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Archive for January, 2010

The weather here in Northern VA has been bitter cold, more so than normal. Back in December we had record snowfall and since then it has stayed cold and grey. But the last two days served as a break from the cold and cloudy weather.

On those warm days we sometimes get phone calls or frantic visitors exclaiming that SOMETHING is wrong with a cow. Or there is a dead animal in the pasture. In reality the sun has warmed up the earth enough and the animals are napping in the sunshine. They will lay out completely on their side and doze for 20 minutes or more at a time. The animal who seems to raise the most alarms with the public would be our bull, Dennis. He is so big that when he sprawls out on his side sometimes his legs do not drop to the ground. It is a funny sight. But, never fear! All the animals are quite content if only a little sleepy from the warm sunshine.

Dennis in the foreground with his ladies in the back. They are happily napping in the sunshine.

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We are seven days away from our first lambs. Of course we based the due dates on an average expectancy so in reality anything can happen between now and next week! We have at least one ewe (female sheep) under nearly constant watch. Her shape has changed which means the babies are moving and her udder is almost full. At night we bring her inside and depending on the day she goes back out with the herd.

In preparation for the lambs, piglets, etc… we have completely altered the inside of our main barn. Where there was two large stalls now there are 6 birthing areas for sheep and goats. Each space has individual feeders, buckets for water and heat lamps to keep the babies warm.  We also moved Becca from the farrowing house to the main barn. Her piglets have access to her as well as to an insulated space with two heat lamps. This leaves the farrowing house open for up to three sows and their babies.

Of course all staff are on the alert. We check the ewes most often because they are the first ones scheduled to give birth. Typically we note their behavior and if we see anything strange we give them a closer inspection.

Fingers crossed for many successful births on the farm!

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The time has come to plan my vegetable garden! I have been madly flipping through my seed catalog trying to figure out what strain of seeds I want to plant, what vegetables will make the cut and where everything will go in the garden this year. There are limits I must abide by. Financially as well as historically (remember, I am working on a farm where we base everything on techniques, animals and plants available to the area from 1920 – 1950). But, I think Bossman might give me some leeway. Perhaps not as much as I would like. I have pined over some of the more exotic plants like the purple cauliflowers, yellow beans and so much more.

Time will tell just how much I will be able to plant this year. Everyone once in a while the phrase “extending the garden” has crept up in conversations with the higher powers. How exciting is that?!?! (I never use excessive punctuation in this blog so that should be an indicator to my mood!) And when I hear those words I casually, though secretly anxious, mention the need for a water source closer than the current pump that is 75 feet away. Having water by the garden would be heaven! Yes, I am getting a little spoiled. I *could* use a hose again. Although if we extended the garden then I will need TWO hoses. The horror… But… Last year I did do a lot of watering by hand because the sprinkler still could not reach half of the garden!

Even better news than the potential extension of the garden… we are looking at adding four inches of decent quality dirt to the garden! Let me tell you, this is HUGE! I do not think most people understand what Northern Virginia “soil” is like. It is so distinct that authors have mentioned the ground in historical texts! And not because it is any good. Quite tge opposite. Civil War troops would have to trudge through the muck we call “soil” on their way to and from battles. If it was anything like I’ve walked through, they would be getting stuck every few steps and losing boots if they weren’t careful! Often times it would be so wet that many of the troops would get foot infections. Thank goodness for the invention of rubber boots… When the ground is dry it really is dry. Digging down you find this hard yet crumbling grey dirt and clay mix. Last year my carrots became lodged in the earth and it was impossible to dig them out without breaking them! And when it is wet the ground retains the water so much that roots will rot and plants will be lost. There is no middle ground.

Even if none of the improvements happen I am still looking forward to the season. Saint Patty’s Day will be the first day to plant seeds but between now and then there is plenty to do. Once the ground dries up a little we will look at extending and adding soil. I will also need to get in there at some point and use the rototiller to break up the ground as well as to turn in the cover crop I planted last fall.
Okay, I better scoot… Otherwise I will be late for work.

PS – I still secretly dream of growing a gigantic pumpkin. It will happen.

