January 1 New Year’s Day Monday Helen gave about 2.5 gallons. Some of the water was gone from the stock tank so either she or Wilbur drank some. There were some flecks on the milk filter this evening. Otherwise a fair day about 20 F and all’s well. The tom cats are marking the new year with a lot of snarling and fighting. I told them spring is still a long way off.
January 2 Helen drank some of her water, or somebody did, I did not actually see her. She gave very close to 3 gals today. She and Wilbur race through their hay so they can race over and swipe the sheep hay. Since I have to carry the sheep hay from the barn this has ceased to be cute. Helen and Wilbur looked very pleased with themselves while the sheep crowd way up under the floor beams. I filled the sheep water twice today. I don’t know if cows are drinking it or the tub is leaking. It was -4 F this morning. I got only four eggs. The hens just don’t lay when it is this cold.
January 4 Thursday I was out to the barn about 6:30 am because I had to drive to the airport for grandson Rafe coming in from Alaska. The animals adjust so much more readily to early care than late, no surprise of course. Rafe is going to construct something tomorrow to keep the cows out of the sheep fold. The minute they clean up their own hay they are right over here to see what the sheep have. While Rafe and I were down inspecting the sheep area my new young dog, Bagel, showed up to see what was going on. Wilbur, the Jersey steer, took one look, at him and chased him all the way out of the sheep paddock and all the way back around to the barn. Then Wilbur came dancing back throwing his hind legs in the area. It was a very entertaining scene for all but Bagel. When I was serving out the cow’s hay tonight in the dark hay mow a bale from an unstable pile landed on my head without warning. One should never permit unstable piles to exist, a fact I know well. I had sent Rafe over for more hay for the sheep and instructed him to take bales from that pile so should have been forewarned. It gave me a headache but could have been worse.
January 5 Friday Rafe devised a barrier to prevent the cows going in where the sheep eat and sleep under the buttery. It is just a long beam hanging in a rope sling at each end. The knot is a clove hitch which he taught me how to do. Helen gave a bit less than 2.5 gallons today. Temp this morning was zero but it warmed up to 20 by afternoon. Rafe chain sawed some more wood for me and tarpapered the inside of the chicken hotel. I am certainly disappointed with the quality of a lot of my hay. Some of it Helen hardly touches even though it is not moldy. It is stemmy and overgrown.
January 6 Saturday It was snowing when I got up this morning about 6 and Helen and Wilbur were standing outside the sheep fold barrier with about an inch of snow on them looking like people waiting in line for tickets. They did not get in. Helen did drink some of her own water and i refilled her tank. I got only about 2.25 gallons today.
January 7 Sunday Today was fine and clear, temp around 20 F. It felt really warm. Sorry to report, Rafe’s cow barrier did not last 24 hours. I don’t see any immediate way to repair it myself so will have to go back to feeding the sheep only when I know the cows are busy eating in the barn. As I climbed through the sheep feeder to inspect their water one of the rams butted my knee. It caught me off guard. Until now, every time I go in there they flee but this time I think they were feeling aggressive because they were all hungry, the cows having devoured all their feed. Helen gave 2.5 gals today. I made 5.5 lb of butter.
January 8 Monday The sheep fold barrier is up again. I put some nails in the beam so the rope, I hope, will not slide off of it and I added more rope. Also I raised it higher to make it less likely Helen or Wilbur will try to step over it. When coming in to be milked Helen walks down an aisle about 20’ long and no more than 4” wider than she. Consequently when I open the door for her I must immediately step through it myself so that we do no meet head on. She is ordinarily standing to the right of the door which opens out so must get around it, giving me plenty of time to get out of the way. Tonight she was on the left and bolted straight in. She is always in a great rush because her grain awaits. I was trapped in front of her shoulder with the choice of being swept along or getting squished by her intractable rib cage. I turned and ran ahead of her but two legged does not outrun four legged. Some feet from the end of the passageway her shoulder caught up with me and I was twirled like a toilet paper roll. I was not really hurt, just a skinned knee, but I screamed. After finishing off her grain she seemed contrite. She made a series of different noises. She gave only 2.25 gals today.
January 9 Tuesday I went off on errands today and while i was away UPS delivered a box of dog food. The driver set it down next to Bagel. Naturally Bagel chewed his way in and ate quite a lot. I did not give him any dinner. Helen gave 2.75 gals today.
January 10 Wednesday It was way cold this morning. I could not make out the thermometer but I think it was around zero with a wind which was probably about 30 mph. Cold! The wind is out of the west so is not hitting the hen room but blows straight in on Helen. I shut their door against it. The wind hits the sheep even harder. One of the rams has bashed and broken the back stop of their feeder. When it falls apart the rest of the way I will have rams in with me when I go down there to feed. Helen is in roaring heat today so I am staying out of her way. She is chasing Wilbur around. It is so cold that Wilbur has an icicle of pee hanging from his underside. Helen gave only 3 quarts this morning but made up for it this evening with a total of 2.75 gals for the day. All day she and Wilbur surged about even going out in the grassless snow covered field but the evening she was settled down.
January 11 Thursday Wild weather today. We have high wind whirling the snow around. It is cold. All the same, Helen gave 2.75 gal. today.
January 12 Friday Now Leah is in heat. I know because when I went in with her water there she was in the doorway rising up like a circus pony. I shrieked and backed away so her hooves came down in the bucket, well one hoof, and spilled the water. This morning started out about 8 F and got up to 20 F. We had brillient sun all day.This evening the temp is falling fast. Helen gave 2.5 gals today.
I can’t believe it is Friday again!
January 13 Saturday That which I greatly feared has come upon me…. the barn water is frozen up. There is enough in the barn stock tank to water them today but after today I will have to carry water for the chickens and heifer Leah from the house. Helen and Wilbur will have to drink from the small tub in with the sheep. Son Martin installed a foolproof water system under there. It is more trouble to operate and will have to be refilled more than once a day but is very good to have. The worst problem is that with the cows hanging around there the sheep won’t get anything to eat unless I remember to feed them while the cows are eating in the barn. The minute the cows finish they race over to see what they can swipe from the sheep.
January 14 Sunday A bit of a thaw today, 32 F this morning. It felt so warm I took off my coat before milking. After breakfast I nailed up a few boards to prevent sheep from jumping into the area where I stand to feed them. These boards should at least slow them down although the result looks like the work of a 10 year old with a sleep deficit. It does nothing to stop the cows getting at the sheep’s hay. In fact I was working with Helen’s curious head in my face. She chased all the sheep outdoors with head butting. While I worked I began to picture a scheme whereby I can divide off the area to at least limit the cow’s getting to the sheep’s hay without closing off access to the water tub. I doubt this thaw will bring back my barn water but I have left the heat tape plugged in just in case it does some good. Later: The water is frozen until May, I fear. I unplugged the heat tape. It is frozen beyond its reach. My sheep barrier did not last out the day. The rams have reduced it to toothpicks. I found a massive beam to jam in there tomorrow when perhaps my courage will have returned. Temp got up to 34 F today. Helen gave 2.5 gals.
January 15 Monday. It has snowed all day but lightly. I believe we have four new inches. Helen and Wilbur are drinking ok from the sheep water. It is such a shame the barn water froze. Helen was just learning to drink willingly from it. I never did find out what was behind her resistance. She gave a little under 3 gals today. I made two pounds of butter.
January 16 Tuesday Stewart came this morning and plowed me out which was a good thing because I doubt I could have gotten through the berm which the road crew made across my driveway. He got stuck again in the same spot as before but this time I was ready with old chains to put under his wheels. I needed to get out and buy cat food. Having hungry cats staring is unnerving. Helen gave just under 3 gals today. The temperature was in the 20’s.
January 17 Wednesday 2.5 gals. milk
January 18 Thursday My other plans for today had to be abandoned when I discovered that the fall back water system under the buttery was frozen up. Helen and Wilbur were standing there looking worried and annoyed. Wilbur kept chewing on the water pipe. The frozen pipe runs through a crawl space which is very dusty and sandy and much frequented by cats. The sheep too have taken to wedging themselves up in there and between the lot have chewed all the foam insulation off of the pipe and exposed the heat tape. It was -10 F this morning. I wrapped the whole thing with duct tape. Later I played around with the gfi switch which had also turned off the power. SInce the light was on I thought the electric was ok but obviously I still have something to learn about gfi switches. Water eventually ran after about an hour. Cows often go into a sulk if denied what they want and that is exactly what Helen did. She put her nose in the air and pretended she could not hear me urging her to come and see the water. Wilbur came right in and had a big drink.
January 19 Friday We got another inch or two of snow today. The temperature started out about 14 F and ended at 20 F. I found another dead bantam and one that was dying. I tried to save it by warming it up and giving it water but it died anyway. Bagel, my new dog, is well behaved in other ways, friendly and loving and generally a good dog. So this is discouraging. Helen only gave 2.25 gals.
I misplaced a week! Martin.
January 27 Saturday The sheep, or maybe the cows, have smashed up the sheep’s hay feeder. Son Martin is coming tonight with some more hay. Helen gave 2.5 gallons Only seven eggs.
January 28 Sunday Daughter Sally repaired the sheeps’ hay feeder but we don’t know how long it will last. I saw an older ewe and a yearling ewe having a spat today. The older one chased the younger one away from the hay, then chased her around in circles and out the door. Then they both came whirling back in with roles reversed. 2.75 gals. today. Seven eggs
January 29 Monday We got the seven month old heifer, Leah, in this morning and replaced her collar and bell with a grown up size. Sally has been handling her a lot and the operation proved fairly easy. Sally is a good milker. That and other factors are reversing the downward trend in Helen’s production. We got 3 gals today. The hens are happy too. I got 13 eggs. It was -8 F this morning but no wind and lots of sun. A fine day. Sally took two walks to the river.
January 30 Tuesday. This morning the thermometer stood at zero and it seemed pretty cold all day. Out vet came by and gave Muffin a rabies shot so I could renew her license. I think she is 10 years old now. Both dogs are now fully legal. I get the low rate ($4) because both are neutered. I went right up to the town office today. Helen gave 2.75 gals today and I got 14 eggs but two were frozen. It started snowing about noon and is still coming down hard at 7 pm.
January 31 Wednesday According to the calendar, Helen should have been in heat today but she was not. But milk production was down a bit. We got 2.5 gals. The worst thing happened today. The water was frozen in my back up system in the sheep run-in. So we had to carry water down the ladder to fill the tub. I think I can fix the system with a new heat tape although it will be considerable work. Sally and I and the dogs took a walk along the river and as far as the brook. It was hard going for me and Muffin but Sally and Bagel, who is very frisky, had no trouble. It was very beautiful. The snow is deep and it snowed most of today and all the time we walked and is still snowing.
February 1 Thursday It snowed last night and much of today. Stewart plowed again. However the weather seemed very pleasant. Temp was mostly in the mid twenties and little wind. Sally took two long walks. Helen gave 2.75 gal. and I got 12 eggs. We gave the sheep a protein block to lick and Helen has preempted it. She loves it. Now Sally takes it away when the cows are headed this way.
February 2 Friday My hay man came today and brought 100 bales of very nice fluffy hay, the kind the cows love best. The hay comes up a nice rattley old hay elevator which is like a ladder with a revolving chain down the middle. On the chain are spurs which hold the hay as it rides up. The device is operated by an electric motor for which I supply an extension cord, The hay man and his wife set the bales on from the truck. Sally and I take them off at the top and stack them. At one point I stepped on a weak floor board and my right leg went right through. But I was able to struggle out. I’ll fix the floor next summer when the hay is out of the barn. For now i have put a hay bale over the hole. The sheep and cows love the 30 lb protein block we gave them. It is meant to be for the sheep but the cows are always after it. Sally went down in the dark tonight to fetch it up so the cows would go back to their own barn and leave the sheep alone. In the dark she could feel three furry brown faces clustered around it. Helen gave almost 3 gallons today. And 16 eggs.
February 3 Saturday A fine bright day here in the 20’s. Sally walked the young dog, Bagel, down towards the river. Muffin and I did not go along. It was fun to see Bagel leaping like a deer ahead of Sal on the trail. In the afternoon grandson Rafe and his roommate arrived from school and we gave them a big dinner. They did some chain sawing before dinner for which I am very grateful. Helen gave 2.75 gals. and I got 14 eggs.
February 4 Sunday Rafe butchered Thistle, the animal I have been calling a wether. Once he was sheared it was evident he was actually intact. He was sold to us as a wether. His fleece was so long and his units were so much smaller than the ram we butchered last year that this confusion was able to persist despite clear evidence of his interest in the ewes. I guess the ram crop will provide some answer. We do have a young ram, Stanley, now 10 months old and well grown, who certainly looks capable now although he was still a bit small in October when the ewes first came in heat. The former owners of Thistle said they had used an Elastrator (castration device which applies a rubber band around the scrotum). This may in some way have done a half hearted job. Anyway, the carcass looks good. Sally estimates it at 80 lb dressed weight. It is hanging in the cold cellar now. Sally and I will cut the meat in a few days. Helen gave 3 gals today and I got 11 eggs. It was -10 F this morning. Such cold weather discourages the hens.
February 5 Monday Helen really likes her new hay. I usually put down some of the old first and top it up with some of the new. Tonight she sniffed the old hay and looked up through the hay drop and mooed at me. Wouldn’t touch it. Later I find she does finish it all. The old hay is not moldy. It is just over mature and stemmy. We got 15 eggs today and 3 gallons of milk.
February 6 Tuesday Last night we got well over a foot of snow. There was no way we could have gotten out of the driveway before Stewart plowed us out. The pile plus drift in front of the kitchen window is too high now to see over even when I stand on a stool. Daughter Sally cut and wrapped the carcass of the ram the boys butchered on Sunday. It looks excellent. Helen gave over 3 gals today. I got 11 eggs. This morning while I was collecting eggs two bantam roosters got into a prolonged cock fight. Well, maybe ten minutes long. One rooster was white speckled with a black tail. The other was black with a superb golden mantle. A great lot of other bantams lined up along the upper level of the barn as spectators. One Black Australorp rooster tried several times to horn in on the fight but thought better of it. Finally the gold rooster gave up and the white one chased him around the barn floor for several minutes for good measure. It was most amusing.
February 7 Wednesday The thermometer said 24 F most of the day but a strong wind blew all day and is still strong this evening. Big drifts are forming. Helen gave over 3 gals. There were 12 eggs.
February 8 Thursday Sally and I agree that several of the ewes are looking pregnant. We are looking forward to lambs in late February or early March. Although with all the doubts we have about the fertility of Stanley, the ram we butchered, who knows? We got over 3 gals of milk today and 14 eggs.
February 9 Friday Cold and bleak all day. Helen gave 3 gallons. I picked up 14 eggs.
February 10 Saturday Stormy weather. It started out almost spring like, then a powerful wind sprang up with gusts to 50 mph. We lost power and Sally milked by flashlight. The barn, which is post and beam construction, was noisy and seemed to be rocking. In the house the plastic in the windows is sucking and flapping. I lit the kerosene lamps. We got power back after only about three hours which was a great relief because without power we cannot water the stock. Helen gave less than 3 gals. and I got 9 eggs. Nothing likes this weather. It is much colder tonight.
February 11 Sunday Winter has us in its grip. It was zero this morning with continuing strong wind. It stopped only for a little while last evening. There is a hard crust on the snow. We had bright sun all day and the world looks like a big wedding cake. The effect is blinding. The hot water line under the kitchen sink was frozen this morning and it took me most of the morning to get it thawed. I had not thought to leave the cupboard doors open so warmer air could get under there. The wind is out of the west but seems to swirl around the house. Sally carried a teakettle of warm water down to add to the stock water tub below the buttery. Wilbur, the yearling Jersey steer, was so pleased with it he came and drank from the spout as she was pouring. Leah, the heifer, took the occasion to reach over and grab Sally’s hat. Helen gave 2.5 gals today and I got 8 eggs.
February 12 Monday The wild wind has died down and the sun continued all day. The thermometer did not rise much but it felt much warmer. Sally was able to go for a walk. She saw a fox and a flight of doves. Down by the river I saw some unidentified dog-like animals. I ran for the binoculars but did not get enough of a look to be sire of their identity. Helen gave 2.75 gals and I got one dozen eggs. There have been frozen ones every day but I don’t count them.
February 13 Tuesday It got up to 24 F today and the eves dripped. Then a raw wind came up which was most unwelcome. Sally tried taking a walk to the river on snowshoes but the thick snow and heavy crust took the fun out of it and she turned back halfway there. I think the hens are still suffering backlash from the cold spell. I got only 6 eggs. Helen gave something less than 3 gallons. A nice young man of seventeen took a half grown female cat we have had for about two weeks. She was thin and frightened when she came here but soon turned into a confident and playful little cat, also very clean and intelligent. How sad that someone would have just chucked her out.
February 14 Valentines Day Sally and I fixed a nice lunch today which we were able to share with my vet and a neighbor. Helen gave 2.75 gals. and I got 11 eggs.
February 15 Thursday Sally and I went to the Farmington Farmer’s Union and picked up another protein block for the sheep, much appreciated also by the cows. Sally has to keep carrying it up and down the sheep stairs. She removes it whenever we hear cow bells down there. All the sheep and cows are so enthusiastic that it is fun to watch them. I am not so sure what is in the block. It resembles those suet blocks sold for wild birds. Sally has made a great pet of Leah, the eight month old heifer. She can now put her arms around her. 2.75 gals of milk today, one dozen eggs.
February 16 Friday Sally and Bagel, the young dog, broke trail in the snow today as far as the river. Sally returned with some witch hazel branches to force. When feeding the steer and heifer, Sally puts out pans of grain and Wilbur, who is bigger, keeps running from pan to pan forcing Leah away from the food. Tonight Sally led Leah around to show her how to win at “musical grain pans”. We’ll see how long it takes her to catch on. 2.75 gals. of milk today. Only 7 eggs. I believe the hens are still not recovered from the stress of recent cold weather. It has been my observation that hens respond quickly to stress by quitting laying but take at at least three times as long to recover.
February 18 Sunday Saturday Helen gave 2.75 gals, today a little less. yesterday I got only 7 eggs, today 11. The weather continues cold. It was zero when we got up and reached about 20 F by midday with some sun, then got colder again with considerable strong wind. Sally walked as far as the river with both dogs. Bagel is learning to behave around the chickens. I now have left him off his chain several times while Sally is milking and I am in the barn collecting eggs. He runs around in the driveway area and knows not to come in the barn. Our firewood is going fast. I need some green wood to merge in with it to slow it down.
February 19 Monday Another rather bleak day although temperatures did reach 28 F. Helen gave about 2.75 gals. Got 7 eggs. Nothing likes this weather. My cousin thought she detected a hint of spring in the air by I didn’t catch it.
February 20 Tuesday Milk production is back up today along with the thermometer. Over three gallons, and the mercury hit 40 F . I think this was the first time all winter it got that warm. But only 9 eggs.
February 21 Wednesday It started off this morning a balmy 28 F but an Arctic air mass is moving in accompanied by wind. This evening it is down to 10 F and -15 F is predicted for tomorrow morning. Sally is making daily progress in handling Leah, the eight month old heifer. Sal now pats her face. Helen gave somewhat over 3 gals today. Just 7 eggs. Bagel continues to behave well while we are in the barn. He goes neither in the road not does he come into the barn which is off limits. He still chases cats but never catches them. So far as we know he has not killed any more chickens. Sally increased the sheep’s grain. They now divide about two pounds among the six of them which is not much. They also have the protein block part of each day.
February 22 Thursday Well, it was only zero this morning but all night the wind howled and shook the house. Neither of us thought to open the under sink cupboard doors or leave the tap running. This morning the hot water line was frozen again. The cold water does not freeze because it runs at the other side of a heavy beam. I spent much of the morning getting the hot water running using a heating pad, a space heater and a kettle of boiling water. The water ran again at 11 am. The high today was 14 F. Helen gave a bit over 3 gallons. I got 9 eggs plus two frozen ones.
February 23 Friday We had a mixture of sun and snow today with highs in the 20’s. Not bad at all, really. I got nine eggs but one was frozen. Helen gave 3 gals. All the animals seemed very comfortable today. Sally is making butter tonight. I made a lot of cottage cheese most of which I will give to the chickens because it is more than we can use.
February 24 Saturday Another bright, cold day with strong wind. One of the young ewes, Dot, daughter of Agnes, is off her feed. She looks very mopey. We don’t know what to do about it. Helen gave 3 gals today. I got 13 eggs. Sally made a marvelous banana cream pie today. I piled on lots of whipped cream. This pie (and the whipped cream) was so far removed from the usual church supper item that it deserves some other name.
February 25 Sunday Grandson Rafe and two friends from College of the Atlantic came down Saturday night and stayed until noon today. Besides a lot of high grade eating, they did a lot of work. This including chain sawing some badly needed firewood. They stacked it all nicely. Rafe then killed two large roosters and Sally plucked and cleaned them and they are in the freezer. They were wearing out the hens with their excessive attentions and many of the hens’ backs are plucked bare as a result. Having to put their energy into keeping warm is probably why I am not getting more eggs. The sick ewe is still moving around but is not eating and is getting cold despite her wool. It is hard to know what to do. Three gallons of milk today and 8 eggs.
February 26 Monday We had the vet today for Dot, the sick ewe. He figured she had an advanced case of worms but we’ll never know. He gave her a bunch of meds and an electrolyte drench and she stood around until evening. I then gave her another drench which the vet left for me but then she rolled over limp and dead. I think I drowned her with it although it is hard to be sure as she gave no struggle. We left her lying on a bed of hay, poor thing. Three gals milk, 11 eggs. Warmer today.
February 27 Tuesday Sally and I carried our dead ewe up to the garage floor and Sally sheared her to save the fleece. She had a very deep fleece. When shorn, there was great doubt that she really was pregnant. We are awfully sorry to have lost her. She was pathetically thin. It is astonishing how much condition she had lost in just a few days. Last week I sent our Dodge van off for body work so that it can be registered as a farm vehicle. It came back today looking great. Now it will be able to pass inspection. Sally and I went up to Weld today and walked in to camp. The first bit of the road had been plowed maybe two snowstorms back and was not too hard to walk but after that every step was a new challenge. The final 150 yards down the driveway was close to impassable. The wind had hollowed out about 8” against the door or we never could have got in. We found all in good shape and the woods and frozen lake of course very beautiful. Helen gave 3 gals today. I got 9 eggs.
February 28 Wednesday It is turning colder again and we aren’t enjoying it, although inside the house is fine and the sun is bright. It may be well below zero in the morning. Our five remaining sheep are well judging by their appetites. Our vet called today to ask after Dot, the ewe that died. He consoled us by telling me the Four S’s: Sick Sheep Seldom Survive. The heifer, Leah, and steer, Wilbur, are getting awfully frisky. We take a stick now when we go in with them. Helen gave three gallons today and I got 15 eggs.
March 1 It was -14 F this morning but later warmed up to around 10 F above. It was windy, so no walks today. Sally completed a woven rag rug and cut it from the loom and put it in the upstairs hall where is looks very fine. I got the old Dodge van registered so now there is another farm vehicle. The recent body work makes it look practically new. Three gallons of milk today and eight eggs, but one was frozen and one I broke in my coat pocket.
March 2 Friday It was bright and cold all day. At daybreak it was -14 F here but neighbors reported lower temps. I turned up the thermostat a tiny bit. Helen gave 3 gallons, I got 15 eggs. We are making oatmeal for the chickens by cooking it with skim milk. We have a big bag of oatmeal that has gotten weevils. The chickens all love it. We are pondering what to do with Helen’s heifer, Leah. She is eight months old now and very promising looking. I don’t need two cows. By fall she should be bred.
March 4 Sunday It was -20 F this morning and no fun. But all day was bright and sunny and ultimately warmed up to 20 F. Sally took a walk and reported water running in the ditches. The eaves were dripping so we moved the cows’ stock tank outside to catch the drip in case it does it again tomorrow. Highly unlikely, as a big storm is reportedly on the way. Helen gave more than three gallons. I would have had a dozen eggs but a bantam rooster was in one of the nests and an egg was damaged. He is always getting into a nest and this is a no no. Roosters are not careful of eggs the way hens are. Then if they break them they eat them and form the habit. I caught him easily but did not have to heart to wring his fool neck like I should have.
March 5 Monday I found a new nest today with bantam eggs. I suspected that they have started to lay but these are the first I have found except for a couple of highly civilized bantams who lay in the nests with the big layers. There were four eggs in the nest of which three were frozen. I took them all and left a decoy. The nest was in the beefer pen where the cows feed. They took advantage of my preoccupation with the nest to all rumble back in to the main hall of the barn acting silly. Happily, they did not turn towards the front door which was open but turned left towards the grain room so I was able to scoot over and close it. Then, having shown how naughty they could be, all three turned and ran back out to their hay. Helen gave a bit over 3 gallons today and not counting the new nest I got 14 eggs. The temp this morning was 14 F, not so bad. But now it is snowing heavily. Large accumulations are predicted and strong wind.
March 6 Tuesday It snowed and blew all night and all day. It is hard to say how much new snow there is. Maybe a foot. Elsewhere in the state they got over two feet so we won’t complain. But the violent is wind has become tiresome and there is a lot of snow inside the barn and the garage despite the door being mostly closed. Last night when I threw down the hay I dropped my gloves and could not find them. This morning Sally found one. Perhaps Wilbur ate the other. I searched thoroughly. Three gallons of milk today, 11 eggs. The roosters are doing considerable fighting. My pretty white Leghorn rooster is bloody and frightened. He is not a match for the bantams with their fighting blood nor of the quieter Australorps and Orpingtons because they are very heavy. A couple of small bantam roosters spend a lot of time hiding in the laying nests. When the boys come I will have to ask them to dress off a few more of them.
March 7 Wednesday Major excitement this morning. Sally went down early to hay the sheep and found Agnes, one of the older ewes, with twin lambs. Animals like to choose a warm day with low barometric pressure and that was today. It was 24 F in the morning and got above 30 F by noon. The lambs are a boy and a girl and both are lively. They were still wet when Sal found them and we kept a close eye on them all day to be sure they found the teats. But by evening they were both stuffed. Sal spent a lot of time putting up a barrier to stop cows coming over the drink with the sheep because while there they eat all the hay leaving nothing for the sheep. Also a lamb could easily drown in the large tub. Now the cows must be watered in the barn which means carrying water out there. Sal pulled the 5 gal. buckets right along on the sled. But we will need a better system once I have to take over. Sal will be leaving in early April. Helen gave a bit over 3 gals and I got 15 eggs. Helen and the others had to be shut in today while Sal blocked the gate to the sheep paddock. Helen was very mad about this. She knew she was missing warm sunshine.
March 8 Thursday A fine day. It got above 30 F with full sun. We even opened a kitchen window for awhile but Lemur, the blind cat, followed the fresh draught and appeared in danger of jumping out so Sally soon closed it. The barn roof dripped and filled the stock tank two thirds full. The lambs are adorable. Sally brought them upstairs for Cousin Marcia and me to cuddle. Their mother, Agnes, stood down below bleating so we did not keep them long. We took the opportunity to introduce them to Bagel so he will understand they are part of the family. He very diffidently licked their heads. We certainly hope he continues to respect them. Helen gave 3 gals. I got 11 eggs.
