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Lambing Season 2019

 

farm signEvery year as January draws to a close, and February begins, I start to count sheep. Lambing time is always near, and I have to keep track of my girls. So out comes the cold weather outfit, and I make several trips to the barn a day, accompanied by my faithful companions.

getting ready

I've had these particular sheep for three years now, and I'm just beginning to learn their habits. According to my records, Honey and Lacey always lamb early and in close succession. This year, they lambed on the same day. Honey gave birth to twin rams in early morning, and by sunset the same day, Lacey had given me another ram, and the first ewe of the year.

New moms & babies

Hair sheep are much easier to care for than wool sheep. Years ago, once we got the new mothers put into a stall, we would have to give both mother and lambs a series of shots, and additives. Now it is simply a matter of electrolytes and molasses in the water and probios for the babies.

caring for lacey's lambs

In the lower shed, we have built two lambing pens, and believe it or not, the girls usually put themselves up in a stall before giving birth. They spend 24 hours there, and then I move them into the "nursery," which is a big open pen in the back of the barn. Sheep are flock animals, and they need to be together, so putting everyone in a common pen works wonderfully.

inside of barn

No sooner had we moved everyone, than Ellie Mae picked out her stall and gave us another ram. Now all we have left is Bea and Evie, and the season will be over. But the fun will be just beginning. There is nothing quite like a barn full of new lambs! They bounce like little rubber balls, race about, and generally bring smiles and laughter to everyone. And that's the main reason I love being a shepherdess.

Ellie & ram

 


Photos by Leah

Snowy Day

childhood winters

farm signWe finally had our first big snow of the year! Well, big for us. When I was a child, we started having snow here sometimes as early as Halloween. We could count on several inches, at least three if not four times before spring arrived. School was never canceled. Bus drivers drove the parts of their routes that were accessible and we had school with however many kids showed up. The teachers never missed either, even if they also had to ride the bus with the kids. My dad nearly always completed his route no matter what the weather. He used chains, weights, and even put all of us kids in the back seats to help with the weight. Weekends were devoted to snowmen, sledding, and occasionally playing on deeply frozen ponds.

Now, with climate change we can go two or three years without even a flurry. So we were all excited when the white stuff finally began to fall. We awake to a white wonderland and begin to haul out the cold weather gear to start chores. Although, some of us refuse to get out of bed...

DC in bed

First come the chickens. Water needs to be thawed, grain dispensed, and eggs gathered. Frozen eggs are never a problem. I just thaw and scramble them.

chickens

Then I take care of my other little feathered friends. Out comes the suet block, and bird seed which is shared by my resident gray squirrel. Sidney the woodpecker is first on the scene.

feeding the birds

Then on to the pigs. They have mounded up a HUGE pile of straw and borrow deep within. We call to them and bang on the side of the pen until eventually a head pops up. Then they finally come forth for food and fresh water. By the time we come back from the barn though, they are buried once more.

pigs in the hay

From there we head to the barn to feed the sheep. The girls meet me half way and walk with me to make sure I know where I should go... Even Everest gets some grain with his usual hay to ward off the cold.

feeding the sheep

On the way home it is time to play and to enjoy the beauty around us. As well as to grab a bite to eat.

outdoors

 

Then the final chores come. Greg gets out the heat lamp to put under the house near the water pipes, and I have a go at cleaning the snow off of the back porch.

final chores

Then we all go inside to dry out and rest from all of that work. Now the day is ours, to read, drink tea, and just doze in front of the fire.

after the chores


Photos Courtesy of Leah McAllister

The Lost Art of Hibernation

 

farm signDecember 21st is the Winter Solstice and officially the first day of winter. Usually here in the Ozarks, fall begins in October when the leaves turn beautiful reds, golds, and browns and the squirrels start scurrying for nuts to store up for winter. Our resident black bear passes through foraging one last time to increase his fat content, and ground hogs begin to insulate their burrows with dried grass and some hay stolen from our barn. All of this is in preparation for a long winter's nap, which usually begins around Christmas time.

