Theft in the Barnyard

We have three bottle babies and two sometimes bottle babies. The more bottle babies you have the crazier it is.

Two are little butterballs.  They love their Land O’Lakes Milk Replacer.  I always feed them first as they are bigger than the others and can shove their smaller counterparts away. I hold a Coke bottle in each hand, they latch on, make eye contact, and the chugging contest is underway.  All the other lambs in the barnyard stand around chanting, “Chug, chug, chug, chug!” The contestants are intense chuggers.  The boy chugged so hard OFF popped the nipple and it took him a dozen slurps to realize no bottle was attached.

He dropped the nipple, I made note of where it landed, and popped another bottle in his mouth. Contest over! The girl is the winner! And…the nipple is gone; no longer on the ground, nowhere within three feet of me.

Who took the nipple? Great detective that I am I shortly narrowed the suspect list to 75. The chickens are pastured.  The chickens are everywhere. The chickens like milk replacer. A chicken has taken the nipple. When a chicken gains a prize, (anything from a big bug to a stolen nipple) she runs as fast as she can so no one can take it from her. Chickens run fast, chickens run far. That nipple could be anywhere on the 28 acres. How far would she get before she realized it was not edible? I estimated ten feet, well truth be told, I was only willing to search a ten foot radius around where I was standing.

X marks the spot.  Using the heel of my boot I marked where I was standing and began my search spiraling out.  Around and around looking for a black nipple in the black dirt.  Around and around until I completed the ten foot circuit.  No nipple. They cost a little over a dollar. Just not worth looking any further. I gathered up my bottles and headed back into the barn.  Lo and behold right in the entry way there it was.

Bon Appetite Sheep, Bon Appetite Chickens 


The Wild Wild North (West)

A friend of J’s likes to have a few sheep brought over each spring to eat his pasture down.

Because we are still lambing J decided to only take over sheep we know are not pregnant. The list is short: the wether, the ram, Shirley Temple, and Topsy.  The Toyota hatchback fits two sheep in back with the seats down and Topsy and the wether drew the short straws.

We lock the two up over night in the stall with a double door (one behind the other) and, because they are excellent jumpers balance a board over both doors to make the jumping distance too long. They are not happy.  Lots of tin feed bucket kicking and water bucket dumping.

In the evening I head out to feed the bottle babies and tuck the rest of the sheep in.  There is Topsy stuck in between the doors.  Do I laugh? Leave her there for the night? Or, set her free? Decisions, decisions.

 I went and got J and between the two of us we removed her from between the doors and back into the stall.  J leaned the loft ladder against the door and that did the trick.  Next morning both sheep were still there.

To load a sheep into a hatchback is pretty easy.  We thread the halter rope through the eyelet for when the seat is up.  As I lift the various feet in to the back J tightens the lead and once the sheep is in J securely ties the lead.

The wether was effortless.  Now for Topsy.  Topsy is wild and canny.  As soon as I untie her rope to lead her from the barn she collapses in death. “I am a dead sheep, you cannot move me.”

J comes to see what the holdup is.  It takes two of us to “revive” Topsy who has playing dead down.  She could put a well trained dog to shame. I pull on the lead while J pushes from the rear.  Ten feet later we have a dead sheep again. I keep pulling forward while J puts her revival skills to work.  All of a sudden I’m up and moving forward.  Topsy has revived, dashed between my legs, and has taken off with me aboard. Yeehah! Fifteen feet later we were at the car and she was, once again, dead.

Which was fine.  It made it all that easier to thread the lead through the eyelet and allow J and I to collect our breath. 

Right front in.

Left front in.

Right rear in.

Left rear in.

A rush forward and one big somersault out the passenger door and we are back at the beginning.  One dead sheep on a lead.

We laughed so hard and so long Topsy thought she was safe and revived, just in time to be put back in the car.  This time with the passenger door closed and the lead out through the window.

Good night sheep. Good night chickens.

Maybe I’ll enter Mutton Busting at the fair….

