31 December 2006

A visit from the vet, and some good surprises!

This morning our new vet came for a visit to check on Jack: he's showing a head tremor, which is worrisome in a sheep as it can be a symptom of scrapie (an always fatal neurological disease). The vet believes, thankfully, that Jack's problems relate to his neck wounds received in the tussle with McKenzie - there may be an abscess in there still, or perhaps there's just been some nerve damage. He's on new antibiotics for a week now: if that doesn't clear things up we'll do some bloodwork and see what's going on, but all in all it's good news. We can deal with an abscess: it may be messy and a little painful, but it isn't likely to be fatal. Whew. I didn't want to lose him, he's such a sweetheart.

In other sheep related news, you may recall that in October I bought two purebred Icleandic ewes and two Suffolk/Icelandic cross lambs from a lady nearby. I got an amazing deal on the sheep: $50 each (CDN), so I couldn't turn them down! The ram lamb, Bruce, had been wethered ... or so I was told. (For you city slickers, this means he's been "fixed".) I assumed the task had been done with a Burdizzo when I noticed that he had a package - the boy's goods fall off when the task is done with an Elastrator, which is the more usual method in this neck of the woods. (Apologies to all male readers, who are now cringing at the very thought of the procedures involved, but this is relevant to our discussion!)

Anyway, I noticed Bruce paying a lot of attention to the girls earlier this week. Hmm, could the wethering have been incomplete? With a Burdizzo, it can happen. Well, since the vet was coming out anyway, I asked her to have a feel. Sure enough, this 'wether' has his full package and is likely to be fully functional! We have a ram! I'm quite pleased about this, actually, as Bruce has a fabulous white fleece that feels like silk, and it'd be great to have fleece like that passed on to some lambs.

Now, Bruce being intact would explain one other mystery that surfaced this week. Natalie, one of the Icelandic ewes, is looking VERY large in the middle. I had noticed Natalie's belly getting kind of big, but the Icelandics have so much wool I didn't think much of it. Then I noticed her belly seemed to have 'dropped' the other day ... ummm ... that's what they say happens before lambing! Here's the mystery: even if she'd been tupped (shepherd's term for 'knocked up') she couldn't possibly be showing yet, as she was only exposed to a ram after they were introduced to Jack in October. Sheep are pregnant for about five months, so that'd mean no lambs until March or so - it's way too early to be noticing anything. The mystery is solved, though: she'd been running in the pasture all summer with a sneaky ram lamb who was masquerading as a wether ... and Bruce apparently got some work done early!

The vet confirmed my suspicions when she was here this morning, she says it does look like Natalie is quite pregnant - so we're keeping an eye out for lambs now! I hadn't expected any early lambs but I'll be more than happy to have them ... The Boy needs early lambs for his 4H project: we were going to have to find some to purhcase, but if we can provide our own, so much the better. :)

Now to see if we can help our sheep through this adventure ... wish us luck on our very first, earlier than anticipated, lambing season!

29 December 2006

Thrummed mittens

I've finally decided to try knitting thrummed mitts, and I'm enjoying the experience!

(If you live somewhere warm and have no idea what I'm talking about, look here.)

I like knitting regular mittens, because you get done so quickly - you can see your progress and have something finished in a week of 'spare moments'. Plus, it's very portable: I've been known to knit my way through many a 4H meeting!

Anyway, I have fleece kicking around (I only have a drop spindle as of yet and much going on in my life, so I don't get much chance to spin) and thought this would be a good use for some fleece that's looking for a purpose. Besides, winter is cold and I have no good mittens.

The first attempt turned out way too puffy, I'd pulled off far too much fleece for each of the little bits that is stuffed in the stitches and ended up with a hand sized pillow rather than a mitten. So, that mitten got pulled back and I've started over ... with a bit more restraint on the fleece it is looking pretty good so far.

Sheep are great.

26 December 2006

Christmas at Apple Jack Creek

We have had a lovely Christmas season.

McKenzie is getting bigger by the day: he's starting to resemble a small polar bear.

On Christmas Eve, Union Guy and I were out in the pasture and saw Bob take off down the length of the field barking like crazy. He wiggled under the fence and kept on going, with McKenzie right behind him. I looked up to see what this was all about, and there in the road was a coyote! Right there, in the middle of the day, trotting down the road, bold as you please. Well, with all the barking and the dogs on his heels that coyote did a double take and bolted, with Bob in full pursuit, legs stretched out like a greyhound on the track. McKenzie, being a puppy still despite his size, flopped along as best he could barking something that sounded like "wait for me! I'll get him! I'll get him!" The coyote disappeared down the road, and eventually the dogs came back and lay in the hay to recover from their sprint.

The dogs got canned dog food for a Christmas treat. One should always thank those who provide good service! :)

The Boy and his Gram made a gingerbread house, complete with guest house. The Boy tells me Gram and Grandpa live in the big house, and he lives in the little guest house. There's even a stack of firewood out front, by the ice cream cone trees.

Apparently I still live in my own house. :)

The Boy had his school Christmas concert, and they did an awesome job. This is a public school that makes sure they describe and joyously celebrate all the different festivals held at this time of year. This year The Boy's class was singing a Kwanzaa song, and dancing with rhythm sticks (one set of which flew out of the dancer's hands and nearly smacked a spectator in the front row, but there were no injuries reported!). The stars of the show, in my mind, were the kindergarten students dressed as angels and shepherds, doing the actions to Away in a Manger. :)

Our Christmas Day saw this little house quite full: we had The Boy and myself, Gram and Grandpa, and Union Guy and his kids (Dinosaur Boy, 4, and Princess Girl, 2). We had presents and food and the kids got to see the sheep and the dogs and the chickens and the bunny ... it was all too much fun. Dinosaur Boy thinks feeding the chickens is a huge treat ... I told him he's welcome to do it any time! Grandpa played the piano (which was finally delivered here from storage, and is far less out of tune than any of us expected given that it has lived in unheated storage for more than a year). We sang some carols (and Old MacDonald, a request from Princess Girl), played Chopsticks on the piano, played with our new toys, and munched on Poppycock when the little ones weren't looking.

We heard from my sister and her husband, The Lithuanians (www.twoherringfishtales.com), and even had presents that they had left in a "do not open until Christmas" box, plus a few that were mailed directly from Lithuania! Our parcel to them hasn't arrived yet, but when they get it, I'm sure it'll feel like Christmas. There's some cool stuff in there!

The Boy and I are enjoying some much anticipated peace and quiet. I've been playing in the kitchen with my new pressure cooker and my butter bell, and I think I may go lie on the couch and read a book for awhile. Dinosaur Boy and I went out and fed the sheep earlier today, so chores are done and I have earned a rest. :)

10 December 2006

Christmas begins at Apple Jack Creek

We started our holidays today: we got our tree!

The guys went tromping around our land to see if there were any candidate trees available, but there was not a pine tree in sight. There was, of course, three feet of snow everywhere they tried to walk, so they were quite tired by the time we decided to head over to the Crown land nearby. We did find a great tree there, and Union Guy used his chainsawing skills to cut it down.

Once the tree was cut, we loaded it onto The Boy's sled and he towed it down the road to the house while Union Guy and I found a smaller tree for his house in town.

We have a 12' tree for our living room! It's huge!

We got the nice heavy tree stand my sister gave me and set the tree in it. About 20 minutes later, it tipped over! Nothing was damaged - I suspect the tree stand just isn't designed for trees quite this tall. This meant we needed a taller alternative: after some pondering and examination of what we had to hand, we stuck the tree in Mom's heavy old pickle crock, with rocks in the bottom for weight and chunks of firewood wedged around the trunk to hold the tree upright. It worked quite well, and will certainly hold lots of water.

For the first time in my life I had to stand on a ladder to decorate the tree! Union Guy had to put the star on the top - even on the ladder I couldn't reach.

Our Christmas trees are always covered in snow, even indoors. It's a family custom: Ivory Snow flakes - the original kind that are pure soap - make snow. Beaten up with water, the soap reaches a consistency like whipped cream, and you spread it on the tree branches. When it dries, it looks like there is snow piled on your tree! It's just not Christmas without a tree with snow.

We now have the tree completely decorated, with a Lego train running around the base, and presents piled around it.

I love this season.

You can see pictures of our day (including my first time using the chainsaw) on our
photo gallery.

05 December 2006

Guardian Dog Training

Training a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) is a real challenge.

First, you have to leave the puppy out there with the sheep so that he learns the sheep are his best friends in the world. You can't bring him in the house and love him there, because he will think you are more fun than the sheep, and you need him to love his sheep more than he loves you. He's adorable and tiny and cute, but you have to pet him only near the sheep, feed him only near the sheep, and make it so that his sheep are his pack. This requires significant willpower.

Then, when he finally gets that all figured out, you have to teach him that although he believes the sheep are his best friends, his pack, they really aren't other dogs and they cannot tolerate the kind of play that other puppies could tolerate!

