This is a diary of my daily milkings with my heifer, Helen. As you may have read in 'Keeping a Family Cow', a cow can be a friend, a confidante (she listens but does not repeat, like a good barber), and a member of the family. She can also be very moody or uncooperative. Her first calf Henry was born on April 30 1998 (Helen was two years and two months old). Her second, Hector, was born July 9, 1999. Her third, Leah (finally, a heifer) was born on June 30, 2000. Leah currently lives at Coburn Farm with Helen and a few sheep, among various other animals.
My hope is this diary gives you some encouragement, and ideas, about how to deal with your unruly heifer. Or maybe it's just fun to read. If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer you can hit F11 to view full-screen. I try to update this every Friday so visit often! I write it each day after milking. There are several months of entries below.
At the bottom of this page there are button links to Heifer Diary entries which chronologically precede the entries on this page. You can read these or much older entries using the links below. Unfortunately, these older entries are not very well organized at the moment.
Choose a date, or read
them all! Read Older Entries (starting
October 1 1998), or the March-April entries.
We've been doing this a long time.
January 1, New Year's Day: It is steadily colder. It was about 10F yesterday, 8F today and did not rise out of the teens. There is also a cold wind today. All the animals and poultry are comfortable except perhaps the geese. The cows make a special tour over to the goose pen every day, tiptoeing through the bent over fence. They come to lick out the geese's feed pan in case they left any. However, the sheep, which are not so dumb after all, have noticed at which point in my schedule I feed the geese and they race from wherever they are and sail over the fence to get the feed before the geese have a chance at it. Today I fed the geese only when I knew the sheep were busy inside eating hay but this is going to be a nuisance. Helen makes a clear distinction between the old hay and the new, which is of superior quality. Tonight I threw down some old hay first and she just stood waiting. I then threw down some of the new hay and she started eating right away. But she noticed that one flake had missed the manger and was on the ground over near where the sheep were standing. A couple of sheep immediately started eating it and she shook her had at them. A couple of minutes later I went down to the beefer pen to pick up the hay that fell on the floor. Helen had pulled it over between her front legs to protect it. Her production was slightly up yesterday and I got eleven eggs. Today she gave close to 1.5 gals but there were only five eggs.
January 2, Wednesday: Off I went today to Farmington with four dozen eggs to take to a little gourmet shop. To my dismay I found her closed for the holidays. I did the rest of my errands and came home and dropped off the eggs at the local food pantry. Somehow when shopping I forgot cat food. I am almost completely out and had to put the pussums on half rations until tomorrow. They are giving me awful looks. As soon as I got home my hay man showed up unexpectedly with another fifty bales of hay. He was throwing them up to the loft and his noble wife was catching them. I did know he was coming some day soon. He said he wanted to get the hay to me before the storm predicted for Sunday. Also, he wanted to be sure I got it since he is under pressure from lots of people he tells me. He sells old fashioned bales which are becoming hard to get. It is all giant bales now. I can't imagine how I will manage if I have to start using those. Helen gave about the same as last night. I got eight eggs.
January 4, Friday: Yesterday was devoted to going to the airport for daughter Sally who has come for three months and grandson Rafe who is returning to school in Bar Harbor. They had a 24 hour trip beginning with a flight from Juneau, five changes, and many hours late arriving in Portland, Maine. None of the flights served anything but peanuts. I was at the airport for five hours and had left my car lights on. So, I had to call AAA to start the car. It is a two hour drive back to the farm and we finally got in at 8:30. Fortunately I had left a pot roast simmering in the Aga so we had a hot meal waiting. I did not milk Helen, you may be sure. All the animals got along fine except the dogs had to be outside. Bagel had to be chained. But he and Muffin were very good sports about it and Bagel was not tangled; that was my chief worry. I had left them each with a big meaty bone. The travelers' luggage was delivered today by courier. Today Sally enjoyed getting re-acquainted with all the animals and this evening she milked Helen. Helen's production does not seem impaired by the skipped milking. I'm sure she remembered Sally. She made her pleasant "mmmmm" sound. It was down to 10F this morning but most o f the day was brilliantly sunny. Helen gave slightly over 1.5 gals (partly leftover from last night). Only five eggs.
January 5, Saturday: Last night as I was about to hop in bed grandson Rafe called up the stairs to tell me Helen was on the lawn sniffing his car. He must have good ears. He heard her bell right through a car chase in a James Bond movie. I raced out with him in my bathrobe and boots. Helen had pushed out through the goose pen door. It had to have been me who did not properly rope it shut as I was last in there with the water for the geese. I spoke quietly to Helen but she was very disoriented and would not go back through the gate until I took off my glove and let her smell my hand. Today daughter Sally put a bell on Leah. I would have done it a long time ago but was unable to get her collar off because the leather was so hard and stiff. Sally managed to get it off last night. We soaked it all night in goose grease on the Aga warming plate, so it is more flexible now. Also, we made some larger holes with the leather punch. Leah was sweet and cooperative with the handling and seems to like her bell. Sally likes to milk and milked both times today. I think we got 1.25 gals today and seven eggs. Temp was 10F this morning.
January 7, Monday: This morning we were greeted with about 6" of new snow. It was especially beautiful. There was no wind and everything had a fine white outline of snow, which lasted all day. Last night and this morning Helen and Leah led us a merry chase before coming in for milking. I was not sure if they were confused by Sally being there, or, they just thought it was time for some excitement. But this evening I outsmarted them by going out first and closing gates so they had only a small area behind the barn in which to cavort. Sally has milked since her arrival, but tonight I milked. Helen was slow and reluctant to let down but I got the usual two quarts making five quarts (1.25 gals) for the day. Only five eggs today. In the afternoon Sally and I and the dogs walked through the snow to the bottom of Pocket Field and then through the woods to where the brook and river meet. We saw little tracks and trails on the snow from very small animals, some kind of mouse I think. I cleared a six-inch high mound of snow from the bird feeder so the birds could get at their suet and sunflower seeds. We saw the brown thrasher, the cardinal and the usual chickadees and bluejays. A flock of about 15 birds perched most of the day in the top of the apple tree and we were unable to identify them. They had long pointy beaks, not like the cardinal, round bodies, fairly long tails, mostly brown and streaky on top. Some had buff breasts, some had a rosy cast to the breast. They were about the size of a dove but plumper. They did not come to the feeder.
January 8, Tuesday: Sally and I are trying to devise a barrier on the door of the lean-to where I feed the sheep. We want the sheep to be able to go in but not the cows. Sally built something today that keeps out cows but it also keeps out me. I have to be able to get in there to distribute the sheep's feed into their pans. We are going to try some more ideas tomorrow. This evening at milking time Helen and Leah, still being naughty, were way out in the snow covered field. Helen was standing atop a large manure pile and I could not even see Leah. I had brought along apples as a lure and she followed me along back to the barn. Leah came thundering up out of the darkness at the last minute. Helen's production was up a bit today to nearly 1.5 gals. I got six eggs.
January 9, Wednesday: The cows were still being silly today about coming in but with the barnyard gates closed their options were limited. I soon had them in. Helen's production is in an upward trend which has to be due to the new hay. She gave close to 1.5 gals. I got 11 eggs. I am experimenting with giving the hens a heat lamp for some hours of the day. Their room seemed a bit damp. They obviously like the extra light and warmth and were busy eating and moving around each time I looked at them. The sheep go right into the lean-to room and can eat hay in there undisturbed. Sally set up some wood blocks for me to step on so I too can get in. We were gone all day on errands but all the animals were fine.
January 10, Thursday: Sally and I and the dogs took a walk through deep, damp snow to the river so that I could show her where the witch hazel grows. We found lots of it, more than I realized I had. I was also shocked anew at how rapacious the cows and possibly sheep have been in eating off the foliage of the small conifers along the river. The river is already scouring badly due to clear cutting upstream and it is important not to lose riparian trees and bushes. Many have already fallen into the river in the last 25 years due to undercutting of the bank. When possible we must move the fence farther onto the field to protect the trees. I do have a protected band of trees but it is not enough. Helen and Leah were well behaved today. Helen gave about the same as yesterday, a little less than 1.5 gals. I got seven eggs. It was very warm today, about 40F.
January 11, Friday: Today I made bread, brownies and walnut lemon cake. Yesterday we were visited by a couple of nice local ladies and had nothing to offer but stale Christmas cookies. I do not like this to happen! Sally is in the kitchen right now making almond shortbread. The bread I made today is a white andwhole wheat mixture and I used the home made yeast derived from raw milk which I started about six weeks ago. It did not require any other yeast. I found the rule in a very old cookbook. All you need to do is set fresh raw milk with flour for a couple of days in a warm place. For later feeding after the strain is going it is not necessary to use strictly fresh milk. Any raw milk will do. Sally, who has goats in Alaska made it with raw goat's milk. I add equal parts milk and flour so that I always know what my liquid/flour ratio is when baking. Helen and all the animals were happy today even though we were very late due to a visitor. It was so warm today I left the chicken door open all day. We got 1.5 gals and 10 eggs.
January 12, Saturday: Son Mark visited. He chopped and stacked a lot more wood. He also built a shelter for the geese out of boards and tarpaper. They are so foolish that they may not even go into it. At least nothing will eat it, unlike the one I made from hay bales. The cows devoured the whole thing. I could not even find the strings. Helen gave 1.75 gals today. I got seven eggs.
January 13, Sunday: Another big snowstorm hit today. Daughter Sally and I raced off early despite it being Sunday and bought some supplies. "Fate cannot harm me ... I have cat food". And a few other things that we needed in case the storm continues too. The roads were not too bad. It snowed until about dark but a very strong wind came up so it is impossible to estimate how much fell. The animals are perfectly comfortable in the beefer pen. They lay around eating hay and chewing their cuds. Every day I pitch out the manure so it stays pleasant in there. Helen gave 1.5 gals. There were eight eggs.
January 14, Monday: Following yesterday's snowstorm we had a lot of wind that rattled the windows all night and slapped them with branches. Bagel dog sleeps in my room and seldom stirs but last night he was up and down all night. Many in Maine are without power. Temperature this morning was 18F. The sun shone most of the day and the wind lessened. It is definitely winter. Sally and I took a half-hour walk around the fields with the dogs. We found the pretty little pods of the lime trees (ash) on the snow by the river. They had lingered on the trees until last night's wind. Most animal tracks were obliterated. Sally now feeds the sheep and has succeeded in petting all but Wombat, the shyest one. These are Jacob ewes and each has a different horn formation. Wombat is very pretty. Jacob's have four horns. Her central horns point straight up like a pronghorn antelope. The other pair curve out gracefully to each side. There was another dead chicken this morning in the hen house. Like the last one that died, this was one of the old birds given me before Christmas. Yesterday she did not appear to have anything wrong with her. But there she was dead as a doorknob. Or do I mean doornail? The geese hate the chicken feed I am now using. I tried them on cracked corn and they are eating this.
January 15, Tuesday: More snow today, quite steady but not much accumulation. The day was dark and felt colder than 25F. I took the geese a bale of hay to make their shelter more comfortable. To my chagrin, they immediately began greedily eating it. I had not suspected they wanted hay even though I know perfectly well that grass is important to them. I don't know much about geese. I think their feet are cold too, with only snow to walk on. But now they can at least sit on hay when they want to. I take hot water to them twice a day to warm up their bucket of water. First I break the ice on it with a hatchet. They drink a lot of water. Sally and the dogs walked without me today and were gone almost an hour. I was getting concerned because Bagel runs around on the river ice and there are patches of open water. I probably do not need to worry because the river is drought-shallow this year. Sally was spending a lot of time trying to find more of the lime tree seedpods (ash) under the new snow. Had I known she was interested I could have picked up bushels in the fall. She is going to scatter them in the hedgerows for future ash groves. There was entertainment at the bird feeder. The brown thrasher did not wish to share with the downy woodpecker and he was slightly intimidated. The feeder is merely a wooden box with low sides nailed to the top of a wooden post. The downy went round and round with just his red topped head showing over the rim. Periodically he would get exasperated and move down and hammer on the post for a while. Whenever the thrasher turned his back the downy jumped in for some bites.
January 16, Wednesday: Lots of sun and blue sky. Helen gave about 1.75 gals and there were 14 eggs. I am slow tonight because of spending a long time at the dentist.
January 17, Thursday: It snowed gently most of the day. The snow on the fields is about a foot deep now and fluffy. Sally and I broke a trail down to a swampy area at the edge of the north field. I hoped to find some pussy willows we could force. Alder seems to have taken over. We did cut some nice branches that look like cherry. I have had the sheep and cows restricted to the barnyard for over a week. There is nothing but snow out there anyway. Today I opened one gate just so it would not get blocked shut by snow and ice. All of them went right through and hopped around in the snowy field just for fun I guess. Obviously they did not like being shut in and want some options available. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals today. I got 11 eggs.
January 18, Friday: The moon was beautiful last night. Sally and I both heard an owl. Owls have become so rare that I could not recognize what kind I was hearing. I have not heard one for years. When I was a child we heard many owls including screech owls. Those seem to be completely gone. The owl last night was some quite large kind with a long deep hoooo. Today it snowed some more but Sally walked the dogs all the way to the brook. We are hoping her son Rafe comes down from school this weekend. The ramps the cows must use every day are disintegrating in new places and he is good at repairs. He can use some of son Martin's imperishable decking material. He keeps me supplied with seconds. Helen was stubborn about letting down tonight. She gave only a little over 1.5 gals for the day and I got nine eggs.
January 19, Saturday: Two of the three roosters which have long lived in with the layers have started fighting. One, a Spangled Hamburg with a fine rose comb, has showed up all bloody the last few days. Another, a big red bantam crossed with an Auracana is the same weight and equally bloody. Tonight I grabbed them both by the legs as they stood on the perch and chucked them into the main part of the barn to see how they like it. There are seven bantam roosters in the rafters and they set up a great ruckus when they saw the new guys. This move will probably make good buddies out of Spangle and Reddy. While daughter Sally milks the cow I throw down the hay. The sheep then get first crack at it. As soon as Helen comes back out she makes it her business to make a 360 turn around the hay feeder to sweep away the sheep. She appears to be frowning. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals today. The hens laid 11 eggs.
January 20, Sunday: Grandson Rafe came down from college last night with a friend named Tony. Tony has a hobby of making twig furniture. The boys hiked around in the snow and found some apple branches suitable for Tony's projects. The furniture is quite interesting looking. The boys also spent some hours improving one of the ramps in the barn. I believe it will now be safer and easier for the cows to negotiate. This morning when I went to the barn I could not see Spangle or Reddy anywhere. But I guess Spangle could see me. When I opened the door in to the layer's room there he was slithering past me to get back home. Later Sally found Reddy up on a ledge pressed against the chicken wire barrier that provides air circulation for the hens. From there he can look in at his old friends. I have not decided whether to let him back in or not. The "free" birds do not lack for amenities. I found two new bantam nests today. They only just started laying now that the days are a bit longer.
January 21, Monday Martin Luther King Day: It snowed again most of the day. Sally and I went walking across the North Field to see if the Winterberry was still growing where it used to. It was all gone. I suppose the cows or sheep ate it. We did not walk far because my low boots kept filling up with snow. Reddy Rooster wormed his way between the outside of the chicken room wall and some hay bales. I had to move the hay to get him out. I put out little dishes of food and water for him since he is not accustomed to working for a living like the other bantam roosters. I got nine eggs today but there was broken egg on some so clearly more were laid. Sally is a hand spinner, knitter and weaver. Since arriving less than three weeks ago she has made a very classy long knit scarf in a zig zag pattern using yarn spun from rovings she brought along from Alaska. She has also spun the yarn to warp on her loom for a South American type shawl which uses wool from our Jacob sheep. The wool is black and white resulting in a complex plaid. I think she now had about four feet of this done. Needless to say she doesn't watch much TV, but when she does she is carding wool. Helen gave her usual 1.5 gals. She is a bit fat. She calves at the end of June so I will dry her off some time in April. It is important that a cow not be too fat at calving. It predisposes to ketosis due to the fact that a fat cow has less impulse to eat, so is at risk of low blood sugar, which can push her into ketosis.
January 22, Tuesday: The animals all had to spend the day unsupervised. Sally and I went shopping with our cousin Marcia. We visited Nezinscott Farm Store that is associated with a fine, comprehensive, all organic, family farm in Turner, Maine. They have a dairy plus sheep, poultry, beef and pigs. They are a fine healthy looking family as you might expect. There are five children, the baby is only five days old and Mom was already on the job packing butter for her mail order customers. Sally bought some more rovings. I found two new bantam nests today for a total of 15 eggs. Helen gave 1.5 gals.
January 23, Wednesday: It was so warm today that Sally worked on a sewing project for about an hour in the sun trap in the snow outside the kitchen. Reddy Rooster has made friends with the other roosters now and we don't see any fighting. He and his old enemy, Spangle, no longer look bloody. Another sign of distant spring: the tom-cats are fighting and yowling. Muffin and Bagel, my big dogs, get so excited when they hear the cats. They dance around pleading to go out so they can put them up a tree. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals today. She is wonderfully friendly and mannerly these days and so is Leah. I got 11 eggs.
January 24, Thursday: Sally and I had to be gone again this morning, the very day three ladies were coming about one o'clock for tea and apricot tart. We got home from the appointment with just time for me to do the noon barn chores before their arrival. Helen, Leah and all the sheep were placidly chewing their cuds while I collected eggs. It was not until about 2 o'clock that it struck me that I had forgotten to throw down their hay. I excused myself and ran out to the barn. When I opened their door, Helen, Leah and all the sheep were lined up staring at me accusingly. "Did you forget something?" I think they were saying. It rained all day.. Temp about 38F. Now after dark it had turned to snow. I got 11 eggs.
Sally made the tart and it was excellent. She made a shortbread crust. She simmered dried apricots in apple cider until they were tender, then added a little more cider mixed with sugar and cornstarch, filled the pre baked crust and baked it about 25 minutes. I made the whipped cream.
