31 March 2009

And onward...

I am feeling very tired the last few days, although I am not sure why, particularly. Perhaps I'm just anxious for the winter to end and spring to really show up! The snow is starting to melt and the patches of brown dry grass are bigger each day, so it won't be long now.

We picked up two bottle lambs, as our lambing season hasn't been as successful as we had hoped, and we'll likely need the additional meat. One is doing well and out with everyone else, the other has acquired pneumonia and is in the bathroom receiving penicillin injections and regular bottles of milk. She's doing okay, not great, but okay, so with luck she'll pull through the sickness. She does seem reasonably perky, and she doesn't seem to mind being inside at all, which is good!

We're still waiting on Sasha and the calf ... I have absolutely no clue how long this may take, the signs are there, but it's so hard to tell. It's like with the sheep: some of them look ready to have their lambs for two weeks and then finally give birth, others look like they are barely pregnant and one morning you look outside and find them with twins at their sides!

The seedlings are coming along ... I'll post more about that soon.

Oh the biggest news: I peeled the bubble wrap off several of the windows! Now THAT is a sign of spring!

What is happening at your house in anticipation of spring?

21 March 2009

Okay, THIS time it was obvious we needed to intervene!

I went outside around five tonight to do chores and check on things, and I noticed Pugsy was all by herself in the sheep shelter, pawing at the ground. Ah, good, I thought, finally she's going to have that lamb!

I headed over and there he was! A big ram lamb already on the ground, and Pugsy hadn't even passed the afterbirth yet. I managed to get her into the sheep feed pen (everyone else was distracted by the hay I set out for them in the pasture) and watched to see how she and the lamb were doing. The lamb was still wet, so I helped get him dried off and poor Pugsy was obviously in a lot of pain with the continuing contractions. She was also famished! She ate and grunted and ate more hay and pawed at the ground and fussed some more. The lamb wouldn't nurse for some reason ... but I thought maybe he was still a bit dazed from birth and she was obviously not comfortable so a few more minutes wouldn't hurt.

The Reluctant Farmer and The Boy came home right about then and helped me get the sheep into the barn, where the lamb STILL would not nurse. Pugsy let me milk her, though, and I put the colostrum into a bottle and tried to get the lamb to take that: no go. He just didn't want to suck, although he'd suck on my finger if I stuck it in his mouth, at least for a minute. Well, we have a solution for that problem: we stuck a tube down his throat (and checked to make sure he'd swallowed it and not inhaled it) and poured the colostrum directly into him. That strategy ignores his opinion of the process entirely!

We got him all the way dry and checked his temperature - which was fine - and then let him go back to mama. A few hours later, he still wasn't able to nurse even with encouragement and help, so in he came again - much to his mama's dismay, she is hollering for him from the barn. He did take some milk from the bottle, and newborns only need about 300 mL a day, so we don't want to overwhelm his system either. He's in the bathroom where it's warm, and he seems okay - not really perky but not really sick either. We had another one like this a couple of years ago, wouldn't take the bottle (and we didn't know how to tube feed yet, so boy was that a struggle) and after three days of babying she went back to her mama who took her right back and all was well! That doesn't happen often, but hey, it's nice to know it's possible.

We haven't settled on a name yet ... working through our E list. I'll get a picture up soon!

Update: He's taking the bottle nicely now that he's warmed up ... we have him sleeping in the bathtub (without water!) so that we don't have to worry about him being underfoot if we need to use the loo. He seems content to just sleep ... we'll give him some more milk in a bit and take him back to his mama in the morning.

18 March 2009

Preaparing for Change

As spring slowly starts to seem possible once again, we prepare for the change of seasons.

The heavy sweaters and wool socks won't go into storage for a long time yet, but the short sleeved t-shirts get a run through the wash as they become viable wardrobe options once more, and last year's sandals are checked to see if they will hold up through another season. The calendar is pulled down from the wall and the dates for planting are checked and double checked against a countdown to the last frost date. Seedlings are put into peat moss to get a jump on the growing season, and when their roots poke through the newspaper pots, they are transplanted into tomato tins so they have more room to grow. Drawing after drawing of the garden layout is made and discarded, then retrieved for further examination and thought. Pasture layout and gate placement diagrams go through the same process, with frequent trips outside to the snow covered yard to imagine what it would look like with a fence through here, or a gate over there.

A lot of the preparations for the change of seasons are thought experiments: What would the garden be like if I put the herbs in containers instead of a raised bed? Where could we put in an orchard? If we had two cow/calf pairs that needed to get from the back pasture to a shelter at night, and we need an easy path to the barn for the cow who is in milk, where would the fences and gates have to go? How could we design a chicken coop that let the birds into the garden in the winter and kept them out in the summer?

