Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!!!

Photo by Ross Atkinson

May all of us see the new year come in brighter, happier, and more golden than 2008 has been. While I realize there were some very good things about this last year - my granddaughter's birth, the finding of a potentially lethal aneurysm in my DH before it could kill , my daughter's PhD ceremony ending years of her hard work, the welcome hugs from friends throughout the year, etc. - I believe this past year is one many of us may wish to forget...

But should we? I remember both of my parents telling horror stories of having to go through the Great Depression. My mom lived on a farm in Wisconsin which provided fairly well for the family's needs in the way of butter, milk, eggs, meat, and so on. But my father grew up in a coal mining town in Colorado with very little in the way of money or food. It made me understand why Dad replaced a can of food used with two others from the store. I never understood that mindset fully...until this year.

We are lucky here at Oleo Acres. We have a roof over our heads, food on the table and a fairly stable income. Many others are not so fortunate. A friend of mine who works in a Food Bank in Oregon was telling me of how so many people, for the first time in their lives, are having to request aid to have food to eat. Some others have lost homes and are living out of cars. Knowing these things makes me realize many of the "problems" I may have are small and insignificant by comparison.

I'm not a believer in New Year's Resolutions. to me, they are promises. I don't make promises unless I intend to keep them. But what I do this time of year is take stock of what I can do to be a better person. To do the right thing. To follow the Golden Rule. Right action speaks louder than words spoken.

When I see the above photo my SIL took at the beach in New Zealand, it reminds me to look for the golden things that are all around me in life...and to try to bring a little "golden" to others.
Pax vobiscum. And may this year be truly "Golden" to each and every one of you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Introducing...

Gwendolyn Sophia Atkinson
Born 22 December 2008
Auckland, New Zealand


Mother and Daughter


Father and Daughter enjoying a moment to themselves

We are so delighted to become grandparents! Our only wish is that we could have been there, but as soon as my Hired Hand With Benefits gets clearance from his doctor after his upcoming surgery, we'll be over in a shot! For now, little boxes sent from the States will have to suffice.
Congratulations to you both, Kelly & Ross! One never knows or understands the love of the Parent until one becomes a parent themselves. Bless you all...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

In Remembrance

Mr. Frodo Atkinson
2003 - 21 December 2008


This morning, my daughter and son-in-law found that one of their cats, Frodo, had unexpectedly passed away underneath their deck during the night. We are heartsick for their loss.
After moving to New Zealand, Kelly found she missed having cats around so she and Ross sought out suitable candidates through friends. It so happened that a friend of a friend's cat had a litter of kittens. Two brothers joined the household when they were old enough - Sam, an orange marmalade, and his brother, Frodo, a sleek black muscular feline.
Frodo was the one who tended to explore more than Sam. He would almost go into a "patrol mode" each day, checking out the garden in back. He also could find ways to open the cat door when he wasn't supposed to go outside almost like a miniature version of a Houdini.
Kelly said they thought he might have been hit by a car but it appeared he didn't have a scratch on him.
Please, if you can find it in your hearts, say a little prayer for Frodo and Kelly and Ross. I know how much they loved him. I know they are both hurting at his loss. And Sam will be lost without his brother.

Wherever you are, Frodo, may you be at peace. I wish my coming granddaughter had the chance to have you watch over her...may you still keep watch over those you loved and who loved you. You will be greatly missed...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No, I'm Not Stuck In A Snowdrift...Yet!


I'm still here! But am I ever tired! Since both my Hired Hand With Benefits and his trusty lawn tractor/snow thrower are both out of commission for the season, I have been the one to shovel, and keep shoveling, our thigh-high snow. I know we wanted a White Christmas, but geez!
I informed the Hired Hand this evening that I do not need to take "walks" lately as I am getting more exercise than I've had all year long. The one thing I've had to realize is that I have to pace myself. I have had my heart skipping beats. I believe this is due to stress, shoveling, stress, snow, stress, splitting wood, stress...and have I mentioned stress? Yes, I'm making sure I eat regular meals and have added vitamins to my regime and I have noticed it acting better already. And yes, I will indeed visit the cardiologist...I promise.
I think it's the worry about the HH. I have had a hard time getting through to him that he can not do things he normally does, like fill up the wood bin for the evening's fire, split kindling, or even lift heavy grocery bags. Worry aside, I have to admit that I'm not as young as I used to be either. I really don't mind snows like this, but I need to work smarter, not harder.
The sheep seem to be fine except they can't understand why some of them are Barn-Bound. And Skit seems to insist I come in his pen and dig his tire out of the snow. (Yeah, right...like that's going to happen!)
The one sheep I should really thank is Ole Olafson. I arrive at the gate huffing and puffing as I refuse to shovel a path and walk through the snow instead. When I lift my head up to see, there is Ole - encrusted in snow and a look of delight on his face. He wants his kiss and hug. I get through the snow while he waits patiently. Yes, I occasionally give Mr. Ole a peck on his clean nose and a big hug. He loves it. He would live in my back pocket if he could. I used to think Colin was the Love-Bug in the crowd, but Ole has turned out to be the one who seeks out attention. And on these snowy days it's a pleasure to see him waiting to return the hugs with sheep kisses.

There's another thing I'm a bit worried about: My daughter is due to deliver my first granddaughter any time. Well, that is IF this kid will turn around right. She's backwards. And she's staying backwards no matter what they've done to turn her around. Apparently this kid's going to be like her mother - except that Kelly was just impatient and wanted to get going. heeheehee My DD was scheduled for a C-Section on the 24th, but that's now been changed to the 23rd. We'll still keep our fingers crossed that the kid decides the 21st is OK.

So, everything is actually pretty "normal" around here. But I warn all of you east of us...get ready for this storm system now...it's a doozy!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Under Re-Construction

My computer has decided to go Walkabout, so entries may be few and far between until it is fixed. Please bear with me.

