spring’s lesson

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Signs of new life here on the homestead have been abundant. Stepping outside this past month you were immediately inundated by her fragrances which hung even heavier in the air thanks to a many days of hot steamy weather. Our Cortland apple tree, the one we so fondly wassailed to back in January, was blanketed in hundreds of these beautiful pale pink blossoms and judging by the amount of pollinators dive bombing my head while I snapped these pictures I am hopeful that come fall she well be laden with almost as many sweet, red fruits .

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Last year’s odd spring weather did not allow us to enjoy the true beauty of all the flowering bushes of a home that was new to us. This year, however, the lilacs and other flowering things were spectacular and we have enjoyed the surprise of hues splashed about the property.

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Every night, right before dusk, a pair of geese guides their gaggle of goslings to our front pond for swimming lessons. While I was out taking photos the other night I got to see them all hop in, do a lap around the perimeter, mom and dad jumped up onto the bank and then waited patiently as their little ones struggle to do the same. On this particular evening all but one managed to climb out and started to follow their parents back to the tree line. I watched as the last gosling flapped and fluttered, trying its hardest to scale the bank and reach dry land. I looked at the mother and father who seemed to pay no mind as they continued on their way and then back to the gosling who refused to give up. Eventually one of the pair (I chose to think it the mother) did stop and waddle back toward its baby but only to a closer proximity, not to help or solve the gosling’s problem. Patiently the goose waited with no evidence of worry or concern (unlike me who was seriously becoming nervous that the gosling would never make its way out) until the little one was able to make that one big enough leap to stay out of the water and find its way to the top. Away they waddled, the little one working its tiny legs to catch up with the rest of the family who had all stopped and waited a little further ahead.

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Some days I am the mama goose, reminding myself that I need to let my babies make their own way, while I watch (seemingly full of calm) while they try and fail and try again. Other days, I am the gosling, feeling like no matter what I do and how I try I can’t make any headway; every step forward results in two steps back, ending with a great big splash into the water I had just previously escaped. Nothing, however, beats that confidence gained, both by mother and child alike, when success is achieved, obstacles are scaled and small steps forward or, perhaps in some cases giant leaps, are taken. It’s so hard to sit quietly and wait, it’s often too difficult to keep getting up to try again. But summer is coming, there are things to be taught, lessons to be learned, experiences to be had and things to be accomplished. There is a growing garden to be tended, newest additions to train, projects to be started…and finished. Luckily, I have a great big brood that I get the privilege to watch over, who will wait for me to get it right and we will swim the perimeter, always together.

if it’s not working…

Change it!

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The new garden plot.

Well the last couple weeks have been all about reconfiguring. Reconfiguring our plans, our wants, the things that we truly need and, most of all, our (often times unrealistic) expectations.

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Kevin preparing the soon to be potato patch.

Truth is, things had gotten a little out of hand; stuff on the homestead had seemed to take on a mind of its own. We were trying to do so many different things, in the hopes of being guided toward that which fulfilled us and that we honestly enjoyed. On the contrary, we were each being pulled in so many different directions that we were all suffering. Oh, the perks of restructuring you life and mindset all while in your 30s, raising two kiddlets and completely overhauling one’s living arrangements. We also found ourselves drifting away from some of our original intentions which had, of course, led us to this lifestyle in the first place. We were so busy everyday that Kevin and I found ourselves with little time and, unfortunately, sometimes even less energy and patience to really engage with the kids, what with constant farm chores, three meals a day to prepare (often times from scratch), businesses to attend to and any other general tasks all of us have to do in our daily lives. We also found that we all had little time left to pursue our individual creative endeavors, those things that refill each of our respective cups, allowing us to return to the group refreshed and recharged. The environment that we were unintentionally generating was in direct contrast to how we so badly wanted to live.

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Last year’s garden partially turned back into pasture.

Late this winter while discussing this season’s upcoming pasture rotation schedule we came to realize that the front pasture we used for our garden last year would need to be reseeded and transitioned back into grazeable land. I officially started off spring feeling deflated and firmly planted behind the proverbial eight ball. After all the work and soil amending we had done on the space, with tremendous help from the pigs no less, we faced the 2013 gardening season back at square one. We also sat down and discussed which livestock groups were working here, which we would like to possible add, and those that we would rather transition away from. Taking into consideration ease of keep (especially during the winter months), upfront and subsequent feed costs, resale value and whether or not the products that each inevitably provided could be purchased from other farming friends at a reasonable price, we started laying out slightly adjusted plans for the future.

I hope these guys get to stay!

I hope these guys get to stay!

