Back in the Saddle

November 22, 2017

After losing a day to a vicious but short-lived intestinal flu, yesterday I was able to work all day long, slowly and steadily. It was very satisfying. Above is my white hen, Yuki (I have no idea of her breed; she was a rescue) investigating the floor of the quarter of the sheep stall I had mucked deep bedding out of.

This bedding should have been mucked out at the beginning of last summer — i.e. when I was busy moving house. Now it is 14 inches thick, wet, dense, and stinking. I use a pick-axe and a pitchfork, and gradually peel off hat, jacket, and fleeces as I sweat. The load is so heavy I can barely keep the wheelbarrow upright to roll it out of the barn.  It is slow work. To finish the entire stall will take 8-9 hours. I’m tackling it in two-hour chunks.

It’s a terrible job but I am relieved to have started. I lack confidence in many areas but I do have faith that once started on deep bedding in a stall, I will finish. (The lamb stall and the sheep addition are also on my list for this vacation — another 12+ hours of work. Given everything else I’m trying to get done, those two may have to wait for Christmas break.) Once this stall is finished, I will worm the sheep and trim their hooves.

Yesterday I also paid bills, spent a first hour unpacking my office, dug the compressor out of the garage, found our winter boots, went grocery shopping, picked up my repaired horse trailer from Mike, put the trailer away for the winter in my neighbor’s barn, got one of my recalcitrant mowers started, and moved 4×8 sheets of sheetrock off the porch out of the weather.

Somehow the day was so heartening that I suddenly realized: I can do it. Yes, there is awful mess everywhere I look but the overwhelming snarl is becoming thinner. I will eventually prevail.

“I’m really happy,” I told DH when I came inside to wash up and fix supper. “I only wish I had two hundred hours to get everything done.”


Gods and Generals

November 10, 2017

One problem is solved. My farm friend Chip contacted me the other evening on Facebook. “Would you like a juvenile rooster?”

Ever since Monty’s disappearance I had been looking sadly on Craigslist. (Each fall there are free roosters available for the taking.) Unfortunately all the appropriate ones were two hours away. While I did want a rooster, at this pressured time the thought of using a day to get one made me wilt. Exactly how committed am I to the happiness of my hens? Now here was Chip with a potential candidate just down the road.

“Sure!” I wrote. “As long as he’s not some kind of nutty breed.” (I prefer classic, old-fashioned chickens.) I didn’t hear back. Fifteen minutes later, however, the headlights of a truck sliced through the darkness as I was walking down the hill to the barn. I peered in at the figure behind the wheel. It was Chip, driving with a chicken on his lap.

“What kind of rooster is he?” I said, slightly unnerved by the extraordinary promptness of this gift.

“I don’t know!” Chip said cheerfully, and showed the bird to me. The rooster was black with gold, green, and rust-colored feathers and a shaggy face.

“Oh! He’s an Ameraucana, I think. Ameraucanas also have black legs.”

Chip lifted the chicken to show me the legs. Black.

“Great!” Every rooster I’ve ever had, except for my first, a Buff Orpington in 2002, has been part Ameraucana. They are pretty birds and the hens lay blue-green eggs.

Chip explained that the owners of the farm where he works had not wanted a rooster with its hens and had told him to put this one outside and “let nature take its course.” This attitude always infuriates me. Nature left the chicken a long time ago; they are completely dependent on human care.

In the barn, the girls perked up immediately at the sight of the new boy in town, and flew down from the roost to look him over. The teenager seemed more anxious than cocky.

Chip said, “Isn’t he beautiful?”

Actually, I think he just misses beauty. He greatly resembles my old rooster Russell Crow, with green, gold, and rust over basic black. (Chip asked me what I would name him, and my first thought was to go Biblical and call him Joseph, for his coat of many colors.) However, this boy’s outfit goes a bit too far by adding a pair of black and white spotted cheek muffs and beard. These tip the look over into “too busy” — and to my eyes, plain.

From the rear he looks reasonably sleek …

… but from the front he’s got a little too much going on.

I really love to watch a beautiful rooster. However… no creature should be judged solely on beauty. This one needed rescue. He is here. And there is always the chance his look will come together as he matures. In the meantime, his unfortunate facial adornment reminds me of the Civil War Union general Ambrose Burnside, whose own extravagant facial hair gave “sideburns” to the language.