Mckenzie has bonded very successfully to his sheep, and loves to play with them. The problem is that they are sheep, not puppies, and so they don't wrestle back. Once we realized what was going on, the puppy acquired a muzzle, and we fenced him in with the horned Icelandic sheep. These bigger, tougher sheep seemed to have remained unscathed by the whole fleece pulling adventure, and I did witness Brownie, the big Icelandic ewe, tossing her horns in Mckenzie's direction when he seemed interested in playing. He promptly went somewhere else.

It soon became obvious, however, that my fencing skills are no match for a Great Pyrenees pup's escape artist tricks. Mckenzie got out of that fenced area no matter what I tried. He went under. I patched. He went under again. I patched again. He went over. I tightened and added more fencing. He cried and bawled, and finally just went over the fence again. In the end I gave up, muzzled him, and put all the sheep and dogs back together again. Everyone seems to be managing this new arrangement fairly well, all things considered. I think Mckenzie believes a muzzle to be a reasonable price to pay for his freedom.

Yes, Mckenzie can eat and drink with the muzzle on. He can still get a little bit of fleece between his teeth and pull it out, too, if he really tries, but he isn't doing that very often anymore. When we are outside we leave him unmuzzled and provide instant correction should he attempt to play with his charges: he gets growled at, rolled on his back, and told in no uncertain terms NO PLAYING!

Of course, this behaviour is a normal part of the development of a guardian dog puppy, but it is hard work for the humans! Jack, our ram, has infected bite wounds on his neck that we've been irrigating with iodine and treating with pennicillin injections ... Banana Split is wearing P-nut's old wool coat, as she's missing half her fleece and seemed cold ... Baby has one bare leg, but seems relatively unaffected ... and honestly, none of this is a huge surprise.

Even with all this trouble, I love the dogs and think they do a wonderful job of keeping the coyotes away from our sheep. I know that getting a pup through this learning phase is very hard and that some damage is likely to be done as he learns, but in the end it is worth the effort. We will have to watch very closely during lambing season to ensure that he doesn't tussle with the tiny newborns, and some additional fencing is likely to be required to keep everyone separated during that crucial time.

I'm sure you'll all wonder why I like being a shepherd when there is so much heartache involved. I wonder sometimes, too, but I cannot argue the comfortable happy feeling I have when I watch the sheep.

Today, I looked out at my tiny flock and thought how wonderful it is to see them out there, munching on hay and meandering around the pasture. I can't wait to work with Bruce's fleece - he's a Suffolk/Icelandic cross with the most gloriously soft long white wool. I wonder which of the ewes are pregnant already, and which have yet to be tupped. (Jack was chasing Baby around and around the shelter's center support post today: clearly neither of their injuries are *that* significant, I noticed he rarely left her side today.) I wonder when we'll get lambs, if I'll get to see any of them being born, if we'll lose any of them. I wonder how long it'll take for Mckenzie to turn into the staunch protector Pyrs raised with sheep generally are, and I wonder how he will react to lambs (there are many tales of Pyr guardians rescuing chilled lambs by lying next to them to keep them warm, or licking them clean after birth if the mama will permit).

Living here is such an adventure. I can't wait to see what comes next!

We are experiencing technical difficulties...

Well, we were. I noticed a while ago that the pictures from my older posts were no longer visible, and that got repaired tonight.

If anyone happens to be Googling ... applejackcreek.blogspot.com is not behaving properly (although I see a tech posting saying they think we can fix that) and current posts all live here.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

03 December 2006

Wool is warm

Wool is warm, and fortunately, so is the weather these days. It was zero today - much, much warmer than last week! As soon as the weather warmed up the truck started no problem, so we've been able to venture out into the larger world once again.

This weekend we had our first joint 'sheep and crafts' meeting for 4H (all our craft kids are also in sheep projects, so combining it worked out fine). We only had one other 4H member who was able to come, but we had fun making felt, trying out hand spinning and carding fleece.

29 November 2006

Guess where we are going today?

Absolutely nowhere.

The temperature has not gone above -25 for the past 24 hours, the truck absolutely refuses to start, and AMA is taking anywhere from 8 -24 hours to respond to calls if you're not stranded in a ditch.

Believe me, I'm glad I'm not stranded in a ditch in this weather. Let the tow trucks go help those poor souls - we are inside, safe and warm.

And we're not in the shed!

We are on power conserve mode, waiting for the sun to come up and give us some more juice - the generator still runs on gasoline, and I emptied the last jerry can yesterday night. I also emailed the natural gas company to find out about getting that changed over ... once we have it hooked up to the pipeline, we don't have to babysit it anywhere near as much.

We do have a nice stack of firewood, courtesy of Union Guy, and have had a hot fire going steadily. We have a natural gas stove that requires no electricity at all, so we can always cook (although I've been keeping a kettle on the fire - might as well use the heat for multiple purposes) and we've got water in jugs (if the power is completely out, the well pump won't run, and so we're stuck without running water).

I bundled up in all my gear this morning and fed the dogs, sheep, cats and chickens ... believe it or not, everyone's fine. Jack the ram looks a bit chilly - he's covered in a layer of frost but I think he's actually okay underneath. Everyone was huddled together to keep warm, and the dogs are out being their usual goofy selves this morning. Mackenzie hasn't managed to escape his 'training pen' (although I can see he's been trying) and the three Icelandics are none the worse for wear - I suspect they are doing their job and teaching him to respect his sheep.

Now it's time to log in and do some work - thankfully, I am able to do most of what I do remotely if need be ... and today, that's what needs be!

26 November 2006

Not so quiet now...

I had an email from my aunt telling me it was past time I updated the blog, since it couldn't possibly stay quiet this long - boy, was she right.

This has been a nutty weekend. Thursday night it snowed like mad and the roads were terrible, so I worked remotely on Friday to avoid the morning commute. Of course, I had an appointment booked that day to get new tires installed but ... that was in town, and I was in the country!

Friday The Boy had no school - it was a day off for the teachers who had been staying late for parent-teacher interviews last week. (The Boy got honours again, and is apparently causing no troubles for his teacher in class .. yay Boy!) We needed to do some errands in town, though, so later in the day after the graders had been out, we ventured into the city and spent the night at Union Guy's place. We did our errands, and Saturday afternoon we went to start up the truck: no go. It was not going to turn over in the cold. We tried boosting it from Union Guy's car ... still no luck. So, I plugged it in for awhile and went back inside to wait. Union Guy went out later to try boosting it again and a small mistake in placing the jumper cables led to an arc spark and a hole in the radiator. Coolant is leaking, the truck still won't start, and now it has to be towed to a rad shop on Monday. (sigh) The Boy is late for the birthday party he's supposed to be at (the primary reason we went to town was to get a present for the birthday boy), it's -25C, and the truck is dead. Well, Union Guy has a truck and a car, so I got the truck keys and off we went.

The highway was fine, but there was blowing snow on the back country roads. I slowed down, trying to see where I was going, and all of a sudden there was a huge semi right in front of me. I'm not yet adapted to non-ABS braking and so went into a big skid and spun around into the ditch. The good news is that we missed the signpost (that was also in the ditch) by about 2" ... and a nice man came by to tug us out (Union Guy's truck was packed for an off road camping trip and the tow strap was right where I expected it to be). On we went to the birthday party ... with a small detour into a snowbank that required a bit of shovelling and a push from a helpful neighbour. Finally, I delivered Boy and present (he was offered a lift home later in the evening so he'd have some time to play) and I went directly home, fearing what might happen if I risked any more time on the roads!

The light hadn't completely faded by the time I arrived, so I took hay out to the sheep and checked on everyone. One sheep was not in the crowd at the fenceline feeder: P-nut, the senior sheep we took in for her "retirement". I could see her in the sheep shelter where she liked to sleep, but I knew something was wrong - she always came for food. I got a flashlight and headed out to the shelter: she must have passed on just a few minutes before I got there - she wasn't cold or stiff yet, so I think she had just died, peacefully, in her sleep.

McKenzie has been going through the usual guardian dog puppyhood trials of believing that the sheep are his "packmates" and not realizing that they cannot play the way other puppies can play. He started off harassing P-nut, who was slow and unable to forcefully let him know that his enthusiasm was more than she could bear (no doubt the strain of his playful attention hastened her demise). She lost a lot of fleece of one side and had her ear bitten up before we realized what was going on ... McKenzie was chastised, but the temptation to play proved too great. I made P-nut a wool coat to make up for the missing fleece and put her in an isolated pen so she'd be free from harassment. The next day, McKenzie found other 'playmates' and took out a substantial amount of fleece from two other sheep, leaving scratches and wounds on the skin where the wool was pulled. This is a serious problem, so I picked up a muzzle and McKenzie had to wear that except when I was outside with him (which wasn't often). He could eat and drink with it on, but nipping and chewing were seriously inhibited, so the muzzle allowed the sheep to be protected while allowing the puppy to stay with his sheep.

Still, a more permanent solution was needed: McKenzie, like every other guardian dog, needs to learn that the sheep are to be protected but cannot be played with. On the advice of some great people on a homesteader's bulletin board I frequent, we decided to isolate McKenzie with the tougher sheep: I had noticed that the sheep with horns had no fleece pulled out and no bites on their ears, and I'd seen Brownie (the big brown Icelandic ewe) toss her horns at McKenzie when he got playful. The 'mean sheep' can teach him manners, and the 'meek sheep' will be protected from his playfulness.