As is usually the case, the further we move forward with these new plans of ours, the more the resulting benefits become apparent. We have scaled back the vegetable garden, finally convincing my father that we would never be able to make a living from market gardening if Kevin and I were the only two working at it. However, we can save quite a bit of money if we focus our efforts on the produce that we eat all year and put our energy into growing those crops well, then preserving them for winter. The garden is now much closer to the house which makes taking the kids out with me to tend to it much easier and tremendously more productive for me (this girl of ours is a runner, a daredevil and a huge majority of my days seem dedicated to keeping her from mortally wounding herself during one of her stunts). It also seems to be much more enjoyable for the kids, thanks to their play set and other toys soon being moved near by and a new picket fence that is being erected, allowing them to play safely within its confines, without me having to chase after the littlest every two minutes (that two minutes is not an exaggeration, by the way). We have already established various fruit trees and bushes, including a large strawberry patch that Kevin and I planted on the slope of a small hill, near the new garden area. As the new layout and design unfolds before us, my creative heart is happy with the aesthetic we are achieving, as well as the resulting increase in efficiency and more realistic goals we have set for ourselves.

It's a work in progress...

It’s a work in progress…

All of this reconfiguring has also allowed Kevin and I to begin focusing on creative endeavors that before had only received a fraction of our attention while we worked mainstream jobs and before we began cohabiting and pooling all of our respective resources. Our move here was supposed to allow for pockets of time, and interpersonal support for each of us, to rekindle these talents. I am so thankful that we were able to step back, re-evaluate where we wanted to end up, accepting where we currently were and having the courage to say “this is no longer working for us, we need to change it.” Sometimes the choices are tough, other times the decisions are a no brainer, what’s important is that we realize when things are heading in the wrong directions and have the strength and confidence to turn the train around. Granted, admitting that I can’t accomplish everything on my list(s) is certainly not my strongest quality but that is why I have Kevin. He, thankfully, plays the part of my brain (which I dreadfully lack) that tells me when I have reached the reasonable limit of things that can be accomplished, figures out which of my “to dos” really do not matter in the grand scheme of things and identifies those that will need to be left until another day.

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Sunset over the apple orchard down the road from us.

I have a feeling that exciting things are on the horizon and I think we will now have the time and energy to enjoy them.

What’s new with you? Has Spring’s arrival inspired exciting changes in your neck of the woods?

and that’s a wrap

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With the arrival of one last little ewe, we officially ended our 2013 lambing season on Monday. That makes seven ewe lambs and six rams for a total of 13 babies born. Almost an average of two sheep per bred ewe, which I am to understand is a pretty good result with Shetlands, especially considering many of them were first time mothers.

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With the exception of Hope and Catalina, who both lambed the same morning, each ewe gave birth within 48 hours of the previous lambs being born and I dare say you may have been able to set your watch to it. I think Kevin and I agree that it was the most fun we have had in all of our farm duties to this point. The anticipation of each ewe going into labor, combined with the surprise of how many would be delivered and what the new lambs would look like, made it that much more exciting.

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As far as we know (about half of the girls lambed without any of us witnessing the process) there were no birthing issues with the exception of the slight surprise of Catalina’s second twin being born hind legs first. No complications have occurred, no lambs have been rejected and all Moms and babies look healthy and energetic. All of the first timers have taken quite well to their new roles as mothers and milkers and we have been slowly introducing the new additions into the flock with little to no issues.

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We did have a couple of surprises that shocked even us. One of my favorite girls, Hannah, graced us with triplets (two ewes and a ram, no less) which is not only fairly rare in this breed of sheep but even rarer in a Shetland ewe’s first time lambing. The littlest of her lambs weighed in at 3 pounds and took an extra day to fully get her legs under her but she’s a little fighter and seems to be catching up quite nicely to her brother and sister. She has learned how to fight for her time at the udder to be sure that she always gets her fair share. Hope, one of our more experienced ewes, only had a single which I was not expecting but looking back on it now I should have been able to tell from her shape while pregnant. Her lamb turned out to be our only other completely white fleeced baby and was unfortunately a ram. Granted, he was the largest lamb born this year, weighing in at 9 pounds, and seems to have a very cute personality. While I was in the barn checking on everyone this afternoon, I turned around to find him chewing on the hem of my pants while his mother stood by nibbling on some hay.

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Looking back over the entire breeding and lambing process I believe that it was a success. Traveling to buy Zeke and Fergus looks as though it will pay off quite nicely as they have sired large, strong, healthy and interesting colored lambs. All the mothers have taken to their new roles better than I could have hoped for and have seemingly provided us with beautiful additions to our growing flock. I am fairly happy with the breeding pairs that I made and for the most part got the colors and patterns that I had hoped for. We are already looking forward to next fall’s breeding schedule. With a few tweaks, and last year’s ewe lambs being added to the mix, I am hopeful and excited to see what we get in 2014.

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For now it is back to sleeping through the night without going out on barn checks, having more time to write and post on this little blog of ours, as well as catching up and commenting on others, and attending to all our normal spring duties here on the farm. All with a few moments stolen to watch our little lambs bounding and hopping in the sunshine, of course. 😉

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ready…and still waiting

Our Easter/Welcome Spring celebration was small, quiet and relaxed. It was filled with:

new experiences for the littlest of us.

