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07/10/07

Permalink 01:07:37 pm, by Karen Email , 335 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

We are down to 8 remaining sheep now. A couple weeks ago, some nice folks came up from PA and took Quinn and her ram lamb (Trooper), and Cozette and her lambs Tug and Tessa back home with them. That got Quinn out of the barn where she had been sharing a "cell" with Rose. Quinn actually was louder than Rose when it came right down to it. But Rose was the instigator. Anyway, Rose and her lambs now have more room in the barn, and outside we have the two rams, and Penny and her lambs. Thankfully, they are very quiet. Even Rose isn't so bad now, but I know she'd go back to her old ways if we let her out again.

We've gotten most of the stuff on the outside of the house done, except for two basement windows that need their trim scraped and repainted. But the other two windows and the lattice and trim around the enclosed porch are done. Looks much nicer. And, we took the old wallpaper off the dining room walls and painted it a nice sunny yellow. It looks SO much better. The next room will probably be our bedroom. Then we have to decide what to do with the kitchen. Before the whole zoning thing blew up in our faces, we were going to gut it entirely and have new cabinets, countertops and a new floor, but now we're not sure. Don't want to spend a ton of money if we're not going to be here for very long.

Ken and I went to a shibori/natural dyeing class this past weekend. It was rather a whirlwind of dyepots and wool and silk, but fun nonetheless. Icelandic wool dyes REALLY nicely. I did some shibori dyeing on pre-felt and silk scarves, and we took some handspun wool to dye, and Ken did some shibori techniques on pre-felt, so we have a few samples of various things to show off. Might put some pictures up here soon.

06/02/07

Permalink 12:17:09 am, by Karen Email , 433 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Be your own vet!

Well, not really. But you do have to do a lot of things yourself when you raise animals, because calling a vet out for every little thing would be impractical, not to mention expensive.

Tug is our oldest ram lamb, and he has these things on his head that look like horns, but are called "scurs". True horns grow directly from the skull, while scurs are not as securely attached. Whether they grow out of the skin layer or somewhat deeper I'm not sure. They are wannabe horns that are prone to breaking off and bleeding all over the place for no good reason. This picture was taken while they were both still in one piece:

Of course, ram lambs like to practice bashing their heads against things, and when you have scurs this is not a good idea. Tug started out with two scurs pointing up and back, and then one day the left one got banged about, and started bleeding at the base. Plus, it was now slightly cockeyed, so that it pointed a bit off to one side. It's been getting progressively worse, until the last few days you could see that the outer layer was completely detached from his head but still stuck to this kind of stem-like thing and was now pointing sideways, like another ear. It rather resembled an alien mushroom and was pretty silly looking.

Tonight there was the usual scrum at the hay feeder, and suddenly Tug emerged shaking his head and with fresh drops of blood dripping down over his eye. I grabbed him and Ken held him while I went for something to cut that silly looking thing off, Kwik-Stop for the bleeding, and Blu-Kote to prevent flies and things from getting in there and making a mess.

I came back with the loppers, the kind you use for pruning tree branches. Ken steadied his head and *snip*, off it came. I applied the Kwik-Stop (wonderful stuff) and then a few sprays of the Blu-Kote and he was good to go. While we had ahold of him I tested the other scur. Although he hasn't banged that one up (yet), when I put pressure on it, I could feel and see it move slightly. That would not happen with a true horn.

So, we'll see, but for now at least that thing isn't hanging off his head waiting to cause more trouble. He probably feels lopsided but he'll get used to it. I'm sure he'll repay us by knocking the other one off and making us repeat the process.

Anyone for lamb chops? :-)

05/29/07

Permalink 06:19:08 pm, by Karen Email , 1290 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Interrupted dreams

It's been over a week since we got the letter from the town zoning office informing us that in order to keep "farm animals" we were required by zoning ordinances to have 10 acres of land. As we do not have 10 acres, this is a problem. The zoning guy helpfully copied out and highlighted the sections of the rule book that we were in violation of.

That was last Monday night. Tuesday I wrote a brief letter thanking him for his letter and letting him know we would be re-homing our sheep. Although the letter had made no mention of a timeframe, I asked for the town's patience as we worked through the situation. We spent most of the week in the deeps of misery, neither of us having much appetite (in our case, not necessarily a bad thing), but thankfully at least able to sleep.

