We have sheep!!!

I remember the day (weekend?) I finally realized just what it was I wanted to do on our farm. I’d been through all sorts of ideas: CSA, dairy, broilers… Nothing really fit with what I was looking for, until I was chatting with a fellow Ladies Homestead Gathering member about knitting and livestock when I finally realized what I want to do on our farm is SHEEP! I’m an avid knitter and I love caring for animals, so of course I should raise sheep!

So almost immediately after finding the farm, I started looking for sheep. Tripp and I decided that two pregnant ewes would be the place to start. I had my heart set on a pair of Romedale/CVM ladies, and once we learned that the largest breeder on the east coast purchased our Scotch Collies’ brother we knew we’d found our source. After a few months of emails back and forth with Marie at Marushka Farms about caring for sheep, and then exactly which animals would fit us best, we picked up our girls this weekend! I cannot fully express how excited we are to have our first two sheep on the farm!

New hay Feb 2015

Rose and Flower

Good Bugs

The kids and I have been seeing these guys around since we moved in, but I was having trouble tracking down exactly what they are. After numerous yellow jacket stings on the farm, and a huge bald-faced hornets nest discovered/removed, we’re a little wary of flying creatures wielding stingers…

Turns out they’re not aggressive and are actually highly beneficial. The Digger Wasp flies low to the ground {we see them in greater numbers when the sky is overcast…?} and hunts for white grubs buried in the soil. The female Digger Wasp lays an egg inside the grub, and when it hatches, the new baby wasp eats the grub, reducing the numbers of Japanese Beetles. They also like nectar so they’re a native pollinator!

When not hunting white grubs, Scolia dubia is often found nectaring on flowers during August. Photo credit: Joann Pettinicchio

When not hunting white grubs, Scolia dubia is often found nectaring on flowers during August. Photo credit: Joann Pettinicchio

Puppy Update :: 10 weeks

McCaulay {Kep} and Findlay {Finn} came home Saturday September 13th. They were excited to be in a new place and exhausted by the end of the day. Mom slept on the couch with them in a kennel together, hoping to take them out as soon as they whined to use the potty. Unfortunately, they whined a lot that night. Luckily, no one peed in the kennel. Mom slept on the couch for night #2 as well, but that was the last time – mamas need more/better sleep than what can be had on our couch with two whiney puppies by your side… The pups spent the next few nights on the screen porch, and only had one or two accidents overnight. {The screen porch is directly below our bedroom window, so I could hear them and let them out as soon as they whimpered.}

A few nights ago Findlay had the hardest time falling asleep and it was 11:30 before he finally settled down. For a few nights, the pups had been sleeping in kennels in the playroom {it’s starting to cool off here at night}, and were doing really well from about 7pm to 6am. But that night, Finn just wouldn’t quiet down. I’d let him out of the kennel and he’d go outside and just lie down on the patio. I started to worry he was refusing to sleep indoors! I tried putting him on the screen porch but he just kept pushing on the door {bang…bang…bang…}. Even though I really really didn’t want to, I offered to let him sleep outside. He was barking {for the first time ever} within 10 minutes. Finally, I moved his kennel out to the screen porch, locked him in, shut the house door and hoped he’d be quiet. He was. But at their 2:30am potty try it was really chilly out there, so I brought his kennel back in, only this time I left the door from the playroom to the porch open. I’m thinking he was just getting hot because he’s at least twice as furry as Kep. Knock on wood – he’s been sleeping fine every night since then {in his kennel, in the playroom, with the house/porch door open}.

The pups don’t seem to enjoy their inside time very much – at least not when they are together. We can’t let them have free run of the house because they are chewing EVERYTHING. Kitchen towel, rugs, couches, table legs, EVERYTHING. So I put up a gate to confine them to the kitchen only {cookbooks, the island, the recyclables…} but they still don’t want to relax, so they often head back outside. Outside they wander around the yard, wrestling, digging for voles, chewing on tree roots… They stay very close to the house and as long as Hickory doesn’t take them on any adventures, they very rarely leave the yard without a person.

