Coyote Run Farm

History Page

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April 2015: A Little Lambing

Our plans worked well this year. Our spring lambing was done within a three week period and very few were born in the wee hours.

January 2015: A Little Farm Lore

This isn't wisdom from the ancients, but you might find a description of the Squeeze Panel useful.

October 2014: A Trip to the Scrapyard

In a rural area, you are much more aware of the re-purposing of used materials. Or, at least the notion. The reality is that most old equipment and vehicles lie about people's yards and contribute to the worldwide production of iron oxide.

We like a tidy place, so our rust factory is inside one of our barns. Nevertheless, we have accumulated a fair pile of metal and old parts since we didn't want to just throw it all away.

In aid of a general farm cleanup, we collected everything together and loaded up our flatbed wagon for a trip to the scrapyard.

Not really scrap, but I forgot to take a picture of the real stuff

Most of what we took would be categorized as true scrap. Such as several pounds of bent or rusty nails and screws, used and damaged stock consisting of things like piping, bolts, eaves-troughs, steel siding, and various types of wiring. This stuff gets sorted by metal type and melted down again for re-refining.

Iron and copper are commonly used metals in our civilization that are sensible to reclaim. When extracted from ore in the ground it is called "primary resource extraction". When extracted from existing manufactured metal parts it is called "secondary resource extraction". This can be, but isn't always, more efficient that primary extraction because separating out the desired metal from ore can require large amounts of energy and reaction materials.

An important issue with secondary extraction is avoiding contaminants. Not only are some non-metallic items detrimental to the quality of the desired metal, some can be valuable in their own right, or at the very least consume more energy to burn off as an unwanted by-product. Even other metals can be a big problem. The two most common metals in scrap parts are iron/steel and copper. You really don't want to mix these inadvertently. Copper mixes very easily with iron and is very difficult to separate back out. Doing so requires large energy and/or material consumption. And you have to get it out, because copper embrittles iron and steel, making them fairly useless.

For all these reasons, it is important to sort all scrap into its constituent materials. Unfortunately this is a labour-intensive process which degrades the viability of recycling for certain items. This is often less so for farm equipment which tends to have simple bulky parts which are well defined.

Scrapyards want either reasonably sorted metal, or parts that may still have utility as parts.

Of course, this means you might have a use for them too. And herein lies the problem with going to the scrapyard. In an ideal world, you leave with fewer parts and more money in your wallet. But there is no such thing as an ideal world.

There is however, a mechanical playland full of metal stock, deep and elegant iron bathtubs with claw feet, motors, hydraulics gadgets, gears, gauges, actuators, radiators, and all manner of stuff that could be lying on your property awaiting that mythic day when you get around to it.

If you like building or fixing things, it's like being the proverbial child in a candy store. Except that you have control of the bank account now.

We got out with positive cash flow that time. But I want to go back and have a more careful rummage around. I'll be selective and not spend too much, I promise to myself.

Well, it's more of an intent than a promise.

Seriously, who am I kidding here?

Some Time Ago: A Cat Passed This Way

One night the cat never came home.

Our funny, black and white, male cat was always into mischief. He would jump on your back when you bent over to do something. He would wait for the dog every evening and tackle it from behind, wrapping his arms around the dog's back leg, and then leaping away before he got caught. It drove the dog nuts. He was intelligent and clearly a joker.

Then came the night the cat never came home.

Female cats often make the best hunters, but this male was really good. He was always catching lots of mice and birds in the barn. He had done so for over a decade. He was still in excellent health, enjoyed his life, and was very happy here.

So we knew something terrible had happened the night the cat never came home.

Something must have caught him in turn. We can only hope it was quick.

Last summer, in his absence, we noticed the remaining two cats weren't doing the job well enough. We started having mouse problems.

This year it's escalated to rats. Big rats. Rats as big as alley cats. Well, not that big.