March 9 Friday Another fine day in the 20s and 30s with sun. Once again the barn roof dripped sufficiently to water the cattle. Part of the lawn where Stewart has scraped the snow quite thin melted clear and exposed some brown grass. Some of the layers came out and tried scratching. Bagel wandered around them and made no move to chase them. This was very encouraging. It looks as though he can be trusted around the chickens now. I’m not sure I would trust him in case one runs. The lambs started hopping a little bit today. By this time next week we wont be able to catch them without teamwork. Baby lambs are almost unbearably cute and cuddly and just the weight of a real baby. Three gals. of milk. 11 eggs.
March 10 Saturday Sons Martin and Max arrived at midnight, having driven from the airport in a driving snowstorm all the way. The snow continued until this morning but there is not a lot of accumulation. Most of it blew away. There was some melting which has settled the snowbank outside the kitchen window by at least a foot. I still can not see over it though. I imagine the sap is running. I sent away for some research reprints about the use of seaweed meal as a feed or feed supplement. I have been using it for years as a supplement to dairy feed and we are also giving it to the sheep. I fed at a higher level than formerly during Helen’s last pregnancy and when she calved last June with Leah she had no hint of milk fever which did surprise me. According to my purveyor, North American Kelp, several users report less milk fever. This was not a condition addressed in the studies I got. Their results (Norwegian) gave a clear advantage to the kelp fed cohort for less mastitis and greater milk production. Sheep fed seaweed meal had an increase of 20% in wool production. I got 15 eggs today.
March 11 Sunday Another mild day but no melting to speak of. When I fed the sheep their hay Agnes came to the manger and the lambs did a little bouncing and trotted off by themselves. Such independence. Son Max spent most of yesterday and today cleaning the cellar. I am sure the old farmhouse feels happier. Three gallons again today and 21 eggs.
March 12 Monday A very fine day which started out cold, 10 F, then warmed up over 30 F. One of the ewes, a young one names Topknot, looks nearly ready to lamb. She has been getting tamer but today is very tame and willing to be handled.
March 13 Tuesday Another yearling ewe, Delta, had a singleton ewe lamb. It is vigorous and has a lot of white on it which pleases Sally. She needs more white wool.
March 14 Wednesday We all went to Farmington. One thing on my list was a new collar for Wilbur, the steer. I got a handsome leather one at the Farmer’s Union.
March 15 Thursday The vet came today and docked the lambs and gave them tetanus shots. They are all frisky. The older ram lamb is especially bouncy. He flies off the ground with all four legs at once and comes down as though on springs. Sally named the youngest lamb Valentine.
March 16 Friday Son Max and Cousin Bill worked together today and made great progress on shoring up the ceiling in the attic over the kitchen. Masonite (particle board, really) paneling had been applied to the rafters to contain blown in insulation. It was getting warped and some had water damage. They applied 16′ 2″x6″ boards horizontally with 2′ spacing to hold up and stabilize the Masonite. This evening at milking time Sally put Wilbur’s new collar on him. It has a big antique cowbell on it too. Sally stuffs the clapper with paper towels while putting on collars with bells so as not to spook the animals. This really helps. Once released, Wilbur cavorted around ringing his bell. Helen heard the bell as she returned from being milked and got pretty excited. She chased Wilbur around the hay feeder and jumped him. That bell really set her off. Sally is getting 3 or more gallons of milk every day and I am getting over a dozen eggs. Today I got 20. The bantams are laying and of course hiding their nests. But I am finding some.
March 17 & 18 Saturday and Sunday Son Bret has sent me a new Dell PC. Sons Mark and Max are here and spent a lot of time setting up. I was unable to write on Saturday so am writing this on Sunday. We lack some conversion software so I still cannot write on the PC. Every day recently the temperature has gotten into the high 20’s or 30’s and there is a lot of melting off the roof. Also there is ice backup under the shingles. Max has been faithfully tending his sap buckets. The Aga is convenient for boiling down sap. He has now filled a pint jar. All I have is river maples. I find the flavor excellent. Sally went walking and saw birds I have not seen here before. We looked them up. They were White Winged Crossbills. Yesterday she saw a group of Cedar Waxwings. Son Bret talked me through a transport of files so now I am doing this on my PC. Helen gave a bit over 3 gals today. I got 19 eggs.
March 19 Monday It got really warm today. I turned the furnace way down and opened the kitchen window. Son Max and Grandson Rafe worked long and hard on the attic playroom renovations. They put new insulation on the west end. Max also brought several more gallons of sap up and we have been boiling that on the Aga. Helen gave 3 gallons plus a pint and I got 19 eggs.
March 21 Wednesday Helen’s production continues to be good. Three gallons and a pint yesterday and today. Also 19 eggs. This morning I found a new bantam nest with three blue eggs in it. The old fellow in Rumford who always took a half gallon of milk and a dozen of eggs every week has passed away. He was a frisky old type in between his alcoholic phases. Two years ago before he started on fresh milk and eggs he had high cholesterol and had been told by his doctor not to have any milk or eggs. But when he discovered my farm milk he ignored this advice. He grew up on a farm in Rumford and during his working life was a cook. Shortly after becoming my customer his cholesterol levels began dropping. He liked to brag about this but of course it was no surprise to me, only what I would have expected. But he consistently went on a week long toot about one week out of five and finally this week did not emerge alive. He was a smoker too. I don’t know his age. He might have been 75. I missed the obit. Sally, Rafe and Max joined forces and caught and sheared Stanley, the ram. They used the power clippers. The whole operation took them less than a half hour. This is a big improvement on our past efforts. I was just finishing up some dishes and going out to watch when they trooped back in with a trash bag full of wool. It is mostly black.
March 22 Thursday It has been another stormy day and not letting up yet. Wet snow which is almost rain is driving in from the northeast. It is not actually cold, just about 30 F. Milk production was down today, only about 2.75 gals. This is puzzling unless perhaps she is in silent heat. Following roaring heat a couple of months ago we have not seen a further heat. The chickens are doing well. I have been making oatmeal out of skim milk and a weavily bag of rolled oats. They are crazy about this. I think I got 20 eggs today. I lost track.
March 25 Sunday Our power was out for two days, then the telephone. The latter came back on briefly yesterday but is out again now. We had a Nor’easter which brought at least a foot of wet snow. There were trees down and car accidents all over the state (none fatal I think) so it took the crews a while to restore power. We melted snow on the Aga for a water supply. The Aga runs on propane so does not fail in a power outage. It was not seriously cold, in fact there was enough dripping from the barn roof to supply the cows. Helen’s production has dropped to about 2.5 gals. I suspect this is due to moldy hay. I am running into quite a few moldy bales and because I am getting low on hay I tend to throw it down anyway and hope for the best, always a bad idea. The news this morning is that Topknot, a ewe barely one year old was in labor at 6 AM. Finally around 8 AM Daughter Sally assisted her and pulled a large ram lamb which was seriously stuck. So far Topknot has not accepted him. Fortunately he is vigorous. She is probably going to deliver another so we are leaving them alone for a while before trying to help the lamb to suck. Son Max returned yesterday to California. He and grandson Rafe did major carpentry improvements in the attic playroom above the kitchen. Max also made a couple of quarts of maple syrup from the red maples by the river. It is slightly different in flavor from sugar maple, but excellent. Good news about the barn water! The guys plugged the heat tape back in and together with all the dripping, the line has melted free. I was much relieved to again have water in the barn because soon all my company will be gone and I would then be the one having to carry water.
Later: TopKnot definitely does not stand voluntarily. We just hope she decides to at some point. But as it happens, lambs are very good at snatching their dinner once they get their wheels under them. He is vigorous and suckles efficiently. There are many anecdotal accounts of orphaned lambs running from ewe to ewe stealing milk while the mom stands for her own lamb. I will be calling the vet early tomorrow because we need to have him put a pessary into TopKnot’s uterus in case infection was introduced when Sal reached in. There is even a chance there is a dead twin. However she was delivering the afterbirth and it was dragging on the ground when Sally was rounding her up to put her in the little enclosure and she stepped on it and broke it off. Delivery of the afterbirth seems to indicate that TK was through delivering. The afterbirth should never be cut off because once that weight behind her is absent there is a tendency for the remaining bit to retract thus introducing infection. Loss of the afterbirth also meant Topknot could not eat it, thus did not get the benefit of the prolactin in it which not only drives milk production but jump starts maternal behavior.
March 26 Monday Top Knot has little or no milk and butts Herbert away from sucking. She is quite friendly though and does not struggle if we restrain her when assisting him. I called the vet and he gave her shots of penicillin oxytocin. The penicillin is in case she has infection as a result of Sally’s assistance with lambing. The oxytocin is to cause uterine contractions in case she has any retained placenta. She acts healthy so far as we can tell. At the vet’s suggestion, Sally is giving Herbert a bottle of Helen’s milk after he suckles Top Knot for a while. Grandson Rafe is still collecting sap. Also he sawed up some more firewood for me today. Today started out at 14 F but got over 32 F for awhile. Helen gave 2.75 gals today and I got 20 eggs.
March 27 Tuesday Sally and Rafe sheared Agnes today. That leaves only Topknot and Sal wants to postpone her as long as possible as she is still recovering from lambing. She butts Herbert as much as ever but he is lively and does his best to suck. Sally goes in and ties up Topknot frequently so he can suck successfully. He gets some milk. Sally then follows up with a bottle. So far both are healthy. I am finding lots of eggs and new nests. I sold two dozen eggs today and three gallons of milk which is gratifying. It is getting colder again and did not feel at all like spring today.
March 28 Wednesday We had some melting today but it still looks like winter around here. The only place not covered by two feet of snow is my poor driveway and lawn which Stewart kept well plowed. It is a muddy mess with deep ruts. Sally continues to feed her baby lamb, Herbert, about every three hours. She and Rafe and his friend Shane sheared Topknot, mother of the lamb, today. She was the last one in need of shearing. We were hoping that with all the tags off her Herbert would have a better chance to suck but no luck so far on that. He is drinking a lot of bottles. One of the wild barn cats has decided to be a friendly guy. It is a large shorthaired black tom cat. He would almost rather be petted than eat I have taken to picking him up and he now allows this and seems to enjoy it. I got 20 eggs again today and Helen gave 2.75 gals.
March 29 Thursday I had to take my car in today for an oil change and diagnosis of an awful vibration which turned out to be tread separating off the front left tire. When it came time to leave for my appointment I could not find Bagel. He did not answer my call. Later when I got home he showed up right away. But I know he had been in the barn harassing the chickens. I did not find any dead chickens but they were extremely agitated and I got only 11 eggs today. The sheep are getting adventuresome. They walked across the crust and stepped over their fence which is nearly covered with snow and showed up in the front yard. Helen gave 2.75 gals. The lamb, Herbert, seems to be getting about half of his milk requirement from his mother.
March 30 Friday As Daughter Sally sat drinking her morning tea in the Music Room at 6 AM she was treated to the sight of the sheep making their way around the southeast corner of the house. So she had to start the day by herding sheep in her nightie. About 9 AM Grandson Rafe and his friend Shane left for school in Bar Harbor, Spring Break being over. Not long after that it started to snow and has continued all day. It is difficult to appreciated the undoubted beauty of this snow storm. This time at least we won’t be caught with dirty dishes, clothes and floors nor empty stock tanks in case the power goes out. It is very heavy wet snow. Before they left, the boys took the taps out of the trees and plugged the holes. I believe Rafe made about two quarts of syrup but after that the last pan burned black. At noon when I was coming in with pockets full of eggs after feeding out hay, Muffin and Bagel were hurtling around me as usual barking at each other and jealously pushing each other away from me and together they slammed into my knees and knocked me right down in the snow. I was unhurt, possibly because my fall was cushioned my smashing eggs. I screamed at them and called them both into the house assisting them through the door with my foot. They both slunk under the table very chastened and stayed there for two hours.
March 31 Saturday We got over a foot of new snow yesterday and last night. It is very heavy and sticky. I guess the sheep found this daunting. Leastwise they did not try to get out today. There were a great many birds at the feeder. Perhaps the snow made it hard for them to find other places to feed. One we had not seen before this year may have just migrated in. It was the male yellow winged blackbird. Perhaps the female was there too and I did not recognize her. I went out and brushed the snow off of the seeds so the birds could get at them. Herbert continues to have a bottle in addition to suckling while Sally holds his mother still. Between feedings they both get a lot of exercise as he chases around trying to suck and she whirls around avoiding him, poor little guy. I got 22 eggs today. Two from two different nests had egg yolk on them. I guess I will have to pick them up more often. We still have too many roosters. Grandson Rafe did not have time to kill any over spring break. He was busy every minute doing other important things around here plus tending the tap line. Helen gave slightly over 2.5 gallons.
April 1 Sunday There was some melting today but the snow is still about two feet thick everywhere. The snow plowing has severely damaged the fence where it runs along the road past my north field. Sally is rightly worried about the cattle getting out once the snow melts. Today she carried a long ladder out and tied it across the gate from the barnyard in case they venture into that field before its proper gate emerges from the snow. Herbert continues to get some of his mother’s milk and several bottles. Topknot is pretty quiet for him so long as somebody holds her by the collar. Helen gave 2.75 gals today. I got 15 eggs.
April 2 Monday We were away all day shopping in Auburn so the animals had to miss their midday feeds. I am cutting back about one third on the hay I am feeding the cattle because I am in great danger of running out. The snow cover is so heavy and the weather still very unsettled. Even if we get sunny days and a fast melt the pasture will be so squishy that it will be very destructive to let them on it. We are not cutting back on the hay for the sheep as three are feeding lambs. Helen gave 2.75 gals today and I got 15 eggs. But there had been broken eggs. No way to know if this is deliberate egg eating or if they are broken accidentally by crowding. The result is the same, sticky eggs, fewer eggs, and birds acquiring a taste for egg.
April 3 Tuesday Helen only gave 2.25 gals today. I am pretty sure she is in heat. I have cut back on their hay but do not anticipate such a drastic effect, certainly not so rapidly. Sally has been working several times a day allowing Herbert to suckle Topknot. Part of the time I help too. All that is now necessary is to stand with a hand in front of Topknot’s nose and she allows him to nurse. Twice today we caught him in a act of feeding without our help. Sally also gives him a bottle part of the time. Tonight he was very hungry meaning that Topknot is not producing well. We are still keeping them closely confined. I got 21 eggs today.
April 4 Wednesday Sally and I feel we have something highly unusual to report. On March 25 I wrote that a young ewe, Topknot, scarcely a year old, had her first lamb. It was a large ram lamb and it was a very difficult birth. Sally eventually had to pull the lamb which was vigorous but Topknot was exhausted and dull and totally rejected the lamb due to all the handling of it and the general trauma. We propped Topknot up so the lamb got colostrum but after that she had no milk. We had the vet who gave her penicillin (because Sal had to reach inside for the lamb) and oxytocin to make her let down her milk. That had no effect because she had no milk. Several times a day Sally continued to put the lamb (Herbert) on Topknot but she had to be held by the collar. Sally also gave Herbert milk in a bottle at least four times a day. The pair is in a small confined area. As Topknot’s strength returned she became hostile towards Herbert although not homicidally vicious as a goat would be. As the days passed a frequent sight was Herbert chasing Topknot in a circle and Topknot rapidly circling away from him. Any time he seemed about to connect she would butt him. Sally continued to go down about six times a day to hold Topknot’s collar so Herbert could suckle. He rapidly became very efficient at this and also nuzzled Sally’s knees for his bottle which he had to have because Topknot was giving so little. But predicably with the frequent suckling Topknot began to produce. It became unnecessary to hold her collar. Just standing next to her was enough to make her hold still for Herbert. On Day Nine Sally reported that Topknot had so much milk in the morning that Herbert did not want his bottle. The next day in the morning he was full and Topknot was empty. She had allowed him to suck. Yesterday he had only one bottle and today none. But the truly unprecedented thing is that all of a sudden Topknot loves Herbert. She lets him suckle anytime. He can get out of their enclosure and does frequently. He wants to meet the other lambs. Then Topknot calls constantly for him. When he returns and starts to feed and wag his tail she kisses his little butt like a proper mama. No one has ever heard or written, to our knowledge, of a ewe subsequently accepting a lamb she has rejected. But how often has anybody taken the trouble to put the lamb on the ewe six or seven times a day for nearly two weeks while also keeping the lamb’s vigor up with fresh warm Jersey milk? Herbert had no bottles today. This triumph is a great relief to me because I must part with Sally tomorrow and then I will have all the chores to do alone. She returns to Alaska. Helen gave a bit over 2.5 gals today. I found a new bantam nest and got a total of 29 eggs.
April 5 Thursday I was away much of the day taking daughter Sally to the airport. She is going home to Haines Alaska. Now I am alone again. I milked Helen for the first time in three months and was gratified to find I had not lost my skill. She gave 2.5 gals today. I have been too busy to count the eggs into boxes but it looks like about 20.
April 6 Friday Sally called to report a happy arrival in Haines, but a fatiguing trip with a 12 hour layover in Seattle. She took the Cessna from Juneau to Haines and it was such a fine day that the pilot took the “scenic” route (it’s all scenic) over the Mendenhall Glacier and across many superb peaks and valleys. Topknot was not entirely cooperative with feeding Herbert today and all the ewes looked hungry so I gave them all an extra grain feeding. They have hay all the time. However two of the lambs that are a week older than Herbert spend a lot of time napping in the manger and mashing down the hay. Sheep are terribly fussy and I doubt they like this much. Both Herbert and the other ram lamb are going to have the classic four Jacob horns. Grandson Rafe was planning to come tomorrow with friends and butcher the ram but he is having car trouble and can’t make it. I got a skimpy 2.5 gals today and 19 eggs.
April 7 Saturday Lovely sun most of the day. It got up to 48F and more snow melted. I can now walk on dead grass on the way to fill the bird feeder. The berms left at the edges of my driveway and lawn by the snowplow are still shoulder height. Topknot was less cooperative today with feeding Herbert. I think maybe she needs more food. I have increased the grain for all of them. Helen gave 2.5 gals. I got 2 dozen beautiful eggs. They are so beautiful, all shades of brown, white, and pastel blue and green. I will have to take some somewhere to sell on Monday. I made a ten egg chiffon cake today to use up some. I will try freezing it.
April 8 Palm Sunday I awoke this morning to find a nasty substance resembling sleet falling out of the sky. It was above freezing all day despite heavy overcast so I suppose it won’t last long. Helen gave only one gallon of milk this morning. It might have been because a bunch of the hay I threw down yesterday was mouldy. I did not notice immediately what I was doing and they ate it. They are eating everything down to the bottom of the feeder because I am shorting them on hay. She made it up this evening bringing her total for the day up to 2.5 gals. Son Martin stopped in with a friend on his way down from skiing at Sugarloaf (having been rained out) and I gave him a gallon. I got 18 eggs. Topknot started out the day being uncooperative toward feeding Herbert. She had not drunk any of her water since yesterday, a bad sign that she was not lactating much. I carried on today with extra grain feeding and plenty of hay and this seemed to make a difference. By the end of the day Is observed her feeding him several times. So perhaps she just was hungry. Also she drank three quarts of water. But I gave Herbert 6 oz of milk in a bottle anyway. Herbert eats hay and tries to get Topknot’s grain, something the older lambs do not do.
April 10 Tuesday Yesterday Helen gave 2.75 gallons and I got 19 eggs. Today, 2.5 gallons and two dozen eggs. I set out on a few errands today with my cousin Marcia and took along five dozen eggs and managed to sell four. I don’t like the supply to build up too much. I can always take some to the food pantry. Topknot continues to feed Herbert but I think not as much as he would prefer. He gets right in there with his mom and eats grain and hay. I nailed up a board to prevent the other lambs from climbing into the manger to take naps. I can’t afford to lose any hay and they do mash it down and for all I know may wet the bed. It got up well above 40 F today and was sunny. The cows seems to be accommodating to less hay. The fact that the weather is warm helps. This afternoon I did some flower bed cleanup which was a lot of fun. One of my Buff Orpington layers has a serious torn skin wound on her back. It had to have been done by Bagel. I put him back on his chain. I put the hen in a cat carrier with hay and food and water. She is alert and eating and drinking well. I made a mixture of olive oil, vitamin E and a couple of drops of tea tree oil and poured it on her wound but am not optimistic. At least now she will not be harassed by the other birds.
April 11 Wednesday My hospitalized hen was dead this morning. I had a discussion with Bagel about it. In addition he is staying on his chain until after the chickens go to bed. Yesterday for the first time I saw the older lambs eating wisps of hay. Then today I saw the dear little things lying in the sun chewing their cuds. I have not actually seen Herbert chew his cud but he eats a significant amount of hay so he must do it. He also dives right into the grain. I took down some boards today so that Topknot could leave her cubicle but she would not. I even put her grain outside so she had to reach through for it. Maybe tomorrow she will get brave. Herbert goes out frequently. All the sheep are drinking a lot of water. I fill the bucket at least three times a day for the other ewes and about once a day for Topknot. I got some more garden cleanup done on the southwest side of the house where the snow has melted. I could not remove the trash because the snow remains too deep around the east and north sides of the house to drag the cart around. Helen gave almost 2.75 gals. Of milk today and I got 22 eggs.
April 12 Thursday Topknot had not left her cubicle this morning so I shoved her out. Herbert trotted right along and stayed close by her. She nosed around exploring things and went outside for a bit. But Agnes was mean to her. Next time I went down to see the sheep she had come back in. We had cold rain all day. Helen gave only 2 gals plus 1 qt. I got 20 eggs.
April 13 Friday A warm damp wind blew most of the day and melted more snow but the fields are still white.. There is now a lake six inches deep which I wade through on the way to the barn. Topknot is learning to go in an out of her cubicle so she can eat in peace. Herbert follows right along and gets his share. Two gallons plus one quart of milk today and 17 eggs plus seven more I found in a bantam nest in the grain room
April 14 Saturday Son Martin came today and kindly repaired the sheep trapdoor which was falling apart. He also sawed some more firewood. After our duck dinner we went out in the dark and caught some bantams that were roosting within reach. He has friends who would like some and I have far too many. We caught five hens and a rooster and have them in two cat cages. I think they will like their new home. They will be living with horses. Martin also brought 12 bales of hay from a neighbor of his. This will take me another week. Helen gave 2.5 gals and I got 18 eggs.
April 15 Easter Sunday Today was fine and sunny and a lot more snow melted. But behind the garage/buttery barn beneath which the sheep have their run-in the snow is still above my boots. I know, because Martin and I carried a ladder through there to put over the entrance to the run-in. The cows have beaten down a trail out of their barnyard and today came back over to “visit” the sheep and make their lives miserable by eating all their hay and their protein block. The young stock, Leah and Wilbur, found that around the trees there are patches of dead grass bare of snow and they consoled themselves for a couple of hours by eating this old stuff. Martin made several other improvements including repairing the sheep’s trap door and both sliding doors to the garage part of this barn. He also did more chain sawing of the woodpile. Slightly over 2.5 gals of milk today. I think 19 eggs.
April 16 Monday It got up to about 50 F today but did not feel warm, possibly because of the breeze flowing across unmelted fields of snow. But there was some melting. I can now see several patches of brown field. My vet stopped by and docked Herbert’s tail. Although he and Topknot, his mother, run free now, they are always together. I waited for the vet before serving out the grain and they both ran back into their cubicle as usual to get their grain. I then carried Herbert upstairs and held him while Dr. Cooper docked his tail. He struggled of course, and I was nearly unable to hold him. But in no time he was back trotting around as though nothing had happened. All the lambs are lively and cute. They leap up onto the granite ledges of the cellar foundation of their run-in and prance around. All of them now eat hay and contend for the grain. On March 12 I marked on my calender that Fraidy Cat had had her kittens. And I marked April 15 to remind me to start looking for them. When they are a month old they begin playing around and exploring and yet are still too small to efficiently flee. They are really too young to be weaned but it is my only window of opportunity to catch them when born to a wild mother. Today I was lucky enough to find the little bundle of kittens sleeping in a box and grabbed them quickly before they knew what was happening. There were three and they were big enough to give me bloody scratches but I held tight and got them into the kitchen. I put them down next to the Aga and they went right behind the cabinet next to it. Bagel dog is lying on the rug in front of the Aga hoping they will come out and play with him. He is good to the cats. A bit less than 2.5 gals today. !8 eggs.
April 17 Tuesday The lambs are so cute the way they jump through the ladder barrier. Herbert especially. I saw him playing by jumping through holes between the rungs for sport. When they dance up onto the ledge it shows how they stand on the tips of their tiny hooves. They spring like goats. Herbert has forgotten about his tail docking. There were bare patches far down the field which the cows could see. They made a path in the snow and went down and stood in them. There is also a vernal pond which reflected the sunset. Helen gave a bit over 2.5 gals. I got two dozen eggs but I know there are nests I am not finding. I will have to dedicate some time to a search.
April 18 Wednesday It was blowy and bleak all day but at least we did not get the snow we were yesterday told to expect. There is enough brown grass exposed on the pasture to encourage Helen to wander over quite a large area looking for nibbles. I spent and hour and a half today with two of our Selectmen. They hoped to persuade me to sign a right of way agreement which will permit road widening in front of my house which will require the removal of a large and noble maple tree. I did not sign. We parted with very stiff smiles. She gave 2.5 gals today and I got 17 eggs.
April 20 Friday This was the warmest day so far this spring. The entire state reached 60 F although here I think it was just barely. I was able to walk down to the veg garden without stepping on snow but I still had to skirt around big patches of it. The berm outside the kitchen on the north is still a good 3′ thick. I was looking in the garden for things coming up. I found French sorrel up about 1″ and a ruffle of parsnip. In the pond one bleached goldfish corpse was floating. Most years they make it. The cows have been venturing far down the field for three days now and today the sheep followed them. The steer and heifer were apparently satisfied with their meal of dead grass and preferred chewing their cuds in the sun to coming in for their lunch. So Helen got most of the hay. I put the wash out on the line. 23 eggs yesterday and 2.5 gals of milk. A bit less today and only 19 eggs.
April 21 Saturday At last a truly spring day weatherwise. There are still many large patches of snow, as much snow covered as bare I think, and all is brown. But it was lovely and warm. The lawn desperately needs raking. Everything the dogs did all winter is now emerged. Both the cattle and sheep spent most of the day either lying in the sun or attempting to graze. I did not actually count the hay. There might be ten bales. So I hope the grass makes up for lost time during the next week. Milk production is dropping, probably because Helen is spending so much time working to get very little. They spent all last night in the bit of pasture to the south of the house. I could hear their bells very near which makes me nervous because I fear they have broken out. Helen gave 2 gal 1 qt. There were 2 dozen eggs.
