Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January Chores

January has brought unusual cold, crisp, cloudless nights, 28 to 31F, and warm balmy days with temperatures rising into the high sixties.  Instead of being indoors during the day, enjoying the patter of rain, spinning or knitting, or even warping an inkle loom,  I am outside working up a sweat digging in the vegetable garden, catching up on chores that could have been done in December but I thought would wait until March.  The sunrises have been spectacular, clear with skies washed with gorgeous pink colors, and although, I have been wishing for thundery and rainy gray, I have grudgingly appreciated these rosy tinted mornings. 

Garlic should have been planted back in November, and I had cleared a raised bed to plant, but I never got back in to finish up.  So, on a warm and sunny January 3, I got out and started setting the cloves of garlic into the prepared bed.  The garlic came from Chester Aaron, an incredible garlic guru and friend who has been searching out garlic for sixty plus years, buying, trading, and importing from acquaintances all over the world.  Unfortunately, my planting maps were lost, so I only know these garlics as his, but with no provenance.  Still, they are delicious, and come June, I hope this planting bed will provide a large enough harvest to last me a year.

 January is the time to take the rams out from their breeding flocks, and to isolate them from their ladies. I don’t want lambs born too late in the spring, as the grass may be dying down as the rain sputters off.  Of course that is the usual pattern in a normal year, who knows about this kooky 2012.  The rams went in about October 26, a bit late for my  breeding program, so I am expecting babies later than usual, about March 26, after a five-month gestation period. Ewes cycle about every 23 days, and some of the ewes may take a couple of cycles to get pregnant.  I expect babies into April, but, I am hoping no later as May is iffy for the grass to hold out as good nutrition for moms and new babies.

Yolo, the Shetland ram was pretty aggressive, and I was concerned that he, with his big horns, might fight with the younger Wensleydale x ram, who although bigger, seemed reluctant to lower his head and charge. 

My practice, when putting two rams together, is to start them in a small space in the barn.  I add some feeders and old tires to clutter up the space so they can’t back off and gain enough traction to damage each other.  Rams, in unfettered spaces, back off and rush at each other with enough force to break one of the warrior's necks.  To add more confusion to the barn mix, I put in the two young Shetland twin boys who had been born late in July—that was a surprise!— and were ready to be separated from their mother. As a first step, I put the two big guys in side-by-side pens so they could get used to each other’s smells and sounds.  Then, I shoved the big Wensleydale in with Yolo, and fed them both some alfalfa.  While they were eating, I put in the two small boys. 
Yolo was not happy, but he couldn’t maneuver well with all the tires and feeders tripping him up in the small space.  I nervously watched from outside the pen until it seemed to be going well, with neither big ram able to wind up enough speed to do the other damage.  However, when I returned to check them after about an hour, Yolo had one of the small rams shoved into a corner and was bashing him vigorously.  I managed to get the little guy out, and he eluded Yolo after that, jumping nimbly back and forth across the feeders and tires to keep out of his father's way.

After another day, penned up and peaceable, I let the whole crew out into a side pasture.  Everyone meandered around, grazing happily with no bashing, so I loaded them up in the truck and took them down to the lower pasture, where they will be guarded by the two big llama boys.
Whew, what a relief! With a fence and a road separating them from the ladies, they should, I hope, stay where they are. I don't have to dance around when I am feeding, watching my back so I don't get rammed by the impatient guys.  Still, I will be checking on them regularly to make sure they don’t break out.

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