When my father was growing up here on the farm, people were more in tune with the rhythm of nature than they are now. Electricity didn't arrive here until the 1950's, so evenings were spent with the glow of kerosene lanterns and light from the fireplace. Daylight savings time kicks in somewhere in early November here, so my family began to settle in to bed around 6 or 7 o'clock and rise again just before sunrise the next morning to gather up the cows for milking. By the time the sun was up, most of the cows were milked, hogs were fed, chickens were turned out and fed, and Granny had breakfast on the table. The men ate a hearty meal of bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits, gravy, oatmeal, and maybe some stewed fruit which had been canned in the fall. Occasionally, instead of the bacon and sausage they had pork chops or fried chicken.

old farm chores

After this nourishing meal, the men left to carry on with the rest of the day's work. Grandpa went to his forge, and Daddy might walk the fence line to check the wire, or go to the barn to mend harness. If the weather was bad (which it usually was in those long ago winters), Daddy and Grandpa settled themselves in the living room close to a cozy fire. Daddy would read or carve on a block of wood, (he loved to make yo-yos and wooden cars, or maybe a new sling shot). And after cleaning, Granny would join them with some sort of sewing project. When my Aunt Alta was still living, she might sew doll clothes or challenge her brother to a game of marbles after she helped Granny with the meals and cleaning up. The day would pass quietly. They would visit some, amuse themselves, and Grandpa would doze before the fire. Lunch would be a light meal – soup and sandwiches, and dinner might be the same.

granny grandpa and lamp

As the sun began to set, the men once more moved outside to put up the chickens, milk the cows, check on the hogs, and bring in fire wood and water in from the well for the next day. Then, as darkness settled in once more, they bestirred themselves for bed.

This doesn't sound like your typical farm does it? Today, we are in a constant rush. Up early to do farm chores. Grab a bite of something on the way out of the door to drive to a job miles away. Home do more chores, grab a simple dinner, and park ourselves in front of the television for the evening. Around 10:00 or 11:00 we 'hit the hay' for a short sleep to awake bleary eyed the next morning to start the process all over. On the weekends, its even worse. Women are trying to catch up on all the cleaning and laundry and men are out doing all of those things they haven't been able to get to through the week. Put in that new fence post, put a cover over the hole in the chicken house, run to the feed store or hardware store. And again, grab-what-you-can for meals.

modern chores

If you don't work outside of the homestead, we still seem to feel that every waking moment must be gainfully occupied. A long list of projects is posted on the refrigerator and we tell ourselves that these must be completed as soon as possible. In the evenings, we might settle down to watch some television, or turn to the pile of DIY project books, farming magazines, gardening books, or even novels, and find ourselves up late into the night, or falling into bed early from exhaustion.

The old time farmer knew the value of winter time. He watched nature constantly for signs of some sort. Woolly caterpillars meant a cold winter ahead. He took note of migrations patters, the phases of the moon, the activity of woodland 'critters'. And he also saw the value of hibernation. An old preacher once said that God made the winter as a time of rest. A time to stay indoors, read, sit quietly to listen to God's voice, and rest up for the spring to come. As I grow older, I'm inclined to agree with him. Rest is a very important requirement.

We will leave patches of ground to lie follow over the winter, so why not us too? What is there really out there that cannot wait until Spring? There will always be those emergency situations where wire breaks on a fence, the pig pen must be drained due to excessive rain, barn roofing is loosened by the wind or extra feeding must be done during snow and ice. But if that is not the case, then why not relax and rest as the rest of nature is doing? Sit in the quiet and listen to the silence. Drink a cup of tea or coffee and listen to the rain fall, or watch the snow come down in gently swirling mists. Read those farm magazines, garden books, or set yourself down and study for the afternoon.

enjoy the day

Then go to bed early, so you can get up with the sun and enjoy a brand new day. When spring comes the days will grow longer and warmer, and there will be a thousand things to accomplish. New lambs, calves, piglets, and poultry will be arriving and demanding your attention. It will be time to turn over the garden and begin planting. Then there will be weeding and watering and harvest time. Not to mention canning, drying and freezing those crops. Repair work will be needed around the farm, and with the long days you will forget the time and work later than you intend. Nights will be shorter, and you will rest less.

spring chores

So for now, join me in hibernation. Lets move slower, do only what is necessary, and let our bodies and minds take a much needed rest. You will be surprised what a difference it will make come spring.

just hibernate

 

 

 

I Love Carrots!

farm signI love carrots. Not the anemic tasteless ones you buy at the grocery store, but the real ones that come fresh from the garden. Once you've eaten one of these, you will never eat any other kind.

