We took my baby to school yesterday. Here she is at barn chores with me the evening before.
My heart is so full.
Yesterday Lucy and I made a final trip downstate to finish her shopping for school. She has grown so much — 5′ 9″ now — she required an entirely new wardrobe of clothes and shoes. Visit by visit, we’ve hit the sales and slowly crossed off all the items on our list.
While we were there we dashed in to see Jon at his work so Lucy could give him a quick hug goodbye until Christmas.
I guess it’s really going to happen. Both my babies will be gone.
Last weekend I unexpectedly had the help of Luke, the college student who has worked for me on and off after school since he was 15. In four packed and slightly breathless days, we got lots of things crossed off my list. One was separating the lambs from the ewes and bringing the lambs home from Betty’s pasture to the farm.
The photo above shows the flock of Clun Forest ewes and lambs waiting for me to open the gate so they can move to fresh grass down the slope.
Betty’s pasture is problematic because the sloping field is enclosed by stone walls, so it is almost impossible to get a horse trailer into it. (My trucker friend, D, managed it once for me, backing through a 75-point turn, but I am not D.)
Thus my plan was to build a catch-pen in a corner of the pasture out of cattle panels and a pipe gate, run the sheep into it, use the gate as a gentle crush to crowd the flock, and then lift each lamb over the cattle panels and carry it the fifty yards to the borrowed horse trailer waiting in the lane.
This plan did work — after a fashion. Sweet feed quickly enticed the sheep into the catch-pen. I slipped into the pen with the flock, where I could easily catch each lamb. (Though some of the lambs are almost as tall as the ewes, they could be distinguished at a glance because I change ear tag colors each year — this year’s tag is blue.)
Unfortunately, I am not quite strong enough to lift a struggling, 75-pound lamb high in the air to clear a 52″ cattle panel. Luke is 6′ 5″ and could lean over the wire to help, but after a couple of lambs he and I were both slightly pop-eyed. Luckily Lucy and her friend Evie were on hand to help.
Our system became: I caught and lifted each lamb as high as I could. Luke and Lucy both leaned over the panel and grabbed a rear leg, to swing the lamb’s bottom over the fence. We all hung on until Luke had the lamb upright and snug in his arms. Then Luke (with Lucy hovering, just in case) carried the lamb to the trailer, where Evie manned the swinging door to pop each lamb in without the earlier lambs jumping out.
Luke, Lucy, and I were all puffing by the time we had separated and carried the last lamb.
“I think I have to figure out how to build a sheep handling system,” I said, hanging onto the fence to catch my breath. “I don’t know how I would ever get this done on my own … or when I’m older.”
Lucy wiped the sweat from her face and exclaimed, “I don’t know either!”
Maybe that can be a project for next year.
There are two spots in my back field where timothy is growing. Each plot is only about 50′ x 50′. Nevertheless, they encouraging. Most of the field is nutsedge, goldenrod, briar, burdock, raspberries, poplar saplings, and other weeds that can survive the acid soil. Though they keep the field a pretty green, they are almost all inedible.
The timothy is growing in the path taken by my manure spreader for two summers. The thick dressing of manure on those sections lifted the soil pH enough to allow the seeds from the waste hay to take root.
This summer, those small stands of timothy were my spur to get the back field fenced. In late June, between other chores, I managed to pound posts and string electric line to enclose one of the plots. By that time, the timothy was mature hay. In the photo above, there are four cattle lying contentedly in the timothy, chewing cud.
The animals grazed off the small plot in one night. When Allen was mowing the farm in July, I took down the fence and had him mow off the stalky remains.
By mid-August the timothy was again thick (by my pasture’s standards), and about 8″ high. I restrung the fence lines and turned the cows back out in it.
Now it was tender second growth. What excitement! What delight!
The cattle galloped, bucked, and snorted in ecstasy, tearing greedy mouthfuls and wheeling to buck again, before all settling down to serious eating.
I went home that night and exclaimed to DH, “It makes me so happy to see my cows so happy!”
He gave me a quizzical smile, but after thirty years the odd things that bring me joy no longer surprise him.
A couple of weeks later, my college helper Luke and I spent a sweaty, fly-bitten afternoon pounding posts, snapping on insulators, and stringing more line.
By suppertime we had enclosed another couple of acres of weeds, including the second small plot of timothy.
I turned out the cattle.
New pasture! New horizons! Again the excitement and running in all directions!
Then muzzles down into the small stand of timothy for concentrated eating. Their contentment was palpable.
Luke’s grin was as wide as my own.
The timothy was gone in the morning, but all I can think of these days is how desperately I need to lime this land. Two trucks, once a year, for five years ought to do it. About $1500 a year. Surely it would be worth it.
Imagine how happy my animals would be and how rich I would feel, if all seventeen open acres grew this kind of forage!
Labor Day weekend and I am laboring. This has been a good summer, with a respectable amount of work accomplished, but the list is still long and time is running out.
Tuesday, Lucy and I visit Jon downstate; Wednesday, my new job for the school year starts; Friday, DH and I drive Lucy to her new school in New Hampshire. The hours are ticking by. Get it done, get it done, get it done! I am simultaneously burned out and too wired to sleep.
I hope in the interstices of the coming weeks I can put up some photographs. Last summer was so grueling in every dimension (family, farm, weather) that it left me with something like PTSD. This one was a welcome return to near-normal — apart from weekly trips out of town and lots of carpooling, it was mostly sweat, sunburn, and long hours of mowing, mucking, animal care, and work on projects new and old. Beneath the tiredness and sense of pressure, when I look around I’m actually pretty cheerful.
Off to chores!