Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Just two weeks ago I celebrated the morning light when the time shifted back to EST.  This arriving daylight allowed me to feed the animals before heading off to work each morning.  My sons were thankful for this shift as morning chores were no longer a task to be accomplished before beginning their day.  This may sound strange but I enjoy the hike up the hill to feed the pigs.  The morning air is brisk, the grass often crisp and sometimes I catch a glimpse of the sun rising across the valley.  I wear layers once the season begins to change, big fleece pants and a fleece jacket or two go over the clothes I will wear to work.  Gloves are a necessity; my current pair is mismatched remnants from last season.

The arriving morning light is celebrated but the quick dash to do evening chores is getting old.  Three of the sows have moved to the barn but the dozen weaned piglets and Boris and Penny are still in the pasture.  The turkeys are over by the stream, hopefully fertilizing the raspberry plants before they are slaughtered for Thanksgiving this weekend.  Maybe this weekend or next will bring the opportunity to move the Big B and Penny to the barn as well.  I considered undertaking this on my own last weekend but with the rest of the family off hunting I decided it was best not to let the 600lb. boy out and simply encourage him to follow me down the hill.  There are way to many potential mishaps if he decides he does not want to go into the barn.  The piglets will venture to Rhode Island to be pasture raised meat pigs the weekend after Thanksgiving.  So until life is simplified by all of the critters having access to our barn with lights I will dash out each evening in the dwindling light and then retreat into our warm, well lit home.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Goodbye

Yesterday Mike and I were out doing early morning errands in preparation for cider pressing.  The boys were home doing morning chores.  Thatcher called while we were checking out at the SoRo Market to let me know something was wrong with one of Flicker’s hind legs and she did not come down the hill to get her grain. She nickered from the top of the hill and he took the grain up to her. Thatcher told me she was just standing in one spot and occasionally lifting the leg.

Flicker came to our farm from my Uncle John and Aunt Lucy’s.   I remember having just adopted Pica in the fall of 2003 and was visiting John and Lucy as Aunt Lucy lived her last days with cancer.  Aunt Lucy suggested maybe the pony who had come from the Warner’s and kept their old workhorse company would be a good match for Pica.  Flicker was exactly what Pica needed a friend.  A couple of autumns later Maysa joined us and I had a little band of mares.  Flicker was smallest of the crew but as a pony her attitude made her the leader.  As Maysa matured she took the alpha role from Flicker but Pica would always move when Flicker pinned her ears back.

The initial vet visit when Flicker joined us revealed she had a previous hock fracture so she gave pony rides on lead when the boys were little.  As the vet estimated her to be at least 20 she was really just a companion and a critter small enough so the boys could easily love on her and lead her when they were little.  Flick’s gait was off slightly because of the hock injury and it bothered her sometimes more than others but she trotted as Pica and Maysa galloped through the pasture.

My initial assessment yesterday was one of uncertainty.  It was her weak leg; she was putting no weight on it.  We brought her hay and water debating whether it would be more stressful for her to leave the pasture and Maysa or stay there.  Checking her a little later she had gone done with her injured leg underneath her.  It was time to call Dr. Stuwe to evaluate whether it could heal or she would need to be euthanized.  When on the phone Dr. Stuwe said he had a portable x-ray and could scan it if we could get her close to electricity.  As we waited for the vet’s arrival we decided to wait for his assessment before we moved her from her comfortable spot in the field.

Dr. Stuwe. Pauline and I hiked up the hill to check her out.  He immediately knew it was a bad break and said it was good we had left her in place rather than causing her the stress of moving.   As I rubbed her head he quickly injected her, her head dropped down before he could finish the shot.

While Dr. Stuwe was evaluating and euthanizing Flick Maysa stood guard.  As we left the pasture to get Mike with the backhoe Maysa stood guard.  Friends stopped by for cider pressing and found it a little surreal Maysa was simply standing there next to her deceased herd mate while Mike dug Flick’s final resting spot at the edge of the woods.

Although Mike had offered to take care of Flicker alone I helped him load her into the tractor bucket, as I know this is part of the lifecycle for on a farm.  Maysa continued to watch.    I know the animals communicate in subtle ways we do not observe so I wondered what Maysa understood.  When the tractor bucket lifted Flicker’s body Maysa flipped out.  She began to run and neigh listening for her buddy to respond.  I then knew Maysa had not known Flicker had died.  She is our lone horse now and spent her afternoon standing at the edge of the hill looking over the valley and the pasture, occasionally calling out for her herd mate to respond.