Daddy tried to grow carrots when I was a child, but had no success. The ground was too hard and rocky for them to grow properly. So we got our fresh carrots from the Mennonite family up the road who had sandy soil in their garden spot. Because loose soil is one of the secrets to growing carrots. They need room to expand. And sandy soil means you can 'over winter' them by leaving them in the garden and picking them whenever you need them all winter long, as the ground will not freeze.

carrot patch

I over wintered my carrots this year, and it has been such a pleasure to harvest a basket full whenever I want. Not to mention the joy of watching the grandchildren eagerly pulling them from the ground. Early in December when my kids came to decorate for me, the youngest ones went to the garden and harvested nearly a whole bed. It was like a treasure hunt for them. And once they were washed, everyone dug in. My daughter asked her youngest girl “What are you dong? You don't even like carrots!” to which MJ replied, “But Momma, these are real carrots!”

the harvest

And that is the thing. Real carrots have taste. Greg was always the same way. He hated carrots. He didn't even like carrot cake. And he always complained because I only bought carrots from the Farmer's Market, or the Truck Patch stores and they are more expensive than the supermarket. Then, last year, I planted carrots for the first time. He still didn't take much notice, until the kids picked their big haul. Curious, he washed and ate one himself. The look on his face was priceless. A few days later when I made a roast, he ate over half the carrots.

Last week, he asked me what all I could do with carrots. Could I make soup? So out came the cookbooks, and I made carrot soup. There were no left overs. My soup is cream of carrot, and instead of running it through the food processor, I cook it in cast iron until it is really soft, then puree it in the pot with an old fashioned potato masher. Works like a charm!

carrot soup

Since Greg decided he loves carrots too, I have been happily cooking with them many times a week. I brought out one of my favorite cookbooks put together by my good friend Donna Couch and made an old fashioned carrot cake. This time I did use the food processor to mince my carrots instead of using the hand grater. It turned out perfect, and the cream cheese icing just finished it off. Greg was in heaven.

carrot cake

Last night, we had stir-fry pork featuring carrots. As we were eating, Greg asked me if I had ordered new seeds yet. I assured him they are on my list. Atomic Red Carrots from Baker Creek Seeds. The beauty of raised beds is you can mix your soil for any plant requirements, and sand is cheap. We are actually thinking of expanding the carrot beds this year. When you have something this tasty, it only make sense to raise a good crop. And I know with the grandchildren around I will have plenty of help harvesting.

stir fry

 


Photos Property of Leah McCallister

Starting the Countdown

planning the garden

farm signThe New Year has begun! While Christmas is by far my favorite holiday, I always look forward to January. This is the beginning of a brand new year and a chance to start new things, and to improve on old ones. For me, January means the countdown to garden time! This is the month I bring out all of the seed catalogs I've been saving, my gardening journal, my diagram of the garden plan, and settle down with a cup of tea, a calendar, and my notebook to begin to plan for the spring.

I bring out my seeds from last year for inventory so I know what I need to order. I study and compare vegetables I've never planted before so I can choose the one new plant I will try out this year.

seeds

I read through my journal to check my notes for improvements for this year. I decided I will not plant peas again or lettuce. Three years of failure is enough. I will start my cabbage seeds at the end of February this year instead of at the beginning, and will start tomato seeds in March instead of April.

The new type of spinach I tried did not do well, nor did the turnips. I will be looking for different seeds this year. But the green beans and carrots were an amazing success and I will reorder those.

I discovered that I need to move the squash into more shade this year and will redraw my garden plan to accommodate. And I make a note to buy new timbers to deepen a couple of the beds this year. They will be added to my shopping list of soil additives, and I will be checking to make sure my containers of lime and oyster shells for calcium are not depleted.

The big thing for the garden is always the compost. We compost all year long. I start with a small pan in the house where I put my tea bags and empty the Keurig cups. This is dumped into the compost can on the back porch which gets the vegetable waste that does not go to the pigs, then into the big compost barrel in the garden. In the summer Greg adds grass clippings to the barrel and dead leaves in the fall. And I clean out the chicken house every 2 or 3 months and that goes in as well.

composting

Gardening, I have discovered, is not just a nice little hobby that yields benefits. Its a long involved process that takes months of preparation and planning. The actual process is time consuming and tiring. But the end result is always worth it. And it makes the long winter months enjoyable. So grab a cup of tea or coffee, dig out those gardening magazines and seed catalogs, and join me in making your dreams into reality. There's just nothing like it for lifting your spirits during the gloomy days of winter.


Photos Property of Leah McCallister

An Old Fashioned Christmas

 

farm signI live in a rural area that is made up of several small communities only a few miles apart. Once large thriving places, they are now reduced to one or two remaining buildings of what once could have been called a village. Depression, recession, and technology can be blamed for their demise. But many 'old' families, including my own, still reside in these by gone little places, and we come together at different times of the year to greet each other and to remember when the world was a simpler, kinder place.

the church

One such gathering is the Old Fashioned Christmas held at the Old Anderson Flat Church. When the community set about to restore and remodel the church, two sisters remembered special Christmas gatherings there and made it their mission to revive the old time Christmas way. Indoor plumbing and a kitchen were added to the building and the first Christmas it was finished, people gathered to celebrate.

