Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 Our springtime lambs are doing well, racing about the pastures and learning all the things there are to see and do on the farm. Sometimes they meet other of our farmyard residents as well, with mixed results: the geese are having none of it, especially with the goslings around. The chickens, on the other hand, are fairly unconcerned - at least about the lambs - and while there is not that much direct fraternization, there are no hard feelings, either.
 We did have a skunk visiting the farm, which explains the loss of many of our ducklings, goslings, and eggs. A well-placed shot in time took care of that, and vinegar took care of much of the smell; the return of the rain handled the rest, leaving the farm much more peaceful, particularly at night. While there are still the occasional goose and chicken alarms and dramatic storms, these have diminished for the time being. No period remains peaceful forever, of course, and we remain vigilant for new interlopers.
 In the meantime, our young arrivals are enjoying showing off for the camera, and show every sign of growing up to be obstreperous yet productive members of our little farm society. As spring rolls on, we will be keeping an eye on how big and how fast they grow. For now they remain adorably pint-sized, with a side order of fluff!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Little Lambs in the Wood

 Two new lambs have joined the cast here at Silver Cat Farm, courtesy of the ewe we know colloquially as Harriet (due to her lightning-bolt mark on her forehead). Harriet has been large enough of late for us to think she wasn't just smuggling watermelons but might somehow have consumed an entire other full-sized sheep; with our little boy and girl twins here, we now know why.

(For the record, the darker one on the left is our little ram lamb, while the cunning lighter-haired girl to the right is our little ewe lamb.)

While the first 48 hours is always crucial, we have hope that our lambs here will make it; they are alert and fairly sprightly, having struggled to their feet with reasonable speed, and are following mama around the pasture as she crops at grass. We have given them quick check-ups and made sure there is plenty of alfalfa around for mama, if she gets around to it before all the other sheep finish it all; if not, there's still hay and mineral, water and grass. Welcome, little lambs, to spring!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Winter's last gifts

Winter did not leave us without a last blast of rain, making up much of the deficit resulting from the otherwise rather dry and calm season.  Local flooding and icy roads made travel difficult, but the farm survived and now that the sun is warming the earth, the grass is responding to the heat and moisture.

We have combined our flocks again, with the pure british soay nibbling the grass around the house while the north americans eat the first flush of a paddock kept untouched during Winter.

The poultry are determined to get an early start on nesting, and with fresh straw bale shelters defending them from the elements, the geese and ducks are promising us many clutches.  Whether or not they keep this promise remains to be seen.

We have received hides back from the tanner, and he did beautiful work for us.  Soft, perfectly tanned hides with the fleece still on them.  As it happens, he is one of very few tanners who developed processes which satisfy the EPA, and this means that he should be in business for a long time.  The value of the meat and hides means that we may be somewhat more aggressive about our breeding projects than would otherwise have been justified.

There is a lot of work to be done.  We shall be collecting and planting trees from the nursery soon, as well as repairing some fences which are showing signs of wear. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The tail end of Winter

This season has been mild, as climatologists predicted.  The one exception was a brief arctic blast which turned the rain into ice, and then several inches of snow.  With the return of the rain, the thaw was rapid.

Winter has also been rather dry, which suits the sheep well.  As ever, the waterfowl hardly care.  We have obtained fresh straw bales with which we make nesting shelters, and already there are eggs hidden here and there.  The ducks in particular show signs of feeling broody, as do some of the bantam hens.  This bodes well for the coming breeding season.

Since we have bred so few of our ewes, we do not expect very many lambs this season, but that was by design.  Mercifully the mild weather has also meant that we only had one lamb lost - a sickly, late ewe lamb.

This coming springtime should be a time of development for us.  We shall be obtaining a powered press for our wine, to help speed the production of large quantities, and we shall also be planting more trees and taking delivery of a couple of dozen hides from the tanner.  What we shall do with them remains to be seen, but lambswool jackets sound like a good idea.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Where we stand

December has closed in, and brought a relatively mild Winter.

We had a few days of hard freezing, but always followed by a thaw so far.  The pacific oscillation is in a neutral phase (known as La Nada) which generally means mild conditions and this season that has been true for us.  We only had one lamb needing a little time under shelter, but after a week on the porch, eating good food and enjoying an infrared lamp he was ready to face the other bachelors in our ram flock again.

The USDA came and inspected our sheep, giving them a clean bill of health once more.  The vet (an epidemiological specialist) remarked that they're in good flesh.  He had never met with Soay sheep before, and was quite interested in inspecting them.