As I walked down off the hill yesterday afternoon I realized Maysa had been with Flicker since coming here as a weanling seven years ago.   We had the opportunity to say goodbye as we knew what was coming and we know she had lived the life as a fancy little show pony and then years of retirement, Maysa knows her Flicker is gone.
Trenton and Flicker, Summer 2004
Flicker, Trenton and Thatcher
Trenton  and Flicker

Flicker a gentle child's pony

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Day Away

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day with a good friend from UVM and her sister at the Sunapee State Park.  When I received the invite I figured why not a day away would be great and certainly the new pig fence I was planning to build could wait and the additional blueberries I was thinking of picking would still be there another day as well.  All three of us are graduates of UVM and married for a long time with 3 or 4 children, but each of us have very different lives.  Certainly I have chosen to live a life where we raise all of our own meats and as many veggies as possible.   Although I would love to simply farm our mortgage prevents that so both Mike and I are employed full time.  We are fortunate not to have to worry about the bills but the cost of college is looming over our heads.

Yesterday I felt like an outsider but maybe I am really just caught in the middle.  (Certainly the sharp contrast of my short tan lines when I changed into my swimsuit was one stark difference) Both Deonne and her sister are full time stay at home moms.  Their lives are centered around family and friends.  One lives the lower middle class life style as her husband teaches and they make it on one income.  She gardens, home schools and is always on the go with friends.  The other lives an upper class life style as her spouse is an attorney in the city.  Both are intelligent women and terrific mothers.

I am in the middle because although I have the opportunity to spend summers full time with my sons and have a career that allows me to see all of their sporting events. I must work to balance family, farm and teaching.  Rarely do I make the time to spend a day at the lake with friends.  I am in the middle because I know our income level means we make enough to pay all of our taxes but do not have enough to ski, trips to Europe or cruises.  I know we work hard and are blessed but sometimes I feel caught in the middle.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sweet T

When we first moved here a dozen years ago we were surprised one winter day to see a tabby cat sunning itself in a small opening on the south side of the barn.  We did not have a barn cat, at that point we did not have animals other than our dog.  We wondered how many generations of barn cats had tucked themselves into this opening to absorb the warmth.  Three and a half years ago our neighbors had kittens and gave us a beautiful pair of cats for the barn.  We live on a busy road (well a busy road for Tunbridge) so we were uncertain how long they would survive before being hit.

The kittens were not going to be named because they were barn cats, not pets, and we knew we could lose them to traffic.  We began calling them Thing1 and Thing2 as they were almost a matched set.  When we took them to be spayed/neutered the female officially became Thing1 and the male Thing2.  T1 and T2 were not your average barn cats, they were longer haired, petite and friendly.

Two years ago T2 was hit and instantly killed by a car.  We were home at the time.  T1 became the solo barn kitty, still as friendly but now simply known as T or Sweet T.  Her nose was slightly bent out of shape this winter when a little black kitten who was my shadow as I did chores arrived in the barn.  T tolerated Shadow and put him in his place with a swift swipe of the paw.

This spring T disappeared for a few days and I thought for sure she was gone.  Then she reappeared seeking to be swooped up for a cuddle.  Now T has been gone for about 10 days.  I've checked the third floor a few times to see if she is back and sleeping safely away from the dogs but her spot is empty.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chicken Mama

One of our buff orpington hens became broody in March. She carefully tucked herself on top of a clutch of eggs in the upper part of the barn not realizing Vermont weather is not conducive to raising chicks with just a mama's body heat in March. I snagged the eggs and carried her back to the coop and she often would try again.  At the beginning of June she tried again on a clutch of mostly Welsummer eggs.  I was hoping this clutch would hatch as I was curious what Welsummer/Araucana chicks would look like and what color the eggs would be.  (Our Welsummers lay terra cotta colored eggs with a speckling of darker brown spots).  The Buff was again unsuccessful, I am not sure if it was the dogs disturbing her or if the Welsummer adding an egg each day. About two weeks ago the buff hen left the hay loft and ventured down the stairs and to her amazement she found her chicks.  The brooder was holding our Freedom Ranger meat chicks that arrived in the mail toward the end of May.  The buff immediately began making all the great noises a momma chicken makes, she clucked and scratched when grain fell to the ground outside the brooder and protected the brooder from the dogs and the boys.  One day when the brooder was open while I feed the chicks she hopped up in happy to not longer be separated by the brooder wall.  She embraced watching out for her 150 chicks making reaching in to feed or water them a careful balance.