We talked to various people, from Geri, the neighbor who loves our sheep (she plays bridge with a guy who raises sheep, and I wanted his phone number), to the owners of the restaurant we frequent who have a horse farm, to some folks we met online who used to live in Ransomville but moved out so they could have a larger farm to raise dairy goats and other critters. Geri has lived here for 30 years and said "don't panic, the town never does anything much about zoning complaints, and they can't expect you to move your animals out in a couple weeks." Her next door neighbor has 18 acres covered with old junked vehicles and piles of tires, and a complaint to the town about that situation resulted in exactly nothing.

The folks who raise dairy goats (certified by NY to sell raw goat and cow milk!) said they know the zoning guy and what he told us can't be right. They lived on 6-6.5 acres in Ransomville and they had their little farm, but they weren't farming for a living. The legal definition used by the zoning ordinance for a farm is an entity operated primarily for gain. Further, the ordinance states that to have a farm (legal definition) you must have 10 acres. As they weren't taking the farm tax exemption and weren't operating as a business, they were told that it was no problem to do what they were doing.

Anyway, this morning I went and talked to the zoning guy, Larry, and he is a very nice man who is sympathetic to our situation. He said he does not go around hassling people about zoning, that the rules are a bit vague, that the way he reads them, we should not have the animals, but he admitted that a lawyer might very well read them differently. He doesn't think that not running a farm as a business necessarily negates the 10 acre rule, but he said he could be wrong. He would tend to err on the side of caution. But he does not go around looking for zoning violations and would not have bothered us except that within about a week's time he got 4-5 complaints (!). I was shocked at that because I only know of ONE person who has not been happy lately, but his wife enjoys the sheep and said "everything bothers Richard", so I didn't take it too seriously. I figured when the letter came that he was probably the one who complained. But 3-4 other people? Who? And WHY didn't they come to us first? Larry said that most of the time when people call him, they won't even tell HIM their name - they just want to register a complaint. He said that people should have the guts to come to us first, but they don't. I told him that we would sell off most of our stock, but we would like to keep a small number if possible.

The complaints seemed to center around noise, and our "manure" piles. We have two particularly noisy demanding ewes (see post below for the story on one of them), and before we got even got the letter we had actually pulled them into the barn because they were so bad. I knew that sort of thing could be annoying, and we didn't want to upset anyone (too late!). In fact, we had already decided to sell them because we don't want noisy animals around either. The other thing about the manure piles was both confusing and somewhat amusing. We had cleaned out the pen inside the barn three times. The first time was a few months ago and that we put at the back end of the garden so it could compost. The last two times we put them in between the back of our house and the barn. They were perhaps 2.5 feet high at the center, and maybe six feet in diameter, and were composed mostly of straw and hay, with sheep poop and urine mixed in of course. But they were not smelly and were not even really visible unless you were looking for them. I intended to use them for planting some pumpkins, but yesterday we weeded out the flower beds all around the house and used them as mulch. Presto! No more manure piles! Only the one in the garden is left and that will be spread out in the next day or so.

So, Larry basically said that as we planned to cut down on our sheep numbers and had taken care of the piles, he was not going to do anything more unless and until he gets further complaints. At that point he will let them know the steps we are taking and see how things go. I got the impression that he thinks people are over-reacting and he thinks we are good people and should not have to worry about this. However, if it comes down to it, we may have to sell everything off, unless we want to get a lawyer and fight it.

And back to our goat-raising friends - if you read the zoning ordinances, the part about farms is written the same way for both our "semi-rural residential" and the "rural residential" zone where they used to live and which comprises most of the township. So, no matter what part of the town you are in, if farms are permitted, they are all subject to the same 10 acre minimum. The reason, he said, they were allowed to have their animals was because they happened to live somewhere with nobody around that complained. So they were allowed to do what they wanted to do, not because the rules permitted it, but because no one minded. That essentially means that the rules are useless, and arbitrary.

If this has taught us anything, it's that you should not rely on reading the zoning ordinances, but actually talk to a zoning official to see what the interpretation of those ordinances are. Also, we've realized that to really do what we want to do in terms of raising sheep (or anything else), we need to be in a true farming community. Our town makes noises about encouraging agricultural uses of land, but they limit people to needing 10 acres to do anything. If you buy 9.9 acres of land, you are still technically in violation if you have anything considered a "farm animal" (which includes poultry) on your property, and if someone wanted to make a stink about it and make your life miserable, they could.

