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Teaching Lambs to Use Gates (Shepherding the Modern Way, Instructional Tape 1.)

In this shepherding demonstration, I utilize voice command to teach lambs how to walk through a gate by telling them to “Go through the doors,” or “use the gate, Lambicans,” in a highly exasperated tone. When their performance is not satisfactory, I let them know by saying, “Seriously? You don’t see that?” because everyone knows that four day old lambs understand sarcasm, and respond well to critique. You can see that the end result is highly satisfactory. I let the lambs know they have done well by muttering “dorks” under my breath. This lets them know who’s boss!

 

Right after I recorded this, and shut the gate, I turned around and noticed that Yoshimi and her new lamb, Spock, were still on the wrong side fo the gate.

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Lambing Unwillingly

We have had so many lambs! Nine lambs, now, alive and well, though some of their mothers seem unfit and insane.

This is Corvette. Corvette always jumps the fence, and I had decided to never breed her, because as cute as it is to see a sheep gracefully hop a fence, like a dream sheep above your head in bed, it’s a good thing to be able to control your flock. I didn’t want any future sheep to inherit her athletic abilities and tendency to wander.

But, mysteriously, she had a lamb! Since having the lamb, a ram, she has rammed him, flipped him, and then jumped the fence and run away and left him. But, I didn’t give up. I caught her and brought her back and gave her a little more space and a little better fencing. This morning, after a wicked thunder storm, she let him nurse without me even tying her to a fence post! Progress.

Her lamb is a jumper, too. He just jumps around her in circles.

Corvette the Sheep
Corvette and her lamb. (We named her Corvette to remember that she is Corva’s daughter. We named all of them variations of their mother’s names. Yoko’s mom is Chyoko. I did not name her Corvette because she was like a fast car, but she kind of is.)

 

 

 

This poor ewe (Yoko) is huge preggers and has something going on with her muscles so she can’t stand up. I’m supposed to keep her comfortable until she’s ready to give birth, and then (according to the vet) “wash your hands well, take four deep breaths, reach your hand in and pull the lambs out.” Easy! I’ll let you all know how that turns out.

yoko the sheep
She’s so … heavy. I did not name her Yoko because I thought she would have difficult pregnancies like Yoko Ono, but there you are.

This morning, after our big rain, Yoko was lying in some real soggy hay. So, I half dragged/ half walked Yoko to higher ground (she’s so heavy), wiped her off with baby wipes and put her on a pile of hay and an old comforter, with a sun umbrella and some snacks (lawn clippings from the first mow.) Yoko seems comfortable. The whole time I was moving her, I had this song “She’s so Heavy,” going thru my head. John Lennon wrote it about Yoko Ono when she was pregnant.

There is one bottle lamb. Z named her “Tulipia.” (Which actually sounds like a fish to me. Maybe she will like swimming?)

lamb
Mandatory adorable animal selfie.

 

Going out to feed the bottle lamb has made me go outside during every time of day. Last night, I met a little frog:

Early this morning, I saw our chickens have escaped their fencing:

rooster break
They do this all times of day, but this really was taken at 7 AM.

 

And now for some pictures of what are probably terribly inbred lambs:

See the one with the white face? I actually delivered him. He was stuck. My first sheep midwifing!

 

He’s really adorable, I swear. You just can’t see him because he’s black!

Resting under a tree. The wool on the branches tells you their moms have been there.

Maybe we should hire out our castrated rams as studs.

 

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Life and Death on the Farm

chick

That little unexpected lamb died, after he caught a chill. Zanimal and I spent about eight hours trying to warm him up the next day, but he died, anyway. We were all very sad about it.

If only the weather weren’t so cold, but what can you do? We weren’t expecting a lamb at all.

And then we got some cute little chicks!

chick

Being newly sensitive to the dangers of young animals getting cold, I noticed right away when this little guy was shivering, and a stuck him in the oven for a bit! Then I put him in my pocket to carry him back out to the farm. Now, he’s doing fine.

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Surprises of Spring

We didn’t breed the sheep this year, because we have enough sheep! We did get two lambs and an adult ewe from a friend last fall. So, that made twenty-five. “When are you lambing?” everyone in the sheep community kept asking.

“We aren’t lambing this year,” I told everyone.

SURPRISE!

Today I noticed a new little wooly one. Where the heck did that come from?

Some observations led me to the mother- one of last fall’s lambs that we got from a friend. She was only about five months old when we got her, but the only explanation is that she was pregnant upon arrival. Either that, or virgin birth. We should probably name him Baby Jesus.

Happy spring, everyone!

