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Just a few more days to get through

Everyone here seems to have survived the “bomb cyclone” – we’re far enough west that we just caught the edge and got maybe an inch of snow as you can see from the above photo. The polar vortex still has us in its grip, though, with sub-freezing highs and brutal lows predicted to continue until […]

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Goddamned pigs, y’all.

A very small spotted boar with tiny tusks looks at the camera.
Y’all. For two years now we’ve had Piggy Bank, a mild-mannered and well-behaved little boar who is known for his love of tummy rubs and business-like trot where food is involved. Even when Maggie was breaking out of the fence he stayed peacefully in confinement, doing his pig thing.

And then sometime night before last or in the early morning hours of yesterday, he broke out of the fence and traveled a quarter mile down the road to a house where another mini-pig boar lives. We found out because the same animal control lady who dealt with Maggie texted us and let us know. But by the time we got down there, he’d melted into the woods. Great.

Then that afternoon the people who lived there came up to the house because he came back, broke into their pig’s pen, and kicked his ass. We went down there to try to recapture our little asshole and he went zooming off into the woods again, leading us on nearly a mile long chase before we lost him. Right. Great.

This morning the neighbor stopped by, Piggy Bank came back only this time he broke the other pig out and tried to lure him off to a life of freedom in the surrounding woods. Which I guess is better than trying to kill him but JESUS CHRIST REALLY?? The other pig happily went back to captivity but Piggy Bank melted away into the surrounding forest, oinking balefully. He appears to have decided to go completely feral in the space of 36 hours and now wants accomplices.

I mean what the fuck. TWO YEARS with not a single indication he was longing for freedom and now he’s all “I AM WILD BOAR”. The next step is probably you start putting food in a crate down at the neighbor’s house to see if we can trap him and drag him back home squealing and kicking. But really, goddamned pigs.

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The year in review

It feels weird to be doing my year in review now. When you’re a shepherd of tiny Neolithic British sheep you start to really understand why British Celts started their new year around the first of November – late October and early November are when the sheep start breeding the new lamb crop, you see. […]

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I’ve been putting off writing this post

Not long after lambing season kicked off, our regular hay guy ran out of hay. No big deal, I thought, we’d just use another supplier to get us through the couple of months until his first cutting was ready. I found someone else who could deliver round bales and thought my hay problems were solved.

And then sheep started dying. I looked for parasites, I looked for subclinical illness, I wracked my brain and laid awake at night going over every detail and came up with nothing. Sheep kept dying. I dreaded doing the chores because I didn’t want to find another one down.

Finally in desperation I sent hay samples out for testing. It was the only thing that has changed. And changed it had. Results came back showing levels of copper much, much too high for sheep. The lab said the overall profile of heavy metals etc was common for hay fields that had been treated with biosolids – aka dried sewage. The hay from those fields is fine for cows but lethal for sheep. I hadn’t even thought to ask when buying the hay, and as a result of my mistake I lost two Soay ewes and their lambs plus my little Rambouillet wether.

I’m still grieving my sheep. I hate that when I make mistakes, it’s my animals who pay, sometimes with their lives. The only recourse in this matter I might have is small claims court but that’s a roll of the dice and I don’t have the time or energy to pursue it. I did leave the guy a message telling him not to sell hay to shepherds anymore.

The happy ending is that my regular hay guy had a fabulous first cut after a wet spring, and with healthy hay, summer grazing, a protein tub, and slightly increased grain rations the rest of the sheep are recovering beautifully. The goats thrived, their mineral needs are more similar to cattle than sheep and they require amounts of copper that will kill their ovine cousins (I normally provide it via rumen bolus).

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We interrupt this blog for TOO MUCH SNOW

Like most of the mid-Atlantic, we got hammered by a prolonged misery of snow this past weekend.

A tall bay goat with spots stands in snow just below his elbows. A golden sheep with black trim is nearby, the snow up to her chest. In the background a small black and white goat stands with snow halfway up his sides. Just behind him a group of sheep stands in a spot that's been trampled down.
For reference, Sebastian there on the far left is just over three feet tall at the shoulder.

We didn’t get as much snow as they were predicting, thanks be to whoever watches over the Piedmont and steered the storm east. The sheep are doing a great job keeping paths trampled down so that the pigs and baby goats and Ben and Stu can get to the hay bale, and we moved water and grain dishes into the trampled down area so everyone can eat. Sebastian just got kind of excited to see us Saturday morning and came charging out through the snow.

