The novelty of winter snow has worn off as the difficulties posed by months of cold and snow have mounted, and I have dubbed this Manic March in light of recent events here on the farm. Winter is always hard─especially in a place like Maine. It’s cold, there’s lots of snow, wind, and ice. Things break, animals get sick, and heating your home is a constant worry. Somehow, knowing that spring will eventually come, gives me strength to go another day.
Old Man Winter can GO
I won’t lie…things have been a little rough here at Runamuk lately. Old Man Winter is a guest that has overstayed his welcome, and now it is time for him to pack up his bag of tricks and GO.
My body has taken the brunt of snow removal duties this winter; my elbow and shoulder joints have begun to protest the shoveling fairly loudly, and I’ve strained that same muscle in my upper right arm that I’ve torn twice in past winters doing the same kind of work.
If it weren’t for my kindly neighbors, I would be in much worse shape however─and I would probably be parking on the road. Mike has come across the road with his snowblower a few times this winter (whenever I get in a little over my head) to clear my driveway for me. What takes me hours to shovel, he is able to move with his snowblower in 20 minutes. It’s sick.
I will have my a working snowblower before next winter, I can promise you that!
Winter is hard on livestock, too. Miracle, the sheep, has been suffering from a cold for a couple of months, which is not unusual for sheep (apparently they’re prone to respiratory illnesses), but her breathing became more and more labored and ragged, and though she was eating fine I could see that something was not right, so I reached out to the Blauvelts, my friends from 4H who gave me the sheep. Emily instructed me to take Miracle’s temperature; she said normal temperature for sheep is between 100.9 and 103.8.
………..do you know how to check a sheep’s temperature?
I had never taken a sheep’s temperature before, so I went and bought a thermometer that I could designate specifically for the sheep, and I labeled it as such (lest there be any unfortunate confusion later on). Then I watched this video on YouTube to educate myself:
In order to be able to perform this task on my own, without help, I pounded a fence staple into the back wall of the sheep-shed, put a halter on Miracle, and tied her there. I was able to use my body to pin her against the wall, effectively holding her in place without hurting her, so that I could take her temperature. rectally. (have you thanked a farmer today?)
Miracle’s temperature was 104.7, which is not super high for a sheep, but she definitely wasn’t feeling well. I reached back out to the Blauvelts, and they came later that day to the farm to see Miracle and to help me figure out what was going on with her. Gordon pointed out how much weight Miracle had lost, and Emily told me how you can check their under eyelids for clues to the sheep’s health─they should be pink; a white inner eyelid is an indication that the animal is suffering from some kind of internal parasite. Miracle’s under eyelids were white, and as soon as Gordon pointed out her loss of weight, I saw for myself what I had been unable to put my finger on.
I felt awful; I still feel awful─that I missed such a key indicator of that animal’s health and well-being! Going into it though, I knew there would be new lessons in animal husbandry. Though I’d had sheep previously, it was a very brief experience; I knew I would need time to grow accustomed to caring for sheep before trying to breed them and raise any lambs. I stand by my decision to wait til November 2019 to attempt any kind of sheep-reproduction-shenanigans.
Gordon told me that either the weight loss is related to some kind of internal parasite, or it could be something more serious (like cancer) that we will not be able to cure; she is a 7 year old ewe, afterall. A round of penicillin (available at your local Tractor Supply) and an equine dewormer (SafeGuard) were prescribed, and I learned how to give medicine via injection, and then I practiced that skill for 9 consecutive mornings.
Unfortunately, there has not been much improvement in my girl, Miracle; her breathing is still labored and sometimes ragged. At this point, there’s not much I can do for her. Gordon says if it’s intestinal worms the dewormer should have had an effect by now, but if it’s lung worm, that could take longer to work it’s way through. He’s advised me to give Miracle a second round of dewormer precisely 14 days after the first. He said, if she were suffering from pneumonia, the penicillin should have had an effect by now, and warned me about Ovine Progressive Pnuemonia, saying that they’d never seen it on their farm, but that it is incurable.
