Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Late Winter Around the Farm

We finally had some sun the other day. It's been one of the dreariest Januaries I can remember, with only two days of real sun. That combined with the fact that my camera battery has been dead since the wedding means that I have been pretty restricted in what I could and couldn't photograph. My phone's digital camera only goes so far, and since I know I have a nice digital SLR in the house, sitting dormant, it makes things all the worse when photos turn out warped by the cheap lens or pixelated due to the low light. A week or so ago, however, I found the battery charger and since then January seems a bit less bleak.

The sun was a welcome sight, that's for sure! Everybody seemed more active, especially myself! Despite being sick I was able to use the sun and the warmth to get the sheep stall mucked out, and roughly half of the waste toted down to the muck pile. Of course now I'm still sick, with no help from the fact that I keep going out to do things like haul firewood and manure around the farm.

We don't have a tractor or anything here, so things like this must be done by hand. The snow does tend to help, however, especially since I have constructed a sort of lightweight human-powered stone boat to use. Basically it's a couple of lightweight boards attached to a tarp that has been cinched up with rope and hooked to two hooks on the front and a rope to use around one's waist or shoulders. It's my own design and, while it's a pretty lame looking contraption, it works beautifully! I can haul an entire load of firewood out of the woods, or in this case I can haul at least two, maybe three muck buckets of sheep poo/straw to the muck pile in one go. The cinched tarp means that nothing falls off or out, as it would on a sled or sledge. The tarp makes it so lightweight that I can haul it myself with very little trouble, especially if I put the rope around my shoulders. Even the tough hills are a piece of cake since all i have to do is lean against the weight behind me and let my body's weight pull it forward. One of these days I'll get a draft horse and we'll do this kind of work together, but for now my horses are all hotbloods and I learned a few weeks ago that there is a reason Arabians pull carts, not firewood :)

To give the sheep a bit of a change, I put their hay into a couple of different piles out in their grass pasture. The only thing I have to make sure of is that they don't start eating my little tree that I have yet to protect out there. Yesterday the hay was enough and it was fun to watch them tromp through the snow to each pile, looking for the best and most tender bits to eat first.

The sun and the warmth seemed to make everybody more active, especially the boys . The ram spent his whole morning poking the ewes in the butt trying politely (for a ram) to communicate that he was pretty sure they needed to be bred again. Unfortunately for him, the ewes both appear to be bred and so there is very little for him to do these days. The photo at right is of Gertrude, looking back over her shoulder at the ram as if to say "You're kidding, right?" She's such a bold little lady (especially since she's so much smaller than Ingrid - see above) and when he didn't desist she leaped in the air, spun around and shoved him off of her. He took the hint and went over to longingly sniff the pile of muck that I still have to lug out to the big pile. I figure he was probably finding the stale urine of the ewes in heat and day dreaming.

In addition to the ram, the drakes were also much more active in the sun. Apparently the longer days have taken their toll on the duck hormones and the drakes want spring to come now. They pecked and pinched and jumped on and cornered the poor ducks until I managed to get them fresh water to distract them. Of course, Fleur got to bathe first, but Bill was being a total creeper and after a few minutes of his looming she'd had enough and turned around and pecked him right in the face. I love to watch poultry interact, especially in such an intimate group as our five.

After the ladies both bathed, it was time for the drakes. Bill went first, and then Remus and then Neville. Poor Neville is always last for everything. We should have named him Harry instead! It will be interesting to see if he stays out of the way this summer or if he'll be the tip to the careful balance of our two ducks, three drakes. I hope he doesn't cause a ruckus. We can't have any more ducks for now, and the general rule is less drakes than ducks, but I happen to like our drakes.

Here's an early morning view of the house (right) and barn (left) from the orchard.

After feeding and watching the animals for a while, I ventured out into the orchard to have a look at the late winter flora. I love to see the buds on the apple trees. They're still tightly closed at this point, but their presence is a reminder that while occasionally it feels as if winter will never end, the apple trees have plans for spring and they know better than I do.

My walk finally brought me back up to the house where the pussy willow grows and on a whim I thought I'd see if there were any buds beginning to swell. Sure enough, there was one teeny weeny little pussy-toe open and I was able to snap a shot of it. Unfortunately I think the apple trees know better than the pussy willows. We're supposed to get slammed by a blizzard tonight that will supposedly dump 15-21" on us (doesn't it seem like the weather service predicts snow in increments of 3"?). It's little peeks of life, like the pussy willow or witchhazel, that keep winter bearable for me. These quiet little rebellions against the cold and stillness are harbingers of the growth to come, and for me, on a sunny day in January, that is enough.

Hear! hear!" screamed the jay from a neighboring tree, where I had heard a tittering for some time, "winter has a concentrated and nutty kernel, if you know where to look for it."
~Henry David Thoreau


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