Today's job, then, was to split up the newly expanded pasture. Before the snow fell, The Boy and I had put in enough wooden fence posts to extend the 'secure pen' out to the end of the acreage ... but the snow came before we got the cross fencing put up. A couple of weekends ago, despite the snow, Union Guy and I ran enough woven wire to triple the size of the secure pen and enclose the sheep shelter, meaning that the sheep had access to the shelter for the winter but couldn't get too far away (which will be particuarly important come lambing time - I do not want to be hunting for sheep across six acres of snow!). Fortunately we had not taken down the fence posts that divided the old pen from the new larger area, so all we had to do was get the horned sheep on one side of the fence posts and the polled sheep on the other side, then tie the fence wire back in place. This was accomplished with minimal fuss, and I rigged up a tarp in one corner of the enclosure to serve as a windbreak and snow shelter for McKenzie and his sheep (although the Icelandics don't tend to seek shelter very often). So far, all seems to be going well.

On top of all these adventures, we had to take P-Nut to her final resting place: she was pulled to a stand of trees to be returned to the 'circle of life'*, one chicken was found dead (frozen solid, actually) and she was also returned to the circle of life ... the generator refused to start (a trip to the corner store for gas line antifreeze did solve the problem, but it was irritating to say the least) ... and it just seemed like anything that could go wrong was going wrong.

However, we had a great roaring fire going in the fireplace, a huge pot of stew for dinner for the carnivores (pasta with pesto sauce for the resident vegetarian), and our Christmas shopping is nearly done. :)

You know, with all the headaches and heartaches that come with country living I sometimes ask myself if I'm sure this was the right choice. The answer is always a resounding yes. Even on the long, tiring, exhausting days I know I'd rather be here: all I have to do is look out the window at the snow on the pasture, take hay out to the sheep and hear them bleat their welcome to me, toss kitchen scraps in the chicken coop and hear the satisifed clucks in response, pour water for a cup of tea from the kettle heated on the top of the wood stove, or listen to the dogs barking at the coyotes at night and I know ... this is home. This is where we are meant to be.

* Animals that die of natural causes can legally be disposed of 'naturally' (translation for city folk: fed to the coyotes). It may not sound pretty, but it's practical and realistic. We did recite the 23rd Psalm for her ... it seemed appropriate.

06 November 2006

Very, very quiet

I woke up Sunday morning without a voice.

It's been very, very quiet around here.

The Boy and Union Guy both thought this was utterly hilarious - as did my coworkers today. "What, nothing to say? Ohh you can't yell at me!"

01 November 2006

Scary Halloween!

This scary creature trick or treated in our country neighbourhood this year. :)

Country trick or treating is different than in the city - we stopped and chatted with all our neighbours, most of whom we'd only spoken to once or twice in passing before. It was nice to have a chance to stop and say hello and pass on our contact information (in case anyone saw wandering sheep or needed to reach us for any reason). We came home with a bag full of treats and a few of our neighbour's phone numbers in return, including a very nice couple just across the field who said if The Boy should ever need help he can give them a call. They are the grandparents of some kids he knows from school, who live on our road as well (it is a 'family farm' sort of arrangment). It's good to have nice neighbours who will call you if your livestock are out, help you out of a jam, or just wave a friendly hello when you drive past!

We attempted to go visit Gram and Grandpa in their new house (they'd never have recognized that alien as The Boy!) but we hit a patch of slippery snow and ice and ended up in the ditch. Under normal circumstances that would not have been a huge problem, but while the snow itself is frozen and piled up on the ground, the ground itself is not frozen yet. My tire kept digging further and further into muck and grass and a tow truck was required to extricate us from the ditch. Needless to say, we didn't get to do our Halloween surprise ... but at least we had plenty of treats to eat to keep our spirits up (and we were both dressed for the cold).

Suddenly winter!

Suddenly, it's winter.

Fall just seemed to be getting underway when a few flakes started to fall ... and then a few more ... and more ... and more. Before I knew it, the ground was covered. Well, that sometimes happens in the fall, I thought, but then it melts. Not this time. It's well up over my ankles in most places, deeper in the ditches. The grader came by our house on Tuesday, plowing the roads.

The snow sits on the top of the sheep's heads making funny little piles that don't melt but just sit there, looking like odd hats.

Thank goodness I had some hay brought over, or the sheep would have been very hungry.

24 October 2006

A stack of wood and a sunrise

This past weekend, Union Guy split a substantial quantity of firewood by hand - firewood which he had cut from slash piles with his chainsaw.

The Boy stacked it up so it is all ready to keep us warm this winter.

This morning, the sunrise was simply breathtaking.

Chasing sheep

The new Icelandic sheep like to roam. They scoot under a barbed wire fence like it's not even there - the barbs may snag a bit of wool, but they have such heavy coats I don't think they even feel the tug as they go under. They head out under the back fence, check out the neighbour's hay field, then wander back home. (Yes, I need to replace the barbed wire with woven wire. It's on the list of things to do.)

Yesterday, the sheep didn't come back home from their little field trip. On the school bus this morning, one of the kids told The Boy they'd seen four sheep down by the highway, so he called me from the school office and I went off in search of sheep. I did find them: they were visiting the cattle across the road! With the gracious help of the people who own the farm the sheep had decided to visit, the wanderers were chased back home. I'm glad I own a lifted 4x4 truck ... I drove through a couple of hay fields on the way back.

Late this afternoon, when I noticed the sheep were out beyond the back fence again, I decided that it was time to get the Icelandics into the small-but-more-or-less-escape-proof paddock. We'd tried this before but had no luck as the sheep are skittish and unwilling to go through a gate into a pen they know nothing about. I knew I had to be sneaky if I wanted to succeed. Natalie, the Icleandic flock leader, has a weakness for grain: a perfect opportunity for a sneak attack! I sauntered up to Natalie with a full bucket of grain and a piece of nylon rope looped casually across my arm. As I had hoped, she ignored the rope completely, perhaps assuming it to be nothing more than a fashion accessory, and settled down to eat the grain. The rope went around her neck while her head was in the bucket and - voila! - she was caught! She put up a good fight, though: getting her across the pasture took all my strength and I've now got rope burns on my hands. I was immensely grateful when my neighbour showed up to help! He pushed from behind, I pulled from the front, and eventually we each grabbed one horn and dragged her the rest of the way up the hill and into the paddock. The poor thing was exhausted when we were done, but we did manage to get her contained in a smaller pen where she could serve as bait for the others. The gate to the paddock was left open and we stood back: sure enough, within ten minutes the other Icelandics all made their way over to check on their leader, locked inside this strange chain link box. The gate was slammed shut behind them, and they were caught! Whew! No more escapes.
Neighbour was sent off with a dozen eggs as thanks for his efforts, and The Boy and I made the sheep comfortable in their new home. We moved the fenceline hay feeder into the paddock so they'll have something to eat, filled up a bucket of water, and fed them some grain.

Jack, the Southdown ram, was very interested in the ewes in the paddock (who are most likely in season right about now) so he was allowed to join them. After all, we do hope to have some lambs come spring time. :) The last time I looked, Jack was making faces at the girls, so I'll take that as a positive sign (rams make a very peculiar face when a ewe in heat is nearby: they curl up their lips and stick out their tongues - it looks tremendously goofy, but I guess it works for sheep!).

We do have fence posts up between the sheep shelter and the west fence line: I guess we'll have to get the woven wire pulled across there soon so that the sheep can all be kept in there over the winter. They'll need more space than they have now, but I don't want to be hunting through the trees for lambing ewes in the cold of January or February. A smaller pasture is definitely required. Besides, cross fencing and pasture rotation is part of good sheep management. :)

For now, at least, the sheep are safely tucked into a small but reasonably comfortable spot (with a ram for company!) and we can stop spending our afternoons chasing runaway sheep across the fields.

Knock on wood.

08 October 2006


There's a photo gallery, if you're interested in surfing through our pictures. It's a fairly recent venture and only haphazardly organized at this point, but you're welcome to look around.

I noticed tonight that Blogger images aren't going up properly (again) so I thought it might be an appropriate time to introduce the gallery. :)

Fall has arrived

Fall has indeed arrived - the leaves turned yellow one morning, and now, after a few breezy afternoons, about half of them have left their branches to rest in shallow drifts below the trees. I sat in the kitchen watching leaves flutter down, thinking that they look remarkably like snowflakes in their lazy fall to earth.

With the arrival of fall comes the beginning of a new year at school and all the associated activities. We purposely try to keep our lives on the quieter side, with no more scheduled activities than we can comfortably maintain. For us, that means 4-H is the only planned out-of-school adventure: we both really enjoy our involvement in the club, so although it can take up a fair chunk of time, it somehow doesn't seem like a burden or a heavy obligation ... it's an opportunity to learn together, spend time with people we like, and learn new things.

