podunk town - I love it here. I love the people and the dinky stores and buying my gourmet coffee at a Sheetz gas station convenience store. There is a real sense of community and caring here. I wouldn't trade it for all the green tea latte's in the world....maybe I should rethink that statement :) Nope - I'm here and I'm learning to be a down home country girl. Anyone for grits?
On Friday morning - Suzannah - our miniature cheviot - finally went into labor. Unfortunately it became clear very quickly that she would need help. I tried to deliver the baby but when I grabbed the feet found they were HUGE and I could not find the head. I feared the worst. So I called my vet - Jim drove and I held Suzannah on my lap for the 45 minute drive. She was in hard labor the entire time using my stomach as leverage each time she had a contraction. The vet was able to deliver the lamb naturally and thank goodness both mother and lamb came through it fine. He's a real cutiie and Suzannah is a terrific mom.
Lambing season is officially done! Several of the lambs are officially sold with much interest for the others. I just finished a mailing to all of the wineries in North Carolina and Virginia so I don't expect the lambs to be here past the end of June when they are all weaned.
Follow Your Dream Farm made front page news in Halifax County Virginia (can you tell not much happens around here?) - will post the article as soon as I get it electronically.