Taking a Walk Through the Fields

From our vantagepoint, we can clearly see the expanse of all of our fields.  I noticed that we have many tracks going across the fields, so I thought I’d have a look.

After the thaw last week, the snow as a perfect weight-bearing crust.  We can walk with ease across all of our land.  Atop the crust is the lightest dusting of snow, the perfect medium for tracks.    Even better, our land never lacks for a slight breeze, so it is very evident which tracks are one or two days old.  After that, they are fully obscured.

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The tracks I followed, with a size medium glove for scale.

Yesterday, I noted some tracks coming from the northwest of the property.  Two canid tracks, heading southwest.  I followed them, intent to determine if the tracks were dog or coy-wolf.  I would much rather they were coy-wolf tracks than loose dogs, as we’ve already dealt with enough dogs for a lifetime.   Coy-wolves are possibly more dangerous to the sheep, but are predictable in their behavior.  The tracks beelined to a brushy area and then sniffed around there.  A urine mark was evident beside a tall clump of grass and then the tracks proceeded south-southeast.

Following along, I could see that the dog/coywolf tracks took an interest in some deer tracks.  I took an interest in the deer tracks, too.  Following their trails, I came upon two deer beds.  Notice the perfect leg-prints.  The deer have kept to the field edges, wandering around where stray, ancient apple trees drop a few fruit.  Seeing them, I thought I’d give some of our apple trees a shake to let down some of the remaining hanging apples.

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A deer bed.

Rejoining the canine tracks, I continued to observe their straight trajectory.  More and more suggestive of coywolf-tracks.   Finally, a scat and a urine spot told me that this was a female, subsisting on fuzzy animals based on the grey fur evident in the scat.  Some internet friends were already thinking coywolf.  The couple left the property at the middle of the south boundary.  I’m glad we were able to identify the species.  I know to have an eye out for trouble now.

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Friends, I give you: A Coyote or Coy-wolf Butt-print with a tail drag.

Other tracks observed on the property include turkey, rabbit, various little scurriers, and the small wingbeats of a bluejay near the chicken coop.   I’m looking forward to taking more walks and learning more about the animal activities happening on our land.

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Turkey, two ways.

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A wee little hopping bird on our deck.

 

 

Our Spring Projects

While we wait for more lambs to show up, I thought I’d share some of our anticipated spring projects for this year.

As usual, I am full of ambition to try all kinds of small-scale livestock endeavors.  With an unlimited budget, I’d get two bobcalves to feed up, a handful of pigs, more chickens, turkeys, fruit trees, nut trees, berries, maybe a garden….

But our budget is not unlimited, and neither is our time.  We have to focus on what the farm needs most.  After we got our soil tests back, we realized that we could add fertility with fertilizer, or we could raise some chickens for meat and let them do the fertilization work with a net gain of some humanely-raised chicken.  Instead of raising Cornish Cross chickens, we are going to raise the Slow White broiler.  Predictably, Slow White broilers are slower-growing meat hybrid.   Unlike Cornish Crosses, Slow White broilers’ normal metabolisms allow them to forage, perch and engage in normal behaviors.  Manure from the chickens will add huge amounts of phosphorus to the soil, which our land needs very badly.   Plus, tasty chicken!  If you are interested in learning more about meat chicken breeds, I wrote an article in 2015 on just this topic.

To top off our phosphorus-enhancement plan, we are also adding turkeys and a breeding flock of geese to our plans.  The turkeys will follow the sheep.  Hopefully, they’ll help clean up parasites.  Matt talks often of the pet turkey his family had while he was growing up.  Turkey Lurkey inspired Matt’s disproportionate love of turkeys relative to other fowl.  I hope he finds a friend in our brood this summer.

Most exciting to me, we have an order for ten geese in our queue.  I’ve never raised geese before, but their predilection for eating primarily grass and their entertaining antics tempt me to give them a try.  If we like them, we’ll keep a few over the winter.  Researching geese has been really enjoyable.  If you are interested in having a Christmas goose (or a goose for any other occasion), let us know!

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Chores at 10F Below

We are in the midst of a pretty solid cold snap.   Nights have been below zero Fahrenheit, and some days have passed without the temperature hitting the positive side.  When your high is -10F, it’s a challenge to motivate.  On the coldest nights, the sheep even forget about their complex social order and just snuggle with anyone available, even a herdmate whom they’d butt away from the feeder under other circumstances.   We have blocked off some areas of the barn with haybales to reduce airflow and help maintain warmth.

Cloverworks Farm

We are now filling waters by hand with five-gallon buckets.  It is too cold to use the hoses, but I am grateful that the frost-free pump has stayed true to its name.   Many mornings, the buckets show a solid ring of frost from water evaporation.  Some of the ewes like to eat snow on principle- a bit of a slap in the face for the person who slowly hauls 20 or 30 gallons of water into the barn twice a day!  All of that schlepping has helped me get the right amount of exercise for my foot, at least.

Cloverworks Farm

Since we have  quite a bit of snow, I had to clean off the roof of the barn.  I use a standard roof rake, but instead of scraping the snow off the roof, I bump the underside of the barn cover.  The snow usually slides right off with a whiff-wump sound.    The sheep feel that this is terrible, even though they would probably agree that it is in their interests not to have the barn collapse from the weight of the snowload.  They wait out in the run area, avoiding the sound and motion.

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Some remaining ice-crusts on the other side of the fabric.

Cloverworks Farm

I am writing this on the morning when our first lamb of the year was born.   A healthy little girl who got up and nursed without assistance.  We didn’t have to pen them or anything.  She’s completely loveable, with classic pink ears.  She is a Border Leicester/BFL cross, so I’ll be keen to see how she grows up.