At the beginning of this week Mike finished one of the three new chicken tractors we will use for the meat birds.  As I began carry the chicks outside to their new residence the hen was super protective.  After she bit my arm, I snagged her and shut her into the coop.  Two at a time I carried the 150 plus chicks outside and then let the hen out.  The next morning she found her babies and I let her in the portable pen with them.  She continues to happily stand watch over her really big brood.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Pica, Flicker and Maysa

Here are the girls that make up our little herd of mares.  All teenage girls dream of horses only some adult women have the time they really take.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What's in the box?

      Wednesday morning shortly after the eight the expected phone call from the post office came. We had a box of chicks arrive.  Our postmistress must really be an animal lover (or she doesn't like peeping packages) as she always wants to make sure we get them as soon as possible. It may seem strange that chicks come through the United States Postal Service but they typically arrive safe and sound.

     Today's arrivals were a new batch pullets. These female chicks will grow and add to our laying flock or be sold to others to join their flocks after we brood them. This smaller batch of 25 (we will have 250 arrive when the meat chick order comes in a month) will spend the next month sheltered in the barn. The boys did not set up the big brooder Mike built a couple of years ago but found on the second floor of the barn the small brooder I made from an old folding, louvered closet door. Our new barn kitten, Shadow, watched intently as the chicks where taken from the box and shown the food and water in the brooder.  Soon after the chicks were safely in the brooder the laying hens came over loudly clucking to check things out.

     Life for these chicks certainly is different than for the broods one of our hens hatch.  For a day or two after hatching a hen will keep the chicks on or near the nest as they do not yet need food or water.  Just prior to hatching all chicks consume the egg yolk.  The fat and water in the yolks allows them to not eat or drink for the first days of life.  Not only does this allow for them to be mailed from a hatchery but it also allows the hen to safely get the chicks out of where she has sat on the eggs.

     Our hens have brooded eggs in some pretty unusual places.  There is a metal ceiling in the first floor of the barn, this creates a space because of the depth of the beams.  A hen layed a clutch of eggs between the ceiling of the first level and the floor of the second.  One day when walking into the barn I could hear scratching in the ceiling.  The boys climbed with a flashlight to look into this dark layer and sure enough a Speckled Sussex had a dozen babies.  We placed some food and water there for a couple of days but she soon encouraged them to follow her out.

     A hen with a brood of chicks is great fun to watch not only will she expand her feathers to tuck each safely and warmly underneath but she manages to protect them from the interested dogs and barn cats.  I am always amazed when a hen will take her chicks out and about any time of day no matter the temperature.  When you order chicks we are told to keep chicks in a brooder at 95 degrees the first week and 5 degrees less the next week.  A mama creates the perfect conditions without a heat lamp or thermometer.  For the last couple of years we have relied on hens to provide us with additional pullets but to maintain diversity it was time to bring in new blood.

Together for warmth
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These are another eclectic mix... Buff Orpingtons, Speckled Sussex, Barred Rocks, Samon Faverolle, Rhode Island Rd and Black Australorp.  Their wing feather begin to pop out a couple of days after their arrival.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Roller Coaster

It is a challenge not to check email often to see if there are new pledges.  When there is a message from Kickstarter it is like Christmas morning.  Woohoo someone sees the potential of the project.

Throughout this barn saga we have approached it with a positive perspective...if it is meant to happen everything will fall into place. The perspective may sound fatalistic but it does not mean we are sitting back and letting the pieces simply fall where they may.   We are actively working to save the barn.  Some may not have thought to see if insurance would cover damage to the building but our perspective was it does not hurt to ask.  When we submitted the barn grant at the beginning of November we were uncertain what would result from the discussions of the timber framers and the insurance company but the grant was written, a budget put together and 20 pictures of the barn were selected to tell the story.

When we were awarded the barn grant at the end of February we saw that as a positive sign even though we did not know how the rest of it would work out.  I discovered Kickstarter at about the same time the grant letter came and thought maybe this really is supposed to happen.

While working outside this week it was been a roller coaster of emotions.  I look at the barn with it's incredible size and know it's potential but I also know that it's a looong way from actually being ready to happen.  As I climb over the pig pens that expanded from Sparkler's first pen to be an area then now incorporates the dirt filled concrete gutters to be large enough for the all the sows and piglets I can imagine a neat row of adjoining pens built along the back wall.

