Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lambing - The Happy and Sad moments

This is a happy picture. 8 lambs born in the last 24 hours. I love to hear them call out to their mommas. I was FINALLY able to witness a birth of twins last night. I sat down in the hay and I just waited it out. 90 minutes later I had witnessed the birth of a boy and then a girl lamb. I now understand what a normal twin birth process looks like!!! YEAH!

That was the happy story. When you raise sheep you know you will have some sad stories and that's the next story.

When I started this blog, I mainly did it so that friends and family could keep up with the farming life and it was a matter of efficiency for me. If someone were to say to me "hey, what's new on the farm?", I could say "um- have you been keeping up with my blog postings? I can't handle telling the same story 20 times".

Along the way I somehow made friends with other people around country and the world and so I realized that I can't just tell all the fun and rosy parts of farming. At times I need to tell the brutal truth and talk about the parts of farming that suck. This posting is about what happened last Tuesday night-- one of those nights that sucked.

It is lambing season for us. Now when a mother gets ready to lamb, they go off to a corner by themselves, they make a little nest of hay, etc. You can tell. Well, the other day this ewe either didn't do the normal behaviors or we missed it or she was trying to give birth while Mike was running errands.

By the time we had dinner and went to feed the sheep, Mike saw her. Thank goodness he did because this mother was not off by herself but with the pack. What Mike noticed- brace yourself- was that she was running around with a baby lamb's head poking out of her.

So we had to catch her and turn into vets. I talked to the mother and petted her head. I then assisted Mike as we figured out how to deliver the lamb. Thank god Mike can handle these things. I pass out when I give blood but I was proud of myself and I hung in there and made it through to help him. Mike was just amazing. I don't know where he gets these nerves of steel. He was in the Marines but I don't know if it's from that training or he just was born that way.

He managed to figure out how to move the lamb so that he'd slide out and somehow we managed to get the big boy out and keep the mother alive. She was definitely in a state of shock. But after 10 minutes she was back up and eating- thank goodness. We have no idea if the lamb was delivered stillborn or if the lamb just couldn't make it out. Ugh. Our farmer friends told us that some years you are lucky and sometimes you have birthing issues. The mom is doing fine in case you were wondering.

After this sad birth we did have 11 more good births in the week that followed and led to the picture of the cute lamb in the picture.

Total of 14 lambs so far since January and about 34 more ewes to deliver.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lambing season

We had 3 lambs born in January from the time the ram broke through and found his ladies earlier in the summer. Here are 2 of the lambs.

The rest of the mothers are due right around tax day in mid April. Let the guesses begin on number of lambs. Last year we had 24 ewes that had 45 lambs. This year we have about 45 ewes and 3 lambs so far. We do have a lot of first time mothers in the pack and they usually have a single lamb the first year so we're looking at 65-70 or so lambs this year.

And because Alina is going to ask-- why do some sheep in the picture have a red spray spot on them? Well, sometimes you sort your sheep or mark them for first year or trimmed hooves or to say these are the ones I want to sell after the lambs are weaned. When you get up to 45 sheep, you need a way to mark them to know this- and spray paint is the easy and funny way sheep farmers do this.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back from India just in time for Spring

Back from abroad!  I had the good fortune to spend two weeks in India early this month.  Culture shock was immediate and eye opening.  The biggest thing that I took away from my trip was just how amazingly well things just sort of...worked.   India wasnt pretty, despite what the photo above shows.  It was chaotic, busy, acrid, depressing, exciting, exhilarating, tasty, maddening, philosophical, and did I mention chaotic?

One commonality I found between New Delhi, Calcutta and the "small" town of Jamshedpur was just how good the food was everywhere I went.  Street vendors, restaurants, roadside markets, intensively farmed plots next to the airport in Calcutta, gardens, everywhere you looked there was food.   It is very easy to be vegetarian in India.  My last few hours in Calcutta were at the hotel where a big fertilizer company was having a convention.  I suppose a country of over a billion people cant exist without quite a bit of energy directed at the production of food.

India is in a part of the world where they go for months without much rain to periods where they pray the rain will stop. This makes farming extremely difficult.  Drought to flood.  No fun.  Ive seen that at work here.  The biggest thing I took away was that the people I saw were all working as "organically" as possible.  These are people with no money for pesticides, fertilizers, tractors or even tools.  Yet, they were growing some of the most beautiful crops, intensively cultivated by hand.

