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. :)

07 June 2006

Another week, another update!

My goodness, it's been a long time since I posted.

Let's see ....

Well, the Cousin Neighbours departed for the Yukon last week. Union Guy and I took Monday off work and helped with the final packing and cleaning of the house: there wasn't really any other 'gift' we could give them, so we gave our time. :) The Boy had a special gift picked out for the kids - each of them got a squishy pillow. These pillows are made of some kind of stretchy fabric, sort of like what bathing suits are made of, but silky, and filled with some sort of polystyrene beads, so they mold themselves into a very comfortable shape, and can be squashed into pretty much any small or unusual spot in a suitcase or box. Perfect thing to have in a trailer as they don't take up a lot of space! It was wonderful to have the day with them and the other friends who came to help, and to feel like we were finally able to give something back to the wonderful neighbours (and family) who have done so much for us in the past year.

After a hard day's work loading the Hillbilly Trailer (which is being stored in a friend's barn until next summer, and really did look like something the Beverly Hillbillies would have towed!) and scrubbing cupboards and walls, we had a barbecue dinner at our house. The kids got a chance to run around and play one last time, and the grownups finally had a chance to sit and relax after a busy day. When it came time for farewells, both The Boy and I managed not to cry ... but it wasn't easy!

We have had an email update and hear that everyone arrived safely in the Yukon with "no major problems other than one blown tire and smoking brakes on the first big hill". These are the only people I know who would describe "one blown tire and smoking brakes" as "no major problems"! They are such a cool family. :)

The next few days were a bit long as we processed our loss ... we did stop by at the house and take some eggs to the new neighbours, the lady seems very nice. Of course she was up to her ears in kids and work (the guys had gone for another truck load from town) so we did not stay long. We'll make an effort to get acquainted after they've had a bit of time to catch their breath.

Around our house, the flooring was finally shipped - the guys at Whiskey Flats Lumber very graciously stored my flooring for several months past the time I'd originally expected to take delivery, and it is now stacked in a pile in the living room. It's going to be beautiful - I can't believe how wide some of the planks are! For those of you just tuning in, I splurged on antique-style variable plank width hardwood flooring. Some of the planks are 21" wide, others are 6", and there are a few different sizes in between. Installing it is going to be a bit of an adventure, but it is cut to fit my floor plan, so I have a map that tells me which planks to put down where, and each board is labelled so that I can match it up with the map.

This adventure is going to wait for a little while.

On the outdoor front, Union Guy found some fencing that was being sold at an amazingly good price, so he did the long drive out to where it was situated and brought two loads of tposts and page wire back to Apple Jack Creek. We started on the remaining permiter fence, and created a large square fenced off area which will someday be the exterior of the chicken moat and garden, or so I suspect. That was a hard day's work in the very hot sun, but it's the kind of work that feels really good because when you are finished, you stand back and say, "Well, look at that. That's what we did today!"

We moved the bunny into the chicken pen, where she has more room to run around and dirt to dig in. The chickens occasionally wander into her 'front porch', but this doesn't seem to bother her at all. They can't fit through the door into her sleeping chamber at the back, so she does have a private retreat if she needs it. The Boy and I had a bit of a panic yesterday evening when we went out to see the hole she'd been digging and then filling back in ... there was no bunny in the pen! A gap had opened at the base of the board that serves as a temporary gate, and she had just wandered out. The Boy saw her, I nabbed her, and we all breathed a sigh of relief (including, I think, the bunny). She was to be the guest of honour at the 4H meeting tonight, and it would have been horrible timing to have The Boy's rabbit project animal disappear the night before the final Achievement Day presentation ... never mind how heartbreaking it would have been to lose her! I immediately braced that temporary door much more firmly. The next day I found a pile of chain link fencing leftovers beside the dumpster at work, so I brought those home in the trunk ... I think that'll make a nice proper gate.

The other big priority in the past week was finishing up the 4H year: the kids do a record book of all the things we did during the year, and those had to be finished up and submitted for marking. The winner gets to send their book on to a regional competition, and eventually there is a "best record book in the region". There were just two kids in the Rabbits as Pets project this year, and The Boy came in second by one point. He was a little disapointed, but he took it very graciously and said that the girl who won did a great job on her book. He also says he learned a lot this year, and already has ideas for what he wants to do better next time!

Tonight was the final presentation for 4H: the kids brought their rabbits to the meeting and everyone got a chance to pet them. Each project member had also done up a PowerPoint presentation that described the things we had done and learned over the course of the year. I borrowed the projector from work, so they were able to deliver their speeches with the slides on a big screen in the meeting room just like grownups do, but way more interesting!

Today The Boy came home from school with a high fever and a nasty headache, but with the help of Advil and apple juice he did manage to patch himself together enough to give his rabbit presentation as well as a special presentation on Mason Bees (a hobby he picked up from a zoologist/itenerant pastor he met on Vancouver Island, of all things). He did a wonderful job, especially considering how horrid he was feeling, and then collapsed into his seat, shivering from fever, took another Advil on the way home, and went directly to bed. I have a fairly strong feeling I'll not be going to the office tomorrow! Thank goodness for remote access and satellite internet.

Further updates can be expected on the weekend!