The Power of Positive Dreaming

Here’s the bottom line. I love working here on the farm.  Yes it’s hard work, but its good hard work (and entertaining.) Just this morning I slid across the barnyard (which is slicker ‘n snot right now because of the rain) and did not fall down! I was amazing.  If there was an Olympic category of mud sliding I would have scored a perfect ten.

This is what I do first thing in the morning – even before breakfast and coffee:

  • Let the chickens out
  • Feed and water said chickens
  • Entertain the livestock by my impressive mud sliding
  • Count the sheep – if any are missing go check the South pasture
  • Check to see if any are looking ready to lamb (little Andre – whose paternity is in question –  is the only one so far. No other lamb has made an appearance)
  • Feed and water the sheep
  • Feed and water Chewy and the wether (this is entertaining in itself, see previous blog)
  • Watch little Andre caper about
  • Retrieve Thomas the Cat from wherever he’s hiding and escort him out to vole catching duty

So, the question becomes, “How do I make this a permanent lifestyle change?”

First step: Check your Resources

What do you have?

  • How much land do you already own? 0 acres
  • Is there a house? Barn? Other outbuildings? Um, no.
  • How much money do you have saved for a down payment? Er, ah, I need money?
  • What kind of farm equipment do you already own? Does a Mazda Miata count? I can probably fit one sheep into it. J
  • Do you have good boots? Yes, I have good boots.

Yeah! My assets consist of a pair of good boots! I’m almost there.

Second step: What additional resources do you have access too?

  • A rich husband who is madly in love with you and will financially cater to your every whim? No, but I could join FarmersOnly, there are good looking rich farmers, right?
  • A bank that will finance 100% at a 0% interest rate for an indeterminate amount of time? Um, no.
  • Someone you can go into partnership with? Possibly…maybe…er, let me ask around.

Okay, what can you offer a potential partner?

  • Knowhow! I’m learning all about caring for sheep and chickens.
  • Knowhow! I’m learning all about selling eggs and lambs and wool.
  • Knowhow! I’m learning all about raising and caring for honeybees.
  • Knowhow! I’m even learning how to garden (I still hate weeding, though).

Whohoo! I’m almost there. I have good boots and I’m getting knowhow! Who wouldn’t want to partner with me?!

Um, you have faith, right?

You betcha! With God’s help I can make this happen.  He has a soft spot for shepherds.


I Guess my Bum made too Good of a Target

Update on Friendly Ram (aka Chewy). Chewy doesn’t know how to behave as a sheep.  He was a bottle baby; meaning when he was born there was some reason he wasn’t raised by mom so he was fed by humans from a bottle.  Bottle babies don’t know how to behave like sheep, they are too comfortable around humans.

A couple weeks ago we were moving the sheep from the barn to the west pasture, a distance of about 50 yards.  Chewy, as usual, was in the lead and the others obediently behind. First Chewy decides to stop at the chicken pen for a snack, then he decides to head to the pasture, and then back to the barn. At each stop he leaves several of the flock behind.  In a matter of two minutes he has split the flock into three flocks.  Sheep have what are called flight zones.  These are areas to the front and rear of a sheep you (or a dog) can step into to change their direction. Chewy, who thinks he is part of the human flock, does not have these. Chewy is not steerable.

Chewy has now created an unsolvable logic problem. We have two people, myself and J, and three separate flocks.  The logic problem is set up like this:

  • You have 2 shepherds
  • You have 3 flocks totaling twenty sheep
  • 3 sheep are in the correct pasture, 4 sheep are in the barn, 13 sheep are over at the woodpile
  • To keep the 3 sheep in the pasture you need to close the gate
  • To keep the 4 sheep in the barn while you roundup the 13 sheep in the woodpile you need to close the door
  • To combine the sheep in the woodpile with those in the barn you need to have the barn door open
  • To move the 13 sheep in the woodpile and the 4 in the barn into the pasture you need the pasture gate open

You get the picture. Without a third shepherd it’s impossible to keep the right combination of doors and gates open and closed at the correct times while keeping sheep headed in the right direction.

We left the three sheep in the pasture and closed the gate.  We kept the barn door open and herded the rest in and closed the door. This sounds easy, but it involved detours around the orchard, behind the barn, and through another field. We could have used my friend Pamela’s faithful bearded collie Gil, who brooks no nonsense from sheep.

