Last and Least

Our final ewe, Enigma, delivered today. It was just a single male, but he was up and on his feet quickly. This ends the lambing season!

Given all the activity with the sheep, and the number of other lambs, it was remarkable how well he was getting around and holding his own with the flock. However, given that he is completely in-bred (his sire produced him by breeding his own mother), there is no question that we’ll be butchering him this fall.

Scooter, our Border Collie, is doing his part to bond with the new member of the flock:

This makes a total of 14 lambs from 8 ewes…for a lambing percentage of 175%. This is outstanding, and we could not have asked for better — especially since we have not had a single death yet this year.

Authorities and Outbreaks

Remember the concerns I expressed last month about the N.A.I.S. (National Animal Identification System)?

When news like the following breaks, it’s hard not to imagine some authority in our own country getting a similar sort of hare-brained idea the next time a disease breaks out:

CAIRO (AP) – Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precautionary measure against the spread of swine flu even though no cases have been reported here yet, the Health Ministry said.

The move immediately provoked resistance from pig farmers. At one large pig farming center just north of Cairo, farmers refused to cooperate with Health Ministry workers who came to slaughter the animals and the workers left without carrying out the government order.

“It has been decided [TYF: gotta love that use of the passive, bureaucratic voice] to immediately start slaughtering all the pigs in Egypt using the full capacity of the country’s slaughterhouses,” Health Minister Hatem el-Gabaly told reporters after a Cabinet meeting with President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt’s overwhelmingly Muslim population does not eat pork due to religious restrictions. But the animals are raised and consumed by the Christian minority, which some estimates put at 10 percent of the population.

Health Ministry spokesman Abdel Rahman estimated there were between 300,000-350,000 pigs in Egypt.

Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza told reporters that farmers would be allowed to sell the pork meat so there would be no need for compensation.

Bravo to the Egyptian farmers who have stood up to the authorities and refused to allow the slaughter of their healthy animals. And be thankful that there is no N.A.I.S. in your country that would allow those authorities to more efficiently locate and target the smaller farmers who might be less able to fight back.

Getting the Garden Ready

We’ve been working intensely over the last week or two, getting the garden ready for planting; that is one big reason why blog posting has been so sparse of late.

Before I forget — for those of you thinking about putting in a garden for the first time, Mrs Yeoman Farmer strongly recommends a book called Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times. If you buy only one gardening book, she says this is definitely the one to get.

But back to our own garden. You may remember that we left several garden beds fallow last year, and ran portable poultry pens full of turkeys up and down them. That proved to be an excellent system. We began preparing those beds on Friday and Saturday, getting ready to plant potatoes in them. There were very few weeds to remove, as the turkeys had wiped them completely out. And the layer of fertilizer the turkeys left behind had broken down over the winter into a nice, rich soil that was easy to work. A severe late-afternoon thunderstorm (of the kind so common here in the upper Midwest in the spring) interrupted our planting, but we did manage to get a trench dug and about half a bed of seed potatoes into the ground.

Mrs Yeoman Farmer plans to use every one of the garden beds this year, which means we need to get some fertilizer onto the ones we used last year. As we don’t want to use synthetic fertilizers, and we don’t yet have a good compost heap, our “quick and dirty” solution involves putting more birds to work. For the last week, I’ve had a pen of 15 or so older laying hens moving down a bed that had tomatoes planted on it last year. I’d suspected that these hens had reached the end of their productive laying life, but they have surprisingly been holding their own in the egg department; we’ve gotten several eggs out of the pen each day, and I’m glad I didn’t simply butcher them. So, in addition to wiping out the weeds and getting some fresh fertilizer onto the garden, the pasture pen has proven itself useful in yet another way: letting us test the productivity of suspect hens.

Just this morning, we got a second “tractor” pen moving on another garden bed. This one contains the seventy young chicks (30 broilers and 40 pullets) that we got a few weeks ago; they’d been indoors, in a brooder, until now. We actually could have gotten them outside several days ago, but we’ve been too busy building pens and taking care of more urgent tasks. Anyhow, this photo gives a good look at the pullet pen (foreground), with the mature hen pen in the background. Because the manure from both of these pens is so fresh, we will need to wait a few weeks before planting them — and we will need to work the manure into the soil thoroughly. Otherwise, the nitrogen-rich chicken droppings will be too “hot” for newly-planted seedlings.
Mrs Yeoman Farmer wants to add a few more beds to the garden, which will involve the tedious task of “busting sod.” Regrettably, she didn’t realize we’d need the new beds until after we’d butchered the turkeys last fall; otherwise, we could have used the turkey tractors to clear the sod for us. As it is, I’ve put the new baby waterfowl (ducklings and goslings) into a pasture pen to at least get the process started. (Given the enormous appetite that goslings in particular have for grass, I figured this would be an excellent job to put them in charge of.) Here is what they’ve managed to do in just a day and a half:
Given all the work that remains to be done, I can’t promise frequent postings over the next few weeks. But I do plan to put more details up about gardening; I really wanted to publish something about it before the planting season, when the information would be more useful for my readers. Stay tuned.