Sometimes the rats panic and run over the shepherd's shoes in a myopic attempt to flee. The shepherd really doesn't like this. Worse still, one of them has decided people aren't so bad and hangs around while we do chores. The shepherd doesn't want a rat for a friend.

We'll get it sorted. But we miss our funny cat.

We used to fret a little when the cat roamed at night, but he was a barn cat and the outdoors were his domain. Cats exist to prowl. It's what made his life fulfilling. And happiness filled his time here, all the days the cat was at home.

May 2014: Spring Lambing Finish Line

After much work, lambing is done for now.
And it's truly springtime.

Click to enlarge.

March 2014: Spring Lambing Starting Line

We had our first little lambs of the season, a pair of twins, on March 28th.
This was followed later in the day by another pair of twins.
And they're off....

December 2013: Ice Storm in Southern Ontario

Click on the pictures for a higher resolution image.
They are also linked from the backgrounds page.

December 2013: Finding Santa

According to Natural Resources Canada, the direction in which magnetic north lies from our farm has moved 20 minutes (or a third of a degree) since we purchased the farm 25 years ago.

Santa navigating past polar star trails

November 2013: Public Service Announcement

At first I thought people were just being cute, but I've been hearing this more and more in otherwise serious conversations.

The plural of sheep is "sheep", not "sheeps".

Thank you for your attention.

* * * * *

Oh, and for those of you who weren't paying attention during your formative years, the rest are as follows.

A young sheep is a lamb.

An adult male is a ram.

An adult female is a ewe (pronounced "you" not "yo").

Meat from a young sheep is called lamb.

Meat from an old sheep is called mutton.

An unspecified, abstract sheep is just called a sheep (and is spherical and made of quarks).

July 2013: The Lazy Animals of Summer

I saw a big rat in the barn yesterday ....
Before I could catch him, he scurried away.

I do hear we've had this rodent for awhile.
'Cause the cats are asleep on the porch, in style.

It's the dog's job to chase cats back to the barn.
But our canine, it seems, doesn't give a darn.

Our chain of command, out the window it went.
Summer is here; it's tough being management.

Sleeping cat

May 2013: Arcs in Time

Niece with homemade catapult

Because every child needs a catapult at the farm.

This catapult isn't very efficient, but it was built out of materials lying around the storage barns. And we don't entirely trust the targeting of the gunnery officer.

Meanwhile ...

Spring lambing is almost done except for a few laggards from a group bred later than the main herd.

Here's this year's lambing distribution by the number of ewes birthing each day. Note that this is not the total number of lambs since it doesn't count twins.

Birthrates for spring 2013

March 2013: Mad as a March Chicken

For no particular reason, we got three chickens.

They do have the benefit of converting kitchen scraps into eggs.

Three chickens

Two layers and a rooster

August 2012: Dry, as in Arid, as in Lacking Moisture, as in .... Dry

It's been wet in some parts of the world this summer (Europe and Mudville come to mind), but quite dry here in Ontario.

We got an excellent first crop of hay early in the summer, and precious little since then. We are trying for a third cut, but it's lacking in quantity as well.

Another consequence is the effect on electrical systems. It is said that good fences make good neighbours. Well, a good ground connection makes a good electric fence. Dry soil doesn't conduct charge any better than sand and rock. So for those of you who don't know, periodically pouring a bucket of water on the ground around the ground rod of any electrical system can improve its efficiency and eliminate weirdness due to voltage build-ups. This can raise the power in the electric fence quite a bit, assuming you've diagnosed the problem correctly.

We were also having trouble with our Internet connection occasionally dying, often in extreme weather. Power cycling the receiver usually worked but was annoying. I have begun to suspect that a deeper ground rod is needed. In the mean time, watering the Internet makes it much more reliable.

April 2012: The Big Picture

Aerial view of the farm

Here's an aerial photograph of the farm taken during the summer of 2011.

April lambing is now in full swing and as usual I'm doing the night shift. Since the late watch mainly involves heaps of watching and waiting, I've taken to saving my most anticipated video game for the year to play at this time. Most years there's only one game I'm really interested in anyways.

