Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bits and Pieces

First and foremost, a big THANK YOU to some very special goats - both Isobelle the Beautiful Goat and "Da Bean" - for awarding me the following blogger award.  I love to read both their blogs and I'm so pleased they like mine too!

So, I'm supposed to say 10 things about myself.  Well, here's what I am going to do, because I like to mess about with rules!  I'm going to tell you 10 things that I hope are interesting that have happened in the past few days.  Here we go!

1)  The big group of birds is still here.  I learned from the very clever Jenny over at Wandering Gecko that it's called an "irruption" of birds.  Therefore, I award Jenny with the Beautiful Blog award also!  She has a lovely blog about her sheep and other things over in Scotland, including her work with reintroduction of beavers.  In any case, "irruption" was a new word for me and I did a bit of research on it to learn more about it.  It's a very interesting phenomenon - you should Google it!  Anyway, here is a picture of the continued presence of the Common Grackle irruption.
They are very, very noisy.

2)  Today when I was out moving sheep between pastures, I saw a vole.  Voles are, in my opinion, incredibly cute little critters.  It's not very often you can actually see one for long enough to get a good look at it.  They are small and cuddly looking and have very small ears compared to other rodents, such as mice.  They also have much shorter tails.  I was fascinated with this little one today because it was distressed by the moving of a trough, under which it was hiding.
Really, I wanted to take it inside and set it up with a hamster wheel and some munchies, but that would be wrong, so I had to satisfy myself with pictures.  See below, you can't even really see its ears!  How cute!

3)  Moving along, but staying on the wildlife theme, is that recently there has been some local flooding.  Quite bad flooding really, with the road I normally take to get to work (well, to get anywhere really) being completely underwater by what appeared to be about a foot - at least 8 inches.  This made things very soggy indeed.  It also meant that some local cornfields were flooded, and some migrating ducks decided to have a little rest stop.  I took some pictures from a distance, so the quality isn't great here because I had to enlarge them a lot to show anything.  Anyway, I think that what you can see here are "Lesser Scaup" (the black and white ducks) and a "Northern Shoveler" (the duck with the cinnamon coloured patch on his side).  This made me wonder, if I were a duck, would I rather be named a Scaup or a Shoveler?  The brown ducks, by the way, are the females.

4)  Today we moved the ewes from one pasture area to another.  It was a lot of work.  Some of them, when haltered, do not want to move.  In fact, they lie down sometimes.  Trying to move a 200+ pound fluffy, fleecy "mound" when it does not want to be moved is a very challenging operation.  To add insult to injury, I fell in the mud at one point and had a completely muddy backside, to the point that I had to go in and change because it was truly uncomfortable, in an "I wet my pants" sort of a way.  Ugh.

Here is a picture of Corsica and her lamb, Branwyn, after the move.  They are nuzzling noses with the rams and wethers on the other side of the fence.  I am so enamoured with our lambs this year!  Since Polly recently had her first baby goat from her doe, China, and since she is acquiring a new pregnant goat, I thought I'd also award her the beautiful blog award!

5)  We also moved Stormy the cria and Dolly, his mom, into the pasture with the sheep.  Stormy got to see his father (Kahlua) for the first time.  Look up, look waaaaay up!
Stormy let me rub him under the chin.
He also tried to help Kelly with some fence adjustments.

6)  Cesar the gelding llama moved with the sheep flock to the new pasture area.  This was the first time since we have had him that he was able to directly interact with another llama.  He was very happy to meet Dolly and Stormy, and followed them persistently for a while.  She held her head high and pretended not to want to speak to him.  I thought this was a cute picture because Dolly and Stormy are "in step" as they walk away from him with the same "attitude" as they walk away.  Because she also has lovely llamas, I award the beautiful blog award to Critter Farm Girl.

7)  It was a good weekend for eggs.  I collected 21 eggs yesterday and about the same today.  A few were cracked so I have made an egg custard pie.  It smells very yummy at the moment while it is baking.  I am awarding the beautiful blog award to Flartopia, because she bakes good stuff too, with Miss Chef.

8)  I love my chickens!  They make the most beautiful eggs I have ever seen.  I am especially fond of the green ones.

9)  I made a beaded bracelet over the past week for the Des Moines Community College auction that supports the Iowa Culinary Institute at the school.  It helps pay for students to go on exchange trips to France to work with chefs in St. Etienne.  I strung the beads onto elastic beading cord and then actually knitted the strand of beads, so that it created a knitted bracelet that is stretchy.  I'm quite pleased with how it turned out.