January 25, Friday: Last night's weather (rain and snow) put a crispy coating of ice on the sheep like a wool Esquimo Pie. Under the ice their wool was warm and toasty. I guess they just like standing out in the weather. They certainly do not have to. The whole world was a sheet of ice. I put lots of melt salt on the outside ramp where the cows exit the barn. The sky cleared today and the sun shone brilliantly all day. My kind neighbor showed up with lots of sand and made us a path to the barn and to the mailbox. I gave him some eggs. Sally and I walked the dogs along the river. The deer are using the trail we have broken. There were many tracks. I let the cows drink their water down almost completely so that I could empty and clean the stock tank which I now have indoors. Besides the cows, the free-living bantams and the cats also rely on it as a water source. Helen gave 1.5 gals and I got 10 eggs.
January 26, Saturday: We had a brief alarm here this morning when we went to the barn and found all the lights on. We thought maybe the hay thief was back. Last year I lost quite a lot of hay before I figured out what was happening to me and locked the barn. But nothing was missing today so I guess it was my fault for being careless last night and leaving lights on. My daughter Sally who lives in Alaska is here for three months. She left a house sitter there who is supposed to be milking her goat. After Sally got here, the sitter called in despair saying that every time she tried to milk the goat it lay down in the stanchion. Today Sally got a letter saying not to worry, she has solved the problem. "I put up a rope and sling her up from the ceiling while I milk." Oh, great. Helen gave 1.5 gals today and I got a dozen eggs.
January 27, Sunday: Sally and I and the dogs walked in to camp today and from the paved road, about a half a mile. There was a crust on the snow but not hard enough to support my weight, so it was crunch-plunge the whole way. But thanks to a day of unseasonable rain on Thursday the snow is not deep. We walked down to the water's edge and were shocked to see a large and nasty scar of clear cutting on the mountain directly across from camp. It makes you wonder who to sue. The dogs stayed with us until the last turn on the way back to the car and then Bagel shot out of sight. It took a half hour of whistling and wheedling (while thinking malevolent thoughts) until he showed up. We stopped at the store for Ben & Jerry's to restore our tempers. They did not have vanilla, Sally's favorite and mine too, but did have Heath Bar Crunch which was excellent. While walking by the river earlier today, Sally found the shell of a hazelnut. I did not even know I had them growing on the farm. We looked them up and I was surprised to learn that they are usually a shrub. I knew they grew around here but thought hazelnut was a big tree. Now that I know what to look for I find that it is a common shrub on this farm. Next fall I will do my best to find some nuts. It was so warm, over 35F much of the day, that I left the chicken door open.. The geese raced around in their pen flapping their wings. I notice that when it is cold they keep their wings folded. Cousin Marcia remarked that the crows are making their spring call. I am fearful that buds will swell, then severe cold will hit. Helen gave 1.5 gals. Only eight eggs and two of those were from the bantams.
January 28, Monday: The thaw continues. There are areas of mud in the goose paddock and I was surprised to see how actively they are rooting around in it with their beaks. I don't know if they eat it or are looking for worms. There is a lot I do not know about geese, but they are very interesting birds. Helen gave about 1.75 gals today and I got 13 eggs.
January 29, Tuesday: My vet stopped in today and gave the dogs their rabies shots, then I went to the Town Office and renewed their licenses. There have been several new cases of rabies in Maine this winter. Sally was pleased yesterday to find that she has many full grown linden trees bordering her field called Oxbow Field. It was formerly part of Coburn Farm (my farm) and is separated by the Webb River. At the time of her discovery there was an awesome winter sunset causing her to declare it to be the most beautiful place in the world. This is an accolade, seeing as her Alaskan home is set in calendar-perfect scenery. I learned today from a newspaper reporter that Coburn Farm has been nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. This ought to nudge me out there to finish painting those window frames and sills. When the reporter comes I hope to interest her in the idea that this is a working farm, and has been in one way or another since 1820. Perhaps she will take a picture of Helen and Leah! Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals today. I got 11 eggs.
January 30, Wednesday: It snowed last night. We got about four inches. I walked around the fields with Sally and the dogs, but it really was not hard going apart from the fact that I have the wrong sort of boots. There is a surprising amount of open water in the river for this time of year. Temperature today was about 25F. Long time readers may remember that about last April I decided to make a daily practice of drinking some warm milk fresh from the cow each day just to see if I could observe any health benefits. I have of course used only untreated fresh milk for many years, but I always drank it chilled. Milk still warm did not particularly appeal to me. After about four months of drinking milk still warm from the cow I noted that I no longer had stiff joints in the morning. Over the past decade I had developed arthritic lumps on two fingers of my right hand and these used often to be painful. Often my hands ached. By September these knobby joints had ceased to be painful at any time and my hands have not ached for a long time now. I also had an annoying bunion on my right foot. It is still there too but is no longer painful at any time. I also used to have dry mouth a lot, especially at night. I have gotten over this. The acuity of my sense of smell is noticeably improved. I can't claim this as irrefutable scientific evidence for the valuable properties of milk straight from the cow, but it is good enough for me. Helen gave the same as yesterday, a bit over 1.5 gals. I got a dozen eggs.
January 31, Thursday: My daughter Sally tried to dig out the ramp the cows come up at milking time with a view to raising the bottom end to reduce the grade they must climb. While negotiating this ramp Helen is in danger of overreaching with her hind foot and stepping on a teat. However the job proved too big for Sally. We will have to wait for one of the young men to have time. Two bantams are laying now, probably more if only I could find where. They are so clever at hiding their nests and also very careful not to enter or leave it when anyone is watching. It was colder today, down to 10F. When I throw down the hay Helen has great sport chasing all the sheep away. Of course they just circle around to the other side. All the sheep are in good flesh. In Science News for January 26, there is an article entitled The Right Fats. It describes a study to test the response of rats with chemically induced ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease to diets containing Omega 3 essential fatty acids. The researcher used fish oil as her source of Omega 3 oils. The bowel health of rats receiving fish oil was significantly improved. The editors note the difficulty of finding sources other than fish oil for Omega 3 in which there is a favorable ratio to the more easily found Omega 6. Those of us with cows or chickens with access to grass may comfort ourselves with the knowledge that our milk and eggs (and beef if we use it) does indeed contain a favorable ratio of fatty acids as nature intended. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals. I got 9 eggs counting 2 bantam eggs. Three days ago I reduced the amount of artificial light the layers receive and their production has dropped. I made this change in order to simplify things for Sally. I am going away next week to help my sister in California. She is having back surgery. Sally is going to take care of this farm and keep up this diary. A new snow storm started about three hours ago. They told us to expect a foot.
February 1, Friday: Snow fell all night but it was dense almost to the point of being sleet and the accumulation was not more than six inches. Neighbor Stewart plowed the driveway, but the roads were still pretty bad. The snow turned more to sleet and continued much of the day. We miscalculated the feed supply and the cows had to eat sheep feed for breakfast. The sheep had to make do with alfalfa cubes. Fortunately I was able to get feed delivered. The feed dealer's wife and young son brought it and when the animals heard strangers in the barn they all retreated shyly to the barnyard. By singling out Helen and driving her in, I was able to get them back in to show them off. They all huddle around Helen. The lady had never seen Jacob sheep before with their four crazy horns, different on each one. Helen and Leah always make a good impression. They were very clean as they most often are and have such cute faces. It was only about 15F today so I gave the layers back their flood light. I got a dozen eggs. Helen gave something over 1.5 gals.
February 2, Saturday: Sons Mark and Martin visited today. Martin loves to milk when he visits. Helen always remembers him although she does not behave as well as for Sally or me. It is just because cows never want anything to be the least bit different. But Martin got the usual amount of milk. IT came to 1.5 gals for the day. The weather was cold and the sun brilliant. I got eight eggs.
February 3, Sunday: It was down to zero this morning and my spring line froze. I have a lovely spring which fills a granite sink in the kitchen. The water has a wonderful flavor. We will now have to make do with well water which is flat by comparison. When it is very cold the geese eat and drink sitting down to keep their big pink feet warm. Helen gave 1.5 gals and I got only six eggs from the layers plus one tiny bantam egg.
February 4, Monday: A brilliantly sunny day, no wind, warm on southern exposures. Not, alas, not warm enough to defrost the spring line. A nice reporter was here today to interview me about the nomination of Coburn Farm for the National Register of Historic Places. We went all over the house and barn and she even took pictures of Helen and Leah. Helen gave a little over 1.5 gallons of milk and there were 11 eggs. My daughter Sally will write this diary for the next two weeks or so while I help out my sister in California. She is having back surgery. I will be taking care of two very old horses, two dogs and a few cats. And of course caring for my sister who fully expects to be her old self in three days... but I suspect it will take rather longer than that!
February 5, Tuesday: Hello, this is Sally, I'm filling in for Joann. She left the farm this morning at 8 am, bound for California to care for her sister who will be having some surgery. Even though she was naturally in a rush, she took time to go to the barn before leaving, to say good morning to all her animals and to show me a few last-minute details. We discovered that the beefer pen light is on the same circuit as the motion-detection light, so if I want to turn the one off at night (I do!) then I have to also turn off the other. Oh well! Last thing, I made her kiss the post by the big barn door, and then when leaving the house had her kiss the doorjamb, so she should be back just fine. The weather today was beautiful, clear and somewhat windy, around 10 degrees I think. Helen gave a bit more milk than usual, and the chickens laid all the eggs they haven't been laying the last several days, We got 13. I sold two dozen to a very nice guy who goes around Maine with a meat and fish sales route, and gave him a lot of delicious pecan cookies too: He looked hungry!
February 6, Wednesday: Another totally glorious day in Maine. Only about 10 degrees, but it was so blue and warm I let the chickens out at the early morning milking. They were pleased. All the other animals liked the new day too and spent most of it standing out in the sun. While doing the noon chores, a pretty little brown hen flew up off a nest in the faucet area. When she wasn't looking I peeked and found three very pretty bright blue eggs. What fun! The nest in the hayloft had three white Banties taking turns, which surprised me as I thought we only had two. I guess I'm not much of an observer! There was a small bird I could hear singing a very pretty song I couldn't place though I'd heard it in the past. I asked my cousin Marcia Leavitt and she said it was the chickadee's spring song. So, I guess it must be spring. In honor of it, I finally got up my nerve to walk on the river ice (the river has basically been open all winter) and had a lovely time. Got a little less than a gallon and a half and 7 eggs.
Feb 7, Thursday: Another lovely day, soft gray weather. I Got out to the barn by seven, remembering a new bucket (amazingly enough) for the geese as I'd broken their plastic one the night before while knocking ice out. They were pleased to see me, as were the hens. The hen's light is off at night these days. So, it gets cold in there and they wake up to no water, only ice. They look quite annoyed when I go in, glaring at the frozen bucket. The cows and sheep were cheerful anyhow. The system of first dumping hay down to the sheep in their area and then racing upstairs to throw down hay for the cows in theirs before the sheep come in and leap into the cow's manger and get all covered with hay (grrrr) seems to be working...sort of! I was expecting somebody to come and look at the little house with the idea of renting it to them. In the process of rushing around I forgot to clean out the barn. When I went out to do the noon feeding I found that I had also failed to close the hen's door and the big barn floor had lots of big hens sitting around on it! The renters showed up and did rent the house. But, the best of the day came just before milking when a friend of Mom's came by unexpectedly with her two little girls and we had a very fun time at the evening milking. They seemed to really like cows, and Sarah, the older one, found a lovely pink egg, which pleased her a great deal. A little less than 1 1/2 gallons, and about a dozen eggs today.
February 8, Friday: Warmish, overcast weather. Still doing pretty much OK on remembering things that I am supposed to do… mostly. I think I forgot to collect today's blue egg with the result that it will probably freeze, darn it. I let the hens out in the yard again. There is an old black hen who spends most of the day huddled in a corner looking miserable. One of these days I expect I'll find her dead. Then, I will have to figure out what to do with the corpse, sigh. I took the dogs for two walks down by the river today and noticed again the probable coyote scats down there. I think they must come most nights. There are other less identifiable scats as well. Better trained naturalist observers would no doubt know instantly what sort they are! Again I forgot to clean the barn and had to do it at the evening milking. I was all freaked out by plumbing problems at the little house we rent out. Less than 1 1/2 gallons of milk; 12 eggs.
Saturday, February 9: The first real day of spring in Maine today. Don't know what the calendar says, but that is sure the way it looks to me and to cousin Marcia too. The geese's water was even not that frozen. It was blue and warm and a bit breezy. I sure hope Mom is enjoying at least part of her stay in California, because she is missing spring here! The dogs and I went down to the river like usual. Itdoesn't look any different yet. I brought clippers and cut several branches of the now very big willow that Mom planted some years ago at a boggy place. I'm going to try to root them and then have somebody plant them on the riverbank where it's eroding so badly. Maybe also tie the fronds into the bank for stability and further rooting. It's worth a try. Another dozen eggs, which is good because I'm selling them as fast as the hens can push them out. And, a gallon and a half of milk.
Sunday, February 10: This morning was quite brisk, (zero degrees) but it was obviously going to be beautiful. And, it was. The animals were cheerful, except the black hen, who spent the first half of the day looking half dead in a sort of little dust bath place. She walked off eventually though. I gave the chickens some scratch grains anyway just in case they were bored. About 10 am clouds started to come in and eventually even a few flakes of snow. The temperature went from zero to thirty in just a couple of hours. It might even rain! The dogs and I took a little walk, but most of the day was given to plumbing problems over at the little house. Just about a gallon and a half of milk and six eggs.
Monday, February 11: There was an ice storm last night exactly as predicted. I had the house shut down and had just snuggled up in bed with my knitting (angora/wool/qiviut/porcupine gloves) when, DARN, the power went out. This is always happening in rural Maine. I'm a real tree freak, but you'd think the things could keep their limbs to themselves occasionally. The computer was off, that's the main thing. So, I looked gloomily at the dark for a few minutes and then curled up and went to sleep. In the morning the yard was one huge skating rink. Bagel loved it, he would run and slide, run and slide. He always sits patiently on a snow bank and waits for me to finish milking so he can get his nice warm, fresh milk. What a great dog. As usual, I spent most of the day worrying about the pipes over at my little house. There does seem to be a lot of guys over there though, each one more helpful than the next. So, surely it will sort itself out eventually?! It got quite cold later in the day. Just at milking, Kelly and her little girls came over. They're crazy about cows, so it was nice timing. They watched me milk and then we had tea and talked about homeopathy, which was very interesting. All I know about it is the word. Sarah found two eggs which brought the total for the day to 12 and an even gallon and a half of milk.
Tuesday, February 12:. Well, this morning started great with the Water system at the little house finally getting sorted out. A lot of MUCH ado about a whole lot of stuff , totally unnecessary basically. It was warmer at least later in the day. It got up to nearly 30 degrees. That black hen was dead as predicted. Hopefully my son will show up tomorrow and deep-six her, he throws better than I do. We always try to put our corpses where our dog Bagel won't find them and sometimes we have to be pretty creative. I walked the dogs between plumbing related matters and raised a grouse down by the river, the first I've seen since I've gotten here I think. Perhaps it found a bittersweet vine to eat berries of. It's a horrible plant, one of the few that I would really call "evil". And, I see it for sale in some catalogues! It's advertised as a plant that "will grow anywhere". Well, they got that right. And, it will strangle anything too. Milk production is holding steady and eight eggs today.
Tuesday, Feb 13: I woke up to find my son Rafe's car in the driveway! I had THOUGHT I'd heard footsteps in the middle of the night. I'd woken up enough to think, "Eeek! Ghosts! Well, as long as they stay downstairs" And, then fell promptly asleep (no, I've never seen or heard a ghost and would just as soon it stayed that way). He had found the house locked up of course and had gone around looking at the windows trying to find one he could manage to open, which eventually he did. The dogs were thrilled, I gather. They followed him from one to another wagging their tails happily, obviously thinking "Company! What fun!" Of course, dogs that go nuts in the middle of the night can be pretty heart stopping as I well know from home. After the milking I went up into the hayloft to throw down the hay into the manger below. Mom always pulls each leaf of hay apart so that the cows don't waste so much, which indeed helps a lot. I had thrown down one or two leaves when one didn't pull apart quite right. It felt funny and on more careful inspection I found I was holding a three foot long piece of rusty baling wire! Then I remembered that the first one hadn't really pulled apart with any enthusiasm either. I went down the ladder and sure enough, there was another three foot piece. I went back to the loft and found more in the next leaf. I guess we can use that bale for bedding in the chicken room. Sheesh. That hay came from a neighbor. I wonder what he was doing with baling wire? Nobody uses it for baling anymore. You can bet that in the future I'll be checking very carefully indeed! A gallon and a half and eight eggs. Blowy, coldish weather today, but very pretty.
Valentine's Day, February. 14. I started the day by giving the hens an accidental Valentine's Day present of sheep food instead of the usual very boring hen food. I didn't look carefully enough at the bag. They were thrilled and all leaped for the feeder and started eating madly. I did rescue part of it. Then, I broke the hose where it hangs over a bar up high to drain each night. It was 5 degrees and the hose was very brittle. I hope I can find a replacement. Later in the day it went to near thirty degrees. I walked the dogs and Bagel had a wonderful time enthusiastically herding sheep. I hate to stop him too hard as he's really very careful and has so much fun! The sheep all scuttled away and then Bernadette sheep raced back with this funny, aggressive hop that these rather primitive sheep have. She kept slapping the ground with one front foot and generally giving Bagel what for. All around, a good time was had by all. Twelve eggs and a gallon and a half of milk today.
Friday, February 15th. It was about 5 degrees this morning. The driveway is still very icy especially where you have to creep across it to get to the geese. I've been giving them boiling water first thing to go with their ice. They seem to really like warm water. Then, I milk. And, I've decided the best way to get the sheep out of the cows' hay feeder is to put the cows in there before I put down the hay. The cows just love having an excuse to chase their sheep friends a bit. They're always annoyed though not to find their hay ready. Now that I'm alert to the danger of wire I can't help noticing that the hayloft has no light in it whatsoever except my nearly burned out flashlight. This seems like it might be a problem one could deal with. I found a new nest, but forgot to collect the egg later after the hen had Left. So, I can only hope the warm weather that came in the afternoon will keep it from freezing. There's talk of rain. Over 1 1/2 gals and 10 eggs.
