Random Thoughts While Haying

June and early July have been an interesting challenge for cutting, raking and baling hay. While May had been dangerously dry, June made up for it with a vengeance. During June we recorded 14 separate storms with measurable rain ranging from .1″ to 3″ in rainfall. July has not had quite so frequent rains, but the threat has been here nearly daily. I figure that I am doing well to cut hay one day, and let it dry for two days and get it baled on that third day. Haying in late JuneThere have been few stretches where it has not rained in a three day period, so our haying has been spotty. At least what we have baled did not get rained upon. Haying in late June One of the joys and  frustrations of making hay is that I must spend a lot of time on a tractor driving relatively slowly, in large concentric rectangles. One needs to pay close attention to where you are going while making sure that the haybine (hay cutter) or baler are properly operating. There is also time for thought and occasionally watching the world go by (again and again!). Usually my greatest entertainment comes from the animal life (especially birds) in the neighborhood. Every year I can count on our large resident population of barn , cliff and tree swallows to provide me with an aerial escort. The equipment never fails to stir up bug life in the hay which the swallows eagerly snatch as they fly around me. This has been an especially fine year for the swallows.

I have also noticed interesting changes from most previous years of haying. Normally when I am cutting or raking I will attract a number of Ring-billed or Herring Gulls along with Common Crows, all of whom follow behind the haybine and gobble up the occasional mouse or vole that is exposed in the cut hay. This year, however, both the gulls and crows have been noticeable by their absence. This year like most I almost always have at least one Red-tailed Hawk who sits atop one of the big Cottonwood Trees on the west  edge of the field. If conditions are right he or she will soar along high above the field and successfully grab either a mouse or ground squirrel.

Over the last couple of years I have been treated to more frequent sightings of Bald Eagles and White Pelicans. In both cases they will just be slowly passing through using the thermal currents to cut great circles above me. This year I have counted flocks of 30+ pelicans overhead. When we first moved to the farm in the 1980’s, both the Eagles and Pelicans were never to be seen.

On the negative side has been the extreme lack of butterflies of nearly everyone of the usually common local species. I am also struck by the additional lack of any insect pollinators in our vegetable and flower gardens. Not only are they missed just for their beauty but also for their services. Most noticeable of all, in terms of butterflies, are the Monarchs. Normally they begin to arrive on the farm in the last week of May. I did not see one this year until mid June, and since then I have seen very, very few. A testimony for their absence are the number of Milkweed plants we have that are totally lacking Monarch caterpillars. Sadly it is a wonderful year for Milkweed growth. Each morning as I set up a new grazing cell for the sheep I try to check any Milkweed plants that will end up being grazed. If I find Monarch caterpillars on them I will collect them and transfer them to the vigorous stands of Milkweed that we have established outside out grazing areas. So far this summer I have found exactly two Monarch caterpillars in the pastures. There is no question in my mind that the Monarchs are in very serious trouble!

On a more pleasant final note, I even have had some lovely views driving the tractors to and from the hay field. This year was beyond a doubt the best show of Dame’s Rocket blooming in the pine plantation across from us and on the slope behind our main barn. While it is an alien plant to the area, it at least beautifies the otherwise rather sterile under story of the pine plantation (which is, of course also an alien planting). Dame' s Rocket

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Back onto Pasture

At last we seem to have lost the clutches of a schizophrenic month of May. Not that long ago we were vacillating between winter, spring and summer (not necessarily in that order!). At least the blooms of the Marsh Marigolds solidified spring’s psychological hold on us. Mother Nature could not finish off winter without offering two nights of frost in mid-month. This was just after our tomatoes were transplanted into the garden; they survived with protection and are now thriving.

