lambs

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Every evening, late in the season, we try to make time to watch the sun go down. The light at the end of the day can take your breath away; suddenly, the leaves on the trees are on fire and then, just as quick as it came, the fire disappears and the air takes on a new chill. Usually, this warmth/chill pattern would result in some fine fall tree colors. This year is far from normal and the Big Leaf Maples either haven’t turned yet or have turned a dull yellow. We’ll settle for a few stunning sunsets.

Low tunnels

We’re closing in on the end of the eighth month of this season and as it winds down it’s nice to make time  for these brief, fiery displays. The rest of it is going fairly smoothly–the corn is gone, replaced by new garlic beds, the other beds are mostly ready for winter. We’ve put up new low tunnels over the salad garden to wring as much heat out of these final weeks as possible.

Meanwhile, the apprentices have been busy sowing winter cover crops of rye vetch, wheat and some Austrian field peas. Next week will be the final farmers market and CSA pickup. And then–well, the appentices are already planning for the future (more on this in another post) and running down a final list of field chores to prepare for winter. Our neighbor and uber-shutterbug Bob Dash caught Caitlin yesterday as she dug out some of the last of the old sunflower stalks.

We’re still not finished. Early next month we will kill the lambs–yes, that’s a harsh way of putting it, but this is a working farm not a petting zoo, and we will do it as quickly and painlessly as is possible. Their meat will feed us through the winter and their wooly coats,tanned and fluffed, will make lovely Christmas presents next year.

Lambs in October

On the other side of the ledger we just installed 25 baby chicks in the brooder pen in the barn. They’re spending their first days warming themselves under the heat lamp and are already learning to peck food and drink water.

The New Chicks

These little girls (and a couple of guys we suspect) will stay in the barn for a month or so and then go into the upper chicken run to wait out the winter. Until the spring they’ll spend their time in and under the henhouse. The hens in that run now will get shifted to the lower pasture.

There’s a point to all this shifting around. The young chicks will be protected from the harsh weather in the upper run’s sheltered henhouse. And after the lambs are gone we’ll turn the older hens out onto the sheep pasture where they can forage, pecking out the parasites and larva from the sheep manure.

The hens love that stuff and digest it efficiently, fertilizing the land with their own droppings. At the same time they clean up the pasture so those parasites and eggs don’t find their way into next year’s flock of lambs. We suspect we lost our lamb, Weakie, to worms that infected this year’s flock from leftover manure.

There’s a nice sense of conclusion to all this. And to top things off our giant pumpkins, Zeke and Tink, became birthday presents this weekend. Rebecca offered our neighbor Clara a choice for her personal pumpkin to celebrate her eighth birthday.

Clara & Zeke

Clara chose Tink and her folks hauled both giants over to Wise Acres common house for her birthday party. We held a contest to guess Zeke’s weight with the winner getting to take Zeke home. The guesses ranged from ten pounds to 500 pounds, which probably reflects how you see the world if you are eight years old or 50 years old. Zeke weighed in at 94 pounds and the winning guesser–Elizabeth Unsel–posed for a picture.

Elizabeth & Zeke

So that’s where we are at this late stage in the season. Harvest mostly in, winter fields planted, lambs munching their last grass, chicks keeping warm, apprentices pondering the future, kids growing older–well we’re all getting older–and Elizabeth, she’s trying to figure out what to do with 94 pounds of pumpkin.

The wheel does keep turning.

Persephone

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We buried Weakie over the weekend. That’s the name the apprentices gave to the runt lamb in the small flock we put out on the lower pasture last April. Joel found him Saturday, down in the sheep pasture, with his colleagues apprehensively sniffing his body. Joel hitched a rope around Weakie’s hind legs, dragged him away, and covered him with wood shavings. On Sunday, Louisa dug a deep hole with the tractor and Weakie was consigned to the earth.

In one sense Weakie had a pretty good run. He and the other six lambs spent the summer having their pasture pretty much to themselves. Louisa and the apprentices coaxed the lambs over their bipedal uneasiness by shaking alfalfa pellets in a can and that got them running each time they spotted someone who looked like they might have a treat. It’s been a good summer grass-wise too, with lots of rain and moisture and none of the usual heat that turns fresh green meadow grass to straw around here.

Last month, we noticed blood on Weakie’s hindquarters, a sure sign the lambs needed worming. We did that, but the worms had apparently done irreparable damage to the smallest lamb and he was having trouble keeping up with the rest of the flock–hence his name. 

Like everything else around here things go along just fine–until they don’t. There are many, many details that must be attended to or they will come around to bite you in the behind, or in this case kill one of your lambs. We had gotten a bit complaisant about the lambs–they seemed content and we pretty much left them to their own devices. We should have been watching for signs of trouble and we missed a big one until it was too late.

So now there are six lambs on the pasture and they will graze until early next month. Then they’ll all join Weakie, at least in spirit. The rest of them will go into the freezer for dinner.

Persephone

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If there is one thing that doesn’t change on a farm like this it is that everything keeps changing. We’re getting down to the tail of the season and we realized we’ve left some loose ends undone. We’ve got a new post in the works on the big Young Farmer do Monday evening over on Vashon–our current intern, Greg, will be your correspondent on that and we’ve got some nice pix.

But meanwhile, here are a few updates on some of those loose ends.

The sheep: This has been a pretty good summer sheep-wise. The rain and cool weather produced a nice crop of grass on the lower pasture and the seven lambs have had it all to themselves since we put them out there last April. We wormed them last month without incident.