Sat Feb 16: A lovely, damp, gray day. It was melting practically before I got up. By late afternoon all the treacherous ice in the front yard was just slush and all the animals seemed to love it. They stood around in their yard soaking up rays. The dogs and I walked around the fields twice. There isn't really anywhere else to walk that you don't have to take Bagel on a leash. Some of the buds seemed to be swelling, but maybe it was just my imagination. What there definitely was lots of was snow machines. Maine has a huge network of snow machine trails and anyone looking to buy land is well advised to do it during their season, so as to avoid being within a mile of them. Hundreds go by on many weekends and it's the most ghastly, screaming racket imaginable. Well, one of them, anyway. However, with spring on the way maybe we'll get some peace! A bit over a gallon and a half, and 6 eggs. Trying to get ahead on the milk so as to freeze some for when Helen is dry.
Sunday, Feb 17: I went outside in the morning and the buttery was full of the noise of frantic kittens. So, I guess Scaredy Cat is finally feeling more harassed and less incredibly bloated. I'm told that this is the first time she chose the buttery site. Usually, she favors the massive old cider press, so let us hope she likes it. Let us also hope that none of the kittens drowns in the little bowl of creamy milk I put near her. She chose a nice day for it, warm and gray. I spent my day making little bags for botany assistants to put bits of leaves in. I know it SEEMS easy, but it isn't everybody who can do it. I walked the dogs down to the river twice. The ice is getting very milky looking. I was able to walk on the snow crust today for the first time in ages instead of having to stick to the path. I finally decided that that dead hen would be there till doomsday if I didn't just throw her over the nearest bank of the river. So, I did, hoping for the best. Namely, a passing fox. A gallon and a half even today and 6 eggs.
Monday, Feb 18: Another lovely warm day with the snow melting by breakfast. And, I didn't hear the words "plumbing problem" all day. It isn't over yet though. The dogs and I took our morning walk down to the river and on the way back saw the sheep in the yard. The crust is so nice and hard in the mornings that they can just go anywhere walking right over the fences. So, we went up through the barn and closed the driveway gate and then approached them from behind so they would go back to the field. Bagel was thrilled to show what a great herd dog he is. He would rush forward and chase them and fall off to the side absolutely perfectly when I called, "on back", and then rush forward again as soon as I said, "ok, get em, Bagel!" It really was pretty amazing. We've been practicing a bit lately, but never the real thing. Poor Muffin would have loved to help, but she couldn't jump the fence. The other thing that Bagel did perfectly was he never rushed in front of the sheep. He understood that he had to stay behind them. Afterwards, we confined the whole lot, cows too, to their small paddock near the barn and rigged a bit of temporary additions to the fence to help keep them in. A bit over a gallon and a half and 10 eggs.
Tuesday, Feb 19: Another lovely day in Paradise, but don't think I'm complaining. The snow is fading fast and there wasn't much to begin with. It's a foot deep at the very most and a lot less most places. I could walk on the crust more or less at the beginning of the day. After our walk the dogs and I went around the garden looking at the many baby fruit trees. They tend to stay baby sized for years around here, thanks to the poor fences which are often breached by ravening livestock. Some are doing well though, including a couple of nice cherries which were badly debarked by the sheep a year or two ago. We thought they were dead, but they seem to have recovered. I started the day by finding the buttery floor strewn with the wool that had been the kittens' bed . I'm not sure if they met with a sad fate, or if their mother moved them before the bedding was strewn, or what. If they are alive, no doubt they will emerge eventually. A little over a gallon and a half and four eggs today.
Wednesday, Feb 20: Last night when I went out to close the buttery doors it was so dark and warm I was surprised to not hear spring peepers. Not that I was expecting to consciously. Today is cooler. I lacked much zip and mostly spent the day warping the loom and writing letters, but did get in a couple of walks to see how the river was coming and checked on the maple buds and whatnot. I managed to pat Valentine, one of last year's lambs who persists in being shy. She is the whitest of the sheep and has a particularly long, appealing fleece, which I keep trying to get my hands into. The other longest fleece is on Wombat and she has all dark wool except for a stripe on her nose and white feet. Her fleece is very soft. Agnes has long, dark, quite coarse wool and the other three have very short, springy fleeces, which are patchy dark and light. They are Jacobs, which are known for considerable irregularity in the fleece. I believe it's a primitive trait. A gallon and a half and 4 eggs today.
Thursday, Feb. 21: It was extremely foggy with light rain when I got up and about as slippery as I've ever seen anything. Even the dogs couldn't stand up. They were pretty funny. After chores we went down to the river. The trail is bottoming out pretty badly, but fortunately the snow isn't deep. The river had water sliding over the ice in a thin film, the first to head down to the sea this year. Not, of course, counting the water under the ice. Later in the day we went down again to see how it was coming and sure enough, the film was deeper. Later yet in the day it started to pour rain. But, before that we all had the thrill of having Mom come home! Six eggs and less than a gallon and a half today.
Friday, Feb 22: Thank you Sally for a great job writing the Heifer Diary! I am back from California, tired and a bit worried about my sister who is recuperating from back surgery. California is different from Maine. On a sunny morning I stopped with my nephew at the grocery store nearest my sister's home. It is in the town of Woodside, a wealthy suburb in Silicon Valley. The surrounding homes are architectural statements resembling charming dwellings in Provence which have been hugely inflated by some miraculous air pump. A trim blonde woman trotted away from the grocery store carrying a small bag of items. I asked my nephew, "So, is that a rich lady?" "Anybody who walks to Robert's in the middle of the day in shorts is most definitely a rich lady", he assured me. All is well on Coburn Farm. Sally and I walked to the river. I wobbled along two steps on the crust, two steps breaking through and sinking over my boot tops. But, I was rewarded with the sight of some open water in the river. The cows seemed flatteringly glad to see me. Leah licked my hand and Helen threw her head around. She had a mouthful of grain. I found five bantam eggs, but only one from the layers. The weather is mild and damp. I fear that chicken lice are bothering them. I put fresh sawdust in the nests, put more in the floor, and spread about 20 pounds of lime. Helen gave her usual 1.5 gallons.
February 23, Saturday: This morning I thought I heard wild geese high overhead. It is colder and the driveway and front yard remain dangerously slippery. The mother cat and her kittens have not reappeared. Her whereabouts remains a mystery. Cat food disappears at night but there are several other cats which could be eating it. Helen gave a little over 1.5 gals. We got six eggs. Three were from the layers.
February 24, Sunday: The crust today on the snow was so hard today that on a walk around the garden and fruit trees I never broke through at all. Sally and Bagel walked to the river and reported the same. I kept Muffin in the garden with me. She is getting a bit too old and creaky to take on risky jaunts. Everywhere, it is icy. Now is the time I should prune the Quince Japonica and white birch, which overhang the little pool. I can stand conveniently on the ice to reach them. Sally has hurled herself into a great pruning project at the end of the driveway. Invasive bittersweet has strangled the Mugo pine nearly to death. She hauled out a truckload of the plaguey stuff. She even found a young elderberry tree lost in the middle of it. I can now notice a distinct widening when I look down on Helen and Leah from the hay drop above them in the barn. Calves are expected in June. I saw Fraidy Cat today. The first time I spotted her she fled, but later she let me stroke her belly. She has milk, so presumably has her kittens somewhere safe. I left out plenty of food.
February 25, Monday: Off we went today to the Farmington Farmer's Union where among other things we bought some barbed wire. We are going to make an emergency fence repair to keep the sheep out of the area where the young fruit trees are. We hope to do that this week. Everyone is remarking on what a mild winter we have had. They talk as though it is over, which is not strictly true. I have known us to have a foot of snow in April. But right now it does feel as though spring is coming. The chicken house door was open all day. There are some bare patches under the pine trees and down by the river Sally said there was a powerful and delicious scent coming off some trees. She could not figure out which tree species it was. We will explore this further tomorrow. Helen gave about 1.5 gal. I got five eggs.
February 26, Tuesday: 42F today and a lot of melting occurred. Mainers I run into act nervous about the apparent shortness and mildness of the winter. We always figure that in some way we will be made to pay. All the snow melted out of one of the planting borders and the bantams are ruthlessly attacking the bare soil and tips of iris. I will try to find some chicken wire to lay over it. Sally reports that big areas of the river were showing open water today. When collecting eggs this noon I saw a bantam rooster patrolling a dim Corner, so I knew a hen must be laying back in there. Sure enough, there she was when. I went back later for the egg. You can't reach under a laying bantam as you can a heavy bird. They are too wild as a rule. It is charming the way the little rooster, her mate, hangs around marching up and down while the hen lays. Helen gave 1.5 gals and I got five eggs.
February 27, Wednesday: Our strange weather continues. It rained all day, then turned to heavy wet snow at dusk. During the afternoon Sally and the dogs walked to the river and found it nearly all open. Sally also discovered that the pipe from my spring has a leak and is spurting a small fountain into the river. So, it is open from the spring to that point. Very likely if the warm weather continues the line from that point to the house will thaw. What a thrill it would be to get my spring water back! I have well water and use a Britta filter water jug, but nothing is quite like spring water running through the granite sink in the kitchen. It was warm enough today to make Helen and Leah want to go out and stand in the rain. I found a broody bantam today. I may put a few eggs from the layers under her if she is still sitting tight tomorrow. Helen's production was down today, a bit under 1.5 gals. Four eggs.
February 28, Thursday: Spring has gone back to wherever it hides. It snowed last night and was cold and blowy all day. Sally reports that the leak in the spring line is still shooting up like a fountain and had created an icy fairy forest around it. I missed the walk because of needing to reach my dentist, a dreary excuse if I ever heard one. My broody bantam did not remain on her nest. Maybe the plastic Easter egg did not fool her. We have no lambs this year because of losing our rams. But, the ewes must be feeling springy. One was hopping along like a lamb today and butting her sisters. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals today. I got five eggs
March 1, Friday: We are ending the week on a note of triumph. The spring started running! Of course we knew it was running as far as where it passes along the river because of the leak that is making a fountain. But, the ground is still frozen and the last few nights have been cold. Water dynamics are a bit of a mystery to me. Sally was in the next room and came running in and jumping with joy, "The spring!" It is such a joy. It brings the house to life. We can detect that Helen is a little wider now than when Sally first came. That is judging by how much room she takes up in the corridor she walks through at milking time. She is due to calve in early June. Both Helen and Leah are wonderfully friendly now and so are most of the sheep. Even the goose now likes to be petted. Perhaps it is a sign of spring. Helen gave 1.5 gals. I got eight eggs.
March 2, Saturday: This time I accompanied daughter Sally on her walk to the river and saw the ice castle which has formed around the spraying leak from the spring line. It was very sparkly in the sun. The crust on the snow held me the whole way. We saw tracks of some small animal, probably a fox, crossing the field. Other tracks, perhaps a muskrat, were all along the river bank. The hens are laying so poorly that I today I went back to leaving their light on. I got seven eggs today and all but two were from bantam nests. Helen gave a little less than 1.5 gals.
March 3, Sunday: It rained all night and did not freeze. The rain continued much of the day, not hard but steady. Sally worked a long time on fencing and pruning. She tiptoes away to do these tasks without my seeing her, reasoning I think, that the work is too hard for me. Or possibly that I should be applying myself to writing. There is truth in that. Neighbors brought their little girls over to watch the evening milking. They are very interested in the animals. One was especially interested in the chickens. We are hoping for many new farming enthusiasts in coming years! Helen gave 1.5 gals as usual. Only three eggs and two of those were bantams.
March 4, Monday: While Sally milked Helen this morning I took the occasion to empty and wash out the stock tank and refilled it One of the cows had evidently backed up to it and made a serious error of judgement. Yesterday it rained enough to fill a tub I set outdoors beneath the eaves. The cows liked the rainwater and drank it all. The weather today was thoroughly disagreeable. No hint of spring, just an icy wind. Even Sally was driven inside after setting out to prune the shrubbery. Helen gave well over a gallon and a half today. There were five eggs.
March 5, Tuesday: The male cardinal which has been seen all winter has now started warbling a pretty song. Little do I know of birds, but perhaps he is calling for a mate. It seems early, but this has been the warmest winter on record in Maine. Although there have been no prolonged sub zero dips in temperature there has been plenty of snow and ice. And, we are just as ready for spring as the cardinal. My goose has become very friendly and likes being stroked now. She comes right up to me and waits to be petted. The gander remains aloof. Still cold and windy today so we went shopping. Sally bought more barbed wire today and plans to do more fencing. We stayed nice and warm running in and out of shops. I bought cloth diapers for a mother expecting twins. Anybody who invites me to a baby shower can depend on getting cloth diapers. It's part of my rather lonely campaign against disposable diapers. I consider them a major environmental curse. Helen gave more than 1.5 gals today and I got eight eggs.
March 6, Wednesday: Goose on the loose! The gander got ambitious today and wiggled out of their enclosure. Sally, assisted by Bagel and a little help from me went out in the snowy field and herded him back through an opening we made. Goose talk is very expressive. He had such a pathetic sound when he was marching up and down the wrong side of the fence. Then, when he was back where he belonged the two of them set up a happy sounding gabble and kissed each other several times. The hens seemed dispirited today and the cows even seemed a bit morose. It was down to 8F this morning. Even when it warmed up to 34F it remained overcast and raw. I think the animals were as disappointed as I was with this return to winter. I have been taking the hens lots of salad trimmings and I even made them a big pot of stale macaroni cooked in milk. They love all this stuff but so far it has not improved egg laying. Only two today, and two from the bantams. Helen gave about the same, 1.5 gals. Sally went forth and did another couple hours of fence mending.
March 7, Thursday: Sally did more fencing today. She has laid out wire over a long stretch, but new posts are needed. With the ground frozen it is impossible to set them. At one point Bagel found himself on the other side of a more than four foot fence from her. She said he leapt back over from a standing start. It reminded me of what a difficult dog he was when first he was given to me. It seems very long ago that he was desperately breaking out of everywhere and running away. Also, killing chickens at every opportunity. He is such a good dog now. The sheep are a great source of amusement to Sally and me. Every morning I take about 15 fork loads of manure out of the beefer pen, as I call the run-in where they all sleep. There is now an impressive pile behind the barn. Now when we go to the barn there is usually a sheep standing on the very top watching us. I will try to get a picture. Helen gave a bit under 1.5 gals today. I got seven eggs.
March 8, Friday: While Sally milks Helen I go upstairs and throw down the hay. This means the sheep get first crack at it. They are fully alert to their temporary advantage and surround the feeder nibbling as fast as they can. Helen makes a great point of doing a sweep around the feeder to clear them away when she arrives. Tonight Leah was first back into the beefer pen. I could almost hear her saying, "Whee, tonight I get to chase sheep!" She went bouncing towards them kicking up her heels and looking like a rocking horse. Of course she could never actually catch up with one. They were out of there like a flash. Then she emphasized her point by jumping straight up in the air and waving her tail. This morning I saw my little bantam rooster with the big white tail purposefully leading his hen out to inspect a possible nest site. She trotted right behind him. He paused by a ramp to wait for her to catch up, then went underneath to demonstrate its possibilities. He came back out and she went in. While she was still in there looking around I stuck my head in too, thinking maybe there was already a nest. She immediately began pretending to peck, a displacement activity. I could see it was empty but I doubt she will select it. It does not look very comfortable. Helen gave a bit under 1.5 gals today. I got seven eggs. I will be doing the next five milkings and all the chores. Sally is going to visit her son at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.
March 9, Saturday: This morning I was up at 4AM to see Sally off to visit her son Rafe at school in Bar Harbor. They are to take a 40 minute ride in a whaler to an island where Rafe and one of his teachers has a weekend construction job. Sally took along lots of Coburn Farm food for them all. So, I am back milking Helen. She had not forgotten me. I got the same as Sally has been getting, about 1.5 gallons. The hens have picked up a bit. There were eight eggs today. It has been a very warm day. It certainly got up to 50F. Most of the great ice sheet which covers the front lawn changed from dangerously slippery to mushy.
March 10, Sunday: All last night it rained. The ice sheet on the front lawn was much diminished. There was a great sheet of water instead. It is around and in the goose pen and they were having a grand time preening their feathers and almost swimming. Some parts of the puddle were over the top of my boots as I learned when I took them their dinner. I had to walk around with very squishy feet. Today I took a tour of the River Field to see if the fence would hold stock. The critters are getting bored with life in the barnyard. The field is still covered with snow but often in other years they have enjoyed a spring tour to visit bare spots. The fence looks OK. The morning was sunny, but by the time I got back to the barn the weather had turned cold and blowy. By evening it was snowing and turning cold. In fact, it looks like a blizzard. I hope Sally and Rafe and the work party got back to the mainland without mishap. The storm is headed their way, northeast, and their return trip is southwest. A bit under 1.5 gals today, and eight eggs.
March 11, Monday: It stormed all night with wind and snow and was down to 13F. The big steel gate out front, which had been imbedded in ice and snow actually blew shut and one barnyard gate blew open. Lake Coburn, as I call the giant puddle that forms on the lawn was frozen over like glass. I reached the goose gate by creeping along the edge hanging onto the fence. All the while remembering a story someone saw on TV about an old woman who slipped on ice in her cellar, stuck to it, and was encased in ice as the leak filled the cellar (she was saved). I was picturing myself getting frozen into a foot of water! But, all was well and the geese got their corn and hot water. Not so fortunate are my daughter Sally and grandson Rafe. together with four other boys and a teacher they remain marooned on Gott Island off Bar Harbor by a big blow. She was able to call on a cell phone. They are suffering only from lack of good food. The party leader, a teacher, is friends to many of the island's summer people and knows where their keys are. So, he is borrowing stored dried foods. Sally said they had one good meal of mussels off the rocks. A 60' Seal attempted to reach them but its captain turned back, discouraged by a massive sea that tore the life raft off the cabin roof, cleats and all. Helen gave a bit under 1.5 gals and I got six eggs.
