As we’ve updated you earlier, we winterized our bees this winter by wrapping roofing paper around the hive and supplementing them with some hard candy. We’ve had some very frigid days but recently we’ve had some record high days in the 60’s. Continue reading
I have a soft spot for pretty much all of God’s critters – although the spot for raccoons is growing more callous by the day. Ironically, while designing new defenses against the masked invaders that insist on using my barn as the world’s biggest toilet, I was able to help a distraught bird.
At first I thought a barn swallow was making a home in the garage. Unlike the coons, swallows are more than welcome in the barn. I love the way they dart around and the beat of their wings has a soft, comforting tone. However, as this bird started slamming into walls and doors, I realized it needed a help.
After exhausting itself I was able to simply bend down and pick it up. Upon further inspection, it was a little small for a swallow and lacked the forked tail. Furthermore, a barn swallow wouldn’t get trapped in a garage like that if their skills at navigating the barn are any indication. I think it was a Baird’s Sparrow.
Never the less, he stayed in my hand panting at first but seemed to relax after a bit. He was too exhausted to fly so I placed him on our wishing well. After a few minutes he regained his strength and took flight again. Godspeed little sparrow – leave the barn and garage exploration to the experts.
Walking around the farm today, I saw a sorry sight. A honey bee in an icy tomb. Kate fed the bees the other day and I assume one felt the warmth of the sun and left the hive on a flight more doomed than that of Icarus. The air in Wisconsin in winter is no place for a honey bee.
What struck me about the sadness of seeing the bee is that I’ll admit most my concern about their collective well being this winter is that bees are freakin’ expensive. They didn’t give us any honey this year and while I’m eager to try again, I want to do it with our current colony.
Upon seeing the bee I instantly thought of the wise and logical Spock from Star Trek. Let me change tack for a minute and add I’m not much of a Star Trek fan. I was always much more of a TNG fan and frankly I can’t stand William Shatner. However, we don’t have cable, and antenna TV nowadays is mostly MASH, Mary Tyler Moore and a host of other shows from the 60s and 70s. So, I’ve been watching some TOS lately when I find myself in front of the tube.
Last week I caught a bit of an episode where Spock has sensed the complete destruction of a Vulcan starship. McCoy accepts that Vulcans can sense the life force of someone they’ve been in close contact with, but he scoffs at the idea that Spock could “personally” feel the sorrow of such a large number of Vulcan dying.
Dr. McCoy: But, 400 Vulcans?
Mr. Spock: I’ve noticed that about your people, Doctor. You find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million. You speak about the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart, yet how little room there seems to be in yours.
Dr. McCoy: Suffer the death of thy neighbor, eh, Spock? Now, you wouldn’t wish that on us, would you?
Mr. Spock: It might have rendered your history a bit less bloody.
I hope this post was interesting… it made sense this afternoon but I’m a little loopy from a head cold. I know Spock was known for being logical – something I’m rarely guilty of. So, it’s possible I’ve totally confused what he was explaining to McCoy. Still, I guess when I talk cavalier about the life of our hive, I’ll remember the sadness of a single lost bee in a pile of snow.
We finally added some stalls to our goat barn. Kate came up with the basic design and I sort of pieced it together in late October. It’s two stalls and a corral, built with treated 4x6s and 2x8s for the sides. I’d say both stalls are big enough for a horse, although one is pushing the limits. It’d be fine for a large horse that’s lame and needs to be rested for a few days, but long term it might be cramped.
The sheep currently occupy the stalls and buying a horse is certainly not on our to-do list, so I think they’ll serve us well. Goats or pigs are more likely tenants than horses for now. I’m not sure this really requires a step-by-step. It’s two squares framed off of the barn walls so everyone’s would be slightly different depending on the dimensions of your pole barn. But here’s a few tips and “how I did-its.”
The labor was intensive… I set the posts using a hand auger. It went through the gravel bottom OK, but after drilling over 10 of them, I’ll admit I was pooped.
Things got a little tricky because of the concrete foundation, so I did get a little creative in a few spots. Personally, I’m most proud of the gates, which I built from scratch out of 2x4s. I used deck screws in pocket holes to frame them out and covered with 2x6s. They’re surprising light and function well. If I can find the photos, I will do a step-by-step on the gates. The design would work for fences, decks, etc.
I really enjoyed this project, as I always do when I get to try my hand at carpentry. I kick myself I didn’t pursue carpentry as a career, I enjoy it more than anything else in the world. Maybe someday. Luckily there is plenty of it to do around here for now. I finished the two 10’x10′ stalls and will finish the smaller pens this spring/summer. But for now, here is a glance at our new stalls and happy sheep!