With my coyote stalker, it seems I could use a general in the barn — even a meek, teenaged one.

Welcome to the farm, Ambrose.

No Happy Ending

November 3, 2017

Even though I knew it was unlikely, I was hoping for another miracle. I really wanted my rooster Monty to have escaped the coyote. I wanted to open the barn doors to find him on his usual perch, to hear him land with a thump! on the top of the doorway to crow with joie de vivre. Monty was a big crower. Walking the dogs at 4:30 AM in the dark every day I would hear Monty’s muffled heralds to the morning from up the hill.

But now the barn is empty except for the four remaining hens, who are very subdued. There is no swaggering, boasting, cocky (live with a rooster and you really understand that word) black ball of energy, clucking and scurrying and busily investigating every development.

Looking at my notes I see Monty was killed exactly a year to the day after I brought him home. In October 2016 I’d told DH I was going to drive three hours round-trip to pick up a free rooster.

Early last summer my long-time rooster, Nelson Eddy, had passed away peacefully of old age, dropping dead from his perch in the night at age nine. Nelson’s son, Lin-Manuel, reigned for only six weeks before he was killed by this current daylight-raiding coyote, along with his mother and two aunts. I needed a new rooster.

DH said, “Why do you need a rooster? Don’t the hens lay eggs anyway?”

Well, yes, but in my mind a flock isn’t a flock without a rooster, nor is a barn a barn, or a farm a farm. To me there is something archetypical and comforting about a rooster.

Nelson ruling the manure pile, 2010

So I drove to a distant farm and brought Monty home. He was tall, dark, slim, and handsome. I named him Montgomery Clift. He was also very wild. Unlike every chicken I’d ever raised, Monty had never been around people. His owner caught him in a net and I drove him home in a traveling crate. The minute I let him out he exploded from the barn and disappeared into the woods. Our first few days consisted of me trying to lure him to the safety of the barn to lock him inside. Then once I had him inside, if he noticed me he took off with a squawk.

Within weeks he calmed down enough to endure me walking past from a safe distance of twenty feet.

And within months he sensibly paid me no attention at all.

But I watched him — and his cheerful, arrogant rooster personality made me happy all year long.

Oh, Monty. I’m sad you’re gone.

No Words

November 2, 2017

Yesterday was a busy day. After teaching, I raced up to see Lucy at college and drop off her birthday presents. I could only stay to give her a hug because I had to pick up my freezer lamb at the slaughterhouse and get home in time to pick up the dogs at the vet. (They have to be in the vet while the stair work is being done.) Somehow I had absentmindedly thought: Lucy’s college is two hours north, the slaughterhouse is two hours north, the two places are practically next door to each other. Nope. To my fright, at the last moment I discovered they were 45 minutes apart. Yikes! Hurry! I ran in to pick up the dogs just under the wire.

After unloading the heavy boxes of lamb into my freezers and walking the dogs, I pulled on my coveralls and went down to barn chores. That’s when I discovered the pile of golden feathers.

One of my Buff Orpington hens had clearly jumped over the hard 42″ fence and been killed by the coyote fifteen feet from the entrance to the barn. (To keep the chickens from wandering, I’d pulled the barrn doors closed, so after jumping out she would have had no way to get in except to jump back over the fence.) This killing happened in broad daylight.

My rooster, Monty, is also missing. I found no black feathers anywhere, so I have a flicker of hope. It’s possible he fled into the woods and is hiding. However, I do know it’s unlikely. It’s far more likely that the coyote carried him off to eat elsewhere. That flicker of hope can drive me crazy sometimes.

I’m so sad and angry with this coyote, with myself for not finishing my sheep and poultry pen, and with the  foolishness of chickens… I have no words.


November 1, 2017

After two days of whipping wind (60 mph gusts) and rain, yesterday we had snow flurries. My heart dropped. I’m not ready! I have a two page, two column, typed, single-spaced FALL list of everything I need to do before winter!

Even as I felt a spurt of panic, though, I had a small wave of yearning. A part of me longs to jump ahead to deep cold, when life on the farm contracts to the small, snug barn… and expectations lower to keeping the animals warm, dry, fed, and watered.