We had our startup meeting last week, and The Boy agreed to be the club secretary. Of course, nobody wants this job as it involves typing up the minutes of every meeting, but I did promise to help, so he consented to take on the task. Today we started the process, setting up a template that he can use each month, and documenting what went on during our first official meeting of the year. The position does come with some benefits, of course: he qualifies for additional credit in the club's points system: 4-H provides a wide variety of scholarships, grants, and exchange opportunities for kids and young adults, and maintaining a high level of involvement throughout your youth puts you in good standing for many of these awards. I discovered last month that 4-H in Canada actually runs exchange trips to Japan ... and of course, they need adult leaders to participate! You can bet I'll be looking into that!

Last weekend we finally met up with a lady who who keeps Icelandic sheep on a small farm just north of us. I have been pondering what breed of sheep to use for my 'foundation flock', and finally settled on either Icelandic of Shetland sheep: both are heritage breeds in need of preservation, and both are considered dual purpose sheep, with a high quality fleece as well as good meat. The Icelandic are actually triple purpose sheep - you can also milk them. That's not on the schedule any time soon, but it might be interesting to try at some point!

Anyway, the lady had a lovely group of Icelandic ewes and some crossbred lambs available for sale. I wasn't planning on taking them, but when she mentioned the price and it was a quarter of what I had anticipated, I couldn't turn them down! Today four new sheep arrived: two purebred (and papered) Icelandic ewes, and a pair of mixed breed offspring from one of them. The lambs are Suffolk/Icelandic crosses - a wether and a ewe - both of whom inherited lovely fleece from their momma, and pretty black faces and legs courtesy of their Suffolk father.

The lambs of these sheep will hopefully become part of The Boy's 4-H project: we are still collecting detailed information, but it looks like you can do a 'wool ewe' project which involves selecting a baby ewe lamb of a wool breed, then raising it for half a year and showing it at the spring fair where it is judged much like dogs are at a dog show - to see that it matches up with what it's breed should look like, and that it appears to be a good foundation sheep for breeding. The next year, you show that same sheep with her lambs, as you breed her in the fall. One more year after that, you can show her with new lambs again. The idea is that over the course of three years you can see the progress from baby lamb to proven momma sheep.

The other, more common, sheep project is a market lamb: you raise a baby lamb from birth until spring when it is sold at auction for meat. The Boy may attempt both projects this year - the most time consuming part of a 4-H project is the record keeping, but the records for both sheep projects would be similar, so we figure it's manageable.

Of course, he signed up for Crafts as well. I'm the Assistant Leader for both Sheep and Crafts. I think we're sufficiently occupied for the year!

27 September 2006

Life in the country

Life in the country is slower than life in the city.

You've always got a long list of things to do, but somehow, it's okay to just pick the one you feel like doing next and do that.

22 September 2006

Clean clothes

Oh, such excitement today at Apple Jack Creek! Sears had a sale, and we got a new washing machine!

Our first load of clothes is in the wash as I write, spinning free of mud and dirt. The drying rack is set up in the living room awaiting jeans and shirts and socks. For the past year, laundry has been done at Union Guy's house (or on occasion, at the laundromat near the office!) and so it is very exciting to have a washing machine of our very own.

We got a front load washer, as it uses much less power and water than most regular washers: this model is a Maytag, rated at 170kWh/year. It is very small, so we can't do too many clothes at once, but if we do a load of wash every few days, we should have no problems. I see this as an inducement to frugality in clothes shopping: if you have to do the wash every few days, you don't need seven pairs of jeans in order to make it from wash day to wash day.

My current objective is to get the storage unit unpacked and dig through the remaining boxes to see what I really need to keep and what can be sold/donated/freecycled. This house is very small and has minimal storage space, so if something isn't likely to be used frequently, it isn't likely to be kept. Living with less stuff is a real release, anyway, so I'm looking forward to this process. Of course, I'm also looking forward to having my baking pans back, and putting some books on the shelves, and locating my parka before winter hits again!

That, and the outside work (cleaning up the yard and making a run to the dump, fixing the fences so the sheep stop escaping to the neighbour's land, getting the firewood split and stacked for winter, figuring out a heated watering trough system ...) should keep us well out of trouble for the next little while.

13 September 2006

Finished floors!

We finally have finished floors!

Okay, the stairs aren't done, but the rest of the house is laid, stained, sealed and topcoated.

Do you realize what this means?


Yes, we'll have to move things around to do the baseboards, yes, we still need a second coat of topcoat in the kitchen, yes, we still have to do the ceiling and things will be in the way a little but still...

My socks came out of a dresser drawer this morning instead of a Rubbermaid bin - first time in more than a year. The Boy has bookshelves for his Lego and his books and his treasures, many of which elicited happy exclamations when they were brought out of the boxes they've been hiding in. I am, at present, sitting in a very ancient and very comfortable old chair with an actual floor lamp beside me. There is a table by the window holding several plants. My rocking chair is beside it. This weekend, we should be able to bring the couch home! Soon we'll be able to empty out the storage unit and get that bill off the monthly accounts ... and use the money to buy baseboards and window trim instead!

These things probably seem remarkably mundane and ordinary, but when you live out of bins and wade through sawdust and wear steel toed boots in the house for a year, it really is a big deal.

Aaaah. Home.

05 September 2006

And for the rest of the weekend...

... we worked hard.

Union Guy and The Boy worked on acquiring more firewood. There are several slash piles in the vicinity, and Solar Neighbour graciously loaned us his chainsaw to tackle them with. In the hot summer sun, Union Guy sawed off fire sized logs and The Boy loaded them into the truck bed. We plan to rent a splitter a little later on and share it with Solar Neighbour so that both of us can have a nice pile of split and stacked firewood. Most of it will still be too green to burn this year, but it's good to get a head start for next winter.

While the boys were outside in the sun, I was inside on my hands and knees staining the floors. I got the bedroom floor done one day, and the loft done the next. The dark walnut stain (Watco Black Walnut, actually) looks really good on the pine flooring, although it is a bit washed out in this picture. The wood has a lot of variation in it that you don't really notice until you've got the stain on the floor, but I really like how it brings out the grain of the wood.

I went to the Greyhound today and picked up the sealant that will go on top of the flooring: the guys I got the floor from use this industrial grade stuff on the installations they do and highly recommend it. I have to let the stain sit for several days to finish drying before I top coat it, but I am very anxious to have real floors! Once the flooring is done, I can start bringing in some furniture at last - we will still have to move things around a bit to do trim and such, but we'll no longer need to sit on lawn chairs and keep our socks in Rubbermaid bins. Woohoo how exciting!

A successful wedding!

My best friend got married on the long weekend, so that kept us quite thoroughly occupied for a couple of days!

There was a lovely service on Saturday at a very old local church, and The Boy served as an usher. One of the duties of the usher is to ring the bell at the start and the end of the ceremony - the other usher, a cousin, did the bell at the start, and The Boy rang it at the end of the wedding as the happy couple walked out the front doors. The gentleman from the church was helping The Boy pull the rope, but he let go when he discovered that The Boy has farm kid arms!

My friend and her husband wanted a fun outdoor barbecue type wedding, more like a family reunion than a typical wedding reception. We had amazingly good weather - bright sunshine and no rain - and a fun group of people including a lady who did face painting and another who organized crafts for the kids. It's the only wedding I've been to where there was a pinata filled with candy and an outdoor fire pit with marshmallows!

All in all it turned out beautifully, and we wish them the very best of happiness!

Cousin Neighbours off on their grand adventure!

The Cousin Neighbours were through last week on their way south to start their Grand Adventure.

You can read all about their journey on their blog:


20 August 2006

Wood for winter

Winter is indeed coming on, and we've started preparations.

Last evening, Union Guy built a small wood holder for up near the front patio door, so that we can keep a supply of split wood handy for the woodstove during the winter. We actually burn the fire on cool summer evenings, too: it's wonderful to have it going on a rainy night.

Today, we decided to find something useful to do with the big 'crate' that the windows and doors came packed in. It's nice and sturdy, very well built, and would be quite unpleasant to knock apart. Besides, we must need some kind of building this shape....

As we were discussing our options, we realized that we need a wood shed to store and dry a large quantity of firewood. Solar Neighbour down the way has offered us all the wood we can cut (and the use of his chainsaw to cut it with!) from the deadfall he cleared to put his house up, and we intend to take advantage of the offer. Further pondering led to the idea of creating a cat shelter at one end, since wood sheds are notorious for housing a large population of rodents, and the cats were in need of larger accommodations anyway as they are rapidly getting too large for the small box they hide out in now.

The old cat shelter is the upper wooden box. It's part of some old office furniture, I assume - it's just a cube of brown melamine we found at Habitat for Humanity. We lined the inside with styrofoam insulation and it has served quite well for most of a year. The new shelter is the rectangular box below that. There is a door on the far right (which you can't see), as that faces away from the prevailing winds. The door on this end is removeable for cleaning and access - the cube is filled with straw. It should be nice and warm, it has styrofoam insulation under the floor and will have wood stacked all along one side for additional thermal mass in the winter time.

We still have to figure out what we'll be cladding the structure with, and create some doors for the front ... and then use Solar Neighbour's chainsaw an awful lot in order to fill up the shed with the raw materials for a warm winter.

The new bunny

Ahh, finally time to sit down for a few minutes and write about life at Apple Jack Creek.