I take them for a walk every morning, to practice their leash manners. Even though they are primarily farm dogs, they will have to leave the farm from time to time, and I need them to be respectful even when restricted to a 6-foot leash. I usually take them one at a time, so they can focus on me, down to check on the “animals” {just chickens right now} in the field and in the pole barn. Right now they are walking “okay” on a leash, and prefer eating chicken poop to actually checking on the chickens, but they are getting much better. I have had puppies before, but never a pup that I expected to do any particular work, so I’m flying blind here – I think they’re doing great!

One last thing – I’m amazed at how different their personalities are. I have had dogs my whole life, and I know dogs are different, but there is something fascinating about seeing two litter mates behave so differently. Kep is needy, and affectionate, and very bidable. Findlay is incredibly smart, but a little stubborn and more independent. Just like with my human kids, I am trying not to “label” them, for fear of creating a self-fulfilling prophesy situation, but it’s hard not to. I am eager to see how their individual traits serve them as they move into their roles as working farm collies.

Food: They are eating Taste of the Wild Puppy. It’s available at Tractor supply and the price point is good – plus it’s grain free! They’re getting between 2 and 3 cups/day. I measure a cup in the morning, give “a little” at lunch time, and then measure a cup for dinner time. I feed them in their kennels 100% of the time.
Sleeping: Right now they are sleeping in separate kennels side by side. Of course I thought having them face each other would be “better” but it actually made them whine/bark more and more, as they fed off each other’s excitement. Placing them side by side means maybe 10 seconds of whining then quiet; when the sun goes down, these boys are hungry and ready for bed. Lesley {of Mountain Wave Farm} suggested keeping them indoors until about 6 months of age, while they get potty trained and learn their family, so I have a few more months before I have to come up with a plan for that…

A rare moment of kitchen peace...

A rare moment of kitchen peace…

Bad Bugs

GROSS ALERT: I was in the front yard, chatting on the phone, picked a raspberry and was about to toss it into my mouth when I noticed a small spider on my finger. I shooed the spider and was again about to eat the berry when I saw three small bugs {fruit fly-size} on the berry. In my effort to remove the bugs I mooshed the berry a little bit and inside I found tiny little wormies. I freaked out a little, hung up the phone, and googled it. Spotted Wing Drosophila. The article linked with the photo below says they’re a problem “after late-July,” so I’m pretty sure we’ve eaten them since we moved in. I’m shuddering again thinking about it. My only question now is: what should I do with the remaining canes/berries as we prepare for next year? Will the nasty buggers be stopped now that frost is on the way?

I’ll let you know what I find out.

Spotted Wing Drosophila larvae in ripe raspberries

Spotted Wing Drosophila larvae in ripe raspberries

in the garden :: September 28

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Panoramic | I’m standing in the southeast corner of the garden. House is due north.

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From southeast corner looking west-ish.

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From southeast corner looking north.

This is the first weekend we spent any significant time in the garden, so things were looking pretty sad! We’ve been eating gobs and gobs of Sungold Cherry {our all-time family favorite}, slicers and paste tomatoes, plus raspberries, but we’ve been kind of ignoring everything else… So, we had Betty over on Saturday to show us around and help identify weeds/plants. Turns out what I thought was dill is actually fennel, and what I was hoping was some kind of cover crop is really weeds… So I yanked out everything that doesn’t belong, and put together a plan for the winter.

I pulled about half of the basil plants today – they’d gotten so overgrown our last meal with the stuff was just awful.. There seems to be some new growth on a few of the plants, though, so I just hacked them back to see if anything tender comes up. The beans in the last picture are an unidentified white/golden wax bean. They were beyond edible when we moved in, so I’m leaving them there to see if we can harvest seed for next year. The chard has been here all along and even though it’s only rained 3{?} times since we moved in six weeks go, seems to be going strong. I’m hoping to eat up the big leaves this week and maybe throw some kind of blanket on it when the frost comes; just to see what happens. There are two prolific and healthy green pepper plants, but we just aren’t green pepper eaters, so they’re sitting there, looking beautiful. I really should take them to the farmers market or something! Next year we’ll plant some sweet orange peppers…yum… I hacked back the asparagus because it was beginning to turn  yellow, but then felt some anxiety that I had acted too soon. In add to my guilt, Betty said she usually waits till very early spring/late winter to cut it back…The video I found said to cut it in the fall and then cover with 2″ compost and straw, so we’re heading into town tomorrow to pick some up from the co-op. It’s a 30-foot bed of 4-year-old asparagus and it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to buy this place – I have to keep it alive!