So, the other day, I walked by this old tree stump with mushrooms growing out the side.

Mushrooms growing on the side of a tree stump

Into my head pops: "Ooh, Mora Tapinella -- I'd better grab some".

Clearly, I've been spending far too much time playing Skyrim, and not enough time on the big picture.

November 2011: The Crossroads in the Woods

Our new Clun Forest ram

Big Ram On Campus

Dorset is the primary breed on our farm, but we do crossbred to maintain good flock health.

The breeding ewes are mostly half to three-quarter Dorset, although we have a few purebreds. To control this, we have several varieties of rams. We always have a Dorset ram, and we've had Charolais and Texel rams for a few years now. Our latest ventures are a Clun Forest and an Île-de-France. The Clun Forest -- we've been calling him Martin for obscure reasons -- is the only one with a black face and legs. He's the one pictured above. Martin's colour is similar to the more common Suffolk breed.

November is when the introductions are made.

A curious ewe peering around the corner of a building

Curious Ewe

July 2011: Year of the Bumblebee

Wendy house and orange poppies In the grand cycle of things, it would seem to be time for bumblebees to flourish. We had far more than usual in the first half of the year, bumbling all over the place. Fortunately none of us have ever been stung by one of these mostly placid insects. We let them bee. Then the wasps and hornets appeared in great numbers over the hot, rainless and unbearably humid spell of weather. Wasps are the subject of severe crushing and chemical hostilities near the house and barn. There are fewer of them now.

And without the slightest hint of a decent segue....

Pictured here is a little toy cottage for the children, called a Wendy House. We built it ourselves a few years ago and it took almost as long to construct as a real house. It has electricity, lighting, insulation, heating, a bed, some small furniture and decor. The side wall opens via two large doors which cover removable screens. We've even had a guest sleep in it. Overall size is 96 square feet (12'x8'), because at 100 square feet it becomes a taxable building(!)

April 2011: Res Novae

It's spring and we have new lambs. It's a busy time for us.

We also have a new dog. Sadly, Fritz and Pepper succumbed to old age over the last two years. So we provided a home for another sheep herding dog. His name is Fred, which I find a little unusual for a dog, but we didn't see fit to confuse the issue by changing it.

Now Fred has a little problem in that he doesn't seem to actually herd sheep. Also, he doesn't bark in the service of guard duty. He's very shy. Frankly, lots of people don't even know we have a dog in the house. We have essentially a non-dog, but he's a nice guy and he's ours now.

The barn cats are out and about now that the winter is over. But mostly they hang around the house and any people they can find. They're at the windows, on the railings, up and down the outside of the house, and up and down humans who venture nearby. These cats are very friendly, love to play, and even enjoy pulling pranks. One had to be evicted from a carpenter's van driver's seat before he could go home. The cat was sitting there like a dog pretending to drive. Since the dog isn't being doggy enough, perhaps we could teach the cats to bark and we'd be all set.

December 2010: Putting Wool to Use

Wool mice putting up Christmas lights

Merry Christmas
from all
big and small

We've done the card
now if only we could light the yard

December 2010: The Dorset Variations

An alternate poem for the Christmas card featuring our brave little mouse dolls.

A Small Christmas Yarn

Please don't be afraid I'm not wild,
knit by a friend for your farm house.

I'm not a being full of fluff mild,
but a working domestic mouse.

I do not chew wires or eat grain,
but work in cottage industry.

You'll like me civilized and tame,
I'll make hay not raid the pantry.

Not like the rodents in the barn,
I'm textile, made of thread better.

I fool the cat to avoid harm,
pretending to be a sweater.

Stories I could tell for a boon,
things seen from the sewing bag full.

I'd like to start family soon,
this Christmas let's trade tales for wool.

September 2010: Summer Construction and Demolition

Nobody builds barns anymore. Modern structures are cheaper, brighter, and don't have tons of support posts in the way.