The guinea hogs got up to eat and drink and then burrowed back into their generous pile of straw. I’m so glad we moved them into the pen that formerly held geese, their old enclosure is under enough snow that it would have buried them.

And in the shed, the rabbit kits are fat and happy and warm, as are the adult rabbits. There’s seven in the New Zealand doe’s nest and five or six in the Silver Fox nest. I think there’s at least two blue, one black, and one chocolate Silver Fox, a nice mix. Maybe there’s even an elusive lilac lurking in there? I’ll have to get pictures now that they’re fuzzy and attractive and their eyes are starting to open.

The power stayed on throughout the storm, mostly because it never got as warm as predicted and thus the snow stayed light and powdery. You will almost never hear me say “thank God it stayed below freezing” but…here you go. We had the chimney nice and clean so the wood stove was ready to go, but since we didn’t need it for emergency heat I plan to fire that sucker up and make the living room hold a temporary summer for me.

Hopefully my east coast readers had a similarly easy blizzard! How did y’all do if the storm got you?

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Winter finally remembered us

I should have known when May gave us surprise kids that the weather was going to turn. Goats are infamous for kidding at the worst possible time and sure enough no sooner did she present us with her two adorable doelings than we’re suddenly having actually seasonally appropriate weather. This after spending Christmas Day running around outside in a t-shirt for the novelty of it!

Not that it’s actually been cold enough to freeze the waterlogged ground good and solid. May and her twins are still confined to a stall because the mud is four inches deep in places and I’m afraid the babies would get stuck in it like tiny unfortunate mammoths in a tar pit. Meanwhile I’m battling hoof rot with every goat except Ben and Stu (Nubian blood does goats no favors in the hoof department) and keeping a close eye on the sheep. I gotta love the Soays though, they’re charging through winter fat and happy with nary a limp, cough, or sneeze. The only change in their behavior has been a shift from hanging out in the shade to hanging out in the sun when the temperature plunged. These ridiculously hardy little sheep are a real delight.

Meanwhile the place is so much quieter with the Christmas geese gone. Ours was incredibly delicious. I told Daniel that it was the first time I’d eaten a food I only knew from Victorian novels and not been tragically disappointed! In fact we enjoyed it so much that we’ll be raising geese again. Their obnoxiousness is completely outweighed by their deliciousness, so there will be geese honking and hissing their way through the spring, summer, and fall again.

Alas for me, the sudden turn of the weather has aggravated my chronic pain issues and I’m spending more time huddled under my electric blanket and taking painkillers. Still, a hard freeze or ten (or twenty, or thirty) is what we need to reduce parasite burdens in the pastures, fleas and ticks in the dog yard, and hopefully let the black cohosh seeds I planted germinate.

Inside, dreaming of summer continues. The first sweet potato slip got big enough to come off the potato and go in a jar of water to develop roots, and there’s 5 or 6 more working on it. Those sweet potatoes will make an excellent accompaniment to the goose next Christmas.

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The best laid plans of mice and men…

Alas, this is not a post to show off my beautiful new ewes! Unfortunately both Kate-with-Soays and I have come down with some kind of terrible stuffy-nosed plague, and thus the beautiful new ewes will not arrive until next weekend, when I am hopefully feeling well enough to enjoy them.

Meanwhile, most of you are probably aware by now that May presented me with a pair of surprise doelings, Sugar and Spice. After doing the math I figured out that she somehow managed a liaison with Sanglant a mere 4 days before he was wethered. Sigh. Goats will find a way, I guess. May was supposed to be retired from breeding ever again but apparently she had other ideas about it. Still, they’re freakin adorable and I promise as soon as I can handle the html there will be pictures.

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Winter makes you laugh a little slower…

I’ve been remiss in blogging as winter settles in here in the piedmont. Part of that is starting on the hard part of work with my shrink and desensitizing myself to all the terrible memories I brought home from the war in the hopes of achieving something more like sanity. It’s tiring. Part of it is that, well, fall and winter don’t bring a heck of a lot of news, especially when compared to the dramas of spring and summer.