I am hoping to use a raised bed hoop house over one bed {the one with black PVC pipe} and plant lettuce, spinach and kale inside. I have Napoli Carrots {Eliot Coleman’s favorite for winter growing} on the way. I ordered garlic sets {our playroom smells SO good} and onion sets to put in when the weather really cools off. Then I’ll broadcast some kind of cover crop over the remaining beds and keep my fingers crossed till spring comes. If we’re very very lucky we’ll have fresh food through the winter! If not, well…. c’est la vie! {OvO}

Feeling empowered

Three years ago, my friend Lynn taught me how to chop wood like a lady at my very first Ladies Homestead Gathering Retreat. And today I did this:

Momma, woodpile & Kep

Momma, woodpile & Kep

It’s a little hard to see with the all that cute puppy in the way, but that’s a pretty good-sized woodpile {at least I like to think so} that I split this morning. Today was the first time I got the chance to work with the axe I bought myself after the retreat, and it went pretty smoothly. The wood was well-seasoned, mostly cedar. There were a few really {really} hard pieces that I couldn’t even nick, so I’m saving those until we borrow a wood splitter. Ultimately, we would like to harvest our entire winter’s worth of wood from our own lot, but I have a feeling this year we will be buying in wood – it’s starting to get chilly up here in the holler and we don’t have much to show for it yet!

If you’re interested in learning more about the Ladies Homestead Gathering, and our upcoming retreat, click here to read more on our website!

It really is a small world…

Long story, but neat {at least I think so}.

Today I called Miss Utility for a power line marking ahead of a satellite TV installation. The customer support rep said BARC Electric would be out between now {10am} and September 18. When we got home from our errands this morning, there was a BARC Electric truck on our road, doing something with the power lines that cut across our property. I leaned my head out the window and asked if they were here to mark the power lines. “No, ma’am, that’s another truck.” Oh, I said, well, there’s this wire that runs near the barn from this line {pointing directly overhead}, it’s green, appears to be grounded, but doesn’t appear to “go” to anything. Do you know what it is? He said he’d come have a look.

A few minutes later this {enormous} power line truck comes up the driveway. Two guys get out and explain that that line by the barn is there to maintain the right of way for the power company, but that there is no power to the wire. Someone before us had power in that barn, and a transformer on that pole, but now nothing. I will have to call the engineers and see about getting it hooked back up. Oh, I said, feeling dejected. I want the line to be nothing so I can pull it down, but also, something, so I can turn the lights on in the future barn… Anyway…

“Do you know how to get into that field over there, the one with the power poles?” Sure, there’s a rock crossing down below that last building – are you going to take that {gigantic} truck over there? “We’ve done it before!” Alright then… But hey, since you’re here…I have another question. There are a few places around the property with wires just sticking up out of the ground. Three places, actually. The lines appear to be dead, but we can’t figure out what they’re for or where they go… Can I just cut them off at the ground? “We can cut them for you, ma’am, if you want us to.” It’s really no problem for me to do it, I just want to make sure it’s okay to cut them. So, they back their {I mean, HUGE} power truck around and head down the driveway. He give me a “You mean, this one?” hand signal from 200 feet away, so I walk on down to see. Yes, those are the ones. “Hey,” the other guy calls out, from 20 feet away, “here’s a bunch coming up right here by the {guest} house!” What?!? {That makes FOUR places} “Ya, and what’s this giant PVC pipe here, by the barn?” Um…. He pulls it up – it’s empty. It’s at least 6 inches across, with a nice big PVC cap on top, and the hole goes at least 18 inches into the ground – but there’s nothing there. No wires and no visible tunnel or anything. Um…? So ya, there are wires like those two sets there, one in the field and another in the barn – any ideas? “They probably tried to run ‘private wire’ {that means, homeowner installed} from the {guest} house to the {“activity”} barn, to avoid putting in a separate meter. Down the hill? Now, I’m not sure about that…” Oh, well, don’t cut them then. I guess I need to do some more research…

Here’s where the story gets good!