Mid May was time for preparing the pastures for grazing. Thankfully winter damage to the fencing and waterlines was minimal. My time working on the fence included rebuilding the waterline and electric fence connections which are buried under the gateway between pastures #1 and #2. Nearly 25 years of annual frost heaves finally were exposing the pipe and wires. They needed to be re-buried. Gate repair Considering that this segment of fencing was one of my first attempts at high tensile fence construction in 1990, I am quite proud that it has lasted this long. Gate repairedI had good company while repairing the fence. A pair of Bluebirds are nesting in the box next to the gate. They were not too happy about my presence. A small flock of Canada Geese took up daily residence during the first three weeks of May. One never knew which pasture they would settle into for a day. While repairing the gateway the group was next door in pasture#3. Geese in #3Closer by, a curious White-Crowned Sparrow kept me company. White CrownOf more exciting interest has been the regular presence of Sandhill Cranes in the pasture nearly every day. They are still here into early June.

The sheep finally got out onto pasture on May 18th. It was a happy day for everyone. On pasture May 18thTwo days later we opened the Gallery for the season. Gretchen gave indigo dyeing presentations throughout the weekend and in the process got lots of lovely yarn dyed. Gretchen dyeing with indigo

indigo dyed yarnBy the 1st of June the flock had already grazed through the first two pastures on their rotation. Now we are in pasture #3. They have also been receiving regular guest visits on pasture. During the winter months I believe that many of them truly miss the regular contact with our guests.Sheep Visits

Sheep Visit

Busy times are ahead. It is soon time to begin baling hay!

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White and Yellow

We cannot seem to get over the hump and into steady spring weather. The days continue to vacillate between below normal temperatures and dreary skies and warmth and sunshine. There is even a freeze warning for this evening. Our tomato plants are screaming to be transplanted out into the vegetable garden. Sorry little buddies, it is going to have to wait!

The warm days have been a special delight, when they have occurred. The first full weekend in May, Gretchen managed to get her dye pots warmed up and working. Two days produced some brilliant yellows using Weld and some flashy reds and pinks utilizing Cochineal. Here she is bringing out one of the first skeins of yellow. Dyeing, May 2016One of the bonuses for her labors was being able to work next to our Magnolia bush, which was in full bloom. It is difficult to see in the photo, but underneath the Magnolia were early tulips also in full bloom, a nice contrast in red.

During the coming week the temperatures fell and we received some scattered, but needed, rain. Dyeing needed to be put aside, partly due to the weather and partly due to the pending opening of the Gallery. Officially we open in less than a week on May 20th. It does look like Gretchen will have everything set up by then (with the possible exception of the flower garden outside the door, which may need to be delayed due to cold weather).

Toward the middle of this week it once again warmed up. The sheep are still not on pasture (much to their displeasure!). In part, this is due to the fact that the pastures are still not growing vigorously enough, but also due to the fences and waterlines not having been inspected and repaired where necessary. My task in the warmer conditions was to patrol the entire fence line, looking for winter or deer related problems. We had one large poplar that managed to fall right on top of a fiberglass post in pasture #2. The tree is now cut up and out of the pasture and a new, larger wood post has replaced the shattered fiberglass one. Over the winter the deer have managed to crash into the fence in a number of places, especially in #3. Wires have now been straightened and insulators repaired or replaced. The water line is in pretty good shape, with only slight damage from the winter temperatures. As soon as it warms up again, those repairs can be made.

Beside patrolling the fence lines, I also like to check the perimeter of our large hay field to make sure that there are no branches that have fallen along the edges which would pose a hazard to the haybine when it is cutting time. It is also an opportunity to get a feeling for how the hay crop is developing. Lastly, it is a pleasant springtime walk. I was struck by how noticeable the deer browse line was on the cedar trees along the south edge of the field. Deer Browse

Just to the right of this scene, to the west of the hay field, is our ash/cedar wetland. This time of year it is indeed wet, but it is also quite beautiful. Over the last couple of winters we have removed quite a number of ash which either have been toppled in wind storms or which have simply died. The result is a significant increase in sunlight at ground level. Due to the extra sunshine, the resident population of Marsh Marigolds have benefited tremendously. They are currently in full bloom!Marsh Marigolds

Marsh Marigolds close up

MM3With any luck, later this summer a good stand of Cardinal Flowers will replace this blaze of yellow with equally intense red.