March 12, Tuesday: Sally got home at 11pm last night. The Seal got them off the island about 5pm. They were running pretty low on food. They particularly missed fat. There were plenty of carbohydrates. The Seal captain found his life raft washed up on shore. So, no harm done. Just cold, tired people. Five college boys, one teacher and Sally. I learned of another incident. When they first were arriving at the island in a fog in the whaler they were astonished to see a huge ship loom up behind them. It was the Coast Guard. Apparently, the Coast Guard wanted to know what a boatload of people was up to landing on a deserted island in the fog. They were boarded and all the bulkheads on the whaler were checked, presumably for contraband. Finding none, they gave them a little lecture for not carrying flares. Today as usual Sally walked the dogs to the river. She reports it to be running much higher now. The broody hen I have been watching has now been sitting tight for four days on a fake egg. So, today I gave her four big eggs from the layers. In 21 days we should have some chicks. Helen gave a bit under 1.5 gals again today. No doubt the poor hay quality is taking its toll. I do not have many bales of the best hay left and give her only a couple of flakes of it a day with the other, lower quality stuff. I need to be sure to have some good hay available for her when she calves. I got six eggs.
March 13, Wednesday: Only the gander was standing at the gate to greet me this morning. I thought, either something got the goose, or she is laying. They are never apart. She was back in their shelter sitting on the hay. She did not come forward for feed and warm water. I did not disturb her. But, this evening they were together at the gate, so I looked in her nest and there was her first egg! I left it there of course. Sally and I walked to the river and found it running quite high, but nothing like last year. Maine is still in drought mode. However, Sally is digging around everywhere with her fencing and tree work and reports that much of the ground is unfrozen. This is certainly an early record. Maybe it will enable the ground to accept more water. Sally is taking willow cuttings and sticking them in the ground here and there and intends to follow with black locust. We hope to re-establish the hedgerow removed last summer by the road crew. We had the idea today that maybe if she ties barberry twigs to the cuttings it will discourage the cows, sheep and deer from eating them. I opened the field gate to the river field for a while today and the sheep took a cheerful tour. Sally thinks the swallows are back in the barn. An assembly of sweetly chirping birds in an alder tree looked much like robins to me. Helen gave only 1 gallon plus one pint. I got six eggs.
March 14, Thursday: I climbed into the goose house to see if there was another egg and to my surprise found four. I took one away. The gander greatly resented my intrusion and hissed and chased me. He has never acted this way before. Fatherhood has altered his disposition. I dangled my glove for him to bite so he would not go for my legs. I have been bitten by a goose before and don't care to renew the experience. Sally and I raced to the Farmer's Union so she could buy fence posts. Amazingly, the ground is thawed. When we got home she went right out to set them in the weak spots. She hopes to achieve a garden fence that is sufficiently cow and sheep proof so that if I hear bells in the night I can have confidence that they are in the field where they belong. Sally got a good look at the birds, which I was unable to identify yesterday. They are red winged blackbirds. They do have a sweet song. Last night I learned that one of my sister's horses, the ones I was caring for when I visited California died on Tuesday of colic. The horse, Athena, was over 30. But she looked and behaved as though she were in good health. My sister has had to rely on erratic volunteer horse care since I left, which no doubt accounts for the colic. The vet arrived in time to ease her suffering, so Barby's hope that Athena could go quietly was granted. Barby said she just lay up against the hillside looking like a large stuffed toy. Today I got 14 eggs, mostly from the layers. Helen gave 1.5 gals.
March 15, Friday: Sally has pronounced the River Field to be safely fenced, so we are leaving The access gate open tonight. The sheep spent some time out there, but the weather was so bleak today that the cows stayed in their cozy run-in. Sleet fell for awhile, although I don't think the temperature fell below 30F. Sally reported seeing five robins and also some swallows. Helen gave 1.5 gals and I got 11 eggs.
March 16, Saturday: Fifteen eggs today! I don't know whether to give credit to a change of feed, more light, or attention to other details. I have customers for all the eggs I can get right now. Sally and I walked to the river and looked for signs of spring. I found the exhaust cover that Max lost off the tractor last summer. It looked like a bright yellow mushroom among the leaves. It was down near the river at least a hundred yards from where it was knocked off by branches. It must have been caught up in the bushhog blade and thrown out because it was all bent up. It could not have been used even had he been able to find it. Sally worked for hours again today on fencing. The snowplow does not care how much it mutilates my fence. And, she found one place where tracks revealed somebody had backed through the fence and destroyed a section. This is aggravating. The goose is laying an egg now every day and the gander is extremely aggressive. Sally says that he came and beat his wings against the fence when she walked by and bit at the wire. Sally tells me ducks can't breed on dry land, they have to be in water. If that is also true of geese the eggs will be infertile. I hope somebody will tell me the goose facts of life so I don't let her set in vain. Helen gave her usual amount.
March 17, Sunday: In the late morning we all went up to camp and slid around on the ice. Sons Mark and Martin with granddaughter Hailey came along too. The ice was still strong despite some warm weather. Martin had his skates, so went farther. Later, Sally did more fencing and the boys split and stacked the last of the woodpile now that it has emerged from the snow. Helen gave over 1.5 gallons and I got 11 eggs. Three more bantams have gone broody.
March 18, Monday: Another bleak overcast day starting out about 18F this morning. Sally worked several more hours on the fence in the north pasture. There is still much to be done. We set another bantam hen, this one with only two eggs. The bantams are going broody like a row of dominoes. As soon as they go broody they cease to lay. But the regular layers are picking up. I got 13 eggs today mostly large. Helen gave her usual 1.5 gals.
March 19, Tuesday: We awoke to a couple of inches of new snow and snow continued most of the day. We all felt disgruntled. All the animals projected the same feeling. The cows looked indignant. Even the sheep seemed to display a bit of negativism. Fortunately it is melting fast. Sally is skipping milking tonight. We are going to a Historical Society potluck at the Grange Hall. Like all Maine public suppers it is at 5:30, and don't be late. Helen is so close to drying off that I doubt she will even notice. I got 13 eggs again today.
March 20, Wednesday: The little white bantam we set with two eggs on Monday was missing this morning and nothing was left but a few bits of eggshell. There were not a lot of feathers so I can't say if she was carried off or escaped. But I saw nothing of her today. It was almost certainly a raccoon. There was no skunk scent about. The barn door was closed making it impossible to blame Bagel, should he so forget himself. There are many ways a raccoon can get in. After dark tonight I went out and moved the hen I set last week. She was in a box of hay on a shelf and did not make a peep. It is easy to move a hen that is sitting tight so long as you keep the light out of her eyes. I put her in a little room in the barn that I hope no raccoon can get into. Morning will tell. A new snow storm has begun. We are told to expect 6 or 8 inches. Sally finished another stretch of fence despite the weather. Helen gave a quart extra this morning due to not being milked last night. Then tonight she gave less than she has been. It is only about three days until I dry her off anyway. I got 11 eggs.
March 22, Friday: Down to 10F this morning with an evil cold wind. It began banging doors around in the night, froze our faces all day, and finally let up late this afternoon. We have been expecting grandson Rafe to arrive and help shear the sheep, but he is stuck out on the same island he and Sally and others were stuck on last week. He is doing a carpentry job there. It was too cold to work outside today or even take the dogs for a walk. So, Sally had an enforced quiet day to pack for her departure on Sunday. Helen's milk production has crept back up to close to 1.5 gals a day following the missed milking on Tuesday. Today I got 14 eggs, almost all from the layers.
March 23, Saturday: 5F this morning. Rafe and his friend Shane arrived about 2 o'clock and set right to work on sheep shearing. Sally had trapped them in the lean-to when she fed them this morning. They were able to catch them easily using the shepherd's crook I gave her for Christmas. There are six Jacob ewes. The boys and Sally worked very hard for about four hours and got them all done. None of us is experienced so it is slow work. The only mishap was when Valentine got away when half shorn and ran around dragging half her fleece and getting it full of hay. They packed the fleeces in woven feed bags labeled with the name of each ewe: Agnes, Bernadette, Topknot, Valentine, Wombat and Delta. We did not milk tonight. I must start drying Helen off. Nine eggs today. After feeding the geese this morning I went over the nest and swiped one of the eggs. The gander kept eating and ignored me until I got almost back to the gate. It was as though he suddenly sensed that I had an egg. I wonder if he could smell it. He went right for me. I was wearing a large man's leather glove and I held out my hand with fingers spread. He grabbed onto a fingertip of the glove and hung right on flapping his wings while I backed out the gate.
March 24, Sunday: Now I am all alone again. But at least the weather is improving. I expect the sheep also appreciate it now that they are out of their winter coats. It is striking how much hungrier for their hay they were today. I guess they need to stoke up on fuel. It sure is quiet here without my daughter Sally. It is a long trip back to her home in Alaska, three flights followed by a 4.5 hour ferry trip tomorrow. I milked Helen again tonight, having skipped last night and this morning. I got over 1.5 gallons. Also got 10 eggs all from the layers. All the banty hens must be off stealing nests.
March 25, Monday: Today when I carried a flake of hay into the goose pen and walked towards the nest with it, the gander chased me. I held the hay in his face and he did not bother me any more. I thought the goose might want more nesting material. I did not take an egg. He ignored me as I was leaving, unlike last time when I carried off an egg. A bantam hen is setting in the hay loft. She has been sitting tight for three days, so today I gave her two big eggs to hatch. I got ten eggs today. It was cold again today but mostly sunny. Everybody is complaining about the weather.
March 26, Tuesday: This evening when I went in the goose pen the gander immediately attacked me. I gave him the edge of the feed bowl to bite and that seemed to satisfy him. He jumped up and down flapping his wings. When I picked up the water bucket he got all silly. He probably thought I was stealing it, whereas I merely wished to rinse and refill it. Goosey kept her distance. She usually comes to be petted. It is snowing hard again. Helen's udder is not filling up tight and I doubt there will be any need to milk her out again. Only eight eggs today.
March 27, Wednesday: We got six new inches of heavy wet snow last night but it is already melting fast. Bagel Dog forgot himself so far this morning as to have chased a rooster and pulled off it's tail. I picked up the tail and shook it in his face and said "Bad dog". It must be an awful temptation for him but I really cannot allow it. The poor rooster looked so disappointed and embarrassed. Animal body language is often very easy to understand. Helen is a very milky cow. Her udder was so packed tonight that I decided I had better milk her out again. I thought it might taste cow-ish due to having been inside her for so long, but it tasted fine. I got a dozen eggs today.
March 28, Thursday: Rafe, my grandson, and his friend Shane stopped in today on their way back to school. They built me a fine set of stairs so that I no longer have to use a ladder to get up to the hayloft. The stairs are big and solid. Now they have gone sledding with a flashlight in the dark. The cows and sheep seem to really like their hay lately. Helen's bag was soft today. Both she and Leah are beginning to look very large when they lie down. It was in the 40's today and the snow is turning slushy. Only six eggs. Perhaps all the sawing and drilling in the barn scared them out of laying.
March 29, Friday: Such a balmy day, over 40F and considerable sun. A lot of snow melted. The fields look half brown. The sheep spent the day out nibbling down among the dead grass where I suppose they find a bit of green. The goose was having so much fun hunting for grass that she did not come over for her corn this evening. The gander came running, though. He patrolled back and forth while debating whether to bite the water bucket until I left. Helen is now in a better humor. Her bag felt comfortable. There were nine eggs.
March 30, Saturday: It warmed up to about 60F today and once again there is a big puddle in the goose pen. I didn't have to bring them any food or water. All kinds of cracked corn they missed is melting out of the ice. The sheep go out on the pasture and nibble along the line of melting snow. I see them doing this often and don't know why they do it They line right up along the snowline. Sons Mark and Martin and grandchildren Hailey and Harper are here having a wonderful time. Harper is the same age as Martin, early 30's, and they all love doing things on the farm. Right now they are taking a moonlight walk, except for Hailey who is only eight. The boys took Bagel Dog with them, but I kept Muffin home. She gets pretty tired. She is 10 or 11, we don't know for sure as she was a discarded dog. But, that is pretty old for a big dog. Helen's bag is filling up again but is not as tight as before. She does not seem uncomfortable. Nine eggs today.
March 31, Easter Sunday: Such a fine Easter day it has been. For breakfast I made pancakes using the goose egg I swiped out her nest last week. It turned out to be a double yolker. So, I doubt it would have produced two live twins anyway. Now all my company has departed. Helen's udder is in good shape, I think. The rear quarters are fairly full, but not hard or hot. She still wants to come in to her stanchion. I have to shut the door fast when I go into the beefer pen with her so she doesn't dart through to the milking room looking for grain. I have been feeling the sheep's spines and they are well fleshed and solid. I have decided to stop their grain now that they are about to have a lot of grass. They continue to eat plenty of hay. Since none had lambs due to our lack of a ram I am afraid they will get too fat. We had sun all day and there was a great deal more thawing. I poked around in the vegetable garden. In areas where the soil is prepared I was able to run a rod down 10 inches before hitting frost. I discovered a ruffle of parsnip coming up. The cutting celery survived the winter. It has all new growth. There was one little lettuce plant I left covered with a plastic milk jug last fall. It has survived and is growing. That has never happened before. Ten eggs today.
April 2, Tuesday: It snowed again Sunday night. But, once again the new snow has melted and Spring is fighting her way back to Western Maine. The sheep went out to pasture this morning before I reached the barn and spent all day grazing at a distance. They came back in for the evening hay feeding. Helen and Leah go stand in the sun when there is any, but don't bother trying to graze. It is much too short for them still. The geese spend all day finding what they can. The gander is now furious every time even I, his former buddy, approach their fence. He comes sailing from across their yard to hiss at me. Helen's bag is now finally resolving. It was definitely softer this evening than it was this morning. There were 10 eggs today.
April 3, Wednesday: Until today I forgot to turn over my calendar to April. Then there it was in my face: "shelf chicken hatch". My note for April 2 reminding me that the bantam setting in a box on a shelf was due to hatch on Tuesday. I had moved her into her own safe house in the unused calf room I went straight to the barn, lifted her up and found two chicks under her. She had four eggs as recently as Sunday. But, I found one unhatched egg and no fourth egg or chick. I brought the little family some cottage cheese I froze last summer and some wheat germ. The wheat germ is soft enough for chicks to eat. Cottage cheese, besides being an ideal source of essential protein, contains various lactobacillus which defend the chick gut against salmonella and harmful bacteria. This is home made cottage cheese. I would not count on commercial cottage cheese to have any living lactobacillus. The sheep spent most of the day on the pasture until it started to rain around 3pm. They were hungry for hay this evening. Two stood in the hay feeder and neither Helen's attempt to scare them nor my dropping flakes of hay on their heads budged them. Only 5 eggs today.
April 4, Thursday: Neighbors stopped in for coffee and pointed out to me that a tree had fallen in my North Field. It must have come down in the big wind two nights ago. I could plainly see the tree once I put my glasses on. After they left the dogs and I went up to take a look. It was a spruce about a foot in diameter and it had fallen right on the fence Sally worked so hard on before she left. I will have to get somebody to saw it apart. In the meantime, the basal branches are so dense that nothing will go through the fence. Only eight eggs again today. I am running out of excuses for my hen's poor performance. But it is a very cold wet spring.
April 5, Friday: We had lots of sun today, but it is still cold. I don't think it got above 34F. Helen's bag is soft and flabby now. I started her and Leah back on grain. Just one modest scoop each to begin with. They were very pleased. They also get a vitamin E and selenium supplement and some kelp. The sheep were down on the knoll and did not notice. I was careful to be quiet in the grain room because the sheep have sharp ears for the sound of grain bins rattling. The hen with two new chicks is doing well. Both chicks are black. I must have given her Black Australorp eggs. Eight eggs again.
April 6, Saturday: I checked for eggs in a spot in the grain room where I look pretty often and this time I found a nest with eleven bantam eggs. Apparently, several hens are laying there. I left three eggs in the nest. Hens don't keep and accurate count of their eggs but they do know the difference between a whole lot and just a few. I hope not to discourage them from this nest. I might not be lucky enough to find the next one. The hen with two chicks in the calf stall is doing well. I will keep them in there at least until the chicks have little wing feathers. Being chicks from heavy birds, they are not nearly so astute as bantam chicks about self defense and don't mind their mother as well.
There is another nest in the milking room where a hen has been laying. Something comes during the night and takes the wooden egg I left. I have replaced it twice. It has to be a raccoon. This happened last year. I found one wooden egg discarded in the pasture. We have had a male cardinal at the feeder all winter and he has been calling for a mate for some weeks. Finally one has showed up. So far I have not seen them together, but surely they have noticed each other. A kind neighbor stopped in this morning and helped me clear out a horrible jungle of bittersweet out by the road. My daughter Sally worked on it while there was still too much snow, so a lot of the nasty vine was still attached to the ground. We pushed it over onto the river bank. I dug in the veg garden for about an hour and a half this afternoon. The ground is still sodden, so mostly I just turned it over to dry out. One little bed I worked on last week is nearly dry now.
Sunday, April 7: A clear cold day in the mid 30's. I did more digging in the veg garden, wishing I had done more clean-up last fall. I loaded a garden cart with chicken litter and hauled it down. The cow manure pile is still full of frozen clumps. Now that I have started giving Helen and Leah a little grain they greet me with great friendliness whenever I show my face. The sheep spend most of the day on the pasture but don't really fill up. They come in twice a day for hay. The weather is so cold that the grass is barely growing at all. I got 15 eggs today thanks to the bantam nest I found yesterday. I took all their eggs and put in three plastic Easter eggs filled with rice for ballast.