So, we are slowly making plans to move out of here. We don't know when or to where, but this is probably not the right place for us in the long term. We just have to search for the right opportunity and trust that God will take care of us, as He always has.

05/20/07

Permalink 08:16:29 pm, by Karen Email , 587 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Crazy days

It feels like we've been going going going without any time to relax these last few weeks. Between work at work and work at home, we're on a merry-go-round. To add to the stress, one of our ewes, Rose, has become a spoiled, demanding, brat. She always was a little mouthy, but since she lambed the problem has increased by a factor of 10. She wants what she wants and she wants it NOW! And she's not afraid to bellow like a cow to get it. Well, on a farm with 50 or 100 acres, that might not be a problem. We have 4, and neighbors in close proximity. Sure, we're in an agricultural district, but people have their limits. And I live with the constant strain of feeling like some of them are probably fed up and wish we'd disappear. One of them I know hates the noise, but his wife said everything bothers him, so I don't know whether to worry about him or not. I probably spend way too much time worrying about what other people think.

Yesterday was the last straw. The day before we had put them on fresh grass, and Rose walked up and down and bellowed (sometimes with her mouth full). Then yesterday evening she started in again. I had taken out some second cut hay (which is like candy to them, and what Rose wants all the time) and they finished that off, and Rose started in with her bawling. I said to myself "I'm not going out there - she'll just have to graze or eat first cut and like it". Half an hour later I was a quivering blob of human anxiety, and Rose was still going at it. And, she'd brought along some of her pals. After a while, they figure something must be wrong, so while Rose sings the verses, they chime in on the chorus. So, we went out and put down a little more hay. Rose dove into it like she hadn't eaten in weeks. I went back inside. Fifteen minutes later she started in again. Ken and I decided that for our sanity's sake, and that of our neighbors, Rose was going to jail.

"Jail" is the pen in the barn where the rams have been living. We had been letting them out to graze in the evening, but they spent most of their time in the barn. Well, this was their big day because they were going to have their freedom. We went out and caught Rose and her lambs (that was an adventure), let the rams out, and put Rose and her lambs in. Now she can bellow all she wants and it's somewhat muffled by the barn. Unfortunately, she can still rile the others up a bit, but not as badly. Also, Quinn appears to have taken on the role of Chief Bawler, but she's not as persistent as Rose is, so there's a little more peace.

Meanwhile I wonder if we've bitten off more than we can chew. We have more land to fence, and not a lot of time available to get it done. Having that extra section done would help a lot as we could put the sheep farther back on the property, not only giving them fresh graze and browse, but the noisy ones would be less audible, and maybe less inclined to be noisy. It's not the work involved that's the problem, but the time it will take, and what we'll have to put up with in the meantime.

04/23/07

Permalink 10:03:38 pm, by Karen Email , 287 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Grand finale

Penny finally lambed last night between 8 and 9pm. I went out around 8:10 and I could see she was trying to find a spot. She was doing a lot of pawing at the ground and pacing around. The lambs were being pests and every time she would lay down, someone would come over to see what she was doing. I chased Tug away as he was clearly being annoying where the others were just curious. When it got dark I knew the lambs would curl up by their mothers and Penny would get some peace.

So I went back out at 9:15 to take Tessa's bottle out, and there in the glow of the flashlight were two newborn WHITE lambs. They were almost ghostly in the dark, with their solid black mom nickering and licking them dry. I went in and got Ken and we went out and watched them for a while. Both lambs were active and mom was taking care of them, so we left them alone after a few minutes.

One of the lambs has a funny marking under her tail. It's a black patch shaped somewhat like a comma. It's possible that she is actually a black spotted lamb, and not white, but it's just that the white spotting is covering most of her body except for this one area. I knew Penny had the potential to carry spotting, but I wasn't sure about Brendan. As it turns out, he does carry it, so it's possible the lamb is spotted. But sometimes what is thought to be spotting turns out just to be some sort of anomaly, so we'll have to wait and see.

So here are the latest (and last) additions to the flock:

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Sharing ideas from our small farm in NH, where we raise Icelandic sheep and assorted poultry. We are members of ISBONA (Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America) and the CLRC (Canadian Livestock Records Corporation). We also participate in the Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program (NH54). Contact us at karen [at] birchtreefarm [dot] com. Please also visit the farm website at Birchtree Farm.
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