February was both a wonderful and a hard month, with an unexpected snow storm which painted the farm white, and some losses to follow, as a result of the storm. We lost our smallest lamb and our biggest chicken this past month, two losses that are totally normal and expected, but up until now had not been set as a winter precedent for us.
The lamb was small and got trampled in a barn full of animals escaping the snow. The chicken was attacked by a winter-starved hawk as I watched from the window, and I didn’t get outside in time to save her. I took the lamb’s passing pretty badly–he was the one I had “nursed up” to health when he was a weakly weekling. He was our tamest little one, and he sucked at my pantlegs whenever he smelled me nearby. I was trying desperately not to get attached to him, because I knew he was likely to die sooner or later (see my last post), but I failed. The chicken was surprisingly easy to mourn though–I did cry, but only for a few minutes. I even managed to pick her up and bury her without Jimmy’s help. Just today, I noticed the other chickens all visiting her grave. I wonder if they know she’s there?
Now that the weather is warming again, Jimmy is busy at the latest project–a four-door cedar-sided shelter. It is at the intersection of the four pastures that he is making our largest pasture into. It has four doors so that the sheep can take shelter in it no matter which pasture they are in.
I went to another day-long small farms conference in February, and learned about how to help with birthing of breech lambs and all about the dreaded “barberpole parasite.” You don’t wanna know how icky this monster can be. But this helped me to see another reason why pasture rotation is so important. Parasites don’t climb up grass any higher than three inches, so as long as the sheep have nice long grass, you have no risk of infestation (parasites are eaten–something I hadn’t realized until now). The more pastures you have, the more they get a chance to grow long grass when the sheep are in other pastures. Our sheep are especially resistant to parasites, according to my mentor, Annie. They are from South Africa, where the dreaded barberpole is also from, so they have built immunity to them, but it seems wise to manage our pastures carefully in any case.
Another pest has gotten my attention this week: FLIES… and we aren’t even out of winter yet. We got our sheep in August, so we really escaped the cloud of flies that would have formed if we had gotten them in June and not had any chickens. Flies are why chickens are so great as a companion to sheep–they eat all of the larva. In case you are wondering how cows and sheep and goats draw flies, they don’t. Their poo does. The flies see the droppings as a nice fertile place to plant their eggs. Chickens come along and eat the eggs, or larva, and then your fly population decreases rather than increasing. Flies don’t live long, but they plant lots of eggs. Our chickens are kind of dumb, so I had to sprinkle some sprouted barley over the huge compost pile in my garden today to get them to scratch around in there and find the larva. They have been busy scratching and pecking ever since! Bless them.
Farm life isn’t all fun. This is the honest blog post that gets all of the ugliness right out there. Don’t worry. I won’t do this again for a while.
Here’s a photo of Jimmy’s lovely shelter, taken from our back deck, facing Northward. We got the cedar siding from a salvage yard in Sherwood for half the usual price. You’d never know it was second quality!