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This Just Landed – Birds in Beards 2: Dead Poets Edition

Available in traditional paper, or a PDF to print at home on, say, watercolor paper or colored paper.

It’s a little bit different from the first Birds in Beards, mainly in that the poetry is a lot better. I used all of the best old timey poets in the public domain, so they are high quality.

Here’s the official blurb.

Click image to purchase on Amazon.

If you are in my Artsy Fartsy Coloring Group on Facebook, you have already seen these previews. Also, you are amazing. Everyone in that group is amazing in one way or another. 🙂

Edgar Allan PoeJames Russell Lowell

Not everyone in Birds in Beards 2 has a beard.

Incidentally, this has nothing to do with that, but I’m writing this outside on my tablet in the heat with these sheep, waiting for the vet to come. He is an hour and twenty minutes late! It’s hot. They were penned up in the sun, but I thought it was too hot and I leashed them and put them under a tree with me. They are panting, nonstop. One just wiped her nose on my leg. We have to get their health clearance papers to take them to the fair.

Fingers getting too sweaty to write now…. come, soon, please, Mr. Vet!

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An Upper Midwestern Spring

We have so much to do around here in Spring. There are lambs being born, meat chickens to take care of, plants to start indoors and transplant, mowing, weeding, planting, end of school stuff, planning for summer stuff, 4-h events, registering for the fair, getting all of our ducks in a row for summer camps and classes for the Zanimal. Other people say, with a smile, “Wow, it’s spring!” and we who live on farms laugh nervously and say, “Yes, Wow.” But we mean wow in a different way. Add to that all, for me, a book release. It’s a bit overwhelming. So, I’m just going to jump around here a bit, ready?

Part 1: Lambing Season

We’ve got lambs! Four lambs, now. We may have four more by the end. Professor Batty came to visit between two lambs and four lambs.  I’m happy to say Viola finally had her lambs! Two of them, both black, one male, one female. The morning before last, I went out to check on her, and they were just born- still gooey. She was licking them off. She seems proud of herself, as she should be.

The following day, I was going to castrate the male (in case we want to keep him- I hate the logistics of separating a male all of the time, so I just castrate them) and Zanimal was super excited for me to show her how to do it! So, I did. I used the “*teeth” method. Joking. I used the band method. She hugged the lamb and I — well, you can imagine. She hugged the girl lamb, too, and I docked her tail. Zanimal is now “Official Lamb and Sheep Hugger.” Whenever I need a sheep to hold still for me, I am to call on her, and we will do a Good Cop/ Bad Cop deal: she will hug them and I will hurt them (albeit for their own good, of course).

  • Some shepherds bite off the rams’ balls with their teeth to castrate them. It’s effective. Yep. Not crazy at all.

    Part 2: The Self Portrait

Speaking of the Zanimal, at the end of the year, she just brings home backpacks full of trash. Among all of the crap, I found this gem:

A self portrait, clearly. I really like a few things about it.

  1. It’s not symmetrical. The one thing I’ve learned from doing lots of portraits is that people are not nearly as symmetrical as I thought they were. She seems to know that instinctively.
  2. She didn’t show it to me. She doesn’t care about this portrait. She’s modest, maybe. I don’t know. I’m just glad she didn’t put me on the spot about it.
  3. It looks like her- which is an important aspect of a portrait, you have to admit.

Part 3: Summertime

So, today I was mowing and weeding and putting a tarp up for Viola and her lambs to lie under (it’s hot). And tomorrow, I’ll do more of the same. And next week, more of the same, plus the Zanimal is home from school.

Things speed up over the summer. Wisconsinites wake up one day and come out of their holes and there are parties! Parades! Beer Festivals! Art Fairs! Brats! Bands! And on and on, all summer long, and then we’ll look back and wonder where it all went? And every year, I think What the heck am I going to do with this kid all summer? Because I like her, I really do, but I feel a bit of pressure to be entertaining or educational. Creative. I’m a creative type, you know. It’s expected of me. But I also, at heart, feel that children do better when they entertain themselves. So there’s the constant, “Let’s do this fun thing! (After this list of chores.)” But also the, “Do your own thing, I’m busy!” kinds of days. And also, of course, the “Let’s go to the lake. It’s hot” kinds of days.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is, I may not be blogging much. We’ll see.

