I have been long anticipating a real shearing day. Last fall was just me, the sheep, some hand shears and a reasonable amount of swearing for a guy alone in a barn with five sheep. This spring we hired a shearer to come do the job properly. I had carefully designed the floor plan in the barn to suite this type of activity with doors and runs in all the right places. I hung extra lights, bought doughnuts, fretted that the sheep were too pregnant and then didn't sleep. I was ready. I decided when I woke up for the 10th time at 4:16 am that it was a sign the day should start. I spent some more time fretting that the ewes were too pregnant to be shorn, had some coffee and headed out to the barn to do chores.
The pigs have been bothering me. They were in box stalls in the barn and, being destructive animals, were doing their best to destroy those box stalls. Last week they took down their waterer and did their best to eat their tank heater and the extension cord, which, thankfully, wasn't plugged in. I decided with 2 hours to shearing that the pigs should go outside. They would bother us while Mary sheared and we need to turn up a garden plot so it needed to happen either way; not to mention I got up at 4:15 and needed something to do. I collected the fence I'd put up around the pond for the duck fiasco and set it up where we intend to put our garden this spring. I lead the hungry gilts (unbred female pigs) out with success, albeit with detours. Feeling confident in the pigs’ sensitivity to electricity, I did the rest of the morning chores.
I returned to the new paddock to find the gilts mounting each other. They must be in heat we decided, the shearer won't be here for 7 minutes, let’s put the boar in we decided. If you don't really enjoy three pigs why not try to make twelve more? With the help of our friend Hillary, and Diantha watching with baby Connor from the window, we led Rueben out of the barn to the paddock. Despite his girth and insistence on being out of his box stall he seemed less than interested in feed or leaving the barn once we opened his door. He wandered aimlessly around the driveway, which was an odd introduction to the shearer who drove in as we started to get Reuben pointed in the right direction. Mary Lake, our shearer, provided the last bit of coaxing the boar into the pen where he worked on the feed we had dumped as bait. I commented to her about how I wasn't sure I liked pigs. but when they were outside surrounded by a good electric fence they weren't so bad. "They're really sensitive to the electricity," I said parroting something someone had told me, and pretending I had any experience to back that statement up.
The time had come for shearing, this was why I had gotten up at 4:16 am without really sleeping, and was the exciting part of the day. I felt like a real sheep farmer. I was "legit". I lead the way into the barn looking for some sign that she was impressed with our set up. “She certainly isn't unimpressed” I thought to myself. We mounted a hook to hang her clippers, I set up the gates just so, I told her that they were all pregnant (which was blatantly obvious, especially to a woman who sheared 3000+ sheep last year while she herself was pregnant) and we ran the first ewe down the aisle to the shearing deck. It worked flawlessly and I thought to myself "Yep, you’re pretty slick, Farmer Jones".
It was at that very moment that a pig wandered into the barn. My next thought was, “get the gun, these pigs aren't comin' in without a fight”. Diantha saw the loose pigs and came running out with Connor in his backpack and Lily in her penguin jammies, alien boots, and barn coat. The four of us chased the first pig back into the pasture where the fence had been knocked over and somehow become disconnected (or never been reconnected after adding Reuben). Diantha thought a bit of milk would be good pig bait (they love their dairy) and I went looking for the other two. Our neighbor, a lovely older woman, came out to direct Diantha, Lily, and Connor down the hill where she had seen the other two run. I had tracked them through the carnage they created down a long steep bank to the river behind our house. Reuben, who is quite obese, was standing still breathing heavily, likely regretting it all. The other gilt was headed back up the bank. I followed her with my broom handle and bucket of grain, and somehow managed to get her back in the paddock with her sister before going back for Reuben. (All the while our friend Hillary and our shearer are cruising through the ewes and I am missing it). I found Reuben in the same place I had seen him before still breathing heavily. Armed with my broom stick and a bucket of grain I attempted to lead Reuben back up the hill. He wasn't moving. I gave him a few taps on the rump with the broom stick and he moved a bit until we got to the slope - then he parked it. I had to push. We got halfway up the slope and the incline got steeper and pushing ceased to be effective. I had to pull. I pulled Reuben the rest of the way up the slope. He was too exhausted to put up much of a fight or even really squeal. We crested the bank to see Diantha, Connor, and Lily running our way. Even on flat ground Reuben wouldn't walk on his own. We ended up dragging him in Lily's sled back to the paddock.