Also, there is another reason I may not be blogging much in the near future:

All summer long my poor Hired-Hand-With-Benefits had been having intestinal problems. We'd try this or that OTC medication, or eliminating one food or another to see if that helped - all to no avail. This past month I finally put my foot down and made him go to our doctor. All sorts of tests were run from blood test to cultures to CAT Scans (as if he doesn't get scanned by the cats enough around here!) to rule out any growth or obstruction.
Last week, while he was out of town naturally, the Dr.'s office called to ask if we could come in as soon as he got back. Sure thing...I made the appointment without even asking him. I remember the doctor mentioning diverticulitis, but in the same breath she mentioned an aneurysm had been found on the artery to the spleen. We immediately got an appointment to see a thoracic surgeon who looked at the CAT films and decided the aneurysm was not in immediate danger of rupture. Still, my DH is not allowed to lift anything over 20 lbs. or strain. That meant not to do anything, at least where I'm concerned.
We saw the surgeon this week to determine what to do. At first he recommended a "Wait and See" plan of action...until I asked about flying long distances to visit relatives. When he heard that he changed to doing a spleenectomy as the aneurysm is right where the artery goes into the spleen. He'll be fine until the surgery date (Jan. 5th) as the aneurysm had started to calcify - a sign he's had it a while and the body was trying to "repair" it.

So, now we're doing pre-surgery stuff like another more in-depth CAT scan, ultrasound of arteries in the neck, banking blood and a stress test as it's been a while since anyone got a good look "under the hood".
Naturally, I'm bouncing off the walls. I try to keep busy and DH even goes in to work (OK'd by the Thoracic
Surgeon) as he realizes he needs to keep himself occupied so he doesn't dwell on up-coming events.
I can't help but think that all the plans we made such as going to New Zealand to be there for the birth of our granddaughter, etc., even not going to Black Sheep Gathering to save money to go to NZ...well, all plans we had made, were not fulfilled for a reason. had there been no stomach problems, this might have gone undetected or worse, burst flying way above the Earth somewhere over the Pacific. Some One has been watching out and watching over us.
.....Thank You!

And should I be slow in answering any emails you send it's just all this computer business. I really do believe my computer has been chatting with my car....They must all be incahoots with each other, darn it! Let's hope the sheep don't get wind of all of this or they may start to mutiny for lack of their shepherdess' attentions.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all of our Family and Friends, we would like to say "Happy Thanksgiving"!
We consider all of you an important part of our lives and wish each and everyone a beautiful day.

May the realization of all your blessings be something that follows you through each and every day of the coming new year. So often we count only tangible things as what are the important things in life. May we all rediscover the intangible gifts and riches we all have.

Pax vobiscum...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thank You, Girl...Now It's Time To Fly


The white chicken on the left has been with us for about 5 years or so. Well, actually all of the chickens in this picture have been with us for a while. I originally had four Pearl/Leghorn egg layers from Murray McMurray Hatchery, but this one was our last, the others succumbing to frailties after relatively short but very productive egg laying careers. They were the first to start laying and lay they did! Big, beautiful jumbo-sized eggs that were the delight of my kitchen.
She was the last of her kind. I had noticed she really didn't come back well after a few months off to molt and R&R before it was time to go to work again. This week saw her beautiful red comb start to shrivel and become dull and grey - a sign of a sick or failing hen. Yesterday I thought she was just cold so I made sure she had the heat from the light towards her when I penned them for the night as well as blocking any breezes that may have hit her by shutting the shutters to that side of the barn.
But this morning she barely moved. Sullen, withdrawn...there was a look in her eyes of giving up. She wasn't interested in food or scratch. I left her in the warming morning sun promising to come back to check on her later. When I did I knew it was time to let her go. She had made it into the barn, propping herself up against the nest boxes as if she knew that's where she really belonged. It was time. I knew I had to ease her way past the pain into another light.
Our friend and cat-vet, Bill, had told me about "The Death Hug" he used to cull chickens. By firmly, but gently pressing on the ribcage and prevent its expansion, it calmly caused a chicken to go peacefully. I tried it and found her to go very gently into another place...one with warm sun, bugs, and large pastures. I knew when she barely shuddered it was a kind thing to do.
People may think it strange that a no-named chicken is held in such esteem here. This girl gave us many, many eggs to feed us and others and gave us hours of entertainment as we watched her and her flock-mates do their "chicken thing" in the pasture.

She served me well and deserved to go with respect for all she had done. Thank you, dear girl. You did well. And I will miss you.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What kind of Autumn am I?




Your Autumn Test Results



You are a dynamic, vibrant person. You aren't afraid to pursue your passions.



When you are happiest, you are calm. You appreciate tradition and family. You enjoy feeling cozy.



You embrace change. You love change. You see change as a rebirth.



You find love to be the most comforting thing in the world. You feel at peace when you're with your loved ones.



Your ideal day is chill and uneventful. You prefer to kick back and take it easy.



You tend to live in the moment. You enjoy whatever is going on, and you don't obsess over the past or future.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First Real Snow