Heading home from the walk, the farm stands out nicely against the green of the pastures. The sugar maples and birches are just starting to show signs of leafing out. It was a good day for a hike! House and barns, early spring

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Welcomes, Farewells, Fleeces and Poop

Time is slipping away, as usual. Spring has made a couple of abortive attempts. It seems that Mother Nature cannot decide if it should be warm and sunny or cold and gloomy! April gave us just about every possible variation in weather and emotions. Hopefully, now that we are into May things will move forward.

On April 14th, before the temperatures warmed up to seasonal normals, our flock of Tree Swallows arrived. It is always a joy to see them flying about the pastures, checking out possible nesting boxes. The following day their cousins, the Barn Swallows arrived. There is no question that they are returnees from at least last year. The first couple swooped into the barn during morning chores. Their flight patterns definitely indicated that they had been here before and knew exactly where their nest from the previous year was to be found. Every day their numbers increased. This morning there were at least 16 pairs present (although it is hard to get an exact number since nearly everyone is on the move). They are now in the original barn, the “new” addition and upstairs in the hay mow. Seemingly they are a very happy bunch; at least all of their twittering would indicate it.

Despite the happy swallow arrivals, life in the barn has not been all joyous this spring. The complications of old age has caught up with a number of ewes. We lost Shirley in late February. In March, Prunella died, followed in April by Queenie and Pumpkin. The oldest were 13 years, which is an advanced age for most sheep. Their passing was not unexpected, but they are all missed, each in their own special way.

By mid April we suddenly experienced warm, sunny weather. Finally the pastures began to dry out. This winter the frost never got too deep in the pastures and the surface never really dried out enough to risk repetitive trips with the manure spreader. Normally the composted manure is spread before the “dead” of winter. This last winter I had not even tried to spread the compost. The warmth of mid-April finally permitted the operation to begin. Between the 14th and the 17th I managed to get everything moved. Manure 4-16.1 By the time this image was taken the job was on its final day. Already the vegetable garden had received its quota as had pasture #3. The rest of the loads went onto the south end of our hay field. I normally like to get the spreading done much sooner so that the compost has a chance to settle before the green growth occurs. Manure 4-16.2 The day after the last load was spread I hooked up the tine harrow and worked over each of the fields to help further break up any concentration of manure. The timing was perfect since on the following day we received a nice steady rain fall of over .6″. One of the pleasures of an otherwise rather monotonous period of driving around the fields is getting to see signs of spring around the edges of the fields or above them. My first day out I watched two large separate flocks of Sandhill Cranes flying slowly north over the fields. On a couple of different occasions I was treated to a soaring adult Bald Eagle circling overhead. That is a sight that even ten years ago was virtually unimaginable.

After the rain, the fields were once again too wet to drive over with the heavy equipment, but since the job was done all we needed to do was watch the fields turn green. I had hoped that we could have continued with the alternating warm sunny days and rainy periods. The rains have slacked off a bit and the temperatures have cooled. Nevertheless I am hopeful that within a week or two the pastures will be lush enough that the flock can seriously begin grazing.

The week after the manure operation was completed we had our annual fleece sale. It has now been 14 days since the sale started. We are not yet sold out. We still have four lovely colored fleeces and four beautiful white fleeces for sale. Should you have missed the sale, but are still interested in purchasing one or more of our fleeces, go to our Fleece Page . I will be taking pictures of the remaining fleeces and (hopefully) get them posted to the next Ewe Turn.

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It is Shearing Time Again

I am currently confined to the house by bad weather. Actually the storm has proven to be less catastrophic than predicted. It was supposed to be a blizzard, with 8 to 14 inches of snow and 40 mph winds. The wind is here, but the snowfall has, so far, been more in the range of 6 inches. It is supposed to be over by tomorrow, so I am going to wait until then to shovel out. In the meantime I will try to catch up with recent events at the farm.