April 23 Monday Yesterday went by in a rush because of a visit from grandson Rafe and three college friends. Besides doing a lot of eating and hiking around, they did several joblets around here that I had lined up. They put chicken wire over a gap in the back wall of the barn where chickens were getting in behind the siding and laying unreachable eggs. Helen’s production is dropping. She gave about 2 gal. + 1 quart. This morning I took the dogs and walked around the field and along the river. It was the warmest day yet, well over 60F. The river is right up to the bank. First the cows and then the sheep decided to accompany us. Bagel got very excited and raced circling around the outer edges of this pack while Muffin stayed next to me barking and snapping at the cattle. I’m not sure what Bagel thought he was doing but Muffin clearly did not like those large animals to be crowding me. And crowding they were. I was glad I had brought along a cane to fend them off. They are not aggressive but Wilbur is somewhat pushy and Leah is just silly and bouncy. I was beginning to wonder how cold the river would be if I toppled in. Then Bagel began chasing the sheep. I yelled at him and he stopped in front of the group. Stanley, the ram, stamped his foot in a warning gesture which Bagel clearly understood. When he turned his attention my way Stanley and all the sheep except Agnes and her lamb ran for the barn. Stanley runs with a pogo stick gait like a mountain goat, all four feet seeming to hit the ground at once. Agnes, I suppose because of her lamb, turned around and tried to butt Bagel. I am glad to say that Bagel obeyed voice commands reasonably well. He stayed with me for the remainder of our walk as did Helen and friends. All the animals stayed out on pasture all day grazing whatever they could find. I guess it satisfied them because the cows did not even get up when I went into the barn at midday to feed them. They were lying there chewing their cuds. But Helen’s production was down even further today, not much over 2 gals. Two dozen eggs though. The sheep kept grazing until evening. As the sun went down I could see a haze of green on their paddock.
April 24 Tuesday Even warmer today. But there is still a 50′ wide band of snow along the river. I walked down there again today, this time with Bagel on his leash. I took some hat string along and secured a small raft which the river had left on the edge of the field. I regret to have to report, Bagel killed another chicken, a little bantam hen, and pulled feathers out of a rooster. Now he is permanently on his chain or leash. WE are both depressed, he because he is tied, me because of my disappointment with him. His is such a good dog in other ways. Helen gave 2 gal + I qt. There were 17 eggs.
April 25 Wednesday The hens outdid themselves today. 28 eggs, and not because of finding a new nest. I’ve been asked for a dozen for the school children to hatch. There was a dead Black Australorp in one of the laying nests this morning, not the work of Bagel. I could not see anything wrong with her. The Webb River exceeded its banks today and has flooded part of the field. I took a walk around the north field this morning with the dogs (Bagel on a leash). The fence is in bad shape along the road where the plow has knocked it down and along the woods where lots of limbs have fallen on it. I have the gate shut against the cattle. An hours work would probably suffice for temporary repairs which would hold the cattle but not the sheep. Last year we had the ram with four long prong horns which would not easily fit through a fence. This impediment held back the entire flock as they would not leave him behind. Stanley, the current ram, has recurved horns which are not going to slow him down very much. Helen gave 2 gals + 1 qt again today. As soon as the grass gets long enough for a proper mouthful I expect her production to pick up.
April 26 Thursday Thirty one eggs today! Tomorrow I will have to figure out something to do with them. Lovely weather today. The Daphne is in bloom and the Scilla. Much of the ground is thawed. I can tell because standing water from ice melt is soaking away. But many patches of ice remain in shaded areas. I did some fence propping on the north field and have arranged gates so that the cows can get in there but not the sheep. Helen gave 2 gals. + 1 qt again today.
April 27 Friday This morning my first daffodils burst open crying “Free at last!” They smell lovely. Helen’s production crept up a bit to nearly 2.5 gallons. Two dozen eggs.
April 28 Saturday A fine sunny day but cooler. Over the last three days I have been working on digging out my asparagus bed. It is 30′ long and about a yard wide and is situated on a slope so is dry enough to dig. I now have a little over half dug. It was badly clogged with witch grass and dandelions. The asparagus is still far underground so is not damaged by my digging. I found another bantam nest just as she was starting to hatch her clutch. I am glad I did not find it yesterday. I would not have realized her eggs were full of mature chicks although I always keep such eggs separate from those I sell. So far only three have hatched. I moved the whole lot into a coop. An old couple stopped in today wanting some bantams and I am going to give them this little family. Later tonight after dark I will get a ladder and try to catch some mature birds. Helen gave 2.5 gals today.
April 29 Sunday Helen was in roaring heat today for the first time in a couple of months. At morning milking I was a bit suspicious as she danced around a lot whereas usually she stands like a rock. Be mid afternoon it was a free for all with all three circling and jumping. The old fellow came for his bantams. He said he had spent all day working on their pen. Last night I was able to catch a rooster and two hens. I scooped up the mother hen and her chicks folded under her wings and don’t know how many she had. He wants more if I can catch them so I expect he will tell me. Helen’s production was way down this evening because of being in heat. She gave 1.5 gals this morning but only about 3 quarts tonight. I changed them over into the river field because the north fence is so flimsy.
April 30 Monday This morning the band of snow down by the river was gone. Cousin Marcia visited this around noon. She and I went out back of the barn to bag up some rotted manure for her rhubarb and I found a nest full of eggs in a part of the barn wall where I have not checked recently. There were eight intact eggs and several broken ones. These are large eggs laid by one of the heavy layers. We reached in and got some but I had to come back with a long handled spoon for the last few. I dug some more of my asparagus bed. There are only about 4′ remaining. 22 eggs, not counting the new nest. I keep such eggs separate because I don’t know how old they are. Helen gave slightly over 2.5 gals.
May 1 Tuesday Cousin Marcia showed me a robin’s nest in the cedar hedge at her farm. They are such an astonishing blue, it is hard to remember from year to year. Helen is now getting enough grazing to enable her to turn up her nose in case I throw down any of the last of the Grade B hay. Because of yesterday’s find I checked another known gap in the barn wall and found another nest. It had only two eggs. I took them both and left a plastic one. It was truly warm today, well above 70F, actually a lot warmer outdoors than in so I opened lots of doors and windows. And this evening at last I hear the spring peepers!
May 3 Thursday It has been another hot day more like July. I made a quick trip in to town to mail Keeping A Family Cow to some one who needed it in a hurry. When I got home cows and sheep were all over the place and no gate in place out front. A huge wind lifted it off its hinges last fall and twisted them awry so it cannot be hung properly. I dragged it into position and propped it up, then found a ski pole to assist me with herding. The critters were all down in the veg garden area molesting the baby fruit trees. I drove the cows back up across the lawn to put them back into the pasture. After they were all the way up there Leah, the heifer threw her feet in the air and led them all back down to the garden again at the run. So it was all to do over again but the second time I succeeded. I only wished the ski pole had a sharper point so I could jab her in the butt. The sheep were easier because only half of them were in the garden and they hate being separated so they were bunched up with wire between the two groups. I was able to open a field gate and herd the naughty ones back into the pasture. But it all took 40 minutes, I was in a sweat and the vet was stopping by for lunch. Somehow I got lunch on the table thanks to some frozen standbys. Bagel wantonly killed another little hen yesterday and it was especially gruesome. I guess I will have to find him another home with somebody who does not have poultry. It is his only fault. The vet suggested an electronic training collar. I have never used one and don’t know how well they work. The barn swallows are back.
May 4 Friday A fine beautiful day not quite so hot as yesterday. I was outside a lot. First thing this morning as I was letting out the chickens and making light conversation with Helen I heard a great deal of honking out on the road. There were Leah and Wilbur standing in the middle of the road. I later realized Helen had been trying to tell me something which I was too dumb to understand. Of course I went cantering out there grabbing up a fallen branch as I crossed the fence. Wilbur hopped back into the field without much trouble and I headed him back towards Helen. Leah was not so easy. I had to hold up traffic for about ten minutes including the school bus but everyone was pleasant. Leah went all the way down to the bridge before I could outflank and turn her. Needless to say I spent all morning fencing. I hope I did a good job because I have turned them back out there for the night. I saw my first goldfinch today. Must buy more thistle seed. The feeder is surrounded by a thicket of vicious looping rose canes which are covered with small double pink blooms for only about one week in June but they are a great staging area for the birds being totally cat proof. I finished getting the grass out of the asparagus bed and spread about two bushels of chicken house litter. Helen’s production is creeping higher. She gave a bit over 2.5 gals. I got 2 dozen eggs.
May 5 Saturday No animals got over the fence today. There is a lot of green to be seen on the pasture but the grass is still barely 2″ long. The cows still appreciate hay at milking time. I am serving out some bales which I had stacked in the main hall against the chicken room as insulation. Bantams perch in the rafters above so there are droppings on it. Cows don’t mind this. In fact they like it I am sorry to say. In a lot of places chicken manure is a feed additive for cattle which seems disgusting but somebody most have noticed that this esthetic objection is absent in cows. Rain was forecast for today but we did not get it. It was cloudy and overcast most of the day with considerable wind and brief periods of sun. I made three pounds of butter today and sold two right away, also three dozen eggs. I get $4 lb for the butter and $1.25 for the eggs. Eggs not as good as mine are sold in a self aggrandizing box in the health food store for three times my price. I have a bantam rooster with a golden brown body and a great explosion of pure white tail. He was a chick that I nurtured in a coop with his mother and one sister last June. He is now very full of himself and chases off other roosters and has collected up six hens. It was one of his hens that Bagel killed. Helen gave a bit over 2.5 gals. today and I got 23 eggs.
May 6 Sunday Such a perfect day. Just the right temperature for digging in the garden and no bugs yet. I dug a small flower bed. After a cold slow beginning blanketed with snow, spring is bursting forth all at once. Suddenly the sheep paddock is a carpet of green velvet and of course the lawn is too. I suppose by another week I will have to mow. I heard an essay on NPR today about sheep shearing out west. The wool industry in the US has been devastated by NAFTA and by synthetics. It is only 10% of what it was only ten years ago. The synthetics are good and many are cheaper but they are not better than wool. I read an account by a man who had gone on a simulated Viking voyage across the north Atlantic to Nova Scotia. He and his crew went in an authentic Viking boat with Viking food, everything the same except the crew wore modern state of the art cold weather gear. The leader wore authentic Viking garments of wool and leather. He was the only one not constantly shivering. Sally turns her sheep’s fleeces into warm wool garments! I filled an orange vase with branches of chartreuse blossoms and baby leaves from my Norway maple and sprays of forsythia. This is the first year I have had a real show from the forsythia, I suppose because of the heavy snow. Maine had over 99″ The first dandelions opened today. I made three pounds of butter. Helen gave 2.75 gals today.
May 7 Monday Another perfect day and still no mosquitoes. There are a few flies on the cows. Helen gave over 3 gallons today and her cream is becoming a brighter gold
May 9 Wednesday We have had two more perfect days in a row although now we are beginning to wish for rain. Each of my two rhubarb patches are up about 6″ and I have begun to carry water to them to keep them growing fast. Yesterday I walked down to where the brook and river meet to inspect for a break in the spring line which was reported to me. I did indeed find a fountain of spray coming from an exposed bit of pipe. It was at the bottom of a very steep bank further undercut by the spray. I could imagine getting down there but not getting back up. Fortunately a kindly neighbor offered to reach it in his canoe. While down in the area I filled my pockets with fiddleheads (they are about finished) and had enough to stir fry Tuesday night and put in a salad today. The asparagus always comes up just as the fiddleheads are done and right on schedule today some popped out of the ground. Yesterday and today Helen gave 2.75 gals. All the sheep and cattle look contented now on the velvet green pasture. It is their favorite time of year. I have set up the stock tank outside now for the cows to water. I am nearly finished digging over my large vegetable garden area. I am not sure what to plant there this year. I had such a disaster last year with virus in the tomatoes so can’t plant anything subject to virus. 2 doz eggs
May 10 Thursday Another sunny day, but windy. I have one Buff Orpington rooster who is much picked on the roosters above him in he hierarchy, a huge Black Australorp and another Buff Orp. He has been losing courage and lingers outside in the evening until he is sure the others are on the perch. Today when I was collecting eggs I saw his head sticking out of a crevice down at floor level. He was wedged in so that he never could have gotten out by himself so I am glad I noticed him. It took me five minutes of digging around him and prying to dislodge him. I removed him from among the others so now he is free range along with the bantams. While freeing him I discovered that some of the hens had been laying down there in the corner out of sight. There were eight eggs. I always keep such finds separate and do not sell them because they are of unknown age. Helen gave 3 gals plus 3 cups today. This increase may be due not only to green grass but in part to access to their big stock tank always full and sparkling. 20 eggs.
May 11 Friday Yet another fine day. Rain is predicted for the weekend which is Mother’s Day but the gardening mothers will be glad for it. I shall have to connect up hoses if we don’t get at least a half inch. I must have been wrong as to which day the barn swallows arrived. This morning I saw a row of little heads peering over the side of the nests. I leave the barn doors open so the parents can fly in and out easily and not have to look for cracks where cats might be lying in wait. The other day one swallow was in the buttery dodging about frantically. I managed to grab it when it hid behind a geranium. They don’t weigh more than 2 oz When I put it out the window it was so happy to be free that it flew higher and higher and farther and farther across the river until lost from sight. Ordinarily they fly around in circles and not above barn roof height. I picked a few spears of asparagus for supper. Helen gave 3 gals + about 2 cups. She was enjoying herself so much grazing far down in the pocket field that she paid no attention when I called her for milking. I had to walk all the way down. I of course did not mind because it is so beautiful. I sold 4 doz eggs today. I think I picked up 20. They are very beautiful eggs all different colors.
May 13 Sunday Mother’s Day: Son Martin came yesterday and stayed over until today and did lots of useful things. He brought home the tractor which I bought last fall from a neighbor but left stored at his place. It is an old John Deere. I bought a bushhog (slasher to readers Down Under). He also tilled my garden. I managed to haul down enough chicken litter before he got here to fertilize half of it. The remainder I will have to dig in by hand. He is going to look for a trailer for the tractor. Then we could haul lots more. I used hen house litter rather than cow manure because cow manure is so heavy and I am using a very old Gardenway cart with flat tires. First thing this morning I found the sheep had squeezed through the fence into the North Field. So I have opened the gates to allow them to roam where they will and hope for the best with the poor North Field fences. It will be some time until I can get at them. The crabapple trees are in full bloom and all the air is scented with apple blossoms. Last year we had no apples because there was so much rain during bloom that the bees could not work I am sure they worked yesterday. Helen gave 3 gals plus a quart. I got two dozen eggs.
May 14 Monday: It was cool, sunny and windy all day. The animals look idyllically beautiful in the velvet green pastures at this time of year. I got about 15′ of the perennial border dug but it was much too windy and dry to transplant anything. Helen gave about a quart over 3 gals. I got 23 eggs.
May 15: Tuesday Something about the lush green grass and Helen’s enhanced production has resulted in one of her quarters feeling hard this morning. I rubbed it well with some ointment I have called Phoenix Thuja and Zinc Oxide. It may have done some good. The quarter was somewhat softer this evening. It was dark and overcast all day and it looked like we might get some much needed rain but all we have so far is a Scotch mist that leaves surfaces wet. Helen again gave well over three gallons and I got 2 dozen eggs. I also found a bantam’s nest with 11 eggs which I can’t sell because I don’t know their age. I replaced them with two fake eggs. Leaving just one will not fool a bantam when the nest had nearly a full clutch. Maybe two won’t either. I will know tomorrow.
May 16: Wednesday Answer to the above question: she was fooled. There is a new egg in the nest. She won’t lay very many more before she goes broody. I got a lot done today and am tired. Besides the regular chores, I transplanted several clumps of lilies and put in seeds for peas, spinach, turnips, dill and some other things I have already forgotten. Now I really will have to start watering. I notice the asparagus has slowed way down. I also started a cheese which is now in the press. Leah the heifer and Wilbur the steer are becoming more mannerly. I give them a small amount of grain at milking time twice a day and to do this I have to wade through them carrying their food to the other side of their run-in which I call the beefer pen. They are bouncy and pushy. I carry a broken off tool handle and say rather quietly, “Back. Back” while prodding them if they don’t mind. Prodding works a lot better than striking them which only frightens them. Cattle respond instinctively to prodding I think. It is what they do to each other if they have horns which mine don’t. I tried selling eggs on a stand by the road but nobody bought. I will try again tomorrow.
May 17: Thursday Today somebody bought two dozen eggs which gives me hope. This evening as I was (fortunately) out admiring the evening light, I was in time to see Leah and Wilbur, the heifer and steer, grazing on my lawn. I had a long struggle getting them back where they belong. All they wanted to do was race around through flower beds and kick up their heels, snapping at plants along the way. Helen did not jump the fence and was racing around in the wrong field wondering what to do. I hate this. Now they are all in the north field with the gate closed. I will have to spend the morning fencing. I have six bantam hens and a rooster shut in a stall in the barn. After it gets dark I have to go out and put them in cat cages. The same man who took the others is coming in the morning for them. Helen gave 3 gals. + 1 quart. I made 3 ½ lbs of butter.
May 18: Friday It barely hit 60F today and there was almost no sun. I think my seedlings are going into a sulk. I sold 1 doz eggs on my roadside stand which is in fact a kitchen chair. No animals got out today. I repaired the fence by bracing it from my side with a fencepost. It is solid for the moment. When Leah and Wilbur were out yesterday they charged right through the bed where I transplanted the lilies. Miraculously they did not tread on any. The old fellow came this morning for five bantam hens which I succeeded in catching with a landing net. I could not get a rooster. Those birds are as fast as any trout and just as wiley.
May 19, Saturday: It rained all last night and we got a good inch. All the plants look happy. Son Martin came up this evening and before dinner we went down to where my spring line is exposed and leaking at the river bank This is about a 10 minute walk. I had purchased a new union and hose clamps but the pvc line retracted when Martin resected the bit with the leak and there was no way the two ends would reach. A couple of years ago I had stowed a length of pvc in the woods and it had hose clamps on it but still we lacked the union. Fortunatly, I had brought along the propane torch and Martin was able to heat and soften the end of the splice so that it would slip over the free end of pipe and he reinforced it with the extra clamp. Now the line is running properly again. The leak had been spraying the river bank and undercut it quite badly. Perhaps it would help if we piled in some brush. My roadside stand was a success today. I sold all my eggs and one gentleman who saw the Jerseys as he was driving away came back to see if I had any butter to sell. I sold him 2 lb. I get $4 lb. Helen gave 3 gals + 1 quart again today. I lost count of the eggs but now that I have given away so many bantams there are fewer eggs. About 20 I think.
Monday 21, Sunday: Today I spent every possible moment mowing the lawn. It is lush and overgrown and wants to choke the mower. The entire lawn takes about 4 hours with my walk behind Snapper. Later in the summer it does not take as long. Sunday was the day Helen should have been in heat. I saw some faint signs but no mounting Sunday or today. I suppose this is due to her increased production or perhaps hormones in the clover. She is giving well over three gallons now. I plan to make another cheese tomorrow. Nobody bought any eggs today on my stand by the road. but I sold out on Sunday. The weather today was flawless. There are not even as many bugs as usual. By this time I usually have bloody ankles.
May 22, Tuesday: Another very fine day but the weatherman is beginning to hint of drought. I started another cheese this morning. I made some more progress on lawn mowing but quit when the mower ran out of gas. At evening milking I noticed my hands were achy, a result of hanging onto the mower so I guess I quit at the right time. About midday Helen came in heat and spent several hours circling around with Wilbur. At milking time she had a mucous show and was fidgety and peed halfway through milking and made a big plop on her way out. But the main thing was, she would not let down. I gave up after about one and a half quarts were in the bucket. At times like this rather than have to wash my whole straining set up, I dip a milk filter in boiling water and make a cone out of it which I hold over the jar. With that small amount in the bucket I can hold it up and pour it slowly with one hand..
May 23, Wednesday: Somewhat to my surprise my cheese made it through the night undisturbed. To weight it in the mold I stacked up a marble trivet, the Horticultural Encyclopedia A to Z, a bucket of agricultural lime and four bricks. It looked distinctly unstable but apparently no cats got curious enough to touch it. This morning dawned very misty and I could neither see nor hear the cows anywhere. I figured they could hear me, so, shook a pan of grain along with my calling out the back door of the barn. After about five minutes I began to see dim moving shapes and Helen marched straight on up … and right past the barn. She saw workmen out by the road and had to investigate. One of the men walked over to chat with me about moving some small trees out of the right of way. Helen is not sure she likes strangers and it took me another ten minutes of pushing and coaxing to get her inside the barn. Then she made up for last night by giving almost 2.5 gals of milk. I really need a pig to swill up all the skim. Or else I need more milk customers. This evening Helen gave over two gallons of milk again making a grand total for today of at least 4.5 gals but some of it was left over from yesterday. The road crew worked hard all day and moved five fairly good sized trees, two of them at least 15′ tall. They transplanted them inside the right of way. Immediately the cows molested them and tore all the leaves off the lower branches. There are two birches, two oaks and an apple. After milking I stretched a hose as far as I could. It reached the first tree, the largest oak. At that point I filled buckets and carried water to the other trees. I hope it rains soon. I can’t do this forever. I think tomorrow I will go to Agway and but some electric fence wire before they eat them right up. I managed about an hour and a half of lawn mowing and can now see the end of the job.
May 24, Thursday: The road crew worked devotedly all morning carrying water to the trees. I stayed in the house and made three pounds of butter. The cows have been making a salad bar out of the new trees. I shut them out of the north field to save the trees. I decided I had better put up some electric fencing to defend them. I went to Agway and bought minimal electric fencing supplies. Their prices are outrageous. I am going to try not to shop there any more. I did not get the fence set up today. Instead did watering. My spinach and turnips are up and would not endure another dry day. I got some more lawn mowed. There is only about a half hour of mowing remaining. Helen gave 3.5 gallons today. I sold two dozen eggs to a man who lives in the neighborhood. He told me there is a thief in town stealing guns and electronic equipment. I looked behind the door and my .20 gauge is still there. But I don’t see grandson Rafe’s .22. Let’s hope he put it somewhere else.
May 25, Friday: Rafe affirms that he has his .22 with him in his tipi. He and another boy are living in a genuine tipi as a way to avoid paying rent during the school year. A kindly farmer has allowed them to set it up in a field. Mostly they eat in the college cafeteria. I got the electric fence almost all set up today. But, I still have to connect up the wires to the electric unit. I also roused up another length of hose so I can water all but the last tree in the line. I carried it one bucket. Also today I got two more flower beds dug over. They are not very big but were difficult. So, I gave myself a vacation from lawn mowing. Helen gave a bit less than 3.5 gals.
May 26, Saturday: Cousin Marcia and I both woke up today with colds. We must have gotten them at one of the places we shopped together last week. Bummer. I can’t remember just when my last cold was but it was before last October. I know because my house guests replaced my bottle of Nyquil and I have not opened it. Tonight’s the night. I finished up installing the electric fence and opened the gate to the north field around noon. I wanted to be sure the cattle had plenty of daylight in which to become acquainted with it. I just happened to be looking out the kitchen window a couple of hours later when I saw Helen grazing up close to it. I snuck out to watch more closely. She noticed it and deliberately touched it with her nose, then jumped back in annoyance. Then she paced up and down in front of it for a few minutes, considering. Then she touched it again and was convinced. So, it works. Along towards evening I saw Leah leap away from it with a lot more drama. At milking time Helen was curiously reluctant to enter the barn. I wonder if the clicking of the wall unit worried her. I had my first meal of pig weed tonight (lamb’s quarters, goosefoot and chenopodium). It was delicious. I sauteed it with a little onion and garlic.
May 27, Sunday: Contrary to the weather report it has rained hard all day. I did little but lie on the couch because I am sick. Helen has been getting more stubborn every day bout coming in to be milked. The grass is so good that grain is little temptation. I had to push and pull for a long time this morning. This evening I gave up. It is muddy underfoot and I feel rotten. It knocks down milk production and I would not skip a morning milking because she would get over distended. I am getting more milk that I know what to do with anyway. Despite the rain I put out my egg selling chair and sold two dozen.
May 28, Monday: About 5 AM I got up and took a shower and began pulling myself together to go milking, which I did about 7 AM. I didn’t feel much better than yesterday and did not look forward to the job which is nonetheless inevitable. So far I have never been so sick I could not milk the cow. The remarkable thing is, I always feel a lot better afterward. However, she did not make it easy. I had to walk out in the field and bring her in. She was reluctant to enter the barn, and once there and I had to employ subterfuges to get her far enough in to close a door behind her. I took an extra bucket to the barn to accommodate the milk left over from last night. Yesterday while in the barn I heard peeping but could not trace it to its source. This morning there was more peeping and I found a bantam and six chicks badly scattered in what I call the Pit Stall, which has no windows and is very dark. There was a tiny confused kitten crouching in their midst. I grabbed it and as usual got bloody scratches. I put him in a handy cat carrier. No doubt he has siblings somewhere. I left the stall door out so the hen can move her family out if she wants to. Soon I will take them some clabber. Outdoors everything is soaking wet today, but in the pit stall it is bone dry so the chicks will not have had a drink. Later: When I went out with clabber the hen had already moved her family out onto the wet grass so they all had a sip of dew. But, she was very glad to see the clabber and introduced the chicks to it immediately. I added a handful of layer pellets to it. She seems very competent. I believe she is a hen who already had chicks last year. There are seven chicks. Evening: It began raining again around noon and is still raining hard now at 9 PM. The hen and chicks moved under a big woody forsythia bush. She was soon wet and bedraggled and could not move for fear of chilling her chicks. I found one chick chilled and dead. I tried catching her but could soon see that it would be nearly impossible because their instinct is to explode off the chicks like a partridge while the chicks scatter. Then, the chicks would be soaked before she could gather them. I decided to wait until after dark which is about 9 PM now. At this time it was still raining steadily and I realized that she was right below the motion sensitive flood lights so it would never be dark there. All I could do was dive into that wet bush and grab her by a wing. I stuffed her into a cat carrier and began finding the chicks. I only hope I got them all. It was impossible to count them. Once inside the dark barn she settled down in the cat carrier. Helen was again hard to get in this evening and even though I am beginning to feel better I was in no mood for games in the pouring rain. I found a stick to jab her in the back end, and in she walked. Got 4 gals today.
May 29, Tuesday: Fine weather today and my health is much improved. The dogs and I had a walk to the river and found a lovely wild garden in the riparian strip protected by barbed wire from the greedy grazers. Many garden escapes have joined the wild flowers. There was a cloud of Forget Me Nots, a Spirea bush, a flowering Quince (Japonica) and lots of Autumn Sedum. There were also beds of Foam Flower and Sweet Woodruff. The mother hen soon had her family out in the barnyard this morning, and this evening I did not see them at all. If they make it through the first day they are usually fine except for the continued danger of drowning in water dishes. They quickly learn to attend closely to their mother’s little clucks. She finds lots of bugs and pecks them to bits for her chicks. I did start them off this morning with some clabber. The cats do not mess with a bantam hen. There was a knock on the door about 4 PM and a nice young couple told me I had a cow on the road. Sure enough, Leah, the yearling heifer, was holding up traffic. I think she had bolted ahead after touching the electric fence and gone through where a rotten pole in the outer fence had toppled in the rain. I was able to talk her back through a part with no electric fence. When she rejoined the others it was evident she was in roaring heat. Only 3 gals of milk today. Either production was knocked down by skipping a milking or because Helen could not graze well in the rain. Or, maybe she spent too much time racing after Leah.