These things are a lot easier to experiment with in thought than in reality: you don't want to build a fence and hang a gate and then discover that you put the gate where the snow drifts two feet deep in the winter so you can't open it. You don't want to plant fruit trees near the house and then realize that you've just invited the local bees and hornets to hang out by your back door.

You also want to build in some flexibility, because even (or perhaps especially) carefully laid plans are still subject to change. We only have one cow/calf pair at the moment, but what if we decided that we needed two? The chickens currently free range all the time, but what if we wanted to confine some of them for part of the year, or if we needed to isolate some of the birds for breeding or egg laying? Thought experiments let you wander down possible paths of the future, without committing to anything in particular. Yet.

Of course, the trick to a successful thought experiment is to really think. You have to consider not only what you want to accomplish, how you might go about it, and the various alternate pathways that you might seek out in the future, you also have to imagine the things that might go wrong, the full and varied consequences of the changes you are planning to make, and the ways that the situation might evolve over time.

This kind of thing can be really enjoyable, if you let it be. After all, there's no pressure to get it right the first time: if you come up with a better design in a week, you can draw that plan out too and then let both ideas sit for awhile until you truly have to choose one or the other. Maybe in the meantime you'll stumble across a website with ideas you hadn't thought of yet, or a book with a a plan that will work in your situation with just a little tweak. In the end you may have several drafts that are variations on a theme: sometimes, it's the theme that's common to all of the ideas you've had that is the real clue as to how to proceed.

Thought experiments let you safely explore scary ideas with minimal risk. You can ponder things you're really not ready to try yet (or things that you hope you will never have to try) safe in the privacy of your own mind. Drawing pictures won't cost you anything, and researching is cheap or free. Maybe you'll never need or want to implement what you've thought about, in which case you haven't really lost anything. Then again, maybe the situation you were hoping to avoid will appear with little or no warning. If it does, you'll be able to reach into your memory and retrieve the thoughts you had about something a lot like this, and voila, you have a ready-made plan at your disposal right when you need it.

I often say I don't believe in planning, I believe in being prepared. Real life seems to fiercly resist all efforts at planning ... well, my life does, anyway. If I sat down and carefully plotted out exactly where I'd put each thing in the garden, I can guarantee that for a number of good reasons, a lot of things wouldn't get planted according to the diagram. There'd be more tomato plants than I expected, or fewer cucumbers, or the zucchini would be taking over the place before I even got going ... it would never be like it was on paper. So why do I bother with the paper? Why do the thought experiments at all? Why not just wing it?

I prepare because if I have five or six (or seven or eight) different options, all of which I've drawn out and considered and contemplated and weighed, then when I'm out there in the dirt with my seedlings and trowel, I have a collection of ideas that can be mixed and matched when I finally have all the information I need to make the final choices. I also know that the ideas that stuck around are the ones that elimiated the big mistakes I made when I first did my drawings: I'll remember that there was a reason all the later plans left the space beside the gate clear ... it's so that the finished compost can be easily dumped into the garden without crushing any plants. All the time spent at the kitchen table in the depths of winter pays off when I can stand in the spring garden and quickly choose from the ideas I came up with back when I had time to think at leisure.

So, like every other year, we have a set of thought experiments bubbling along to work through the questions that arrive with the onset of spring. This year, though, there's another set of thought experiments on the go at the same time: there are big changes that look ever more likely to arise in the larger world, changes that could rather substantially shift the base assumptions about the way we go through our days. Just because we can't be sure what is going to happen, or just because we hope that nothing really big will shift ... well, that doesn't mean we can't at least think about ways we might deal with these kinds of things if they did, by some chance, happen in our corner of the world.

So, since thought experiments are safe and free, we can allow ourselves to edge our way little by little towards the ideas of change, exploring the possibilities and thinking about how we might cope if something really did shift in a big way. And then, if change does happen to come our way, we can choose from the good ideas we came up with when we had time to think at leisure.

Can't save 'em all

The new lamb only made it for a week. :(

In hindsight, we should have realized that he wasn't getting strong enough fast enough - they are sometimes a bit wobbly for the first few days, and we did check on him and his mama regularly ... but the time got away from us and we didn't really process the fact that it had been nearly a week and he was still shaky on his legs, and occasionally cold in the mouth.

If we had it to do all over again, we'd have brought him in for bottle feeding - I think his mama just wasn't quite enthusiastic enough about taking care of him, so although she'd let him nurse (and whenever we went to check we made sure he got something to eat), I think it was too much of a hassle for him to make the effort as often as he needed to. Of course it's always possible something else contributed, especially the cold (it was a very cold week) but ... well, you can't save 'em all.

The Boy was very sad, as was I. He and I talked about what we had done in this case, what we'll do differently next time, and what we have learned, and having learned from it, all we can do is move on and do things differently with the information we now have. We are still really new to this, and it's part of the process of learning - and experienced shepherds don't save 'em all, either. It's part of the process.