Makes me wonder how we can do better here with the "advantages" that technology provides for us.  But is technology REALLY helping us, or do we use it as a crutch?  Are the methods we use for commercial agriculture really helping us "feed the world" or is the world already feeding itself nicely, thank you?   Industrial agriculture surely can produce massive amounts of products that are used less as whole foods but as ingredients in industry.  

I had a wonderful phone call today with a prospective customer.  We spoke at length about the idea of "organic" in the marketplace.  I know I have posted about this before, but it is definitely worth another post.  Just what is "organic"?  Is it a worthwhile goal to produce organically?   Are we better off eating organics?  Are conventional foods harming us?

I think that my philosophy on food should be made more clearly.  Im always wide open to change.  I know Im not always in the right.  I have plenty of ideas on how to do things better.  Always question your assumptions!  So, here goes: As far as growing vegetables, we use no fertilizers or pesticides or fungicides that are not approved for use in USDA Certified Organic operations.   We do use a very small percentage of seeds that are NOT certified organic, mostly if we cant find a variety that has been grown organically somewhere else.   Our beef and lamb are entirely grass-fed.  We do not spray our pastures with herbicides, or chemical fertilizers or anything else for that matter.  We do spread lime in order to bring the pH of the soil up closer to neutral.  We may at some time in the future apply chicken manure or fish emulsion or raw milk to the pastures or perhaps some other minerals if we find our soil testing shows deficiencies.  

As far as poultry, well, here is where I feel some pressure to do better.  I do NOT feed organic feed to my chickens.  The cost is nearly double for the feed.  I would have to raise my egg prices up to about 8 dollars a dozen to make it worthwhile.   My feeling is that the chickens diet is supplemented with pasture plants and bugs and worms and sunshine for vitamin D, and that is what makes the difference between my product and what you can find in the stores.  HOWEVER, I am fully aware of the problems involved with GMO corn.  I know I have had interest from one or two people in the past year looking for GMO-free and also Corn and Soy-free rations for the birds.  I really do want to switch over to all organic feeds for my birds, but the price has been prohibitive.  Im already charging more for my chickens than most people.  And Im definitely not getting rich!  Its probably the one thing I would change if the demand was there for all organic chickens and eggs.  

There are so many people claiming so many different things about organic foods.  Let me give you my perspective.  I could be wrong.  Please feel free to go all Chuck Norris on me in the comments!  My view is that the pesticides and herbicides that are in the food system most probably have little effect on any of us when we consume them.  We rinse them off, scrub the apples, etc. and 99% of the sprays wash off.  Most sprays are not approved for spraying on the fruits or veggies themselves within a certain period before harvest.  So, the impact on our health is probably minimal.  That does not mean that some people are not sensitive to these chemicals.  My motivation for growing organically is not necessarily for my own health but for the health of the environment.  I have more issues with runoff into streams and the bay and effects on pesticides with other creatures who interact directly with them.  

I make no claim as to the health benefits of Organics.  Im happy growing them for the environment, not for my own health.  Perhaps there are more benefits than I know about.  Im happy to raise grass-fed beef and lamb because I know that it makes no sense to use fossil fuels to bring the food to the animals when we can easily bring the animals to the food!  So they grow a little slower.  Better slower growth than all the associated issues with fossil fuels and their costs.  It just makes sense.  Its also much more sustainable.

My view is that sustainability is more important in the long run than anything else.  Chickens are particularly problematic for me.  Chickens have been bred over the last 60 plus years to grow fast on corn.  Plain and simple, the heritage breeds we have today are nothing like their ancestors.  These heritage breeds today are improved and have been selected to grow well on corn.  Great Grandma's backyard flocks were hardly fed, they were skinny, scrawny, and had lousy egg production.   People didnt get 6 pound broiler chickens.  At best they had 2.5 pound chickens!  And the chicken was tough.  It was not the chicken we have today.  Any animal that needs corn represents a problem to me.  I will keep a small flock of layers, but Im not very interested in the long term sustainability of chickens in the US.  Grass-fed lamb and beef is the way to go.  