April 8, Monday: I made it to the veg garden with another cartload of chicken litter today and did a little more digging. Then I decided to check on my parsnip. The ground was thawed completely and after a bit of clearing away around it I could tell that it was a long one. In order not to break it in half or scar it with the fork I made a large excavation around it nearly three feet in diameter, a regular crater. Then I dug and dug in hopes of clearing away enough soil so that I could safely pull without breaking it. Mirabile dictu! I pulled it up in one piece and it was a beauty. I rinsed it in the fish pond, then took it in and measured it. It was 34 inches long and 3 and 3/4 inches across at the shoulder. It is now siting in the spring sink waiting to be shown off to any chance visitor, but none has appeared. I don't even know how it got planted. I did not put in any seed last year. So, either an overlooked one from the year 2000 went to seed. Or, seed from the last time I planted decided to germinate last spring. But, parsnip seed is notoriously short lived. I cherished it all last summer when I saw it growing and put a stake by it last fall so as not to overlook it this spring. Yesterday I put an alabaster egg in the nest where something is taking the wooden eggs. This morning I found it out in the middle of the barn floor. A hen is laying in that nest, two are laying in the new one I found in the grain room and one has started laying in with the cows. Altogether today I got a dozen eggs.
April 9, Tuesday: The gate to the North Field is shut pending my setting up electric fence to defend the young trees planted along the road. As I was sure would happen soon, the sheep found or made a hole in the fence and created their own gate. They always liked that field. By evening chore time they had not come back to the barn so I opened the gate and called them, "Sheep, Sheep!" and they all came running. They hate stepping in the mud by the gate and came mincing around the edge. I gave them a little grain so they would not feel tricked. It was warmer today, and drizzly. I got 11 eggs.
April 10, Wednesday: The dogs and I strolled along the river today. It is much lower than usual for this time of year and the vernal ponds in the pasture are smaller. So far I have not heard a spring peeper. Sally planted a number of tree seedlings and cuttings along the right of way by the road where last year the road crew wantonly ripped out the existing trees. No trees anywhere here are yet leafed out, so I cannot tell for sure if they are alive. But I think at least some of them are. I went to Farmington today and bought a roll of chicken wire at the Farmer's Union. I also bought pea and carrot seed. Tall Telephone, Danvers Half Long, and parsnip (not identified). Their seed is sold in bulk and they weigh it out as required. I took three dozen eggs to the gourmet shop to sell. They were much appreciated. I have a little blurb on a slip of paper that I put in each box telling customers that these eggs are the nutritional equal of fancy high priced eggs. Some of those sell for $4.50/dozen, if you can believe it. Indeed, mine are superior because they are fertile. When I got home I finished digging one veg plot but have not planted any seeds so far. I got 10 eggs today.
April 11, Thursday: It seemed a bit springier today, not very warm but sunny today at least. The big pile of last year's cow manure out in the pasture has mostly thawed, so I hauled a cartload of it down to the veg garden. I dug some into the bed that I finished yesterday, sprinkled on lime and dug it all in. That bed is now ready for planting. I planted lettuce seed in the bed that I prepared two days ago and over it constructed a house of Styrofoam panels covered with a sheet of Lucite. This impromptu greenhouse is rather leaky but it is mostly to keep the cats off. The Goose spent all day on her nest so far as I could see. I don't know if she is really setting. She was off eating corn at dusk. Eleven eggs today.
April 12, Friday: At last the electric fence is up. It took me about two hours to complete the job but it was a fine day. The dogs watched attentively in case I should change my mind and go for a walk instead. When done, I opened the gate and Helen and Leah went right into the north field to inspect everything. They have not been there since last fall. They went and sniffed the electric fence and seemed wary of it. I did not see either one get a shock. They must remember it from last summer. I got the garden bed planted that I prepared yesterday. It is mostly dedicated to greens: kyona, chard, beets and tyfon. I have never heard of tyfon before this year. It is also called Holland Greens. I put in a row of carrots too. The sheep today for the first time did not come in for hay. I got 13 eggs. That is a little better, but paltry considering I have over 20 hens. Some are pretty old.
April 13, Saturday: All day today we had a warm drizzle, just the thing to carry off the last of the ice and encourage my seeds. By evening the ice patches and piles left by the snow plow were down to a streak. I dug, limed and manured two 20 foot rows in the veg garden. I collected 11 eggs.
April 14, Sunday: Spring is here at last! Here is the evidence. Helen and Leah were out in the pasture and in no hurry to come in for breakfast until they remembered about grain. They spent all day trying to graze. About the only grass long enough to wrap their tongues around is in fence corners, but they kept trying. I put down hay in the evening, but they did not come in while I was there. But the true evidence for spring is, tonight I heard spring peepers! What an exuberant noise it is. Also the daphne is blooming. During the afternoon I dug over my two new rows and readied them for planting. I left open the door where the bantam with two chicks has been living and she moved them out. I don't much like the spot she chose to bed down this evening. It is not in her nice safe room. 14 eggs today. Perhaps this increase reflects the fact that the hens have been ranging far and wide for about two weeks. Maybe a few blades of fresh grass serve as a tonic. And, there are lots of earthworms.
April 15, Monday: The goose has been on and off her nest for the last three days, but now seems to have sat down with serious intent. The gander runs around the pen trying to look threatening. It rained all last night and a puddle extends over about a quarter of the enclosure. They enjoyed that together for a while this afternoon, then she got back on her nest. My upstairs setting bantam has hatched one chick. She has a second egg which had not hatched by noon, but I am going to move her anyway. The bantam that I let out yesterday was attacked in the night. Something took a lot of her feathers and one of her chicks. I thought both were gone but then realized I was hearing peeping. One had squeezed through a crack into the room with the layers. I caught it with a landing net. Tonight she had enough sense to settle down for the night in her old room. I only dug in the garden for a half hour today. I am a bit stiff and the ground is wet. The dogs and I took a walk along the river. It is up more than a foot following two days of rain, but still nearly two feet below what is normal for this season. Helen and Leah spent all day grazing and appeared satisfied. They kept moving from place to place but they must have found plenty of tufts. 15 eggs today. A lot of them are bantam eggs.
April 16, Tuesday: This evening Helen and Leah were in the beefer pen chewing their cuds happily and did not even get up when I threw down a few flakes of hay. They had to work for the grass they got and did a lot of walking, but they got filled up. In my experience it is a good thing to give them early access to new grass before it gets tall and lush. I think it gives their rumen bacteria time to adjust from hay. Traditionally, farmers have waited until the ground has dried out more because the cows' feet damage the field. But with only two cows on 20+ acres I don't worry about this. The dogs and I walked around the fields again today. Down in the swamp we saw a beautiful pair of mallards floating around on a pond. Bagel looked at me to see if he could have permission to plunge in after them, but I said no, so he turned away like a good dog. I have been checking every day to see if my goldfish made it through the winter. Today was warm, over 70F, and it brought out one black fish. No orange ones to be seen. Perhaps the blue heron beat me to it. I gardened for about an hour cleaning the asparagus bed. Both bantam hens with one each chick are fine. The goose was only on her nest about half of the time today but sat down again when the sun set. Maybe she thought her eggs were warm enough by themselves. I hope she knows what she is doing. 15 eggs today.
April 18, Thursday: This was a perfect April day, warm without being hot and with a light breeze. But, I did see my first mosquito. There is a haze of green now everywhere on the fields. The two cows and six sheep are grazing out on the knoll, the very picture of pastoral harmony. Last night I went to a Grange meeting and was installed. The meeting was preceded by a meal. There were six hot dishes and a green salad followed by chocolate cake and ice cream. The hot dishes were: scalloped potatoes, scalloped carrots, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, and two people brought beans. Twelve people were present. In January in some sort of altered mental state induced by garden catalogues, I ordered 15 trees and bushes. Today they arrived. I put them all into the goldfish pond to await assistance with digging holes. The information that came with them makes them sound like more work than brooding forty chicks which is probably what I should have ordered. I got 16 eggs yesterday. 20 today, and most are full sized. At last the chickens are happy, I guess.
April 19, Friday: Today neither the cows nor the sheep ate any of the hay I put down. They did hang about for the morning grain snack. I give a little to Helen and Leah every morning with their kelp and vitamin E supplement mixed in. Several of the sheep charge in to snatch bites. They don't get away with much with Helen but Leah is a little shy. It is Agnes and Topknot that are the most forward. This morning I saw that one goose egg had rolled out of the nest and was about three feet away. I am not going in there without a helper and nobody dropped by. I was surprised to notice along towards evening that the goose had succeeded in rolling it back into the nest. I wonder if it can live through that much chilling. It was misty today with a few sprinkles and the temperature was around 55F I managed a little more soil preparation today, but it is so heavy from the rain that I gave up after digging about 8 feet of a row for the peas. I began work on my neglected flower borders, mostly pruning out overgrown rose canes and nasty vines. I stuck four marked stakes in the ground to mark sites for the apple and pear trees. This morning I found a dead bantam hen in the shrubbery, obviously the crime of Bagel. This is not good news. I think he has spring fever. He is a lot more frisky. Maybe I should put him back on cheap dog food. Seventeen eggs today. Six were bantam eggs.
April 20, Saturday: Son Mark came today and dug holes for the trees I ordered. He dug seven holes. The trees have their feet in the fish pond awaiting planting. After he left at 4:30 I planted the first tree, a Dudley apple. It is a well rooted 3' whip. I also planted peas, tall Telephone. I set stakes this morning for their supports. This evening one of my neighbors pulled into the driveway to say that a fluffy orange cat had run in front of her pickup. That was my Gingerbread. Across the road the bank drops very steeply to the Webb River 50 or 60 feet below. I called and looked in vain. The bank is too steep for me to go down. Or more accurately, for me to get back up. Gingerbread was big and friendly and about six years old and had no vices. 16 eggs today
April 21, Sunday: Happy day! I opened the kitchen door about 6AM and there was my Gingerbread! He shot in the door looking damp and bedraggled. I think he must have run a considerable distance, then slept in the bushes. He does have one small vice. He is not always polite to his grandmother, old Sissypuss. It was quite cold today with a steady wind. I got some sugarsnap peas planted and one tree, a weeping crab. But, gardening was not much fun with that wind. The cows and sheep did not mind it. They stayed in the farthest Pocket Field, beyond which is woods. So, the wind on them was moderated. They did not come up to the barn at all. I am not even sure they came in last night. Both mother hens and chicks are thriving. I got 17 eggs today.
April 23, Tuesday: Despite weather unappealing to humans, Helen, Leah and the sheep spent all day grazing and even chewed their cuds lying in the pasture. It may have reached 45F today, but it was overcast. The wind felt icy and I even saw snowflakes. I guess the grass just can't resist growing at this time of year and the animals love it. I had workmen here all day doing weatherization so could not get out much. However, I did get one tree planted. I believe it is more of a bush. It is called cornelian cherry. It is said to produce interesting fruit and be ornamental. I love trying new things and prefer my ornamentals be productive. 13 eggs yesterday and today.
April 24, Wednesday: The barn swallow babies have hatched out and are skirling loudly. There are hardly any bugs. I hope they don't starve. The two mother hens now take their "only" chicks outside to scratch. The two mothers stay together even though they seem to hate each other. The baby chicks are so cute I can hardly stand it. The brown one that lost one chick and her tail last week now faithfully returns each night to the room where I lock them in. Tonight the other one, white with a yellow chick, settled down in another place. It is relatively safe so I did not move her. Helen and Leah and the sheep move frequently during the day because the grass is still short but they are getting plenty. They do love their morning grain snack. They don't need it, but it is a good way to feed them their kelp supplement. The sheep are all around them like seagulls and get half of it even though Helen goes to a lot of trouble to send them flying. 15 eggs today. I sold all my eggs to workmen who were here.
April 25, Thursday: Our one day of lovely weather went south and a vast wind came up. Now the weatherman is offering us six to eight inches of snow tonight. Helen and Leah and the sheep did not like the look of the sky and came into the barn. I saw only a few flakes this evening. If it really snows I still have hay to feed out. One bantam hen and chick now want to spend the night in a niche in the wall in the beefer pen run-in. If the cows remain in there she will be safe. A fox or raccoon will not go into a room full of large animals, at least not in my experience. 18 eggs today.
April 26, Friday: As promised, a white world met my eye this morning. Two or three inches of heavy wet snow covered everything. For those disposed to appreciate it, early morning sun on branches covered with little green leaves the size of a mouse's ear was a lovely sight. The cows and sheep were probably immune to this natural beauty as it meant they could not graze. I went out as early as possible to put out hay. Melting began rapidly and by 11AM they were grazing. Bagel has been disappearing on long runs and does not always answer my call. Today I got a call from an annoyed neighbor who said he was chasing the wild ducks on his duck pond. When Bagel came home I put him on his chain and will have to keep him chained from now on. He looks quite sad and uncertain of why he is not running free. This evening I happened to be in the beefer pen when the bantam hen who spends the night in a niche in the wall was calling her chick to join her. It was a huge two stage jump for him and time after time he tried and tumbled all the way to the bottom. It reminded me of pictures of salmon falling back as they attempt to leap up a dam. I longed to help him but of course when I came close he tottered away in alarm. The mother kept up a steady encouraging call. Had he been a bantam chick I am sure he would have been up in no time. I have seen them climb right up the rough bark of a tree to follow their mother to a high limb. But this fat little guy is from an egg laid by one of my big laying hens, probably a Buff Orpington. He is yellow. The hen kept up her crooning with no evidence of impatience. I left after about ten failures. When I checked on him a half hour later he was safely under mom. She lets me lift her up. I wanted to be sure he was really there because Old Freddy, the black tom cat, was slinking around. The cats do not ordinarily bother the chicks, but if one sank down exhausted I doubt I would find it in the morning.
April 28, Sunday: As promised by the weatherman, it started to snow in the late morning and seven hours later has not let up at all. Everything looks like Christmas. It is very heavy snow and I should not be surprised if it brings down power lines. I had to put out hay twice. Despite the weather, son Martin came with his big Troybuilt Tiller and tilled all parts of the veg garden which I have not already dug by hand. After that we went and climbed Center Hill in Mount Blue State Park. The access road was closed so we had to walk from the main road. The dogs had great fun. Well, Bagel did. Muffin had a somewhat penitential expression but she made it all the way without lying down. She is about 11 years old and pretty stiff. As I left the barn after evening chores the yellow chick was again trying to hop up with his mom. I noticed she was not calling him as persistently. I went back later to see if he had made it and he is vanished. I suppose he got too tired and collapsed and a cat carried him off. His mother is hunkered down as though he were under her but he is not. I got 12 eggs today, 13 yesterday.
April 29, Monday: Another happy ending! Chickie was with his mother this morning. I am not sure how I could have missed him last night but he must have been way up under her wing. As a rule I can feel their tiny feet. Of course I checked again this evening and this time found him. There was a faint smell of skunk around the barn this morning so that is a new hazard. I found a new bantam nest in the hayloft with 11 eggs. It was on the fourth tier of bales with steps of bales leading up. When I climbed back down with my pockets full of eggs I put my foot wrong and rolled the rest of the way down. I was not hurt at all. Some of the eggs were dented but none broke. Saving the eggs was a priority. I really hate a pocket full of raw egg. 15 eggs today. The weather continues raw and drizzly. Enough snow remains so that I had to put out hay three times. The cows and sheep went out in the pasture but every time they saw me they came hurrying back to the barn with hopeful expressions. They think am supposed to have all the answers, including to the weather.
April 30, Tuesday: No rain today, no snow, some sun. I planted one more tree, a Russian Olive. The lettuce, tyfon and kyona greens were happy under the snow and suffered no damage. The lilacs are a disappointment. Scarcely any leaves yet, let alone flowers for the cemetery on Memorial Day. Bagel and I walked by the river, but could not find the baby willows Sally planted. Perhaps the high water washed them away. The animals were able to graze all day. Both bantams and chicks are thriving. The brown hen who lost a chick and a lot of feathers to some predator about ten days ago has one black chick. The other hen is white and has one yellow chick. The brown hen is more aggressive and pecks the white one out of the way. Her yellow chick is the one that had trouble jumping up to the niche where they spend the night. But he is now getting tiny pinion feathers and can flutter more effectively. I noticed something interesting about the way his mother trained him. For the first two nights she got up ahead of him and sat there calling encouragement to him with a little trilling call. But by the third night she ceased to call. She knew that he knew where she was and she was not cutting him any more slack. I have observed this with many species, at first the mother goes out of her way to encourage her baby and help him learn things such as following. But before long she makes it his responsibility and shows impatience, or in the case of ducks, indifference if the babies don't exert themselves.
May 2, Thursday: We had good weather this morning but I dutifully applied myself to my writing until 11am. Then I got up to take the dogs for a walk and it started to rain. It has continued all day. I believe it will take the last streaks of snow. Helen and Leah and the sheep kept right on grazing until about 3pm. Then they went into their nice warm barn and waited for hay to fall into the feeder. I think they have a pretty good life. I have not seen the goose on her nest at all lately. So I guess there is no hope for the eggs. My neighbor who keeps geese says that once they sit down they don't stir off the nest. He thinks it is still too cold to make her want to start babies. I got 13 eggs yesterday, only nine today.
May 3, Friday: Very strong winds today made outdoor work intolerable so after an hour or so at the computer I got in the car and went shopping. I most especially meant to buy cat food but stupidly came home without it. So I poached some frozen pork liver and chopped it up for the cats. I notice one is seriously pregnant, a fact she has been hiding from me until today. She fell gratefully upon the liver. On the way home from the store I stopped in to see new twin girl cousins eight days old. They were born by C-section three weeks early and each weighed about 7 ½ pounds. I was much gratified by their good weight. I had been counseling their mother to eat plenty of meat and fat during her last trimester so that her twins would go to term. In other excitement, late this afternoon while collecting the eggs I hooked Bagel's chain to a metal projection next to the barn. I have done this lots of times. It has the ground wire of the electric fence connected to it. After about five minutes he started to shriek. It took me several seconds to reach him and on the way I disconnected the fence. Poor Bagel was leaping and plunging. I took him back to the house and offered him a piece of chicken to cheer him up and he refused it (for about five minutes). He is still looking hangdog. Apparently there is something I don't understand about electricity. I thought the ground wire was not hot. 13 eggs today.
