Starting the Sheep Paddock

December 10, 2017

Last Sunday I began putting up 16-foot welded wire panels to build the sheep paddock. I meant to start this project six weeks ago. Unfortunately due to other commitments it kept rolling off the bottom of the list.

The first task was to carry each of the fourteen heavy, wobbly panels two hundred yards to the future paddock. Next I had to assemble my tools: pickaxe, shovel, hammer, bucket of fence staples, level, string, nails, steel t-posts, post slammer, wire post clips, and clip tightener. By the time I got it all to the site I was sweating and could remove my wool hat.

If you look at the top picture you can see that the ground is very uneven. This continues to greater and lesser degrees entirely around the future enclosure.

To erect each panel I pull a string tight between the two treated posts, and sink a t-post at the midpoint. Then I smooth the path for the panel, digging out the high humps with my pickaxe and filling in the low points with my shovel.

Last Sunday the ground was half frozen, coming up in chunks fanged with hoar frost, but I could still work it. I got my first two panels up.

I had realized belatedly (while Damon and I were setting posts) that this corner would be problematic, as it backs up to a stone wall. It was too late to do anything then, with Damon in pain and two posts already laboriously set. I imagine I will put extensions on those posts and run electric lines or barbed wire across the top. It will look a bit strange, but with my budget I can’t worry about looks, only effectiveness.

I had meant to get the rest of the panels up over the course of last week. I had printed out a schedule with two hours of fencing written into each day. Unfortunately, issues with my real job suddenly rose up to take over my life.

Every spare minute and ounce of energy was burned.

Now it’s a week later. Yesterday afternoon, after writing (late) student reports most of the day, I managed to put up two more panels before dark. Each panel takes an hour. The ground is now frozen solid three inches down.

As I chopped with my pickaxe, chips of ice sprayed my glasses. My numb hands were bleeding from the barbs on the fence staples I pulled out of my pockets. Typical! I smiled to myself, remembering Allen’s scolding. Blood from my cut hands dripped down on him from my perch on a ladder in the snow as we put up metal roofing on the homemade sauna. “How come you always do this shit in the winter time?” However I knew he would respect that I was out there trying. No skills, maybe no wisdom, but I could work. In one of our last conversations on the phone, Allen laughed hearing my list and said affectionately, “You are a busy bee.”

Today’s list, with times attached to each chore, is 10.5 hours long. Only one of those hours is devoted to fencing. Tonight the temperature is due to fall to 14° F and by Wednesday it will be below zero. I think in my one hour I will need to pull all my lines, sink all my posts, and do my best with the pickaxe. The ground will soon be iron.

* * *

This morning there was a large pile of coyote scat in the middle of the driveway in the bend by the birches. He was right under my window.



December 9, 2017

This has been a rough week. DH and I have both been feeling ropy. (Such a great British word, with its sense of old, stringy, worn, and frayed.) At the end of the hard week, poor DH had to head out on the road for five days. So I have been alone, with the dogs, the cattle, the sheep, the geese, the chickens, Flossie the barn cat, and the lists.

I have been so tired and my eyes so scratchy that I have thought I must be coming down with pink-eye. But no. Just exhaustion.  I wake up at 4 and try to make a plan for the day, then stick to it with discipline through supper. I am behind on grading tests, writing term reports, and of course on many projects in the house and on the farm. My daily list shuffles me through these responsibilities.

Tonight after barn chores, I grilled a small steak and ate at the dining room table. (The steak had already been thawed or I’d have snacked on peanut butter or cheese and apples.) After a bath, wrapped in my thick terry robe, I read for a few minutes on our bed as a reward for my day of diligence.

I must have dozed off, because I woke to a coyote loudly howling. It was 7 PM. It sounded as if the coyote was just outside the house.

We hear coyotes all the time, but this was very close. I know they are close, but not usually when I’m awake. In the night the coyotes gnaw on frozen drops under the apple tree at the edge of the driveway, fifty feet from our door. Not only do my dogs go crazy with snuffling, but the scat I find everywhere in the pastures is full of apples. Apples and seeds and not much else. No feathers; no fur. No goose! I think to myself as I kick the scat apart to examine it. No chicken or lamb! I’m grateful but at the same time I think: poor things, they must be hungry.

Rousing to the sound of howling under my window, however, triggered a more primitive response. I’m Ma and Pa Ingalls out on the wild prairie with my girls, and the wolves are circling! I wanted to poke up the fire and arm myself with a big club. Or possibly even grab Pa’s gun from its hooks over the front door.

Instead I simply put on my slippers and turned on the outside lights.


December 5, 2017

45 mph winds buffeted the house all night, and at 5 AM roared in the trees while I walked the dogs in the dark.

I am behind on deadlines for work and the threatening sound ratchets my nerves a little tighter.

I think I need to hunt up some happy Christmas hymns to sing along with at barn chores.

Tiny Pleasures

December 4, 2017

Yesterday was a busy day without much time to concentrate on projects.

However I did add a few boards to the mudroom paneling, including this one which made me happy. To fit this piece I had to cut a hole in the middle of the board (not from an edge) and trim off the back of the groove (there was no way to slide the groove over the tongue of the lower board in the tight space). All of this would be obvious and easy for anyone with a better brain than I have, but I felt extremely clever to figure it out.

Soon, of course, the board will nearly disappear under door trim and brick trim from each edge, but beneath will remain this tiny board that whispers to me: You’re not entirely incompetent!