10)  Last, but not least, I just thought I'd say that I love my little Marshmallow!  She is 9 months old now and still quite small, but very sweet.  I find it strange that her sister, Lollipop, is almost half Marshmallow's weight even though Lollipop had the benefit of nursing from her mother.  Marshmallow was a bottle lamb but has done far better in terms of her size.  They were late June lambs and have never really gained the size I would have expected, considering their mother is one of the 200 lb + sheep that I mentioned earlier.  Anyway, Marshmallow has a special place in my heart.  And because I know that sheep have a special place in Gerald the Majestic Goat's heart, I also award the blog award to him.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A video introduction to the goat does of Whispering Acres

I took the video camera out a few days ago to take some footage of the goats and sheep.  I haven't edited the sheep video yet (it takes a while!) but the goat video is here.  I'm not the best videographer by any means, as will be evident, but at least you can meet the goats "in goat" (like in person, but they are not persons) on the computer monitor!  There is also a cameo appearance by Sketch, one of my most friendly chickens.

I'll do the sheep video soon.  There will be a lamb race included!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lamb Updates

All the lambs seem to be progressing well now.  The first pair to be born - Aurora and Amethyst, are both white ewe lambs but there is now a huge difference in size.  Aurora stayed with her mother, whereas Amethyst became a bottle lamb.  Aurora was heavier at birth (13 lb) by 5 lb.  Now, she is a whopper at nearly 35 lbs.  I can't believe how fast she is growing.  None of last year's Icelandic lambs grew like that!  She just loves her little corner.
Amethyst is doing well although she's smaller, and she has a big appetite.  She has gone from 8 lb to about 17 lb.  Bond is the other bottle lamb in with Amethyst and he is also doing well.  He started out at 10.5 lb and has reached 18 lb, but he's 3 days younger than Amethyst.  It's interesting how Bond has such a dark face and dark ears, compared to Amethyst being so pink, even though they are both white fleeced.  They are the same breed too, of course - both blue faced Leicesters, but it's more evident on Bond!  His ankles are dark, so maybe he carries the coloured genetics and that's why the difference is so pronounced.
Branwyn is Corsica's single lamb and she went outside today for the first time, along with Aurora and her mother Alystyne.  They were glad to be back with the herd and both lambs are very active and playful.  I didn't weigh Branwyn but she started out at 12 lb and must be at least 20 lb by now.  I carried her out to the field and she was an armful!  Here she is having decorated herself with hay.  She may be a future fashionista sheep.
She is equally pretty without her hay adornments!
Olwyn is growing on a par with Amethyst - they are definitely the leaders in this group.  She started out at the same weight as her twin brother Bond, 10.5 lb.  She is now 24 lb, in just 2 weeks and 2 days.  I am really pleased with her progress.  She and Amethyst are also the two that I have seen eating grain.  Here is her gorgeous silver back.
And here is her sweet little face.  Her tail docking was successful as you can see in this picture - none of the others have lost their tails yet, but probably will soon.
My favourite thing about lambs, though, is watching them play.  Amethyst and Bond are experts at it!  They chase and play all the time.  If you look closely in this picture, you can see that Esmeralda the barn cat sometimes joins in the fun too!
Bond is also taking after his namesake in developing daring flying leaps and bounds.  He is practicing for roles in upcoming films, of course.  Amethyst and Esmeralda are not quite sure what to make of it!
Hope everyone else is having lamb success and enjoying the weekend!

Friday, March 19, 2010

He's back!! But so is the snow...

I was really excited this morning to see a flash of blue outside my window.  A true sign of spring - the bluebird was back!  I watched him and snapped a few photographs through the window.  I inadvertently caught him in the act of actually eating a worm!

He then went to sit and digest it on his favourite fence post.  He sits there quite a bit in the summer.

It was all the more distressing, therefore, when it began snowing later in the day.  The spot where the worm was consumed is now under about an inch of snow, with 2 to 4 more expected.  Really, haven't we had enough?!  Fortunately, the weather forecast is due to improve by Sunday so this snow should not stick around for very long.  It was just beginning to dry out though, after all the rain we had experienced last week.  So now, when this snow melts, it will all be a muddy mess again.

It was a 15-egg day, including 3 duck eggs.  Amongst the usual assortment (not yet rinsed), was this little gem!

Really nice dark brown but so tiny!  I'm not sure if it is a bantam egg or a standard hen who is having an off day, but I don't think I usually have one that dark. Time will tell!  Here it is with the snowy mess in the background.
Here's hoping it all melts on Sunday, when the weather is supposed to improve again.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A name is chosen....and the birds are taking over!