Think 21st century gothic for barns.

This is our second shelter, as it was being built during the summer.

Shelter number two going up Shelter number two done and loaded

Lest you think everything this year was only about building, here are some cute pictures of fuzzy bunnies.

Rabbit Two Rabbits The first rabbit, again

No, the plants never really did recover.

August 2010: It's an Ill Wind ...

that doesn't blow someone some lunch.

Sheep eating collapsed tree

The herd's favorite shade tree right outside the barn fell over after a wind storm.

So they ate it.

May 2010: The Archimedes Screw and Spiral

Grain Bin beside barn

For years we've had grain delivered about a ton at a time in heavy, slippery bags. Lifting these bags to pour into buckets is especially hard on the fingers. The use and storage of all those bags also produced various logistical problems.

So, we finally splurged on what is called a grain bin. Although it's really more of a hopper. And it looks more like a giant upside-down plastic milk bottle than a bin. It holds a little over 3 tons of grain, which allows us to avoid deliveries to the snowbound side of the barn in the worst of winter.

An auger screws the grain up into the barn where a wide, flexible tube drops the grain into waiting buckets at the flip of an electrical switch. Very nice.

Oh, and we made sure to install a little access port in case the power fails.

We also spent some quality spiral time getting a small amount of hay off the field at the end of May. This was made possible by the early and mild spring.

The last spring lamb was born on the 21st of May.

April 2010: First Light, for Lambs

Half of the flock has been shorn (the woolliest half) in preparation for spring lambing, and summer obviously.

Here in southern Ontario, it's been a beautifully moderate spring so far. Very nice.

A length of trees and bush between the two south fields has been cleared to allow more sun and airflow onto the southeast field. This should allow for better drying of the crops during hay season.

Speaking of the sun, much ado has been made of extending daylight-savings time. Calendars were changed, plans altered, energy wasn't saved, people grumbled, and computers had to be re-programmed. Think about that last one. Computers need to be able to reckon time appropriately for any given date -- forever. This means the code has to become more complex to be aware of every time zone idiosyncrasy, every leap second, at least one papal decree, all those leap year rules, and every time the politicians decide to tweak things again... and the sheep don't care. They get up when it gets light. And that's what pretty much defines our working hours.

Update - first lamb born on the 16th of April.

January 2010: Subdivisions

"In geometric order, An insulated border"

More Lessons Learned on the legends page.
This time about fences and gates.

December 2009: Quiet Nights

It's been quiet, with little to report. Which is just the way the sheep like it.

August 2009: Looking Out
(Bother me tomorrow. Today, I'll buy no sorrows)

Bale rolling hazard We had lots of trouble getting the second cut of hay off the fields. A good chunk of the crop got ruined by a combination of prolonged bad weather and mechanical failures with the baler. We learned all about drive chains and microswitches.

So, there wasn't enough hay for the winter from this year. Fortunately, we have reserves from last year so we don't have to buy any.

We also arranged to bale another family's field in trade. This required travel with equipment on the highways and biways at the blistering speed of 17 mph. This is tedious, but not too scary since we've done it before. And -- let's face it -- when you're in a slow moving, poorly maneuvering, multi-part, multi-ton conveyance, everyone else gets out of your way. You pull over to let people pass when you get the chance of course, but most people are tolerant because they realise your vehicle is awkward, they are in farming country, and they won't win.

It can be fun, really. People love a tractor. They love to see balers and other big equipment. And they have soft, warm, fuzzy bucolicic feelings for farmers. So they smile and wave at you as you drive along. Pretty much everyone really, whether they know you or not.

So there you are, rumbling along the main road out of town. Saying hello to everyone with a smile, a nod, and that knowing wave -- "Hi, I'm in a tractor."

July 2009: Looking Good

Things are mostly in order this summer.

Eight ewes which didn't breed in time to be part of spring group were re-bred and have now lambed. So we have a small clutch of lambs and moms in one of the smaller pens. There's still plenty of room for the little ones to go bombing around in the evening. Lambs very much like to run for the fun of it.