Still, there’s a few noteworthy things going on! For instance, we have Mr Piggy Bank the teeny tiny boar and Maggie the tiny pig staying. They may end up being here forever, or may go home if their previous person gets her fences pig-proofed by hiring the best Board On Board Fence Contractor. Whichever way it goes, they are delightful to have around, and also adorable, and some people also decide to bolster their roofs to prepare for the winters with companies as http://www.palmbeachroofingexpert.com/tequesta-roofing/.

Two small pigs cuddling in the sun. Closest to the camera is the tiny boar, who is about 10 inches tall standing, or half the size of the sow. He's golden with black spots, she is white with black spots.

The sheep are all getting woolier every day. I give them little pep talks about growing nice fleeces. Most interestingly, Jane the Soay ewe is growing in her fleece with a substantial amount of white sprinkled in it, like roaning on a horse or goat, so yarn spun from her wool will be naturally heathered.

There’s even a little excitement in the vegetable world. While the einkorn wheat has gone dormant for the winter, the pregnant onions that I’m getting established into a permanent onion patch are still growing like the blazes.

Onion tops ranging between two and six inches tall growing in thick, enthusiastic clumps.

I broke off the tips of some of the tallest greens for us to taste and they’re amazing, sweet and spicy and flavorful. I can’t wait to actually try a couple onions next summer, although large harvests will have to wait a while unless the onions go really nuts. Pregnant onions are an old, old variety grown before the advent of easy to purchase seeds. The large onions will spawn young onions, which will grow into large onions the next year and split off into their own children. They can be harvested at either stage, as long as you leave enough in the ground to propagate.

The garlic got planted a couple months later than onions, but is coming up anyway in its bed of composted rabbit manure.

Small, thick green shoots poking up through what looks like dark fine soil with a few recognizable globes of poo.

This is nothing fancy, just the California Early Soft Neck garlic you find in grocery stores. In fact, it’s cloves from a grocery store bulb, as I thought I should experiment with cheap garlic before I try growing one of the more fiddly heritage varieties. Still, freshness makes a serious difference, and a bulb of garlic dug five minutes ago has a far superior flavor to one that’s been stored, as we learned after managing to grow one bulb on our first try. As it turns out, the feed store was setting us up for failure selling seed garlic in spring. This really is a fall-planted crop, and in summer will be adding its deliciousness to home-cooked meals.

Things I don’t have pictures of include the expanded rabbitry. The colony is a no-go right now, having had ducks move in this past summer (long story, but not on purpose). Duck feces in the soil are not compatible with successfully raising litters of rabbits, so right now I’m working with a standard caged system and working on building tractors so rabbits can move around more and do a little grazing while the colony gets dug out and planted and rested in the hopes that I can return rabbits to it in spring or summer. Meanwhile two of my friends hooked me up with breeding stock, and there will be purebred Silver Foxes for pelts and meat starting this winter. Which means I need to get on tanning the hides I’ve already accumulated!

Meanwhile of course, late fall/early winter Virginia means the weather is all over the place and my mysterious chronic pain condition and migraines are complaining about it. I spend a lot of time sitting in the sun with the goats and sheep and pigs, soaking up the last of the warmth and enjoying my little peaceable kingdom.

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Let me just wax lyrical for a bit…

Sometimes, at night, I go sit outside and look at my sheep. I generally take a length of acrylic fleece to use as a shepherd’s plaid what with I haven’t had the chance to make one from my sheep. Maybe in 2017. There is something magical about nights at the onset of winter here in the Piedmont, when the cold breaks the hazy humidity of summer. There’s so many stars in the sky, and if I trouble myself to go out back of the barn on a moonless night where the glare from our “safety light” doesn’t reach, I can see the Milky Way.

Anyway. I sit, wrapped in my fleece, and I watch my sheep sleep with Xita beside me. It’s magical. Times like that, you can almost feel a kinship with pre-industrial shepherds. Indeed, when it’s just the Soays out sleeping next to the hay bale, I can almost feel the first Neolithic shepherds beside me. THey’d probably appreciate modern touches like acrylic fleece and my very fine German Shepherd. Some things have changed very little over the millenia, and shepherds and farmers appreciate a good dog and warm, durable fabric.

It’s on nights like that as much as on slaughter days that I remember why I have animals, why I eat the meat they produce and take their manure to grow vegetables. It’s a very fundamental connection to the land and to the past that nourishes the soul along with the body.