First, I want to thank everyone for their kind thoughts and sympathies regarding the loss of Tula.  She will be remembered fondly in my heart and mind.  These losses are hard.  Although it is a part of raising livestock that is very difficult to never becomes easy to accept.

Second, I was amazed at the creativity and breadth of name suggestions I received.  Give yourselves a pat on the back (or a scratch behind the ears, if you prefer) because you've all sent in fabulous suggestions.  That made it a very difficult task for me to choose a winning name.  Initially, I was able to eliminate a few because there were some names in there that had already been chosen for animals on my farm, and having two animals by the same name would be really confusing.  Onyx, Black(berry) Pearl, Opal and Corsica all already live here!  Somebody happened to choose Kelly's ex-wife's name.  That was quickly eliminated too, because we don't really want her namesake living here!  Then it began to get difficult.

I wrote down all the names and selected some that sounded more masculine to me, and decided to put those aside for future ram lambs (in case Kelly will let me name one, although it's his job to name all male critters on the farm).  I consulted with a few key advisory committee members - namely, me, myself, and I.  I then had a committee with me and myself.  There were some heated disagreements during the committee meeting.  Finally, the committee was able to agree on 10 picks, and we rolled them around in our collective mind for a while.

For the record, here are the top 10 picks, in alphabetical order:

  • Briagha
  • Eden
  • Fiona
  • Grainne
  • Larke
  • Misky
  • Morrigan
  • Olwyn
  • Raven
  • Sitara
I am keeping these on a list because I just love all these names and would like to use them for future lambs (or goat kids) who fit them.  But, there can only be one winning choice for the name of Leslie's black ewe lamb.  I began to do a little research on these names, to help me choose.  That was a good idea for me, because it helped me make the choice.  Without further ado, the winner is Olwyn.

I chose that name for 3 reasons.  First, it sort of matches with the other black lamb's name - Branwyn - which I had already chosen for her 2 weeks ago.  Secondly, I really like the etymology of the word, because it derives from Welsh (many of my ancestors are Welsh) and comes from the Welsh word "ol" meaning "footprint or track" and from gwen, meaning "white, fair, or blessed".  My maternal grandmother's name was Gwen, and indeed she was blessed because she gave birth to my own dear mother.  So, this name had multiple meanings for me.  I hope that this little lamb will indeed have a blessed footprint in her life.  The final "winning" factor that swayed me was that a variant of the name - Olwen - appears in the folktale Einion and Olwen, about a sheep herder who travels to the Otherworld to marry Olwen.  How appropriate - a sheep herder story!

So, it is up to Isobelle the Beautiful Goat to choose which prize her lady would like from those that I previously listed.  I will also need an address to send her the prize, so please email that to me at patentgarden[at]gmail[dot]com.  Congratulations Isobelle!

What on earth did I mean about the birds taking over?  Well, I was sitting quietly at my desk earlier this week, contemplating sheep names of course, and there was a sudden cacophony outside.  It sounded like I had left the window open, but I hadn't, because it's still too cold for that.  I looked out, and grabbed the camera immediately.  There were so many black birds filling the sky that I was just riveted.  I thought it was a "regular" flock, but it went on, and on, and on....   Here's my first photo as I looked out the window.
I took some more photographs, and initially thought that they were starlings.  I've seen starlings flocking in the spring like that, but never in such numbers.  I think it was probably about 2 minutes before the river of birds slowed down.  I thought it was remarkable, but didn't realize that this huge conglomeration of birds would be sticking around for a while!  Seriously, click on this photo to enlarge it.  You will see that there is a virtual river of them flying by.  I can't even begin to estimate the numbers.
Yesterday, on my drives to and from work, the cloud of birds was back, and they were all in a field that I was passing in my car.  The field was nearly black.  I kid you not!  I have never seen so many birds in one place.  As my car passed, they all took off in that seamless way that birds have, and flew over my car.  It was then that I realized they are not starlings - instead they are common grackles.  I have now seen this mass of birds several times - in fields, in trees, and flying overhead.  They make a raucous noise, constantly chattering as they fly and as they sit.  I am not sure what has caused such incredible numbers this year, but I can assure you this kind of flocking has not been in this area in the past two years, since I have lived here. 
Is anyone else seeing this phenomenon?  Here they go over the newly finished barn!
And here they are again!  If you "biggify" this photo and look in the background, you can see them all the way out to where the trees meet the sky.  Everywhere!  Quick - call Alfred Hitchcock!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A very sad day

This morning we lost Tula, the little tiny lamb.  She was fine last night but this morning she was non responsive.  Her belly was full of milk though, and felt kind of bloated.  I treated her for bloat with no success.  I ran her to the vet and unfortunately she died on the exam table.  They felt that she had some underlying infection because she was eating well, but her digestion had shut down.  I know that she was tiny and weak from the beginning, but that doesn't make it any easier to lose her.

