It has been a month since I last wrote anything for the Ewe Turn. So many things have been going on here in that time that I will not be able to comment on many items. Therefore, what follows are merely a few highlights. Over the last thirty days we moved from early fall all the way into winter. As I write, we are experiencing our first significant snow fall of the year. It looks like before it is over we may have from 4 to 6 inches on the ground.
In early October we were blessed with some beautiful fall colors in the trees. There was a steady but gradual change in the shades, hues and their intensities. By the 22nd, most of the ashes were bare, along with many of the birches. The sugar maples and aspen held on to their leaves and their color. I managed to launch my drone at that time. Here is a view to the east, including the house, farm buildings, Clark Lake close by and Lake Michigan in the distance. By this time our maple grove had lost its intense red/orange and yellow to a more subtle orange/yellows. Nevertheless it was still lovely.Within another week’s time we experienced heavy rains and strong winds. And with that weather the deciduous trees were bare! Interestingly, if I could again take to the air now there would still be some bright yellows showing up in the distance of this last image, despite the snows. The tamaracks decided to coordinate their late fall bright yellow show with great success.
During this time we still managed to keep the sheep on pasture, at least in the dry weather. Two heavy, hard frosts were enough to cause all sorts of trouble with the water lines to the pasture. It was therefore time to call it quits with the grazing season. I had yet to clean the old bedding out of the barn. It was a crazy three days, but my trusty skidloader, Gehl and I got every thing cleaned up and re-bedded. Once the sheep moved into the barn for the winter I just managed to roll up all the removable fences and haul all the fencing, removable posts, and portable water buckets in for winter storage. With that done, all that remained was to drain the outdoor pipes when it was warm enough to completely thaw all of them.
Actually, I did have additional help with the barn clean-up. On the morning of the last day of that project, I had gotten the sheep out to pasture, had breakfast and was back in the barn moving some of the in-barn feeders in preparation for scraping the area with the skidloader. I was just about to hop into the skidloader when I realized that I had company. Not more than thirty feet away I noticed a Ruffed Grouse calmly sitting on one of the old dairy stanchion pipes. I walked back to the house to get my camera and returned to find that my friend had not moved. I managed to get within 10 feet of the bird before he got nervous. So my erstwhile helper/spectator decided to beat a hasty retreated, but not through the door to the outside, but up the stairs into the hay mow. It was the last I saw of him. It is interesting how secretive the Grouse are. I know they are here, at least in small numbers, because very rarely, over the years, I will spook them in our woods. But to find one in the barn is very unusual. However, the corner in which he was sitting, is also the corner where our grain bin unloads. I wonder if he was there to pick up the random corn and oats on the floor. Which then makes me wonder if he has been a regular visitor without my knowledge. I guess I will just have to ask the next time we meet.
Autumn has definitely arrived at Whitefish Bay Farm. Temperatures have cooled down slowly. We have toyed with frosts on a couple of mornings, but not seriously enough to end the growing seasons of any plants. More significantly, we have experienced frequent and sometimes heavy rainfalls. This has been such a contrast to middle and late summer when we dried up to nearly drought conditions. The sheep are now grazing on our big hay field, but there have been a number of days in late September and early October when we have kept them in the barn due to the heavy rains.
Our vegetable garden has had its normal schedule thrown for a loop due to the dry hot weather of July and August followed by the very wet and cooler days and nights of September and early October. It became impossible to keep up with the tomato crop, and the peppers and eggplants were right behind in production. We have frozen numerous quarts of sweet peepers and pasta tomatoes. In addition we made a large supply of tomato sauce. I managed to get all of our dried beans harvested but had to give them some extra time in a warmer and drier basement before I could get the beans out of the pods.
Our canning tools have also had a workout. So far, we have put up 6 quarts of pickled jalapeno peppers, without making a dent in the overall production of just three plants. A couple of weeks ago we picked all of the smaller size beets. We now have a new 7 quart supply of spicy pickled beets. We grew two varieties of beets this year, one which is yellow and the other is red and white striped. In the sun, the pickle jars are a lovely mix of shades of oranges and reds. I look forward to the pickled beets this winter, as a frequent contributor to smørrebrød (open faced Danish sandwiches)!
