Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

January 14, 2018

A typical bright Adirondack morning. These photos were taken yesterday at 9 and 10 AM. We got six fresh inches of snow.

I had noticed that the dozens of robins here on Thursday were gone by Friday afternoon when my geese were playing in the puddles. The robins must have known something.

Just before lunch the snow stopped, the sky cleared, and the temperature began to plummet. This morning it is -27° F.

Winter here can be a long siege.


No Heroics

January 13, 2018

The thaw yesterday was incredible. Two feet of snow had vanished in the rain and wind by the time I got home from work. The geese were happy. They splashed in the puddles while I mucked the barn. The chickens strolled the grass looking with foolish hope for bugs. I kept a watchful eye for the coyote as I trundled the heavy wheelbarrow in and out.

I straightened sagging fences, pumped up the truck tires, emptied our trash and recyclables, and drove to school to pick up four bales of mulch hay. I restacked bales of shavings that were in danger of getting wet in flooding. I re-bedded the stalls, filled mangers and water buckets, and brought in the cattle and sheep.

By the time I threw open the door to the sheep addition to start mucking, it was dark and my energy was spent.

Some of the light bulbs have burned out. I gazed down the gloomy, 320 square-foot expanse of heavy work waiting for me and my pick-axe.

I have worked alone for so many years that I can drive myself through almost any tough chore. Moreover I knew the job would be much easier in the thaw. But in the time left, I could at most make one foot of progress. My bad knee was aching. I’d been up since 3:30 AM. It was time to start dinner.

I leaned the pick-axe against the wall and closed and bolted the door.

This morning it is snowing. Tonight it will be -20° F again.

A Providential Thaw

January 12, 2018

Yesterday morning before work I spent an hour digging out the deep snowbank around the barn paddock fence. Over the day the temperature rose into the low 40s. The snow everywhere ebbed quickly.

Somehow a couple of dozen robins appeared and were hopping around the new bare patches in the fields. Robins? In January? Normally I first spot them March 30, plus or minus a few days. I found the sight of them at this season frightening, but when I inquired of a local naturalist he told me a few male robins often overwinter in town, surviving on crabapples. Though I saw closer to 20 than “a few,” I was comforted to hear that they were not necessarily harbingers of the apocalypse. (Note to self: buy some crabapple whips in the spring from the county Soil and Water Conservation service, which sells landscaping trees for about $5 each).

By evening the driveway was plate ice, running with water. Today it is raining and the high wind in the trees sounds like a passing train. The temperature is due to climb to 55°. Tonight it is supposed to switch to snow, and tomorrow’s storm is predicted to bring 4-6″ of powder and overnight a return to 15° below zero, with a windchill of -27°F.

Today is my short day at work so I should have three hours of daylight (grey, rainy, and gloomy, but still light) to work outside. Yesterday afternoon, an unexpected meeting in town bumped my “Things to Get Done in the Thaw” list, so today I have a double load. I need to:

  1. pump up the truck’s flat tire and pick up some mulch hay*
  2. rearrange materials on the front porch before it is snow-covered again
  3. fix the barn paddock hydrant
  4. straighten and hammer down snow fence posts leaning in the thaw
  5. muck the deep bedding out of the barn addition while it is not frozen.

The deep bedding in the addition should have been mucked out last June when the sheep went out on pasture, but I was moving us then. The addition is 10′ x 32′. The foot-thick bedding is now dried and petrified to something like adobe. For the past month it has been frozen adobe and in passing I’ve glanced in at it from the main barn, mentally wringing my hands. I could have lambs in as little as two weeks and will need the stall to be clean and fresh. (Ewes go from the main stall to the lambing jugs, and then from the jugs with their lambs to the addition.) Today’s thaw is a gift from God.

I think cleaning the addition will take about eight hours. (Why do I have to have a real job?) Normally I spread these hours over a week. We’ll see what I can finish in ninety minutes . . . in the rain and wind.

It’s good to have goals.


* Of course, Rick the hay man still hasn’t appeared with the mulch hay he promised to bring in early December and several times since!


January 11, 2018

For some reason this week has seemed very long. I’m trudging through my lists.

Yesterday afternoon the temperature began to climb and after work I spent ninety minutes sweeping snow off the big stack of tongue-and-groove panel boards I had stored on the porch, shaking them clean, and carrying them into the mudroom. It has been so cold that the boards were still dry. I did not want them wet, or worse, encased in ice.

Every Sunday I look at the long-range forecast and stage all the week’s chores according to the weather. This wood-moving job had been penciled in for Tuesday, but I had the students’ stomach virus that day and barely dragged myself through classes. Thankfully, the serious thaw didn’t start until last night.

However, now — in addition to moving boxes, jackets, barn clothes, boots, dog paraphernalia, and the giant air compressor and other tools — the mudroom is crowded with stacks of boards. There is a narrow path through all the mess.

I must finish the paneling. I just haven’t had time.

I had planned the work for this Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, because DH was supposed to leave this afternoon and be away for four days on business. Just clearing a space to work on the walls will require a lot of shifting and stacking. Everything will look very much worse before it looks better. DH is a neat person by nature and living in any sort of mess is stressful for him. He has enough stress right now. So I had thought, Terrific! He’ll be away for the mess tornado! But now it appears his trip has been canceled.