May 4, Saturday: Since yesterday when Bagel received the horrid shock he has been extremely attentive to me. I'm sure he thinks I saved his life. If only he knew it was all my fault in the first place! In the middle of the night he climbed up on my bed and lay down on my legs. I endured it for a while but he weighs a ton. When I finally moved my legs he moved to the floor but was only satisfied so long as I let my arm dangle down his way. I don't know what kind of dog Bagel is because my cousin took him in as a stray and gave him to me when all efforts in her part of the state failed to find an owner. Several people think he is a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Muffin is showing a great appetite for grass. She "grazed" today for about a half hour. The weather today was better. It was warm enough to go without a coat but still windy. Some of my seeds are up. The spinach looks promising. But I do not see a single pea. They should not have been deterred by the rain and cold. Maybe the birds got them. Only seven eggs today. Several nests where there should have been eggs were empty. Sneaky hens have found new nests. I hear the spring peepers again tonight. They were silent for nearly a week when the weather turned so cold.
May 6, Monday: I learned today that Coburn Farm has been accepted for inclusion in The National Register for Historic Places. Sunday was fine and warm and today even warmer. Everything I planted is at least showing above ground except the peas. I dug a few up to see if they looked alive or were even still there. They were down there alright, and just starting to put out their toes but today they have still not poked above ground. Today I found one of my Black Australorps dead. She has been droopy for a couple of days. But there were no other obvious symptoms. I was wrong a couple of weeks ago when I said the barn swallows were back. But this morning they were definitely there. My cousins down the road were wondering where theirs were too, and today theirs are also back. That is just so amazing. I suppose both families flew together from Mexico or wherever it is they winter and just parted company for the last seven miles. The parent birds are safe from cats. They glue their nests to roof beams that only a spider could reach. But the fledglings are very vulnerable because they leave the nest before they can fly properly. I only found eight eggs today.
May 7, Tuesday: More soil preparation today. A couple of peas are barely visible. I guess they were waiting for nice weather before starting to move. It was well above 60F today. I think Bagel is beginning to understand he is not to leave home. I have been letting him follow me around outside dragging his leash. I tried him without it briefly and he stayed right with me. He is intelligent, but I don't know how much will power to expect of him. I am keeping him in sight while free. Nine eggs today.
May 8, Wednesday: I have been reminded that I have not made recent mention of Helen's due Date, June 2. Leah is due June 28. I am hoping to get an extra calf to take some of the milk. Probably I will just let Leah keep hers. A first calf heifer has less milk and is hard to milk because of teensy teats. I am enjoying my holiday from milking. I am doing my best to finish revisions to Real Food while I have slightly less to do. However, I do miss the fresh milk and cream! Sally and I froze about 20 quarts but I have used the last one now. Some of it tasted a bit chalky when defrosted, but I like it better than store milk. When you are accustomed to real milk the characteristic cooked flavor of store milk and the nasty plastic carton taste are very evident. Some of the brands also have a rancid oxidized flavor. We also froze some cream but that is long gone. Another time I will freeze a lot more cream. Store bought cream is more evil than milk. It actually has anywhere from one to four chemical additives. One brand I bought has carrageenan, mono- and di-glycerides and polysorbate 80. The dogs and I walked to the river. Bagel has to be on a leash. I let him drag it. This prevents him running out of sight but it is hard to see him so disappointed in the adventure. Things look very springy now. This past winter was so mild that the forsythia did not freeze. Never before have I had forsythia like this. The grass is getting so good that Helen and Leah are almost indifferent to their gain. Nine eggs today.
May 9, Thursday: I found two new nests today. I've been searching every chance I get because I know I am not getting all the eggs. As usual, they were hiding in plain sight. One had 12 eggs, the other had nine. Last time I found such a nest I took too many eggs and the hen did not come back. Also, I put in plastic eggs which are not as well accepted as wooden ones. I will try to buy some more wooden ones. This time I left four eggs in one nest, three in the other. I don't sell the eggs when I find these large collections. Obviously, some are over a week old. Guess I better make a cake. Only eight eggs today from the layers.
May 10, Friday: Before making today's diary entry I am putting in a letter from my daughter-in-law, Amy, in Alaska. She has a new electric fence around a paddock for her two recently acquired, pretty New Forest ponies. She wrote this for the New Forest Newsletter.
"I have a cautionary tale that might be of interest at some time for the newsletter. It is at my expense by admitting to being not very clever. I got shocked by the fence rather violently a couple days ago. There is a new charger here, the old pulsing ones gave up and were replaced by this little teeny Red Snap'r that can't be much bigger than a pack of ramen. It says it charges a mile of fence. The wire just sits there sort of primed until something completes the circuit then ZAP. None of the three horses currently living here have challenged it, which should have been a clue. I had been treating the fence, which is randomly and rarely on, very nonchalantly, I had brushed past it or grazed it with my knee when I crawled through: not so bad, it kind of tickled. Well, I was doing that same trick on Tuesday and lost my balance. Unluckily for me there was a metal fence post waiting to catch me. I grabbed the T-post in my left hand as my thigh contacted the wire. I think my eyes were rolling up. I could not let go. The electricity made my hand squeeze so tightly that my nails were trying to bend backward, one actually lifted somewhat off the nail bed and bled and looks gross. It probably lasted 15 or 20 seconds before I could pull it together enough to get away from the thing. I'm glad it was me and not one of the kids. It hurt like crazy."
I am not familiar with this type of fence but I don't think I want one.
Our weather today was fine but I could not get into the garden until evening and not at all yesterday. What a surprise I got! It rained some last night and the asparagus sprang out of the ground. Some spears are up eight inches. Later, the dogs and I walked to the river and I found violets in bloom and the shad bush also. I allowed Bagel to run without his leash. He is ok as long as I keep him strictly within sight. I have to keep calling him in. He comes, but it is a nuisance. I got a dozen eggs today thanks to the new nests.
Sunday, May 12, Mother's Day: A fine day with two of my sons and one granddaughter. The weather was a bit bleak, but we went up to the lake and the boys did a polar bear plunge. There was still snow on the mountaintops. While at camp we got rid of the dead hen, the one that died five days ago. It is a puzzle what to do with a dead hen. I used to throw them over the river bank for the foxes but that was before I had Bagel. Martin took it way out in the woods. After visiting camp I dropped the boys off with their mountain bikes near a trail at the foot of Bald Mountain and they got back to the farm about an hour and a half later. Mark gave the lawn its first mowing of the year. I picked my first asparagus. Martin worked on the old John Deere which has been sharing space with the cows in their run-in all winter, trying to get it started so he could get it out of there. It turns over well but does not start. Something is no doubt corroded. I had it covered with a plastic tarp to keep hay out of it. Next winter I will find an old blanket or rug. There is probably condensation under the plastic. I didn't think about that last fall. Twelve eggs today. I did not write yesterday because of helping with the Grange supper.
May 13, Monday: Rain started softly this morning, then picked up in intensity as the day went on. The animals continued to graze through most of it, but by evening were all inside drying out. I put out a bale of hay and they all went right for it. This evening I went to a meeting and when I came out at 9pm the rain had turned to snow and there was over an inch on my car. I don't think this is normal. 10 eggs today.
May 14, Tuesday: Most of the snow was gone by morning, having turned to rain. But, I see a lot on the mountains. It continues to be cold. The asparagus has stopped in its tracks and turned a purplish hue. The dogs and I took a nice walk by the river and found many wild flowers blooming. The river is up again. I checked the cows frequently today. A cold day on lush wet grass is an invitation to bloat. In fact, most of the grass is still too short and sparse for gobbling. The really lush stuff is on my lawn where it goes to waste. Helen is bagging up just a little bit. I hope she has no trouble calving. Last time she was in calf, as an experiment, I did not feed anionic salts, instead fed kelp. There are some reports of kelp protecting against milk fever, most of them anecdotal. She did not show more than very fleeting symptoms. This year I have been in a quandary. Helen is on the edge of being too fat. If I were to give her enough grain to cover the taste of the salts she would surely get too fat. This sets a cow up for ketosis. The kelp won't be eaten without grain either, although it is more palatable than the salts. What I am doing is feeding about one and a half pounds of grain per day with a half cup of kelp, an amount which is marginal for obtaining any effect. Even this she does not get every day because when the weather is fine she and Leah do not even show up in the barn. I am counting on the effect of consistency with the kelp. She has been getting that half cup nearly every day for two years. Nineteen eggs today.
May 16, Thursday: There are some kittens in the barn. Today some of them emerged enough to allow me to pet them.. Black as usual. I opened a can of wet food that proved irresistible to the mom. Next time I open a can maybe several kittens will come forward. Helen is getting mighty big. Today when lying down to chew her cud her breathing sounded like a bellows. She looks extremely uncomfortable. Also, her hind feet are seriously overgrown. I hope the tips break off spontaneously. My vet ties up the cow's leg and hoists it up so the cow is standing on three legs. It makes the cow tippy at the best of times and I don't want to put Helen through this. The weather today was a lot better.
May 17, Friday: I didn't see the kittens today. I put out a generous plate of wet food, but was in a hurry and left before glimpsing more than flitting shadows under the floor boards. I hope they got a few nibbles to whet their appetite for canned cat food. Then I will catch them in a week or so, maybe. It warmed up some today and dried out enough for me to do some lawn mowing. There are a lot of clumps so big it gagged the mower. I bounce it around to loosen up the chewed grass but then I have to pull the starter cord. Finally, I gave up. More tomorrow if it does not rain. The black hen with a half grown black chick roosted up high this evening and left her baby down below. They usually do try to get the chick to go high, but when it can't, the mother comes back lower down. Not this one. 14 eggs.
May 19, Sunday: It rained most of yesterday. I worked indoors and got more of my tomato seedlings transplanted. Today it continues cold but dry. I am out of wood. I went up to camp and brought back enough for a couple of days in the trunk of my car, then built a good fire. Also, I made French bread with sesame seeds on it. Then, just as I was heading down to the garden an old friend from New Jersey stopped by. He was hoping to pick fiddleheads. He waited while I did a few things in the garden including planting an experimental row of mangels for the cows. Then we took the dogs and walked down through the spring woods. There are still virtually no bugs. I don't know what the poor swallows are surviving on. Most of the fiddleheads are now foot high ferns but we did find a few still emerging. I think he ended up with about two pounds. On the way back the cows and sheep followed us close enough to feel their breath and the sheep were also clustered around. I'm not sure if they were hoping for the fiddleheads or just felt friendly but I think John was a little nervous of them. He is a scalloper and more used to big waves than sniffing cows.
Last night the white bantan did the same as the black one did a couple of nights ago and left her chick down below while she roosted in the rafters. When I said goodnight to him he was still peeping around at floor level and not even hopping up the steps. But, there he was with his mama this morning. Then this evening I could see him high up with his mother. She actually had roosted in a place where he could reach her in a series of hops. Eleven eggs both yesterday and today.
May 20, Monday: It was down to 27F this morning and I lost some plants. Every spear of asparagus that was above ground was destroyed, such a shame. I have never had this happen before. The day warmed up enough to encourage me to take a chance on setting out lettuce. It has been growing outside under a Plexiglass panel I had set up so is already hardy. I set out 40 Boston lettuce seedlings. It's my favorite. If they make it through the night I will figure out a way to cover them with floating row cover. I think I may have enough milk crates to hold the stuff up. Experience has shown me that it is no use supporting it with mere stakes. Tents like that attract cats. They use them as a hammock and do more damage than the weather. Eleven eggs again today.
May 21, Tuesday: Helen is finally bagging up. I felt her udder this morning and it was getting noticeably firm and warm. Leah is making bag now too and looks as though she will have a pretty good udder and better teats than a lot of heifers. She is a really beautiful heifer and much more friendly than formerly. This morning I began increasing Helen's grain a little bit. A gentleman came today and bought two dozen big eggs and a dozen bantam eggs to put in his incubator. Mine are all fertile eggs because I keep about one rooster for every four hens, wash the eggs as little as possible and then only in cold water. And, I do not refrigerate them. I located a new nest today and took two eggs from it for a total of eleven. The layers gave me only nine. I really should dress off a few of those old hens.
May 23, Thursday: Yesterday I could not write. I spent the evening driving to the airport to pick up my friend from California. She will be with me for a week.
I got only six eggs yesterday, darned birds. Today I got 17 and they were mostly big ones. There are three bantam hens sitting that I know of. One has eggs I gave her from the layers. The others have their own eggs. The two bantam hens that are rearing one layer chick each have now taken to roosting in the highest rafters. The black youngster who is a week or so older gets up there handily to roost with her mom. The white one has an endless struggle I can hardly bear to watch. Sometimes he stops and looks pleadingly at me. Or so it seems. The pastures now look a psychedelic Irish green. Helen and Leah are happy all day and I think the sheep are too. They are all very friendly. People are beginning to ask if Helen is expecting twins. I see the calf kicking sometimes. 17 eggs today.
May 24, Friday: My lawn mower quit a few days ago in the tall grass down near the vegetable garden. This morning I got up my courage to have another go at it. The pull cord was unwilling to be pulled, totally blocked. I called Randy's Repair and Mrs Randy gave me some suggestions involving the spark plug and the air filter. After several trips up and down from the garden I decided to drag it back up to the garage. (It is rather heavy) There I removed the air filter cover and etc. and blew on things, got more grass out of the blades, and then it started but I am not sure why. I mowed for only about an hour. I also spent some time today cutting away turf from the base of two apple trees. There are still two that need doing. But yesterday's heat brought out blossoms on the apple, plum and cherry trees. They are about eight or ten years old and have never blossomed before. It clouded over in the afternoon and the wind kicked up. I saw some bumble bees working, but have not seen a honey bee this year. They will not work unless the temperature is above 60F, so I have read, and there has been precious little of that kind of weather. Another chicken died, a Black Australorp. I think she was about old enough to vote so it is not to be wondered at. But, I still wish I knew why she died. Ten eggs today.
May 25, Saturday: So far, I do not have a true count of the kittens in the barn, maybe four. Any time I take the time to sit down next to the feed pan they begin creeping out. I am able to stroke them with one finger. Helen and Leah look better every day, just fine. Eleven eggs today.
May 26, Sunday: More rain today, just enough to save me watering the baby trees. After church I did some light Sunday gardening around the flower beds and set out a few plants. Now a few little spots near the house look nice. There is still so much that needs doing that it makes me feel like taking a nap. Helen and Leah have not come up for their grain for three days. They love the lush grass more than grain. One dozen eggs today.
May 27, Memorial Day Monday: Very fine weather today. I dug another long row in the veg garden but did not get anything planted. There are three (known) setting hens in the barn that I check every day for chickies. Tonight one had hatched her two eggs. I reached under her and there were no eggs so I felt around for tiny legs. The chicks can be very hard to find because they go way up into the hen's armpits. I bundled them up in my arms and transferred her to the safe room. I was a bit surprised her eggs hatched. She laid them in the very niche where three weeks ago another hen chose to spend the night. That was the hen that made her chick hop so high. That white hen would push her off her nest and spend the night on the eggs. In the morning the hen that the eggs belonged to would return and sit on them. This happened repeatedly, but there was often a long gap when the eggs were uncovered. I got another large section of lawn mowed today. My guest collected eggs today and only found five.
May 28, Tuesday: Helen begins to look a bit closer to calving every day, but she is feeling rather independent. She spends all day gobbling lush grass and ignoring her barn and me, her friend. But she looks up and says hello when I speak her name. Early this morning I noticed that she had ignored the electric fence wire and was in among the new trees. I unplugged the fence more than two weeks ago when Bagel got his chain tangled in the ground wire and got a bad shock. So my first task today was setting the electric fence system back in order. Helen had not touched the trees. She was after the grass. All the trees made it through the winter but the oak tree is suffering. Most of the top is dead but new buds are appearing midway up the trunk so there is hope for it. My two news chicks and their mom are in good shape. A man stopped by and wanted to buy rotted cow manure. I let him fill six 5 gal. pails and charged him $1 each. 11 eggs today.
May 29, Wednesday: Today was long. I was up at 3:15 to drive my guest two hours to the airport. The new chicks and their mama are even cuter today. All the animals spent a long time today inside the barn chewing their cuds. The flies must now be annoying them a lot. I have had a vacation from barn cleaning while they stayed out all the time, but it will be back to work tomorrow. For some days I have put out no bird seed because grackles and starlings were taking it all. However, this morning I put out black thistle seed because I thought I saw a goldfinch. Soon there were two in the feeder. I found that tree swallows have nested in the bluebird house, which is fine because there are no bluebirds around at present.
May 30, Thursday: Hot muggy weather today. I think I hear the grass growing. For much of today there was a light drizzle, so there could be no thought of lawn mowing. Helen chose to lie around inside the barn much of today. So, Leah had to stay too. The sheep also appeared to feel obligated to hang about. The net result was a very messy barn, which I could not even clean out with all of them standing or lying in there.. I spread an old bale of hay over the worst of it. Also, today I moved the stock tank outdoors and refilled it. Helen looks as big as a house and when lying down her breathing is accompanied by a grunt. For the first time today there was a bit of mucus showing. She and Helen both stood up and asked for grain twice today. So I gave them some. I am not graining the sheep. They no longer even bother to ask. Eight eggs today.
May 31, Friday: A thunderstorm with violent wind and horizontal rain came out of the west and went through here in the late afternoon. It savaged the lilac blossoms and I don't know what it did to the new group of lettuce seedlings I set out earlier. The window in the grain room was open and some bags of feed were soaked. The door from the chicken run to the pasture was torn open and the gate to the goose pen also. I had a great fight to get the large sliding garage door closed, but knew I had to do it or it would surely hop off its track. When I went outside to close it a great stream of dogs and cats ran into the kitchen. I did not think to go out and unplug the electric fence which should never be left on in an electrical storm. But, it appears no harm was done apart from the wet grain bags. All the grazing animals had gone into the beefer pen and were quietly chewing their cuds like good cows and sheep. I have a large patch of naturalized Thermopsis carolinus out behind the barn. This resembles yellow lupin. Tomorrow will reveal how it fared. Fortunately I had picked a big bunch before the storm. 13 eggs today.