By early October the fruit on our aging apple trees was ripe enough to pick and make into apple sauce. It was a race to get a good collection of apples before we experienced a few days of very strong winds. Much of what I did not or could not pick got blown off the trees (much to the delight of our local deer population). We managed to put up 14 quarts of apple sauce. We harvested enough apples that we had to make two separate batches of sauce. Our trees are a collection of at least seven different varieties. When cooked down and made into sauce the different apples produce different colors. As can be seen in the photo, this year we got an especially lovely shade of pink/red, in addition to the more common tan color we often produce. Sadly, many of the trees are beginning to show significant amounts of fire blight. I suspect that at least two of the trees will not survive next spring and the rest will follow in the next couple of years. Therefore, we especially value the sauce they produced this year.
Our lives here have not been all work of late. I recently purchased a drone. My “excuse” was that I wished to document our woods when they got into fall colors. We are beginning to see significant inroads in our ash trees from Emerald Ash Borer beetles. I already know that we are going to loose a number of trees this year and future years will not show any respite. What better way than to see the changes in the woods than from a bird’s eye view. I am still mastering the skills of flying while filming. Hopefully I will have some better efforts to share in the near future. This is my first successful effort at a still image. The view is from just above the house and barns, looking to the northeast, over the mixed woods toward Clark Lake and Lake Michigan beyond. There were already nice fall colors developing when this was taken. I hope I can share some even more exciting views in the near future.
Since I last wrote, weather conditions have changed drastically, in our case all for the better. After nearly two very hot months without rain, it finally rained seriously during the last week in August and the first week in September. During that period at the farm we received about 4 inches of rain. Unlike much of Wisconsin which received way too much rain, we enjoyed just enough. Then after the rains the temperatures also moderated. The resulting changes in the pastures were miraculous. Most of the pastures had appeared to have gone dormant, but two weeks of rain and cooler air woke up even the brownest pastures. Very recently we had begun planning for feeding baled hay to the sheep out on pastures, with the prospect of continuing that until cold weather and killing frosts. On the day following the last rain, we began grazing the flock on our hay ground, which was the last pasture with significant enough forage for grazing. While we grazed that field over the last two weeks, all the other pastures have perked up and will hopefully provide enough grazing for the flock to get through October, especially if we get some additionally well timed rain in the near future. So all and all both sheep and shepherds are happy campers!
Over the last few days we have experienced dense ground fog overnight and into the morning. It has been an especially pleasant change of routine for me, setting up the temporary pasture fence each morning. The walk out to pasture is nearly a quarter of a mile. By the time I reach the pasture the sun is not quite up and the house and barns have totally disappeared in the fog. At times it is even difficult to see the opposite end of the area I select for the day’s grazing. This is the view from the edge of the pasture looking back to the east toward the maple grove.Somewhere down below is the path the sheep take to get out to the pasture. Once they get this far they will then follow the raceway out in the center of the pasture. After setting up the day’s temporary fence line, I walk back to the barn to let the flock out. Even in the dense fog they seem to know exactly where they are going. One can tell that they have been here before (even though it has been two years since they last grazed in this area). They disappear into the fog at a pace that far exceeds mine. I just have to hope that they make the journey without my help (which they always do!). By the time I catch up everyone is peacefully and seriously grazing. The fog deadens nearly all the morning sounds. Usually at this time I can hear the group munching away, but the fog silences even that quiet sound. On a couple of mornings the silence is slightly broken by a low flying flock of Canada Geese. I can hear the wing beats and see faint images of the birds flying over head.We often joke that when the flock grazes this portion of the hay field that they have reached the edge of the earth, since none of them have ever during their lives traveled any farther from the barn than here. The fog seems to give new meaning to that description, since it seems that if they go just a bit farther on they will drop off the edge. So far they all have manage to stay put and return to the barn in the evening!
I may spend a few minutes with the flock before I return to the barn to get the rams out to their private pasture. Every one in the flock seems truly happy and contented. After I have enjoyed the peace and calm a while, a few of my buddies will acknowledge my presence by looking up for a moment to make sure that I am alright. That at least seems to be what Cha Cha is up to at least. Even the long walk back to the barn is pleasant. It is comfortably cool (unlike so much of the summer!) and exceedingly quiet. I may encounter a few Bluebirds along the fence line. They are still here, but flocking up and I am sure they too will depart soon for southern climates. The walk past the maple grove is usually special. The trees are still green and Goldenrod is in bloom scattered between the trees, yet everything seems to be in pastel shades. And then, almost as if by magic, the barn appears out of the fog. It is now at least an hour since I first headed out to the pasture and close to the barn, the fog is beginning to burn off. Within another hour the only sign that it was very foggy is a heavy dew that remains on the grass. This morning routine has been repeating itself for almost a week, every day with some minor variation. I will miss it when it stops, but I will enjoy it as much as possible while it lasts. I also believe that the sheep enjoy it as much or more than I do.