The gilts promptly began attacking him, chasing him around the paddock, and pushing him into the electric fence. Two months ago, when we first introduced Reuben to the gilts, they ate his ears and tail off, so the compatibility issues were still clearly there. I joined the gilts chasing Reuben down and we dragged him (in the sled) back to the barn where he now sits back in a box stall. The rest of shearing went well, the animals stayed in their places and 12 hours later we remembered to pick that gallon of milk up out of the field, the freezing rain had kept it fresh...
I made a fool hardy decision about a month ago to buy more ducklings. It was still very much winter in Vermont, Diantha was still very pregnant, and we had just about no infrastructure to support duckings - but I do like ducks. I bought ten, set up a kiddy pool full of shavings in the basement, and life was good.
Pekin ducks get big quickly, and they poop a lot. It only took a few weeks before the smell upstairs from the ducks downstairs became more than we were comfortable entertaining with. I built an insulated brooder in one of our outbuildings and moved the ducklings there, where we couldn't smell them from the dinner table, and life was good again.
Pekin ducks get bigger quickly and poop even more. The conditions within the brooder began to look like something out of a national geographic article on a temporary encampment. The poor ducklings were filthy, the air was stagnant, and I was feeling guilty. Ducks are meant to swim, thats what they do - you can tell by looking at their feet. After a week of feeling pretty guilty about these conditions, I decided to do something about it. There is a pond behind our house that is small enough to fence with a single 164' section of electronet fencing.
I spent the morning getting the fencing into the semi-frozen ground. Satisfied with the fence I went to find the old dog kennel we used as a roof for our last duck house. I could only find half of it and the search was on. After looking through the barn and out buildings I decided it must be in Diantha's parents barn and I was going to need to stop there to pick up the coop's base anyways. On my way there, headed up a steep hill, the truck began to protest the effort and ultimately slowed to less than a crawl. Being a man of science I decided turning around and heading back (with gravity) was the way to go. The broken gas gauge always reads empty, and I was sure there was gas. I didn't have my wallet so I decided to drive past the gas station and up Bonzai Bridge, the long, steep, curving bridge over the highway, just past the gas station on the way to our house. Halfway up and over the bridge the truck again protested. Being a man of science I decided turning around and heading back (with gravity) was the way to go. I managed to coast into the gas station and parked at the first pump. After negotiations with the clerk broke down, Diantha, Lily, and Connor came with a card to fill my very empty tank...
With my tank full I drove to Diantha's parents to get that dog crate only to discover it wasn't there. I found it later in an outbuilding on our farm. I brought the base of the coop back and got it set up in my new fenced pond enclosure. I loaded the ducks up in the kennel, put it in the wheelbarrow, and wheeled them over to the pond. The ducklings were uncertain when I let them out of the dog kennel. I herded them down to the water and watched them hesitantly enter the water. I expected jubilation, but I got a bunch of awkward ducks looking uncertain in the water. Then I watched as they tried and failed to get out on the other side. I moved around the bank and encouraged them to go back to the side they had entered on. They did, but struggled. One duckling appeared to be drowning and unable to swim. I found myself thinking, "am I going to have to jump into an icy pond to save a duckling?" I didn't, but I did get pretty wet hauling them out on the far bank. All 10 duckings who were initially terrified of me were so cold that they submitted to being put, unrestrained, back into the wheelbarrow. It must have been a sight to see as I raced back to their brooder and their heat lamp with 10 ducklings sitting in my wheelbarrow. I got an extra light, mucked the brooder, put down new shavings, and sat for an hour waiting for the birds to stop shaking, and for one of them to be able to stand back up. Eventually they all did, and are much cleaner after their escapade, but I think I will wait until they have a few more feathers and the water is just a bit warmer to try again.