Friday, January 29, 2010

Bubo Virginianus part 2

Ken went out this evening to close the chicken-house doors and interrupted owl courtship. One of the owls was sitting in the pear tree, between the house and the chicken yard, and a second owl flew near the pear tree. Ken stopped, and the owl in the tree joined the the second owl in a slow, graceful airborne dance. They saw him and flew into the pines north of the house and then deep into the forest toward the Salt Fork.

The owl children should hatch about the first of March. They'll walk around the branches outside the nest in early April, and they'll make their first flight during the first week of May.

Owls use the nests of other birds, and I've seen two or three hawks' nests in the trees on the west edge of the farm. Perhaps we'll see the screechy little owl children as they grow up and learn to hunt. We heard them last year, but we were never able to see them.
Bubo Virginianus
Great Horned Owl

Last night we were awakened by owls calling back and forth. The dogs barked, the guineas squawked from inside the chicken house, but the rooster did not say a word. After 30 minutes or so, the dogs and guineas settled down, and we went back to sleep.

The owls were still calling this morning, and after Ken went to work, I finally saw one of them . . . and then two more.

It's gray and cold today, the trees are black against the gray white of the snow and sky, and the wind is still. Hoo, hoo-oo, hoo hoo: the music of this morning continues as I type.

When I saw him, the owl was perched in a tall honey locust just north of the chicken house, leaning forward and shifting his tail and wings every time he called. The white feathers at his throat puffed out with each hoot. He flew closer to the house and swooped upward to perch at the very tip top of the spruce that's four feet from the north wall of the chicken house. "His" attention was focused to the south, and he continued to hoot every minute or so. I shifted my binoculars to follow his gaze and saw a second owl sitting halfway up an osage orange on the south edge of the clearing, calling back to him. And then behind "her," hitherto unseen, another owl took off and flew south into the forest.

I watched for several minutes, and then the crows moved in and mobbed the first owl until he took refuge in the pines north of the house. The cawing crows followed him and continued harassing him. I looked to the south, and the second owl had moved. She continued to return his calls, but I could not locate her.

I can still hear him nearby, late in the morning, hooting and pining, dodging crows, and hoping for a mate.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's always about the weather this time of year in Central Illinois . . .

We haven't seen the sun for at least two weeks, and everyone's mood seems to be affected. Last week it was gray, cold, and damp, and the week before the temps were hovering around zero with ice, snow, and leaden skies. Perfect weather for a bout of cabin fever. Today, however, snow is falling lightly and persistently, and we've been promised a modest accumulation followed by a little sunshine!

The sheep are spending more time outside than they did when the temps were lingering around zero. The ram is in with the feeder lambs and getting fat, and the new lambs should start to arrive by mid March. I'm hoping to have everyone sheared by then--by someone other than me! We're going through more hay than I expected this year, so it might be time to start thinking about taking the feeder lambs over to Allen's.

I met the Craigs last week; they raise very nice Corriedales about 10 miles north of us. Ryan cares for and shows the sheep, and his dad, Gary, does livestock and other types of trading. Gary deals with several Amish families around Arthur, and he could probably help me find someone to shear, build fences, and put a loft in the barn.

I've just finished my first spinning commission. I spun enough yarn for a sweater in exchange for processed wool (not money), but it's a start. Nancy will get a pretty, bulky sweater in charcoal and white if she can find someone to knit it for her. She also gave me a very small spinning wheel. Her father made it for her, but she said she always felt it was too small. It's very nicely made, and it's particularly good for spinning cotton, but it has a problem with the axle that causes a slight bump every revolution of the wheel.

I was at the coop on Saturday, and ran into Rachel, Micah, and Kerianne. They came out to look at the farm last summer and expressed an interest in helping me process wool. Rachel followed up our chance meeting with an email, and we decided to get together here for a day of washing, carding, dyeing, and spinning wool in February. It will be fun to have their help, company, and creativity as we finish up last year's clip.

A quick update on Gracie: Gracie went to Guardian dog rescue about three weeks ago. She's already been promised to a family, who will take her through her canine good citizen and have her evaluated by the National Therapy Dog Association as a therapy dog. She will also get to work at the local nursing home at which her new owner works. Gracie, I'm sure, will excel at obedience and therapy work, and will love all the attention and working around people. What a nice ending for Gracie's Seven Sisters Farm saga.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We're having the first real winter in East Central Illinois in many years. Since New Year's Eve, the lows have been around zero at night and highs around 10 or 12 during the day. Brrr! This old farmhouse is hard to heat when it's so cold.

The sheep, well protected by their wool, are happy, and I'm thankful that we don't lamb early. This weather would make for lambsicles! The chickens are still laying, but they spend much more time in the chateau, and if I don't gather eggs twice a day, we lose some to freezing.

Gracie is still here, although I will be delivering her to Guardian Dog Rescue in St. Louis so they can re-educate her as a livestock guardian. I have also applied to adopt a trained adult male from the same organization. I hope it works out; I would like to become more competent in the management and training of these wonderful dogs!

It's beautiful in spite of the cold, clear and sunny during the day, and the night sky is bursting with stars. According to Ed Kieser, the AM580 meteorologist, we are in for several more inches of snow by Thursday night, which will be followed by 30 mph winds and more arctic temps. Thursday might be a great day to ski!