Of course I’m happy to have DH home and not putting in exhausting hours on the road. However it means I have to figure out how to manage this job without the house looking like a FEMA site.

Before I can do that, today’s challenge is to dig out the buried barn paddock fence — now four feet deep in wet, heavy snow — before it refreezes into a permanent winter landscape feature.


January 10, 2018

I’ve separated my ewe Pixie into the lamb stall for her safety. Pixie is five and a half years old, from a well-known breeder; she’s pretty, well-bred, and undersized. (Someday I’ll write about her background.)

In the late winter of 2015 Pixie came down with a mysterious illness that was never diagnosed, though mentally I’ve filed it under meningeal worm (a brain parasite shed by deer). At the time I was on the phone and computer to vets and to my sheep group. At their advice I treated her for, successively: milk fever, toxemia, selenium deficiency, and barber pole worm; and I investigated both polio and listeriosis. Nothing I did or any of the shots I gave her over the two weeks I labored made any apparent difference, except to preserve her life. She was left with wasted muscles in her hind legs that have kept her wobbly on her feet.

A real farmer would have sent Pixie to slaughter. I didn’t. Once she recovered, she ate eagerly and seemed happy to wobble along behind the flock. She gave me strong sets of twins in both 2016 and 2017.

This year she appears to be pregnant with twins again. However the weakness in her hindquarters has dramatically increased. Her forelegs slide forward and she collapses to the floor with any sudden movement. In the big stall the younger ewes (and the two unsold rams) shove her aside and then trample over her. Twice I’ve found her knocked onto her back, four legs in the air. A sheep will soon die of bloat in this position. Both times I rushed in and yanked her upright.

Once again the problem is mysterious. Her hooves are trimmed and fine. She has been wormed; she has access to a mineral supplement. My tentative guess is that the lambs she is carrying are somehow exerting pressure on her weakened muscles… but it’s only a guess.

For now I have pulled her into the lamb stall to keep her from being knocked around. Flock or herd animals can panic on their own so I put Geranium in with her for company. Geranium, who is six, injured a back leg years ago and has her own, less-serious mobility issues. The two are in the small lamb stall at night and, while the rest of the flock goes outside, in the big stall during the day. They don’t seem unhappy. I remind myself to be careful not to overfeed them in compensation; neither will be helped by oversized lambs.

I hope:

  1. Pixie can carry these lambs to term
  2. Pixie can deliver the lambs, despite her vastly increased hind-end weakness
  3. Pixie’s normal 70% strength will return once the lambs are born.

I know that’s a lot of hoping.

The Cold Has Broken

January 9, 2018

The two-week stretch of temperatures far below zero (-47° windchill on Saturday!) is over. Above is a photo of Moxie and her steer calf, Ike, after ten minutes outside over the weekend while I mucked stalls.

I had known on Thursday, when I chose to muck the damp sheep stall instead of putting up the snow fence in the cabin field, that the electric fence in the barn paddock would be buried in snow. It was. Yesterday before work, I spent an hour post-holing through the thigh-deep drifts to dig out the fence. Not only was the fence shorted, but if that snow melted and then refroze into a solid bank, the calves could scamper over the now six-inch barrier. Thus I had to address it immediately.

The temperature rose steadily all day. By afternoon, the temperature had see-sawed almost sixty degrees: from 28° below zero to 28° above. The wind rose equally steadily. When I got home after work, the fence I had dug out in the morning was nearly buried again.

Carrying rolls of plastic, I waded out to the cabin field and began putting up the snow fence. The plastic flapped wildly in the wind and repeatedly was torn from my gloves. Clutching it with both hands, I had to tighten the zip-tie fasteners with my teeth. I comforted myself (“it could be worse” is my mantra): at least I’m not trying to put up metal roofing! Isn’t it great that I’m not ducking wind-born slicers?

At last the fence was up. Only two months late, but… up.

Here are some of the snow-covered sheep waiting patiently to come in for the night.

Today the wind is even higher, whining at the windows. It will be 25° F today with snow, rising to almost 50° with rain by Friday, before falling back below zero over the weekend.

I will need to dig out the fence again, but after that I should be safe. At least from drifted snow. Today I woke up with some sort of virus, so digging will have to wait.


January 8, 2018

In Minnesota, the sub-zero weather was so bitter that several races had to be canceled. (That is Lucy’s breath frozen to her face.) Nevertheless, she qualified for the team going to the biathlon Junior World Championships, in Otepää, Estonia!

Her shooting wasn’t where she wanted it to be but her skiing speed kept her high in the rankings (racers ski penalty laps for missed shots). Qualifying for the team was a feat, especially considering that these were her first real biathlon races on snow.

Unfortunately, between expenses and timing it is unlikely Lucy will be going to Estonia in January. Her goal is to qualify for and compete at the college championship ski races (NCAAs), which are held only a day or two later in the United States. Biathlon has the potential to be a great opportunity for her but it is one that will wait. Though Lucy will continue to train and strive to improve, for now the college circuit is her primary focus.

I really understand very little about sports but it makes me happy indeed to see my girl rewarded for her gritty dedication, day after day for years.