As I planted in the garden I wondered if the weeds would overtake the garden as summer would be spent working on the barn.  Every time I walk into the upper level I think of what will stay and what will go and where will it go while the barn is down for repairs.  There are still so many questions to find answers to but the first one is "Does the community at large believe saving the barn is a worthwhile endeavor?". Only time will tell....

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Richmond Place

After I shared a picture on Facebook this week of Penny's piglets my Aunt Mary Jane comment on the pride my grandpa would have to see me raising pigs.  My paternal grandparents were farmers.  My dad is the youngest of eight children raised on a diverse family farm on Chelsea's Bobbinshop Road.  When my dad was growing up life revolved around caring for the milking herd of Jerseys, laying hens, pigs, and the horses.

As a child I remember visiting the main farm were my uncles then milked a couple of hundred Holsteins and the "Richmond Place" in Tunbridge where my grandparents moved when the Bobbinshop farmhouse burned in the late 1960's.  My grandparents "retirement" farm was a magical place.  Grandpa always had lots of ponies and gigantic workhorses.  He leased them out each summer as riding horses.   When I was five Grammie and Grandpa gave my sister and I a pony foal.  She evidently had followed my sister and I around the barnyard whenever we would visit and my grandparents believed all grandchildren needed a horse.  Although my dad sometimes was stuck with caring for my horse it certainly taught me responsibility at an early age.

I have vivid memories of the pigs at the Richmond Place.  There was a barn where sows were keep in farrowing crates when they had babies and the piglets would scurry everywhere.  I remember Grandpa giving a sow grain so we could pass through the pen into the creep area and play with the older piglets out of moms reach.  One day Grandpa caught a runt piglet for us and we brought it into the house.  Grammie shook her head, but when you are one of the youngest grandchildren you can get away with a lot.  I know we wanted to keep that piglet but we were told it was a pig and needed to be in the barn with the other pigs.  I also remember the piglet getting loose in the house and how difficult it was to catch it.  I think Grammie was the one to catch it and then it went back to the barn.

As an adult I have brought a piglet into the house just briefly and only a couple of times.  Once or twice we have found a chilled, weak piglet who managed to get out of the nest the first night and figured it could possibly be save by warming in the house.  

The Facebook picture not only led to my reflection upon my grandparents it also led to a visit by a neighbors four year old daughter to play with the piglets.  I love showing young children around the farm... Who knows maybe one of them will decide to farm someday.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Life's Cycle

Penny graced our farm this weekend with a beautiful litter of Tamworth piglets.  As Boris spends all winter with the herd I was not entirely clear when to expect her to farrow.  Pigs are amazingly accurate at three months, three weeks, three days gestation but without knowing when exactly the deed was done the 3,3,3, means nothing.  When I arrived home on Friday evening Trenton announced "Penny is nesting, she is carrying around wood."  He tossed her some additional bedding and soon after the first two piglets arrived.  As this is her third litter she tended to business and start to finish delivered 10 healthy piglets in about 3 hours time.  After the challenge with Sparklers litter where we lost half of them the first night I was a little apprehensive Saturday morning when I went to check on them.  Penny is a great sow and had 10 nursing piglets cuddled close to her big warm body.

We experienced the other end of the life cycle on the farm this weekend as well.  We started our laying hen flock with a half dozen chicks 5 or 6 years ago.  Our original laying hens were an eclectic mix including a Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Americanas.  The boys did not officially name each chicken but the orpington and rock quickly became Buffy and Rocky.  These hens welcome new pullets to the flock each summer and managed to avoid predators as they enjoy the free ranging life.  Buffy and Rocky have sat next to each other on the roost in front of the window each night, the prime spot as the most mature members of the flock.  Rocky has looked a little rough this winter but I figured if we had not culled chickens as they went into the first molt there was no reason to cull her now.  Saturday morning when I went into the coop Rocky was standing on the floor with her head down and eyes closed.  She stirred a little but quickly closed her eyes again.  I figured she was dying so I brought water close to her incase she wanted a drink.  I debated about what was the reasonable thing to do for a dying chicken.  Should I let her be, move her off the floor into a nesting box, cull her?  I decided to let her be for a while and went on with Easter prep.  Saturday evening the boys did the chores so I did not see if she made it up onto the roost near Buffy or not.  Sunday morning when doing chores I found that she had died.  My uncertainty about how to treat the aged laying hen was answered by nature.  She went quickly and in the coop she had returned to each evening.  What more could one ask for?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Fever

     It is spring on the farm. The gilt remaining from Penny's fall litter is certainly feeling frisky. The morning routine is she is one of the first animals to see me as I leave the house to do chores. She begins to talk to me and the horses also knicker as I walk toward the barn. The morning chore routine is typically pretty quick (especially now that the water has thawed in the barn). I fill the hens dish with layer pellets, feed Boris and the sows, toss a bale to the horses, check all the water levels and then head back outside with a scoop for Penny's gilt and grain for Pica, Flicker and Maysa.