Last year’s sheep were pretty anti-social (and for good reason–we recently received a parcel from our processor with their tanned and fluffed sheepskins.) That day is approaching for this bunch too but this year’s herd is different. They’ve learned to associate humans with treats and come running as soon as a human ventures onto their pasture. They’re all still healthy and while we occasionally hear coyotes howling down that way in the middle of the night–and have even run out to chase them away at 2 a.m.–we haven’t lost any animals.

And you can see from the photo they’ve been into the alfalfa pellets and have packed on a bit of weight.

The lambs

Chocolate: Ah yes, Chocolate. Everybody, it seems, knows Chocolate and his harem, the five turkey hens. People stop on the road and peer in to see what’s, ahem…up. He’s been a busy turkey–31 offspring at last count. Here’s a snap of the man himself:

Chocolate and some of his harem

As we have previously noted Chocolate has matured from his younger, randy self into a great dad. The turkey babies are babes no longer, but he still shepherds them around the turkey pen like a scout leader. Louisa says Chocolate has now achieved the title of “stock producer” and will probably make it through Thanksgiving unscathed this year.

The Geese: Well, they’re not those cute fuzzy little goslings we saw earlier in the season. They are now full grown and greet everyone coming in the farm gate with noisy honks. It’s hard to tell whether these are friendly “How’ya doing. Cmon in” greetings or they’ve just turned into a turf-conscious pair of old biddies. Louisa says their future pretty much depends on their attitude and whether they refrain from pecking her when she goes into the pen to put away the turkeys for the night. We vote to keep them.

the geese

Zeke, the Great Pumpkin: Rebecca is still feeding Zeke old milk–and he’s still lapping it up, or whatever pumpkins do. But a month after Zeke was but a mere 20-pound stripling he’s suddenly blossomed into a 100-plus pound goliath. That’s just a guess since Zeke won’t be formally weighed until the end of the season. But these days he’s sprawled out over the pumpkin patch like Jabba the Hutt. He’s probably three times the size of Tink, the other giant pumpkin who Rebecca did not put on milk diet.

Zeke the great pumpkin

We’ve got more updates coming on Mongo and the cats, on Clopyralid and maybe on this year’s zucchini race. But we’ll leave it at that for now. Stay tuned for Greg’s report and pix on the young farmers’ gathering Monday.

Persephone

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We’re a quarter of the way through Persephone Farm’s 2010 season and already there is a lot of catching up to do. What’s happened to Chocolate, the randy turkey? How are the new lambs doing? Which intern is wearing the tiara as the top Farmers Market seller?

We’ll start with Chocolate. When we left him, he had been introduced to the five lovelorn turkey hens, who immediately lined up to make Chocolate’s aquaintance. We’re happy to announce that Chocolate is now a proud papa-to-be. The hens are taking turns sitting on two clutches of eggs–about 80 in all–in a pair of nests in the rear corners of the turkey house.

But the bad news is that Chocolate is a lousy dad. He pushes the hens off the eggs and walks on them. He gobbles and distracts the mamas. Why? Who knows, but Louisa was running out of patience and it looked like, impending fatherhood or not, Chocolate’s days might be numbered. I suppose most of us would be a bit disconcerted at the prospect of fathering 80 kids, so we cut him some slack. Chocolate was exiled to a pen full of chickens, well away from the nesting turkeys. He’s not happy about it and spends a lot of time complaining but he’s escaped the chopping block. The chickens look at him like he’s nuts.

Chocolate in exile

And the lambs, well they seem sort of bemused by all of this. But it’s hard to tell. They watch, they graze, they move a little bit, then they graze some more. Maybe that’s how it is when you are a lamb. You never know what life will toss onto the pasture next door, so the best thing is to put your head down and munch some more grass. 

Our experiment in putting the lambs into enclosures for rotation grazing  has run into some problems too. The idea was to preserve the pasture by penning the lambs inside an electric fence within the pasture–both the keep them in one place and protect them from coyotes–then shift the whole fence to another part of the pasture after they mow down the grass. The problem is they keep busting out of the electric fence and gamboling all over the place. Of course, lambs are supposed to do that in the spring, and it certainly is more interesting than eating grass all day in one spot.

On to the tiara. Each week, Rebecca takes an intern to the Farmers Market. And when the totals are added up at the end of the market, the intern with the highest sales figure gets a cut of the take and is entitled to wear the farm’s ceremonial tiara until someone hits a higher number. Ok, it’s kind of goofy, but it keeps things moving along after a day of pulling weeds. So far, Greg and Caitlin are the tiara-holders–they worked together week two, befitting their unitary status.

Caitlin the Queen

No one remembers where the tiara came from, but it’s been around here for years and has passed through many hands. Sales at the market have been pretty good so far this year, despite the economy, so the crown will probably change hands a couple of times before things wind down. Meanwhile, the tiara rests in Greg and Caitlin’s yurt for safekeeping. Or maybe they’re afraid it will melt if they wear it in the rain.

One more item, for now.

Cleo, the lone pea hen, is still flying solo. She tried hooking up with Chocolate, and the chickens, and Rebecca’s Volkswagen van, and pretty much anything else around here that moves. Her mating methodology seems to be an odd mixture of stalking a potential target, then imitating her late mate–Ramm–by spreading her tail feathers and displaying, while issuing male peacock mating calls. Everyone finds this strategy a bit perplexing–Chocolate and the chickens included, no doubt. Going to be a long spring for Cleo.

Tune in again for the next installment: Rebecca gives a lesson in over-the-top tomato transplants.

Persephone

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