The other day we had our first real snow - one that stuck on the ground for more than ten minutes. The day before, all of the animals here, myself included, were restless and tempermental. Little did I know that my reason for such mind-set was I was coming down with a cold-thing that has seemed to stick around and taken my voice to some other place for hiding.
I did get out to snap a few photos of the "dusting" the trees received. I only wish it had been more in accumulation as we really need the moisture.
Above is an offering to the ewes. They absolutely love pumpkins this time of year. Each day I try to give them a treat of a pumpkin sacrificed to the sheep-gods/goddesses lest I be made to endure the wrath of the ewes for no goodies. No, my sheep are not spoiled.
I love the frosty days of this time of year. It is my most favorite time. I just wish this stupid cold will make a decision to either stay and really have it out with me, or go away. My hope is the latter.
On other notes, I have been experiencing my computer's decline from old age. Geez...I hope this is not a portent of upcoming trends in my life! :) (I plan to go unwillingly and fighting all the way!) I am still able to send and receive emails, but I have started looking at new computers instead of just replacing bits and pieces of this one. While part of me loves new gadgets and electronics, the other part of me knows full well that as soon as I buy a new computer, it will become obsolete. It's just like driving a new car off the lot - immediate devaluation.
The big news and bonus of the week has been finding out that my DD is having a girl next month! I was sitting last night thinking of all the joys (and some pains) mine brought me. No one should ever underestimate the bond between a mother and a daughter. Ours was and is a very strong one. I can only wish the same blessing for my daughter as the blessing she brought into my life.
And no, Kel...I won't over-do the "Pink"-thing that little girls seem to go through. But you have my word that I will, most definitely, over-do the "Sheep"-thing. There may come a day when I'm about 97 that my sheep may just need a new shepherdess. :)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from all of us at Sheep Thrills Farm!!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bye, Bye Blessa!

SheepThrills Blessa left for a new home last week! Her new mum and dad, Karen & Ray, live in the Globe area of Arizona and were looking for a friendly breed of sheep to add to their "Menagerie". Karen had been in touch with Michelle who graciously recommended to Karen to contact me as we are so much closer.
Well, Karen and Ray came for a visit and fell in love with Blessa. And from what I've heard since they took her home, she loves them as well. Win/Win!
While they were visiting we walked into the end of the barn where I had the ram lambs. Karen didn't want Blessa to be alone and was telling me about a person in their area who had rescued Barbados Blackbelly sheep including a wether if they wanted one. As Karen and I stood talking, I noticed that Ray was singled out by our own Lucius Vorenus, a very friendly ram lamb. The next time Karen mentioned the wether from her acquaintance Ray shook his head no. Then he said he'd rather have Luke. So, soon Luke will be joining Blessa.

Below are pictures of Blessa both shorn and with this year's fleece just before she left. Can you see the smugness behind that expression? From what I've heard she has taken reign over all things barnyard and child, as well as Karen and Ray.





Thank ewe, Michelle! And thank ewe Blessa! I can't think of a better Shetland Ambassador to introduce that area of Arizona to the wonderful Shetland sheep!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wanted: Job For Experienced Ram -or- Beautiful Ram For Sale

After a month of hard thinking, waffling over it and driving my DH crazy with discussions, I have decided that Skittles needs to find a new home - hopefully one with many more ewes than I have.
Skittles is one of the best rams I have ever seen! He has darned-near perfect conformation and a wonderful disposition which he passes on to his offspring.
Another plus is that his offspring all seem to keep their dark, rich coloring. The muskets do turn their brownish grays, but the colors always seem to be rich. Even Shaun, our red moorit iset wether, is keeping his rich red color with the iset frosting.

Being a very small sheep operation, we have to continuously keep genetics moving here. We don't have the acreage to swap out rams or make different breeding pens. As we won't be breeding this year, I don't think it fair of me to retain the great genetics Skit passes on. And each morning I see the longing in his eyes as I let the girls out into the pasture. He should be "working" for someone, not cooling his heals.

And so, we offer:

FOR SALE




Bluff Country Skittles
NASSA Reg. #15379
$400.00
(To Approved Flock only)
Skittles carries spotting genetics when crossed with ewes also carrying spotting genes. Every single lamb he's sired for us has been born with a white krunet (crown) or a few white fibers on the top of the head. Skit's also a very respectful ram who only gets a bit feisty when it's fall and the girls go over to the fence line to tease him. Even then he's always respected the fencing.
The only caveat is that whomever would like to add Skittles to their flock must make a Tire-Toy for him. I don't think he could live without his Most Beloved Tire-Toy!
And thank you, Skit...for everything you have done for us. I just think you'd be much happier in a bigger flock, Bud...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's Time To Pass It On - A Story of a Book

Many of you have sent me memes to do on past jobs and the like. I have to be very honest that some of those jobs are (or were) classified jobs I did while an investigator for the military and I cannot disclose them in any form or fashion. But I can tell you of a book that came to be in my possession - one who needs to be passed on to my daughter and soon-to-be grandchild for safe keeping. It's worn and tattered from all the moves its had to endure since it was printed, but is still a treasure. For me, the memories behind the book are even more priceless...

In the late 50s, our family lived in Poughkeepsie, New York. Dad was a marketing manager so every few years he'd come home with a map under his arm cluing us in that we were moving. He'd either be transferred or get itchy feet to move. Heck, even his Irish Setter was so used to moving she'd go sit in the backseat of Mom's car whenever she saw a moving truck. So we were all well trained.
My mother had been an executive secretary in the 40s. She was the Executive Secretary to the President of Corn Products (ARGO now) when she met Dad as a Navy boot in Chicago. Still wanting to keep busy, Mom and Dad had installed a huge, heavy solid wooden desk in the basement right next to the shelves of canned green beans and pickles from the garden.On the desk sat a typewriter that, I swear, must've been as big as the desk and as heavy. When you hit the keys it never moved as if it had been bolted to the place of honor where it sat, ready for my mother's adept hands to bring it to life once more.
Around '58 or '59, Mom started working for two women who were writing a special book. She would pick up their copies of the manuscript and edit them, retype them, then take them back for their perusal. In between I remember boxes and boxes of envelopes coming and going as well. We knew that when Mom was in the Dungeon, we should not bother her in fear of our lives much in the same way we didn't disturb Dad when he was down there reloading shotgun shells.
On some Saturdays I actually got to ride with Mom over to one of the women's houses. It was on a huge piece of land along the banks of the Hudson river. I loved going, but was always reminded to behave myself. Best manners. She would even tell me to be quiet in Swedish, so I knew full-well this was serious business.
In the large house was an elderly woman in a wheelchair. She would smile at me and say hello. I'd look at Mom as if asking for permission to open my mouth to return the greeting. "Hello.", I would say. The old woman would tell me that I was welcome to wait in her garden in which there was a beautiful wrought iron table and chairs surrounded by beautiful flowers with green expanses of manicured lawn beyond. It was nice, but what I really wanted was to explore all the other places I saw, especially the barn.
My mother knew my penchant for barns. She knew if allowed I'd be so outta there and lost for hours. But on one visit I was told by the old woman that yes, I was very welcome to visit the barn, but the horses were gone and to be careful and listen for when my mother called me. You'd think she'd given me keys to Heaven. I was off like a shot with my mother's words to "Be careful!" ringing in my ears.
And so it went until the book was published. The younger woman authoring the book, closer to my parents' ages, would come over to our house or we would go to theirs, the grown-ups having drinks while we kids were doing our own kid-things. Then it came. It was a copy of the book! My mother showed it to me with the greatest of care, turning the front cover until it revealed the signatures of the books two authors. Both had signed the book for my mother, the younger author writing a note in which she mentioned my brother and I, even if she did spell my name wrong. The older woman had just signed her name. That was in 1960.
Occasionally, we would hear from the younger author and her family but I missed the kindly old woman in the wheelchair who allowed me the joy of exploring her beautiful gardens and stables. I have fond memories of my explorations including gazing out over the Hudson River Valley full of trees, the river with all its boats and way off to the other side of Upstate New York and beyond. It was magnificent. And so was the kindly woman encouraging the explorations of a child.