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Yesterday was a fun road trip. The farm was approved to buy a team of working draft horses so in preparation Bossman and I (+ friend) drove up to Pennsylvania for the annual Amish Horse Auction. We were scoping out the stock and seeing what the prices were like this year (both were fantastic!). There were a lot of Standardbreds, Belgiums, Percherons and a few Shires for sale. Yesterday was the tack and mare (female horse) portion of the auction. I fell in love with a matching pair of 7 y/o black Percheron mares that were nicely paired and in full, glossy harness. Just beautiful. The pair sold for around $3k… which is not a lot in the horse world. The price did NOT reflect their quality either!

The auction is held each year at a huge facility with different spaces for vendors and temporary horse stalls as well as arenas to show off the hitch horses (pulling carriages and cart) and auction of stock. It was pretty amazing to watch. Although you really need to stay aware of your surroundings because you could easily be stepped on by some of the giant draft horses. And by “easily” I mean there were a few close calls. Also, make sure you sit on your hands during the tack auction. I watched a woman accidentally bid when in reality she was waving to her friend. The auctioneer was nice and let it slide.

The entire day was a lot of fun and 12 hours passed quickly. Lighting wasn’t great for my camera but I did snap a few okay shots on my cell phone. I will try to upload those a little later. Oh, and most important… what did we buy? Well, no horses came home with us … that won’t happen for a while … but we did get a some needed items like shovels, feed pans, and a few other random items during the tack auction at a better price than if we had bought them at a regular store.

Of course, now I want my very own team of draft horses… perhaps that will be another blog in the future.

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It is still common to see sheep crossing the road in Spain.

The Sheep Herder and his companions/work mates.

Alternative Energy is very important to the people of Spain.

Spotted this pair of vultures while we were hunting.

An old hut used by farmers and herders in the past when they were too far from home.

Almond trees are a popular way to define property lines as well as another crop source.

Celebrating King's Day in Spain. Here the children are receiving gifts from the kings (tradition from the wise-men who brought gifts to baby Jesus).

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I may or may not have mentioned this before, but I will only hunt if I know I am going to use the animals (food, etc…). I am not one to kill without purpose. So, while in Spain I went on the [now] annual hunting trip with my cousin, Ruben. And instead of a shotgun I tagged along with my camera this time. The day was cold to start, somewhere in the high 20’s or low 30’s (Fahrenheit) but we warmed up quickly once we started walking behind the dogs. Katie and Cuka (coo-KAH) were the stars of the day and I will introduce you to them now.

Katie is a German Wirehaired Pointer who just had pups about 6 weeks ago. (The pups are already eating solid food with milk to supplement from mom so we left them at home with a little extra food to keep them happy for the day.) Katie is less of a bird dog and is more interested in rabbits. For the first half of the day the terrain was better for hunting birds and therefore Katie was happy to just keep close to us people. Later when we were in thicker, more prickly brush she “turned on” and started looking for the rabbits.

Here is Katie at the beginning of the hunt.

Later on she charged in to the brush to flush rabbits out.

Cuka is my cousin’s favorite dog. Ruben calls her his Formula One Hunter, and also his baby. She never stopped hunting over the course of the entire day. From when we let her out of the car up until it was time to go home. She is a hunting machine! Her preference is to find and point/flush the birds.

Look for the white speck and you will see Cuka.

The brief second during the day when Cuka was not off hunting.

Cuka hunting around an old farm-house that was never completed.

The terrain was incredible. We skirted around areas where farmers had planted either soy beans or alfalfa as their winter crops. And all these small crop fields were either on leveled off hills or tucked between ridges. Every once in a while we would pass a concrete pillar which was an old way for farmers to mark their territory.

Territory marker.

One way we always knew which direction we were going was by locating the Pyrenees (Pirineos if you are Spanish) in the distance.

View of the Pirineos.

At the end of the day we brought home three birds similar to grouse in the United States. We also played a bit of “where is my car” but we were lucky enough to get back to the correct ridge.

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The picture of the piglets is brought to you by the letter P and Bossman. These two are settling in for a nap under the heatlamp after nursing from mom. Hard to believe these 4lbs piglets will be 150lbs in just a few months.

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