I heard the guy ask Caden if our dog {Findlay} was a Border Collie. He told him no, he’s a Scotch Collie. So a little while later the guy asks me. “What kind of dogs are those?” Scotch Collies, I said. “Oh, I used to breed Border Collies.” Really? Do you have sheep? “No, but I used to work with them for a few people. Do these dogs herd like Border Collies?” They do, but you know how Border Collies are always…”on”? These guys are known to have an “off switch,” they are also reliable as homestead guardian dogs. “So, a good all-around dog?” Yes, exactly. In fact, there’s this farm down the road that has sheep and collies, and I’m hoping to get in touch with them about training these guys… “David Clark and his wife Cheryl? Ya, I know them. They’re great people.” Ya, that’s them – do you think they’d help me? “Definitely, I’m sure they’d be very helpful. We’re from over in Bath County and there’s a lady there {insert name here. I’ve already forgotten…Maybe her?} that’s a world renowned herder…” I didn’t know that! Isn’t there a guy in Highland County….what’s his name, Mc-something… “Ya, McCaig, I used to work for him. Man, it’s a small world, isn’t it?” Yes. It sure is. And I am absolutely thrilled to

Mountain Wave Kelsey, dam to our two pups. Herding Instinct Test

Mountain Wave Kelsey, dam to our two pups. Herding Instinct Test

We’re here!

I don’t know why I thought I’d be back on the blog the night we moved in, but I did. And I wasn’t. In fact, we didn’t have internet for a whole 3 days! It was glorious! We haven’t had a house phone in a few years, but now that we’re staying put forever, I’d like to get one again. Of course, I’m being picky about the phone itself, and “hooking it up” isn’t as simple as it used to be. Voice Over Internet Protocol {VOIP, like Vonage} + circa 1970’s phone wiring = kinda tricky. So it’s not quite ready. TV has been a challenge too, much to the chagrin of Farmer Tripp – no line of sight for Dish OR DIrecTV satellites means no network television at Owl Moon Farm.

The chickens arrived on Saturday. The hawks were here Monday and I spotted 2 nasty-looking vultures Tuesday {can you believe they’re Federally protected?!?!}. As if I needed any convincing, I’m now 100% sure it’s time for us to get a farm dog! My little hound mix is a great hunter, but he’s really only interested in deer and rabbits. He’s never been much of a predator-control dog, and he’s 11, so we’re looking into getting a puppy to help protect us and the livestock from bears, coyote, fox, birds, strangers, etc. Fortunately, a good friend of Tripp’s lives just an hour and a half from here and raises Old-Time Scotch Collies, a heritage breed of dogs with excellent all-around farm dog skills – herding, predator-control, varmint-control, family protection and general assistance. They’re sweet and gentle with their family and though they won’t attack a stranger, they’ll certainly let you know someone’s around that shouldn’t be. Kurt and Leslie at Mountain Wave Farm in Blacksburg have been very helpful in making this important decision and we look forward to visiting their new litter this weekend. The pups are about 6 weeks old now, ready for their new homes around Sept 14th. I can’t wait!

Today I dropped the children off at a friend’s house {not just a friend, Betty happens to be the woman who used to own our farm!} while I made a “quick” trip to Charlottesville to pick up some more laying hens. If you haven’t been keeping score at home, we started with 16, lost 4, got 8, lost 9, hatched 3 {all dead now} so we were down to 4 hennies. The only survivor of our original flock, our sweet Buff Orpington mama who sat on three clutches in 2013 and managed to hatch the only egg she sat on this summer; plus 2 Rhode Island Reds and an unknown hen, all of which were among the donation birds last summer. Grandpa found a posting on the CraigsList for some Buff Orpington poults {bigger than chicks but not yet old enough to lay eggs} so I went on over and got 8 hens + 1 rooster. We actually really liked our Buff rooster, but he was one of our first predator casualties in 2012. When our Barred Rock rooster turned out to be a mean SOB and he and the Dominique rooster were killed this spring, I decided any replacements would have to be Buffs. In fact, I think we’re officially moving towards 100% Buff Orpingtons now, so we will have a purebred stock. Who knows, maybe we can even sell fertilized eggs, chicks or poults!