At Whitefish Bay Farm we are not immune to the extremes of weather which seem to be hammering much of the planet. While we are not suffering the extreme heat and drought that has plagued much of Europe, including my friends in Denmark, we are undergoing what is becoming more and more like a classic drought. It has been hot, dry and humid: not weather enjoyed by sheep nor shepherd. A year ago at this time we had received 21 inches of rain since I placed the rain gauge in the garden after the last snows of spring. This year we have received 10.5 inches in the same time period, the vast majority of which occurred before mid-July. Since then we have seen only a half an inch, spread into 3 small “storms” each totaling not much over .1 of an inch. In that same time the high temperatures have nearly always been in the upper 80’s (a few days in the 90’s) and rarely cooling below mid 60’s over night. All this has seemed much less pleasant due to humidity in the upper 80’s to low 90’s.
I try to get the fencing for the day’s grazing set up as early as possible, while the weather is still relatively cool. This situation of high humidity and cooler morning temperatures presents the strange contrast of wet dew on a pasture that is crying for rain. For over two weeks now, first thing as I step out the door I am greeted by another weaver, this time an Orb Weaver spider. The permanence of the web is partly a testimony to a lack of any heavy downpours! At least there is one weaver here that works everyday.
The permanent pastures have been holding up pretty well, considering how dry it has been. There has been no regrowth after grazing, but there has been sufficient forage to feed the flock relatively well. We have finished the second grazing of pastures #1 and #2, the later just 4 days ago. My early morning fence moving has also presented challenges that I have not experienced in a couple of years. I have needed to herd a skunk or two off the pasture before letting the sheep out. It is usually not too difficult a task, as long as I make sure that the skunk is aware of my presence ahead of time. Then a bit of loud conversation on my part and an occasional clapping of hands sends the skunk on its way, as long as I am not between it and where I figure it will be hiding out for the day. Our local population of skunks tend to like to occupy abandoned woodchuck burrows. This year we seem to have an abundance of empty burrows, since I have yet to see nearly any woodchucks for the first time in 30 years. (I suspect one of our neighbors has poisoned the lot, why I am unsure.) In any case, my most recent skunk encounter was on the last day we were to graze #2. That pasture abuts a sharp rise in elevation which is heavily wooded on the western edge. It has always been home to woodchucks. So it was logical to believe that my skunk friend would head in that direction (which indeed he did). Skunk herding thus seems pretty logical and speedy, since they trot along at a good speed. Thankfully I have not had to herd any porcupines in the last couple of years. That is a slow, meandering process, lacking any definite goal, which can only be aided by occasional prodding with a portable fence post.
This is what #2 pasture looks like after we spent nine days working our way west. (The woods to the west is where the last skunk headed.) It will take a lot of rain and more moderate temperatures before it can be grazed again. The flock has now moved on to #3 (which is just to the left of this image). This will be the first time we have grazed it this year. Previously we cut and baled it, since in early summer it grew too fast for the sheep to keep up with it. How things can change in a matter of just a few weeks!
Here the girls have just begun grazing shortly after sunrise yesterday. It is cool enough at that hour that they will get a fair amount of feeding done before the heat becomes uncomfortable. One of the beauties of this pasture, at this time of year, is that there will be enough shade from the trees on both north and south edges that the flock can find some relief from the heat at its worst. This pasture has not had as much time as I would like to recover from when it was cut and baled. As a result, each day’s allotment is a bit larger than normal. This pasture will also need a lot of moisture before it is green and lush again. When the flock has finished here, there is still fairly good grazing to be found on the little pasture down the hill from the barn. Parts of the “orchard pasture” have rebounded enough to be grazed again. Lastly, we can head out to the large hay field with temporary fencing. I am hoping that these remaining pastures will retain enough growth to get us into fall. Too much constant heat and drought can turn any of these pastures into dry toast. If it comes to that we will need to start feeding some of our round bales on pasture. Hopefully we will not come to that!