So, lots of splainin' today.  Im ready for the season to start!  Im all fired up!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Relief Efforts

A wonderful friend for over 20 years has family in Japan.  Thankfully they are all alive and much less affected by the earthquake and tsunami and nuclear catastrophe than many.  However, there is an ongoing problem there and many people are going to be hungry and need medical care in the near term and long term.  If you feel like you can contribute, here are a few ways that you can do so with only a few clicks of your mouse.

I dont want to make you feel like you need to do this, but if you dont have even a dime to spare because the economy sucks, you can always go donate blood to your local Red Cross.  Everyone gots some extra blood they ain't needing.   Go donate!  You get a free cookie.  FREE COOKIE!

1. Brother's Brother Foundation (BBF) in cooperation with the Japan-American Society of PA. 
BBF is a 53-year old Pittsburgh-based international charity.  Brother's Brother Foundation received 100 % or higher rating in charitable commitment, donor dependency and fundraising efficiency.

2. American Red Cross
Donation through American RC will be sent to the Japanese Red Cross Society
TEL: 1-800-733-2767
Donate Funds page:

3. The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City - Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Fund
The fund will direct 100% of your donation to disaster relief efforts. The Mayor's Fund does not retain an administrative fee.

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF (USF) is raising funds to help children in Japan impacted by the recent earthquake and tsunami.

5. Text-to-Donate for Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief Efforts
You can donate through one of the following organizations by simply sending a text message from your mobile phone (billed to your mobile phone bill). mGive, the agency working to collect and process donations on behalf of the following organizations, charges a fee (for RC, $.25 fee) per donation.

The American Red Cross:  Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10.
Convoy for Hope:  Text TSUNAMI to 50555 to donate $10.
GlobalGiving:  Text JAPAN to 50555 to donate $10.
World Relief Corp of National Association of Evangelicals:  Text WAVE to 50555 to donate $10.
UNICEF: Text JAPAN to 864233 to donate $10
Salvation Army: Text JAPAN to 80888 to donate $10.

When prompted, please remember to reply with YES to confirm your one-time, tax-deductible mobile donation. After the process, you may text STOP to avoid further text receiving and fee. This donation will appear on your next mobile phone bill. Message and Data Rates May Apply.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Things that last a long time....

I watched a lot of the 100,000 Pyramid game when I was younger. So here are the clues...
friendships, girlfriends, sorority pledge daughters, trident gum, cats, bank barns, last 10 lbs of body fat, a ball of yarn, squash.....

Yes! Things that last a long time!!!! $100,000!!!

These are my squash that I still need to eat. If you take the time to count them-- more than 40. Yikes!! Holy squash. I had better get a move on it. It is almost the end of March and I still have 40 squash left! I started in the neighborhood of 100 or so last October so clearly I don't need as many to last me through the winter. This year the squash were in the basement area and were it was around 40 degree temp all winter. I think this is the perfect temp for keep squash. When I would bring the squash or a pumpkin upstairs for more than a week, then the seeds inside the squash/pumpkin would start to sprout. Funny, no? Freaked me out the first time though...

So squash lasts a long time kept in the right temp.

Now how about friendships and girlfriends? Those can also last a long time. Tonight I had the pleasure of being in a southern state for business and was able to have dinner with a long time girlfriend. Now I will say that she and I have probably known each other for a total of 10 full days of running time throughout our lives. But the time we spend together is always quality time and we got to know each other very well over the years. Our fathers spent time in the Air Force together and hence they got together every so often throughout our lives and since we are only 3 months apart in age, we became friends very quickly. It was so wonderful to reconnect with her and spend an evening together. (I also told her I'd blog about her.... she is one of my readers who never posts a comment)