Turkey Season

Our turkey poults will be arriving in about a week and a half. In the meantime, the wild turkeys in our area have really been out and about. Nearly every morning, we see them strutting around in the neighboring field (35 acres, behind our fenced pasture), their tail feathers fanned majestically.

This afternoon, for the first time, a couple of big toms flew into our pasture — but then they couldn’t find a way out. One was on the sheep side of the pasture and the other was on the goat side; the two of them strutted confusedly up and down the dividing fence, stopping now and then to press themselves into it, not seeming to understand why they couldn’t go through it and be together. (Even in the wild, it appears that turkeys are pretty dim-witted.)

Anyway, this had been going on for the better part of an hour before ten-year-old Homeschooled Farm Girl happened to look out and notice it. She came running to find me, and announced, “Daddy, there’s a wild turkey on our property! Too bad you can’t hunt it.”

“I know,” I replied, “but it’s not hunting season.”

HFG thought for a moment, and then asked, “Why don’t we chase it into the barn, and then keep it there until turkey season?”

Smart girl. But, as I explained to her, that’s not exactly legal. Or sporting.

And the best way to get delicious turkey is to raise it yourself. Which we will be doing, starting in less than two weeks.

Good Out of Evil

Mrs Yeoman Farmer came across the following story the other day and asked me to share it:

NAIROBI (Reuters) – A Kenyan man bit a python who wrapped him in its coils and hauled him up a tree in a struggle that lasted hours, local media said Wednesday.

Farm manager Ben Nyaumbe was working at the weekend when the serpent, apparently hunting for livestock, struck in the Malindi area of Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast.

“I stepped on a spongy thing on the ground and suddenly my leg was entangled with the body of a huge python,” he told the Daily Nation newspaper.

When the snake coiled itself round his upper body, Nyaumbe resorted to desperate measures: “I had to bite it.”

The python dragged him up a tree, but when it eased its grip, Nyaumbe said he was able to take a mobile phone out of his pocket and phone for help.

When his supervisor came with a policeman, Nyaumbe smothered the snake’s head with his shirt, while the rescuers tied it with a rope and pulled.

“We both came down, landing with a thud,” said Nyaumbe, who survived with damaged lips and bruising.

The snake escaped from the three sacks it was bundled into.

MYF’s comment: “Thank God my ancestors came here on boats 300 years ago, so my kids and I don’t have to live some place where giant snakes drag people into trees!”

When I finished laughing, she added: “I’m serious! You can quote me on that. Put it in your blog!”

Slavery, particularly the way it was practiced in the Americas, was a horrendous affront to human dignity; MYF and I would be the last people in the world to wish it on anyone. But it’s interesting the way such tremendous good can be drawn even from such a tremendous evil. Beyond freedom from giant serpents, MYF and other descendants of African slaves enjoy liberties and opportunities that are unthinkable on the African continent today — and we are deeply grateful for that.

With everything in the news these days, it’s easy to forget how blessed we are to live in this country — no matter how our ancestors got here. Sometimes it takes a truly odd news story (“man bites snake”) to remind us of that. And to remind us of all the ways in which God can draw good out of the evil that men commit.

I fully expect that, ten years from now, we will all be marveling at the unexpected goods that emerge from these present social and economic difficulties.

Abundance of Lambs

What a blessed Easter!

I got up this morning and put a leg of lamb in the crock pot, and then headed out to the barn to tend to animals. It was chilly, but sunny and beautiful.

In the barn, we had another beautiful sight: Nera had delivered THREE lambs overnight. This makes two years in a row she’s had triplets.

With these two males and one female, we are now up to a total of 13 lambs from seven ewes — an outstanding lambing percentage of 186% (Licorice’s stillborn triplet is the only thing holding us back from 200%). Only one ewe, Enigma, has yet to deliver.

Here’s hoping that your Easter is as blessed as ours…

Unfortunate Footnote

I must add a sad footnote to this morning’s post.

I reported that Licorice had a set of twins, because that’s what I observed at chore time. Then, after returning from the Good Friday liturgy at our parish this afternoon, I was able to make a more thorough examination the sheep pen. In the far corner was an object that appeared at first glance to be afterbirth…but something about it didn’t appear quite right. It was darker than usual.

Looking more closely, I recognized the shape of a black lamb’s body. It was much smaller than Nera’s two surviving lambs, and its limbs were crumpled into odd angles. The umbilical cord was still attached. Given all of the evidence, I’m almost certain this lamb was stillborn and never took a breath.

It is terribly sad, and the first time we have ever had a stillbirth, but I suppose it makes for a timely Good Friday reflection. Particularly because this is a death from which good will flow almost immediately: triplet lambs don’t get as large as twins or singletons — a third sibling must share the same limited amount of milk (unless we bottle-feed one of them, which is a huge and time-consuming hassle).

So, at least the two survivors will now have a better shot at reaching their full growth potential. Life ends, life goes on.

Farm life is wonderful, even when it’s sad.