June 1, Saturday: Our power was off today for three and a half hours. The wind continued very strong today and a tree was down somewhere on the line. So, I took the dogs and walked down to the Pocket Field, my last field, to see how the wild strawberries are coming along. They are at least a week away from being ready, but we had a fine walk and the dogs took a dip in the river. I came across a beautiful sight. By the river there was a great patch of naturalized forget-me-nots perhaps fifteen feet long and ten feet wide. It was like a soft blue cloud. Helen seems very alert but I do not think will calve tonight. Tomorrow is her due date. Only seven eggs today. I am selling them as fast as I have a dozen.
June 2, Sunday: Today is Helen's due date, but my guess is that she will go another five or six days at least. Leah is beginning to make bag. Both are very friendly. I planted a row of my heirloom potatoes and did some energetic pruning. However, it was windy all day and mostly overcast. One of my trays of tomato seedlings was destroyed by the wind. I overlooked it until too late. A dozen eggs today.
June 4, Tuesday: As usual, right in plain sight where I had been walking I found a bantam nest with six beautiful blue eggs. It is next to the tractor wheel. For some reason a nest next to the tractor wheels is perennially popular. I took three of the eggs.. She was not suspicious and today laid another. The large Black Australorp and her two adorable chicks that live out with the bantams are doing fine. The chicks are big and strong. But, I lock her in a safe room with them every night after what happened last month. A predator nearly killed a hen and took one of her chicks. Twelve eggs yesterday and two today. Helen's udder looks big enough to fill a wheelbarrow and her tailhead is getting encouragingly wobbly. This happens a few days before calving because of relaxation of the pelvic ligaments. But, I don't think she will calve tonight. I hope she will calve in the beefer pen like last time. She appears to consider it home. It is so much more convenient for me if she does.
June 5, Wednesday: All morning Helen grazed as usual. Then, at 1 o'clock when I went to the Barn. There she was in the beefer pen, their haven, with a fresh calf. For some reason she was doing a lot of mooing. The calf was so tiny I thought surely there must be twins. But, nobody else arrived and the calf began getting to its feet and fluffing out and pretty soon it looked a lot bigger. Leah stood by watching attentively, but not interfering. So far Helen is being an angel. She stood like a rock while I helped the calf to Suck. None of that usual circling. The calf was eager and competent and I got it to suck three teats. Then it laid down for a nap. Helen and Leah laid down about four feet apart with the calf between them. I felt that this positioning was no accident. About 3:30 I went out with my buckets to milk out some colostrum, taking along apples to tempt Helen into where her stanchion is. She was of course unwilling to leave her calf. However, Leah ran right in. I got her tied up, then stood waiting until Helen turned her head away. Then I picked up the calf and ran with it to get through the narrow aisle ahead of Helen. She ran after me and when I got to the end of the aisle I set the calf down unceremoniously. Once her calf was near the stanchion Helen put her head right in. Then she stood like a lamb while I milked out a gallon and a half of colostrum. She only switched her tail when her calf toddled out of sight. We have named the calf Virginia. I left a night light on for Helen. She is terribly careful not to step on those twiggy little legs, but it might be better if she can see. As evening came on it started to rain. I had the barnyards gates closed so that Helen would not take her calf far away. But the sheep managed to get themselves divided into two groups, one in the barnyard and the other outside the gate in the field. I got them together and led them over to their own run-in which they now seldom use. It is under the buttery. Rain was falling in sheets over the entry. I went inside and called to them and it was funny to see them each hesitate at the sheet of water, then leap into the air as they went through it. Nine eggs today.
June 6, Thursday: At my first sight of Helen this morning she was out grazing in her very limited paddock behind the barn. No milk fever! I got her in for milking, not without difficulty because of the need to drag and push Virginia ahead of her. I have a collar on her to assist with this. Virginia had already sucked as was evident from one very soft quarter with the smooth clean teat that means dried calf spit. Helen stood like a perfect cow while I milked another gallon and a half of colostrum. After getting them all back into their run-in, the beefer pen, I opened one of the field gates. I decided to take a chance on letting her take Virginia out for the day. Virginia's good angel (or mine) had me looking out the window at the right moment at 10:30, to see both cows and little Virginia trotting out into the field. My heart was in my throat as I saw Helen lead Virginia along the rather muddy cowpath that borders the river. I traced their progress to the farthest point of the field where there are trees. Later I was again looking at around 1:00 and saw Helen lead Virginia back along the river where she stashed her in a dense copse. I chained up Bagel in case he should confuse things and alarm Helen and walked down to have a closer look. A calf is like a fawn in its invisibility and immobility. It will not move or get up unless nudged quite vigorously or tickled along the spine. I left her alone. In fact, I pretended not to see where she was in case it might make Helen move her. I made a fortunate discovery among the trees, a great tangle of old electric fence wire, perhaps 25 or 30 feet that had been there for years. It was probably torn loose in a spring flood. Some loops ran under the roots of 2" saplings. Such wire is of course deadly to livestock. I was unable to pull it out, but looped most of it onto one tree and will go back tomorrow with wire cutters. This evening at milking time I looked out the buttery window and was again just in time to see Helen put Virginia down in a marshy area. I called Helen to come in for milking and she trotted right up to the barn. She was almost stepping up the indoor ramp leading to the milking room when she suddenly decided she could not leave her calf alone. She was unstoppable as she whirled and ran all the way back down and stood at a distance of about 100' from Virginia. But, I knew where she was and soon found her. Then I had the exhausting task of nudging and dragging her all the way back to the barn and all the way to the stanchion with Helen dancing in attendance. However, Helen once again stood sweetly while I milked. Tonight I got only one gallon. She let down very poorly. I put the calf on her and she sucked reasonably well, but I saw no evidence that Helen let down for her either. I closed the barnyard gate so there will be no night grazing. I don't care to do that calf wrangling first thing in the morning. There was a new bantam and chick skittering around in the barn, but I had no time to deal with it and then it disappeared. The fridge is full of colostrum now. I will freeze most of it. Late check: Helen is very alert and eating some of the good hay I found for her.
June 7, Friday: Helen was so good today. At this evening's milking she was right up in the barn and had brought Virginia with her. It was no trouble getting her in. Her bag is still quite congested but I did get 1.5 gallons both morning and evening. Weather today was very fine. It was charming to see Virginia twinkling along next to her mama in the pasture with Leah not far behind. Virginia also nibbles grass in imitation of her mother. I can't see that she drinks much milk but I did see her pee a goodly puddle, so there is my evidence. One dozen eggs today.
June 08, Saturday : Another fine day. Son Mark , granddaughter Hailey and I went down and found that nasty wire in the woods. Mark cut it out with wire cutters. What a dangerous mess that was. Helen had Virginia hidden among the trees. We had Bagel dog along and the cows didn't like having him around. Helen hoped we would not notice where Virginia was and so we tactfully kept our distance from her. Due to Bagel's presence, Helen pawed the ground first with one front hoof and then the other and threw a lot of leaf mould up in the air and over her back. Virginia is rapidly learning to come along in at milking time. Rounding up the herd was pretty easy this evening. Tonight I am experimenting with letting her stay out all night in the pasture. This way she can graze. But, if she gives me a lot of trouble getting her in tomorrow morning I may think better of it tomorrow night. Hailey and I were collecting eggs and found a very new chick with no mama. I could not find any hen to put it with so have it in a box on the Aga. Just what I need. Only six eggs today.
June 9, Sunday : Today started so early and went on so long I can hardly remember the beginning. Helen came in nicely for morning milking with Virginia and Leah. She gave about two gallons, but I spilled some when I jumped up with the bucket as she lifted her tail. Before letting her out of her stanchion son Martin came with a hammer and cold chisel to see if he could shorten up her overgrown rear toenails. The toenails proved too tough. Then he tried the heavy, long handled garden shears and those worked a lot better. At the evening milking I went out by myself, but could not find Virginia. Consequently, I could not get Helen in. She led me on a great hike around the field and back again before I finally found Virginia. We had a lot of company, so Martin offered to milk so I could give my attention to dinner. But, I stayed in the barn a few minutes to help him get organized. I was standing behind Helen when she let fly with some very loose manure, all the time rapidly switching her tail like a hippopotamus. I had the impression she did this with clear intent. I had to go in and shower and put all my clothes in the wash. Then she settled down and Martin got about two gallons of milk. Eight eggs today.
June 10, Monday Another fine day with happy cattle. Helen was nearby with Virginia and Leah both this morning and tonight. However she was restless during milking. Not raising her tail like last night, but she has so much milk that I can't finish milking before she gets bored. My daughter Sally ordered me some alfalfa pellets to put on her feed and slow her down. I think I may increase the amount. What she especially does not like is for me to change off hands so that I am milking with my left when she is accustomed to my using my right on her left rear teat. Since the two right-side teats are the ones favored by the calf, they have less milk. It would be very convenient to use my left hand on that left rear teat but it annoys her a lot when I do. I got over two gallons each milking, but a lot is still being left behind. She stops letting down. I have been keeping that orphan chick in a box on the Aga and feeding it a mixture of milk and wheat germ. Today I found a bantam that had just hatched a couple of chicks. Before I go to bed I am going to put this chick under her and see if I can graft it into her family. "My" chick is fine and healthy. Eleven eggs today.
June 11, Tuesday This morning the little chick was part of a new family and doing fine. The hen is hard to help, being the kind that flies in my face if I get near her family, but I did set out water for them and throw down feed. Helen's udder was in slightly better shape today. Milking this evening went smoothly. She is still holding up her milk so I am not getting a lot of cream. If after a few more days she still does not let down for me I will separate the calf. I have no use for four gallons a day of low fat milk. The five college kids left late morning today. They were a hungry group. Also very helpful. It has now rained for 26 hours which limited what they could do outside. Eleven eggs today.
June 12, Wednesday: The farm is sodden, the rain continues. When I got Helen and Family in for milking this morning they were soaking wet from having been out grazing early. After milking she obviously did not want to go back out in the rain, so I put out hay and they stayed in all morning. This evening when I went to find her, Virginia was not to be seen. Helen was not about either to tell me where she was or come in without her. When I found Virginia, she displayed a new developmental stage. She is one week old today. Instead of "playing possum" as before, she leapt to her feet like a deer and ran away. OK, I thought, now I can drive Helen in and Virginia will follow. I think this would have worked fine except I had forgotten to chain up Bagel and at this point he streaked down to help. I put the hay string I had brought for Virginia onto Bagel's collar to stop him circling, but it ended up as hot work getting them in, and my boots full of water. I got five gallons from Helen today and there was about another gallon I could not get. I put the kicker on her for a while so I could trade off hands milking that difficult back teat. The calf so far sucks only the right hand teats and mostly only the rear. All weekend while I had company I was worried because my big old orange tomcat, Gingerbread, was missing. Finally today he showed up. Two of his paws are injured. Not much can be seen but he is limping badly. He is neutered and has not fought for years, so it must have been an encounter with a predator. Both foxes and raccoons kill cats. Only five eggs today from my water logged hens.
June 13, Thursday: This morning I took along a little can of sweet feed when I went to fetch Helen. If I had been 15 minutes earlier I would have found her waiting in the barn, but she had just given up and left. I called to her but she ignored me. However, the taste of grain changed her mind and she took off for the barn. I caught Virginia's collar and we ran along behind her. Once Helen was obviously entering the barn I let go of Virginia and she followed her mother to the tie up. I got two gallons of milk, but she is still letting down grudgingly. This evening Helen came into the barn when she heard me call and Virginia followed. Leah has come in by herself ahead of the others each time lately. I have increased Leah's grain slightly to about 2lbs twice a day and added a sprinkling of alfalfa pellets to familiarize her with them. I am giving Helen about 3lbs of 16% grain plus a pound of alfalfa pellets, which is more than she needs, being rather fat. But, this amount of grain makes coming into the barn seem worthwhile to her. Both are still getting about ¼ cup of ground kelp each time. For the first time Virginia had suckled the difficult left rear teat, making milking a lot easier. But, Helen is still holding up her milk because I am not Virginia. Tonight I got only 1.5 gals. Eight eggs today.
June 14 Friday This morning Helen gave back all the milk she held up last night. I brought in close to three gallons. This evening there were almost two and a half. And, of course Virginia gets her share. She is growing like pigweed. Tonight Helen let down a lot better. I put the kicker on her towards the end when I needed to change off hands because my right was getting achy. All three came into the barn nicely morning and evening. I can't budge Virginia unless Helen is already moving. She just sets her feet. But, I find if I give Helen a whiff of that bit of grain she remembers how much she loves it and turns towards the barn. Today was going to be the day I finished planting the garden. The weather was very fine. But then my vet stopped in and I gave him some lunch. Tomorrow rain is expected along with unseasonably cold weather, so probably nothing was going to grow anyway.
June 15, Saturday: Rain almost all day, as forecast. The river is unseasonably high. We have had wet Junes before, but last winter a great deal of vicious clear cutting occurred in the hills around here. No doubt this has a lot to do with the river level. I feel sure that all the nests of wild ducks have been swept away from the riverbank. There are plenty of goldfinches this year. I am putting out only thistle seed. This seems to discourage the grackles and blue jays. Both morning and evening Helen was stubborn about leaving her hideout under the buttery and coming in to be milked. I even got Virginia 50 feet down the trail and still she did not budge. Leah finally came, then finally Helen. I have decided that it is the knee deep mud at the beginning of her ramp that she hates. It needs a yard of gravel in there. She gave 2.5 gals. this morning and 1.5 tonight. There is quite a lot of milk staying behind, but her udder is not actually in any trouble. Virginia has had one preferred quarter from the first day, but now there is usually at least one other quarter that has been sucked. It is amazing how fast she is growing. I made her a proper leash today. I hope I can get her cooperative about being led before she completely overpowers me. Six eggs today.
June 16, Sunday: Helen brought Virginia right up to the barnyard gate this evening at milking time, but it was nonetheless difficult to get her past that point. Virginia is not too skittish if I move slowly, so I was able to catch her and thus move the party forward. What a lot of milk I am getting! I brought in, believe it or not, 3.5 gallons this morning and 2.75 tonight, plus Virginia of course feeds ad lib. But, tonight Helen was incredibly dirty. She really lay down in a mess somewhere plus her tail was disgusting. It took half a roll of paper towels followed by hot water and a towel to clean her up. Her tail was still nasty and she kept waving it so I tied it to the wall with a hay string. She was very good while I milked a full bucket to within an inch of the top. It took me a half hour to finish milking both tonight and this morning. I think my hands and shoulders are improving a bit. This afternoon I got into the garden briefly and put diatomaceous earth on the lettuce. The slugs are after my beautiful young butter lettuce. I made an herbal tea to try on them too. I steeped Balm of Gilead leaves in boiling water. I have no particular reason to think this will help, except nothing, but nothing, eats that tree.
June 17 Monday Virginia has grown so much that today I punched a new hole in her collar to let it out a bit. She trotted right along with me this morning coming to the barn. This evening all three were grazing in sight of the barnyard. I just stood there calling and both Leah and Virgina came in. Soon Helen lumbered in after them. I caught Virginia and put her on her lead rope so she wouldn't skitter off somewhere. Helen would surely follow her and make me ever so much trouble. Helen was well behaved at both milkings, but let down poorly. I brought in only 4.5 gallons today. Fortunately, Virginia is now trying out the other quarters that she had been neglecting. I put up netting for my peas today. I should have done it sooner. They are over a foot tall and flopped over. The bugs were awful in the garden. Nine eggs today
June 18, Tuesday: Helen, Virginia and Leah were perfect today. In the morning I had to fetch them from their hideout beneath the buttery, but they came right along as soon as they saw me. With just a little guidance to keep her on track Virginia trots right along to her position next to her mother. Helen let down better than yesterday. I did put the kicker on her this morning so I could use my left hand more. I got about three gallons in the morning. At the evening milking they were all waiting inside the beefer pen ready to walk right in. Helen let down even better and I managed without the kicker. I am still not getting as much cream as I would if she let down properly. She holds up for the calf. This is the first time I have stuck it out this long with the calf running with mom. The fact that I have half the pasture closed off has helped. She can't really hide, in fact prefers to be in one of the run-ins because of the bugs. I have spent time petting Virginia so that she is not as hard to catch as she would otherwise be. Also I am being Zen about the fact that I am missing a lot of the cream because of Helen holding up her milk. I am making one pound of butter a day, whereas on a day like today when she gave 5.5 gallons I ought to get two pounds. But at least I have happy, healthy animals. So long as they cooperate this is less work for me. Only three eggs today. I spent a few minutes searching, but no luck.
June 19, Wednesday: Finally it warmed up enough to set out tomato plants. I got five set out. Helen gave five gallons.
June 20, Thursday: Another fine day, even warmer at close to 80f. I got a few more tomato plants set out, also the dahlias. Everything is getting ahead of me. Many roses are now in bloom. I especially love an unknown pinkish white one that grows in a vast bramble near the old pigpen. We call it the pigpen rose. It has a superb scent, well beyond any other rose I know. Helen gave barely 4.5 gallons today. She continues to hold up her two left quarters and the calf never drinks from them. So far no signs of mastitis, but I am getting worried. Tonight I slathered a strongly aromatic udder cream on the two teats Virginia always chooses. I am hoping it will driver her to the others! The neighbor from whom I bought my old John Deere came over and got her started up and moved out of the barn. He was careful not to run over or step on the little brown hen setting next to one of the big wheels but she is now very exposed. Five eggs today. Something tells me I need new hens.