Time to put Chewy in lockdown. We separated Chewy from the flock and escorted him with much wrestling into a side yard. There, after more wrestling, he was joined by the wether (a wether is a castrated male). Neither was happy, but J and I could now move the flock with ease. Which we did, and headed into lunch.

Within an hour Chewy was back in the chicken pen snarfing chicken feed. More sheep wrestling and a more secure latch. Chewy escapes again.  This time by climbing over the gate into the barn.  Yes, I said climbing, not jumping. And, no wether. He’s hopefully in with the rest of the flock.

While collecting eggs I stop and count noses as the sheep are in the pasture next to the coops. Nope, no wether. I turn around.  There he is in the chicken pen, looking guilty.

Time to bring them back to the barn anyway, which is easier than getting them to the pasture.  Within minutes everyone is back in the barn.

In the morning J and I nail an unused creeper gate over the gate leading to the pen and fence over a low spot where the wether has been leaping out. More sheep wrestling and Chewy and company are re-incarcerated. There they have been ever since.

Each morning I scoot past Chewy while bring them hay and each evening I scoot past Chewy to bring them their grain. Chewy is annoying.  Between trying to open and close the gate while keeping him in I have to keep him out of the food I’m bringing until it’s in the feeder. The whole time he paws and chews at my boots or pulls on my jeans. It’s like having a 125 pound puppy.

I paused for a moment the other day to look at the rest of the flock grazing peacefully in the pasture behind the house; I was looking especially for little Andre, our week old lamb; when BAMMMMM! I shot forward a couple feet.

I guess my bum made a really good target.

Chewy has to die.


The Cat who was Afraid of Chickens

Thomas is a handsome cat who lives in a blue house. His thick fur is tabby on top and white on the bottom. He has large green eyes. If he had his way he would spend his whole day either napping on the down comforter or in a sun patch on the floor.

Thomas knows the sentence, “Time to go outside.” Whenever he hears it he knows to run and hide.  This morning he hid where he thought nobody would find him.

Andrea looked under and behind all the furniture in the living room. J looked under and behind all the furniture in her bedroom.  They knew Thomas couldn’t be in Andrea’s bedroom because she always keeps the door closed. Andrea looked in the living room again while J looked upstairs. No Thomas to be found.

J went  to check her bedroom again while Andrea headed back upstairs. 

J said, “He can’t be up there.  There’s only the hallway. All the room doors are closed”

Andrea said, “It can’t hurt to look.”

Sure enough, no Thomas. Andrea had to agree with J. As she started back down the stairs something caught her eye. A furry face in between the banister and the folds of a quilt hung over it. Thomas was found and outside he went.

Most things about outside are fun. Thomas knows how to climb on the roof.  He likes to walk around and look in the breakfast nook window. Sometimes he presses his nose against the glass and asks to come back inside.  Andrea and J say, “No Thomas, it’s time to be outside.”

There is a small orchard and garden to explore.  Sometimes Thomas goes over there.  He’s supposed to be hunting voles and mice, but how can you concentrate on hunting when the chickens are out?

Thomas is afraid of the chickens.  When he sees one he runs away as fast as he can. Even away from the little grey one who thinks he’s kinda cute.  One time she followed him all the way up the driveway.

Chickens are everywhere. Thomas has seen them in the garden.  Thomas has seen them in the barn. Thomas has even seen them in the pasture with the sheep. The chickens run fast.  The only thing more scary than a chicken is two or three of them running right towards you. Okay, maybe the sheep are scarier yet.

Thomas is glad he knows how to climb trees.  Thomas is glad he knows how to get on the roof. Thomas is glad when it’s finally time to come in at night and have his dinner, sleep on the down comforter and dream of new places to hide.


You, too, can have chickens as friends.

This post is dedicated to Sandy Hayes. Who, this morning let me know via Facebook she’s never liked chickens but now is becoming friends with them through my posts. Yes Sandy, you too can have chickens as friends.