Part 4: The Mystery of the Runners

When we first moved here from Colorado, we lived on the Isthmus in Madison, and we noticed all of these nearly naked people running by. Just running by, all summer long. Always, they looked straight ahead and did not acknowledge that we were there. Fast people, wearing shorts and shoes or shorts and sports bra and shoes, and that was all. And we wondered where they all came from, and where were they all going? After living here a few years, I *discovered that they just wake up one morning and say, “It’s time.” They take off their clothes, put on their shoes, and they start running around the lakes. And they run all summer. They never stop running. Day and night, they run, until the nights get cold again. And then they stop. They put away their shoes. And they sleep until next summer.

Of course, there are outliers- there always are, with any group. There’s the lady who runs up Gammon, all the way to Woodman’s West, at any time of day. What is her deal? Sometimes you’ll see her on PD, too. I mean, she only runs on the busiest roads. And long distances. You can be in town all day and see her twice, seven hours apart, running, still running. So strange. Lately, she’s been carrying a cell phone and talking on it constantly while she runs.

I, too, have taken up running- indoors. On a treadmill. After injuring my ankle a few years ago during a mud run, it took a year to heal, so I am very wary of uneven terrain. Baby steps. I’m starting again on a treadmill. I listen to The Gist while I run. The Gist is the perfect time: about 27 minutes. Two miles, plus a cool down lap. A nice jog. I imagine Mike Pesca running beside me, never getting out of breath, interviewing famous people, right there in my basement. This is not strange. This is where I belong.

Part 5: Too Much Sun

Is it just me, or is this the most rambling thing I’ve ever written on here? I’ll blame it on the sun.

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Fox Mulder Goes Home in 23 Difficult Steps

Today was the day to take our borrowed ram, Fox Mulder (a.k.a. Muppet) back home to his nice owners.

  1. Get Fox Mulder the Sheep into a small pen, alone.
  2. Three hours later…  Zanimal runs into the house, “Dad said Mulder is destroying the fence!” “Is he escaped?” “No… I don’t know! He just said to tell you.” I run out, and Mulder has escaped, but only to another pen, where his lady friends are hanging out with himI should have known better than to put him alone.  Sheep do hate being alone. 
  3. Figure out another fencing configuration to extract sheep Mulder. Now, it’s time for the nice sheep owners to come and help us. As we have scheduled with them. 
  4. Drive truck out by sheep. Where are the nice sheep owners? 
  5. Text sheep owners:
  6. And then BAH and I argue a lot. Decide to lasso Mulder with a tow rope.
  7. I lasso Mulder, but he is really big and heavy. Mulder is maybe 259 pounds. He runs around and I try to stop him. “Help!” I say as I am dragged around the little barnyard. “Help” “what?” “Help!” “What?” “HELP!” “Well, if you need help, just say help.” Bad Assed Husband is hanging on, too, now. Mulder is still definitely not under control. “HELP!”
  8. Mulder gets out of the lasso. 
  9. I lasso Mulder again. Successfully. That’s me, lassoing a giant ram. 
  10. Somehow, we get him close to the truck. 
  11. We tie the rope to the truck. Mulder is growling. Zanimal is monitoring the fence.
  12. One hoof is in the truck. Mulder is growling. BAH is swearing. I am sweating. 
  13. Two hoofs are in the truck. I’m growling. Mulder is swearing. Zanimal is sweating. 
  14. Three hoofs… not really. Still just two. “He sounds like a horse,” says Zanimal. “I think we’re choking him,” says BAH. “BYRGOKoRgAZOYG!” I scream. I am swearing. Mulder is sweating. BAH is growling.
  15. Four legs in! “He’s in the truck! HE’S IN THE TRUCK!” 
  16. Zanimal and I get into the truck cab. “What if they aren’t home.” Says BAH. “We’ll just drop him off there, at home, just leave him in their yard, regardless,” I say, and I mean it. “I’m not taking this sheep back here again.”
  17. Zanimal and I drive through Mount Horeb with a giant black sheep in the back of our truck. We sing the sheep song. Zanimal texts the nice sheep owners for me.
  18. Zanimal and I drive in the correct direction, but I don’t remember the road. “Is it U?” I ask Zanimal. “What, me?” She answers. “Where do I turn?” I ask. “Here! Turn here! I recognize that building. Do I stink?” “What?” “You said, ‘Is it you?’ And then you touched your nose.” “No, no! The road we’re on! It’s County Highway U!” “Oh! I thought I stank!”
  19. We get there. It is U! They are home! 
  20. They tell us to drop off Mulder the Ram in their front yard, and he’ll find his way to the other sheep on his own. This was actually my joking plan for if they weren’t home. I’m quite surprised that this is actually the real plan for when they are home. 
  21. We open the back door of the cage in the truck. Mulder jumps out. Mulder says, “where are my beautiful lady sheep friends?”  (He says it in sheep. I’m translating, here.) The sheep around back say, “Over here, my love!” (In sheep, again.) Mulder wanders around back. 
  22. A huge gap has been opened in the fence for Mulder to walk through. Mulder sees his lady friends peaking around the corner of the barn and says, “I’m going to show off a bit,” (but he says it in Sheep, of course) and then (surprise!) he jumps over the closed part of the fence and joins his lady friends. 
  23. Zanimal and I drive off into the sunset. Our job here is done.
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Whose feet are in your trash?