It begins with a pot luck dinner. What is it about food that draws people together? Everyone brings their finest, most savory dishes to line the tables. We eat, laugh, catch up on each other's lives, share recipes, and find out all the local news. Then, when we're done, we settle back to watch the program.

the crowd

It always begins with the play. I live in the bible belt, so if you say “the Play”, it naturally means the nativity story, followed by the joyous songs of Christmas sung mostly by the youth.

the play

Following the play is always a variety of entertainment presented on a purely amateur level. There are puppet shows.

puppet shows

And lots of musical solos. Piano, ukulele, and even the psaltery.

the music

We even have special visitors. This year it was a couple of Elves and even the Grinch stopped by. The children clapped and cheered to make his heart grow larger so even he could enjoy the season.

Grinch & Elves

And then the most important part of all. The Christmas message, given by a young minister who grew up among us. His messaged was simple, yet had such depth and spoke to all of our hearts.

the message

The evening ended with gifts for all of the children, and door prizes for the adults. Memories made to keep in our hearts and treasure, until next year when we will gather again to celebrate an Old Fashioned Christmas.

the gifts

 

Exercising Country Style

farm signI grew up on the farm. My childhood was spent climbing trees, sliding down pond banks, riding my bicycle over dirt roads, fishing, throwing rocks, hunting squirrels, riding horses and taking care of the stock which was Holstein milk cows, then Herefords. Needless to say, when I married I was in great physical shape.

After marriage, I spent the three years in England traveling mostly by foot or on bicycle. I walked miles to shops, or just for the view with no thought about how far I wandered. When the kids came along (only 13 months apart), I pushed a pram with one child lying down and the other in a little seat that fitted near the handle bar. On the bottom of the pram was a basket where I frequently loaded groceries, then pushed it several blocks home.

In Denver, Colorado, I spent many days with the kids at the zoo (often walking up hill and down with a child on each hip) and on weekends we went hiking in the mountains or to the park and the Natural History Museum. At the Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska I played on my Church's Women's softball team. In short, I was very limber and active in my youth.

Then came 20 years behind a desk answering phones and working on a computer. Not to mention several years adding numbers to my age. When I again came home to the farm, I discovered to my chagrin, that I am no longer able to move like I used to. Where once I could heft a square bale of hay with no thought, I now cut it open and carry an armful at a time. A five gallon bucket of water in each hand has become one three gallon bucket ofttimes carried with both hands. And my miles of fast paced walking has become a round or two along the fence line of the upper field.

My mind does not acknowledge the limitations of my body. I still forget and try to climb that fence or stack of lumber. I grab a 40 pound bag of dog food, or sack of chicken food and try to lift, and am immediately shocked back to reality. But all is not lost. I have figured out an exercise program, with the help of my husband and farm critters.

Greg keeps a road mowed from one gate to the other across our upper field, approximately a quarter mile. Both my daughter-in-law and I walk this daily, though she power walks and I amble. The dogs go along of course, and always run down the slope to the fence and threaten to go into the woods. By refusing to come when called, they ensure that I walk down the slope to get them, then drag them back to the top thus making good use of my leg and arm muscles.

Now that my ewes are once more expecting, I feed them and creep feed my lambs every morning. They always push me about as I work my way to the feed troughs making sure that I am using my balancing skills and the muscles needed to keep from falling.

Gardening is also good for exercise, but only seasonally. During the spring I am digging, hoeing, bending over to plant, and dragging bags of soil from one place to another. Summer brings lifting watering cans and holding them aloft over the plants. Then comes fall and harvest season, where I further hone my arm muscles picking produce.

In the 'off season' such as these winter months that are upon us, I must rely on indoor exercise. Sweeping, polishing furniture, and doing dishes by hand keep those fingers and arms supple. Greg does his bit to contribute to my workout--by leaving his clothes in a pile on the floor by the clothes hamper--ensuring I bend over several times a day to work the back and stomach muscles. And hanging laundry out on the line is great stretching exercise.

After all of this wonderful activity, DC the cat is always at hand to give me a good rub down, massage, and even use acupuncture if necessary. So by degrees, I am working my way back to limber limbs and good health. And who knows, by next spring I might even be able to climb that fence again!

 







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