In honour of Tula's life, I will postpone the results of the naming contest.  It is not a time for celebrating today.

Run free, tiny girl.  The flock of Artaius welcomes you.

Tula:  March 2, 2010 - March 16, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring is Sproinging!

Really, spring is practically jumping out of the ground here, and that is why it makes me think "sproing!" instead of just "spring."  A mere week ago, we had deep snow in some areas of the yard and today it's practically all gone.  Over the past week there has been a fair amount of rain and much warmer temperatures, which have contributed to the muddy mess that used to be my yard.  However, this muddy mess has come along with a few other changes, including these wonderful green spikes that I found this morning!  Finally, crocuses are coming out!
This put me in a mood to search out other garden surprises, which I found in abundance.  The garlic is coming up quite well!
My achillea plants have green leaves that have been hiding under all that snow!
The irises are sending up beautiful sea-green spikes all over the flower beds.

The sheep pasture is still a dreadfully muddy mess, but the sheep are enjoying the warmer temperatures and I have seen lots of frisky playfulness emerging in them.  They chase and play sometimes when the weather is better.  I had a chat with Miss Marshmallow, who said that she was really pleased that the water trough wasn't freezing any more at night.
The other sheep, and Cesar the llama, certainly agreed.  Those Icelandics sure have long coats!
I am still surprised by how tiny the Jacob ewes are that we bought last year.  They are now just over a year old.  I weighed them this past week.  They were 35 and 40 lbs, for Penguin and Pennyroyal respectively.  That sure seems small to me for 1 year old sheep.  Here they are flanked by a Polypay and Icelandic ewe, for comparison.  What say you, Jacob owners?  Are these two just stunted?  Shouldn't they be bigger by now?  Will they grow any more?
They feel chubby on their sides though, and not bony or anything.  Here's Pennyroyal at 40 lb.
Here's Penguin - again, she's  35 lb.
Here's Pennyroyal to the right of Miss Marshmallow, who was born in very late June and is a pudgy 50 lb.
Yes, Miss Marshmallow, you are beginning to look like your namesake...fluffy, white, and ROUND!

Speaking of round, here are the goat mothers-to-be!  (Marshmallow is not pregnant, in case you're wondering.)  This is Puffin, more recently nicknamed "Miss Puffiness" and she is the most rotund of the four does.
Here is Coffee showing her baby bump.
Not to be outshined, the lovely Misses Lotus and Opal are also bulging a little...
...but really they were more interested in practicing their synchronized goat lick devouring tricks.
But really, I know why you're here.  You're looking for pictures of the lambs, aren't you?!  Well, I shall not disappoint you if that is what you're looking for, because even I can't get enough of these cute little bundles of fleece.  Some little lambs are trying to hide.  This is Aurora, who for some reason adores hanging out in this corner of the pen.
Here is Branwyn testing out her mother as a climbing toy.
She's not sure if she wants to go down this way... instead she turns around and heads up front again.  Corsica is a great mom and doesn't seem to mind at all.
Here are the three house lambs who are now out in their own special pen where they can see, and touch noses with, the other lambs.  I will put them outside hopefully later this week when the pasture is less muddy.  They are still being bottle fed, but out in the barn rather than in the house.  Unfortunately a chicken was sitting on Bond's coat and made it all messy.  Bond still seems to get cold more easily than the two ewe lambs, even though they are smaller than he is.  I wonder if it's because he had such bad hypothermia.
Here's Aurora when she isn't hiding in her favourite triangular corner.  She is really growing fast!
Finally, here is Leslie's ewe lamb.  Don't forget to enter the naming contest for her on my last blog post!  She is also growing fast and, in my opinion, she's strikingly beautiful.  I can't wait to see her fleece change as it matures and see how much it silvers.  Branwyn shows no sign of silvering so she may keep the darker colour, but this ewe lamb (to be named on Tuesday!) is definitely going to be a spinner's fleece!  She also has a really long body and long legs too.  From my viewpoint (which is very much in the learning stages), she has excellent conformation.
Who cares about conformation though, when she's so cuddly!

Have a great week!