Here we are, back to our Taproot blog, after a wonderful, muddy, and exhausting summer working on the straw-bale artist cottage. More on the cottage progress later but, first, let’s get reacquainted with the farm!
Join me one recent morning as the farm woke up:
Good Morning! The sound of Reveille is bleated by the sheep. As soon as the sun rises, they stare intently at the front door, looking for the first signs of life inside. I don’t dare turn on the lights in the studio when I go in for morning meditation- even the lighting of a candle can trip off a loud ‘MAAAA” “MAAAA” alarm from begging sheep. I laugh because if we forget, and open the front door too early to get something , it sounds like a car alarm- door opens and MAAA, MAAA! from the field. Happens everytime.
Okay, I’m coming. ..
Boots on, hot tea and egg basket in hand, the first stop, has to be the sheep barn (they insist!). The first ladies (Eleanor, Jackie and Mary Todd) greet you at the gate to escort you to the sweet feed can under lock and key. On the way we open up the brown coop full of our cackling Wellsummer and Golden Buff laying chickens.
So cute how they tumble out of the door, like a crowd in an elevator stopping on your floor. None of them run off right away- they hang around the food trough hoping the sheep will share their crumbs. We check the nesting boxes for morning eggs.
Sweet feed and hay are safely stored in a food closet Tim built on the little barn. Sheep would literally eat themselves to death if allowed free access to their high calorie grain. We only give 1/2 c. sweet feed to the flock twice a day. Like gifting children with M & M’s- a little goes a long way.
It is helpful to have trained the animals to be comfortable with hand feeding- they will follow us anywhere and morning treats are a time for us to look closely over the sheep- rubbing their bodies, looking in their eyes, and observing their behavior. We caught a nasty mastitis in Jackie’s inflamed teat during one of these morning “check-in” visits.
On to the second coop- a mobile “chicken tractor” that we can move anywhere the pasture might need a boost of nutrition. The older chickens wait, peering out their window for us to slide open the door.
They look like ladies on a tour bus, leaning close to each other, beaks pressed against the pane to get a good look at what’s going on. Chickens really have a lot of personality- they crack us up constantly!
We check the laying boxes here too, expecting much fewer eggs from these girls. This flock has diminished in size since a summer fox attack plus they are a year older, no longer in their prime laying stage (fyi- the first year is their egg laying peak, diminishing with each year. Summer is the prime laying season). When needed, we refill their grain feeder and refresh the water trough. Cooler weather means less water consumption but more grain feeding as the free-range insect and seed source disappears.
Next stop, the pig pen! (since this blog was written, the pigs were taken to the butcher, but I wanted to include their photos in the morning lineup because they were such important members of our farm).
As soon as they hear footsteps on the driveway, the pigs begin their own reveille song of snorts and grunts. Pigs are very smart and supposedly have a wide repertoire of sounds meaning different things. I wonder if they are saying “Oh good morning, so happy to see you!” or “Holy cow, we’ve been waiting for hours for you to get your butt out of bed and feed us!” We’ll assume it’s the first.
As hogs grow, you increase the quantity of their mash. There is a tool you can buy that measures and predicts their weight from girth size, but we prefer a more low-tech method, which is to feed them an amount that they gobble up in no less than 10 minutes and no more than 30 minutes. That works for us since our walk with the dogs leads us back to the pigs in about 25 minutes and we can check their bowl. As predicted, it is licked clean every time! Throughout the day we supplement with goodies from the kitchen compost bin and any veggie leftovers from the garden. They are fat and seem very content in their playpen of slushy mud under the big, wide, West Virginia sky.
After feeding and watering the pigs, we rinse and drop the eggs off in our “Honesty Store” refrigerator where our egg customers can pick them up anytime and leave cash in the jar.
Next stop is the dog “apartment” in Tim’s workshop. Banjo and Pick stay in bed until they hear us coming. Then they shoot out of the dog door, tails wagging, Pick doing Snoopy spiral leaps. They LOVE their morning walk! It tickles us that, although these dogs have the run of our 20 acres all day, they wait for us to say “Wanna go on a walk?!” to take off down the mowed path in to the other fields. Tim reminds them “you know you guys, you can take this walk anytime you want…” but they prefer to wait for us all to go as a family.
Banjo is the nose-to-ground hunter, picking up scents of tiny furry things like voles and mice. Pick, on the other hand, likes to keep his eye on the horizon and sky- bolting after deer or birds. They are a balanced team. Luckily their batting record is low, so most creatures great and small are safe at Taproot.
The morning stroll gives us an opportunity to survey our property- checking on deer damage to trees, if the bee hives need more sugar water, effects of heavy rains, and signs of new life.
There is nothing like that view rounding the corner and heading back down the drive. Bear Garden Mountain and the tall grasses are washed with early morning color. It’s worth getting up just for that picture.
Last stop, the garden. This time we pick lettuce for lunch, but each season offers up its own basket of goodies. The dogs take this as serious hunting time ever since they flushed out and caught a rabbit in the carrot patch.
They do have permission to catch any critters stealing the crops. I think the rabbits have started spreading the word, though, because Banjo and Pick have come up empty-handed recently.
Once we get to the house, our faithful farm dogs get breakfast on the front porch.
Sitting on the front steps, looking back over the farm, you can sense the wide-awake energy not present an hour ago. Bug-chasing chickens, grazing sheep , and playful, muddy pigs all now in motion!
While we think about those family members ready to close their eyes for the night on the other side of the world, this farm is ready for a new day!
Here are more photos from the morning walk- enjoy! https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2644830127481.2144807.1457463116&type=1&l=329c9cfa70