My parents have been here for the past week, they departed this morning for a month at a cottage where they will rest and recover from all the hard work they've been doing lately. Their new house is 30 minutes from Apple Jack Creek, and they will be taking over the last bit of construction from the contractor in late September, then moving in. It was nice to have them here - and they brought The Boy back with them! He thoroughly enjoyed his summer on the Island with his grandparents, but it's good to have everyone back in their usual places.

Yesterday was the county fair, which we really enjoyed. There was a parade with fire trucks and floats and kids on decorated bikes and people on horseback, and they threw candy at the spectators! Union Guy brought his kids out for the morning and they thought this was tremendous ... city parades don't toss candy any more, apparently it's a liability risk. Ah well, you can do things differently in the country! We had a free pancake breakfast, watched team penning, checked out all the sheep and pets, and found our new bunny and kitten. All in all, it was a very exciting day!

The bunny is still very small and shy, which is to be expected for such a young one. She (he?) spends her time snuggled into a safe corner of the large rabbit hutch that Cappuccino lived in. We closed off the door to the outside for now, so that the rabbit has a chance to get used to her surroundings and get more comfortable (and bigger) before venturing out into the wider yard of the chicken pen.

We're still not certain of a name, but here is a picture: got any suggestions?

19 August 2006

A day at the fair

This weekend is the local county fair.

We have been very busy and had a great time! The Boy was going to show his bunny Cappuccino, but of course, that didn't work out. :( He took an understudy in her place: Mikan the cat took third place in the long haired cat group ... out of three contestants, but hey, it was fun anyway.

The other fun for today was the acquisition of two new animals: a new kitten, named Diesel and a new bunny, who as yet has no name.

Here's The Boy with Diesel (and Gram on the phone in the background!)

Those of you who have been paying attention will remember that we had a calico cat named Diesel when we lived in the shed ... we've decided that we'll stick with a core set of cat names, and reuse them as we feel appropriate. Orange cats will be called Mikan, calico cats will be Diesel, gray ones Moke ... but hopefully only one of each at a time, or we'll have to get creative and come up with some more!

18 August 2006

Poor Cappuccino

Cappuccino, The Boy's pet bunny, died today under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

She was found across the pasture, without a mark on her. Bob the Dog was guarding the body.

We assume something frightened her while she was out of the pen (sometimes she sneaks a little ways out to get a bite of grass, but she never goes far and always comes right back in) ... probably a hawk, owl or eagle.

Poor Cappuccino. She was a great little bunny.

The Boy is making a list of Ten Good Things about Cappuccino - I will post them here when the list is finished.

13 August 2006

Junior Staff Member: introducing McKenzie

When Bob went MIA, we were seriously worried that he would not be found. As I do risk management for a living, we now have a succession plan in place. :)

A junior staff member has joined us as Bob's apprentice sheep guardian - meet McKenzie:

McKenzie is a purebred Great Pyrenees, a very common sheep guardian dog. They grow to be absolutely huge - he will be bigger than my Akita was, but since he will always live outside with his sheep, I won't have to worry about him putting his nose on the dining room table!

Bob, as senior guardian dog, is doing a good job of training the new recruit. Actually, McKenzie shows a very strong instinctive need to be near the sheep - which is exactly what we hope for! He was born in the pasture to sheep guardian parents, and spent the first six weeks of life with no contact from humans at all. When the pups were six weeks old, the people went and took them from their momma (who apparently did not object), and housed them in a sheep barn where they learned that people are the nice big creatures who bring you food! As humans we spend very little time with the dogs, so that they will bond closely to the sheep. The hardest part of raising a puppy like this is resisting the urge to pick them up and cuddle them!

Union Guy purchased McKenzie for me as a present. :) What a wonderful gift! It's so great to watch this little ball of fur following the sheep around the pasture on his tiny little legs, or sleeping as close to the sheep as they will allow, or trying to convince Bob that playing would be lots of fun (Bob just ignores him when he gets like this).

So far, things are working out well: Bob tends to look after the bigger picture, sneaking out under the perimiter fences to check the area near the house and occassionaly the neighbours' land as well, and he barks when he sees or hears anything potentially threatening ... McKenzie just patters along after the sheep, staying close to them and looking like an adoring cherub. As he grows, he will start 'guarding behaviours', like marking territory and learning to bark at specific things. By Christmas time he should be starting to show a lot of these behaviours, and he'll be much, much larger!

It's true that at night it is sometimes noisy around here ... but the deep woof of Bob's bark is very comforting, and I'm learning to sleep through it. It's much nicer than the yip and howl of the coyotes, which wakes me and used to leave me worried that the sheep or chickens were in danger of imminent attack. With the dogs on duty, I just listen for their bark and know all is taken care of!

More progress on the floor!

The flooring is now down in the kitchen, under both the stove and the fridge. I put foil bubble insulation between the subfloor and the hardwood underneath the fridge, to block the in floor heating in that area (no point making the fridge work any harder than it has to).

I stained the boards under fridge and stove, just so that when it comes time to sand and stain I don't have to move those appliances (I'll still have to move them when it's time to put the sealant on, but one less move is a good thing).

This is what the floor/walls/countertop/cabinet colour combo looks like! You'll get a better view if you click the picture to expand it.

A chick hatched!

After two unsuccessful attempts, we finally had a hatching!

Okay, so there are still about 15 eggs sitting in the nestbox, and none of them have pipped or made any noise, so our success rate is still pretty darn low.

However, we do have one live chick, hopping around following it's mama.

Of course I have no idea how to tell if it is male or female, other than to wait and see if it starts to crow or to lay eggs!

With our luck with animals lately, I'm not overly hopeful that this chick will live long enough for us to find out ... but we can hope! I've set up a few 'hiding spots' that the chick can get into but nobody else can, and he (she? it?) has run in and out and seems to be checking things out. Mama Hen gets VERY irritable if you get close to the chick - she fluffs up so big she looks like a turkey!

In the heat of the day today, they were in the shade, with the little chick nestled under mama's wing.

Psalm 91:4

He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

08 August 2006

Miracle of the Week: Bob is found!

Today I followed up on Neighbour's sighting of Bob, I stopped at a few houses and left my number hoping someone would see him and call.

It worked!

The lady at one of the houses I stopped at was heading out and saw him sitting in the ditch. Her husband caught him, they called me, and Bob was tied up when I got there - looking very bedraggled and skinny but no injuries.

He wagged his tail with relief when he saw his sheep and the home pen. He sniffed at everything and lay down in a heap of exhaustion. He hasn't even had a drink or anything to eat - I'm sure he'll decide to do that in a bit.

Oh, what a huge relief to have him back. St Francis, patron saint of animals, must have been watching out for Apple Jack Creek this week!

Flooring Step by Step

I thought it might be neat to show how the flooring is installed, step by step. For those just tuning in, this is wide plank flooring from Whiskey Flats Lumber.

The very first step is to cover the floor with roofing felt. This provides a vapor barrier to help keep the wood from expanding and contracting too much.

Next you lay down the boards: each board is labelled with a room and row letter combination, and these codes match up with a floor plan map which Whiskey Flats provides with the flooring. This map tells you which width of boards you are using for the next row and ensures that you don't run out of wide boards partway across the living room. The hardest part of the job is sometimes finding the board you need in the pile!

When you are ready to put a row down, you leave a gap between the first and last boards and the wall to allow for expansion. When you are partway down the row, you butt each board right up against the previous one. The ends are all cut perfectly straight at the factory (well, I hit one board today out of the whole batch that wasn't, and I just used it as a row starter instead). The last board in a row will have to be trimmed to fit.

Using a carpenter's square you mark the places you'll put the screws in, evenly spaced across the board. On narrow boards you only need 2 screws, wider ones need 3, and the very wide boards (like this one) need four. You work your way down the board, marking at evenly spaced intervals (about 12-18" apart). Doing the math to figure out the spacing of the screws is the most time consuming aspect of this job!

Once you have it all marked, you predrill the holes using a drill bit with a countersink attachment. This makes small craters where the screw heads will go. I use two drills: one with the drill bit and one with a screwdriver head. It's easier to switch drills than to constantly be changing bits.

Once the holes are in place, you push the board up tight against it's neighbour and put black drywall screws in each hole - the black screw heads look a lot like nails when you are done, so it adds to the 'heritage' look.

Once it is all laid, you rent a big floor sander and sand it mostly smooth (not totally smooth, or it'll look boring - we want to preserve those small grooves between the boards, but we need to remove any surface dings that may have been inflicted).

Clean it up, stain it, seal it.

Voila, a floor!

Here's an image of the work in progress:

Two Bob sightings!

A neighbour was just here (looking for missing cattle) and told me that Bob was sighted yesterday and today, near his house.

He lives a LONG way from here - our best guess is that Bob was out patrolling, found the highway, and followed it.

I went down to the place he'd been seen, but could not find him. I did leave my number with some people, though, so there is hope.

He was headed in the right direction, anyway - he's west of here, and had made it a bit closer east when he was seen today. Neighbour had tried to get Bob to come close enough to read a tag (which he hasn't got anyway, haven't gotten to that yet!) but Bob was shy. At least now he knows whose dog he is and will call if he sees him again.