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Much needed time to play outside in the sun for those of us more susceptible to cabin fever.*

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And partaking in highly anticipated family traditions with one another.

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It was also sprinkled with many runs to the barn to check on the ewes. Honestly, I thought hoped that we would have a birth on Sunday (wouldn’t it have made for quite the pastoral scene, baby lambs on Easter Sunday and all?), but in spite of many of the girls looking as if they had dropped (some even seem to be nesting now) no newcomers have arrived.

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So for now there our boots sit, our flashlights at the ready, waiting for something to happen. We have added a middle of the night barn check to the routine and have found ourselves lingering longer and longer, watching them all mill about, hoping to hone our farmer instincts to provide us with a keener eye for next year’s round of lambing. Something tells me that the future years’ experiences will never top this one. There is nothing quite like the glorious, ignorant bliss of the unknown and the anticipation of a completely novel (at least to us) occurence, you know?

*The following day we awoke to an inch of snow on the ground and, with the wind chill added in, single digit temperatures. I had a few choice words for April Fools Day, which I will now keep to myself! Come to think of it, it probably explains why the sheep have yet to lamb, they are waiting for this weekend’s 50 degree days. Smart sheep! 😉

waiting…

Yesterday was the first day of the range in which all the lambs are due. We have begun our schedule of barn checks, popping in at least four times throughout the day (morning, noon, dinner time and before bed) to see if anyone is showing any signs.

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The lambing jugs are ready, individual feed and water buckets prepared, and fresh straw down. As you can probably see, Kevin made the jugs (a place where each ewe and her lambs can go to bond and be away from the bother of the rest of the herd) from pallets we had lying around and some extra panels of sheep fencing. That’s five free jugs that would have otherwise cost us $400 to buy new. When I went in to give everyone their snack this morning I let the girls know that we are ready whenever they are.

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Hum, I don’t think they were paying any attention.

Have a very happy holiday weekend if you are celebrating. We will be spending it, here at home, anxiously awaiting our new little arrivals!

happy sheep shearing day

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Today was shearing day here at the farm. Our twenty ovine friends got a trim bright and early this morning. All were fairly cooperative and the entire process took just over two hours. It was also 27 degrees and blowing snow, not exactly the spring weather we had hoped for on such an occasion. Consequently, everyone will be staying in the barn where they will stay dry and out of the wind until our weather improves a bit.

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Here is Miss. Dessie (one of our favorite and friendliest ladies) before shearing.

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And here she is after her hair cut. I think I spy a baby belly.

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They look so different without their fleece!

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Hannah is looking at Kevin, possibly wondering why we would do such an embarrassing thing to her?

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And the most mortified of all, the boys. Can’t you tell by the look on Zeke’s face that he is not happy with us?

We also uncovered more than a few large udders while removing all that fleece of their’s, leading us to believe that all seven ewes in this year’s breeding plan will grace us with at least one lamb each over the next month. Now we just wait and see!

I have twenty garbage bags of our very own wool to skirt, wash and process into roving. Let the fun begin! 🙂

Happy weekend!

desperately seeking spring

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This time last year it was 70 degrees outside. Unseasonably warm you say? Well yes, but none the less fantastic. We spent last March plowing up the vegetable garden and the hops yard, giving us quite a jumpstart on our spring farming. This year doesn’t look nearly as promising.

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I have started seeds inside, followed the kids outside every time the sun chooses to grace us with its presence and have completely given up trying to fight the allure of the cut tulips and daffodils that are strategically placed in the supermarket. I’m ready for spring. I need to get outside, with the kids in tow, feeling the sun warming my back as I plant…hum, what? Honestly, anything would do right about now! It doesn’t matter, I just need to get digging. I’m itching to watch little baby lambs running and jumping in the lush green grass and I need to eat that luscious yellow butter and cream that only comes after Lilac spends time munching on the late spring pastures. We have even scheduled shearing for this coming Friday (the only time the shearers will be in this part of the state). It’s supposed to be 35 degrees and snowing! Poor shearers, poor us and poor, cold and soon to be fleece-less sheep.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for winter, for all the seasons really, because they each have their purpose. For now I will occupy myself with a few more things that I had hoped to accomplish before winter’s end, which all seem to keep making their way to the back burner. So, in that spirit, here is my late winter “To Do” list…

I swear that, while I patiently wait for spring’s arrival, I will:

-Finish the farm’s business website.

-Place our berry and orchard order so it’s ready for spring pickup.

-Continue starting seeds inside, maybe throwing some micro-greens/sprouts into the mix to use while we wait for the garden’s bounty to arrive.

-Heft my spinning wheel to the neighbors to get some tips (and schedule in some practice time), before I am swimming in roving made from our sheeps’ fleeces and have no idea how to process it.

-Finally get our sourdough starter…well, started.

-Setup a batch of Kombucha to ferment before the warmer weather hits.

-Enjoy the time left inside before the majority of our days shift to our outside duties.

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How do you fight the end-of-winter blues and what are you up to while waiting for spring’s arrival?