Here’s a picture of the pen I “made” for the poults. I purchased a run extension from the local Tractor Supply designed to attach to the Chick’n + Rabbit Hutch they sell. For $129 I thought it would be a secure enclosure for the teenage chickens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have anything on the back, so I added some 2×4 fence wire and then put some plastic tarp over top for sun/rain protection. It’s only for a week or so, until all the birds get to know each other, and in the future, we can use it when a mama has a clutch of eggs, someone needs special care or medication, or even as a puppy run. For extra security, I plan to change out the 2×4 wire for some 1×1 hardware mesh {like what’s on the rest of the pen} after the girls move into the regular chicken house next week.

Owl Moon Farm Chick Brooder

Quarantine Pen which can be a brooder, an ICU, puppy run…whatever we need.

Our new tractor should be delivered tomorrow. Honestly, I’ve left this one up to Farmer Tripp so all I really know for sure is that it’s a Kubota with a bucket on the front. Oh, and he paid the $250 extra for the canopy, so maybe we won’t get sunburnt. We’ll see about that.

I’m hoping to have another conversation with my fencing guy this week as we try to finalize our plan for the small nursery paddock. I’d like to get some goats out there ASAP, along with the chickens. I figure the goats will keep the grass low and the hennies will be enclosed enough that they won’t need to roost on my front porch or in the barn or anything. {If you have any do’s or don’ts about that, please don’t hesitate to share!} The pole barn to which the nursery paddock is attached needs a lot of TLC, so I’m hoping to get in there in the next few weeks to finish cleaning it out and to make some safe and secure livestock stalls. {How’s that for alliteration, Mrs. B??} Here’s a video I took last week after an hour or so of cleaning one of the stalls. Lots of wood to chop before the cool weather sets in…

Chomping at the bit…

You know when you’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for something, something that takes a lot of preparation and planning, and you’ve been thinking, “I’ll only need 2-3 days to pack,” and then moving day is, like, tomorrow, and you’re still not packed? Ya, that’s how I’m feeling.

Seriously, with almost an entire summer gone by waiting for this big huge deal of a move to happen, and we’re 36 hours from go-time and I’m not finished packing. Knowing the kids won’t have a nap tomorrow, and probably not Friday either, I’m letting them snooze a little late. Which means I’m here on the couch, updating my blog theme {don’t you love it??}, making important decisions regarding the Ladies Homestead Gathering Facebook Policies {I hate that we have to have them, but, we do} and not packing. We packed a few boxes this morning, and we’re “pretty much done,” but there is enough still left to do that I should be doing that instead of this….

In other exciting news, we were able to bump the closing up to tomorrow afternoon, instead of Friday, so we’ll be spending the day in Lexington with the walkthrough, the refrigerator delivery {fingers crossed – the next available delivery date is the 19th!!!}, and then off to the attorney’s office at 3. We’ll come home, sleep a little, and then head back out there early Friday {it’s about an hour an a half from my dad’s, where we’ve been staying all summer} for the unpackers due to arrive at 9am. A quick little new home blessing and we’ll be frantically squeezing our lives into a sweet little house made just for us. If I don’t look forward to the stress and exhaustion coming my way this weekend how will I be able to appreciate the quiet and the peace and the love that is to come when it’s complete? {OvO}

Front Porch

Homecoming

My new kitchen

Other than the farm itself, the place I think about most often is the kitchen. When I’m preparing a meal, or when we’re sitting around the table eating one. When I’m reaching in the fridge for the milk… Every now and then I feel a little tickle in my tummy, like the one you feel when the phone rings after hours of waiting for your beloved to call.

Owl Moon Farmhouse Kitchen

Nothin’ fancy. Just right.

I’ve never been able to explain moments like these, but I’ve been feeling them for years. I even gave the sensation a name – PREjevu, instead of dejavu. Because they aren’t flashbacks, like I’ve been there before. Instead, it feels a flash of the future. But not a specific activity or anything, just a feeling. The warmth, the smell, the wood floor under foot. As quick as a blink of an eye, and then they’re gone.

I’ve been looking for this home for nearly 15 years. Feeling like my home was calling me. Searching high and low. Making everyone around me crazy. But we’ve found it. Finally. And next Friday night I’ll be sleeping {on an air mattress} in the home I’ve been looking for. OvO