May 30, Wednesday: Helen continues to resist coming in at milking time. This morning I brought her all the way up to the gate of the barnyard and she took a look at the mud hole and turned away towards Pocket Field. In my efforts to get her through the gate I lost my shoe in the mud and had to milk with a squishy muddy foot. I don’t blame her for not liking to go through there. There is a picture of this very gate now to be seen here on the Diary. (see bottom of page) My hen with six chicks is definitely the same one who raised seven chicks last year. I could tell this morning by the way she ran towards me when I stepped out the back door of the barn and called her. She came running just as she used to last year leaving her cluster of chicks peeping away by themselves in the 8 inch tall grass. I put out some corn and she clucked for them until one by one they all found their way to her side. I could see them popping up along the way like fluffy popcorn. I learned today that one of my neighbor’s four year old castrated billy goats disemboweled one of his pigs. I don’t know how old the pig was. But it was not as big as the goat. I have never heard before of this happening. It was much colder today and may freeze tonight. I loaded all my seedlings onto the Gardenway cart and wheeled them into the garage.
May 31, Thursday: It remained cold today with periods of bright sun and breeze. First thing this morning Mama hen was in the barnyard with her family but only five chicks. I found the missing one lying dead not far away and still warm. The cows were far away so it could not have been sideswiped by a hoof. I decided to see if Bagel might learn to be a helpful farm dog fetching the cows and took him along down the field. He showed some promise and obeyed commands. At least he was not a nuisance. Back in her stanchion, I noticed Helen had a swollen patch on her neck about 4″ across. It was raised and hard like an extremely large insect reaction. I don’t remember ever seeing anything quite like this before. I slathered it with salve and this evening it was mostly gone. I made my third cheese of this season. So far it looks promising. I am evolving better methods and hope soon to make the operation seem easier. Also, today I transplanted some things into larger pots. It is too cold to risk putting most things into their permanent positions. At chore time this evening I again took Bagel with me to bring up the cows. I walked him through the barn and out through the barnyard where he encountered Mama Hen and her chicks pecking up corn. I think he wanted to make friends but she stood up all her feathers and flew at his face and I yelled at him, and the accompanying patrol of roosters set up a huge alarm. The hen and chicks vanished and I could not tell if she lost any chicks in the melee. Bagel, then remembering our main errand, set of at a run toward the Pocket Field where the cows were. Who knows what his breeding is. When he noticed the hen and chicks his first response was to point like a setter with one foot up. When he raced for the cows he looked like a greyhound. He did not stop for my whistle until he was upon the cows. Then over the brow of the hill appeared all the sheep. They avoid him but always run to me which makes me nervous because I never know when the ram. Stanley Hornet may turn ugly. Now Bagel was between themselves and me. Bagel immediately had the sheep bunched up and didn’t know what to do next, my commands being well over his head. The old lead ewe, Agnes knew what to do. She left the flock and faced him off and when he advanced she butted him in the face. He began to snarl and bark and it was with difficulty I mediated this situation, trying not to yell and make them all think I was not in control.. Helen moved in on the situation at a racing trot followed by the others. Like any good cow, she felt obliged to run off a dog. Bagel decided it was best to make an even faster return to the barn. I later found him among the bushes out by the road. The rest of us walked back to the barn in sedate fashion. Helen gave 3.5 gals today.
June 1, Friday: Such a perfect June day. I walked down to bring in Helen this morning with no dog and all was orderly. The hen and chicks were in the barnyard waiting for their handful of corn. Helen gave a little over 3.5 gals today. Rain is predicted for tomorrow, so, after spending the day in Farmington doing errands I mowed the lawn until the mower stopped and would not start again.
June 2, Saturday: Rain began in the night and did not let up all day. Those five new trees the road crew moved into the north field are surely being well watered. I just hope they don’t tip over. I left Bagel on the front lawn this morning, figuring to fetch Helen by myself but he noticed and got through the fence and joined me. He hates to miss anything. He tried to mind my commands and I tried to remember to use the same words, but we both keep forgetting. The sheep wisely stayed back in the trees. I don’t know where they were. They had been around not long before and showed up later. This evening Helen came up to the barn when I called her. No doubt she was fed up with cold rain. She gave a bit less than 3.5 gals today.
June 3, Sunday: Rain continued until after dark this evening. Helen came when called for both milkings. I guess the idea of a dry barn with grain had its appeal. She gave a bit less than 3.5 gals. The bantam hen and her five chicks now come as fast as their tiny feet can run whenever they hear me in the barn. She goes in the lean-to which has an open window to the grain room, just like she used to last year. They jump up and down waiting for me to throw down cracked corn. I have worked out a method of giving grain to the sheep which is not such a free for all. It is mostly putting little handfuls here and there. The two lambs which always hop up on a granite ledge are getting almost too big to manage it. One usually hops over into my space where I try to be sheep-free. But, then he makes a great bound over the barrier and races back around to his ledge where I put a bit of grain for him. They only get a little bit so as to keep them friendly.
June 5, Tuesday: Helen’s production is dropping off a bit either due to the rain we have had for the last several days, or, because the bugs are getting worse. During showers the flies are not active, but the underside of a cow provides plenty of shelter for mosquitoes and midges, both of which are hard on cows. For the last two days the cows have been either in the lean-to or beefer pen waiting for me at milking time, which shows an attitude change. Yesterday and today Helen gave 3 gals plus a pint. I am now getting only about 16 eggs per day. Giving away most of the bantam hens cut down on the eggs, and now several layers have gone broody which stops laying. Eggs sales are nearly keeping up with production. Whenever they seem to be getting ahead I make something that calls for six or ten eggs. No rain today and only a little sun.
June 6, Wednesday: (D Day) Helen’s production was back up today to 3.75 gals. The only thing different was that I dumped, cleaned, and refilled the stock tank. This is the sort of thing I am always telling other people to do so I will be rather embarrassed if this proves to be the whole answer to her dropping production. The water did not look too bad but it did have fronds of algae in it. She probably hates algae if she gets it in her mouth, who wouldn’t. I noticed that after milking she went and took a 40 second drink
June 7, Thursday: Helen’s production was back down to slightly over 3 gals today, so I don’t know what this proves. Fourteen eggs today. I put out the Free Kittens sign. No takers so far. I made 4 ½ pounds of butter but did not get much gardening done because of company, two dear little healthy, butter eating baby girls. The weather today was beautiful.
June 8, Friday: Last night seemed pretty short. At 10 PM a neighbor called to say I had a cow on the road. It was Leah, the yearling heifer. By the time I got dressed and went out on my mission she had come down the road and through the front gate, which I had not closed, and was over consulting with her mother through the fence by the barn. Even the quietest cow spooks readily at night especially when confused by a flashlight, so I crept past her and turned on the light in the barn. She then saw a familiar haven and was willing to enter. Through a series of maneuvers I got them all into the barnyard and shut off the north field, leaving them with access to the south fields toward the river. Then, after I had been in bed about an hour I became suspicious that I was hearing cow bells much too close to the house. This left me with a difficult decision because not only is it very difficult to herd cattle around my complicated garden but I had nowhere else to herd them to except back onto the same field. I could not expect to even find the breach in the dark let alone repair it, so I decided to heck with them and went to sleep. I got up at 5:30 and discovered it was the two young ones in the garden. Helen was grazing sedately where she belonged. I spent the morning fencing. Helen gave 3.5 gals today and I got 14 eggs.
June 9, Saturday: Very fine June weather. Bagel disgraced himself by digging a giant hole in the middle of a bed in which lots of morning glory plants were about 2″ high. This came close to ruining my day. Helen gave almost 3.5 gals today and I got 14 eggs. After milking chores, son Mark and granddaughter Hailey, age 7, and I went up to camp and grilled hamburgers by the lake. This was a beautiful experience except for the bugs which were fierce. We saw many flotillas of ducks with ducklings and heard a loon cry several times. I got a few cosmos set out today but no other gardening.
June 11, Monday: After two barren years, this year once again God made little green apples. During apple blossom time last year and the year before we had stormy weather below 60F so the honey bees could not work and my crabapple tree produced nothing. I am so glad to see these hundreds of tiny apples. I use crabapples as the basis for all my jellies instead of using commercial pectin. I still have plants I have not put in the ground. There have been no nights that stayed above 60 F. Grandson Rafe repaired the ramp behind the barn today. It was getting dangerous for the cows to use. Cows easily can catch half of a hoof in a crevice and tear it. Yesterday and today Helen gave 3.5 gals.
June 12, Tuesday: I was away much of the day taking grandson Rafe to the airport so was not a keen observer of cows, but I caught Helen trying to mount Leah. She was due to be in heat today. I hope I see the signs better than that next month because that is probably when I will get her bred. A Black Australorp has been persistently broody for two weeks and I can’t get her over it. Today I gave her five eggs. I wonder if she can stick it out. She is in good condition and jumps off the nest in the morning when I sprinkle corn, but is always back on in a few minutes. Before Rafe left he parked his old ’78 Chevy Impala behind the barn. The cows have never had a car in their space before. When I got home all three were ranged around it licking it.
June 13, Wednesday: The setting hen got off her nest this evening at milking time when I threw down cracked corn. I put out a dish of water for her convenience. After milking when I was gathering things up I noticed her milling around waiting for me to leave. They don’t like to return to the nest when anybody is watching. I realized she is a Black Cochin, not an Australorp. I saw no further evidence of heat in Helen. She gave 3.5 gals today. I set out twelve tomato plants. I had to do a lot of soil prep and wheel down a cartload of cow manure, so it felt like a big job. It was 80 F. The road crew encountered a huge rock when they dug down to make a new road bed. I did not see them move it and can’t imagine how they did it. But there is was perched by the side of the road. They asked me if I wanted it. Their alternative was to break it up and haul it away. So they used their huge yellow digger to nudge it over onto my small paddock next to the road. I doubt it will ever move again. It is about the size of two Volkswagens. A cecropia moth has spent all day attached to the kitchen screen.
June 14, Thursday: Helen was in standing heat this morning at 6 AM.. By this evening she was quiet, but production was down a bit from either estrus or hot weather. It was over 80 F today. The cows do a lot of hanging out in the lean-to or in the beefer pen when it is hot and it gets messy. It took me a long time to clean her up this evening. I spread around a bag of shavings which should help for a day or two. This morning I put in another dozen tomato plants. This afternoon I made 3.5 lbs of butter. My Black Cochin is sitting tight. The dogs and I walked to the river so I could get a bucket of rotted wood for repotting my African violet. I also wanted to see if there was any sign of the sheep drinking at the river. As before, I found none. The vernal ponds are dry now. I took them water in a bucket. They don’t drink from the stock tank, maybe because they don’t like to step in mud. It was so hot today that the road crew quit around noon. Helen gave 3.25 gals today.
June 15, Friday: It is so hot today that it is hard to speak of anything else. It was over 90 F. Maine people rarely complain of the cold but in the heat we tend to fold. I did manage about an hour of digging and soil preparation this morning. I still have lots of things to plant. This morning I got some morning glories into the ground which I had started in peat pots. After lunch I took the dogs with me and we went up to camp and took a swim. I tend to swim about once a year and this was the day for it. Helen has been coming in very dirty because of hanging around in the shed. I spread around another dustbin full of sawdust in there and this evening she was cleaner. But the poor thing was so hot she was panting hard all through milking. I turned up the hose to make a continuous dribble so the water in the stock tank will be cooler. After supper I planted a 15 foot row of green beans. This time I used the microbial inoculant. I did not use it on the peas and they germinated poorly. Despite the heat Helen gave 3.5 gals of milk and I got 19 eggs. Some relief from the heat is forecast for Sunday.
June 16, Saturday: Very hot again today. It got over 90 F with high humidity. This morning Helen came in very dirty because of hanging out in the lean-to. So I pitched down a whole lot of floor sweepings from the loft so they would have clean standing. What did they do but eat all that hay to save themselves going out in the heat. Helen was dirtier than ever this evening. It took half a roll of paper towels to clean her up. She gave a bit less today, about 3 gallons plus a quart. She was panting the whole time I was milking. Their water was getting algae so I dumped it and scrubbed the tank. I don’t want their drinking inhibited by unappealing water.
June 17, Sunday: What started as another sweltering day was relieved by a cloudburst about noon. I was digging in the garden when everything went dark and I looked up to see a big black cloud right over my head. About three minutes later there was a clap of thunder followed by drenching rain. We got 3/4″ in less than 15 minutes. Then it stopped but there were light sprinkles the rest of the day. My many peonies had just opened and they turned to heavy mops and put their heads down. The Siberian iris was shredded. But the cool air is wonderful and all the trees look happy. Helen came in dirty again this morning but this evening was much cleaner. They spent less time in the lean-to and the tall wet grass did a good job of washing her off. She gave the same as yesterday, 3 gals + 1 qt. I have been noticing Helen limping and it is getting worse. I think it is her left front leg or foot that has something wrong with it. Nothing is visible.
June 18, Monday: Weatherwise, a perfect day. I only worked in the garden about one hour but did get my five raspberry plants into the ground I dug yesterday. Also planted my okra and cosmos seedlings. I made four pounds of butter. Helen was not limping as much today. She was very friendly. She gave 3.75 gals of milk. I put out my egg sales set up but did not sell any eggs. I thought the fact that the road work slows traffic would help sales but it does not seem to work that way. During controlled traffic nobody is going to stop. Neither will they stop when a giant digger is bearing down.
June 19, Tuesday: The cows were nowhere to be found this morning at milking time. I could not even hear a bell. I called repeatedly while going about other tasks such as filling the chicken feed hopper. Finally they showed up, Helen in the lead, and she marched right in without apology. She was perfectly clean no doubt mostly due to traipsing around in a wet meadow, perhaps also in part due to the cream I applied to her teats last night. I had today marked on the calender for Leah to be in heat and I have an idea they all spent a lot of last night circling each other. I never saw any mounting but Leah bellowed all day and had the intent look in her eyes I always see in cows in heat. Helen gave 3 gals and 1 qt today. It was another hot day, about 90 F, but the humidity was not as bad as last week. All my roses are in great bloom. John Franklin is making an especially fine show. Only Fantin Latour has nary a bud.
June 20, Wednesday: I hacked a dense growth of invading wild raspberry canes away from Fantin Latour and discovered that he has got plenty of buds. Glad I did not miss them. Things in the garden are getting away from me. Dear cousins Marcia and Steve came up today with their big riding mower on a trailer and mowed most of the lawn. What a treat! I fixed lunch today for my vet who stopped by, but even so I got in a little more digging. Tomorrow I will be able to plant the three blueberry bushes I ordered. They are very tiny but still have to be set 5′ apart. I saw Helen, Leah and Wilbur walking single file down their cowpath to Pocket Field as the sun was getting low. They were swinging their tales and talking to each other (I think). They looked blissfully in charge of their lives and I thought what a happy life they have nearly every day. The sheep also look contented. Helen gave 3 gals + 1 qt today. I got only 1 dozen eggs. One had a hole pecked in it, always an unsettling discovery.
June 21, Thursday: My setting hen, the Black Cochin, has continued to do a good job but two of her eggs are missing. I gave her five and now there are three. I have no theory on what is taking them. I got my blueberry bushes planted but they are very puny plants. The raspberry plants were better quality. Helen gave 3.5 gals today. Thee were 20 eggs.
June 22, Friday: This morning I had the alarm set for 5 AM to be sure not to oversleep because I needed to go the airport for sister Barby from California. I looked out my bedroom window to see where the cows were and they were where they belonged in their pasture. A half hour later Helen had gotten into the garden, just Helen. The others stayed where they belong which is unusual. After milking I tried to find where she came over but could not figure it out so I simply shut them out of that pasture for the day. Barby’s flight was many hours delayed so I could not do any repairs today. Everything is put off until tomorrow. Helen gave a bit under 3.5 gallons. There were only 11 eggs. When I don’t collect during the day there are always broken and eaten eggs.
June 23, Saturday: We all spent a quiet day catching up. There was intermittent rain, which kept me out of the garden. Something is continuing to get my black hen’s eggs. This morning she had only two left of the original five.
June 24, Sunday: It was hot and sticky all day with some sun, mostly low cloud cover. I finally got my pepper plants in. I had to do more digging to clear a space out of the comfrey and witch grass. Don’t ever plant Comfrey, and if you do, don’t ever let anybody till over it. Every fragment makes a new plant. The lead ewe, Agnes, is unwell. She mostly just lies around, although she did go out to pasture with the others for a while. When she stays inside her lambs stay with her, even though they are quite large. My black hen still had two eggs this morning. Helen gave 3.5 gals today.
June 25, Monday: Another hot day. The sheep stayed in during the middle of the day. Agnes must be feeling better. She was out grazing with the others this morning. I was supposed to attend a marketing seminar this evening. When it came time to leave I could not find my notes on how to find the place. So, I changed my clothes and milked Helen, which I had been planning to skip tonight. I guess I need an organizational seminar.
June 26, Tuesday: Brutally hot again today. Helen gave 3.25 gals. I have been finding pecked eggs and evidence of eaten ones. Today I caught two birds in the act of eating one. They are a pair of aged bantam Auracanas. I removed them from the pen. Time will tell if they are the only culprits. I gave more water to the sheep. They drank some of the last bucket. Agnes was out grazing again today, so perhaps has recovered from whatever was slowing her down. Her twins are very friendly and eat from my hand.
June 27, Wednesday: Hot hot hot! In the 90’s again but lower humidity and occasional light breeze, so we all suffered less. Helen’s productions dropped to 3 gallons today, a cumulative effect from heat and flies no doubt. I have closed the cattle out of both the lean-to and the beefer pen, their loafing shed, because the manure build-up is out of control and I don’t have a front end loader. Nor can I find anyone in the neighborhood who has one. There are many nice tree clumps to rest in the shade of instead. 19 eggs today. Egg production has been hovering around 20 per day now for several weeks and they are excellent eggs. I found time to set out a few more seedlings today.
June 28, Thursday: Lovely weather today, a perfect Maine day. I brought Helen in across the lawn for milking because the old access is closed off. She was very good about adapting to the new plan. This way there is no ramp for her to ascend, but I am putting her out the back door afterwards where she has to go down a rather steep ramp. She was very good about this too. Not being able to come inside to escape, the cows had to find other shady spots. They spent a lot of time in the sheep paddock. There are a lot of trees there. She gave only 3 gals.
June 29, Friday: Today is Leah’s birthday, one year old. She is a beautiful heifer. The bantams are doing a good job keeping down flies around the barn. There are usually no flies when I am milking. I have more flies in the house than in the barn. The bantams don’t come around the house like they used to because of Bagel, so I have some flies hanging around. But, I also have less damage to the flowerbeds. Helen’s production dropped below 3 gals today.
June 30, Saturday: Oops. Got that wrong. Today is Leah’s birthday, and a finer looking Jersey heifer would be hard to find. Helen is coming in for milking much cleaner now that they can’t get inside the barn. Helen has to be persuaded every time to follow her new routine, but has not given me as much trouble as I expected. She gave 3 gals plus 1 qt today.
July 1, Sunday: Helen now comes in perfectly clean, but all three spend a lot of time now in the sheep paddock bugging the sheep. As soon as I have time I will make a new barrier. They have broken the wooden extension ladder I had set up to stop them entering the sheep’s run-in. The run-in is at a lower level from the small attached barn, which is my garage. Out the back is my clothesline on a pulley. It is quite high but not so high that towels and sheets are beyond the reach of Wilbur, the 18 month old steer. He has taken to pulling laundry off the line, the bad thing. Helen gave a little under 3 gals today. The weather today was partly sunny, partly thunderstorms and showers.
July 2, Sunday: My sister watched Wilbur pulling down laundry. He reaches up with a mischievous look and wraps his tongue around the clothes. He doesn’t use his teeth. My black Cochin setting hen is down to one egg and I have little hope it will hatch. I notice she takes rather long lunch breaks and sometimes the egg cools off. We have had such hot weather that I doubt that has made much difference but today was much cooler. Helen has been stubborn about coming in for milking, but once to the gate she walks in nicely, also out again later. She gave a bit over 3 gals today
July 4, Wednesday: This morning was perfect. Perfect weather and a perfectly behaved cow. Helen came when called, marched in without incident, showed perfect manners during milking and returned to pasture without being stubborn. She is limping and walks uncomfortably, but I think it is only on the hard barn floor. Her hooves are getting too long again. I hope it is nothing more serious. She gave a bit over 3 gals today. I repaired the ladder barrier, which keeps the cattle out of the sheepfold. My son-in-law Jack saw a large black bear crossing the road less than a half mile from my farm. I hope he does not fancy sheep. I saw a large cow moose by the side of the road tonight.
July 5, Thursday: According to the calendar Helen should have been in heat today. Maybe tomorrow. I am glad she was not, because I was away all day taking sister Barby to the airport so could not have had Artificial Insemination (AI) anyway. Not that they care if the owner is around, but it would have meant leaving Helen in her stanchion all day. It was another beautiful day and all was well when I got home. Helen was waiting at the gate to come in. She gave almost 3.5 gals today.
July 6, Friday: Still no signs of heat in Helen. She gave almost 3.5 gals today. She and the others were hanging around near the gate this morning and came right in. This evening she was far away but came at once when I called her. First thing this morning, about 6 AM, I found one of my Buff Orpington layers dead in a laying box. She was still warm. I can’t imagine what caused her to die. She had not showed any prior signs of illness that I noticed and last night obviously was well enough to fly 4′ up to the laying box. There was no blood. She was a bit messy around the vent but the chickens often are. If it were a weasel there would almost certainly have been several dead birds. That is the only predator which could get into their room at night except a rat. I have so many cats that I have not seen a rat in years, nor rat sign. I wonder if she could have eaten a piece of glass. Their scratching often turns up glass in the chicken yard.
July 7, Saturday: No signs of mounting today by Helen, but this evening she put her foot in the bucket deliberately and got about two or three quarts of milk full of sawdust from her standing. I was so mad I chunked her good on the ribs with my fist, which she showed no sign of even noticing. So when I stood up to go wash out the bucket I threw the dirty milk at her legs. I rather imagine this bad behavior (on her part, I don’t count mine) is a sign of impending heat. Leah lost her nice bell somewhere today. I hope I can find it. The farm has a lot of lost bells on it. But, last year I dug up a beauty from the 19th Century. Yesterday I made a pound and a half of butter and the same again today.
July 8, Sunday: About noon today Helen came roaring into heat. I called AI without much hope or response, it being Sunday. Furthermore, they have retracted the insemination program due to the precipitous decline in the number of cows and for all I know won’t even come at all. When I called Gentex all I got was a series of key punch numbers. About 4 PM a man I have not seen for a couple of years stopped in to say hello. He was brother to a friend of mine who passed away with leukemia some years ago. As we were having coffee I noticed my spring sink was making a sort of hissing and gurgling noise. I have a granite sink in my kitchen which ordinarily runs with a constant trickle and is gravity fed by a distant spring.. I surmised that what we were hearing was air racing into the outfall pipe due to a break at a low point in the line. My acquaintance, John, offered to try to fix it. First, I had to bring in Helen and lock her in her stanchion just in case the AI technician should chance to arrive. Then, we got tools and walked down along the river to the point we fixed a couple of months ago where the pipeline is exposed due to soil erosion. This is a ten or fifteen minute walk. As we approached the spot we could hear voices not far away. Looking over the bank I could see the water in the river roiled and muddy. And, there was the pipe gushing spring water from the feed end. John climbed down with the tools. The voices proved to be some young boys swimming in the river. Their footprints were all along the river bank. I suppose they expected words from us for they all skedaddled when they saw John. I expect they grabbed at the pipeline to steady themselves on the slippery river bank. It had separated at the previous repair. John had it fixed in no time. What luck for me! Climbing up that bank looks impossible to me. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Helen was pretty cross about being locked in her stanchion for a half hour extra. I got only about one quart of milk partly because she would not let down, but mostly I think because of having been in heat. She is quiet now and I seriously doubt if AI shows up tomorrow that she will conceive. Another chick is missing from the little bantam family. This is so puzzling.
July 9, Monday: Helen made up for yesterday by giving nearly 4 gals today. The bantam hen had four chicks again today. I wonder where the missing chick spent yesterday. We had a violent electrical storm which pelted everything for about a half hour and knocked out the power for two hours.
July 10, Tuesday: The thunderstorms continued all last night and most of today. I relented and allowed the cows back into the lean-to as they have no other shelter except trees, not that it is actually cold. But, Helen seemed crabby. First I threw around a dustbin full of sawdust on the floor. I put out some hay for them too which Helen snapped right down My Black Cochin which is setting has now lost her last egg. Something got it during the day today. So, it is either a rooster or else Bagel has found a way to sneak into the barn. Helen gave about 3 gals today. I have had a phone conversation with Genex, the Artificial Insemination provider which failed to provide. Hopefully I can get it sorted out by the time of Helen’s next heat. The rain and storms appear to have ended. The sun came out as it set lighting up the world with sparkling raindrops. Everywhere is shades of green or gold. At this time of year Maine is the equal in beauty to anywhere on earth. Leah was in heat today and bellowed a lot!
July 11, Wednesday: We have had another 24 hours of intermittent rain and thunderstorms. At this evening’s milking Helen was so comfortable in the lean-to that I could not her to get up. I rocked her back and forth and tapped on her hooves and blew in her ear. She kept on chewing her cud. I was very tired from gardening, so, after ten minutes I said, “OK, you win” and went back to the house. It is not like she is ever overly full of milk at night anyway. Somebody laid a fresh egg for the Cochin. So she is back to spending her life setting. Actually, this must have happened at least once before or she would have had chicks by now.
July 13, Friday: Helen’s production is down a bit probably because I skipped milking on Wednesday night. Barely 3 gals today. I am getting lots of lettuce and spinach now from the garden. Children and grandchildren are here and they are helping to eat the harvest. Today granddaugter Shireen, age 5, helped in the barn at morning and evening milking time. Even tiny Roshan, age 3, went up the ladder to the loft, closely supervised. We found a nest with 10 eggs. The children are also helping to pick the currants.
July 14, Saturday: All the animals were happy today. There were some brief showers but mostly the sun shone and the temperature did not go above 65 F with a light breeze. My California visitors marvel at the many shades of green. Helen gave 3 gals + a quart. Granddaughter Shireen and I found 18 eggs. It was a lovely day. We notice that the sheep choose to graze quite close to the cows most of the time. Sometimes Leah and Wilbur, the heifer and steer, chase them a bit.
July 15, Sunday: Last winter I bought a tractor and bushhog attachment from a neighbor. It is the same equipment which has been used for several years on my fields. Today, son Max, who is visiting here this month (together with his family) made a start on my fields. He did the section most visible from the kitchen window, so it looks a lot better already. After bushhogging, cattle will eat the cut grass which they ignored while it was standing. But, the main thing I saw them showing an interest in today was a low spot in the fence near the vegetable garden. After supper Max and I propped it up with a metal pole. Helen gave about 3 gals plus a quart today.
July 16, Monday: Helen was exceptionally well behaved today. She was nearby when it was time to come in and was very cooperative. She gave about the same as yesterday, 3 gals plus a quart. I have lost one of my milk customers because they don’t like the flavor of summer milk. I guess people have come to expect total standardization in food and are offended by changes in flavor. I read somewhere that bottle fed babies whose food never has any variations in flavor grow up tending to want food that always tastes the same. Mother’s milk tastes different according to what she is eating, so breastfed babies are more accepting of varying flavors. Perhaps this is true. Max got in a couple more hours of bushhogging this morning before we got a new round of showers.