The first round of field work was done a few weeks ago. And the machines behaved quite well this time. The weather, not so much. We lost a good chunk of the crop, but we have plenty of reserves. And there's always the second cut.

The pump in the old well broke down this spring. The water table was up to within a few inches of ground level at the time because we've had a string of cold, wet summers. So we flipped our Rube Goldberg valve system over to send water from the new well to both the house and the barn. Finally, by mid-July the water level had dropped a few feet and some brave plumbers hung down far enough in a harness to fix it. We are now a two well farm again.

The only unfortunate news is that Fritz, our gentle and lovable but dim German Shepherd/Cucumber mix, has lost most of his hearing. He's about eleven years old now. The loss doesn't seem to bother him much, but has forced us to do a lot of hand-waving these days.

April 2009: Spring and Lambs

Spring lambing is pretty much done, except for a couple of inevitable stragglers.

We had much better luck with the ewes not lambing at odd hours this time. Most were born at reasonable times, the weather was good, and we had good results.

December 2008: The Year in Aqueous Solution

It's been a cool, wet year. All that water had to go somewhere, and in our case that was the basement. The sump pump got fouled up this spring and in about 24 hours we had eight inches of water. That's enough water to feel the buoyant pressure on your boots as you put your foot down. Using very tall boots and being wary of electrified water.

After reactivating the pump, the water was removed in an afternoon. Many soggy items were saved with thorough drying and cleaning. Lots of grit had to be swept off the concrete floor. A dehumidifier was run for a very long time. And we finally got rid of the last of the chilli residue -- a year or two after the plunger/rain-hat incident.

Most of our storage in the basement is in oversized homemade wooden shelving, but eight inches is quite high and not everything was, or could be, elevated that much. We lost some old files, some not-very-memorable memorabilia, and some just plain junk. The files were in a large Rubbermaid container which would have weighed the better part of fifty pounds with all that paper in it. Apparently it floated high enough to roll over and let the water in around the seams in the lid. I have no idea how much the paper weighed after being soaked in water, but I could not lift it. Finally, one of the more amusing sights was a six foot tall wooden floor lamp bobbing on top of the water, only being held upright by virtue of having caught up against an air duct.

So, many mundane items were thrown away. The financial damage was limited to the furnace. If we had only realised that for twenty dollars you can buy a little flood alarm at the hardware store. Sump pump operators take heed. The dehumidifier was cleaned up and coaxed back into service. The freezer was another matter. It seemed okay. After roughly a week of checking on it we didn't think much more about it, until the smell wafted up into the kitchen.

By the time the stench had worked its way through the seals, the contents were quite disturbing. The now non-freezer contained an amalgam that was about fifty percent liquid. It was a mostly viscous liquid that was strikingly active with bacterial colonies and ... things. And when I say colonies, I don't mean base camps or little farmsteads and hamlets. We're talking about thriving metropolises with little bacterial skyscrapers and major arterial highways. Plus the colours. Ooh the colours you won't find on any paint chart.

We couldn't move the freezer, so it had to be emptied and cleaned. We donned protective clothing and masks. I whined a lot. Then we went in.

I opened the lid and peered inside ... a ripple moved across the fluid morass as if some unspeakable creature had been disturbed just below the surface. I emitted a panicked noise that resembled "Waaaaaagh!" and leapt backwards. Then felt rather silly as I could see the ripples were caused by the noisome moisture that was so thick in the container that it was dripping off the lid.

We eventually bucketed and picked the mass out. And when I say we, I don't really mean me. Despite having not eaten, I couldn't lean over the freezer without starting to heave from the smell. I've had to deal with dead animals before, but this semi-liquid version was the first to trigger a reflex I couldn't suppress. Even after a few attempts, it remained that strong. Finally, the freezer was emptied and the inside was washed with chlorine bleach. You have no idea how wonderful the smell of chlorine was that day.