Come on, Bob, you can do it ... keep heading east!

Bob: MIA

Bob the Dog disappeared sometime Saturday night.

At bedtime, I let the beagle inside from his last run of the evening, and Bob was there by the door, looking interested in the house. "Get with your sheep," I said, and he trotted off towards them. I closed the door, and all was quiet for the night.

In the morning, there was no Bob.

We waited, thinking maybe he'd gone out on patrol and would be back. By lunchtime, I was getting worried. By evening, I was very worried. We went out looking twice during the day and asked at several neighbours' houses, and nobody had seen him. We left contact information in case anyone does see him, but it is very odd for a guardian to disappear for such a long time - and when have you known a dog to miss two meals?

As of today, Tuesday, he still has not appeared. :(

I am heartbroken - again. I feel like everything I try with the animals works out badly ... I lost so many cats ... then the wether lamb ... then Bob. This time, though, I really don't think I did anything wrong - I mean, he was doing very well here. He stayed with the sheep, patrolled the area, and Saturday during the day I even walked over to the neighbour's land to tell them Bob was here (in case he frightened their little dogs), and Bob stayed nicely on his own side of the fence, just watching me, and occasionally looking back over his shoulder to check on the sheep. He had figured out his boundaries, and I was very pleased.

He had his supper Saturday night, was out doing his evening patrol ... and vanished into thin air.

With the long weekend, the road's been busier than usual, so it is possible he wandered down to the highway and got hurt (but we did check the ditches). We also heard from the man baling the hay down the road that there are wolves in the area (!) and Union Guy has seen a bear not far from here. Perhaps Bob was killed in the line of duty. I suppose he could have just decided he didn't like it here any more ... We hadn't known him long, but I don't think he'd just disappear for no reason.

I suppose we will have to list his official status as Missing in Action.

31 July 2006

Sheep in the pasture

Today was Bob the Dog's first full day on duty.

The sheep and Bob were left in the small pen for the day, and Bob barked goodbye as I drove off to work.

When Union Guy and I got here tonight, the three sheep were still in the pen ... and Bob the Dog was not. He was sitting on the ground, like a guardian sphinx, just outside the gate. I have no idea how he got out, but he did it ... and then sat there, guarding his animals. This is very cool.

The Boy and I had previously put in most of the t-posts we need for our perimiter fencing, but the fence itself had not been unrolled and attached. Union Guy and I did a 'quick and dirty' perimiter fence tonight: the fencing is all unrolled and 'tacked' to the posts, although it is not tensioned or even tied well at the bottom. It's a "suggested boundary" that wouldn't keep a determined critter either in or out, but with 6 acres of enclosed grass just waiting to be eaten, I do not think the sheep are very interested in escape. I let them out to graze every day, and they have gotten the hang of their 'grazing area'. They will wander off towards the road if they happen to follow a path of their favourite weed that meanders down into the ditch, but when they hit a fence, they just turn and follow it along. Now, with Bob out there with them, I am not very worried. They could still run off, I suppose, but nothing's likely to spook them with Bob there. :)

For the record, we will be tightening the fences in the next week, so this is just a temporary measure. I keep looking out the window to see how everyone is, and they are all together and seem quite content.

Bob followed us around as we worked - it was actually a really good way to show him where the boundaries are. He marked territory (including the tire of my truck...) and kept one eye on the sheep as he wandered. He seemed to know right away that the fences are the 'edge': he ran up to the fence, then followed it for awhile, then came back in to the center.

We put straw in the new sheep shelter, and fed them their grain in there tonight. They were a bit confused, thinking they were supposed to go in the pen (which they can't get into now) ... but they came when I called them (after they saw the grain bucket!), ate their oats, then wandered off to the hill to graze some more. Bob just follows them around, and lies down when they find a place to nibble on grass. He is the picture of equanimity, just keeping an eye on things and staying nearby.

So far, so good. I think this was a good idea.

30 July 2006

Bob the Dog is now on duty

Today we acquired a new staff member on our acreage: Bob the Dog is now on duty.

Bob is an Akbash-Maremma cross, bred as a livestock guardian. He was born on a sheep farm, and then lived on a cattle farm with one of his littermates, where together they kept an eye on things and harassed the neighbourhood coyotes. They were bought as a pair because coyotes can take on a single puppy, but won't try two pups together, and there was a substantial coyote problem in the area. Now that they've grown up however (they are 3 years old now) only one is really needed, and Bob was 'underemployed'. Through a series of emails, I found out about him ... asked some questions ... and decided he was likely a good fit for our acreage. The Boy and I talked about it too: a trained LGD is a significant investment, equivalent to the purchase price of at least a couple of sheep, but we decided it was worth it if it could prevent the loss of lambs. The very last thing we need is to have The Boy's 4H lambs killed by coyotes!

Union Guy and I went today to meet him and his Person, although from phone calls I already knew Bob was almost certainly what we needed. We arrived and discovered that (in addition to belonging to a very nice Person) Bob was nicely even tempered: he happily lets you handle his paws, put your hands in his mouth to check teeth, and didn't question our presence, as his person had indicated we were okay. We packed him up and brought him back to Apple Jack Creek, where I was prepared for some hesitance on the part of either dog or sheep ... and got absolutely none. I took him out of the truck, walked him over to the sheep pen, and put him inside. The sheep looked at him, he looked at the sheep, and then he went and walked the boundaries of the pen to check out the area. That was it. I kept waiting for someone to freak out or get all skittish, and nothing happened. So, I got the pitchfork and shovelled some straw into the dog kennel we had moved into the pen (thinking we'd need to pen the dog near the sheep, but keep them separate for the first day or two until everyone got used to everyone else, but that was clearly not needed). The pen can provide some shade from the sun and shelter from the rain (which we have been having the last few days) as it's covered with shade cloth. We also shifted the position of the temporary sheep shelter to lean up against the kennel, and that will give a bit more room to hide from the elements.

Once we get the fences up around the full perimiter, we will just turn Bob and the sheep loose in the main area of the acreage, and at night (or in the heat of the day) they can snuggle into the new sheep shelter that Union Guy and I built. I used to worry that they would be too 'exposed' and that the coyotes might get them unless they were penned securely every night, but with Bob on duty, I am not afraid of that now.

The Boy is going to paint this shelter when he comes home ... it is made from leftover lumber from the house building project, and roofed with leftover metal roofing. Oddly enough, we found one piece of roofing that is bright green - the house is roofed in brown, and we aren't sure where this came from. I think it got blown into the yard one day ... but hey, we'll take it! It was exactly the size we needed to finish the sheep shelter roof. :)

So, things are progressing here ... it'll be really nice to have an outside dog on duty, I've known since I moved here I needed one ... but the right one just now showed up. :)

"Bring me a wheel barrow full of money and you can have your truck back."

That's what our wonderful mechanic said when he called to let us know the truck was finally ready to hit the road again!

So ...

that's exactly what we did.

(He is a really great guy who just retired from the military, and works on the trucks in his garage ... we'd met his little boy and knew he'd enjoy the wheel barrow once his dad took the money out!)

Mechanic laughed when he saw the wheel barrow, it was so much fun. :)

So the good news is that the truck is finally back up and running. The bad news is that it still need some additional work to be 'in ideal shape', but it runs fine as it is, and I am happy! We ended up replacing the engine with a 2L - it had a 3L before. The 2L can have a turbo (although I don't have the manifold, which we need to set up the turbo ... that's the next piece of work to be done as it's still a bit gutless on the highway without the turbo). I am glad to have found someone trustworthy to work on the truck: he and his family are off to Nova Scotia on a holiday for the next couple of weeks, but when he comes back and we have the extra parts here, he's willing to do the additional work on mine. Union Guy needs a bit of tweaking done to his as well, and Mechanic says he'll be bored if he has no trucks to work on, so he'll still do a little bit on the side ... just not too much. :)

At dinner tonight we blessed our mechanic. I am sure God understands why!

25 July 2006

Make hay while the sun shines

All the farmers around here are busy making hay while the sun is shining (which it has been doing quite steadily for several weeks now). On the weekend I met some people who are charged with mowing the hayfield near me (owned by someone else, an absentee landlord) and worked with them to find an acceptable entrance to the field and such. When the man came by to take his mowing equipment into the field, he mowed my ditches for me! What a nice thing to do. The mowed grasses and weeds have been lying out in the sun for several days now, so tonight I went out and picked up the edible bits and stacked them into a bit of a haystack up by the sheep pen. It's not a lot of hay, but it'll supplement the sheep and rabbit for a bit, and it's free!

I did get the flooring finished in the loft this weekend, it looks really good. Well, I suppose finished might be a bit of an overstatement - it's all laid, but not sanded or stained or sealed. Union Guy and I checked out the sander I need on the weekend - it is too heavy for me to lift so I'll hvae to wait until he can come out to carry it up the stairs for me before I can sand the floors.

I think that's it for me for one night, I'm off to sleep. :)

15 July 2006

Just another reason to love Union Guy

Union Guy found an antenna for the cell phones, and brought it out today. It significantly improves the reception on the phone, which is a good thing.

After seeing the picture, he suggested this post be titled "Who's the goof on the roof?"