July 17, Tuesday: We had three or four more inches of rain today. It came down in buckets. As on other recent days, it is intermittent. Between showers the sun comes out and everything seems greener than ever. Son Max was able to do two more hours of bushhogging. The equipment is able to cut wet grass, to my surprise. Helen gave a bit less than 3.5 gals. of milk. I got 15 eggs.
July 18, Wednesday: An entire day without rain, cause for celebration. Son Max continues bushhogging and has about 4 more hours to do on the home fields. Then he will start across the river. Granddaughter Shireen and I picked more red currants today and more spinach. It is bolting but I think I can get one more picking out of it. This morning I made very successful sour dough French bread using my San Francisco starter. I made two loaves and baked them on the floor of the hottest oven in my Aga. All this rain has made the plants grow. Especially the weeds. Some are now shoulder height to me and are like trees, but they are very easy to pull. Max repaired a fence today that the cows had pushed down some weeks ago to get into an area where we had planted an apple tree. It used to be a pig pen and is very lush. Amazingly, the cows did not notice the tree so it survived. The top was stripped last winter by the sheep walking around on the snow.
July 20, Friday: No rain yesterday or today, and up to about 70 F today. Helen gave just 3 gallons of milk today, perhaps because we had little visitors at both milkings. This makes her stamp around and lift her tail. The dogs go in an out all day trying to find a cool place. None of us likes the heat, even though we know it is nothing compared to elsewhere in the country, Bagel, the young dog, has secret cool nests behind certain large plants. The young folks went to the lake.
July 21 Saturday: Such perfect weather today. We had a large family cook-out this evening so I milked Helen at 3:30. She was perfectly cooperative but I got only 3 gals and a quart for the day. Son Max repaired the chicken run, so that at least the sheep and cattle cannot get in. The chickens have a standard sized door for access to their run with a small trap door at the bottom, which can also be used. I have been making them use the little door for several weeks, which means their room stays quite dark. This induces them to go to bed early. I have been getting fewer eggs and I think it might be because their day has been shortened by lack of light in there. Max also put the roosters outside the fence. We may have to increase the height of the chicken wire fence to keep them from getting back in. There are too many of them.
July 24, Tuesday: Son Max worked until mid afternoon on the chicken run setting new posts. It was brutally hot, in the 90’s. I finally told him to stop. About that time Helen got into the veg garden by breaching the fence where there is a wire gate. The others did not notice how she got in and she was not there more than 15 minutes before I noticed her. I felt badly for removing her because she was enjoying a lovely patch of clover on the unmowed lawn and ignoring the broccoli. The last three days have been equally hot, so we welcomed a cloud burst at 6 PM. What a relief. But milk and egg production has suffered. Helen gave barely 3 gals today and I got only a dozen eggs. Neighbor Stewart gave me two half grown goslings. I have put them in a secure room in the barn until they learn to know me.
July 25, Wednesday: There was a violent windstorm last night, enough to frighten the dogs and cause them to come upstairs and push open my bedroom door. I found them both on my rug when I woke up. However, I saw no damage from the wind. Right after milking I went down in the River Pasture to pick up apples from the ancient tree in the middle of it. I wanted to get there before the cows. They check under it every day. Thanks to the wind I was able to fill a bucket. They are still immature and not yet edible but will yield good pectin for my currant jelly. Max worked much of yesterday and all of today rebuilding my chicken run so that not only will it hold chickens, but is proof against cows and sheep. They have been forcing their way in and eating the chicken food. Also, it is a very handsome rail fence.
July 26, Thursday: Such fine clear sunny weather today without excessive heat. I found my first ripe tomato, the small red kind. I ate it at once, full of warm sun. Granddaughter Shireen came along to get Helen for evening milking. We had to go quite some distance and she was lying down. As usual, she was reluctant to get moving. Bagel, my large young dog, came along to “help”. Leah, the yearling heifer, turned and chased him a long distance. What with one thing and another Helen was quite nervous by the time I had her in her stanchion. Shireen wanted to try milking again so I put the kicker on Helen as she frightened Shireen last time by waving her foot around. Helen refused to let down at all, which I attributed to ill will. I had to send Shireen back to the house so I could try by myself. I then realized that she has mastitis in the quarter Shireen was trying to milk. That is by far her best quarter and there has been no problem with straining the milk nor any clots on the filter. However, that quarter never gets as soft as the others. Tonight there were numerous clots and what little milk I got refused to strain. I slathered that quarter with Phoenix salve and also about a half ounce of tea tree oil. There is no good reason I can think of for her to have mastitis. Sometimes there just does not seem to be an obvious cause.
July 27, Friday: Helen’s hard quarter was a whole lot better this morning. But there were terrible clots in it, which I could feel inside her teat. They were too big to squeeze out. I broke them up by pinching her teat and milked onto the floor. It was disgusting. But the quarter which was rock hard last night was all soft. I rubbed it with teat tree oil. This evening it seemed normal again and I saved the milk. I rubbed the quarter with the Phoenix salve, which is a follow up treatment. It was much cooler today and all the animals were happy. It felt so good to put on a sweater at dinner time.
July 29, Sunday: A bright clear morning, 50 F. At 6 AM all three cows were hanging around near the barn. By 7 AM when I customarily milk they had all gone down to Pocket Field, the farthest point they can get. I could see them grazing with deer. I watched for a couple of minutes using the field glasses. Rather than hollering for them, I walked down there to fetch them. It takes a lot of hollering to bring in the cows but the sheep never fail to respond, always hoping it is them I want. Son Max finished bushhogging that field yesterday and it looks good. I rescued a clump of black eyed susans felled by the mowing. Today makes 21 days since Helen was in heat but I saw no signs of it this morning. Genex, the artificial insemination company I have been using for over two decades, has dropped Western Maine due to the drastic decline in dairying. I have spoken to a local man who now does it as a side line using Genex sperm.
I have two half grown geese given me by a neighbor. They have been confined indoors for several days to get used to their new home. Saturday I gave them the freedom of the lawn but already this morning they were making it clear they would like to spend their time right by the house where they could be more sociable. This morning I put them in a big outdoor pen used last year by my geese. Geese are messier than chickens and not only eat plants but plop down on then and mash them flat. At supper time here at the farm we were interrupted by Wilbur, the steer, galumphing around outside the window and looking at us. Max put him back in the north field and drove all of them over that side. Tomorrow I will have to do some fencing.
July 30, Monday: I found the place that Wilbur got into the garden. The only damage I noticed was where he stepped in the middle of a Buttercrunch lettuce and destroyed it. I did a feeble fence repair. Later granddaughter Shireen, looking from the kitchen window, said “Wilbur is looking at the fence and thinking about jumping!” Indeed he was, and Max ran down and did a better repair. It was just dusk, and a sleeping bee stung him. He is allergic to bee stings. I gave him Benadryl and a glass of water with about 5 grams of vitamin C dissolved in it. He developed symptoms of a tight chest for a little while but then that passed and he got drowsy and has gone to bed. I picked more red currants today, also made applesauce of the green apples I picked up last week. I canned three pints and have two quarts for fresh eating. It was excellent. One rooster who has been living by himself in the copse near the driveway was killed today by a hit and run driver. Some departing guests found him and he was still warm. He had been hit in the head and I think did not suffer. I considered plucking him and dressing him off until I discovered a compound fracture of one leg. Then I decided it wasn’t worth it. Helen gave a bit over 3 gals today and I got 17 eggs. Still no signs of heat. Surely it must be tomorrow.
July 31, Tuesday: Helen has disappointed me by not coming in heat at least visibly. Leah the heifer was in heat today and did not make a secret of it. Helen gave 3 gallons today. I got only 9 eggs. I was gone all day and undoubtedly some were cannibalized. This morning I found scat in the barn which I could not identify. It was the size one would expect from a small dog such as a Jack Russell and it smelled doggy. The hen room is tight but other than that the barn is easy to get in and out of for small animals.
August 1, Wednesday: It got pretty hot this afternoon but was a really beautiful perfect summer day. The trees by the river look huge and green and under their dark shade Helen, Leah and Wilbur spent much of their day. I kept running out to catch a glimpse of them hoping for signs of heat in Helen, but there were none. My old, old crabapple tree had triple the number of apples this year, perhaps making up for two years with none. They were hanging in a great green shawl until today when the largest branch gave way. If only I had taken a picture of them. I don’t expect to see such a display of little green apples again in my lifetime. For the last two years poor weather prevented pollination. In ’99 it was too cold for honeybees to work and in 2000 it rained incessantly. As a temporary expedient I have put my two young geese in the chicken yard so they don’t have to be locked indoors until I can get at better fencing on their own pen. I tried them in it their own pen other day and they got out and son Max found them marching down the road, back to their parents no doubt. My chicken yard has a board ramp for birds to go in an out but the geese show no signs of mastering this. Now before locking up at night I have to go capture them, one under each arm, and put them inside. They feel just like pillows. Helen gave 3 gals today.
August 2, Thursday: First thing this morning was misty moisty and I could neither see nor hear the cows so had to go searching. This was a pleasant task at that time of day. This evening once again they were far away and would not respond to calling. Granddaughter Shireen (age 5) went after them and it was hot sticky work as the temperature had climbed to 90 F. Helen, at last, is in heat which did not improve her cooperativeness. Nonetheless Shireen wanted to try milking and managed to get a few squirts. By that time Helen was pretty edgy and I finished milking by myself. I let Helen out of her stanchion after milking but left her wandering around in the barn just in case my new AI man is disposed to come this evening. This is always assuming he even got my call. A little kid answered his phone. Helen gave 1.75 gals this morning but only 2 quarts this evening. She has not gotten used to little helpers. Shireen is getting more skilled at milking each time though. There were 11 eggs.
August 3, Friday: At 5:30 AM when I let out the chickens the cattle were next to the barn. When I went out with my bucket after having a cup of tea they were nowhere to be found. It was already 75F so I was not pleased to have to go looking for them and might have waited for them to show up when they were ready had not the AI man been expected. I could not even hear a bell as I took a racing walk around the entire periphery of the fields. This takes a good half hour. Once in a while I could faintly hear a bell but could not tell from which direction it was coming. Then I returned to the house and called son Max at camp to come and help me before setting out on a second circuit. I surmised that they must be hiding behind some bushes that I had missed. By this time I was definitely not having fun. At one point where I cut around the fence where it ends at the river bank I lost my footing and fell down about 8′ feet first. Bagel dog peered over the edge speculatively like, “Are you having fun down there or should I be worried?” I hauled myself back up holding to roots and saplings. I did not slide down as far as the river which in any case is low right now, not more than two feet deep, but this detour wiped out the last of my patience. When finally I got back to the house I had been walking for an hour and was pouring sweat and there came the AI man. When I spoke to tell him my cow was missing I totally lost it. Through sobs I begged him not to leave. He was very nice and went off to look for Helen himself. His wife had come with him. She seemed to find me a bit embarrassing for which I can’t blame her. The AI man was not hampered by monaural hearing and it took him only about 15 minutes to find the cattle bedded down in a swampy area where I had in fact been twice. By this time Max had arrived and soon Helen was in her stanchion. The technician, Phil Miess, said so far as he could tell she was still fertile. I sure hope she settles. When I finally got around to milking she only gave a gallon and a quart but this evening she made up for it with 2 gallons. I got 11 eggs today. The bull’s name is Zukar.
August 4, Saturday: Another stifling hot day. Sons Mark, Martin and Max and myself loaded about 375 bales of hay into the barn today. I don’t have a hay elevator so the boys took turns throwing the bales up from a flatbed trailer. I was the person standing in the upstairs door grabbing them and moving them back to Max who did all the stacking. This is not top quality hay but I only paid $1.75/bale. It is last year’s and the owner wanted it out of his barn. I will order 50 bales of choice for Helen. Helen has been limping a lot. I think, and hope, it is just overgrown toenails. The spring line separated again today and the boys repaired it, but it needs some new parts. I think it may have already fallen apart again.
August 5, Sunday: The spring line did separate again. We bought some new fittings and Max and I went down and repaired it. I think this time it will last longer. I do miss my spring water when it quits! Max is going to cycle down the seven miles from camp early tomorrow so he can get some bush hogging done before we make him babysit. His wife Mitra and I are going shopping tomorrow. It was terribly hot again today. I milked late this morning due to my having a migraine headache. Then this evening Helen was nowhere in sight and I skipped milking and went up to the lake. But I was back by nine to lock up the poultry. During our walk to the spring today I saw two places where chickens had been eaten by some predator. I assume it is the young bantam hens as some are missing, as are two pullets.
August 8, Wednesday: We have just had three more days in the 90’s. We are all wilted. Son Max finished bushhogging the Oxbow field today across the river. He managed it by taking a dip every time the tractor came around by the river. He said it was very interesting while he was mowing to observe the behavior of the field mice. They scattered before the oncoming tractor. A hawk, which he did not identify came stooping down repeatedly to grab the mice. Max was mowing in a decreasing circle. When the remaining patch got very small it was full of mice. When they got too crowded they scattered in all directions. Helen has just about stopped limping. As I hoped, it was caused by overly long toenails and now her front hooves have chipped off down to a proper short length. The back hooves remain too long, but bother her less. She continues to give about three gallons a day. I am pretty sure she has settled, although I can’t say for sure why I think this.
August 9, Thursday: Hot again today, still in the 90’s. The flies still are not bad in the barn. Only two or three at milking. But, there are plenty of face flies in the pasture and they are beginning to bother all three cattle. Helen gave a bit over three gallons again today and there were ten eggs. All the fields look lovely now that they are bushhogged.. I ran hoses on the garden today, but a lot of things are drying up. The heat is discouraging everything except the zucchini.
August 10, Friday: We got a brief shower today with a thunder storm and then the sun came back out. It did not reach 90 F today I think, but felt if anything hotter as now the humidity is even higher. I am going out this evening and almost decided to skip milking but am glad I did not. Helen had a very hard quarter, the same one that was in trouble two weeks ago. I slathered it with ointment and am hoping for the best. Because that quarter milked poorly I got only 2.5 gals today. Ten eggs.
Heifer Diary insert by son Max.
Mom missed a couple of days on the diary because of a busy schedule and exhausting hot weather. It doesn’t cool down at night much when it gets that hot and humid. Even with fans blasting all night the bedrooms are hot and sticky. A good nights sleep is elusive under these conditions. I’m told Maine usually has about two weeks of brutally hot weather to balance out the extremes of the winter months.
Our month long visit from California has come to it’s end. We are back at our place in the San Francisco Bay Area now. We had been dividing our time between the farm and the lake, trying to get a lot of work done and still have fun. Our two daughters, ages two and five, had a grand time with the country life. What a great place to be a kid Maine is. Pretty nice for grown-ups too. The kids have developed dark tans and a healthy glow from the fresh milk, eggs and vegetables. They also loved all the animals. Especially Mom’s two dogs, Muffin and Bagel, who seemed to enjoy all the attention.
Maine has a vivid green intensity that comes with having about five month’s time for growth and regeneration before the killing frost of winter returns. The seasons are much more pronounced than in California. There are also much fewer people and a general sense of calm and well being. California is a bustling place where the slow drivers only go 70 mph. Don’t get me wrong. I love California. But, I think I love Maine more.
I had grand designs of major fence revamping while I was at the farm. But, besides figuring out that it is a nearly impossible task to undertake single-handedly, there were many other pressing tasks which demanded my attention. I got a lot accomplished, but only a relatively small amount of fencing. Mom’s steer, Wilbur, likes to make a sport of fence busting and gets all saucy when made to return to the pasture. It’s not as though he doesn’t have plenty of green grass to eat, he just does it for the fun of it all. One can’t help but think about fine steaks when dinner is interrupted by Wilbur cavorting through the garden.
The biggest thing I got done was to bush hog the fields, which needed it badly. The milkweed was very thick, and the Alders were doing their best to reclaim the open field. The Oxbow field across the river was particularly heavy as it had lapsed for two years without being mowed. One more year of unchecked growth and it would have required heavier equipment than Coburn Farm’s old John Deer to clear. It took many hours of tractor wrestling, but all the fields look remarkably better. It’s been a long time since I drove a tractor.
We all had fun. I miss being at Coburn Farm. It is so very peaceful and green there. My sister Sally says you have to kiss the old wooden door post as you leave. This means you are coming back.
August 11, Saturday: It did not get quite so hot today, only 85 F. The humidity is lower too. Helen’s production has dropped. Only 2.75 gals today. Her quarter which was hard last Wednesday has softened up and is giving no trouble, but the production loss appears to be in that quarter. I got 14 eggs today. I am having trouble keeping up with things in the garden, but the zucchinis are growing like mad without any help from me. I also have beans ready to pick.
August 12, Sunday: Helen was back up to 3 gals today but there are still some flecks on the milk filter. I slathered her with medicated udder cream and tea tree oil. Helen loves pea pods. I was given some peas and when she knows she is going to get pea pods she trots right along. Otherwise, she tends to be extremely slow or just stand there meditating. She absolutely does not understand “Hurry up” unless there is a bribe. Only 11 eggs today. But, the weather was perfect. I did not get out much as I was busy in the kitchen making jam, butter and bread.
August 13, Monday: I got my first picking of beans today. We had them for dinner and they were excellent. I think the high was about 75 F today, pretty nice except when working in the garden, which was still hot. On the way down from camp after dinner I nearly hit a moose calf. It and its mother were running along the road parallel with traffic. If it had swerved at all or if I had seen it an instant later we would have collided. As it was I missed it by less than a foot. Helen gave slightly under three gallons today.
August 14, Tuesday: A beautiful day today on the farm, temperature about 75 with occasional clouds. Tonight the sky is clear with many stars. It is supposed to cool down into the 40’s tonight. I am hoping to cool the cellar down. It is now 65 F. It is rarely that warm, but the prolonged hot spell warmed it up. Granddaughter Rosie and her new husband Nate have offered to butcher a sheep tomorrow and I hope to get the cellar cool enough so we can hang it a few days. Daughter Sally who owns the sheep wants them to butcher the ram now before breeding season because she does not wish to increase the flock beyond its current manageable number, which, after tomorrow will be eight sheep. Rosie and Nate picked a 5 gallon bucket of my wild Golden Delicious (type) apples today and another bucket of crab apples. Helen gave a bit over 3 gals today. I got 14 eggs thanks to finding a nest in the new hay. The chicks of a little bantam hen which I have been watching on a nest on a shelf began hatching today. Two are hatched, one to go.
August 15 Wednesday We butchered the ram, Dave today. He was about 18 months old. I had expected that Nate would be able to shoot him behind the ear while he was happily munching his grain. But no, he was deeply suspicious. He and all the other sheep retreated into their run-in under the buttery. We pondered long and hard how to catch him. I do not own a shepard’s crook and he was a large ram with big horns weighing over 150 pounds. It does not do to shoot a ram between the eyes and a heart shot would spoil a lot of meat. Anyway, all Nate had was a .22. At length we decided to block the entrance to the run-in with a long ladder and a step ladder in such a way that only about a 3′ wide gap was available for them to leap up and over about 3′ off the ground. I went in among the sheep and moved them around until they decided to race for it out the gap in the ladders. As the ram flew through the gap Nate caught him by the horns, a feat requiring great accuracy and speed, not to mention determination. The ram was so strong that Nate could barely hold him but he says he wrestled in high school which helped. Rosie and I together sat on him after Nate got his head down. There could be no question of shooting him then. Not only could we women not have held him down, It was not a situation for shooting. Nate had to kill him the old fashioned way by cutting his throat. I had anticipated this possibility and had the knife handy. The three of us managed to haul him uphill into the garage using a rope and all of us pushing and lifting him about 5 feet up. Then Nate fixed his hind legs to the spreader bar and hoisted the carcass by running the rope over a ring he had placed in a rafter and tying the other end to the bumper of the van and backing up. Nate and Rosie then sheared the ram and got a pretty good black fleece for this time of year. I went off to town then to do errands and when I returned they had skinned the carcass, eviscerated it, and hung it in the cool cellar. They did a beautiful job. The ram was very fat on grass (I rarely give the sheep any grain). The carcass weighs over 100 lbs, maybe 120. Helen gave 3 gallons today. I got 11 eggs.
August 16, Thursday: The little bantam hen hatched only two chicks. I put them in a chicken coop until this morning to protect them. This morning they seemed vigorous and obedient to their mother so I let them out, but they are locked in a skunk proof stall for the night. Actually, the principle hazard to chicks is falling down cracks in the barn floor or hopping into a tub of water and drowning. If they make it past the first week they tend to survive. The cats do not bother them. The sheep were very upset this morning and clustered around me bleating for a long time. They are leaderless for the time being. Today got up to 80 F. We have had no rain for weeks. Nate found a very pretty dead kitten today which looked to be 5 or 6 weeks olds. I have two cats which I know had kittens recently and I have seen neither for a few days. Perhaps something got one mother and the kitten starved. But, it was right in the garage and I never heard it cry, poor little thing.
August 17, Friday: We are cutting the meat up tonight. The cellar is staying about 65 F and the humidity is high so we dare not hang it longer. There has been a light drizzle all day, great for the garden but bad for the meat. We had a light supper of vegetable soup so as not to get so full that we cannot work. Helen gave a little over three gallons. Only nine eggs.
August 18, Saturday: Today was a lovely day except I forgot to watch Victory Garden, my favorite program. I got considerable weeding done. I saved my okra plants just in time I think. I planted red okra from seed. I have never grown it before with any success, but it has been so hot this summer that the okra probably thinks it is in South Carolina. So far each plant just has one 4″ pod, but they look good. The tomatoes are beginning to come on. I did not have time to pick beans, but I need to. Besides climbing Tumbledown early this morning (about a one hour climb for a strong walker), granddaughter Rosemary and her husband Nate did some more chain sawing and lawn mowing. They also made applesauce for canning. Helen gave a little under 3 gallons and I got 13 eggs.
August 19, Sunday: Helen gave only about 2.75 gals today. She did not let down well this evening. I put Thuja zinc ointment on her troubled quarter.
August 20, Monday: It was cooler today and we got a few sprinkles. Helen’s production is still down. She gave barely 3 gals and I got 13 eggs. A bantam hen I have been checking daily up in the hay loft began hatching today. This evening two out of five eggs were hatched. Tomorrow I will bring her down and put her in the “nursery stall” with the hen with two chicks that hatched last week. They are doing well. But, the hen never wants to take them outside. Consequently, I have to keep bringing them water so the chicks don’t dry up. I think this is her first clutch. Granddaughter Rosemary and her new husband Nate cut down another dead tree today. They cut, split and stacked it in the garage for winter firewood. It looks like very good quality wood. They also hung new chicken wire in the pen where the geese will live. Rosemary has canned about 2 dozen quarts of applesauce and a dozen pints. When I went out to close up the chickens there was a big skunk in the chicken run. He scuttled under the barn when he saw me. I must remember to block the hole with a rock.
August 21, Tuesday: About noon Nate and I brought the hen downstairs. Yesterday she had two yellow chicks but today one of them was dead. Maybe it had to go too long without water. It is still very hot. Anyway, she has two new ones that are all black. She is now well established in the nursury with the other hen. One rooster wanted to be in with them, so I let him stay. Perhaps he is her mate, I have not paid attention to which rooster has been visiting her. These semi wild birds pair up and when the hen sets he hangs around a lot. Helen gave a little under 3 gals today. I got 13 eggs.
August 22, Wednesday: I had to leave the house at 5AM to get Rosie and Nate to the bus for the first leg of their return flight to Alaska. As a result, I was not back to milk Helen until 8AM. She and Leah and Wilbur were down in Pocket Field and all my calling was to no avail. When I walked down there she went into the woods instead of coming up to the barn. I guess she was telling me what she thought of late milking. Once I got her in she was resistant to letting down. Nor did she make it up with this evening’s milk. I got only 2.5 gallons today. But, I got 15 eggs. In addition, I found a nest with six. I took them all and replaced them with three fakes. The two families of hens and chicks appear to be doing fine. The hen with the older two brought them out today, but I herded them back into their stall when the sun got low. There is still that big skunk hanging around.
August 23, Thursday: It was a beautiful day, but still warmer than comfortable. Helen gave 3 gallons of milk. But I got only 9 eggs. The hens and chicks are moving their families around a lot now, but still put them to bed in the stall so I could close them in safely./
August 24, Friday: Eggs were up today. I got twenty. I put fresh hay in the nests and sprinkled diatomaceous earth on several birds which are missing feathers. I don’t see any signs of mites aside from the missing feathers, but the treatment can’t hurt. I think their bare spots are mostly due to excessive attention from roosters. Some of the hens were doing a lot of cowering in corners, so perhaps they are coming out now and eating and laying more. I also caught three hens who usually roam free and put them in with the other layers. Two got away the next morning, but one is still in. I found where they got out have the two escapees trapped again in a box stall. I will put them back with the layers after dark. Rosie and Nate dressed off three chickens about two weeks ago, which now reside in the freezer. I am pretty sure Helen is pregnant. Today is three weeks from the day she was bred and there was no sign of heat. Her milk production is definitely down. Only 2.75 gallons today.
August 25, Saturday: Another perfect day and no signs of heat from Helen. I am now quite confident AI took. Milk production today fell just a little short of 3 gallons. Actually, not too bad for the 14th month of lactation and three weeks pregnant. Only ten eggs though. One of the two free living hens got away again but I have recaptured her. This time I will cut a pinion feather before putting her back in among the layers. I moved the geese today to their own pen. Neighbor Stewart, who has kept geese for several years, doubts a racoon or fox will take them. I sure hope he is right. They will be much better off in their own pen. I am getting lots of delicious ripe tomatoes now. There are yellow pear, some kind of cherry, yellow Italian paste type (I don’t remember planting these) and Brandywine which is pinkish red and of outstanding flavor.
August 26, Sunday: Just before milking time some gusty wind came up, so as soon as I let Helen back out I went down into the pasture with a bucket to see if the wind had brought down any apples. Helen too, is wise in the ways of wind and apple trees and she beat me down there and was standing under the tree. But, none were on the ground. I suppose if there were any she had already eaten them. So, as my last task of the daylight hours I went back for my apple picking pole, figuring to pluck a few out of the tree. But this proved impossible. As soon as I reached up with my pole, a two handed task, Helen had her head in the bucket swiping apples. I had to admit defeat. I think I came in with seven apples. Helen gave 2.75 gallons again today and I got 15 eggs,
August 27, Monday: Helen gave 2.75 gals and I got 11 eggs./
August 28, Tuesday: So much for my powers of intuition. Helen did not settle. This morning she gave only one gallon of milk, down two quarts at least. And as soon as I let her out a lot of mounting activity occurred. It was hard to be sure whether it was Leah or Helen who was in heat. It was not the right day for either one. I watched them frequently with the field glasses until it became unmistakable: it was Helen. So, I went in and called the inseminator, the same poor guy that had such an adventure last month finding my cow for me. He was here by 12 noon anad this time I had her in her stanchion. He said she was good an ready, but he said that last time. I chose the same bull again, a Jersey named Zukor. Helen’s production was back up this evening, total 2.75 gals today and 16 eggs.
