Thursday, December 22, 2011


The Maremma pups came back after a long night on patrol. Randy got up and showered, leaving me snug in the comfort of my warm down blankets for a bit longer. He went out and threw hay to EmmaLou and the goats and sheep. I made it as far as the couch and the coffeepot. As he came back inside to say goodbye, the pups followed him in. Tongue lolling out the side of his mouth in a large doggy grin, Cletus found me on the couch and buried his head in my lap. Cider watched, agitated that his place had been usurped, while Bruno waited his turn. Rubbing each furry body in turn, I indulged myself in my cup of coffee and slowly came awake enough to go milk.
I put the milking machine together, grabbed my bucket of warm water and headed for the door. When the dogs saw me step into my shoes, they knew I was really and truly going to go outside. They filed past me onto the porch and I put my buckets in the big wagon. I pulled it to the chicken pen, stopping to give them some more lay crumbles for their breakfast before letting them out to forage. The sheep had already been fed and were waiting at the big gate, so the pups and I went through the little gate, checking them all out to be sure no one was ready to lamb yet. Bruno and Cletus in turn went nose to nose with each one, counting, or saying good morning, or whatever it is that they do. I opened the big gate to their day pastures and Cletus led them out. Each morning, Cletus precedes the sheep out of sight and does another sweep to make sure no predators are close-by. The pasture the sheep like to graze in is probably about 20 acres or so with the large creek running through one side of it. If the water is low enough, they can just leave and go another mile or two out on the ranch. Its very open to predators and the willows along the creek bed give them good hiding spots from which to attack. Satisfied with the security check, Cletus comes back to meet me in the milk room. Bruno is already there, checking the calves behind the milk barn and sweeping the big horse corral and old barn with his eyes to make sure nothing is lurking there.
Emma takes her time eating, so after I am done with the milking, I decide to let the goats out back, as they go in a different pasture. As they hurry through the gate, Cletus runs to catch up with them as he hasn’t yet checked THAT pasture. He is faithful to do his best and when he returns, he plants himself where he can see the chickens and watch in the direction of the sheep, just in case he is needed. Bruno sleeps soundly as he is the night guardian who does the most traveling. He will rest unless Cletus sounds the alarm, then he will rise up in an instant, ready to do whatever it takes. For the most part, the days are quiet. The dogs have done such a good job we rarely have anything cross into their perimeter.
The goats came back up again. Scarlett, who is a very large Nubian doe weighing almost 200 lb. is in heat. We borrowed a little Boer goat buck to breed to them. For reasons that you need not dwell on if you have EVER been around an intact male goat, his name is PeeBody. PeeBody is tiny. Really, he is just a pip of a goat, but that doesn’t bother him least it DIDN’T until today. I notice them wooing and romancing one another and PeeBody decides the time is ripe to do his manly duty. It is then we all realize with horror that his legs are too short. He huffs and puffs while Scarlett grumbles. She continually climbs on anything in the pen, a stump, a large chunk of felled wooden fence, whatever she can find. In her little goaty brain she has the right idea, but the wrong half of the combination. I try gallantly to pull her down and allow PeeBody to take the higher ground, but Scarlett won’t hold still for him. In exasperation I open the gate to the 10 acre pasture behind the house to let them and EmmaLou out, hoping Scarlett will wind up in a ditch or low spot, or graze alongside one of the downed trees so PeeBody can have his opportunity. 
Emma and the pups accompany me as I walk down through the pasture, hoping to show the goats where the water is at the bottom. There are spring boxes down there they don’t know about, as for some reason, the goats and sheep never venture that far, even when hungry. About a quarter of the way down, EmmaLou suddenly turns around, shakes her head menacingly, jumps up and down and begins bucking and running, chasing the goats all the way back to their pen. I continue on and she catches up. The pups have gone ahead to do a perimeter check. Em passes me and I hear the machine gunfire of little hooves behind me as the goats catch up again. This time she allows them to come half way before she menacingly attacks them again and chases them off. I give up and walk back up to the corral. Its clear that Emma doesn’t think she should share. The pups meet me up there and they go back to chicken sitting while I go in the house to attempt, once again, to make cookies with homemade butter that will NOT melt and spread.
It takes a different kind of flour. I have been using the economy all purpose flour. Bosswife was helping me ponder the situation and she recalled that her mother used to use only homemade butter as, her dad being a farmer, they grew up with a milk cow. The only difference we could think of, was that she also ground her own flour. Bosswife had a higher quality flour she loaned me and boy howdy, it worked!!!
I have to soften the butter a couple of different times as it is cold in our house and it sets up quickly, not wanting to mix well. I cut out my cookies and set them in the oven for 75 minutes which is what the shortbread takes to cook. SUCCESS!!! Now I just need to sell a LOT of soap and a LOT Of lambs so I can afford my own grain mill.