And then you may wonder what the heck the sorority pledge daughter listing in the things that last a long time was all about? Well, in my younger days I went to college. My freshman year of college I did try to join a sorority but the 'smart' sorority didn't put a bid out to me and I wanted to be in the 'smart' sorority. I did get chosen by the 'beautiful women' sorority but decided that even though I was beautiful, that sorority just didn't fit me. So freshman year I was on my own and doing my engineering thing. Sophomore year, I decided to try again for a sorority and I didn't get selected again. But then the day after the big pledge party night, I got a call saying that they needed 3 more pledges because they fell short of their target and would I consider joining? Now, I was a sophomore and that's why I didn't get on the first round list because you can't have a pledge call of all sophomores because then you have no one to live in the sorority house and your sorority roster will be out of sorts. This happened to be the sorority that my roommate got chosen to join the night before and this was the 'party' sorority. Since I fancied myself a party girl (although I could have fit into the smart, beautiful or party sorority in those days) I decided what the heck, join this sorority. Good thing I did join because another round of special friendships formed because of that sorority.
Now we get to present day. Would you know that my pledge daughter friended me on Facebook? At first I thought, who is this very beautiful woman that wants to friend me? And when I saw an old picture of her in her facebook pictures, I said to my husband "oh my gosh, that's my pledge daughter!". Little did I know that I would have to explain sorority life to my husband who didn't get the whole daughter thing and in the end I gave up. So evidently pledge daughter relationships can last a long time as well.....I now have a new old friend on the west coast!

Here's to things that last a long time! (and if you need any squash-- let me know)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Single, full time working, diversified farmer mother

I tried an experiment the last 2 weeks. I let my husband go literally half way across the world for 2 weeks. I instantly became a single, full time working, diversified farmer mother.

I can now imagine what it would have been like if I had been a farmers wife with 3-8 kids and my husband went off to fight in the war. I can also imagine what it would have been like if I then decided to make some extra money and went to work at an industrial job helping make bombs or airplanes or whatnot.

Time is an interesting thing. It stretches and somehow things get done. Sometimes when you have so much to do and it just MUST get done, you tend to focus and really make it all happen.

I can tell you that my kids got good at walking home from the bus stop - even in the pouring rain one afternoon. They learned to get along for a few hours before I got home from work (I only had 1 phone call of tattling on a sibling). They remembered 75% of the time to let the dogs out to pee. Poor dogs did have to wait the other 25% and were looking at me like I didn't train the kids well. So the kids did well. I had to lean on them to help me out and they did. Maybe I don't ask the kids to do enough on a regular basis- I'm going to do more of that in the future as I think it helps them become independent. The kids did learn how to make homemade soft pretzels and they made huge batches on Sunday while I had a friend over helping to start the seedlings. And my youngest actually cleaned his room on his own. I nearly fell over when I saw it. Mom, I needed my table to be clear and I just got on a cleaning kick so I can't stop now. Amazing! Who's child is this?

We all learned how to make crock pot meals that cooked all day so we didn't have to eat out the entire time. I make a mean crock pot dish - leg of lamb, beef stew and beef BBQ.

I am great at driving the tractor now and I can carry 2 bales of hay at the same time and fling them up to feed the sheep. I can fix gates and learned to use pliers.

We did have help the first weekend from Grandma Mary. I do think grandparents are important and I do wish ours lived closer. If I had been that working mother in my imagination I would guess I would have had support from a grandmother or sister or aunt.

And neighbors help as well. I think I have some of the best neighbors in the world. I did so well the entire 2 weeks, would you know what happens on the last day?
I must not have closed the barnyard gate correctly and the sheep and 2 guard dogs escaped. Our neighbor was kind enough to track me down at work. Imagine my surprise when a colleague says to me "um Annette, some guy says he's your neighbor and that your animals are out".
When I found out it was just the sheep and the guard dogs I was happy. The sheep weren't gonna go far because they just wanted to eat the grass because as they say THE GRASS IS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE. And my daffodils were a nice tasty snack for those pregnant mommas. It only took 3 minutes and Frank the Border collie had the sheep back in the barnyard. Rocky was a little tougher to get back in the barnyard as he wanted to scope out his land. He kept ignoring me and pretending he didn't hear me. But after 10 minutes all was back to normal.

So I did learn that I can do things that I let my husband normally do and that my kids are fantastic. I also learned that we miss our father, husband and that when families have to be apart that it is hard. I'm happy to be back to married, full time working, diversified farmer mother- that's a piece of cake!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Paradigm Shift for Training and Living with Dogs

This weekend I had the opportunity to meet some wonderful authors.
One of the authors that I met was Jennifer Arnold. Below is Butch. Butch travels with her and the photo below is of Butch giving a woman a hug. (from an online clipping I found) My daughter got the same type of hug from Butch but I didn't get those photos yet.