The bold coyote has complicated my life this year, and I cannot relax my vigilance. A few Saturdays ago I was walking the dogs down to the barn and we spooked the coyote from the weedy edge of the driveway. It was 11 AM. Stash was torn between growling and fright. Eighteen-pound Toby (coyote snack food) barked and strained at his leash. The coyote looked at us scornfully and withdrew.

Most early mornings and late evenings when I take the dogs out to pee in the dark, we hear a coyote howling under the stars.

Thus every morning I have a lot of extra work, moving the sheep fence, moving the hard fence for the geese…

… and dumping and refilling their swimming troughs.

After keeping the chickens in the barn for a month (they thought it was winter and stopped laying) I rigged up a makeshift temporary enclosure with a scrap of old rusty welded wire I picked up for free. It works, but I have to take it down and set it up every day.

I will be happy to be done with this extra hour or two when the farm is buried in snow. (There will still be hours of work; just different. Inevitably I will be thawing my frozen “frost-free” water hydrants.) But in order to be ready for the snow I have to get through my list.


A Narrow Escape

August 7, 2017

Here’s my rooster, Monty (named for Montgomery Clift, because as a young cockerel he was slim, tall, dark, and handsome) back in February. Someday I’ll have to write a history of my roosters, but for now suffice it to say that last fall I drove an hour and half to pick up Monty from a farm in Mooers Forks. He took over my small flock of four hens with adolescent enthusiasm. His own harem! Sex at every opportunity!

Monty struts with self-importance and crows all day long. “Shut up!” I hear the builders yell good-naturedly in reply.

For the last three days I have been very busy with guests and struggling to put things together in the house. (Where could the cross bars of the bed frame be?) Yesterday at around 2 PM I was sweating over bookcase pieces in the living room when the dogs suddenly leapt up barking.

I ran to the window and saw nothing. The dogs stared out the glass patio doors for a moment but eventually went back to sleep.

An hour later I took them for a walk and to my sorrow found dozens of black and green iridescent feathers littering the ground in front of the barn. I felt sick. The feathers were unmistakably Monty’s. That coyote has killed my rooster ten feet in front of the barn in broad daylight!

I walked the dogs feeling sad and savage. My mind churned.

However, this time I received my miracle. At chore time, there was Monty in the barn! He looked shell-shocked, huddled with his four hens. He also had only two scraggly feathers left in his tail. But he was alive.

I have to come up with a good solution for this problem. I don’t want to shoot the coyote (I don’t own a .22 anyway). He or she is just trying to make a living. However I need to keep my creatures safe from predators. Thank you, God, for this momentary reprieve.

Today I am supposed to be on the road all day. It is pouring rain. I may leave the geese and chickens in the barn while I am gone.



May 23, 2017

The good news is that Damon figured out what was wrong with my truck. We were due to pick it up on Saturday when he called me. “I woke up in the middle of the night and I was thinkin’ — maybe the brake shoe in the back fell off and is jammin’. Have ’em pull off the drum and take a look.” The shop called me yesterday. This was indeed the issue.

The bad news is that the total bill for repairs will be $1500. My scalp is starting to twitch. I have had our expenses parsed to the dime and was already short. $2000 in vehicle repairs in two days was not in my plans.

My days are crazily busy, every minute scheduled from now until June 7, when school is out. So many tasks and so many worries that I’ve forgotten something. Did I order the toilets? Did I measure for the countertops? What about the bathroom tile?  On Saturday renters for the farm apartment arrive; after work this week I need to clean the apartment, touch up paint, and write the lease. I’ve chosen a bank for our mortgage but must schedule the application date around the time the house is expected to be ready for appraisal. That appears to mean I cannot apply until June 15. Not only may the rate go up but sixty days later, at the closing date, DH will be in South America. I’m adding Look into getting a Power of Attorney to the list. In my professional life I’m teaching, correcting tests, and writing diplomas. This weekend I have to start writing final reports for all my students and creating yearbook pages for all the graduating seniors. Monday I host a class dinner for 25.

Meanwhile the coyote apparently came back yesterday in daylight and stole another hen. I need to walk the fences in the north and south pastures and turn those lines on. The challenge is to find the time. Every morning it takes an hour to move the sheep before work, and another half hour to muck out the barn.

My brain is so overloaded I don’t make a move without my lists. I can’t take my eyes off the ball. Focus, focus, focus.

Two more weeks and the worst will be over.