We had intentionally scheduled shearing for later than we have done in the past. Unfortunately, schedules got messed up and the dates were pushed back another week. At the last moment we were also faced by the possible loss of our shearer! David was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff; shearing is now not on his immediate future menu. Luckily he was able to hook us up with Dylan, one of his former students. So we were good to go on March 11th and 12th.

Weather wise we were very lucky. Temperatures were way above normal before and during shearing. I managed to get the shearing area cleaned out ahead of time. (It normally is part of the flock’s loafing area.) PreshearHere it is, all cleaned up, awaiting equipment, our shearing crew and, of course, sheep. Actually, my couple of day’s clean up labor had lots of supervisors. The girls, just on the other side of the fence, were very attentive the entire time.

The sheep were definitely ready for shearing. They were fully fleeced, some in need of larger coats. Despite us having trimmed faces in the recent past, many were also dealing with limited forward vision. Flock PreshearingIn addition, all the facial wool was a magnet for all sorts of hay from their feeders. It is obvious from the following photos why we jacket our flock to keep the main portions of the fleeces clean. So here is a collection of some good friends. awaiting shearing.

Velveeta

Velveeta

Dagmar

Dagmar

Zuzanna

Zuzanna

The rams: Andrew, Aries, Clancy and Axel

The lads: Andrew, Aries, Clancy and Axel

Cecily

Cecily

Cecily definitely has the most wool on her face (this after having had at least three trims since summer!)

Shearing went well. We were finished in two full days of work. Gretchen and I could not have done it alone. In addition to Dylan, we had a crack crew of five. Here are some of the crew with shearing in full force, Gretchen and Sandy, doing the preliminary skirting of a fleece that just came off a sheep while another sheep is being shorn.  Shearing & SkirtingMissing from the picture is myself and Russ. We are catching the next sheep and removing her coat. Meanwhile Donna is sweeping the shearing area clean so that the fleeces are not contaminated. Donna also sees to it that each fleece is properly identified when it is bagged after shearing. Helen is up at the house making sure that we are all going to be well feed at midday.

Toward the end of the second day Dylan is finishing by shearing the rams. This is Aries, about half shorn. Dylan & Aries Lastly, here is the obligatory crew photo (sans the Grumpy Shepherd). They still look to be in pretty good shape! (However, please note that when this was taken there were still quite a few sheep in the background yet to be shorn.)Shear Crew

When we were finished, everyone (human and ovine) was tired. I do think there were some happy sheep, especially the likes of Cecily. When one compares the “before” and “after” you would hardly know they were the same sheep.

Cicely, newly shorn

Cicely, newly shorn

The day after shearing was complete we manage to get the entire flock (119 sheep) back into clean jackets, all of which are much smaller to accommodate their smaller dimensions. In the same process everyone gets their annual booster shots against tetanus and clostridial diseases. Everyone is much hungrier and a lot more hay and grain are now consumed. Flock Postshear

The weather continued to cooperate for a couple more days. Some of the Georgia/North Carolina contingent of the crew took an afternoon off to hike along the shore at Whitefish Dunes State park. Whitefish Dunes State ParkThere was hardly a breeze blowing and nearly all of winter’s snow had melted. There is still energy in those young arms! It is also hard to believe that these scenes are now thoroughly buried in snow again!Whitefish Dunes Selfie

For our fleece customers, here is what you may be wondering about the near future. We (especially Gretchen) is diligently doing a final skirting on all the fleeces. As usual our work space permits us to finish 7 fleeces a day, and we are well into the total number of fleeces. When we are done, we will evaluate, weigh and price all the fleeces. Some time in mid to late April we will be contacting all of last year’s customers to determine if they wish to reserve the same fleece from the previous year. Once we know that information we will set a date for selling the rest. When we have a date, we will notify all of our customers from the last few years, along with anyone who has asked to be on our mailing list us over the last year or so. Stay tuned!

 

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