Category Archives: sheep

Happy sheep

I’ve been letting the sheep out onto the kids’ playground while I do the morning chores. They love that nice long grass. I am so glad they aren’t shorn yet: it has still been ridiculously cold. Today it was 21*, brr.

Sheeps and ships and notice that frost

These girls were my helpers today, shown here with Snowy. They’re in Lower El (lower elementary: 6-9 year olds).

And this was the surprise. We have a feral black cat, and on Friday afternoon she had 4 little black kittens. Silly girl: she made her nest directly below the manger in the sheep shed. The kittens would’ve been squished so I made another nest in a hoof-free corner.

Back to spring

The promise of bigger things: delphinium and parrot tulips

It’s going to be a lot colder today. I’m kind of glad: instasummer was rather distracting. Also, cooler temperatures keep those spring blooms from fading.

I am actually a little relieved the weather has turned for the school’s sheep’s sake. (Try saying that fast.) Poor baa-baas, under their thick wool coats. I am not sure when they get sheared. Maybe when they go to their summer pasture? I’m going to have to find out. As it is, I was seriously looking at sheep-shearers for my horticultural trimmings…maybe they could serve double duty.

Factoid: did you know that sheep hoover up their water? I guess I thought they would be more like dogs and cats and lap up the wet stuff, but no. A much more dainty slurping is what they do.

Poor Ma Ingalls

Snowy the sheep in less snowy days

So. This snow has a downside. It is called “Frozen water pump.” For the past few days, I have had to schlep water, two gallons at a time, about 300′ through knee-high snow all the way to the sheep’s water trough. Why only two gallons at a time, you ask? Well, because their gate is frozen open in a way that your average winter coat-wearing woman can shimmy through but the average full-pelted sheep cannot. Thus, I can’t carry (or lift over the gate) anything fatter than a gallon at a time, either.

It has all been rather humbling. Poor sheep! But it’s almost a month until spring…

Last bloom

We stepped out for the weekend and–better late than never–winter has set in. Here is the last bloom I found in the garden: a shrub rose.

Like much of the country, we got socked by all that rain last week, and that rain eventually transitioned to snow, but made a stop at Iceville first. NOT FUN. Lots of downed branches around the farm, lots of slippy slidy conditions for all, chickens included. Poor chickens. Where did their grass go? They seem to appreciate their chicken condo. We’ve gotta get some de-icers, though, for their water.

The sheep, like the chickens, appreciate a doubling of food to keep them metabolizing, heating them up in the process. It has come as something of a shock to me that the sheep sleep outside. I had noticed some thawed patches of ground in their pen a couple of weeks back on a day that their wooly selves were covered with frost. Can’t they go into their shed? I mean, chickens, with their minuscule birdbrains, at least have the sense to get out of the cold.

I am glad, though, for this snowcover. It’s hard to think of snow as an insulator, but it is. So all those perennials, fruit plants and raised beds of microbial action are (blessedly) covered. For now.

Sheep stories

Midnight, munching

Snowy, seeking an escape route

More on the sheep: Every morning, after I drop M off, I drive over to take care of the school’s sheep. Sometimes I retrieve a few kids to help me, most times I do not, mainly because I am not the best morning person and am usually running late…and it is so much quicker to go solo. They see my car and they get quite excitied, running back and forth in their pen, bleating loudly! I greet them (it’s about a 200′ walk from my car to their pen) and unlock their gate.

One should learn from one’s mistakes. I have learned it is very important to latch the gate behind me. All day, they look at the beautiful green grass in the playground outside their gate, and they are eager to get to it. And they have gotten out. THAT is fun: me, chasing sheep around, trying to encourage them to go back in to their pen.

So I dump out their water, turn on the pump to fill it, and then go to get the hay. They’re usually jostling me at this point: wooly, usually damp, through my jeans I can’t quite tell what is sheep and what is wool: are they really large, or do they just need a trim? I retrieve about a third of a bale of hay from the food shed, and throw a bit out into their run, and take the majority into their shelter. They’re quite happy, and ignore me. I check them out (are they lame? anemic?) and then I walk the pen (any sheep-sized holes?) and then I shut off the water, lock their gate and go home.

On Saturdays, I clean out their pen and their shelter. Up until last Saturday, I had been retrieving their droppings and bedding and bringing them home for the compost heap and the gardens. But now I am putting the mess just into the school’s compost bins to heat up and break down over the winter. I use a rake and a wheelbarrow and my flexible tub trugs to clean things up. In their yard, though, I have to pick up their poop with my gloved hands, ever thankful that sheep are vegetarians. It is not particularly stinky; in fact, it smells rather sweet. I wouldn’t say their pen or shelter (or me, afterward) reeks of Eau de Barnyard; I am quite sure if we had more than just two, things’d be quite different.

I can never look at nicoise olives, though, the same way.

School farm

I wondered about sheep care when I took on the school’s farm as a project. I mean, my sole experience with sheep was my friend Catharine’s hobby farm over the state line from the Twin Cities: Cricket, Ada and Lulu were fairly skittish, and didn’t take to much headscratching and pats, at least compared to Billy, Violet and Annabel, her goats. They pooped, they made noise and looked vaguely pastoral.

These two? Very friendly. Very much in the vein of most domesticated animals I know. They see you, call out to you, kind of saying “you have food for me? Food? Food? Food for me?….No? Well I am off then.” The duties are pretty light: a flake of hay and water in the morning, then the afterschool kids give them another flake in the afternoon. The shearing and hoofcare are taken on by their summer pasture people (the head of an Ag department at a local college).

I got 18 eggs from our raw-milk lady, hoping that at least 6 were fertile and female. They are in an incubator (with egg turner) in the lobby of the school. Friday, I took them out of the egg turner so they are now sitting in the incubator, their shells marked with an X on one side and an O on the other. They take 21 days to hatch…but, like human pregnancy, I am not sure if that is 21 days since they were laid or 22. Either way, they’re due to break shell this weekend. I hope at least somebody hatches; the kids have excitedly watched on their progress, and I will of course be to blame if they don’t.

We intend to keep 6 laying hens for the kids to care for over the school year. I kind of disagreed with the timetable, as it gets mighty cold here and the chicks won’t be fully feathered (winterized) for 2-3 months. A chick’s calendar is not the academic one, though. We’ll see. All in the name of education. It won’t be a bad life, really, for either the chicks or the sheep.


Here they are, Midnight and Snowy. Guess who is whom. Snowy is the mamma.

No chicks hatching yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Ulterior motives

Our kid goes to a pretty hep school. It’s a Montessori school and it is on 10 acres. It has a farm of its own. Guess who its new farm maven is? Yup. Me. I am now the schoolmarm for two sheep and a bunch of chickens (who’re actually future chickens, or “eggs with potential,” sitting in an incubator in the school’s lobby).

You KNEW I had my price, didn’t you?