It was in the midst of my sheep-trials that I received an unexpected package in the mail from my old farm-mentor, Linda Whitmore-Smithers over at Medicine Hill Farm in Starks, where I served a season as apprentice. I was touched that Linda would give me such a valuable book from her collection, and emailed right away to thank her and to let her know how timely her gift of “The Veterinary Book for Sheep Farmers” really was.
Meanwhile, Miracle continues to eat with gusto, and she still wants her graham cracker when I come for my afternoon visit. My friend, Kamala, raises Finn sheep, advised me to give the sheep alfalfa cubes along with their hay, and some extra grain, to help Miracle put weight back on. Alfalfa cubes are 1.5 to 2 inch cubes of coarsely chopped and compressed alfalfa, rich in nutrients, and can be bought in a 50 pound bag at your local feed store.
The girls absolutely love them!
We have a warm spell coming up this week, Kamala says with the turn in the weather, Miracle may surprise us and pull through. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Apiaries Swallowed Up By Snow
Upon my last inspection in early February, 31 of 32 hives were going strong. At the moment, it’s difficult to say how the bees are faring. Old Man Winter’s last storm came with wicked winds that whipped the snow across the land, packing it densely wherever drifts mounted, making snow-removal extremely laborious, and─in some cases─impossible. The apiary here on the farm was swallowed up by snow, and at Hyl-Tun Farm over in Starks, the Runamuk apiary was buried under a 5 foot snow drift. It was a week before I discovered it and was able to dig the hives out enough to expose hive entrances.
I won’t have a final tally on Runamuk’s winter hive losses until I can get into them again, and at the moment, a third of my of hives are inaccessible due to snow.
Recently, I was on the phone with a customer at Johnny’s, discussing financing of farm-related investments─this customer was trying to figure out how to pay for an expensive seeder for his new farm. I suggested he use his tax refund to make the investment, and was a little surprised that the thought hadn’t crossed his mind before that. I suppose most people use that money to buy a new couch, big screen TV, or a new washer/dryer. Personally, I have always used my tax refund (or at least a significant portion of it) to make farm-purchases for the up-coming season; that annual injection of money has been the biggest key to bootstrapping Runamuk into farm-ownership.
In fact, I received my tax refund back a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve just finished making my 2019 Capital Investments. I paid some bills and bought some heating fuel, too, but the greater portion of my tax refund went to Runamuk. My refund paid for my tree order with Fedco. It bought me another $700 worth of fencing supplies from Premier 1: we got 2 more lengths of electric-net poultry fencing, and a third solar charger. I also bought Runamuk a tow hitch, and had it mounted to the Subaru with the intention of investing in a utility cart for hauling things like manure, and beehives.
Runamuk stocked up on packaging supplies, and bought our first-ever─and long-overdue business checks─my bank will be so happy! We invested in irrigation supplies, and I put $500 on a Home Depot gift certificate so that when I need lumber for projects later this spring, I’ll have the funds available. And I ordered new chicks from McMurray’s Hatchery: 50 dual-purpose heritage breed brown-egg layers, due to arrive any day now─and 50 freedom rangers that will arrive later in July (pastured meat-birds will be a new endeavor for Runamuk in 2019). If you follow Runamuk on Instagram, be prepared to be inundated with a myriad of cute baby-chicken pictures!
Dare to Believe
The last couple of days have been beautifully sunny and mild, with some serious melting action going on, and I almost dare to believe that Spring might truly be on her way. The weather forecast predicts temperatures in the upper 40’s by the end of this week, and next week we will observe the Vernal Equinox, which marks the first official day of Spring.
My heart rejoices and I am filled with glee, for I know that soon the snow will be gone, and the trees will begin to unfurl new leaves. A spring-green blush will spread across the hills and mountains that I call home, and soon the world will be green once more. Soon I will have my hands in the dirt, and this farmer will be crazy-busy with all of the chores and projects that come with the growing season. I’ll be overwhelmed and overworked, but it’s work I feel called to do, and for a cause that I believe in. I think it’s going to be a really great season too, so check back soon for more farm updates!
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