I still have the book the old woman in the wheelchair handed to my mother. I remember her thanking my mother for all the work she had done in helping this book become a small reality. It was a small work but highlighted some of the woman's work. The Old Woman in the Wheelchair died a couple of years after the book was published. And I found out she left some pretty big shoes to fill.

The Woman in the Wheelchair was none other than....



Eleanor Roosevelt
and the estate, Hyde Park


>

The Treasure has been in my possession long enough. It's time for my daughter to become its Caretaker...and to share it with her child when the time is right.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Culling


"cull (kul) - something picked out for rejection as not being up to standard" from Webster's New World Dictionary

Ask any person in agriculture the job they like the least and, if they are involved in livestock farming, they will tell you that culling their animals is the least liked job. If they mention something else, they're lying. Anyone raising animals, even for meat production, hates the job of culling. Even if you don't mean to, you get to know the animals in your charge whether you have four, or a hundred. As wonderful as it is to see lambs (or calves, chicks, ducklings, foals, etc.)born and to feel excited about all the potential their lives will unfold, the flip-side of that same coin is the fact that some animals are not up to par for passing on genetics. They shouldn't be bred.
With economic times as they are we livestock people can only keep the best of our animals for breeding. As much as all are loved and cared for we have to make very hard decisions. So it was with me this past week.

Two of my charges left this morning. Both are destined for someones table. A reality. Neither would have made the grade for breeding. Good temperment or fleece aside, both had to go. A family who were out last week looking at electric spinning equipment asked me if I had any lambs for the freezer. They were so kind about asking and apologized for even bringing it up before I could answer saying they understood how attached shepherds become to their flocks. And they asked with the utmost respect. Yes, I answered, "I have two ram lambs that really need to go in someones freezer." My soul told my voice to shut up, but my brain allowed the words to be voiced. Reality. They did have to go.
In these days of $20 a bale hay I cannot afford to keep extra mouths to feed. Each individual must pull their weight or go somewhere else. I don't have acres and acres to stockpile extra sheep and so must keep the best for breeding. And I'm full-up in the wether/fiber pet area as well.

And the ram lambs bear the brunt of this. Ewes usually go on to other farms or fiber-flocks where they will have a grand life. One of my young ewes is going on to a fiber flock soon. While she has the most beautiful fleece and temperment, her tail is just too long to allow her to produce registerable shetlands. I don't have the room plus I already have fleeces of that color in the flock now, so she'll go on and be loved by the family who wants her.
The boys face another lot in life. By virtue of their sex alone they become replaceable. Many rams are born but only the very best should be allowed to continue on. That's a hard burden to bear for anyone, but truth nonetheless. I don't need them all. One good ram can take care of a whole lotta ewes.

So, two of my boys who had bad horns (all breeders get this occasionally with horned sheep breeds...and if they say they don't...well, you know the rest)...horns that turned down and inward. If they were in the wild these horns would eventually cull the animal themselves. I said goodbye to the two and told them they would serve in other ways. I know they will be butchered with great respect and nothing will be wasted. I can't complain about lambs being butchered as I love to eat lamb myself. This is where it comes from. A fact of life. Meat does not grow in packages out of thin air. It comes from people producing animals for the table specifically, or someone culling their herd. Like me.

After saying goodbye to the two who left I went in to feed the four remaining lambs. All four of them are breeding quality with great horns and sound structure. As it was a "Ram Year" last year and most breeders I know have an abundance of ram lambs, some of these guys may still end up in a freezer. In this economy I can't complain about any one of my animals feeding a family. In fact, one may end up in my freezer too.

But I can still give them the respect they deserve...and if it becomes fate that they end up in my freezer, I will thank them for giving me strength. I ate my pet sheep way back when I was college-aged. She was the only one left and my cousins were butchering one of theirs, asking my grandmother if they could "do it" for her. As I was away to college and she didn't want to be left with one sheep, she agreed. That Christmas my grandmother, Mom and I had Leg o'Bessie for dinner. And I thanked the old ewe as we said Grace...

Dad had a steak.