Every year I try to do a Christmas card that is a bit wacky and fun, since that’s what I consider us to be. It started with the first year we lived here with the chickens. I tried desperately to get tiny Santa hats on the chickens for their photo shoot, but as you can imagine, that did not go well. I managed to get one on and they just thought chasing that chicken around to pull the hat off was the best game ever. So I resorted to some very unskilled Photoshop and came up with the card below. It was a hit. Continue reading
Sheep are the same as goats except their tails point down instead of up right…? Pretty close and as most of the illnesses and basic care of the two animals are the same, there is one hidden danger that sheep owners need to be aware of. Continue reading
A very appropriate autumn turned into an unusually warm November. As was the case last year, it had me wondering if we could have squeezed a little more out of the garden or started another project that will now be pushed until next year. However, we’ve had our hands full, so I think we made the right decision. The cycles of death and rebirth seem unchanged by the odd weather, so we likely shouldn’t change our schedule either. And as I update this on the 21st, the frigid cold has returned (we’ve gone from 74 to 18 degrees in one week) so who am I to second guess nature?
As far as meat birds go, we were down to two broilers and the turkey this past weekend. The turkey has grown in size, and unfortunately, also on me. With over 20 meat birds, they didn’t have much individual character, but the turkey that thinks it’s a chicken is certainly a character. Having put stalls up in the barn I spent many hours with him nearby over the past few weeks as he tends to hang in there most of the time. So, naturally (and unfortunately) I started talking to him.
“Dammit, Turkey, I can’t find my tape measure again.”
“I know, have you seen it?”
“Alright, I’ll keep looking.”
Nothing too deep, but I think I humanized him a little more than I should have. It’s still a strange concept to get used to. Ag is so different from hunting /fishing for food (which I do support). Unlike the latter we are more than JUST the executioner. We put this labor in to the birds – building the coop to protect them from coons and coyotes, changing feed mixes, walking through the cold dew every morning when we’re already late to work to give them free range – and then we snuff them out.
Unlike every other part of farming, the slaughter never feels too natural. Perhaps it’s more proof than I like of how fragile life is. If you do it right, it’s over quickly. Very quick. It makes me think of the words of Homer Bannon: “It don’t take long to kill things. Not like it does to grow.”
True, old man. Still, like Homer’s beloved cattle, the bird was bred to be dead. His genes predicted this fate long before I did and even if I’d pardoned him, his biology wouldn’t be as forgiving. Actually, upon dressing the turkey it turned out to be female, but I’ll continue to say “he.” I’ll try and feel happy about his life, and not focus on his demise. In many ways I feel positive. I’ve been washed in the blood of the Turkey – my sins against food forgiven. Around the table this year I will be the personification of both the compassionate carnivore and the conflicted omnivore, but I won’t shed a tear. We’ve eaten Turkey every year of our lives… the only difference is we did all the work, even the hardest part. I don’t see how it was more noble to simply let others do it.
I think this year was a great test of what we’re made of. We’ve given and taken away. We’ve razed and built anew. Torn down walls and then put them back up. We’ve even joined the circle of life ourselves in a very special way.
When we want to be thankful this year – or proud, or impressed or relaxed or motivated – all we have to do is look out our kitchen window. It’s an incredible feeling and one I wish on everyone in their lives. Most of all I’m thankful at how right we were that this was the life we wanted. I can’t imagine going back now. In my life I was never person you could call content and in some ways I’m still not. But with Kate, I know we want to live on this land and grow things on it and bleed on it until we’re in the dirt ourselves. Given, and taken away… In the end, we’re not that different than our dinner.
“Happens to everybody. Horses, dogs, [Turkeys], men. Nobody gets out of life alive.”
Lets face it, our sheep are not “livestock” they are pets, they are my pets and I love them dearly. Therefore, they get treats. Mostly they get treats at night so they know that when they come in to their brand new stalls they get fed something delicious and will hopefully spark them to come in on their own every night without having to get the dog to round them up in the dark. So far, we are about 90% to that goal. Continue reading
This week we are proud fur parents. We take Basil to doggy daycare every other week or so for a play date to keep him socialized and to get some of that extra energy out during the fall and winter. With the beginning of a new month, comes a new doggy daycare dog of the month. And guess who got it! Yup! Continue reading
My mother-in-law is quite the spinner and knitter and since my wife and I started dating, going to her mother’s house meant climbing over wheels, looms and other apparatus for creating textile. I never thought I would have much interest in it, but after my wife bought two sheep I decided to go with the ladies to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival in Jefferson back in September.
It was a lot of fun to see other people’s animals and watch the judging. It was also funny to watch an enormous biker-looking guy drag a little Shetland around by the horn because it kept laying down in the show ring. It look liked Shrek manipulating Shari Lewis’ beloved Lamb Chops. Continue reading