     This morning the gilt certainly did not want to wait for her breakfast. As I was feeding the sows I noticed her running into the barn. Thankfully she went right past Boris' pen and into the chicken coop. With grain it was easy to entice her back into her pen. Due the fact it was early in the day and I had not yet had a cup of coffee I did a quick fix to her pig paneled enclosure and went back inside to prepare for the day. Needless to say before I could dress for the day I noticed her working the soil at the base of the panel. She was out for a second time before I got outside. This time she had great fun. She visited the sows in the barn, ran around the back of the barn into the horse paddock. She is not the first pig to escape from a pen or pasture so I know not to chase or get upset, you simply have to think ahead of her. I decided she should go in with the sows. A little extra grain to lure the sows into the outer pen allowed me to open the door to the inner pen. I put up a couple of simple barriers to direct her toward the open pen once she went back into the barn and presto she walked right in. The sows will take a little time before they accept her but there is plenty of room for her to gradually work her way into the herd. I am sure I will go into the barn later and find her laying in the pig pile.

     Sparkler's piglets are now three weeks old and also feeling frisky. Earlier this morning Mike notice they had wiggled under the lowest strand of polywire into the horse paddock and were chasing the laying hens. Soon they will be big enough to be shocked by the fence and learn to respect the fence but for now it is spring on the farm so why not be frisky and chase chickens.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring Yard Work - Chicken Style

     We have just finished a record breaking week.  As spring officially arrived on Wednesday the temperatures soared into the 80's and stayed there until Friday.  The animals have loved the spring weather.  Sparkler and her piglets have joined the other sows with access to the pig paddock as Penny, Brownie and Fuzzy await the arrival of their babes.

     The laying hens have been outside from dawn to dusk each day working diligently to discover edibles or soaking up the sun as they dust themselves in the dirt outside the barn.  The picture above shows the results of their work.  The area in the picture is the hillside between the drive to the back of the barn and the road to the pasture.  Each spring the chickens scratch the fall leaves to the bottom as they eat.  They work quickly one day it is leaf covered the next it is "raked."  This is not the only area they clean up for spring.

      We have always allowed our laying flock to free range.  When Mike first built their coop in the barn he incorporated the old dairy gutter into the coop.  He build a trap door in the wooden floor section covering the gutter that could be opened each morning and closed each evening.  Our flock increased from its original 8 to have about 20 hens and just one Araucana rooster.  The hens are an eclectic mix including Buff Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Barred Rocks, Araucanas, Welsummers, Speckled Sussex and a Rhode Island Red.  This mix comes from the desire to try different breeds and the love of the wide variety of eggs they lay.  (the beautiful dark brown speckled eggs of the Welsummer hens are my favorite.)  There are more Araucanas than any other breed no matter which hen adds to the flock by hatching and raising a brood the pullets are green egg layers.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Summer in March

This weekend completely contradicts what spring is supposed to be.  It is the time of year in Vermont when the sap should be pouring out of the taps and sugar houses should be boiling lots of sweet maple syrup.  Friday night the boys ventured through the mud of Monarch Hill Road to help Mike and Amy boil.  It does not appear this year will even come close to last year's maple syrup production amounts as today is much to warm.

Today it is in the 70's which must be record setting for March in Vermont.  I have used the afternoon to completely clean the horse stall and pig pens.  While I was mucking out the pen Sparkler and her week old piglets are in, I opened the walk through door so they could venture outside.  She immediately took the chance to go out and then came back to encourage her piglets to join her.  It was great to see her babes explore a little bit the outside paddock.  When Sparks had enough fresh air she went to the door talked quietly to the piglets so they would join her near the door.  After she went in, one piglet remained outside.  She went from her "nest" where back to near the door so the little piglet would know where the sounds were coming from and join her inside.  When you watch and listen closely you know exactly what she is telling the piglets.

Now it is time to make dinner and prepare for tomorrows work.