Monday, October 06, 2008

It's Over...for this year anyway

The pumpkins on the kitchen counter attest to our first hard freeze of Fall. Last night our temperatures here at the farm saw us in the low 20s F. And this morning saw the first ice formed on the waterers for the sheep. Oi! I hope we get Fall back again before winter gets here in earnest.
I also remembered a few plants we still had out on the decks at about 10 o'clock last night. I thought I would try to winter over the rosemary (above) and the miniature rose (below). The rosemary was placed on a metal chair in the sunroom and the rose, poor thing, was uncereamoniously scooped up with its pot in a barn bucket then placed on top of "stuff" I had on the glass top table in the sunroom. I hadn't planned on bringing in plants just yet, but I always check The Weather Channel before I head for bed. There it was in big bold letter for our area exclusively: HARD FREEZE WARNING!
I now feel vindicated for putting the electric blanket on the bed this last week. I just had a feeling that we needed more than the wool blanket. I was so glad I did too.
As I wasn't sleeping well and the cats kept yowling at me around midnight, I got up and went out in the living room for a bit to see if they would settle down. When I came back to bed I saw my Hired-Hand-With-Benefits curled up as if he was freezing. I looked over and saw that yes, his blanket was "on". I knew his feet must've been cold (mine were!) so I grabbed a quilt and doubled it up over our feet for the night. By morning I had a nice little World of Warmth created for myself and I really didn't want to come out from under to face the morning.
And if it weren't for the smell of fresh coffee, I might have stayed longer. The heater hadn't kicked on, but I had three cats curled up in my lap as I drank my first cup. Three Dog Nights just don't compare to Three Cat Mornings...


*Note: Yes, Michelle - pumpkins and squash will ripen if you keep them in a dry place, elevated off the floor a bit. I use old worn out drainers for dishes from the kitchen as they elevate the pumpkins and let air circulate beneath. This since I don't have a root cellar. :)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sometimes A Negative Can Be Positive

For about the past month, I haven't been feeling well. At first, I started getting tremendous headaches. Then all-over achiness showed up to the party leaving me feeling like I had a grand case of the Flu. My DH took me to breakfast one Saturday morning knowing that I just didn't have it in me to make breakfast that day plus I hadn't been off the farm for two weeks.
It was at breakfast that he posed the question to me: Did I think it could be West Nile Virus? A few years ago our chicken flock was the sentinel flock for our county. When they finally came up with a positive reading, we knew the risk was high that we could have WNV with us each summer as a large wetlands preserve is right behind our place. So, we don long pants and long-sleeved shirts when working outside at dusk and dawn during the summer months. We also slather ourselves with DEET. Still, this year, two of the little bugger mosquitoes got me. It was about two weeks after that incident I started feeling "non-optimal".
So, after the breakfast I began to think maybe I should actually see our doctor and see if maybe DH was on to something. After all, I'm in that over 50 group with "problems". Better safe than sorry, right? A week ago I went in and was sent for the obligatory blood-letting. It was only today I received the results. Negative for WNV. Whew! I dodged it for another year! The assessment made was that I actually did have the flu combined with massive allergy reactions to the bountiful pollen season this year.
So, like the mammatus clouds you see below, something negative can be a positive in life!

(I took this photograph of these beautiful storm clouds from the pasture. Where I was standing there was dead-silence, but these signify great turbulence in the high elevation winds aloft.)
And now that I'm feeling better, on to making some hard decisions as to whom to keep, and who goes from our little flock...in this economy and with hay at $20/bale I can not over-winter any but the best of the flock. So now I must make some very hard decisions. I'll keep you posted...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pickles, Part Deux

After a week (In the previous post the Rabbi teaching the class recommended a four-day minimum for making pickles), I decided it was time to try the pickles. I did notice that the contents of the plastic "crock" has changed color. Also some of the spices in the pickling mix had soaked in enough moisture to make them sink to the bottom of the container.


Everything smelled OK...while the dill weed that had been placed on top of the pickling mix had now become soggy and unappealing in look, it still smelled like dill. And now I could smell the definite aroma of garlic mixed in with the dill fragrance. Hmmm...dare I try a taste? Sure. Why not?

I cut a small section out of the middle of a slice from one of the cucumbers. At first, I tasted salt. It was almost overwhelming in its intensity. After the salt flavor receded I did notice some of the other spices and the garlic/dill combination coming through. But over all was that heaviness of the salt.
Now I like salt, don't get me wrong, but this was so intense it was startling. I could see where if you left these "pickles" in this brine bath for a long time they would attain a more sour flavor not unlike cabbage turning into sauerkraut. But after embarking on this educational endeavour, I would have to admit that I prefer my pickles with vinegar. I missed the twang that a good apple cider vinegar imparts in a pickle.

Maybe someday I will appreciate a good true Jewish Kosher pickle. For now, I think I'll stick with my Bread & Butters and the "Kosher Dills" preserved in vinegars. Would I take that class again? Ja, sure ting, you betchya! :)






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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

In A Pickle

About ten days ago, I saw a very interesting little announcement in our local paper. Anyone wishing to learn how to make true Kosher pickles was welcome to sign up for a class being hosted by our local Jewish church. My curiosity now being peaked, I RSVP'd to go.
This past Sunday saw a small group meeting on the campus of NAU (Northern Arizona University). As I walked in to the meeting room I was greeted by two rabbi, both in traditional dress.
There were a few Jewish families there, but I was very glad to see I was not the only Shikseh there. And, Boy! Did I ever learn about Jewish pickles!
The first thing I learned was that a true Kosher pickle is made using no vinegar whatsoever. Those Kosher Dills you buy in the glass jars at the Mega-Marts are not true Kosher pickles! The Kosher pickle is made through a fermentation process and is bought/served/eaten/enjoyed fresh, never canned (as we can Bread and Butter pickles).

Each of us was given a plastic tub, as you see in the picture. In this tub we made a brine using approximately one scant 1/4 cup of Kosher salt to about 12 oz. of water. To this brine we added seedless Persian cukes (I never knew they existed!), broken into pieces for convenience. Apparently Persian cucumbers are seedless and lower in water content making the best use of this method of preservation.

