No one knows the definition of love like a shepherdess in winter in Northeastern Pennsylvania. It's stinking cold. Love is crawling out of bed before light, slouching on three layers of clothing, a warm hat, mittens, boots and heading out to the barn before the sun comes up to water and feed the ewes and rabbit. Then it's down to tend to the rams and the chickens. That's a bit more tricky, trying to collect eggs with bitter frozen fingers while trying to keep one eye on the two rams as they can get a little frisky when they know I'm distracted and by frisky I mean, they are eyeing up my knees, calculating the distance they need to build up the appropriate amount of speed to knock my legs from out under me. So far I've caught them before they could do any real damage, but there's been a close call or two. I bet it's a funny sight for the kids on the bus as they witness a 100lb lady dodge a charging ram, grabbing him as he brushes past her legs, only to flip him on his butt and tell him to knock it off and let him know who's the boss. And this is all before I've had a coffee. It's also usually all while hubby is still all snug and warm in bed still snoring away.
This morning the outside thermometer read 7 degrees Fahrenheit. That's freeze your tush off in 5 minutes or less weather. That's wet fingers sticking to the metal gates cold. That's heading outside 4 times a day to break the ice on the water and refill it so your sheep can wet their whistles. That is heading out to collect the eggs 3 times a day so you get them before they freeze. That is just stinking cold.
Don't worry, before you go calling PETA on me for not bringing the flock in the house and letting them have a run of the place, all our animals have warm cozy buildings to retreat to in the cold weather. Really though, the temperatures bother them very little. It's wind and rain that they detest. Sheep have a thick layer of warm lanolin (grease) covered wool that keeps them toasty warm and basically water proof. In fact, the worst thing for them would be to lock them in a warm barn with no access to the outdoors. So our sheep are all very happy and actually most choose to hang out outside most of the winter rather than in the barn, even on the super snowy days. The chickens, rabbit, and barn cats all have warm cozy spots of their own that they bed down in, but even they like to play in the snow and get some time in the sun and are free to do so whenever they'd like.
I have never been a morning person and don't believe I ever will be. Nor do I enjoy the cold darkness of winter. I am not one to wish for snow or a white Christmas. I am not hoping on my sled the minute a flake hits the ground, nor am I excited for a snow day, when all the children are home because of the inclement weather. I do have to say though, after the first two weeks of the cold winter weather morning routine, it becomes something I almost look forward to. The quiet dark mornings alone in the barn with grateful girls filling their bellies on their breakfast hay and sipping their fresh water. There is a peace that fills one's soul in those quiet early morning moments alone in the barn with the sheep. It's a peace that can't be found in the kitchen that is bustling with children getting ready for the day or in the bedroom where there is always a pile of clean laundry that needs putting away, or even in the bathroom where one should expect a bit of peace, but even there someone is tap tap taping on the door looking for a drink to be gotten or a test to be signed and if that's not it, then the clothing from the showers the evening before is strewed all around the floor beside the laundry basket making your mind wonder why your the only one who is able to penetrate the invisible force field that seems to protect the large opening of the large basket that is so obviously sitting there waiting to be filled with dirty clothing. Anyway, those who know me well will think I'm lying, but after the first harsh week of having to do winter morning chores, I actually look forward to bundling up each morning for my daily dose of true peace and quiet with my farm animals even in the negative temperatures. It's love (or insanity) either way...
The Sweet Arrow ewes are lonely no more. This past weekend our newest member of the flock arrived. The head honcho, the creme de la creme, the macho nacho...right, right, you get it, our new ram came home this weekend. Can Too Sid Caesar (just Caesar for short) arrived on Sunday and by Monday morning he had jumped the fence to be with his new lovelies. Apparently he's not a long engagement type of guy. So the honeymoon has begun.
And begun it most definitely has. There is no wondering if this guy is doing his job that is for certain. Hubby says our ram last year was more mature and thus more gentlemanly and refined when it came to his duties which is why we weren't even sure if he'd done his job until our ewes began to show. Caesar however is as happy as a newly graduated 19 year old touring sorority row and the boy has no shame in showing it. We have a ewe who has scurs (small undeveloped horns) and when we got her, Hubby promptly & lovingly dubbed her "Horny" (boys never grow up I suppose) and it stuck. However, I'm beginning to wondering if we might need to rethink who gets that nick name. Needless to say, we should be busy come Spring.
