Wow, it's been more than a week since I've written something here--sometimes life gets busy and before you know it, a bunch of days have just flown by. So what have I been up to? Well, one thing I never stop doing is reading. A while back, when all the movie hype was still going, I read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. I haven't seen the movie, but my sister Jean has, and she's the one who told me I should read the book. So I did, and I quite enjoyed it. A while ago I had bought the other two books in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, and I finally got around to reading those. Even though they are children's books, I thought the story was entertaining and original. I've been meaning to add The Golden Compass to my Netflix list as well, but haven't gotten around to that either.
Since my "reformed" book-buying self is trying to make better use of my local library, I recently got a few more books from there. I had ordered Don McCaig's Rhett Butler's People, as well as a nonfiction work my sister Renee had recommended, Free For All and I had a voice message that they were available at my local branch for pick up. So off I went to the library. I always check out the "new books" section while I'm there, and so as usual I added a couple more books from there.
The first one, a small book by CS Richardson titled The End of the Alphabet was a great read! It's the story of Ambrose Zephyr, who discovers that he has 30 days, more or less, to live, and what he and his wife and one true love, Zappora (Zipper) Ashkenazi, do with the time remaining to him. It's a engaging little love story, and although you know from the beginning how it will end, the story of getting there will keep you turning pages even when you know you should be doing something else, like farm chores.
I finished The End of the Alphabet last night and immediately picked up Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert. Borchert is a librarian in the suburban Los Angeles area, and this book promises to be humorous look at life in today's public library. Having worked as a librarian in a very small town in a very rural area, and having seen my share of oddballs, geeks, and crazies (but thankfully no gangstas), I am looking forward to reading Borchert's account.
The other two books in my current "to read" stack are Rhett Butler's People, which tells Butler's side of the Gone With the Wind saga, and Life Class by Pat Barker. I've not read any of Barker's works before, but she has recieved critical acclaim (and the Booker Prize) for previous works, and this looked like it would be a good story. Here's an excerpt from the dust cover: "It is the spring of 1914 and a group of young students have [sic] gathered in an art studio for a life drawing class. Paul Tarrant and Elinor Brooke are two parts of an intriguing love triangle, and in the first days of the war, they turn to each other. As spring turns to summer, Paul volunteers for the Belgian Red Cross and tends to wounded and dying soldiers from the front line. By the time he returns, Paul must confront the fact that life and love will never be the same for him again. In Life Class Pat Barker returns to her most renowned subject: the human devastation and psychic damage wrought by the First World War on all levels of British society." I'll let y'all know what I think when I've read it.
More on Lambing, or My Achey-Breaky Back
So aside from the mental exercise I get from reading, there are still physical things that must be done around here. All that rain we had made a tremendous mess of the barn and mixing pen area. It got so bad, I just finally put everyone back out in the main pasture. Then I tackled the soaking wet, stinking, mass of muddy straw that the barn area had become. The property here is terraced, with the terraces made such that they hold water, which I suppose at the time was thought to be a good and useful thing. And perhaps out in the pasture it is. But the way the previous owners built the barn, water runs off the yard, through the barn stalls, and then collects on the terrace just below the stall entrances. In bad weather and with livestock present, barn fronts can be pretty messy places, but adding a landscape feature that holds water right in front of the barn just makes for a horrendous mess. It took nearly six hours over two days for me and my buddy the pitchfork to get the jugs, stalls, and area right in front of them cleared of all the sopping wet straw. Let's just say that my muscles were fairly screaming by the time I went to bed Sunday night (a good thing from a Weight Watchers point of view because that level of back-breaking work meant that I could eat pretty much anything over the weekend, and I still managed to lose weight!). But I knew my next group of ewes were due to start lambing today and that there's no way that stuff would ever dry out unless I cleared it out, so that's what I did. Yesterday, I went in and spread lime in the now-mostly-dry stalls and barn front. Today, I'll put down a new layer of fresh, clean straw. With just six ewes to lamb, I plan to just close off the one stall, since really two jugs should be plenty. I was tempted to just let them lamb out in the pasture, but since I'm not sure what Maia's experience is with newborns and I also have to do some traveling over the next few weeks, I figure it will be easier for the sheep and Jimmy if they're brought up into the barn/mixing pen area, which is on the schedule for this evening.
These ewes also needed crutching, which I did Wednesday evening. I don't think the job was quite as neat as when Laura and I did all the other ewes together, but at least it's done! So what if it was pretty much at the last minute. One of the ewes from this flock, my favorite ewe of the group in fact, named Sophie, had a stillborn lamb earlier this week. That leaves just six. Of those six, four already have good-sized bags on them. The other two may or may not have bags coming. I'd say they do, but since the sheep are new to me and I've not been through a lambing with them, I don't know what their bags are normally like. It would be nice if they all lambed early on. I'm afraid as we get into May the warmth will just bring out the flies, which makes things a bit more treacherous for the lambs.
I still haven't decided if I want to breed the yearlings and the ones who lost their lambs or didn't catch back this spring for a fall lambing. I wish I had a crystal ball to see what the weather is going to be and if we'll have pasture and whether hay will be available at a reasonable price.... Given the cost of grain, I'm leaning toward not breeding, because certainly by late gestation I'd have to be supplementing them and with feed at $10 for a 50-lb bag, I doubt I could get out of the lambs what went in to feeding their mamas.
My flock will soon be about 25 percent smaller as Laura has sold her entire flock (now 16 sheep counting the lambs) to Chuck, and they will be picking them up on Saturday to take them to their new home. This will help with my feed bill some, but it means I no longer have any well dog broke sheep for working youngsters on. I've decided that the five mostly crazy karakul ewe lambs will now have to be worked religiously so that they can be the new schooling sheep. If I want hair sheep to work, I'll just have to go down the road to Tony and Mary's place.
As for feed, one of the other reasons for separating off the pregnant ewes is that I can continue to feed them at the same level while cutting everyone else back. They have grass now, and the youngest lambs are a nearly a couple of weeks old now and have a creep area where they can get grain and not be pushed out of the way by their mamas. In another couple of weeks when the youngest are about a month old, I plan to cut the grain off entirely to the mamas and just let them go on pasture and hay. That should help the budget tremendously, as grain prices have been steadily rising, just like gas prices.
And although I don't have pictures (I'll try to get some soon), my little hen that looks like a golden Sebright (but isn't) hatched out six biddies last week. They are still living in a dog crate, but I plan to move them out into one of the chick pens this afternoon. The chicks are either black, black with red heads, or a mix of tan and black. Now let's just hope most of them are hens, since my hens have taken a beating over the past couple of years till I'm down to just four or five (with probably three times that many roosters).
And that's all for now here at Willow's Rest.