Bolivar's son, Bolero, is still in the pure british flock with his sire, dam, and a few other ewes.  Bolivar keeps his son well in line, but even so Bolero is growing handsome and strong.

We have been feeding our sheep ample hay as well as rolled barley and alfalfa pellets to keep them in good condition and it appears to be working.  They trundle along, rather than bounding like deer, which bodes well for the coming breeding season.

Those of our lambs we decided not to keep (seven, including a couple of hoggets who weren't doing well) we slaughtered.  We had a guest on the farm for the butchering - an apprentice butcher whose wife took pictures of the whole process so as to do a presentation for his butchery class.  We are given to understand that the presentation was a hit, and we all learned from each other as well.

Some of the fencing we had done by third parties a couple of years ago is not standing the test of time, so a farmer had to set out with sledge, pickaxe, chisel and digging tools to get the old, broken concrete and post out and reset the post in a fresh batch of concrete before mending the wires.

Our cats are being kept indoors, in the lap of luxury.  The chief reason for this is to temper their murderous urges, as well as keep them safe from the great owls which inhabit our trees at night.

Peter has not registered any objections to this treatment, although the others periodically stare wistfully from the window at all the beasts they could be eating.

One of our successes this year has been the choice of bantam chickens.  They were obtained with the intention of having chickens with strong brooding and mothering instincts, and that has been fruitful.  Feathery, but fruitful.  The bantam cocks have taken over and keep the maran cock under their control.  The dominant bantam cock, a little grey fellow, will even chase the maran cock around from time to time, just to reinforce his position.

Our wine making is continuing and we are purchasing machinery to automate the process.  We have a slicer which neatly bisects apples, we have motorised our crusher, and the next step will be to have a pneumatic press fabricated.  As it is, we have several score more gallons of juice fermenting from this season, and will soon be able to accelerate our production.

Winter isn't quite as dull as one might imagine.  While the plants are dormant and the animals seek shelter, there is still work to be done.  Our fruit trees are starting to show signs of forming canopies, and it will be time to prune some of the more aggressive ones soon.  We may even have some of our first cider apples this coming year, and then we shall know what manner of product we shall have.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The clouds gather for Winter

Things on the farm have gone fairly well.

We have taken another delivery of pure british Soay ewe gimmers (two lambs and a hogget) to keep Bolivar company.

On the other end of the scale, we had to take the decision to put Teed's Tlingit down.  Brokenmouthed, she could not chew hay well.  While she could eat alfalfa pellets, she was nonetheless losing condition progressively.  While she might have survived the Winter, it was very doubtful.  A swift death was definitely preferable to slow starvation.

At least she gave us a couple of beautiful lambs, and we hope that her sweet temperament and good mothering will breed true.

We have released the bantams among the full size chickens.  We feared for the bantams at first, since we suspected that the full size chickens might bully them mercilessly, but in fact the bantams more than hold their own and the copper maran cock is no longer on top of the pecking order.  The last couple of bantams on the porch are raising three little chicks, so at least the bantams make more successful parents than the full size chickens. 

The winery has been fairly successful in production.  We have two beautiful meads in barrels right now, and a very promising cyser.  We have crushed another thousand pounds and more of jonagold and granny smith apples, which now sit fermenting in two more barrels.  We shall obtain honey with which to enrich them soon.

We have submitted another copy of our label application to the federal government, since the first was rejected - not on the grounds that there was anything incorrect or incomplete, but on the grounds that it had been printed on letter size, rather than legal size paper.  This stipulation was nowhere to be found in the instructions as given.  Shackled by red tape, we have no choice but to comply.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Autumn has arrived. With it has come several rainstorms, including one with major power loss (when lightning strikes a substation, the electric company takes a deep breath and you can hear them wince) and following up with a nice flush of secondary grass growth.

The sheep appreciate the greenery, and we have moved almost all of the bantams from the porch to their permanent home behind the house. The exceptions are three: two broody hens who seem to swell larger every time we see them, and one bantam hen who had been in the company of two bantam roosters. The roosters have been captured; the hen remains on the loose.

Our full-sized maran rooster is old and no longer dominant, as has been proven by the frequent sight of him running and ducking away from one of the bantam roosters. We are considering putting him out of his unhappiness when we butcher sheep in a couple of weeks; we plan to cull the flock substantially, particularly tending to our oversupply of rams. In the meantime, we continue apace with our plans for winery equipment (one piece done, another piece about to be tested) and getting our hides tanned - that is to say, the pile of hides in our freezer from past butchered rams and the like.

Soon October will be upon us, and decisions will include whether or not to have a festive pumpkin on our porch. If only that were the largest of our tasks ahead!