Next we added 2 - 4 cloves of garlic, two tablespoons of pickling spices (if we chose to), and topped it all off with sprigs of fresh dill just set on top of the whole shebang. Then the lids went on with instructions that at our altitude we could leave this on our kitchen counters from 4 days to two weeks depending on how sour a pickle we wanted. Or, we could put them in our refrigerator if we felt better about not leaving them on the counters due to the risk of "small explosions", as Rabbi Mendi (aka "Rabbi Pickle") called them. Mine is in my refrigerator.

The Rabbi also mentioned that you may see white "scuzz" form on the top of the pickle batch. This was OK and just spoon it off and you'll be fine. Or so he says. :)
The whole idea is to let these pickles be until they ferment enough to actually become pickled. I will let you know how they turn out...

Somehow, this person of Celtic/Scandinavian descent just can't get her brain wrapped around pickling something without the use of good vinegar. But then, I grew up with everything having vinegar and dill...after all...the dill was our "green stuff". :)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Route 66 Days or I've Seen One Too Many Mustangs

Every year in Flagstaff, there is some sort of Route 66 festival to pay homage to the "Mother Road", Route 66, that was such a big part in the lives and livelihoods of the towns growing up along it. Flagstaff is one of those towns. Along with the railroads, Route 66 brought both travelers through and goods and transport along its length.

We try to go every year. Last year we were accompanied by Val and Hugo, part of our family from New Zealand. (It wasn't too long after my back surgery so I mainly remember there were alot of cars and it was hot...and the cool lemonade we all had in the shade of the city park.)

This year it was just my DH and myself strolling up and down the closed off streets of downtown Flagstaff, cars lining both sides of what are usually busy streets.

The car above included its own carhop!

This car made use of an old parking meter for a signpost. What a great idea! Some of the histories of these cars were absolutely fascinating. Most owners had notebooks with pictures of the vehicles as they were found, many in terrible condition, then showing the steps toward resurrection to show quality vehicles.

Some were even given names. I should mention here that Ralph's work-in-progress is a '53 Merc whose name is "Betty" after his aunt who originally owned the vehicle. "Betty" is the "Other Woman" in my life. Ralph feels toward Betty as I do toward my sheep. I keep threatening to cover the seats with plastic, prop Colin and Shaun up in her seats with their legs and noses hanging out of the windows...My own version of "Sheep in a Jeep" as it were.

And here's Himself, looking over someones work in progress.
You could tell that people spent many, many hours in restoring these vehicles. A very few had original engines or at the least the engines that came with them...the ones they were meant to have. Most other cars had bigger engines than what was installed at the factory when they were made. Ralph's a "Flathead" enthusiast so we always search out to see if there are any other cars with flathead V8 engines in them. I only saw two out of all the cars there today.
Some cars had interesting paint jobs, others had been chopped to where they looked only like ghosts of their former selves. I tend to be a lover of old cars...cars such as Model A's or T's, old farm trucks or delivery vehicles restored to look like they did originally. My favorite was a 1903 Olvera horseless carriage, made in Mexico, one cylinder and was listed as "10 Burro Power".

Naturally, that's the one I was so engrossed in I forgot to take a photo of it. Darn!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

I walked out into the sunroom today and saw this...Rascal sleeping on top of Mooch. Best of Buds. It doesn't get better than this. :)

Poor L'il Rascal!

I haven't been feeling too well lately. Mom took Mooch (who used to be called Groucho, but he told Mom he didn't like that name so picked Mooch out instead...)and me to the v-e-t two days ago. She said they were going to "fix" us, but I didn't think we were broken. Mom pushed us into a thing called a PTU which I think stands for: Prisoner Transport Unit, then we went to see Dr. Rob. We've seen him before and all he's ever done was check us over and give us a sharp thing called a "shot" then we came home.
But this time Mom left us there! Aunt Kim, Dr. Rbo's helper, gave us a shot then we both started to get very sleepy! I couldn't keep my eyes open. All I could think about was why wasn't Mom here taking us back home to Mama? And I was so very hungry and thirsty 'cause there was no food or water out for us last night.
The next thing I knew I woke up with my tummy hurting so much. Mooch's tummy wasn't naked at all, only mine. It hurt to move. It hurt so much I didn't even want to think about food or water or even playing. Mom made us stay in our room. She kept the room dark and quiet and checked on me all night long.
I am doing better today. Mom fed us warmed canned food last night and I was so hungry I ate 'til my tummy stopped talking to me. I'm still not wanting to play with Mama, Uncle Shadow, or even Mom and Dad, but I feel better after each nap I take.
I'm going to take another nap now, so Mom said she wanted to talk to you all and tell you what happened while I was asleep at Dr. Rob's...

(I had taken both Rascal and Mooch in for neutering on Tuesday morning. Mooch's surgery went just fine, but when Rob started in on Rascal, he found that Rascal had only one descended testicle. That being the case, Rascal was then immediately prepped for abdominal surgery for removal of the remaining testicle. Much to Rob's surprise, he could find no other testicle in Rascal - he said he looked and looked but there was absolutely nothing...not even a hint of a second testicle. We will watch Rascal closely as he grows for any signs of typical tomcat behavior. If he does exhibit the signs of an intact male cat, he'll go back in for surgery. If not, it will become apparent that he only had one to begin with.)

