Monday, September 19, 2011

WInthrop in detention

I drove four hours to Windom Minnesota to pick up Winthrop, our new ram, and four hours back. Dave had to work that day, but it was the only day that I had free and Winthrop’s owner had free that week and I wanted the ram at our farm so I could observe him for awhile before putting him in with the ewes on October 1, thus my solitary trip, with MPR as my only company– fortunately it was a good day for MPR. I learned about the uses and misuses of suspension and detention in the public schools.

Winthrop’s’ home pastures in Windom had been dry and closely cropped; we had stockpiled forage in the ram pasture for him to eat during his enforced solitude or detention, so he jumped out of the pickup happily to begin grazing.

Within an hour of arriving home we realized that there would be no solitude and no enforcing. Winthrop didn’t believe in detention. He jumped right over the 6 foot high fence dividing the ram pasture from the home pasture, then cleverly found the almost open gate from the home pasture to the south central pasture, and was tracking ewes as they grazed back and forth in the south central pasture - one flimsy fence between them. It was dusk. Winthrop had just jumped our tallest fence. We were leaving soon to visit Kieran, our grandson, and his mom and dad, as well as pick up a new puppy. There was no way in the world that Emily, our animal sitter, would be able to corral the ewes, separate Winthrop, then move him to a new pasture, and detain him if he went over the fence again.

Dave and I looked at each other and shrugged. Like the experts had said on MPR, detention just doesn’t work. We decided right then to introduce Winthrop to his new ewes immediately instead of in two weeks and as a result, begin lambing two weeks earlier in 2012.

When we let Winthrop into the ewe’s pasture, he immediately began sniffing ewes, trying to figure out who was the most receptive, who was ready to breed. The next morning, all the ewes were lying down, not quite ready to submit to Winthrop’s affections, but he was not discouraged and continued to stride from ewe to ewe, sniffing and pawing – behavior that he would continue until every ewe was pregnant and he could lay down at rest, actually looking forward to his enforced solitude and detention.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Last March, as lamb after lamb died practically in our arms, Dave and I struggled to find a cause. Not the hay, not the corn, not lead based paint in our unpainted barn, not a metabolic problem or an infection. Finally, after veterinary examinations and an autopsy, we were left with only two possible reasons for the loss of 20 lambs – either bad luck or bad genes.

Luck we could do nothing about; but bad genes compounded by inbreeding, we could rectify. We’d been using the same rams for four years. Most of our ewes were young – daughters, grand-daughters or even great grand-daughters of those rams. Several years of faulty ear tags that either fell out or broke meant that we no longer knew the exact parentage and thus genetic background of each ewe. We could easily have been breeding them to their fathers, grand-fathers, even great grand-fathers. Most small farmers don’t worry about inbreeding. It can yield an equal number of outstanding animals or defective animals and most of the young show no effects.

However, I wasn’t willing to take the chance again. I couldn’t sell what I wouldn’t use myself, so in August we trucked our rams to the butcher. Our butcher created four varieties of “Bad Dad” sausage from those animals, enough to fill our freezers and keep all our friends and relations in sausage for the next year.

Then I searched the internet for a new ram – one that was a twin, who had a fine crimpy fleece, and who was mature enough to impregnate fifty ewes in three weeks. We found him at the Thiesen Farm, a two year old Columbia ram with a proven track record. With Winthrop's new blood in our flock, if we’re lucky, lambing next spring will be easier, more joyous, and all good.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Gourmet tomatoes

Little orange grape tomatoes grow fantastically in our garden. We eat them for lunch and supper. I even snack on their bright sweetness when I walk through the garden or the kitchen

I don’t can those tomatoes, I save them for drying. Sliced in half and arranged on the circular trays of our dehydrator, it takes about 36 hours to turn three or four quarts of plump, juicy tomatoes into thin golden wafers – essence of tomato.

On our yearly canoe trip to the Boundary Waters or Quetico in Canda, the dried tomatoes provide vitamin C and bright flavor to our camping meals – an assortment of rice or noodles with variously flavored cheese sauces – alfredo, parmesan, and American, all selected not for their taste, but because they are light in weight, prepackaged, and only need to be boiled in water for 7 to 10 minutes to produce a filling meal. Our camp cooking isn’t gourmet until we add those dried tomatoes.