June 21, Friday: Well here is a mystery. This morning Helen's bag was soft all over. She let down without enthusiasm, none of the usual dripping of milk. She just did not have much milk. I worked hard to get under one gallon. It was almost as though she had already been milked a couple of hours earlier. But that is impossible. The milk appears to be very creamy. I suppose this is the sort of thing that long ago caused people to blame bad fairies or evil spells. It surely is odd when a cow that was coming in fit to explode suddenly has a floppy bag. There us usually a heat about this point after calving, but Helen was sober as a judge. This evening Helen did her best to make up for this morning. She was packed with milk. The 2.5 gal. bucket was so full the lid was floating on foam. Also, I was pleased to note that Virginia had been drinking from the previously avoided front left quarter. Now if she would just get interested in the rear quarter, always the hardest to milk. This afternoon I took some fencing materials and closed off the Pocket Field which is an extension of the North Field. . Then I opened the gate so they can have the North Field. Since they have not been grazing it, it has grown up to hay and is full of wild flowers including a big patch of wild iris. It is a glorious sight. There is a lot of clover in North Field that I hope is not too much for Leah. It was a little hard to get Helen in this evening. Virginia was nestled down in the tall grass and clover and did not want to move even when Helen called her. Five eggs.
June 22, 2002 Saturday: Helen gave three gallons this morning. At about 4 PM my sons Martin and Mark and granddaughter Hailey, 9, arrived bringing a fine new riding mower, the sort of thing which makes people really want to mow the lawn. It is a combined gift from my children. They also brought a three day old Jersey bull calf from a dairy in Turner. They named him Cletus because he drooled all over the cab of Martin's truck where all of them were crammed in. The name has something to do with a character in The Simpson's. There was a bit too much excitement when the boys carried the calf into the barn. The stall where it is to live had chickens pecking around, including the little hen who had accepted Squeaky last week. I was herding the little family out when the hen saw Bagel and Muffin standing in the doorway. I guess the dogs decided all rules were off when we trooped into the barn with the calf and followed us in (I don't permit dogs in the barn). The hen freaked out and flew into the rafters, the chicks went every which way and I yelled at the dogs. A minute or so later Martin spotted Bagel out on the lawn with Squeaky in his mouth. More screaming by me and Mark, who gave Bagel a good clout upside the head. Squeaky was alive but wet with dog spit, limping badly, and had a bit of torn skin. So, now he is back on the Aga stove trying to decide if life is worth living. We are optimistic. Martin then milked Helen who gave a lot of milk, two buckets required to hold it all. But, Helen was in a bad mood, possibly because Virginia, who was not tied, wandered away. And, when Martin was mopping his brow she took the opportunity to kick over the bucket. Meanwhile, Mark hopped onto the new lawn tractor and whizzed around the lawn. He got the whole thing mowed while Martin did chores, a record time. All I had to do was get dinner on the table. It was Martin's birthday dinner, he having been born on the 21st of June, the summer Solstice. I made an orange bundt cake that was perfect with piles of thick Jersey cream and strawberries.
June 23, 2002 Sunday: The boys were busy bees all morning rearranging my office equipment, it being too rainy for outdoor work. Squeaky seems alert and hops on one leg. I have to help him eat and drink He has not got the hang of it one legged. Martin also found an orphaned kitten under the garage and now it also is in the kitchen. It is quite small and has no idea how to drink from a saucer. The boys left in the early afternoon. I will have to catch up with my butter making tomorrow. I got about 4.5 gals of milk today. Cletus is vigorous and thumps around in his stall while I am milking. I am feeding him from a bottle. So far the others have not had an opportunity to meet him. After they had left the barn I kicked open a bale of hay as bedding for Cletus. This alarmed him and he emitted a terrified blat. From outdoors Helen answered with a loud moo, apparently her instinctive response to suspected calf abuse. Only three eggs today, but I discovered where a lot of them are going. Hens have been laying under a setting hen up in the hay mow. In my experience, they don't do that after the hen has been sitting more than three days. They seem to know their eggs have to be coordinated with the 21 day incubation period. There are about 14 under her now and I don't dare take any. Most of them are half way ready to hatch but I don't know which ones.
June 24, 2002 Monday: I thought Leah might be calving today from her behavior. But, no. She is beginning to look a lot more ready. Cletus continues to be very bouncy. I bought him a new red nylon dog collar. I don't approve of nylon collars, leather is better and safer, but I was in a rush and was visiting the new Walmart in our area. They had only nylon. I will change to a leather one later. I am giving Cletus a gallon and a half of milk in three feedings. My orphaned kitten is just too young to drink from a saucer, so I am now feeding him with a demitasse spoon. He is very eager for his milk now. Squeaky, the chick, is also now eating well. I changed from wheat germ and yogurt to plain corn meal and he loves it. He tried to do the chicken scratching moves on one foot but of course cannot. He sort of hops instead. Helen gave five gallons or more today. What a job! But I am selling some, 3 gallons today and Cletus is a steady customer.
June 26, 2002 Wednesday: Yesterday seemed so endless that this morning I could not remember whether I had written in my diary or not. I find that the answer is "not". Helen gave 5 gallons and more. Of course she is feeding Virginia too, who is growing fast. Squeaky, the chick, is putting a little weight down on his foot and the kitten has learned to drink for a dish. When Hailey, age nine, was here on Sunday I gave her some goose quills. The goose has abandoned her nest and gone into a moult, so I was finally able to collect some. Hailey has wanted goose quills for months so that she could try making goose quill pens. On Tuesday I received a letter from her written with a goose quill. It wrote perfectly. Six eggs on Tuesday. Today Helen again distinguished herself by giving another five plus gallons. She stood especially well today. This evening there was a considerable thunderstorm and Muffin stood outside the barn door barking to be let in. Even that did not disturb Helen. Leah's bag is firming up now so it will not be long. Five eggs.
June 27, Thursday: While Virginia was resting as I milked Helen, I noticed that she was chewing her cud. This is the first time I have seen this. She was three weeks old yesterday. She is wonderfully healthy looking. This morning Helen's production was down a bit, only 2.25 gals. This evening it was way down, only 1.5 gallons. For some reason it was hard to get her into the barn. She walked right up to the barn when she heard me with the buckets, then walked away. I had to go down to the run-in under the buttery and do a lot of coaxing to get her. I got a lead rope on Virginia, tempted Leah with a handful of grain, and Helen refused to get moving until I was well down the path with the other two. It is no easy task to control Virginia now. In fact I can't if she takes an alarm as she did once recently when Bagel showed up. It is about time for the "calf heat", but there has been no bellowing or kicking. Squeaky is doing better and clearly is sick of being in confinement. If I don't forget, after dark I am going to pop him back under his mom. Five eggs.
June 28, Friday: I did pop Squeaky under his mom last night after dark. He had been doing a lot of stressed out peeping. It was nice to notice that the instant I put him under his mother's wing he stopped peeping and settled right down. This morning he was hopping along with the other two. He still limps, but has good little wings to help himself along. Still no calf from Leah. Today was her due date. Late last night my son Max and his family arrived for a visit and today I put him to work cleaning the stock tank. Milk production was down the last three milkings and I thought it might be the water. It looked clear but there was a lot of fuzzy algae on the sides of the tank. Max cleaned it thoroughly and I refilled it with fresh water. Helen and Leah took a big long drink and tonight she gave 2.5 gals for a total today of close to 5 gallons. Max reminded me of a time years ago when we had our dairy farm. We were puzzled by a huge drop in production. After a couple of days somebody leaning on the fence observed a cow sidling up to the water tank. As she approached the water our Border collie, Willy, streaked out from behind the trough and drove her away. He had been spending his time crouched by the tank preventing the cows from drinking.
June 30, 2002 Sunday: Two very hot days in a row. Helen gave 5 gallons both Saturday and Sunday. Max has mowed my vast lawn area with the new lawn tractor and the place looks fine. Seven eggs yesterday, five today. I figured out that a factor in this poor egg production is that all the younger birds, which are the better layers, escape through the hen yard fence every day to forage the fields. Heaven only knows where they are laying. The old granny birds with less ambition stay all day in their room and yard laying the occasional egg. Squeaky, the crippled chick, gets along fine now. You can hardly see his limp.
July 1, 2002 Monday: A series of dramatic thunderstorms began about 4AM and continued until 9AM When I went to the barn all the animals were dotted around the beefer pen, their cozy run-in, chewing their cuds. Actually, the sheep looked a bit worried, but cows are a placid breed. After milking they looked meaningfully at their hay feeder, being in no mood to go out in the pouring rain. I gave them a bale of hay and the sheep joined the cows in eating it. It was very hot today, 80 something. Worse is predicted. Still no calf from Leah. After milking, I let Cletus, the Jersey bull calf that I bought, have the run of the main hall in the barn. He did a lot of running. At evening milking I let him out again for a get acquainted session. His running alarmed Virginia and consequently Helen. So I had to put him back in his stall. Four and a half gallons today and seven eggs.
July 2, 2002 Tuesday: It is so hot nobody talks of anything else. It was over 90F today and very muggy. Leah is the same, no calf. Two days ago I noticed that Cletus, the bull calf now two weeks old, was scouring a bit and getting smelly. I had been feeding him three half gallon bottles a day with the first two being part skimmed milk from a previous day, warmed up. Then once a day in the evening I was giving him a bottle of fresh warm milk. Now for the last four feedings he has had fresh warm milk and the scouring seems gone. I am letting him do some running around in the barn. He is bumptious and knocks everything down or over. Six eggs today. Something over five gallons of milk.
July 3, 2002 Wednesday: Even hotter today. 95F in the shade on the north side. Tonight there is lightening. The animals restricted their grazing and spent a lot of time lying around inside. The sheep appear to be suffering in their wooly coats. At least I have plenty of water for them at all times in the stock tank. Helen's production was down a bit, 4.5 gallons plus whatever Virginia gets. Seven eggs. I saw a young coyote this evening.
July 4, 2002 Thursday: My Fourth of July excitement was all about Cletus. He nudged open a sliding door and got out of the barn. I missed him when it was time for his midday feed I looked for him for a while without success but thought perhaps he would come in with the others at milking time. He did not. I was expected up at camp for dinner so searched for only 20 minutes after milking. Later after dark I searched with the flashlight and picked up his eyes in the beam. I should have made sure that Bagel was chained before setting out to try to catch him but instead went plowing forth through a giant thistle patch in the direction of his eyes. Just as I reached him and he got to his feet there came Bagel plunging at top speed into the midst of things. All the other cattle were nearby and were frightened by Bagel of course. Cletus ran and Bagel was after him at top speed going straight for the river. I screamed, "No chasing" a few times which stopped him but all chances of catching Cletus were gone. Bagel knew he was bad and did not come near me. I felt a lot like hitting him over the head with a frying pan. I had to go to bed knowing Cletus was alone and hungry. He is not integrated with the other cattle. They are not mean to him but they seem to find him puzzling. Two more bantams hatched out chicks. One upstairs in the haymow hatched out nine. I took two and gave them to another hen that has been setting for six weeks, taking away her old eggs. I planned to move the one upstairs to an empty stall but later when I came back she had them down on the main floor. I suppose the poor little things had to jump 12' down. Two were still up there working up their nerve. I caught them with a landing net and gave them to her. Helen gave only three gallons today no doubt due to the heat. Nine eggs.
July 5, 2002 Friday: It cooled off in the night so today was a more normal temperature. After morning milking I took a big tour looking for Cletus, this time with Bagel chained. No luck, but about 10AM son Max rode in from riding his mountain bike and we resumed the search. This time Max spotted him right away in a thistle patch. I guess he was ready to be found because he stood up when he heard our voices. It is the instinct of a calf to lie down and stay quiet but at some point, driven by hunger they will get up and that is when you find them. Apart from hunger, he was none he worse for wear. Helen gave over five gallons today. I got nine eggs.
July 7, Sunday: Martin took pity on Cletus who was stuck in the barn and tried him out on a rope on the lawn. He seemed likely to hang himself racing around. So, Martin tried him out with Helen and Virginia instead. Cletus got even more excited by this and ran in great loopy circles. He seemed confused as to whether he wanted to be with the cows or the people. He nearly exhausted himself and was coughing, so Martin caught him again and we returned him to the barn where I gave him a bottle of milk. Poor little guy. If Leah ever has her calf I hope to put him onto her so he can have a more normal life. Helen gave about four gallons today. How much I get depends a lot on how recently Virginia has fed. Six eggs today. Still no calf from Leah. I looked up her breeding date again and she was indeed due the end of June. Then I thought, "what if she is not really pregnant"? But, I was able to squeeze out some milk, so that's a good sign.
July 11, Thursday: This is an intense week. To my chagrin, I discovered why Leah has not calved. I have indeed been a month off in my calculations. She is really due July 27. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Not much chance of putting Cletus on her I guess. We are now putting him with the cows every day and he sniffs around Leah a lot. Cletus did have a runny stool for a while. That has cleared up but he has a persistent cough and panting indicative of lung involvement. Each time I am about to medicate him or call the vet he clears up. He continues to take his bottle just fine. I have had no further trouble finding him. He stays with the others, but is also people oriented and rises when I approach. My sons Martin and Max put 300 bales of hay in the barn for me on Monday and Tuesday. I bought it from a neighbor. It looks pretty good and the bales are good sized. One always feels better with hay in the barn. The awfully hot weather has abated and the nights are now in the 60s. What a relief! During the heat all my lovely spinach bolted and some of the lettuce. I am trying to use the lettuce as fast as I can. The mother of the three chicks including Squeaky has vanished. The chicks are raising themselves. All the other hens and roosters run them off, so I try to quietly dribble out some feed for them. They are afraid of me too, so it is hard to get near them with the feed. On Tuesday Helen came in with a nasty scratch on one teat. I made a search for the offending barbed wire, (it is usually barbed wire) but found nothing. At the next milking she came in with a worse scratch, this time bleeding. It was exactly parallel with the first. Then at the next milking the cows were not around and I spied them way down in Pocket Field which I have had closed off. When I called them they headed straight for a part of the fence they had pushed over to get in. I could see Helen tip toeing through the fallen wire. She avoided further injury and I have closed off the entire north section of fields until I can get down there to do fencing repair. It has made milking this week into a considerable challenge. I happened to be watching just as one of my best layers ducked into a crack in the barn wall. Later I looked and found a nest with nine eggs. To get at them I had to take a claw hammer and tear off a section of siding. Later… At noon Cletus could not drink his bottle because of breathing difficulty, so I called the vet. He came and gave Cletus two antibiotic shots, one fast acting, one slow acting. He also left super aspirin (anti inflammatory) to be given twice a day and another antibiotic shot for tomorrow. At suppertime Cletus was able to drink his bottle. I took it empty to the barn and filled it with fresh warm milk for optimal protection. I kept him in the barn. My daughter Sally is again visiting and she milked Helen. We got 4 gallons today. There were nine eggs.
July 12, Friday: Cletus seems much better. He was eager for his feeds and able to breathe well enough so that sucking was not inhibited. He spent at least part of the day with the other cattle. His temperature was normal. Such a relief. A calf can go down so fast. The three motherless chicks including Squeaky are now hopping up a ladder at night for better security. I saw them tonight negotiating several rungs. They can't weight more than about 5 oz each, so must make a great effort to hop up. Fortunately the weather is warm enough so that they can make it through the night without chilling. Nine eggs today.
July 13, Saturday: Another very fine day. But Cletus was coughing this evening and had half a degree of fever. He was hungry and fairly lively, but had some difficulty taking his bottle because of breathing stress. Helen gave five gallons today. Her temperament was better than yesterday. Yesterday she was restless in her stanchion and repeatedly attempted to kick even though she had on the kicker. She may have been in heat. One of my friends wanted some chicks today and I gave her three from the bantam mother with seven. We caught them with a landing net. I only found five eggs today.
July 14, Sunday: More fine weather. My first view this morning of the cows was all four of them in the sunshine near the river and Cletus skipping along cheerfully. He was hungry for all his meals and did not have to stop to cough. Helen gave five gallons today and I got ten eggs. I got my first real picking of peas from the garden.
July 15, Monday: Cletus was even more vigorous today, even downright obstreperous. My son Bret and family are visiting and tomorrow I will ask Bret to make a frame so I can start feeding Cletus by bucket. So many family members are visiting right now that I actually got a bit low on milk (I also have several good customers.) So, I am temporarily giving Cletus calf milk replacer. Helen gave five gallons. I got fifteen eggs. This included five from a bantam nest some visiting children found, but unfortunately I did not learn where the nest was.
July 16 Tuesday: Cletus now drinks from a bucket with a nipple on the side. In some ways this is easier. I can mix the milk replacer directly in the bucket. My son Max has done a lot more bushhogging. He also trimmed overhanging branches on the field and cleared deadwood. Helen came in this morning nearly empty of milk. My daughter Sally milked. She got scarcely a gallon. Then this evening she got nearly two and a half gallons. Six eggs today.
July 17, Wednesday: This morning we got barely one gallon of milk. Virginia must have been stuffed. But, this evening it would not all fit in one bucket. All the cows were in the barn when we went out for chores, but they heard four grandchildren trebling and they turned around and walked back down to the field. Sally and I had a considerable walk to get them. We were joined by Bagel dog, anxious to help. All he does is run around annoying the cattle and annoying me but, by yelling at him I persuaded him to back off. He hoped he was doing the right thing by sitting down where he was. We drove the cows back to the barn and he remained sitting. I had to call him to say it was all right to get up and leave. I guess it is hard being a dog. Seven eggs today.
July 18, 2002 Thursday The weather is turning hot again. My son Bret from Alaska is here with his family. Bret is pouring footings for a new deck on the back of the buttery. It promises to be magnificent. Bret is experienced at post and beam construction and is making it of 8"x 8" beams. Max, who manages my web page, is also here with his family and has made great progress bushhogging the fields. The place is looking very good. Last week Helen got a nasty deep scratch on one teat. It has been slow to heal causing her to kick during milking. We have had to put the kicker on nearly every time. Tonight she stood perfectly until Sally, who was milking, thought to herself, "I wonder if Helen is thinking of kicking?" Instantly Helen kicked hard and deliberately. Sally thinks Helen read her thoughts. We got 3.5 gals today and 8 eggs.
July 19 Friday A dozen eggs today, almost all from full sized hens. 4.5 gallons of milk. Fine weather. The new deck is coming along impressively. Bret has made many perfectly notched beams.