The cookies retain their original shape, are silky soft and melt in my mouth. The flavor is remarkably improved. I am gratified as BUYING butter to make cookies with really irked me. I have an entire freezer shelf full of homemade butter and there is NO way I could possibly use it all up on bread and pancakes!
The chickens have already put themselves to bed. Its very cold out as I go to feed and bring all the critters back to their nighttime corrals. I can see my breath in the frosty air and my hands are chilled to the bone. Grateful things went quickly, I say goodnight to the 3 calves, EmmaLouMoo, the 3 goats and the 6 lambs. No point in bothering the chickens.
I wait until 8 o’clock and Randy still isn’t home from feeding. They are seeding a large part of the ranch and three of the boys are taking 4 hour shifts driving and pulling the seeder. Randy therefore, will feed the calves in a pasture somewhere out there. I haven’t been riding in so long I have no idea where anything is. I put on some water to boil for tea. The pups are sound asleep on the floor. They usually come in to visit for awhile after all the animals are fed and put up for the night before they go back to work. They can sleep through anything. I have literally rammed into them with the vacuum cleaner and not gotten so much as a twitch. The tea pot starts to softly whistle and both dogs are on their feet and in the kitchen with breath taking speed. I’ve never seen ANYTHING move that fast. They have the most amazing selective hearing. I begin to laugh as I recall another incident where they demonstrated this trait.
It was another night when Randy was late. I was terribly bored and was playing around on the internet, chicken shopping. Yes, I did say chicken shopping. I have to mail order chickens via internet from a hatchery if I want new ones. There is a website that has pictures of baby chicks who usually look nothing whatsoever like the adult version. Curious to know what one breed looked like in infancy, I innocently clicked the video link. 
Little chicks began to peep winsomely and the next thing I knew, my laptop went FLYING backwards out of my hand and 2 large white monsters were standing atop me, frenziedly looking for the chicks who were now in danger from my big RED dog who was hunting them in order to play. Desperate to reach them first, lest Cider abuse them, Cletus dug his nose into the pillows of the couch, under my leg, behind my back and on over the top of me. He rolled me around with his 120 lb frame like I was a walnut. As he neared the computer which had rocketed out of my hands when they made impact, he tilted his head in astonishment. Bruno was playing front guard to Cider, who was certain the chicks were in a brazier light over my head and continued to defy Bruno and climb his way up to find them. They were all relentless in their missions until I was finally able to reach out and click off the computer and close the peeping video.
You’ve just got to appreciate a good work ethic!
Next morning I got up and the world outside was white with frost, frozen in time and sprinkled with icy diamonds. Even inside my little rock house I could feel the crispness of the air. I shuffled to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee and I saw the pups are out front. I am somewhat curious, as they are usually just coming back home at this time and ALWAYS come to the back door. I halloo them and they begin wagging  their bodies in joyful anticipation. I walk around to the front door and as I throw it open expecting two big white fluffy dogs, instead I am looking at SIX white wooly bodies in front of them...SHEEP! The sheep all got out and made their way out of the pastures to my front yard and the pups are there protecting them. I quickly close the door in their faces, run back with my coffee hoping that if I cannot see them, they aren’t really there. I hear them all bumping into the door on their way across the porch. I contemplate getting dressed to move everyone back to their rightful spots. It’s too early in the morning for me to think, much less react.
By the time I had on a sweatshirt over my PJ’s and some shoes, the front yard was empty. I walked a little way and saw the pups up by the horse trailers in front of the big barn. Sure enough, a little wooly head stuck its face out the door in the saddling area of the barn. 
I trotted back and opened the large gate to the sheep pasture. It’s between their night pasture and a large corral, with gates and alleys leading elsewhere. Once done, I walked through the sheep pasture to the small gate in front which we almost never use. I propped it open, stepped out front with my flake of hay and hollered 
Eight heads turned in my direction. The barn is several hundred yards away, but the two pups and 6 sheep all saw me clearly. To my horror, the sheep started a mad dash towards me, the pups pumping their legs to keep up. I did a rapid about-face and made it through the gate just about the time the thundering herd arrived. Like the ghost of Pistol Pete Maravich, I threw the flake of hay towards a feed tire on the ground and sank it. The mob thundered past me and I slowly let out my breath. Another wreck avoided. The pups walked up to acknowledge me and we all congratulated one another on a job well done. Ice chunks were melting off of their heavy white coats as I hugged them and we all headed to the house so they could veg out and I could have my cup of coffee where it was warm. The sheep? They stayed and devoured their breakfast and I’m not certain, but it’s just possible that wild & wooly MamaCass might be having her lambs today. She is kind of slab sided and not nearly as large as yesterday so the lambs could be dropping into the birth canal. Time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. Never a dull moment! I had to laugh at your description of the sheep stampede - it happens to me every time they realize I am trying to sneak in with their grain! Merry Christmas to you and yours!