So, the Blizzard baby has passed on, and we're now anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next lamb. Pugsy is in the barn, as she was starting to show early signs of lambing - but that was a few days ago and now she's just standing there, irritated at being separated from everyone else and looking like she ought to deliver any minute ... and nothing's happening. Cherub is so heavily laden she walks on stiff peg legs when she gets up from chewing her cud ... but she still manages to jump the fence and get into the bale storage for her favourite snack.

Lambing is always an interesting adventure, that's for sure. :)

04 March 2009

One more lamb!

The Boy's market lamb from 4-H last year was purchased by a local business man who turneed around and gave her back as a gift. :) Dilly Bar is a beautiful purebred Hampshire lamb (she was very chilled when she was born - we had to warm her up a bit, hence the name). Well, today Dilly gave us her first lamb!

The Boy went out to do chores at 4:15 and Dilly's lamb was on the ground, just born. Bob the Dog was keeping watch and drying off the lamb, so The Boy got a towel and helped finish the drying as Dilly wasn't particularly interested in the task herself - the Hamp babies aren't born with as much wool as the Icelandics and it's important to get them dried off quickly so they don't chill. As The Boy could see the weather starting to turn, he took the lamb into the barn and got a forkful of hay which prompted Dilly to follow him in. The lamb was up and nursing well when we got home and went out to visit, so he's off to a good start!

So, The Boy now has a lovely large single ram lamb that he wants to call Blizzard in keeping with the weather and the Dairy Queen theme! A nasty snowstorm started just after this little one arrived, but the new arrival and his mama are tucked into the barn and are nice and warm.

Now, Blizzard doesn't quite fit our naming convention of an 'e' year, so his full name will have to be something like ... hmm ... Evening Blizzard, just to be correct. And, the storm DID start in the evening. :)

In all the blowing snow, The Boy has gone out to check everyone ... nobody else appears to be in labour at the moment, thankfully. Dilly does seem to be a bit skittish about the baby as first time sheep mamas often are, but with some time in the barn stall they should get used to one another. The Boy is taking her some beet pulp pellets which will hopefully distract her and calm her enough that she won't fuss about the baby quite so much. We'll keep a close eye on them for a day or two and see how things go - if she decides not to let the baby nurse, it can become a serious problem in a big hurry if we aren't paying attention.

The Boy is an excellent shepherd, though, and he knows his animals. He'll take good care of these two. :)

01 March 2009

A head start on spring

Today is the first of March, and my little notebook says I can start seedlings in March, based on our 'typical last frost' date of May 7. So ... I started!

I have a little wooden gadget that makes pots from newspaper: it is a wonderful device, you buy it once and thereafter you have pots for your seedlings from waste paper! The seedlings grow well in the newspaper and can be planted without having to dump them out of a plastic container, so the roots are not disturbed. And, unlike peat pots with their thick side walls, the roots can very easily break through the disintegrating paper once transplanted.

So, I found some flyers in the burn bin and tore them into strips and started rolling up some pots. Those got filled with a mix of peat moss and vermiculite (some day I want to try using our own topsoil or compost, but we're just not there yet), seeds were tucked in, and then each pot was labelled with a sharpie (another advantage of the newspaper pots - they are really easy to label!).

It can be tricky keeping everything properly watered, but at some point in the past I purchased a felt watering mat, and I have that laid out underneath the little pots to keep them moist.

I have a Seed Keeper from Lee Valley and I've sorted out my seed packets (and the bean and pea seeds I saved from last year) into the little plastic pockets. However, when I went to the shed to retrieve my plant stand, I found a stash of very old seeds of various types! They've not exactly been stored in the preferred environment for seeds, but hey, they might germinate and there's no way of knowing unless they're stuck in some dirt. So ... several of the surprise finds were potted and we'll see what, if anything, sprouts. More of the surprise finds are plants that do best when direct-seeded come spring, so it'll be interesting to see what happens!

There are a few tomato plants started, some cucumbers (we had terrible luck with cucumbers last year), dill, catnip (which is apparently a good tea-like beverage for humans, without the dopey effect it has on kitties), corn (one of the surprise finds), lovage, green onions, and an egg carton full of strawberry seeds that have been around for several years while I got up the nerve to attempt to start them. The instructions said to put the flats in a plastic bag and leave them to sprout ... I couldn't find a clear plastic bag, so I planted them in a clear egg carton instead. I figure it probably has the same effect of keeping in the moisture.

Now I just have to settle on a final plan for where to put all this stuff once spring arrives. I have reworked the garden plan several times and I have the feeling it's up for at least three more revisions before I settle on something. Well, it's easier to change a drawing on paper than it is to move the beds around once they have been dug, so I guess that's a good thing!