This is not a post for vegetarians. 

We took a few rams to the butcher on Tuesday. (Tuesday is their “exotic animal”day— but I disagree that sheep are exotic.) Zanimal (formerly Big Z, and before that Little Z) said we shouldn’t tell them where we were going. “Just tell them they’re going to Spanish lessons!” She said. So, we did. And now “Spanish lessons” will forever be a euphemism for “getting butchered” in our house.


After we dropped them off, I went home and cleaned out the freezer to make room for lamb meat. There were dozens of chicken feet in the freezer, which I had heard once were edible, but I decided that really, I’m not eating a chicken foot unless I’m starving to death! So I threw all of the chicken feet into the trash, and then there was plenty of room for lamb. 
Then, I went back to the butcher and picked up the pelts from the sheep. We usually cure them, have them tanned, and make beautiful sheepskin throws out of them. As I was stretching them to dry them out, I noticed something really weird. Whoever butchered them had left the bony front legs on the pelts, and the hoofs. I prefer my blankets to be hoof and bone free, so I cut off the bony, furry lamb legs, hoofs and all. I threw the sheep legs and feet into the trash with all of the chicken feet.

And then I thought, man, do I have some funky weird trash.

How many feet are in your trash?

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Mulder “Muppet,” Sheep Gigolo

Mulder isn’t really our sheep. Some kind friends have loaned him to us, so that he might get it on with our lady sheep and make more black sheep with great wool! My idea is to eventually make felted top hats with the black wool from all of the sweet little black lambs.

Muppet
Isn’t he cute as a muppet?

This is the second time they have pimped him out to us. The first time, they couldn’t quite remember his name when we picked him up. We thought that tuft of hair on top of his head made him look like a giant muppet, so we named him “Muppet.” Then his family companionators called a couple of days later and said they remembered his name was “Mulder.” By that time, we were already having lengthy conversations with “Muppet,” so the name stuck. I guess Muppet is his street name, for when he’s gigoloing.

Mulder enjoys his work. He’s enthusiastic. The lady sheep sometimes look as if they wish he weren’t quite so eager. But they like him better this time than last year, I think. At least they aren’t running away this time. They huddle together and cautiously peer at him from a safe distance. Give them a few days, though, and they’ll like him a lot (if last year was any indication).

Mulder the Muppet ram
The ram is confident. The ewes are cautious.

He’s a gentler breed than our Jacobs, and also (as you can see) hornless. This makes for an interesting aesthetic: all of the females have big horns, and the male has no horns. Muppet is completely comfortable with his masculinity, and he doesn’t worry about that sort of thing.

Last year’s lambs are a nice bunch, small and black, but all except one are male. We’re hoping for more ewes this year.

 

P.S. Thank you, Mo and Ned, for loaning us Mulder. He’s great.

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Meet the Sheep: Cloudy Wether

Cloudy Wether

Cloudy is such a jerk. He just rams everyone. 

Cloudy was a bottle lamb. He grew up with us feeding him, and he looks at people as his peers. And what do rams do with their peers? Well, they ram them. 

I don’t know what to do with Cloudy. He has great wool, but if you want to go anywhere near him, you have to carry a big stick and poke him with it whenever he looks too excited. He’s actually pretty easy to control. It’s just this idea that we have an animal who charges at us at every opportunity that is a bit bizarre. It’s like staying in an abusive relationship. I currently have a giant bruise on my leg, because I forgot about carrying the big stick the other day, and he rammed me. I scolded him. I don’t think he really understood.

Cloudy Wether
Cloudy Wether

We could butcher him and eat him. Except, you know, he’s our baby Cloudy.

When he was a baby lamb, his mom rejected him. He was so pathetic and sad. He had one ear that wouldn’t stand up. It just flopped over. We thought we still might eat him someday, him being a ram, so we called him, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” Then I castrated him, and we changed his name to “Cloudy Wether.” So, you see, we are a bit attached to him. So we keep him in a separate area from the more gentle sheep, and we can admire his massive horns from afar.