...so don't you worry...you go ahead and sleep all you want. We've all got your "6" Little Buddy...sweet dreams. :)

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Boyz in the Hood, er...Pasture

I was out in the pasture this past Friday looking for noxious weeds that might not be too good for the sheep to eat. After my walk, I let the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Plus One out to have some time grazing and stretching their legs. I had my camera with me and decided just to take a few photos...then I realized something...
We sheep people are always discussing our ewes and rams, whom to sell, whom to breed and so on. But it struck me that we often overlook some very important members of our flocks. The wethers.
For those of you not up on the "sheep lingo" a wether is a castrated male sheep. Male sheep are wethered for various reasons - horns not correct, conformation isn't up to show or breeding quality, a bad disposition, for meat production - are just a few reasons to wether a ram or ram lamb. In other countries, most males are wethered during their first week of life. We here (at our farm) tend to wait a bit for a number of reasons. I like to see how a lamb starts to grow. More than once I have seen a lamb look like it would be a good ram only to have something come up like a bad temperment or bad horns become a deciding factor a couple of months down the road. But I digress...
Wethers have no agenda. They have no raging hormones that interfere with their dispositions. They live only to serve (or to be served, I guess). And I have to admit that some of my favorites in my flock are wethers. Let me introduce them to you...
Above is Shaun the Sheep. Shaun was the very first lamb to hit the ground here at Sheep Thrills. He would have made a beautiful ram except that sometime during the recovery from my back surgery, his horns went from nice to turning inward and downward, the points of which were rubbing the middle of the back of his neck. The horns were trimmed the same time Shaun got, ahem, "trimmed" by our vet Dr. Rob. His color is remarkable to me - a red iset, meaning he's a mahogany red with white wool mixed in giving him that frosted look. It's just beautiful. And is beautiful to spin!
Next we have Colin. Colin's real name is Mountain Niche Colin P., but we just call him Colin. He was wethered for two reasons. The first was that he followed Ralph everywhere and wanted to be his pet. The main reason was that his horns were turning and very close to his cheeks. There would have been very little room had the horn girth expanded.
Colin is a gem! He is the one who inspects the newborn lambs and is very belligerent if you don't let him in the barn to view the newbies in the lambing pens with their mamas. All the girls trust Colin and let him even sniff the youngsters. And it's Colin we turn the weanlings out with. He takes charge of them and teaches them all things sheep. He's actually one of the hardest workers on this farm, being both lamb-mentor and buddy to Skittles, the Ram. It's amazing to think of all he really does around here. And I think I'm the Boss. :)
Then we have the two Do-Da Brothers, Sven (above) and Ole (below). Both of these guys were wethered due to pushy behavior. In Ole's case it was very pushy, dangerous behavior. If left intact, Ole would have become a dangerous ram. Sven is really a very mellow guy who just is "there" and fits in anywhere. He's not assertive, nor is he shy. He's kind-of "vanilla" but a really good vanilla.
As for Ole...Ole is my joker. He would love to come in the house and be a dog. I suspect some of his earlier behavior is due to this personality trait. He wants to be in your hip pocket. When I go to feed in the mornings, it's Ole who greets me at the gate, not pushing for food necessarily but just wanting to be pet and have someone say "Good morning, Ole". He's the pest...the one who follows me into the feed room to see if there's anything interesting in there he should have.
Now I mention horns alot. There's a sad fact in any kind of animal farming. The fact is that few of the males have what it takes to be a good sire. You have to be picky about that 50% of the genetics of your next lamb crop, so you look for the best: good horn growth that is open and clears the face, good conformation, good temperment (yes, a bad temper gets passed along) even survivability and resistance to disease and parasites. The sad fact is that most male sheep do not make the cut. Then what do you do with them? Well, mostly they go to market. Shetlands are valued for their quality wool, so if there is any chance of an animal "making a living" as a wool producer, we try to give it to them. But you can't keep them all. Most people I know who have had an overabundance of ram lambs say this year they will probably go to market, wool or not. Feed costs are prohibitive. And we just don't have the space for any more wethers.In fact, we may not breed any sheep this fall due to the economy, but we won't go there here in this discussion.

As for me, I'll just appreciate the guys I do have now. I love them all and each one for his own attributes...besides....they have the softest fleece of anybody!


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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cool Thoughts

My friend, Tina, had a great idea to post a picture of something cool. They are having record heat in the Pacific NW right now. We, too, are having warm temperatures with increased humidity due to it still being "Monsoon Season". The past few days have seen tremendous storms moving through. My sheep are getting used to the Drill of having me round them up to put in areas where they have proper cover if they want. Our pasture has no mature trees and if Skittles doesn't stop bashing the barriers to the trees we are trying to grow in the pasture, we still won't have any shade.
So, I'm leaving you with the thoughts of chilled mallards standing in cold water with snow about.

And I keep in mind that the Earth will turn and...eventually...those of us who love cool weather will become more active again. I wish, I wish, I wish....
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Conundrum

This summer seems to be riddled with questions. Or at least in my mind. I have been waiting to do assessments on the ram lambs for sale. It was only today that I realized that the oldest of them were now just four months old, the youngest ones three months.
This would normally be the time I would be weaning, but thinking we would be in Oregon in June I had decided to try weaning early this year. Actually, it seemed to make no difference in the development of the lambs. They all did just fine. The only problem is that I have had to wait to see who's developing into a better ram prospect, and who may have to go to the butcher.
Many, many shepherds have been talking about cutting back on the numbers in their flocks. I get the feeling that people are trying to cut back due to rising hay costs. Here in our part of Arizona, grass hay goes for $20.00 a bale plus tax. I have switched my sheep to mostly pelleted hay. It seemed more costly at first, but there is no waste and they pellets can't be blow about in the winds. I figured I lost 50% of the hay I fed last year due to stemmy grass, contamination of one sort or another, or the sheep just being picky and eating the best bits. They eat every single pellet put in from of them. And pellets don't get into fleeces like hay does. Win-win.

But the biggest question is wether or not to stay in the USDA Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification program. The USDA has three divisions of tracking scrapie (a chronic wasting disease in sheep much the same as BSE in cattle). The first program is one in which every sheep in the US gets an ear tag or other identification mark, like a tattoo, that follows the sheep from birth to death. A slaughterhouse can track a sheep back to where it came from, or so the idea goes.
Next is the voluntary program to become certified scrapie-free. I joined this program when I got back into sheep. You had to be in this level to use artificial insemination on your ewes at that time. Since I joined this program, the rules have changed and now you need not be in this program to be able to use AI.
The third level is now called "Export" status. As one could guess, this is the toughest level with more intense government snoopervision. Producers at this level are allowed to ship sheep to other countries.

