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.


  1. Anonymous10:12 am

    I have never been in weather that cold......sounds brrrrr !!!

  2. Ohhhh you bet it is. :D

    Actually, after about -20 it gets very dry, and as long as you are properly dressed and the wind stays down, it's not too bad. It's the wind that really hurts - when that picks up, you feel like your breath is freezing in your lungs.

    Properly dressed, however, does mean insulated overalls, wool socks in heavy boots, a fleece jacket, a down coat, a hat, a scarf or something over your mouth, a toque and a hood, and the best mitts you can find. You don't move very fast and you look like the Michelin Man, but you can actually get outside jobs done. :)


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