The siding is all done now, and looks really good. The siding guys found a wasp or bee nest up in the peak of the house and had to go on a field trip to buy insectiside spray so they could finish! They're all done now, and we have eavestroughing, soffit, and all the siding. It will be wonderful not to hear they Tyvek flapping in the wind anymore.

My task for today was installing flooring in the loft. It is actually much easier to install than I expected it to be: there are several steps to the process, but none of them are actually difficult. For those of you just tuning in, I'm using wide planks from Whiskey Flats Lumber rather than the more common varieties of hardwood flooring. I love the old fashioned look of the variable width boards and the visible screws (which look like nails unless you check closely). The floor is one of my designated luxuries, although in reality it won't cost me very much more than prefinished hardwood from the local Home Depot (this stuff is costing me about $6.50 a square foot).

To install this kind of flooring, you have to measure and mark the places to put the screws, then drill the holes over the marks, get the board into position and put the screws in. A carpenter's square, a pencil, two drills and a bag of screws and you're good to go. The worst part is digging through the pile of lumber in the living room to find the boards I need! I think I moved every board today in search of the ones I needed. However, I am very happy with the end (well, interim) result - check out the picture in full size.

Once the floor is down and sanded, it'll be stained with black walnut stain. This picture shows three of the four wood finishes that are in use in the house: the light walnut on the walls, the golden pine on the doors, and the black walnut on the floors. (Those are just a couple of pieces of scrap flooring, stained with two coats of Watco Black Walnut and pushed up against a wall so I could see what it looked like). It is actually a bit darker than what you see in the picture, the flash washed it out a little. I like the contrast: I purposely wanted a very dark floor, medium walls, and a light ceiling. I think having the colours move from dark to light makes the room feel more 'grounded' somehow.

12 July 2006

Off to Lithuania

My sister and her husband left for Lithuania last week. I love this picture ... so I had to post it. :)

You can read about their adventures on their blog!

11 July 2006


One of the reasons I moved to the country was because I could reduce my operating expenses. The up front investment is significant, but the day to day operating costs are less: property taxes are half of what they are in the city, I have no power bill, no water or sewage charges, and my only utility bill is for natural gas. My fuel costs for the commute have gone up substantially, but it is a fair trade for daycare costs and downtown parking. I'm also talking to my coworkers about being able to work remotely one or two days a week, which will save significantly on fuel.

For further savings, I've decided not to install a land line for the telephone. It will cost about $1500 just to get the line run to the house - and then I'd have a bill of about $40 a month on an ongoing basis, which I don't particularly need. I've found a better cell phone plan, so my monthly phone bill is substantially less than it was: these days, the cell phone is a requirement and the land line is optional. Strange how things change with advances in technology.

Someday I'll have a garden, which will help bring the grocery bill down, and I do get as many eggs as I can eat (and more!) from the chickens. I calculated the cost to be about 5 cents an egg (excluding infrastructure costs). Eventually we may be able to make a little money from the sheep, although probably not much more than what will cover feed and vet bills. Ah, the dreams of being able to supplement my income with old fashioned skills ... it may still happen, but I'm not banking on it.

Speaking of banks: the tricky part to all of this, of course, is the up front investment. While I did manage to get approved for an owner-build mortgage (through the nice folks at ATB Financial, who are the only ones willing to finance such a venture), it still takes a lot of money to get things going. You don't get your mortgage funds until after you complete the work and an inspector agrees that it is done. Well, that's not entirely accurate: you do get startup funds, but not enough to pay for everything as you go.

The good news is that you don't have to pay your regular mortgage payment until your house is done or until one year has passed, whichever comes first. That means that a portion of your paycheque can be used to buy deck screws and light fixtures and tools instead of paying a mortgage, which helps. Still, the cash to pay for the solar panels and the fireplace and the kitchen cabinets all has to come from somewhere, and my paycheques are not quite that generous. To accomplish the necessary financial sleight of hand, I have a number of creative financing options in place ... all of which are racking up interest at startling rates, unfortunately. I took advantage of all the offers I could find: my kitchen cupboards were bought on a no-payments-for-a-year promotion at Ikea, and I've put other major purchases on one credit card then switched the balance to another card that offered a low interest for six months on transferred balances.

Unfortunately, all these tricks are still not enough to keep things going indefinitely, my one year is up, and the house is not finished. The bank has another 30K or thereabouts to give me ... but the ceiling is still just vapor barrier and fibreglass, the flooring has just started to be installed, and there's no trim installed yet. No mortgage payments for a year is a nice thing, but 30K would pay off a lot of high interest debts!

The other day I had a call from the bank saying that it was time to start paying the mortgage, as my one year was up. "But," I said, "the house isn't done yet and you still have money to give me!" They told me they'd send out an inspector and the last draw could be forwarded to my lawyer who would hold onto it until things are really and truly finished. This had me a bit worried: now I'd have a mortgage payment in addition to all the debt servicing I'm doing to keep the various credit cards and such under control. I started crunching numbers and looking for even more creative financing options.

Today when I came home, there was a pink note stuck in my door ... the bank inspector had been here and approved the final draw with only an 8K holdback! This means that I will have enough cash available to pay off the higher interest loans just as they come due. Whew! That was close.

To add the icing to the cake, a truck came today and picked up the roofing that we were not able to use (see the posts from last January if you missed that part of the adventure). Once it is returned to AllPro, I will get a credit for those materials. More money, more bills paid off, more good news!


For some reason I am reminded of something I saw in an email awhile back: Life shouldn't be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving there safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, a glass of wine in one hand and chocolate in the other, all worn out and hollering "wooohoo what a ride!"

05 July 2006

"I have three sheep now!"

That is what The Boy had as his Messenger tag earlier this week.

On Monday I went for a 2 hour drive and picked up a ewe and her ewe lamb to keep Master Jack company. The ewe is very small - she is only about 80 lbs and maybe 3 or 4 inches taller than Master Jack (who is a miniature breed) so we are thinking that perhaps she'll prove a suitable partner for the breeding project that The Boy wants to undertake this fall. The new sheep are crossbreeds of some kind - nothing in particular, just a grass eating wool bearing 'mutt'. The lamb sure is adorable, though!

They are both still a little skittish, but they are rapidly learning that I am the nice person who shows up with grain and water, and they do seem to get along fine with Master Jack. They have somewhat goofy names - Cookie (the mama) and Bubble (the baby) - and I would not be surprised if The Boy decides on something a little different.

The improvements that have been made to the fence seem to be working - at least everyone was safely inside when I got home tonight. It is true, however, that yesterday Union Guy got here before I did and found that the lamb had escaped from the enclosure. The fence certainly holds the bigger sheep, as only the baby was outside the fence (it is about half the size of Master Jack, so it can sneak through a much smaller space) and the mama certainly tries hard to stay close to her baby! Fortunately the lamb did stay close, just grazing on the opposite side of the wire. Getting her back inside was a problem though - the lamb didn't know Union Guy at all, and refused to come to him for grain or anything else. He ended up chasing her around the yard while the mama hollered and fussed from inside the pen, wondering about this big crazy person who was chasing her baby around. In the end, Union Guy lassooed the lamb with a rope! What a cowboy I've found, eh?

This morning as I was getting ready to leave for work, I heard Duggan growling at something outside. I looked out and saw a deer walking up the trail! It looked right back at us, and proceeded to calmly walk across the far side of the property, just along the edge of the trees. I do love living out here. I have all the benefits of camping - wildlife, fire pits, birds singing, coyotes howling - and I can have a hot shower and sleep in my own bed when I've had enough of the outdoors!

30 June 2006

One year into the journey

One year ago, actually a little more than that now, my house was sold and I was officially on this new adventure. One year ago, my dad and my sister and her inlaws and Union Guy were out here working on raising the shed that The Boy and I lived in for several months - which now houses my chickens and assorted tools and oddments. One year ago, I still believed we'd be all finished by now. :)

Well, we aren't all finished, but we continue to make progress. Tonight I sorted through the pile of lumber in the living room and found the first floor boards for the loft (each piece is labelled, so it is like putting a puzzle together). One long piece is now installed upstairs, by The Boy's bed. It's slow work, but not particulraly difficult. It's the kind of job that you can do a little bit and then stop, but still feel like you accomplished something.

The Boy left for Gram and Grandpa's place a week and a half ago: sounds like they are having a good time. I do find the place very lonely without him here, though! His report card arrived: Honours with Distinction, meaning over 80% in each of the five core subjects. His average was 87%. Way to go, Boy!

On a sadder note, earlier this week we had a livestock crisis: the sheep escaped from their pen and wandered so far that I could not find them. I hunted through my whole acreage, the hayfields on all sides, even up to the pasture land across the road. No sign of the sheep. I called, I shook a bucket of grain, but I heard no reply. I was heartbroken. They had escaped rather regularly at one point in the past, although they'd never gone far - we'd tightened up the fence and added a row of barbed wire along the bottom where they'd gotten out, and this held fast for more than a week. Then, Tuesday night, I came home from work and they were completely gone. I hunted and hunted and eventually went to bed, listening all night for the familiar bleating, but it never came.

