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Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year!

Since the very vocal show dogs arrived at the house in the front of our property, Chelsea the sheepdog has turned barking into an endurance sport. Sometimes she barks until she is hoarse, in response to whatever is being shouted to her in canine language from across the barnyard. I don’t always hear her. Tuning things out is a skill that I have developed over the years—possibly as the young mother of three small daughters, operating a daycare centre out of my house, or maybe it was when I worked in a large publishing house in Asia, where every cubicle seemed to host its own loud telephone conversation, online video or audio. I once worked with someone who insisted on reading the subject lines of his emails aloud every morning. (You know who you are). Anyway, my response to distracting sound is to mentally turn the volume down. And so I don’t often hear Chelsea’s barking, unless it changes in tone to something more frantic and tell-tale.
Yesterday she was sounding the alarm so I peeked out the window and sure enough, the door to the hay storage was open and I could see several fluffy butts in the doorway, helping themselves to the banquet. I could also hear the clip-clop of Belgian hooves on the wood floor. I quickly pulled on boots and barn jacket to investigate.
Some of the older, more experienced sheep turned tail and ran out of the barn as soon as they heard the patio door slide open on the house. They knew the gig was up. Others responded to my yelling as I clumped across the muddy barnyard by tripping over each other to get out of the hay store. Chelsea wagged her tail and smiled at me as I passed. “Good girl. You’re a good watchdog, Chelsea.” I gave her a quick pat on the head—nothing too lingering or friendly—she snaps on a whim.
As I reached the open door, Donkey spotted me. He had the lid to the grain bin open and was helping himself to mouthfuls of molasses-laced sweetfeed. I cornered him and instead of going around the nearest round bale, he leapt straight up into the air and cleared it. “That was impressive, Donk.” (And the Farmer said he was getting old.)
Just then Misty stuck her head out of the lambing room to see what the commotion was about.
“How the heck did you get in there?” I asked her, and she demonstrated, ducking and squeeeezing herself back through the open door. Then the two ringleaders kicked up their heels and nibbled at passing sheep on their way back out to pasture.
I don’t know how some farmers do it, feeding their horses once a day. If we don’t keep a steady supply of fresh hay available, our animals get into all sorts of trouble.
By the look of some of these fat sheep, the Farmer says we’ll be having lambs any day now. That never gets old. There’s nothing like waking up New Year’s Day and going out to the barn to discover a newborn lying in the hay. It’s nice and mild this year too so they should be okay. By the time the bitter cold arrives in February, they will be old enough to eat grain and hay and will have enough fat on them to keep them warm. The next batch of lambs won’t be born until April.
Mocha, Betty, Julie and Ginger will be having their babies soon too. We got a salt lick with selenium in it so we shouldn’t have the same problem we had last year, when the calves were born without a sucking reflex. It’s always a bit scary, watching something so huge being born, but we’ve been lucky so far and haven’t had any complications. Fingers and toes crossed. Knock on wood.
The last of the spring lambs have been sent to market. They were huge this year. Those Suffolk rams make big babies. Speaking of Philip, he has been released to the general population again, to fend for himself against Rambo. As the ewes have all been bred by now, the men shouldn’t be feeling too competitive. Rambo can be a territorial old grandpa, but he’s pretty reasonable. I think Philip will be safe.
Happy New Year to all our loyal readers. May the coming Year of the Dragon be a good one for you.

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