Meanwhile, this past Spring our ewe Margaret gave birth to our single ram lamb, Thatcher. When he was born Hubby and I went back and forth on what Thatcher's role in our small flock would be. He came from a nice background and was only related to two of our flock, so we thought we might use him as our flock ram. Then we thought that maybe it would be better to wether him (remove his manhood, safely & harmlessly of course) and bring in an outside ram and keep Thatcher as his bunk mate for off-season. Sheep being a flock animal need company or they get very sad and lonely, especially rams. They tend to get mean and very ram-bunctious if they are kept by themselves. Even though Shetland's tend to be seasonal breeders (meaning they typically cycle only in certain, usually, cooler seasons) we figured we'd keep our new ram apart from the ewes after breeding season for various reasons and he'd need a companion, thus Thatcher the wether. However, because we were indecisive, we missed the window to safely, harmlessly, and cheaply, castrate our little man, so then came different decisions to make. Do we keep him, sell him, or eat him? Well all you who gasped at the word "eat him" can breath a sigh of relief, we kept him (for now) and he's very much alive.
Shetland rams typically come into puberty around 7 months so at around 6 months we separated Thatcher from Margaret and his sister Pi and split the flock into two. Since we had no other males/wethers to keep him company we picked a few of our ewes who were "statistically" less likely to be successfully bred, but who were not related to Thatcher, just in case. So they've been hanging out for the past few months. Thus we have two flocks right now, who after breeding season, will be, hopefully, happily reunited. I think I see a bit of jealousy in the eyes of the other ewes as they strain to catch a glimpse of the new hunk across the way.
I've loved Autumn forever. It's my favorite season. I always thought I'd get married in the Fall. An outside wedding among the beautiful fall leaves. Pumpkins & mums to decorate the aisle. Fall leaves trailing all over a tiered wedding cake... But I didn't. We got married in March, the month I hate the most. When winter has reared it's ugly head months ago and now it's dragging on and on and on and on in a seemingly end dredge of ice and sludge, potholes and salted roads. When its been below freezing for weeks and 55 degrees feels like a heat wave. When it came down to it, I gave into the my lazy-self (I like to think I'm simplistic) and let the Tropical Hotel in Key West plan every detail of my big day, so I could just relax and feel awesome in a month that I normally am totally depressed in. It was wonderful and warm and perfect.
Ok enough reminiscing. As I was saying, I love fall. I love our farm in the fall. The sheep are all out in the fields getting it on so that we can experience lambs in the Spring. The apple trees are full and we are eating applesauce, apple pie, apple dumplings, apple cake, apple cider, apple soup....ahhh I love having apple trees. The canning of the summer veggies and fruit is done and put away. The garlic, onions, and potatoes are dug and stored for the winter. The fall honey is harvested and put away. The grass slows it growth so the yard that gets neglected doesn't look like the jungle it did in August. The kids are back in school and life just feels a little more organized and routine.
This weekend Hubby was busy repairing the roof on the sheep barn and putting up more fencing for the sheep. He stocked the barn with hay for the winter months and he even had time to take his family for a hayride. I got the peppers in the freezer, mucked out more of the sheep barn, got my herbs and plants in for the winter, picked the last of the tomatoes, and got my fall mums, pumpkins and gourds all placed around the house in a decorative fashion.
Today I made a batch of apple dumplings. I was reminded of my childhood, when each year the county fair would host a Fall Festival, a celebration of all things Fall. A haunted maze, hay rides, fresh made apple cider. Apple butter & scrapple churned in large cast iron kettles and the best homemade apple dumplings ever, trays and trays of them. I've had many an apple dumpling, but there is nothing out there that can possibly ever beat a tray of apple dumplings made by a dozen or so of the local Grammy's, Nan's, Nonny's, & Mem's. Those ladies could make a crazy awesome apple dumpling. They are also the same grandmothers who would sit and peel the fresh peaches for the fresh peach sundaes during the summer county fair. You just can't be a grandma made baked good. I only hope to someday be able to honor those ladies as I hone my baking skills over the years and someday become a grandmother myself. I want my children and grandchildren to know the taste of love that is heavy in the baking of a country grown grandma. Until that day, I'll keep practicing until I've got my sticky buns perfect, my whoopie pies worth whooping for, and my dumplings in a delicious row.
This weekend Hubby and I were super busy catching up from being away for the past few weekends. We were able to get the lawn mowed, sheep moved, weeds pulled and whacked, and we got up into the honey bee hives.
Two weeks ago we were in the hives to check on honey production and see how the ladies were doing and they had very little frames drawn out in the honey supers, let alone filled with honey. We closed them up, said a little prayer and let them work for about two weeks.
When we opened them up to do some Fall maintenance, to our great surprise, we found full honey supers with fully drawn out, filled, and capped honey! It was time to take the honey. So we took two full honey supers from the hives and spent the next few days harvesting and filling honey jars with the sweet amber liquid.
We harvested about 75 lbs all together. It was super exciting and gratifying. Especially after loosing all of our hives over the winter and have to start fresh with brand new bees this Spring.
So we bottled and labeled and have enough honey to provide those who've been patiently waiting to purchase fresh, raw, local honey and to have a good supply for our family for the winter. I love honey straight from the hive, there is just nothing like it. It is super yummy and so good for you.