August 29, Wednesday: A small miracle greeted me this morning in the chicken yard. When I let out the chickens I found a Black Australorp hen already outside sitting alone. When I poured out the scraps she stood up and there was one new baby chick. How she could have escaped attention for 21 days anywhere in the chicken run is mysterious. The cover out there is not good and there have been two big fencing operations too, not to mention the skunks. I took them their own little portion of food. Then, this evening after dark I scooped them up and moved them to the nursery stall. The bantam with the slightly older chicks tried to have them roost upstairs in the hay mow tonight. She led them up the ladder which they achieved in little hops. But then she flew to the rafters which was well beyond their abilities. Later I saw she had relented and had the chicks under her wings in the nursery stall. I closed them all in for the night. Helen gave 3 gals today and I got 11 eggs.
August 30, Thursday: Helen gave 2.75 gals of milk today and I got 14 eggs. I am dejected because when I went to close up the hen and chick nursery, none were in there. I had left the front door of the barn open so Bagel dog could have walked right in and scattered them if he chose.
August 31 Friday This morning I began teaching Leah, 14 month old heifer, to come in with Helen. She needs to learn quietly so that when she gets bred she will already be used to being tied up. It took a while but I coaxed her in and she ate some grain very quietly. Helen was not at all disturbed by her presence. But no hens and chicks were to be seen and I felt very depressed. Then when I checked again at 10:30 AM all three sets were out back in the barnyard with the babies. They had all sat down for the night outside. This evening the hen with the two week old chicks got them up the ladder to the hay floor. Then, got one of them up higher to the lintel above the big door. When I left the barn the other one was still hopping around trying to get up the courage to flutter up higher. Helen did not let down well this evening. It took a long time for me to coax Leah in, during which time Helen finished her grain and began to worry. When I finally got Leah in she stood quietly after eating her grain just as though she were tied. Still, I got less than 1 gal tonight and a lot of milk remained behind. I got 13 eggs. There may have been more eggs upstairs. I usually look, but did not want to frighten the chick that was jumping up and down and peeping.
September 1, Saturday: All three hens made it through last night once again. The black layer with the single yellow chick did not come inside last night, so was out in the rain. I tried bringing her in to dry off, but when I picked her up her chick jumped out from under her wing, so she got all upset and I set her back down. I took her a handful of feed and they ate that right up. This evening I sat down and watched the bantam who is teaching her chicks to flutter into the rafters. She flies up onto the lintel over the barn door and clucks for them They make it to the top rung of the ladder, then up onto the ladder end post where they wobble like swimmers getting up nerve to dive off the high board. Both chicks managed the four foot flight to a higher point after less than five minutes of peeping and dithering. Then, they got right under mama’s wings. They are not bantam chicks, they are big yellow ones. I set layer eggs under her while she was broody. So, it is surprising to me they fly as well as they do. I brought Leah, the heifer, in again this morning to eat grain next to Helen at milking time. She was hesitant, but finally I got her out the field gate and through the barn door without either of us doing much running. This evening she seemed to suddenly remember the new plan and jumped in the air bucking as she ran through the gate and trotted right into the barn and found her place. Then, she stood there the entire time I milked. I got nearly 3 gals today, and 15 eggs.
September 2, Sunday: There was a skunk around last night and the scent lingered all day. But, all three sets of mother hens survived. Of course one mama is up in the rafters now. I had granddaughter Hailey here at milking time, but Leah came in nicely and Helen let down pretty well. Hailey had her notebook and took farm notes. 1.75 gals of milk today, and 14 eggs.
September 3, Monday: The bantam hen I mentioned that hatched her chicks August 20 began trying to get them up the ladder tonight so they would be safer. The two black chicks are smaller but got up the ladder OK. The yellow one just could not make up its mind to do it. So, she gave up and settled back downstairs again with all three. Leah showed right up this evening with Helen and followed her right in and stood in the next tie up the whole time I milked. I played with her collar to see what she would do. She ignored me. I have not tied her yet. Helen gave barely 2.5 gals today. I got 12 eggs.
September 6, Thursday: Yesterday, September 5, was the day marked on my calendar for Leah to be in heat. I watched her quite carefully until I had to leave for the airport at 3 o’clock. I was picking up guests from California and had to be gone nearly six hours, what with lost baggage and other factors. It was the longest I ever had to leave Bagel on his chain and I was worried about him. But, when I finally got home he was fine. What a good boy. I had to skip milking Helen of course. This morning I began about 6:30 AM to watch Leah for symptoms of heat. That was the earliest I could manage to get up. No jumping today that I could see. I went out to look every chance I got. All I saw was a bit of sniffing, extra alertness and her ears back. Helen made up slightly for yesterday. I got about 3 gals. of milk. and picked up 3 eggs. But, yesterday when I collected eggs about 9 PM I got only nine and some were sticky with egg yolk. That tends to happen when they are left too long in the nest. I had planned to have my first pole beans today. There was a nice crop almost ready when I checked yesterday morning. Today they were all gone. Deer got in and ate them. They also ate the tops off all my bell peppers, reducing my crop to just one pepper. I suppose they will be back tonight for the cabbages. This is the first time I have had deer damage. I think I will have to have some organic venison in November.
September 7, Friday: My neighbor with a nice Kubota tractor showed up today and spent six hours mucking out the cow’s run-in that I call the Beefer Pen. It has not been used all summer. I have been allowing it to dry out. It had a two-year layer of manure and hay. I only had to pay for four hours of work. He finished off the cleaning by making two dump truck loads, one for his garden and one for his father-in-law. The manure is of top quality, well rotted, just right. Helen was clearly pleased to once again be permitted access to the cleaned area. But, what with the tractor noise and her missed milking on Wednesday she gave scarcely over 2 gals today. The hens too were disturbed and I got only seven eggs. The bantam who hatched her chicks on August 20 has been trying for three or four nights now to get her family to roost up higher. Last night she got them up about four feet. This evening she got them all the way up the ladder. The deer were in my garden again last night and finished off my pole beans and began on the cabbages. My tractor man said they ate his sister-in-law’s entire garden.
September 8, Saturday: Another hot one today. I think it got to 90 F and the humidity is wicked. Leah, the 14 month old Jersey heifer, has been coming in with Helen at milking time for a couple of weeks now. I have not tied her as I did not want to frighten her before she was bred. I was afraid she might become shy of coming in. This morning I hitched her up and she seemed to pay no attention at all. This evening she got her leg wrapped in the rope, but I was able to untangle her before she got very frantic. Tomorrow we will see how it affected her. I have shortened the rope. The deer came back last night and ate more stuff. I have out of town guests which makes it hard to put in time on deer defense. But, I have in mind to put up electric fencing. Today I got so far as laying out my extension cords to see how many more I need. Helen’s production is not recovering. Today I got barely over 2 gals. I got 1 dozen eggs.
September 9, Sunday: All last night I kept hearing the steer, Wilbur’s bell and was pretty sure he was in the garden or on the lawn. As a result I got very little sleep. When I went out at 6 AM, yes, there he was waiting for me by the barn saying, “Will breakfast be pretty soon?” After morning chores I repaired a section of fence which he had breached. He won’t get through that spot again in a hurry. But, when I went out for evening chores he had gotten out again and was standing in my rhubarb patch. He had not eaten any but had pretty well trampled it. He is perfectly tame, the meathead, thus easy to move around. But, what a nuisance he is. After evening chores I repaired another place among some brambles where I knew the fence was weak, but thought he would not notice. Leah broke her tie-up this morning, but continued to stand in place. This evening I used a heifer-proof rope. She struggled some, which disturbed her mother, Helen, who kicked the bucket to get my attention. I think she was saying, “Can’t you see Leah is in trouble?” But, they both settled right down and I saved the bucket. It was again 90 F today and all of us suffered. Helen gave only two gallons. I got 12 eggs.
September 10, Monday: Very hot again today, suffocating humidity and temperatures close to 90 F . I have never know weather like this in Maine. You break a sweat at the least exertion. My cousins assisted by our friends gave me 80 bales of hay today and stacked it in the barn. It is not high quality this late in the season. It is first cut so is stemmy and there are many weeds. But, it was well made, no rain while it was being made, and need I say it smells good. It is a very welcome gift. I have also ordered 50 bales of top quality hay which I will give Helen to eat during milking. For this I will have to pay $2.85. Helen gave slightly over 2 gals today. Only 9 eggs. I was frantically busy all day because of the hay delivery, house guests and errands in town, so did not get the eggs picked up. There was the usual attrition.
September 11, Tuesday: Today the World Center building was destroyed and the Pentagon also attacked. Little work was done by me or most other people I think. I got up at 4:30AM to take my house guests to their bus, so milked Helen in the early dark. When I got home I heard the terrible news. Helen’s production is edging back up I think. Something about the dreadful attack has caused me, like many others I am sure, to feel like retreating into a saving mode. I went out and picked apples and tomatoes to can. Helen gave 2.25 gals. Only nine eggs due to egg eating by one or more birds.
September 12, Wednesday: More terrible news all day. But, Helen’s production was back up to 2.5 gals today. Nine eggs. The weather was absolutely beautiful today, clear and not too hot.
September 13, Thursday: It was a beautiful day in Maine, bright but for a few clouds and not too hot. It is still very hard to focus on creative tasks because of national shock, but I have gotten a lot of things done in the garden including watering, fertilizing and harvesting. I canned more applesauce and made sauce with my yellow tomatoes. Also, I picked the few but lovely apples from a young tree I have. The birds have started to peck them. Another year I must hang bird scarers in the tree. Helen’s production plunged inexplicably today to only 1.75 gals. After milking I watched her take a 30 second drink so there is nothing wrong with their water. Wilbur the steer came to drink and she shouldered him out of the way just to be sure he doesn’t forget who is boss. He came back later and had a 15 second drink. Yesterday I caught sight of a small black kitten in the barn. Tonight I put out warm milk by his hole. I hope to teach him not to be afraid. Nine eggs again today.
September 14, Friday: Another fine day, but scattered frost is predicted.. I have covered some plants. This morning when I fed my barn cat, Connie, she had a kitten with her. This evening there were three, one short haired black who let me stroke him, a long haired black and a black and white one that I could not see very well. They seemed a little bit friendly until I knocked over some boards and frightened them badly. They did not emerge later for the fresh warm milk I poured out, but Connie was waiting for it. 10 eggs today and 2 gals milk.
September 15, Saturday: I had to say goodbye to my tender plants this morning. We had a frost last night. I had covered some flowers near the house, but it got the dahlias and zucchini and most of the foliage on the tomatoes. Mostly, the tomatoes were protected by foliage and I picked everything I could today. Only two gallons of milk today and I had to work for it. Eight eggs. The eggs now are mostly very large. Connie was waiting for her warm milk and one kitten almost came to join her at the dish. I am pretty sure there are actually four kittens. No wonder Connie is so skinny. I have given her cat food twice a day for months, but I only put out what she can eat in a few minutes or the chickens get it. The weather warmed up today and I don’t think it will freeze tonight.
September 16, Sunday: Son Martin came last night and today he repaired two ramps which the cows have been negotiating with difficulty. Both had holes rotted through. Martin used boards that his plant produces from sawdust and acrylic. He also put the tractor in the barn. The cows will have to share space with it in the beefer pen where they eat their hay. Martin also helped me get more apples from my wild tree that produces very tasty ones. I was able to stroke two of the kittens this evening. They come out for warm milk I did not listen to my radio today or watch tv, just kept my candle burning. Helen gave 2 gallons. I got a dozen eggs.
September 17, Monday: Such beautiful weather right now. It is hard to believe there is so much pain in the country and in the world. Also, one must not forget that Maine is having a serious drought. I have never seen Lake Webb as low as I saw it yesterday nor the Webb River which runs by the farm so low. My granddaughter Hailey was here today and we walked along a considerable stretch on sand where ordinarily it would be at least up to our knees. I picked up many pieces of broken glass exposed by the low water. There are many tires, which a stronger person could pull out. Hailey patiently sat by the hole where the kittens come out, tempting them with a dish of milk, and counted six! There are two mothers. One mother I call Little Ruby is terribly timid and as a result very small. I think three kittens are hers and three are Connie’s. She is more tame. Tomorrow I will buy canned cat food and then all that are brave enough to come out will get a treat. Since the kittens are already somewhat tame I plan to leave them with their mothers a bit longer. Helen gave slightly over 2 gals today. There were 9 eggs.
September 18, Tuesday: I opened a can of cat food for my cat and kitten families and spread out dabs of it on a plastic dustbin lid that I always use for their food. They were just lining up for their new treat when a darned rooster bombed down from a rafter and right into the middle of the tray. Connie laid open my hand as she sprang to safety. I would have killed the rooster had I caught it. I was so mad. I hope by tomorrow the cats will have forgotten. I moved the lid away to a dark corner and left it so they can eat in peace after their courage returns. I was away most of the day so did not collect eggs until evening. There were only six. Today makes three weeks since Helen was bred. I did not see any signs of heat but may have missed something being away. She gave 2 gals. milk.
September 19, Wednesday: A very busy day getting ready for company. This impaired my ability to observe Helen. But I very much fear she was in heat again and I missed it. Right toward evening I saw all three of them running, not something Helen does under normal circumstances. After that she was quiet. She gave 2 gals of milk. I got only six eggs. I am getting fewer eggs, but the ones I get are huge.
September 20, Thursday: Rain at last! It started about supper time and has kept up for several hours now. The Black Australorp hen with one chick has moved back in with the layers. She and her chick are right up on the roost every night. He peeks out next to her feet. No other hens dare come near her or they get a sharp peck. It is quite funny to see this. Often the other hen is just ambling by with no idea of causing offense. Helen gave two gallons again today. She lets down grudgingly so I have to work for the milk. Seven eggs today.
September 21, Friday: The rain continued off and on all last night and today every living thing is grateful. Many people in this area have had their wells run dry. I am terribly busy with all my fixed responsibilities, plus daughter Marcia and her husband visiting from Virginia. So, I have skimped on time spent taming kittens. However, one is very tame, another actually seems about ready to be handled and a third got up its courage to come out at the last minute for canned cat food this evening. Three more to go. The mother of theses is highly furtive, so that will take some time. Helen gave about 2 gals today and I got 6 eggs.
September 22, Saturday: Today went by in a whirl with son Martin helping with farm chores and most especially putting up a new mailbox to replace mine which was vandalized. I had to say goodbye to my daughter and her husband from Virginia, then Martin and I went to camp and pulled the sailboat out of the water for the winter. And, of course I got Helen milked. Two gallons again, but only three eggs. I did not get a chance to pick up eggs until evening, which always means I get fewer, but seldom this few. It rained or drizzled most of the day, but was warm nonetheless.
September 23, Sunday: A very fine fall day. I canned six pints of applesauce and got tomato sauce ready to can tomorrow. Also, I made bread. I should have spent more time outdoors. It is sad with all the family away and all the sadness in the world. All the animals seem cheerful and look extremely well. They have plenty to eat and there are fewer flies. Fall is bringing crickets and spiders into the house, which I don’t much like. Two gallons of milk again today. Eleven eggs.
September 24, Monday: Light drizzle most of today, occasional watery sun, but warm. The mosquitoes are having another go at us. I canned my tomato sauce and picked more tomatoes. There are a few late roses, a white climber, a pink mini and a dark pink hardy, which I think is John Franklin. I brought the blooms in to set in a vase by my spring sink. Helen gave only 1.75 gal. today and there were five eggs. I hear a lot of bell ringing in the dark. According to the calendar, Leah should be in heat tomorrow. I hope I am not missing it.
September 25, Tuesday: It has rained most of the day. Neighbor Stewart brought a horse trailer over and parked it against the big front door of the barn. The doors are all open so that Wilbur can go into it to eat his grain, maybe. Tomorrow he is leaving in the trailer and it would be awfully nice if he would just hop into that trailer and save us all a big hassle. Last time I sent an animal for slaughter I had the trailer thus parked for several days and my steer had time to get used to eating in there. I guess I will be lucky in this case if Wilbur is even in the barn tomorrow morning. This evening when I went out to milk he was standing on the lawn by the barn door, having jumped the fence somewhere. He is very tame and I marched him right back where he belongs. I also hope to catch and load one of the ram lambs. They are bigger now than the ewes. Helen gave a bit less than two gals. today. I got five eggs.
September 26, Wednesday: It was still dark when I got up this morning. I had a migraine and did not feel a bit like starting the day. Fortunately I made careful plans yesterday so did not have to apply my brain very much. After I got Helen and Leah into their stanchions I took a pan of grain to Wilbur and shoved it to the far end of one side of the horse trailer so he had to step in to get it. This he did and I closed the door, which fortunately I had practiced with yesterday. All horse trailer doors are different so far as I can tell. I then went to feed the sheep. I hoped to be able to tempt them into the barn where I could catch Herbert, the young ram I wanted. This proved impossible. After Wilbur finished his grain he began pounding around in the trailer making a big racket. The sheep did not like the sound of this and refused to be rounded up. So, I had to give up on sending any sheep. I noticed Herbert was hanging back and panting and eating little so maybe he is unwell. When Stewart arrived he snubbed Wilbur up close with a rope and I was worried that if he fell he might strangle. I asked St Francis to look out for him. What happened was the collar broke so he was free again in the trailer and traveled fine. It is sad to say goodbye to a friendly meek animal like Wilbur, even though he was an inveterate destroyer of fences. But, for a number of excellent reasons I do not endorse vegetarianism. I do believe in locally grown food. This means facing up to the inevitable. Goodbye Wilbur. He had a very good life. I would prefer home butchering. It is the only way to prevent separation anxiety, which is the real trauma cattle face when hauled away to slaughter.
September 27, Thursday: I went down into the old pig pen area today to see if by any chance the baby apple tree which various ruminants have been mutilating had been able to muster its forces to put out a new leaf. There down near the ground were three leaves. It seems unlikely that it can have gained sufficient strength to make it through the winter but I cleared away the weeds and grass which have been hiding it from the marauders but also suffocating it. Also I put a piece of fencing around it. Then, I repaired the fence, which is supposed to prevent animals getting into that section. I also got the apple picker and picked the last few Macintosh apples from the tree, which overhangs the pigpen. They are fine apples. I hope next year I can find time to take some care of the tree. It is one I planted myself 23 years ago. A little over 2 gals of milk today and six eggs.
September 28, Friday: I’m a bit down this morning because one of the sheep died, a young ram which was the one I meant to send to the butcher, but could not catch on Wed. when I had a trailer here for Wilbur. He had been moving rather slowly. This morning when I went looking for him he was scarcely cold. It was raining and I found him all sodden in a puddle. I was not up to dressing him out. I can’t imagine what killed him. He looked perfectly healthy except for being dead. I hate losing all that meat. I was in despair about what to do about him at all. The transfer station will not accept dead animals. The animal control officer here runs a trap line. I don’t like leg hold traps. He would take the carcass but would use it as bait. Then my cousin Steve offered to pick it up and dispose of it. I am very grateful to him. This is all such a disappointment. I am having good luck taming kittens with food. All eight kittens joined me on the floor tonight when I passed out canned cat food. The tamest mother, Connie, was right in among them. A very timid mother I call Little Ruby came close enough tonight to stick out a paw and snatch a morsel I held out on a knife. The third mother is so timid that she does not even have a name. I could see her in the shadows about 5′ away. Helen gave only 1.75 gals today and I got only three eggs. Most of the hens are in a moult, but the feathers are coming in now.
September 29, Saturday: I saw my cousins today who graciously took away the remains of Herbert, the ram that died. They told me they drove him a few miles back into the hills and left him in a nice patch of ferns. They gave him a nice goodbye. We all feel pretty bad about the loss of Herbert. It is so baffling what could have killed him. Son Mark, granddaughter Hailey and I took a fine walk today all around the fields and down to the river. The day was perfect. The leaves are turning and the recent two inches of rain have freshened everything and raised the river. Helen gave 1.75 gals. again today. There were five eggs.
October 1, Monday: Today, other farm concerns are taking a back seat to my worry about the other ram, the last one we have. He is nine months old and well grown. This afternoon I discovered he was panting in the manner that Herbert did on the day before he died. This time I called the vet but he cannot come until tomorrow. I am beginning to suspect some kind of toxicity, perhaps copper toxicity.
Here is what Bret says:
Panting is caused by stimulus to the respiratory center in the brain stem. Input is from blood pH and temperature. The pH bit has to do with CO2 build up, that is, if the animal is short of oxygen or high in CO2, the animal will pant. Getting too hot also causes panting as a means of dumping heat. If the blood goes acidic, say from imbalance in the rumen, panting off CO2 will help drop the acidity, CO2 forms carbonic acid in the blood, a weak acid, causing a lowered pH (higher acid = lower pH). As you know, very high milk production can lead to metabolic acidosis, much like starving. I’m sure many other things bring about panting, but what does one do about them? What makes you think of copper? I suppose its very high toxicity might be killing rumen flora/fauna causing upset. Knocking out the rumen is about the same as starvation. According to Peter Cheeke’s book, copper toxicity in sheep is easy to get, even from pasture fertilized with swine or poultry manure and results in red urine because of hemolysis. Death in 2-4 days. Copper builds up in the liver, then, when the level gets high enough, breaks down the liver, spills copper into the blood, which kills the red blood cells, whose color appears in the urine. If red blood cells are dying then the sheep will pant for oxygen, I suspect.
I would give a drench of bicarbonate of soda if I had somebody to help me. The moon is full and I am sure I could find the sheep. I went out to look and listen for them, but they are being very quiet. I could hear a coyote yapping in the hills. Yesterday Helen gave 1.75 gals of milk, today 2 gals. Five eggs yesterday, four today. I have opened the chicken run so they have access to the field and lawn. Perhaps that will perk them up. There is not much damage they can to now to the flowerbeds.
October 2, Tuesday: Dr. Cooper came by about noon to treat our ram. It was on the high ground under the buttery where the dirt floor slopes up to the underside of the house above. I crept up to it and slipped a noose over its horns and we led it down to a post where we snubbed it up close. Then, the vet took its temperature, listened to its heart, examined its mouth and eyes and gave it an antibiotic shot. I think he was as puzzled as I was. He made up a drench of electrolytes and activated charcoal. And, at my suggestion, he included bicarbonate of soda. He did not think copper toxicity was too likely because he would expect to see yellow sclera (white of the eye) and this was absent. The drench went down easily. He said it was unlikely I would notice any improvement before tomorrow, if improvement there was to be. At chore time around 5pm the ram was on his feet and among the ewes. He was taking a few dainty nibbles of grass. He was still breathing too fast, but not actually panting. His mother, old Agnes, was standing right up beside him with her face against his. He seemed to find this annoying and pushed her away a couple of times. If he recovers I am going to give him a name. Helen gave slightly under 2 gals today. Only four eggs. I caught three more kittens this evening, so now have five in the kitchen. There is still one more in the barn, but it did not come out.
October 3, Wednesday: About 12:30 last night it entered my dreams that cows were too close. The moon was full and I crept to the window in time to see Helen and Leah passing beneath. I had omitted to close the front gate in the obviously unfounded belief that with Wilbur gone the weak fences would hold. So, I put on my bathrobe and went out and closed the gate leaving the cows to roam the lawn and garden. I got up again about 5am. The sick ram was walking around drinking water. Helen, thanks to her night of carousing had very little milk, only about 2/3 of a gallon. I then raced off to take my car to its appointment. When I got home around 1 o’clock I went at once to check on the sheep and the news is not good. The six ewes were clustered not far from the barn and Topknot, the mother of Herbert, who died last Friday, was panting. It took me a lot of walking and nearly an hour to find the sick ram. He was down in a gully and I only found him because he bleated to me when he heard me pass. He was lying in a little stream and got to his feet but refused to move further even with the dogs barking at him. I had to leave him there. I went back to the house and called the vet. He got here very soon because he was already on his way. He drove his truck down to the bottom of the field. The ram had moved a little but was grinding his teeth, which Dr. Cooper said was a sign of impending death. I made the decision for euthanasia, so he gave the ram a shot and I stroked his ears and wool until he died, which was very soon. Then, we put a rope around his horns and with the other end tied to the truck we dragged him up to level ground. We hoisted him up on top of the truck, which took both of us as the ram weighed nearly 100 lbs. I spread out a tarp in the garage and Dr. Cooper opened up the ram and took tissue samples of liver, kidney and pancreas and he took the heart and one lung. As with the previous ram, everything looked perfectly healthy. But, we did not see the organs of the first one. This one’s lungs looked all wrong. The blood was dark and the tissue dense. The vet then left. He is very much leaning towards copper poisoning now. After milking I went out and clipped off as much fleece as I could. We had tried to avoid getting it bloody and had largely succeeded, but the underside was wet from the streambed. I fear I did but a poor job of shearing. I am very tired. I did not play with my kittens today at all.
October 4, Thursday: The ewe, Topknot, who was panting yesterday, was frisky this morning. But, by this evening she was dull, lying down and panting. Helen came over and tried to butt her. She has refused to get up for me, but when Helen did this she ran off with the others. Later, I watched her moving along with the others and I saw her repeatedly kick at her armpit as though something were itching or hurting. She did this on both sides and made some unhappy noises. I also heard her cough several times. At this morning’s milking Helen got all annoyed because Leah was stretching over and licking her udder. She did not let down well. Then, this evening she was just beginning to let down nicely when an unsteady stack of hay bales in the main hall of the barn toppled. She about jumped out of her skin when this happened, so again let down poorly. I ended with a little less than two gals. for the day. I also had to re-stack about 20 bales of hay before I could turn them out as the passageway was completely blocked. My vet called this morning to check on my flock. He told me he had sent off the tissue samples for laboratory analysis. I also got a call from a feed company nutritionist who had been alerted to my problem by my feed dealer. I sent her a pound of feed, but as I told her, I can’t be sure it is the suspect feed as the old bags are identical to the new. Five eggs today.
October 5, Friday: No bad news to report today except one of the half grown chickens apparently got hit on the road. It was one of the black ones. Topknot, the ewe that was panting yesterday, seemed perfectly frisky and normal today. It was a superb fall day. I took a walk around the fields with Bagel. There will not be many more days like this. Helen’s production continues to be very poor. 1.75 gals today and five eggs.
October 6, Saturday: A stormy day with high winds and rain. Just a sample of things to come do doubt. I picked up the beef from the Jersey steer I sent 10 days ago to be butchered. The butcher estimated his weight at 1100 lbs. The carcass was 504 lbs hanging weight. Some of that is bone that gets boned out and there was a lot of fat too. His charges were $35 for slaughter and $201.60 to cut and wrap. Helen gave not much over 1.5 gals today. There were five eggs. I have a grow light on a timer now for the hens.
October 7, Sunday: It is now very fall-like. There were blustery winds off and on all day with spates of rain and periods of brilliant sun. The dogs and I went up to camp for a while to see how much the lake has risen. Two weeks ago when I was there it was the lowest I had ever seen it. It has come up about 6″. There were no bugs. Back at the farm I picked a few late daisies and chrysanthemums. The morning glories are still struggling along although much bashed by rain. All animals are well. Leah, the 16 month old heifer, is becoming very well trained and easily handled now that I bring her in every time with Helen. Helen gave about 1.75 gals today. Five eggs. They are very large.
