The barn is remarkably peaceful and still of late. The silence before the expected arrival of lambs and the attendant commotion that accompanies them. Oh, its not that lambs are so noisy. But it is that mother’s looking for their little ones and the whole sorting out process can bring a little excitement into the otherwise quiet atmosphere. The big doors, a work in progress, however are temporarily installed. And do break the wind. In addition to keeping the building warmer, considerably. The temperature inside the barn is at least fifteen degrees higher than outside. The experience of it is even warmer because we’ve been persuaded it is winter by some winds, of late, that resemble those of March. And it feels far worse outside than a thermometer indicates.
Some ewes even look decidedly round. Others simply look sleek and well fed without any certain indication that they are bred. I had put three rather thinner ewes in the carriage house where the competition for hay and grain will not affect them. The water line to the barn froze but thawed today. I had led them out to the brook to drink. A nice way for me to drop the hay and feed it out into mangers without interruption. One of the wood cutters had left a gate open, however, and the sheep or rather some of them, managed to escape to the neighbors’, where they haven’t, by the way, gone this year. At least not in mass. I managed to get them home without much fuss. In fact and in my mind. However, I am going to announce to the men splitting wood that I’ll dock five bucks from each pay check if they leave the gate open again.
I’ve not thought through exactly how I want the barn set up this year. Or at least, I’ve thought through many possibilities, but nothing that is completely satisfying. Perhaps the best thing to do is to set up that which I know shall work and plan out the rest around that. One big manger fit perfectly into a space that held a keyhole feeder for twelve. It is a nice one that Brett Miller made for me eight or ten years ago. It has stood a lot of abuse. The second one needs to be emptied from a manure pad that has blocked its use for a year or so. I’m making a forty foot long utility area for myself, similar to one I had when the barn went down. It used to be swept and limed almost every day. It will be nice to have it again.
The Horned Dorsets that arrived with great promise last year have been a great disappointment. I’ve one decent ewe lamb out of them. Two are in the carriage house looking “not great”. One is the mother of the very nice ewe lamb and, as she nursed heavily is entitled to be not in the best condition. All of the sheep’s fleeces have grown back somewhat. Thick. Very short. Very dense. The whole flock is, as hoped, warm enough for now. It is the hopeful time of year. I’ve saved a ram lamb born this summer to breed the young stock this coming summer. My two older rams look fine to me. Last year’s “replacement” looks good, too. He was the fastest growing lamb I’d had in a number of years. He is a fine young creature. I’ve pinned some hopes on him.
The remaining Sable due is growing wider and wider. I hope she is not bred to the last Toggenburg buck that I had here, but if she freshens before February, she, to my dismay, has been. The only other possibility is that she is carrying more than one kid. A little doeling, born on Christmas, at a friend’s farm, is curled up next to the fire screen in the living room. Fortunately I have a fifteen inch high guard around it made of copper. She didn’t know how to suck until this morning when she suddenly looked at me and began to move her mouth in a kind of sucking motion. She has had five feedings today and is almost up to the required number of ounces on her own. I did all of the things that are possible to do for her when she came. Tube fed with a milk, egg, expresso coffee mixture. An injectable antibiotic, a B complex shot. And when she started to scour, Pepto-Bismol and Neomycin. It stopped in a few hours. One of her back legs isn’t working correctly. The other is a bit crooked in an attempt to stabilize her gait. She will make it, however. She is a game little thing. I’ll miss her when she goes home.
Christmas on the farm lasts for twelve days. We have, in our family, always celebrated Twelfth Night, January 6th. It had always seemed too incense to me to cram everything into one day and therefore, Epiphany always was a welcome escape valve. Presents that are not quite finished can be finished over the twelve days. Things that didn’t get mailed can be. And friends and family can be loved and entertained as leisure. I made an incongruous dinner for Christmas Eve that none-the-less met with approval. Cassoulet de Castelnaudry has been a favorite dish in the family repertoire for seemingly forever. It is a long slowly cooked dish of sausage and beans, peppers, tomatoes and onions. Etceteras. It has been served here at Christmas Eve, traditionally, for a very long time. One of its chief advantages is that it can cook on the wood stove, slowly, for hours and still taste good. One Thanksgiving found me and my children in Paris. I wanted us to have a dinner that was familiar to celebrate the holiday. I ordered cassoulet in a restaurant we were told specialized in the dish. The waiter tried to talk me out of it. “The children. No! Garlic!”, he kept repeating. I insisted. You can imagine my delight when he returned, a smile on his face, pointing to the empty plates in front of the kids and said, “Madam. The children. Garlic. No!”, and I lifted the lids from the Terries and pointed to their emptiness and said, “The children. Garlic. Oui!”. But also on the table was a more recent addition to the menu. Cod fish. Baccala. We’ve been having that as well for several years. Needless to say, while many of the ingredients in both dishes are the same, there is a distinct difference between dried salt cod soaked in Olive Oil, and sausages and bacon cooked with beans. My family and friends all seemed to enjoy the meal. The combination is, I’m the first one to admit, peculiar. But it was all gone at the end of the evening.
This was the first Christmas since sheep that I was almost satisfactorily organized. I started shopping in October. Had some gifts mailed in early December. Actually got the tree a few days early. It even was up in its stand before my son arrived. It seemed as if I’d started decorating it before Christmas Eve but that didn’t happen. It still has a few empty spots that I keep filling in. There are years of ornaments collected here and a missing box to be found. The last perhaps shall be on January 6th. Therefore I don’t feel terribly remiss to not be quite perfectly finished.
We are entering a new year. Somehow the double digit number ten seems to earn more import than this year’s nine. I have some strong feelings of optimism this year that are new to me. And a few feelings of discouragement that have grown increasingly familiar. There is something about the way I managed Christmas this year, quite a bit more focused and possibly efficient than ever before that is most encouraging. I hadn’t expected myself to improve the way I do things. Too much “putting out fires”. Too much giving way without trying hard enough. “To go the extra mile” are words written next to the front door of my house. Without doing that progress will not be achieved. But I’ve been “showing up”. And that has resulted in its own kind of progress. Somehow this coming year has brought a touch of enthusiasm and promise with it. I am looking forward to it. My birthday is at the beginning of the year as well. There is something very nice in knowing that each day grew brighter and the sun shone longer as I grew into the world. May we all share joy in each given day in 2010. The joy and wonderment as our lives unfold. And thank you for taking this adventure with me.
Until the next time.
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