Chickens are easy to take care of in a backyard, whether you start with chicks or get some grown up ladies. A lot of urban areas now allow chickens. Check with your area first, they may have restrictions on roosters which are loud and can bother your neighbors. They don’t just crow at dawn.  They crow ALL THE TIME.

Henry stood in the barn door crowing at me for about five minutes the other day.  We have a metal barn.  It was loud. Henry truly believes in using sound as a way to break a person down. The military has nothing on him when it comes to using noise machines. So what could I do? I mustered all my years of working at summer camps, Youth for Christ, and working with my church youth group (you really learn how to project your voice when leading 60 jr. highers in a game of poop deck ) and crowed back at him, “SHUT UP!”. Silence descended. Henry stepped three feet back and skulked away. The next morning he wasn’t in his usual coop on the top roost.  The ladies kicked him out to the other coop, where I imagine  he was on a lower roost because, well, he was sporting chicken poop on his comb.

Back to having chickens as friends.  This is a book I really like: Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Jenna Woginrich. It’s not only a how to guide taking you from chicks to hens it also has info on all the different kinds of chickens, excerpts from her blog, and great photos following a family raising their first chickens. And of course, entries from the family’s “Chick Diary”. It’s not your typical “Chickens, blah, blah, blah. Coops balh, blah, blah. feed blah, blah, blah.” kind of book. 

If you just want 2 or 3 hens for their contribution of fresh eggs this chicken house The Eglu Go is great. It’s easy to clean, provides a roost, nesting box, and a run for your new feathered friends. Wait there’s an ordinance against backyard chicken in your area? Bring on the Stealth Chicken Coop by From the front it looks like a garbage can. Yes, not only can you have chickens as friends you can also be an outlaw. How fun is that?

Why do you want chickens? I’ll tell you, once you’ve had a farm fresh egg you’ll only go back to grocery store eggs under duress. I didn’t buy the hype about farm fresh eggs until my friend Jennifer told me one of the girls at church kept hens and sold the eggs.  One Sunday I thought, “What the heck?” and bought a dozen. Bright yellow yolks and lots of flavor. I was sold! The trick was getting to her on Sunday before she sold out. Yup, the kid had a product high in demand. So I found a second source, my friend Renate.  She also tended to sell out quick.  Your best bet with Renate? Put in an order early. Now, other then Easter, when has a grocery ever sold out of eggs? 

So yes, you too can have farm fresh eggs every morning.

Good Morning Friends

p.s. Henry has been re-established as king of the roost.

p.p.s: Chickens are a great source of entertainment, too.

The Great (Chicken) Escape

Up until now the chickens have had free reign on the property, other then being locked up at night in their roosts. They could run their errands in the garden, on the lawn, in the pasture, and in the barn. They take their errands very seriously, each chicken heads to her assigned area each morning.  I suspect they have a foreman who sets the schedule each day. 

It’s that time of year to start the garden. Chickens can, and will, eat your garden plants under the auspices of pest eradication and fertilization.

On Saturday we reconfigured their fencing so they had a bigger portion of pasture and we could shut the gate behind them. There was a bendy place in the chicken wire they could get over and a spot next to one of the roosts they could get through but J and R took care of those Sunday.

Last night they settled into their roosts.  Chickens put themselves to bed so night is the best time to get them all in one place secure and happy. J locked the roosts. I unlocked the roosts this morning and secured both gates behind me. All the chickens set out on their errands. The teams assigned to the garden and lawn were distressed. “Who put this gate in our way?!” They lined up along the gate pacing back and forth. If they had tin cups I’m sure they would have been rattling them.

I smugly headed up to the house and had my breakfast. A reddish gold bundle of feathers caught my eye. Yup, a chicken patrolling the lawn. A grey hen up by the garden. A black hen in the potted plants. Most of the black australorps headed around behind the garage.

J and I looked towards the coops after I assured her everything was locked up tight. The australorps had found a skinny gap they were squeezing through one at a time. So how were the others getting out? That route was simple. A quick hop to the edge of the water bucket, a short flight to the top rail of the fence, and a big jump softened by outstretched wings down. Freedom, sweet freedom.

Good morning chickens, good morning sheep.