Wednesday, Union Guy drove down the road a bit, just to see if he could see the sheep. Sure enough, there they were: Master Jack was alive and well, but Mint Jelly had succumbed to fear/stress/heat/something and was no longer with us. With a great deal of struggle, I managed to convince Master Jack to come home. It was so sad to watch him struggle to return to his fallen companion, and to have to fight against his instinct to stay with the rest of his flock, small and still though it may be. Eventually, he accepted that we had to leave, and came more willingly. Once he caught sight of his pen, he bolted for it and seemed releived to be back in familiar territory. Since then he has been a bit lonesome, but he seems to have adopted me as his substitute flock companion for now: he will come when I call him, graze near me if I am outside, and follow me back into his pen without any fuss when it is time to go in at night. Occasionally he stands on the deck and looks in the screen door at me. I try to talk to him lots when he is outside, and call to him so he does not feel too alone.

I struggle, of course, to overcome the guilt: if only I had realized there was another weak place in the fence, and put barbed wire all around ... if only I had come back Monday night to check on them, perhaps they would not have gotten so far away ... if only I had gone into that field by the road, perhaps I'd have gotten there in time ... but of course, this kind of thinking doesn't help. Some lessons are just learned the painful way, I suppose.

I told The Boy what had happened, and apologized for not taking more care to keep his sheep safe. I cried and said that although I cannot fix what happened, I can fix the fence so it is tighter and more secure, and we can build a proper pen and shelter before fall for his 4H sheep. The Boy was so kind to me: he said, "It's okay, Mom, you did the best you could. It's sad, but we really thought that they were safe there. At least Jack is okay." I have been blessed with a very kind hearted boy, and I love him very much. :)

I have started the search for more sheep: we want to get a ewe for Jack and breed some Babydoll Southdowns for The Boy's project, but that may not happen for awhile yet. I am investigating some of the heritage breeds for a lawnmowing/fleece/market lamb flock. Just a little at a time, though ... at this point, Jack seems to be coping okay, so I have time to think carefully about the best route to take. And to improve the fences some more.

So, all in all, it has been a rather tiring week. To top it all off I am struggling with some rather vague ailment that leaves me with a sore stomach and an aching head, and I had to see the dentist this week to get a filling put in, so my jaw feels like someone punched me.

Still, life is good and we are fortunate. Right now I am going to go enjoy the good fortune of having a warm comfortable bed to lie in.

19 June 2006

Sheep that want to go to school, and a broody hen

We had a Sheep Escape yesterday! Actually we've had a couple of these incidents due to loose spots under the fencing. We knew they were there, and the plan is to put barbed wire along the bottom of the page wire as this keeps coyotes from digging in and sheep from pushing the wire up and escaping to the longer grass. Anyway, the previous escapes had ended with the sheep just a few feet away, munching on the longer grass: a handful of oats rapidly convinced them to return to the pen. Yesterday, though, they were out of the pen and nowhere in sight. We called, we went down by the creek, we walked over into the hayfield next door ... no sheep. Union Guy even drove up the road to see if by some chance they'd wandered farther away, but no luck. I walked up the road, grain in hand, calling to them and listening. Just at the corner I heard a clomping noise behind me - I turned around, and there they were, peeking out from The Boy's bus shelter. They must have gone in there for shade, as it was a hot afternoon! One look at the grain in my hands and they came trotting right over for a taste. They followed me back to the pen and went right in - I was having visions of Little Bo Peep, with two lambs trotting behind me down the road.

We put up the barbed wire, and they've stayed put today. :)

Today's adventure is the discovery of a broody hen in our coop: The Boy went to get the eggs, and one of the hens was still sitting, which is odd at 4 in the afternoon. I went out later to check on them, and sure enough, she was still there. The feeder was empty, so I filled it and she hopped down for a snack. While she was off the nest, I took the other eggs that had been laid today and tucked them in where she'd been sitting in an effort to increase the odds of getting chicks should she truly decide to brood. When I went back to check a little bit ago, everyone else was up on the roosts for the night, and she was sitting in the nestbox, spread out over the eggs. So, maybe we'll have chicks!

I think I'd better research broody hens now!

The rest of the week has been a blur: work has been rather overwhelming, and this weekend was Mom's moving day - my parents have sold their condo and a house is being constructed in a tiny town 30 minutes from here where they can live mortgage free and near enough to come for dinner! Dad is still in BC, holding down the fort at their volunteer job, so Mom was coordinating the move here. Union Guy and a friend of mine from work carried the heavy stuff (a non-trivial job, as one of the heavy things was a huge side by side fridge that had to go down a stairwell that had a medichair in the way...), and Mom managed all the boxes and lighter things (amazing, really!). We got the truck loaded Saturday night, then unloaded at the storage unit Sunday. It's a relief to have that done! Tomorrow morning Mom has to get her toilet fixed (don't you hate it when your toilet breaks the day before you are moving out?), then she'll pick up The Boy from school and we are all meeting for dinner in town (Mom, The Boy, my sister and her husband and me ... Union Guy is busy with his kids that night). Wednesday morning, The Boy leaves for BC with his Gram for the summer!

My goodness, time flies.

10 June 2006

Surprise Sheep for The Boy

First, the background.

Next year in 4H, The Boy wants to participate in the Sheep Project. He'll raise a lamb for market (or maybe a ewe, there are a few sheep options) - he has to take care of it all year, feeding it and doing all the proper sheep-care type things. We have a great sheep leader and the kids who were in the project this year really seem to have enjoyed it, and The Boy just loves sheep (as, of course, do I). So, we need to be ready for sheep come fall.

In addition, we have six acres of grass that needs someone to eat it. So, hopefully we'll have a few sheep around here to act as lawnmowers eventually. At the moment, of course, we're kind of busy building a house, and all that kind of thing. Still, before fall we need some sort of sheep shelter and a safe enclosure.

One night about a week ago, just after Union Guy located fencing for me, I was surfing the livestock listings (I do this regularly... just cause...) and what do I see but a babydoll southdown ram lamb for sale, in Rimbey (by Red Deer). He's $100. Normally these little sheep go for about $500 for an intact ram.

So what's the big deal about a babydoll southdown? They only grow to be 24" high at the shoulder full grown, so they are 'lamb sized' forever. Lots of people keep them for pets or lawnmowers, orchards like them cause they're too short to damage the vines, and well, they're cute.

(I think that Gram is going to try and arrange a visit to this sheep farm on Texada Island this summer ... )

Anyway, The Boy saw pictures of these sheep on the web and absolutely fell in love with them. He really, really wants one of these sheep, but at the price ... well, his first 4H lamb is not gonna be a $500 sheep! He was quite disappointed by this, but accepted the financial reality and decided he'd save up for one for later.

You can imagine what happened, of course. I immediately emailed the lady about this sheep ... his name is Master Jack, of all things, of COURSE he belongs on Apple Jack Creek! I was the first to email, and she put him on hold for me. I arranged to pick him up Saturday. I hadn't told The Boy of this sheep's existence. :)

The problem is, at the time of the purchase, we had no fenced in area yet, and sheep by themselves are miserably lonesome. So, I needed a paddock, a shelter, and a buddy.

Union Guy and I worked last Sunday and fenced in an area by the chicken pen and the shed with page wire, so we have a paddock. We told The Boy it is a fence for the garden, or maybe, if we haven't got something else in place by then, his 4H sheep can live there (we finally had to say that, as we nearly blurted out something about 'sheep' several times and didn't want to risk discovery!)...

A shelter we can rig up quickly, we have enough lumber.

However, a buddy was a problem.

Monday night was the 4H livestock auction - the kids sell their market animals at this auction, so our sheep leader was there. I explained my problem and she said she'd check her flock and see if she had someone who could come live with us, she was sure she'd have a lamb or an older ewe ready to go .... whew. I'd find out on Wednesday.

Wednesday night, at our 4H meeting, one of the girls in the sheep club told us about her market lamb - her grandpa bought it at the auction and then gave it back to her, but she doesn't want to butcher it! So ... she sold it to me, quietly, out in the hall while her mom kept an eye on The Boy to make sure he wasn't coming ... still, The Boy knew NONE of this was going on. I've seen this lamb (she named it Mint Jelly but I suspect we will call it something else!) and it's so cute: it has a black face and black legs and very soft fleece.

The Boy was quite stunned when I said, "This one's a minisheep, the kind you like.

It's yours.

I bought it for you."

He just stood there, silent ... then said "really?"



When we got the sheep loaded into the truck, I asked him, "What is the one thing that every sheep needs?" He knew the answer: "A buddy." So, I told him about the other sheep, and what the plan was.

So, we drove home and got Master Jack unloaded and into his paddock, and The Boy stayed home and cleaned out the shed while I took a load of trash to the dump and picked up Sheep #2 (it doesn't have a better name yet, and I refuse to call it Mint Jelly!).
The sheep are now both in the paddock, and a quick shelter was put up against the round bale (two long boards with a piece of plywood nailed to it makes a marvellous lean-to). They've got a bucket of water and enough grass and dandelions to keep them occupied for a long time.

The Boy says that I'm a great mom, which is cool. It was fun organizing the surprise for him, and watching him enjoy the animals is all the reward I need. :)