October 8, Monday: Columbus Day today, did not get very warm but the sun came out and I crossed the river to the Oxbow Field and picked about six quarts of highbush cranberries. It was very beautiful on the field with the long row of fiery maples. The dogs flushed a partridge. The deer have been keeping the lower branches of everything trimmed back. There must be lots of them. Later, I picked my cabbages and a few more tomatoes. It did not freeze last night as predicted but tonight is supposed to get really cold. I have found somebody who will sell me a Border Leicester ram lamb weighing about 100 lbs. He will cost a dollar a pound. He is black. I have to go fetch him tomorrow.
October 9, Tuesday: Cousin Marcia and I took the old van down to Turner to convene with the man with the sheep. We had a nice place to wait for him, Nezinscott Farm shop, a comprehensive whole foods shop. But he kept us waiting for two hours. He helped me to put a collar on the black ram and hitch him to a strut. The ram thrashed around quite a bit but did himself no harm. Once home, I drove the van into the field before unhitching the ram, which I named Wesley. He was very frightened because he has spent his life on a sheep island 15 miles out to sea and has had no handling. I made to release him where he could see the ewes, but Helen took one look at him and began to chase him. Wesley had never seen a cow either. He shot off towards the woods and I wondered if I would ever see him again. But I trotted out to try to cut them off, talking all the while to Helen and telling her to calm down and forget chasing and pretty soon she minded me. I then herded Wesley back towards the ewes but he shot off towards the fence near the gate and hurled himself at it. Once again I thought he might be gone forever but fortunately he got caught in the wires and I was able to dislodge him and head him toward the ewes. He mingled with them for awhile but when last I saw him he was about 50 yards away from them grazing near the woods and it looks to me as though he stayed there for the night when the ewes came in. Morning will tell if Wesley is still on the farm. To keep Helen from being a nuisance I put her in the barn early and she ended up waiting for me in her stanchion for a half hour. When I finally arrived with my bucket she refused to let down. I got about two cups of milk. Today was also the day I marked down to check her for heat but I was away so many hours that I was unable to make a good observation. I think I may have to start keeping a bull. The hens were unsupervised all day too and I got only three eggs..
October 10, Wednesday: To my immense relief, Wesley showed up this morning. He slept in a far corner of the field by himself and I saw him trotting towards the ewes. As soon as he got close Agnes again chased him a long way off. I hope he does not lose heart. This evening I could not see him at all. Helen made up pretty well for not letting down last night. She gave 2.25 gals today. There were six eggs. I did not see any signs of heat in Helen so am not sure what to think. Soon she will be far enough along for a vet check so I can know one way or the other.
October 11, Thursday: It was another beautiful day but I saw nothing of Wesley. I looked for him for a long time with the dogs after morning chores. Our neighbor said he had been there yesterday. He also said he had seen a bear crossing from my field into his woods both yesterday morning and this morning and that a neighbor dog has been plaguing the deer in a part of my woods adjacent to him. Later today a motorist reported seeing a dog chasing Wesley into the woods up towards the cemetery. I went up there with the dogs after evening chores and found where his tracks entered the woods obviously running. We spent about an hour searching. I found one bare sandy place with a lot of tracks where he had merely been milling around but these may have been made earlier. I practiced loading my 20 gauge and will take a shot at that dog if I catch him after my sheep. But I would rather have Wesley back. Helen gave 1.75 gals today and there were only four eggs. All of a sudden I have more people wanting milk and eggs just when the supply is dwindling.
October ,12 Friday: Another fine day but scarcely even a rumor of Wesley. I am so sad. I put up signs at the store and elsewhere and drove around the neighborhood asking people and all said they would let me know if they saw him. Then the dogs and I spent an hour walking through the woods looking for any sign of Wesley. Muffin is old and stiff. She lay down about half way and rejoined Bagel and me on the way home. All week I have been looking for heat in Helen or Leah but saw nothing. So I have no idea if Helen is bred and have not been able to breed Leah either. Helen was restless this evening and did not let down well. She gave 1.5 gals today. But I got 8 eggs.
October 13, Saturday: The dogs and I made one last search for evidence of Wesley. There have been no reports of him since Wednesday. In response to my signs, the school bus driver stopped in to say that she nearly bumped into him Wednesday. I overcame my depression by keeping busy. I did a couple of hours of editing, made a blueberry cake, butter and sour dough bread. I have been working to perfect San Francisco style sour dough bread for several years and have a starter that I keep going. I believe what I made today is about as good as it gets. It has a perfect crust and large elastic holes and excellent flavor. I started it last night, so it had 24 hours to develop. I kneaded it in my KitchenAid rather than my bread machine. I cooked it in the floor of the Aga’s hotest oven and periodically threw ice cubes in with it to create humidity. Helen gave very slightly under 2 gals today and there were 6 eggs.
October 14, Sunday: We had warm, drizzley rain all day. The dogs and I did no more looking for Wesley. We went up to the lake. I walked on the little beach while the dogs scouted around. Helen gave a gallon this morning, but very little this evening. Only 1.25 gals today. Six eggs again. Many of the chickens are regaining their feathers. My one Buff Orpington hen was practically naked last month but has new fluffy feathers. Not that she ever deigns to lay an egg. I had been worried that I might have to knit her a jacket.
October 15, Monday: More rain and drizzle until noon, then bright cool October sun. The leaf color is very high. These six kittens in the house are getting rowdy. One somehow got up into my hanging basket of spider plant and jumped around in it while others batted the dangling offshoots. It looks a bit tattered. It is hard to keep them off this keyboard. No further reports of Wesley sightings. The dogs are so fond of all the woods walks I have been taking that they get excited every time I go out the door. I will have to keep up our walks. It really is fine fall weather. Helen gave 1.75 gals. today and there were 8 eggs.
October 16, Tuesday: Helen gave only a little over 1.5 gals today. I got eight eggs.
October 17, Wednesday: Intermittent rain last night and today, but the temperature hung between 50 and 60 F. Helen asked for hay this morning and this evening. Also, this morning the sheep came into the beefer pen to check the hay feeder, but I don’t think they got any before Helen saw them. I guess if they want to eat hay, then they will have to learn to come in when the cows are away grazing. There is actually plenty of grass for the sheep as they can graze much shorter pasture than cows. Still nobody reports anything of Wesley. It is a week today that he was last seen. A few days ago I found instructions in an old recipe book for a sourdough starter using new milk. That is, milk that is still warm from the cow. I decided to try it on Monday. I put one cup of milk in a very clean pitcher with about a half cup of flour and stirred it up with a chopstick. It is always best not to allow metal in contact with starter. I covered it with a dairy filter and put it on a shelf above the Aga. By Tuesday there were bubbles, which I stirred down. Today, I stirred it down twice and added some more milk and flour. I used this to start a loaf of bread using no commercial yeast. It took about three hours to rise, which is twice as long as commercial yeast. But, it rose in a totally satisfactory way and made a fine loaf. I used milk for the liquid in the dough since obviously this yeast is adapted to milk. This morning there were some clots in the milk from Helen’s near front quarter, so I rubbed the quarter with a thick layer of Thuja zinc udder cream. This evening there were no clots. But, still only 1.5 gals today. And six eggs.
October 18, Thursday: Today was a clear day with steady cold wind. I thought it might be my last chance to safely lift the dahlias and glads, so now that is done. I am keeping most of the kittens out in the buttery now during the day. They are very bouncy. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals. There were 7 eggs.
October 19, Friday: Sunny today, but blowy. I don’t believe it got above 45 F. I put out more than a bale of hay for Helen and Leah. I missed a call from the vet today while out doing errands. He had lab results from the tissue samples he sent over a week ago collected from the ram that died. It had some type of pneumonia. He said it was a type he was not familiar with and seemed to have some trouble pronouncing it himself. When he stops in I will get a copy of the report and put it in the diary. He said he guessed it was another example of the four S’s of sheep doctoring that he learned in college: Sick Sheep Seldom Survive. Helen gave a scant 1.5 gals today. There were 11 eggs.
October 20, Saturday: The big news today was that Leah came in heat and left me with no need for guesswork about it. This was her first breeding. She is almost 16 months old. I would have bred her sooner but did not catch her in heat. I kept her in and the AI technician arrived about 12:30. I was much gratified that it was not the new guy. He was on holiday and the one from former times was filling in. He is highly experienced which was a good thing because Leah was hard to breed. He said her cervix was crimped over. I’d say it took him eight minutes of groping to find the opening. He used Deerview Chiller semen. Let’s hope she settled. Son Martin was here today. He came last night and spent all day today making repairs around the farm. He put some studs on the cow’s ramp so they won’t slip and he brought a hammer drill and set new bolts for the basement bulkhead, among other things. In late afternoon cousin Steve brought two gunny sacks full of over 100 lbs of apples. These were picked in an orchard not far away, which for some reason was not harvested this year. They were mostly falls but of high quality and all MacIntosh. The old fashioned, deep red variety. They are extremely tasty. Steve said that the ground under all of the hundreds of trees was deeply carpeted in red. Several of his family and friends went along and brought home a pickup load of apples, so at least some were not wasted. Helen gave a little over 1.5 gals today and there were five eggs.
October 21, Sunday: Leah was back to normal today. There were occasional periods of sun, but much of the day seemed bleak and the thermometer barely reached fifty. For a couple of weeks I have been picking the small fruits on my quince Japonica as they were revealed by the falling foliage. I finally got about a quart and a half of them, some wizened, and boiled them all up for about a half hour. I pressed out the juice in a strainer with a weight on it and got two cups of juice. This I made into jelly by boiling it up with an equal amount of sugar. I used no commercial pectin. It made two little jars of extremely nice jelly, about 1 3/4 cup. Not a bad yield from a small amount of fruit. Helen gave a little over 1.5 gals today. There were 10 eggs.
October 22, Monday: I Finally I got around to doing some veg garden cleanup. Son Martin plans to till for me. In some places the weeds are so dense I fear it would gag the tiller. The comfrey is spreading as usual. It is such a pest. I have to dig it up with a garden fork. Tilling breaks up its roots and every morsel then sprouts. I milked an hour early so that I could attend a planning meeting. Helen likes coming in earlier. I got a little over 1.5 gals and five eggs.
October 23, Tuesday: The weather today was bleak and at midday it started to rain. However, I did get in some more digging. Also, today a load of wood was delivered. It looks good but needs splitting. I am feeding over a bale of hay per day now. Helen gave somewhat over 1.5 gals. I got seven eggs.
October 24, Wednesday: When I opened the door this morning to let Helen and Leah in to the milking area I saw a new big hole in the ramp. Helen was already on the move and obviously saw the hole but she was not agile enough to avoid it. One foot went right down causing her to be flat on her belly like a frog. She struggled and floundered to her feet, but was all upset. Leah leapt gracefully over the hole. When Helen was in her stanchion and I saw her kicking at her side it was evident that more than her dignity was injured. She was bleeding from a cut on her right front teat. I put the kicker on her, but even so did not try to milk that quarter. She let down only about one cup from each of the other three quarters. I applied pure vitamin E followed by tea tree oil to the cut, which is not nearly as bad as the last one she got. I did not call the vet. This evening I found that by using my right hand on the teat, which I ordinarily would milk with my left, it positioned the cut against the palm of my hand. This was much easier on her and aided by the kicker I was able to milk. I ended up with a little over 1.5 gallons for the day. There were 10 eggs. As I was bringing in the milk a man arrived at the farm. He had heard that I had milk to sell. He is very committed to drinking raw milk and finds it hard to get. He said that he regularly works out and since starting on raw milk his muscle tone has dramatically improved. He formerly relied on various costly potions from health food stores but they did not do for him what raw milk does.
October 25, Thursday: This morning I milked without the kicker until towards the end of milking. This evening Helen barely showed signs of kicking, but she was pretty edgy towards the end. I milked mostly with my right hand holding my left ready to fend off her foot if necessary. The cut is healing uneventfully so far. Helen gave about 1.5 gallons plus a pint. There were nine eggs.
October 26, Friday: Weather bleak today. Temp about 50F, damp, but there was sun for a little while. The animals seemed grumpy. Helen stood pretty well for milking so long as I used my right hand. I gave her some apples to cheer her up. She and Leah both remain suspicious of the ramp despite my repair. They skirt around where the hole was and Helen has gone back to waiting at the gate which avoids use of the ramp. Funny old cow. She gave 1.5 gals today. There were six eggs. I made bread again using the sourdough starter I made with new milk and flour. It is a very active starter. This time I made whole wheat. I think it is good.
October 27, Saturday: The dogs and I accompanied by granddaughter Hailey and son Mark took a sunny afternoon walk around the fields. The river is up some. It is interesting to me to see how the sheep stay in among the cows all day. It reminds me of pictures of animals on the African savannah where the species intermingle as they graze. The cows dislike the sheep and Helen butts them if they get in her way but they clearly feel more secure among the cows. I finally got my highbush cranberry catsup made. I have had the puree in the frig for several weeks. It turned out very well. That recipe is a keeper. I made five and a half pints. Helen gave barely 1.5 gals today. There were ten eggs.
October 28, Sunday: Mark finished mowing the lawn this morning, very much appreciated. It was looking very scruffy. Also he split a lot of wood and stacked it in the garage. I made outstandingly good pancakes for breakfast using the new fresh milk starter. Also made a tasty sandwich spread by mincing last night’s leftover steak in the Cuisinart. The weather today was fine but every day is colder. Helen gave exactly 1.5 gals. and I got 11 eggs.
October 29, Monday: It was chilly this morning, about 22F. Ice on some of the buckets was a half inch thick. I ran out of chicken feed yesterday, so being as it was Sunday and nothing around here was open, I cooked up a lot of rice and when it was cool, mixed in powdered milk. The chickens did not much care for it even though I mixed in cracked corn, their favorite. However, the geese thought it was pretty good. Deer season has started. I heard a good deal of shooting but not close by. Bagel has exactly the coloring of a deer and when he runs he holds his tail high exposing the white underside. This makes him look a lot like a deer. He is long legged and even bounds in a deerlike manner. I tied yellow streamers onto his collar. Helen got up her courage today to try the ramp again. But, she made Leah go first. Helen gave a scant 1.5 gals today. I got eight eggs.
October 30, Tuesday: Bright, cold, late October weather today. I am keeping the fireplace in the kitchen going. Last evening I rubbed Helen’s bag with heat raising udder cream to see if it would stimulate milk production. She gave 1.75 gals today, a marked increase, so maybe it worked. But the udder cream is expensive, so I did not put it on tonight. I was able to milk almost entirely without favoring her cut teat. It is nearly healed. 11 eggs today.
October 31, Halloween and a Blue Moon The hens made it to a full dozen today and Helen again gave 1.75 gals, quite encouraging. It was chilly today, but bright.
November 1, Thursday: All the world was white this morning, covered with rather slushy snow. I suppose the hunters were glad to see it but surely nobody else. All the animals seemed disgruntled except Bagel. Helen’s production dropped today to 1.5 gals and I only got five eggs. I am happy to say the snow all melted away by late afternoon. Coming cheerfully through the snow was my Sheffield chrysanthemum. This is the last flower in the garden. It is a lovely scented thing, a strong pink with a yellow center. It is leggy and should be supported. I highly recommend it. For the first time I can remember I completely sold out of milk today.
November 2, Thursday: The weather today was warm and balmy, a late fall gift. I got 10 eggs. Helen gave something over 1.5 gals. People now want my eggs so badly they are glad to buy just half a dozen.
November 3, Saturday: Another softly balmy day. I made time to take the dogs for a walk along the river, which we all enjoyed. The river remains extremely low. Maine is having a drought. But, it does make for lovely sandbars in the river and room to walk along the edge of the water. I found wild mint growing along the water line. It was real mint, not brooklime. Perhaps the birds planted it from my patch near the kitchen. Up above on the bank I found witch hazel in bloom and brought home some small branches. I did some digging in the vegetable garden. It remains far from properly cleaned up. However, I stacked the tomato stakes and put the dead plants on the compost pile and dug an area about 3’x4′. This was rather hard going because it is infested with comfrey, a garden thug if there ever was one. Don’t ever let comfrey get started, or at least think twice. You can’t get rid of it. The roots go down a good two feet and they break on purpose (I think!) when dug. Each bit makes a new plant. Persuaded as I am of the special value of milk still warm from the cow, I picked up a package of little plastic cups to keep in the barn so I can milk directly into a cup and try that. A couple of hundred years ago this was considered a great remedy “for whatever ails you”. I will report back in a few months.
November 4, Sunday: This morning while I was milking, a bantam rooster chased and overtook a hen and began treading her right underneath Helen’s belly. There was lots of squawking and flapping, but Helen stood like a rock and did not even stop letting down. This evening for no reason I could tell, she did stop letting down when I was only half done, also lifted her tail and made a big cow flop. I ended up today with less than 1.5 gals. There were ten eggs. Cousin Susan brought me six hens, which she finds herself too busy to keep. She says they are not laying much, but perhaps will soon start and add to my total. Three are Barred Rock, two are white with some Auracana in them and one looks like a Black Australorp. Susan also took one kitten for a friend leaving me with five.
November 5, Guy Fawkes Day: It was raining when I got up and rained quite steadily all day. We were told to expect snow, but I am glad to report it has not done so. But, it is cold and Novembery. Things remain very unsettled in the hen house. The new birds are not integrated and nobody laid many eggs. Just six today. The two geese do a great job of reminding me to feed them. It is always dark now by the time I leave the barn and their pen is the other side of the lawn. If they see me walk away they set up a fine cackling until I turn back. I am not sure how to winter them over. First I will try a little hay bale cave. I have made a start on it. My previous geese would never go inside anything. Helen gave something over 1.5 gals today.
November 6, Tuesday Election Day: All morning I kept hearing Helen’s bell and thinking it did not sound quite right. But, each time I peered around I saw nothing amiss so forgot about it. At noon when I went out to collect eggs I noticed the geese out of their pen and standing in the cow pasture. And who was in the goose pen but Helen and Leah. At first I could hardly make them out. There is the giant rock in there moved in by the road crew last summer and big overhanging trees. But there they were eating up the hay bale structure I was building for the geese. Bagel came right over to help out with his emerging herding skills. But Helen would not move until I gave her the apple I was eating. Then, we herded them back through their own gate. Herding geese is no trick at all. You just hold your arms out pretending to be a fence and they move wherever you want. Helen gave a stingy 1.5 gals. today and there were eight eggs. All the chickens spent yesterday and today bickering. The new birds have taken over one low roost and were cuddled up together at lights out.
November 7, Wednesday: All day a cold wind blew hard. Helen and Leah ate a lot of hay, but I was surprised also at how long they grazed. There must be a little bit of new growth following the last rain. The sheep are not bothering much with hay. There is plenty of grazing for them as they are able to graze much closer. To my dismay I spotted several more tiny kittens in the wall of the garage today. They have a slightly stunted look but seem lively and healthy. I easily caught one but let it go again. I suppose they belong to Fraidycat. She has been acting very hungry lately and even allowing herself to be petted. Sigh. What will I do? I will put out some milk for them tonight after the dogs have been out for the last time. Helen gave 1.5 gals today and I got eight eggs.
November 8, Thursday: Today my vet finally dropped off the lab report on my rams that died. It was pseudomas aeruginosa, a form of pneumonia. My vet remains very puzzled. The histological results showed involvement of other organs and quite serious lung damage, yet symptoms only lasted a couple of days and they were both in good condition, the best in the flock. While he was here, he gave my five unwanted kittens each a shot. They are well behaved kittens and fond of going outside in good weather. Soon they will be so big nobody will want them. As usual my poor vet was running a couple of hours late so I did not have the heart to ask him to do a pregnancy check on Helen. If she really did settle this would only make two months anyway and his findings might be ambiguous. I managed to get 1.5 gals of milk today but it is taking a lot of squeezing. There were nine eggs. The new hens are beginning to make friends with the others. Of the six, three roosted tonight among the old timers.
November 9, Friday: Today there was no electricity in the barn and I spent a lot of time sleuthing out the problem. I finally worked it out that a union in the barn that is covered with a metal junction box is the problem. I fixed it by jamming on the incoming and outgoing wires which made a contact and lights went on but obviously it is not really fixed. I think the building moves so much in high wind that they have come apart inside the box, and, no doubt will again. The barn is post and beam construction and is 160 years old. The wind today was high. I was hungry today for chicken and found one last rooster in the freezer from the ones daughter Sally and grandson Rafe dressed off many months ago. It has been simmering all day but has proved highly resistant to becoming tender. This is a problem with roosters. The broth has fantastic flavor. I guess I will fry a frozen fish fillet and leave it to simmer all night. It will have to give in eventually. Helen and Leah have now thoroughly mashed the fence that separates their pasture from the goose pen. They think they are clever getting in there, really getting away with mischief which of course they are. There is no point in rebuilding the goose shelter made of hay bales. They will just eat it again. Now the geese have to be herded home each evening. They are too silly to find their way back unassisted. Nine eggs today and 1.5 gals of milk.
November 10, Saturday: A cold sleety rain is falling this evening. This was foretold, but this morning was pretty good weather. I took advantage of it to do some last minute outdoor jobs. I tied down a tarp over the bushhog, which must spend the winter outdoors. After watching Victory Garden I was reminded of chicory still in the ground. It self seeds every year and I allow a few to stand partly for its beautiful blue flowers, but also for the roots. I filled a bucket with them along with some dirt. If left in a dark place they form new tops, which are a pale delicious addition to winter salads. Now that the leaves are off the trees and bushes all the bird’s nests are revealed. Every one is made of wool from the Jacob sheep. All the birds nests are black and white wool balls. It is a charming sight. Helen gave a little less than 1.5 gals today and there were only five eggs.
November 11, Veteran’s Day: More winterization tasks today. I put white paint on two more windowsills, one on the east and one on the southern exposure. The Spirea bush is so dense I could barely push through it to reach the windowsill. I hate that bush so much. It blooms for three days in June making everybody sneeze and spends the rest of its life taking over the world. It is enough to make a person dream of buying Roundup or whatever exists. I called my hay man this evening to see if and when he will bring me 50 bales of better hay. I attribute at least part of Helen’s declining production to mediocre hay. He did not answer so I left a message. She gave only 1.25 gals today. There were 5 eggs. Tonight I put out one of my few remaining good bales from last year. I got several windows covered with plastic today as winterization. It makes an immediate difference. Also refreshed the chicken’s nesting materials in hopes of improving their attitude. Their timer light has quit and I can’t figure out what is wrong with it.
November 12, Monday: Helen responded promptly to better hay. I would have gotten more than 1.5 gals today but this evening for some reason she resisted letting down. Total for today, a tad under 1.5 gals. Only four eggs. It was cold all day. Water buckets on the north side of the barn froze nearly solid. Now this evening it is starting to snow, so that means it is warming a little. Two of the sheep have never gotten names. I asked son John in Australia for suggestions. Now we have Wombat and Numbat. Both are real animals I am told. November 10 was 21 days since heifer Leah was bred and there were no signs of heat. I am quite confident she is bred!
November 13, Tuesday: No word from my hay man. Off I went and bought 50 pounds of alfalfa cubes for Helen to see if perking up her diet will help production. There is not much grass for grazing, but they keep at it anyway. She and Leah together also eat pretty close to two bales a day of hay. But, the quality is poor, which means it slows digestion and ultimately goes disproportionately to the dung. I knew this would happen when I bought the hay, but the low price enticed me. Plus, I did not anticipate how disappointed I would be were she to insist on drying off. She gave the same today as yesterday, a bit under 1.5 gals. I gave her about 2 pounds of the alfalfa cubes She loved them. There were six eggs.
November 14, Wednesday: Helen’s production crept a little higher today. Too soon to tell if this is a response to the alfalfa. There were no eggs. I devised another system of lighting in the chicken room. Not on a timer, just a drop-light. They have been without their extended daylight program now for two weeks and production has steadily slumped. My experience is that it takes longer to regain production following a reversal than it took to cause it. Their natural tendency is to pick up after the Winter Solstice. I hope they get back in business before that, as they seem to eat more than ever. I let the geese out on the lawn today, as there remains some pretty good grass. Being friendly, of course they headed straight for the house. I shut the big front gate to discourage their going in the road but they really could squeeze through. But, I think Bagel is going to help to keep them up at their own end. I showed him how to herd them back to their end of the lawn and he was delighted to join in. He spent the next hour sitting on guard. He was very cute. But, finally he got bored. I think the geese settled down for a nap.
November 15, Thursday: Alfalfa does not seem to be making much difference to Helen’s production. I guess the combination of poor hay, poor grazing and prolonged lactation is just making her dry off. Only one gallon plus a quart today. She has been lactating for 17 months. I ran her through last year as an experiment since I have had others tell me they have had good success with every other year breeding. I like to try everything at least once. The milk continues to taste great. There were two eggs. The hens seem a lot more cheerful now.
November 16, Friday: Helen and Leah got through the fence today into the veg garden. There aren’t any more vegetables, but the area is surrounded by a wide lawn of pretty nice green grass. They had a great time eating this until I discovered them. I would gladly have let them stay but for their habit of munching the tops of baby apple trees, several of which are spotted around this lawn. This taste of grass or something caused Helen’s production to rise a bit today. She gave a bit over 1.5 gals. But, not a single egg did I find. It was unseasonably warm today, about 55f.
November 17, Saturday: For weeks now I have had a group of kittens in the house. I have them nicely socialized and healthy and even got their shots, but still no takers. Then last week what did I spot but more kittens in the garage. These were very tiny, really runty. They were obviously the family of Fraidy Cat. She has been asking for food at all hours of the day and I knew she had kittens. But, with the cold weather and probably no voles to be found I guess she could not keep up with their demands. I caught two quite easily. Then, two days later a third. Its eyes were pasted shut making it functionally blind so all I had to do was pick it up and swab its eyes. These three have now learned to drink from a saucer. I had to spoon feed that smallest blind one for a couple of days. They spend most of their time cuddled up to the Aga, but today I saw two of them playing. A fourth member of the litter then had Fraidy all to himself and I was afraid I would never catch him. But, tonight he came into the buttery (summer kitchen). I shut the door and had him trapped. I finally managed to catch him by the fur and dropped him squirming and writhing among his siblings. He is plenty wild and went straight behind the cupboard. Like all my cats he is black and white. He is now bigger and stronger than the others. The tiniest one’s eyes were stuck shut again this evening. Even after a face washing with warm water he was too timid to eat with the others which includes the “teenage” lot, so I fixed him a special dish of warm cream. Up on a shelf by himself he ate every bit. This place is really hopping with kittens. When it gets too wild I put all the older ones outside in the buttery for awhile. This morning I blocked off the veg garden area with a makeshift gate so Helen and Leah could graze the lawn but they never noticed they had access. They spent the day down in he field instead. It was fine and sunny. Helen gave a bit under 1.5 gals today. Only two eggs.
November 18, Sunday: Another fine mild day, quite surprising for the time of year. After milking this morning I noticed one goose was gone, the gander. I had left their gate open so they could graze the lawn. I strongly suspected Bagel of chasing it. The first place I searched was the fish pond, but did not see it. Another 15 minutes of searching and there it was in the pond but way under the overhanging shrubbery. A number of feathers told the story on Bagel but at least he didn’t hurt it. By then it was having a good time so I left it there. In the evening I had to assist it out of the pond by lifting under it with the potato rake. It is pretty fat. The other goose spent the day being worried. She never did figure out where he was. Helen and Leah grazed the lawn today without getting into trouble. I got 1.5 gals today. Just one egg.