Slowly Paneling

December 3, 2017

Work on paneling the mudroom proceeds slowly. Not only has my time been limited but the mudroom itself is a challenge.

The poured concrete floor is not level. The ceiling is not level. The walls are not plumb, leaning slightly either in or out, and in several spots are bowed. While the concrete floor is not my fault, the rest is a testament to my limited building skills back in 2009. It all would have disappeared under the smooth blankness of sheetrock, but for some reason last spring I had the bright notion to panel the room with the straight lines of tongue and groove pine. What was I thinking?

At the bottom of the first corner, I worked very hard to line up the boards, like matching a pattern at a dress seam. However the floor slopes, the west wall leans west, and the north wall bows in. Despite all my efforts, when I made the bottom board level, the joint was 1/16″ off.

I knew this discrepancy would multiply as the wall grew higher, and sure enough it did — to half an inch.

I couldn’t think what to do, puzzling over it for an embarrassingly long time. My brain doesn’t work spatially, remember?

First I tried cutting down the groove on one small board. Oops, that does nothing. Then I tried cutting down the tongue. Nope. I finally realized that to get back on track I’d have to remove the boards and rip a lower board down the middle to remove a quarter inch.

However, my table saw is submerged in the flotsam of the garage … the boards on each side of the window had to meet and be level above it … and I was dealing with a bow in the wall that meant the capping board wanted to stand out a half-inch from the surface (the finishing nails were not strong enough to pull it in). At this point I gave up and decided to go with my friend Gary’s advice: “The simplest thing is to add a piece of trim over the joint and worry about something else that is really important.”

The decision was made. Still, I hated to have the obvious fault, so I pulled DH out to the mudroom to show him.

“I’m going to add a piece of corner trim,” I said, “and there will be the wood cookstove and the chopping block in front of it and the hanging rack above, so I think it will be OK.”

DH was reassuring. “Of course! No one will ever notice.”

Certainly he will not. A few minutes later he asked if we had a hatchet. He wanted to split some kindling for the woodstove in the homemade sauna I built for him in 2010.

“Yes, we do. It’s on the shelf in the garden shed.”

He looked baffled. “Where is the garden shed?”

I built the garden shed two years ago. It’s an 8′ x 12′ building. He has walked past it hundreds of times.

He has never noticed it.

I think for all its imperfections the mudroom will be fine.


Goings and Comings

December 1, 2017

Early to barn chores yesterday to put out hay, turn out the cows, then sort out the four ewe lambs and turn out the rest of the flock.

My buyers from Maine arrived exactly at 7:30 AM as promised. Unfortunately they arrived in an open truck with a stake rack only two bars high. My sheep would have been loose on the highway — except that they’d never have made it to the highway; in their panic they’d have hopped out at the farm. I had a moment of inner rage. (My patience is a thin veneer, especially under the time pressure of having to shower and change and get to work on time.) However I managed to smile and move on to problem-solving. In the end I gave them half of a welded wire panel and we tied it on over the top of the stake rack with baling twine.

The couple was very pleasant and their obvious delight in the beauty of the sheep — so much bigger and prettier, they said, than their flock of Clun Forests descended from stock from another breeder — that I was mollified long before they drove out. They spoke of moving their sheep to fresh grass every day, and it always makes me happy to have my animals go to good homes. Meanwhile I am relieved to have lower numbers in my barn. (I have two handsome ram lambs still to sell. Given the lateness of the season I may be wintering them over.)

After teaching my four classes I went to town for errands. Imagine my surprise and delight when I drove in after dark to see a college van dropping off Lucy for the night! The ski team was in town to ski on the neighboring trails and will be returning today, so Lucy elected to sleep at home.

Happiness is having your baby girl showered and in p.j.s doing homework in front of the fire, even just for one night.

Back on Track

November 30, 2017

Early yesterday morning I turned out the cows, mucked the stalls, and then moved the sheep into Moxie’s stall for worming. Moxie’s stall has enough tight angles to make it easier for me to crowd the sheep to the wall to get the medicine down their throats. Still, easier does not mean easy, and I was smeared with manure by the time the job was done. After turning the sheep out and jumping in the shower I was off to teach.

After work I cut back all the perennials in the apartment garden (only three months late! — I was shaking snow off the dead fronds) and replaced the path’s solar lights for my tenant.

Next Damon arrived to work on the tractor. It has a flat tire. The tire is old, probably original to the machine (thirty years). The rubber is severely weather-checked. Damon had brought two air tanks but we could hear the air leaking out almost as fast as he pumped it in. Still, he was able to fatten the tire just enough to spend twenty minutes pushing back my manure pile. Cleaning the deep bedding out of just one of the two sheep stalls had caused the pile to creep ominously toward the barn. It smoked and steamed in the cold as Damon stacked it hurriedly before the big back tire went flat again.

Because I use waste hay for bedding, my manure pile has the potential to be prime fertilizer for my fields. Maybe someday I’ll be able to create a covered space so the nutrients can be best conserved. For now, I am happy to look out of the hayloft and see the tons of heavy wet material pushed into a reasonably tidy heap.

It also felt great last night to be able to cross three things off my list.

This morning, farmers from Maine are arriving at 7:30 AM to buy four of my teenaged ewe lambs to add to their flock. I’m writing a bill of sale before I prep for my classes and then will head down the hill to turn out the cows, muck the barn, and sort out the lambs into another stall before I turn out the sheep. Once the farmers are gone, I will change quickly and drive to work.

A busy day. I’m back on track.