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It’s been cold this year in Mansfield. Second coldest January on record, and the record crossed into February a bit. Today it hit 34 degrees which might seem a bit chilly to some of you. But it was above freezing for only the third time this year. One month ago it was 34 degrees…below zero. It didn’t
reach zero on our hill for over three weeks, and it felt like a heat wave when it finally happened. Vermonters came out in t-shirts to celebrate the occasion.

For about five minutes.

I don’t mind the cold spells. It’s just when the cold stretches on week after week, and everything outside becomes a bone-numbing thing you don’t dare touch without gloves, that the cold becomes a bore. Work too hard outside and you begin sweating. Sweat, and your gloves get wet. Wet gloves stick to cold things. I have three pair of nice leather gloves out there, stuck to fence posts, tractor implements, or old truck parts. And I still have a curious scar on my upper lip, a series of angled stripes left over from learning that in Vermont, unlike Southern California, one does not carry screws in one’s mouth.

We have a few heat-sensing security lights outside. One at the entrance of the driveway, another over the garage door, and a third inside the garage by the back wall. Not so much for security, as we’re too well-armed and have too many dogs for thieves to be interested in us. No, these lights save us from having to fumble around in the winter darkness looking for the least icy path from feed to sheep, or water to chickens, or groceries to house. Typically we have to jump up and down in front of the sensor before it wakes up and turns on the light. Tamara says that’s proof that our winter garments are retaining most of our body heat. But during the cold snap, those heat sensors were shivering so hard that if I even thought about going out, they turned on!

The cats haven’t been outside all year. The chickens peer out suspiciously from their coop, rarely venturing outside. And if they do venture out, the cold makes all their muscles contract. Squeezes the poop right out of them! And then they run back inside looking for saner temperatures.

The dogs have mixed feelings about this winter. Molson and Glenfiddich don’t care for cold, so spend most of their time inside. Tetley goes out, then wonders why and comes right back in. Tuppence is a ball-chasing fanatic; where her soccer ball goes, she goes. Endlessly. And that leaves Harley, who has discovered where chicken poop comes from and tries desperately, using the full range of his vocal repertoire, to coax those little poopsicle-generating fowl outside where he can clean up after them. No kisses for him!

The Wife doesn’t care for the cold. She doesn’t care for anything below sixty-five, so this sub-zero stuff is really not to her liking! So she stays inside near the woodstove And if she has to go outside she makes all sorts of strange, teeth chattery, sounds.

Unless it’s for her animals. She’s wanted to trim sheep hooves for quite some time now. Or at least she’s mentioned the chore several times. I think she waits for truly miserable days before actually suggesting action. Catching the ram is easy. Charlie is a guy. He sees people coming after him, lowers his head, and charges half-heartedly. I reach out, grab a horn, lift him off his feet and sit him on his rump while Tamara trims his hooves.

Fudge Baa is fairly easy to catch when she’s hungry. Just a matter of letting her hunger win out over her suspicious nature. Lift her, set her on the rump, and chat with her while Tamara trims away. I think she’s pregnant, but am not positive. Let’s face it; the only pregnant animals I’m certain of are human…and sheep don’t appear to show in the same ways! She’s definitely bigger around, and I was unable to palpate any organs. Makes sense if the uterus is taking up all that space. She has no udder to speak of, but her teats are much larger than last time I looked. So my diagnosis is she is either preggers…or she’s fat. As my Merck Manual (human edition) states so eloquently, “Delivery of a fetus is proof positive of pregnancy.”

The other ewe, Bunny, is far too fleet of foot to catch for hoof trimming, let alone checking for pregnancy. But any ewe that can move that fast is probably far too fast for poor Charlie, who is young and inexperienced. So Bunny evades us, then makes her distinctive bleating sound to let us know she wants more food.

Come to think of it, most everything makes strange sounds in this weather. The Kubota is mollified by the block heater I keep plugged in, but if I forget the tractor complains at startup with some shrieking sounds of protest. The Subaru starts right up, but with a whine like a turbine. The Dakota starts up with a gasp, followed by ten minutes of what sounds like teeth chattering. And it wails every few minutes during the drive to work. Not sure what that sound is, but it reminds me of whale song at uncomfortably loud levels. The planer in my shop trips the breaker unless I put a heat lamp on it for at least three hours. The tablesaw belt is so stiff from the cold the entire saw hops around the shop for several minutes after starting.

In two weeks I’ll be 48 years old. Won’t be long before I start shrieking from the cold!

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Stories From a Vermont Life:

Camilla Blue
Frozen Gifts
Making Wreaths
Shearing
Hobblewood
Flush
The Fourth of July
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The Farm at Morrison Corner raises Icelandic Sheep on the last hill farm in Mansfield, VT.  Learn about Raising Icelandic Sheep, Raising Chickens, Moving to Vermont and Living in Vermont on this and our other sites.

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