November 20, Tuesday: Both yesterday and today Helen gave a scant 1.5 gals. Monday, I did not let either the cows or the geese out onto the lawn because I had to go for feed. I don’t like them wandering loose while I am away in case somebody, maybe the propane truck, opens the gate. It was a wasted trip for feed because the mom and pop feed store was locked up for some reason. The chickens were totally out of feed and so were the cats. That is the only feed store nearby. I stopped at another place and bought overpriced feed that the cats don’t even like. It has corn as the first ingredient, one of the most egregiously wasteful practices which can be imagined. Cats have zero ability to digest corn. It goes right through and ends up in the litter box. The manufacturers add it because it is cheap and bulks up the food so owners can feel generous serving it out. From the standpoint of the cat, they might as well bulk up the feed with sawdust. When I got home I cooked up a large pan of brown rice that had got bugs in it and stirred in some buttermilk. The chickens and geese all loved this. No eggs yesterday, two today.
November 22 Thanksgiving Day and St. Cecilia’s Day: Yesterday one egg, today one egg again. But, tonight son Martin milked Helen with help from granddaughter Hailey, his niece. This was the first milking I have missed in a very long time. I did skip one time last summer when I went out to dinner. He reported that Helen was reluctant to let down but stood like a perfect lady. Martin is an experienced milker and Helen is fond of him. He ended up with as much milk as I have been getting, making the day’s total a bit shy of 1.5 gals. Martin put the geese in the barn, not knowing just what to do with them. This made them happy I am sure. They usually spend the night in their paddock. Earlier sons, Martin and Mark split a lot more wood and with help from Hailey and stacked it in the back of the garage. For dinner we had a goose we dressed off one year ago. I thought it might be tough and dry, but it was pretty good. I used Julia Child’s method which calls for a couple of hours of steaming followed by a couple hours of braising breast side down. Then you turn it breast side up to get crispy skin.
November 23, Friday: Helen and Leah were out on the lawn last night. The goose gate was left open. I heard them under my window at 2:30 am. So I put on my bathrobe and slippers and went out to make sure the front gate was closed. It was. First thing this morning I was greeted by Helen sticking her head into the garage to see if I wasn’t about ready to come to the barn. She looked pretty cute. But Martin had quite a bit of lawn clean-up to do following a night with two cows making free with the lawn. They also pruned my mock orange bush down to about 14″ so I am hoping not to see them on the lawn again ever. Martin, Hailey and I had a day away from the farm at Sugarloaf USA, Martin snow boarding. Hailey and I window shopping and people watching. Back home, Martin and Hailey again did evening chores, giving me a chance to exercise my cooking skills without interruption. I made Steak au Poivre Vert using chuck steak from the new beef. I sawed the steaks in half crosswise to make them of manageable size. Son Mark, Hailey’s father, returned from his day of work at the hospital in time for my spectacular flambe of the steak. Helen again gave less than 1.5 gals but there were three eggs.
November 24 Saturday Somehow I forgot to mention that on Thanksgiving I cut into the first one of the cheddar cheeses I made last May. We all agreed it was very good. I am very pleased. The boys did some more wood chopping and repairs this morning before leaving. Maine is having such a drought. A neighbor whose well ran dry called to see if she could fill her five gallon cans at my place. Of course I said yes. As far as I know my drilled well is OK. The geese were on the lawn today so had to be herded back into their pen in which the cows had again gotten themselves. Making the transfer was tricky and Bagel totally blew it as an assistant. He chased the geese in a great flapping circle greatly alarming Helen and Leah who also began running around. Heading them off before they totally left the scene caused me to have to run in circles too, an activity which I no longer enjoy. I was so mad at Bagel I felt like strangling him. He knew I was mad and disappeared for an hour. When he finally came back trying to make amends I refused to look at him so he knows he is still in the dog house. It took Helen quite awhile to let down. She did not give much. Total for the day not much over 1.25 gals. Just one egg.
November 25 Sunday Another mild day. I even dug in the garden for a while which was fun. I prepared another windowsill for painting, then could not find where I put the white paint so that will have to wait. All quiet this evening while herding the animals. Bagel behaved in a very reserved manner, still contrite. Helen gave nearly 1.5 gals and I got five eggs. The hens are acting happier and the six hens given me about three weeks ago are finally merging in although they remain diffident.
November 26 Monday Our unseasonable temperature reached 60F today. Some rain, mostly sun. The yellow violas think it is spring and several have bloomed. I saw little yellow dots under the rhododendron. I had some barn wiring done today. They did not finish it all but I now have better lighting in the main hall and the lights in with the hens and where I milk operates with a switch rather than drop lights on extension cords. Helen gave a bit under 1.5 gals. I got four eggs.
November 27 Tuesday The barn wiring is completed now and they also put in a new light over the kitchen sink where I have been making do for months with a table lamp on the counter. Now the light is so bright I had to scrub everything. The barn also begs for some tidying for the same reason. There is a large white hen among the recent additions to the flock. This morning for the first time I found her in a nest box. She sat there most of the day before bringing forth an enormous blue egg. It could have been taken for a duck egg. She has feather puffs on each cheek indicating Auracana blood which accounts for the pretty color of her egg. There was a total of seven eggs today. I am leaving a 60 watt bulb on 24 hours a day and bringing them cooked brown rice with powdered milk added. I don’t know which thing is encouraging them the most. Also the weather is warm which always helps. Helen was very funny this evening. She is goofy about apples. When I released her from her stanchion instead of going out to wait for her hay she stuck her head into a trash bin that she passes. I kept shoving her and ordering her to keep moving and finally she shot off down her corridor carrying a plastic grocery bag in her mouth by the handle. I still did not figure out what was up until she reached her destination in the beefer pen and gave the bag a toss, strewing apples everywhere. I had forgotten that I had brought a bag of bruised apples to the barn for the cows and set them on the trash. Disappearing down the corridor with that bag swinging she looked just like a lady hurrying away with a bargain. She gave something less than 1.5 gals. today.
November 28 Wednesday The hens are finally starting to lay again, to the joy of my customers and I. Eleven eggs today. Helen and Leah seem in good spirits but Helen only gave a bit over 1.25 gals. today. The weather is turning colder. I still have not had anybody wanting kittens. One looked quite unwell yesterday with sunken eyes but I gave it cod liver oil and today it is all perked up again. The animal shelter wants $15 apiece to accept them. This becomes an expensive proposition with nine. They are cute and friendly but getting too lively.
November 29 Thursday Snow began falling at 6AM and continued until around 4PM. It is wet slushy snow which packed down to about 3″ deep but has formed a crust. I used three bales of hay today. The sheep came in to nibble around the edges with the cows I hope they are getting enough to eat. If I put hay in another place for them the cows immediately go there and eat it up before they return to their manger. The sheep did quite a lot of standing around in the snow which does not seem to bother them. Helen gave barely 1.25 gals today. I suppose she hated her water. The tub had a thick layer of slush floating in it. I got 9 eggs. I gave the hens a bale of hay too. They love to work it over.
November 30 Friday Most of today a cold rain fell but it has not removed the snow. The air is filled with freezing mist. More of the sheep are getting up their nerve to eat hay with the cows. I think in a couple more days the ones standing along the wall will all join in. The bad weather did not seem to bother the cows or sheep much. It was not really cold, only about 32F. It felt nasty to me and the chickens. Few went out doors. Helen gave a bit over 1.25 gals today. I got nine eggs. They are very beautiful, being all different colors.
December 1, Saturday: The hens did well today. I got thirteen eggs and there was at least one more which must have been broken, judging from egg all over one shell. More and more hens are starting to lay. Helen did not do so well. She gave less than 1.25 gals. The weather was very mild. In fact it was a record high temperature in Portland for the date, 64F.
December 2, Sunday: Another very mild day. The snow is all gone and the chickens are ranging very widely into the pasture. Sometimes I take the field glasses to be sure if I am seeing a hen. There were 10 eggs today. Helen did somewhat better. She gave almost 1.5 gals. The cows and sheep all spent most of the day in Pocket Field, the farthest pasture. It is their favorite. In order to get outside for a while I washed the outsides of the kitchen windows. The dogs were disappointed that we did not do more. I have moved all but the very smallest kittens out of the house.
December 4, Tuesday: Last night I went to a local planning meeting which is why I did not write. It was a late, slow meeting. Helen gave 1.25 gals and I got one dozen eggs. Today she gave somewhat more than that and I got 13 eggs. Both days were unseasonably warm, in the high fifties. The cows and sheep are spending their days sunning in the pasture as though it were spring. The chickens range far and wide in their search for bugs, a difficult task this late in the year. The heavy birds stay much closer to home. They all seem contented. Because of Helen’s low production I now seldom have extra milk to make into clabber for them. I am augmenting their pellets with a top dressing of old powdered milk. They are eating a commercial grain ration. These rations are formulated to have just enough protein to support egg laying under ideal circumstances. Adding some additional protein nearly always improves laying. In this case my chickens quit laying a couple of weeks ago due to short day length. After their light on a timer quit their little clocks told them it was winter. I now have a light in there. If really cold weather hits it may take more than light to keep them laying.
December 5, Wednesday: We just had another balmy day, kind of watery sunshine, but so mild. I took the dogs for a walk along the river so they would not think I am an everlasting dud. There is scarcely any grass left in the field long enough for a cow to eat. But, there is plenty of short grass under the dead grass that keeps the sheep busy. It was very pleasant and I did not hear any shooting. Tomorrow also is expected to be as warm as today with more sun, it may even reach 65F. Everywhere I goes and everyone one I see, which in my case is practically no one, are unanimous in the Maine way, “We’ll have to pay for it later…” As for me, I already expect winter to be four months of misery and so every day of good weather is a small victory bringing me closer to the end of March. Although heaven knows, April can also be miserable. As of now, I am still able to keep the stock tank filled via an unfrozen hose. And the cows spend the majority of their time outside, so it takes only ten or so fork loads to clean up the beefer pen where their manger is. While passing through the veg garden I was amazed to find an overlooked pumpkin in the dead weeds. I had planted an heirloom variety of excellent quality that in appearance closely resembles a zucchini. They don’t show up like the Halloween type. I thought I had scoured the area of pumpkins. Partly due to the weather, but mostly because of my attention to management details, I have gotten the egg production back up to a dozen or more a day. This is important because I am able to sell all I have. A dozen a day makes the hens self-supporting. Otherwise, they eat just as much but I support them. Helen gave 1.25 gals today. There were a dozen eggs.
December 6, Thursday: Every day I think I won’t let those geese out of their pen, but then they talk me into letting them out. They are so friendly. They graze for about 20 minutes, then want to come into the barn or up to the kitchen door. Bagel tries to help me with herding them back but ends up getting them all in a flap. Then they race off in the wrong direction like white helicopters not quite taking off. Of course wherever they have been is messy. But they are kind of cute. Another cute one is Leah. She always tries to be good. She does exactly what Helen does, imitating her carefully. She has some trick of twisting her rope in her tie-up so she gets unsnapped. But then she usually stands right there until it is time to leave. Leah has a very pretty face with black lines around her eyes and a white ring around her black nose. Helen gave something above 1.25 gals today. I got fifteen eggs. I usually sell them for $1.25 a dozen but today when I took four dozen to the gourmet shop she insisted on giving me $1.50 a dozen. She says everyone else gets that much.
December 7, Friday: For some reason Helen’s production was up a bit today. She gave close to 1.5 gals. I got eleven eggs. The sheep are getting braver all the time about coming inside the beefer pen and eating hay. One of the young ewes born last April has a very deep fleece. One of the rams that died was her twin. He too had a promising fleece. So far I am keeping up with the mucking out. It will be harder when the weather is bad and they go out scarcely at all. A snow storm is predicted for tomorrow night.
December 8, Saturday: Today was cold. I don’t believe it got above freezing except in a few corners where the sun was trapped.. I walked around my vegetable garden area and found a few little green things to put in my bean soup, some new leaves on the kale stump left by the deer and cows and some small mustard leaves. I was grateful for these because I passed up some costly mesclun today in the store. Helen gave about the least milk in history today. She gave her customary 3/4 gallon this morning but tonight she wouldn’t let down. It was like stripping the whole time and I got barely a quart. I could tell the usual amount of milk was there, I just could not get it. All the while she kept up a soft mooing. I sure hope this is not some aberrant expression of heat. I have no actual proof that she is bred. If bred, she is three months along so the vet should be able to get reliable findings by now. I got one dozen eggs.
December 9, Sunday: This morning Helen gave back the milk she would not let down last night, mostly. Total for today, 1.25 gals. Her behavior was back to normal. We woke up to snow. It accumulated about 2″. Although the day was cold and dark and did not get above freezing most of the snow was gone by evening. I don’t miss it. I did not see any other people today, only animals. I got 11 eggs.
December 10, Monday: Cold this morning, down to 17F, and Oh despair, my spring line was frozen. It does that at some point every winter. There is a faucet to control the flow so that my spring is not bled dry. Despite no water coming out, I turned it on full blast and left it for the day while I went shopping. Mirabile dictu, when I came home it was running again. Today stayed cold but there was plenty of sun. I expect it froze where the black polythene pipe is exposed and there was just enough sun to thaw it. It is always a sad day when I lose the lovely spring water. It is so much better than my tap water which is artesian and has never failed me but has a flat dreary flavor. Helen’s production was way down this morning and worse this evening. Her total for the day was under a gallon. I think she hates drinking from her stock tank now that it has big ice floes floating in it. I got a dozen eggs. One of the smallest kittens is dying I think. It is lying next to the Aga and is too weak to move. It won’t eat but swallows when I spoon water into its mouth.
December 11, Tuesday: Down to 18F this morning, but it warmed up to a balmy 50F before the sun sank over the mountains. The cows and sheep spent a pleasant day down in Pocket Field basking in the sun and searching for random blades of grass. Helen’s production was back up today to something a bit over 1.25 gals. I got 11 eggs. Instead of getting out of doors, I spent the day in the kitchen doing holiday baking. The sick kitten died during the night and so did a second one I had been keeping in the kitchen, It was perky yesterday and eating nicely, then this morning it sank down next to the Aga and by mid afternoon had breathed its last. I was in a quandary as to what to do with the tiny bodies. I feared Bagel would dig up any grave I could dig. What I ended up doing was making a hot fire in the fireplace and cremating them. I rolled them up thickly in newspaper so that I would not be able to see, and I didn’t look. But an hour later nothing but glowing coals remained. December 12 Wednesday 17F again this morning. Yet every day it feels colder to me. The flying insects are long gone but the chickens continue to range far and wide in their search. The sun shone all day. The cows and sheep kept up their nibbling and the sheep are doing fine on their findings. While they are having their morning grain snack I sink my fingers into their fleece to see if I can feel a sharp spine but all seem quite meaty and fat. So are Helen and Leah, but that is because they each eat a bale of hay a day. Helen gave 1.25 gals and I got 10 eggs. I bought Helen a bag of alfalfa cubes to augment her diet. I add some to her grain at milking time but she does not like them nearly as well as apples. Often she leaves some.
December 13, Thursday: First thing this morning there was a thin layer of ice on everything making walking to the barn a bit difficult and sleet was falling from the sky. Later it turned to rain and the air was very nice. At midday when I went to put out fresh hay I found all the sheep in the beefer pen eating hay. Helen and Leah were lying down chewing their cuds and paid no attention to them. Usually they seem to feel obligated to butt the sheep. The sheep’s wool was encrusted with sleet. Helen gave 1.25 gals. I got only eight eggs. I forgot and left them in the barn so went out about 8PM with a flashlight. The geese stood up and murmured a question. I think they were saying “Is that you?” When they hear my voice they settle down at once unless it is feeding time. They have many different vocalizations and head positions and communicate a great deal. Unlike Muffin and Bagel, they never sleep through anything.
December 14, Friday: While milking rather later than usual this morning, I noticed a small hen which I probably would never have noticed had I been on time. Hens are regular in their habits. She hopped up onto the window ledge and disappeared into the wall. “Aha!” I thought. “She is laying in there.” I went back later to see what I could find. I brought along a small garden tool and by reaching my arm into the spidery space all the way to my armpit while standing on a stool I was able to hoe out eight intact eggs. Some broke. Of course I kept them separate from the regular eggs as some may be old. Afterwards I rolled up feed bags and stuffed the crevice. Hopefully she can no longer get in there and will find a more accessible place to lay. If she had hatched out chicks in there most would probably have fallen way into the bottom of the wall and been stuck unless I dismantled the wall. Which, knowing me I probably would have done. Helen was her usual friendly self today and gave 1.25 gals. I got a dozen eggs from the regular producers.
December 16, Sunday: Saturday morning snow was falling at dawn. About 4″ accumulated and it was a classically beautiful sight. The early morning temperature was 20F. Later in the day the sun came out brilliantly and a cold wind came out of the northwest. This knocked all the snow off the dainty branches, but the sun was strong enough on the roofs to melt it off despite the cold wind. Helen gave 1.25 gals and there were eight eggs. Today was down to 18F and the whole day was clear. Amazingly, the barn water is still running and so is my spring line. Each day is a gift when I don’t have to carry water and wrestle with frozen hoses. The sheep have started sleeping in with the cows now and don’t flee when I walk in. Son Martin was here from yesterday and left this evening. Together we moved out my old wood heating stove and moved in another much larger one he bought from one of his employees. This was a huge job. We dragged the stoves across the floor on a length of old carpet so there was no damage to the floor. He also got started on another wiring project and repairs to the winter stock watering system. None of this could be completed because it turned out the hardware store was closed. However, he was able to set up the cast iron heating stove and I now have a fire going in it. We also went down in the woods and cut a Christmas tree, which is now set up awaiting my attentions. It is a fir balsam, consequently rather sparse, but smells lovely. Martin did the evening barn chores. Helen likes him and cooperated perfectly. He got the (now) usual amount of milk, total 1.25 gals for the day. Ten eggs.
December 17, Monday: My vet stopped in today and did a pregnancy check on Helen. Good news. She is definitely in calf. I did not ask him to check Leah because I am confident that she settled. Helen was bred August 28 so that will bring her in at the end of May. Leah is due about July 20. It was down to 10F this morning but my water system made it through the night again. Helen gave 1.25 gals. I got 10 eggs. This afternoon it started to snow and is still snowing now, six hours later.
December 18, Tuesday: It was snowing at dawn and continued much of the day. There is more than 6″ accumulation and it is perfectly beautiful. It is just over 30F. My neighbor came and plowed me out. Now the bantams can no longer forage and must be fed. They do hop around on the hay bales and in with the cattle and find some tidbits to their fancy. Helen gave almost 1.5 gals today and there were nine eggs.
December 19, Wednesday: Most of the sheep now come up to the manger with the cows and the cows don’t object. A couple of the younger ewes hang back but they probably grab their chance when the cows step outside or lie down to chew their cuds which they do for hours at a time. I have been waiting for a small hay delivery, fifty bales of high grade hay to augment what they are getting. Tonight I called my hay man for the third time. Last time was three weeks ago and he promised to fit me in soon. This time he admitted he had totally forgotten. Now he says he will come Saturday or Sunday. Helen was back down to 1.25 gals today. I got seven eggs.
December 20, Thursday: Sloppy weather today, but it did not stop the sheep. I saw them down in their snow-covered paddock chewing on a big dead log of Balm of Gilead. Others were nosing along the fence line where tufts of grass are always longer and stick up through the snow. Later I found Topknot, a two year old ewe, right inside the hay feeder. She did not want to get out even when I pushed her. She is the most assertive and enterprising of the ewes and no doubt will be the next leader. The cows still go into the goose pen every day even though they have to wade through snow to get there. Today they pushed on the goose yard gate and frightened the geese through so they escaped. I ran them into the barn and put them in an empty stall. Now they make a lot of indignant cackling whenever they see me, but they will have to stay there. I was very late getting to the barn this evening, 5:30, because I was waiting for things to come out of the oven. Helen was cross and let down poorly. Total for today, a bit less than 1.25 gals. I got nine eggs.
December 21, Friday: I have known for over a week that one of my best hens had hidden a nest somewhere and today I caught her sneaking into it. She is through laying and is setting. I brought in one egg to open to see if it is viable. Helen gave less than a gallon today. I am about to try out a different feed and some better hay is supposed to be coming this weekend. I will feed it once a day and see if it makes any difference. Perhaps she is just determined to dry off.. I got nine eggs.
December 22, Saturday: A fine brilliant day but cold. I broke up the ice in the stock tank three times. However, the hose that feeds it is still dribbling. I will be very surprised if it is still running in the morning. There is a cold north wind and the stars are out. I took all the eggs from the nest I found on Friday. They were cold. But, the one I opened was perfectly fresh. There were nine, but some had been broken. Helen was back up to 1.25 gals today. I got a dozen eggs not counting the nest I found. A Brown Thrasher has been visiting my feeder. The bird book says this is their summer range. He is eating suet.
December 23, Sunday: The thermometer said 5F this morning, but my spring is still running. However, the stock tank was frozen up with no water entering and about 2 inches of ice. I whacked it open again. The sun today was brilliant and it warmed up to 32F and the tank began to refill. My hay man and his wife came and brought fifty bales of hay called Reed Canary. I have not seen it before. The cows lit right into it, so I guess they like it. I certainly will be interested to see if Helen’s production rises. She gave only 1 gal today, but she had not drunk all night due to her water being frozen over. They did not finish off their hay last night. I expect they ran out of spit. Ten eggs today.
December 24, Christmas Eve: Helen had no more milk than usual this morning, but I did notice something different. Since September I have been making a practice of drinking a couple of ounces of milk at the beginning of milking and a couple of more ounces at the end. The hind milk (last milk) always has a much superior flavor, very sweet and creamy (cream always comes out last). The first milk is salty. But, this morning it was not salty. It must be the change in feed. It has warmed up. Instead of snowing today it rained. The cows did not mind. They walked across the flattened snow to stand under the pine trees at the far side of the pasture. Helen likes her new hay a lot. Son Martin is here and he milked this evening. He said that Helen did not want the sheep to have any of the new hay and kept chasing them round and round the feeder. But, it is hopeless. They return like seagulls. Helen’s production was up from yesterday. She gave a bit over 1.25 gals. The hens laid a dozen eggs.
December 25, Christmas: Such a perfect sunny day about 32F, all the animals and people are happy. The boys chopped lots more wood to work up an appetite for dinner. Also, we went up to camp and took a walk. The lake was like glass. Until we skipped some stones it was hard to tell there was ice forming on it. But, starting about 30 feet out from shore there was a thin film. There was also ice this morning on the back ramp where Helen comes into the barn. First she went around front and asked to come in the front gate. But, that is impossible. When my neighbor plowed the snow from the driveway he blocked that gate and it will not be opened again this winter. I walked around the barn and moved her back to the ramp while I went for salt. While I was gone she came in and must have frightened herself because this evening Martin had great difficulty getting her to walk up it. He had cleared all the ice off it and salted it, but she remained suspicious. It took him about ten minutes and a lot of apples to persuade her to risk it. She gave the same amount today, 1.25 gals. We got 8 eggs.
December 26, Boxing Day: All on my own again with leftovers to last past New Year’s Day. The weather continues unseasonably warm. There is still fairly complete snow cover. There are icicles on the roof in places. Most of today it was about 32F. The geese are back out in their paddock and Helen and Leah were back in with them today eating up their grain. There is no way to repair the fence now that the ground is frozen. The geese will just have to put up with company. The cows have mashed all the metal posts and wire down flat. It will have to be completely replaced. But, the geese are much happier now that they are back outside. While locked in the barn stall I could hear them complaining all the time that they were unjustly confined and wanted to see their lawyer. They do not appear to mind the cold. Helen gave about the same amount today, 1.25 gals. The hens laid 13 eggs.
December 27, Thursday: I am trying a different feed. It is from Lessard in Canada. It is somewhat cheaper and Helen and Leah like it. But of course they liked Nutrena (Cargill) too. They love the new hay. It is getting colder and we are told to expect a colder trend. It was in the low twenties this evening. While I was milking the power went out and I finished up by flashlight. The cows seemed scarcely to notice until walking back to the beefer pen in the dark a displaced rooster scared Helen witless. She plunged all around for a minute until my voice calmed her down. The power was out for 45 minutes. Helen’s morning production remains steady at 3/4 gal, but her evening production was up a bit yesterday and up 8 oz tonight. I can not be sure yet if this is due to the new hay or not. Nine eggs today.
December 28, Friday: Down to 7F this morning, the coldest day to date. The spring water is still running in the kitchen, but the stock tank at the barn is no longer filling. I broke the ice and poured in a bucket of hot water. But, so far as I could tell, by this evening no water had been drunk. It was probably frozen over again when they came to drink, or else they just hate drinking through ice floes. If I am right that Helen drank nothing, then she has had no water since yesterday. She barely made 1.25 gals today which is not surprising. I plugged in the submersible water heater in the tub under the garage that Martin set up. There is a light down there to help them find it. If they do not find it in the night, tomorrow I will lead Helen over with apples. The sheep know it is there. They watched me. But they scarcely ever drink. After I threw hay down this evening I watched through the hay drop as Leah chased the sheep three times around the feeder. Every time a sheep would pop its head into a slot to eat she would move it along. It really was a funny scene. Only seven eggs today.
December 29, Saturday: Cold again today, 10F this morning. There was no open water in the stock tank. I broke the ice on the bit that remained and somebody drank that. Around noon I went to the barn with apples and tempted Helen and Leah around to the tub set up under the buttery and garage. I gave them each an apple and left one floating in the tub. Leah drank some water but Helen disdained it. I checked down there several times later in the day but no water was gone. Nonetheless Helen’s milk production was up this evening to almost 1.5 gals. I guess I must attribute this to the new hay. Eight eggs today. All the animals seem happy. The poultry seemed querulous. I brought them a big pan of weavil infested brown rice cooked in skim milk and they loved this. Also gave them a bale of hay and spread it around. This ought to cheer them up. For my supper I had a salad of pale green chicory leaves which grew in the dark in the bucket of roots I dug in October and put in the cellar. It is amazing how much they produce. These tops are straggly, not neat chicons such as one sees in the market, but they are equally tasty (Of course I think they are better).
December 30, Sunday: Today was difficult. Due to freezing, I was unable to get the new system to refill the water tub. I worked on it for about an hour. Helen and Leah stood around for a while asking for a drink but finally gave up and left. I too was forced to give up. I went to the barn to contemplate the stock tank and make a plan. The stock tank was frozen into a couple of inches of mud and surrounded with ice from overflow in days past. I threw out as much as possible of the chunks of ice from the tub, then carried four buckets of boiling water out and put into it. After that with the tip of a spade chipping around it I was able to lift it loose. I dumped out the water, now cold, and dragged it into the beefer pen. Some weeks ago hay had been piled in the area where I would need to lead a hose to it from the barn faucet. The faucet itself is not frozen as it has a heat tape on it and frost has not yet entered the ground far enough to freeze the water pipe. That may come later. I re-stacked about 20 bales of the hay to create access for the hose and was able to refill the stock tank. The cows showed no reluctance to drink this water. They are used to that tank and its algae stains. I also rigged up the submersible water heater so it should not freeze over too badly. The heater is much too small for a tank of that size. My back is feeling a bit the worse for wear. Helen gave about the same as yesterday and the hens again laid eight eggs. I know two birds that are loose in the barn have hidden nests but I can’t find them.