I have a prediction and it is very simple : Jennifer Arnold and her method for teaching dogs will become THE predominant method for training dogs in less than 5 years. Either she'll have a weekly dog TV show someday- or someone who teaches her methods will. She is a beautiful woman with great emotion and a great heart and so I hope it is her on my TV screen.

For those of you that have dogs, you need to read about her and buy her book. There are not that many books that I shamelessly promote but Jennifer has a message and I am 100% behind it.

Dogs rock!! Dogs can detect a seizure before onset. Did you know that dogs can be trained to detect cancers? If the dog smells your breath it can detect several types of cancer. Dogs can detect cancer sometimes at a 98 percent accuracy level. Now I don't know about you- but I want dogs going around and sniffing me out. I want a dog to suspect I have a problem and then I can go get the catscans and whatnot.

Jennifer's methods for teaching dogs is referred to as the Choice teaching method. Her method does NOT involve chock collars, dominance toward a dog or punishment. Her method uses positive reinforcement and getting the dogs to Choose to follow your commands. I've seen the rise and fall of business books from 30 years ago that advocated the 'dominance' and carrot/stick approach to managing people to the books of today that advocate teamwork, shared vision and positive reinforcement. Her method of teaching is a true WIN/WIN for human and dog. Jennifer's Choice teaching method will be the new paradigm for training dogs in the future.

I did not know that living on a farm would cause me to fall in love with dogs. I thought I'd fall in love with chickens, lambs, cows, etc.
But alas, we have gone from 1 sheltie to:
1 sheltie, 2 border collies, 1 Great Pyrenees, and 1 akbash/anatolian sheppard.
I never would have guessed we'd have 5 dogs living with us with thoughts of adopting a few more.

Thanks to Jennifer Arnold I now know that it's ok when my dog doesn't sit right away. He or she will sit- but normally not within 5 seconds. But I know they are thinking about it.
When I tell my husband to sit- it takes him 30 seconds or so to sit. So why would I expect a dog to sit within 3 seconds? Because we think that dogs should be quick to react to our commands?

Not only did she help me see the world through our dogs eyes, but she made me feel sane. Those who have been long time blog readers know that I will swear our animals are talking to me. And the animal that I swear talks to me directly through eye contact is Rocky the Great Pyrenees dog. At first it scared the heck out of me but I now think it's because I just connect to this dog more than any of our other 4 dogs. After reading her book, I know that Rocky and the other animals on our farm are talking to me and I should continue to listen to them. I should also spend more time with Rocky and see what he has to say about life. I think I could learn a lot from him.

If you haven't taken your dog into your arms and told him that you love him lately, you should. They won't care that you haven't hugged them in a long time and they will forgive you.

Dog are a farmers best friend.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


If I knew how to take a night time picture with my camera, you'd be looking at Orion.

Living on farm gives you the opportunity to see the stars in all their glory. One of us is 'forced' to go outside every night to feed the guard dogs, let the border collies run around, collect the eggs and milk the goats. Sometimes I grumble because it's cold outside. Once I get outside and see the stars, my attitude changes.

I look up at the sky and I imagine what life would have been like with no electricity and no internet and 'gasp' no electronics whatsoever! It would probably be a little harder but you'd probably talk more with your kids or your husband. You'd do more singing and telling of stories and playing of instruments.

I know that I desperately love both lives.

I love gadgets and technology. I will never forget the hours, weeks, months when I would write programs on our 'new' TRS80 and I had to store my code on a tape recorder. I remember my mom getting a microwave. I remember when the 5th grade class figured out that if we all called each other and got a busy signal that we could 'group chat' in between the beeps (yes, beep, you, beep, learned, beep, to, beep, talk, beep, like, beep, this, beep, crazy, beep, huh?) I remember when phone cords were about 40 feet long so that you could walk around the house dragging the cord with you. I remember when you had to turn the knob to change the TV channel. And I'm only slightly over 40!

I also love the simplicity of life. When I was younger, I really did not like camping or being outdoors- hotel life was my thing. But as I've grown older, I have come to appreciate the outdoors and simple living. I love to be outside and hear the birds. I love to have a bonfire and sing songs. I love to go collect my own eggs. I love to sit and play board games and card games. I love to watch my tomatoes grow. I love milking a goat and making cheese or yogurt. I love playing in the dirt. And most of all I love to stare out at the stars.