My conundrum comes in that the program I have been in now requires me to submit the head of any sheep I have die to the nearest USDA approved lab for assessment. Normally, I wouldn't have a problem in anyone trying to track down and stop this disease. However...the government would like me to cut the heads off my sheep (only IF they die, Folks) and send the head to their lab at my cost. At my cost... (My cost for the overnight shipping of the head as well as getting a vet to come remove the head if I choose not to do it myself)
Not only do I have a problem with submission of heads, but the thought of them wanting me to pay for the privilege isn't sitting well with me. A bigger conundrum is that in Feb. '09, I could be the first ever certified scrapie free flock in Arizona. Naturally, they would like me to stay in the program, siting that my having a "scrapie-free flock" is a marketing tool. The problem there is that I don't know of anyone who has had any success in using this as a marketing tool.

Normally, I am all for eradicating diseases. I allow the USDA inspectors free access to the sheep and records during their annual visits. But this head-removal is going a bit above and beyond in asking producers to submit to these measures - especially since we pay taxes to have these institutions do this themselves. Like everything else, funding is getting cut short and states are not able to pick up the burden. But should I be willing to let that burden be transferred onto me? Especially since any sheep entering the food chain is inspected and samples are taken at slaughterhouses to keep an eye on this disease. And I do understand that a disease can be harbored in a small flock, so it gets back to the funding of it, I suppose.
Adding to this was the delivery of a rather large box about 10 days ago. It was an empty box, only lined with a thermal retaining material and two empty plastic bags inside. Oh, yeah...the instructions for removing and shipping a sheep's head was also in there.

So, while my sheep have nothing to hide, I still find myself getting angry at the extent the small producer has to go through at this point, knowing full well that as soon as the government changes staffing down the line, this will all change all over again. Most other producers in the VSFCP are dropping back to the Mandatory level. And I may follow suit. I just can see where the benefit for my operation comes in.

...and we who keep Shetland sheep come to think of them more as pets with great fiber to spin. But I can also see both sides of the argument....now if these devils will just get off my shoulders and let me make a decision...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Please Send Good Thoughts...


Please send good thoughts and purrayers to my dear friend Tina and her cat, Neelix. Neelix has been fighting thyroid disease and is still losing quite a bit of weight. Tina is very,very worried about him.

Tina has had Neelix since he was a kitten over a dozen years ago. He sits and waits for both her and John to get home each day as well as doing his Snoopervisor duties around the Marietta Shetlands barn.

Neelix has been continuing to lose weight even with treatment. If you have some time, please stop over to Tina's place to give both her and Neelix some encouragement. I would appreciate it. Tina emailed me this morning to let me know she was having to take Neelix in to the v-e-t today. I so hope they can find out what's wrong and it's an easy fix like too much thyroid medication.

I hope you know you are definitely in my thoughts and prayers today, dear Friend...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Summer Things...(2nd Try)

Note: For some reason my first try at this post did not show any of the pictures, so I have re-posted sans the former comments. Please do let me know if you have any problems viewing this post. I suspect Blogger is up to something...

The weekend before this last one saw us at a tractor show north of town. It was a fairly small event but reminded both my Hired-Hand-With-Benefits and myself of something we don't see often here. Tractors. The inspiration for going to this event was my HH looking for a new transmission for the small garden tractor he uses about the place. The old Craftsman had died a slow, horrible death and try as he might it could not be resuscitated for love nor money. Parts had been replaced to no avail. It was dead. This prompted the ordering of a new and a bit larger garden tractor. I have yet to hear if any of the accessories fits the new one. A major piece is the snow thrower which makes easier work in clearing out the snows of winter.

I love old farm equipment. Well, I guess I have to qualify that a bit as I like new farm equipment just as much. I had instilled in my character the love of good tools from a father who took me to countless hardware stores looking for items to make life easier.
My HH will tell you, I have never balked at anyone in the family getting some sort of tool or equipment to make life easier or more efficient. I am a big believer in the right tool for the right job.
Now, that being said, I also grew up in a family where each of us ended up with our own toolbox due to Dad grousing at someone who had used his tools without permission or put them back dirty or in the wrong place, usually my brother. This tradition has carried on in this family as well although a bit of "friendly" tool robbing occurs from time to time.
And this attitude goes as far as to in the kitchen (proper cooking implements) and wool working equipment: good spinning wheels, carding machine, looms, etc. Dad instilled the value of our time being worth something early on in life. If it was worthy enough to do correctly, it was worthy of time...a valuable commodity in itself.
So, the short of it is we enjoyed seeing all the tractors although I didn't see one Allis Chalmers tractor among the ones on display - those mainly John Deere and International Harvesters. I guess it's a Midwest thing, but I have fond memories of driving an Allis from time to time.

I also wanted to share this daisy with you. When I was married, almost 32 years ago now, I carried a bouquet of yellow roses and daisies. Not until later would I find that my mother had saved the seeds from those daisy flower heads for me. On the return from living in Germany, I was given a baggie filled with the seeds from that very bouquet, then about five years old. that baggie was placed away and I didn't come across it again until we moved into this place in '92. I took a chance and planted the seeds.
I've always admired daisies for their strength of character. They hadn't failed me and came up with vigor. The first plant from those seeds eventually succumbed to age, but not before it left "babies" for me to keep. Every summer it reminds me not only of my wedding, but of the mother who believed...in the daisies and in me. Mom passed away in '83, but I still feel the connection through these blossoms.

And the final picture is of lily plants in our "pond" that were given to us by our cat vet, Dr. Bill and his wife, Melanie. We weren't sure they would make it through a winter in our area (they have a backyard pond in town), but they have. It's been a joy to see them bloom and grow.
In pondering over the flowers coming up, some against the odds, I have come to re-think and take stock in the saying, "Bloom where you're planted". I'll try to remember that, Mom.