On a more appealing note ...
There is one spot remaining, but it has nothing to do with the freezer.

His name is Spot, but he's not a dog.

He was also a surprise, but a much nicer one.

Lamb with a large spot in his fleece

Spot the Lamb

All our sheep are normally white fleeced, but somebody has a black sheep in their past. Cute, isn't he?

November 2008: Remembrance


If ye break faith with us who die
we shall not sleep,
though poppies grow in Flanders fields.

Late August 2008: Hay-Fever

A sheaf of hay The second and probably last cut of hay is finally done. It's been a wet year. The lack of sun stunted most crops. Oh sure -- everything was nice and green and the pastures got a fair amount of short regrowth, but the hay fields took a long time to mature. And then they got a little too mature before we got enough sunny days to get it baled. Leave cut hay on the field to long and it becomes mouldy. Leave it too long before cutting and it loses its nutritional value. However, in the end we got two cuts of acceptable quality hay. The crops just came in later than usual.

Even the allergen-cursed ragweed arrived late. I can live with that.

June 2008: By the Agencies of Dogs

We've had no more attacks upon our sheep, and no more sightings of our large canine interloper. But that doesn't mean we're going to take chances. The sheep need to be out on all the pastures at this time, so their protection is doubly important now. Fortunately our great mountain puppies are now almost a year old and big enough to act as a more effective deterrent. And they have help.

I neglected to mention in this space that we came into possession of a third livestock guardian dog shortly after the two Great Pyrenees puppies. His name is Nick and he's a Maremma. Nick is the eldest of the three, and was almost a year old when he came from another farm that had a handful of sheep. Thus, he already knew what to do and was big enough to do it.

Nick's instincts seem to be the best of the three. That's probably not so much the breed as just individual personality. All three of the guardian dogs are able to act independently of us and determine in fairly short order what represents a threat and what doesn't. They only kick up a fuss when something that doesn't belong enters their domain.

Do you belong here?

Yes, I'm looking at you.

April 2008: Spring Lambing is Done

For reasons known to neither us nor the sheep, most of the lambs were born at night. We did all the usual tricks regarding feeding times and light, but to no avail.

Since our sheep don't roam over miles of Scottish highland, Ontario sheep farmers expect to monitor the ewes during lambing. This means fewer losses. This also means suiting up and walking down to the barn every two hours or so. If the sheep don't settle down at night, then we don't either. And I got the late-night shift.

We have an outdoor intercom with which to monitor noises in the barn. However, sheep don't always make distinctive sounds when they are struggling. So we can only use the intercom so long before having to go check in person.

The temperatures over the last three weeks were cold at night but moderate enough that the lambs stayed warm with their moms. This helps enormously. We try to avoid interfering with the birthing process as doing so often causes more harm than good. In the end, we only had to assist two ewes who had lambs "presenting incorrectly" (that is: trying and failing to come out the wrong way). Overall we had good results.

February 2008: Thoughts on Stuff .. and Things

Everything is made of something. We have some tips for managing your inanimate substances without getting overly animated yourself.

More Lessons Learned on the legends page.

December 2007: Snuggly (no bugs in your rugs)

After a year of pests, predators, witch-grass and mystery illnesses things have been quiet for awhile now. Snow came early making things soft and hush. The sheep have been safe and snug in their barnyard since we got the new dogs.

September 2007: Counter-agents

We had heard that it had been a prosperous year for coyotes. But, strangely enough, we weren't hearing them as usual. Something else was afoot. And it had driven them off.

Other farmers were losing livestock, and it was presumed to be to coyotes.

Then we saw it.

Much bigger than a coyote and attacking one of our sheep in a brazen daylight strike not 50 yards from us. It wasn't a wolf. It looked like a dog -- almost like a German Sheppard -- but has over time exhibited all the behaviour and instincts of a coyote. Perhaps it is a half coyote/half dog cross, called a "coy-dog".

Whatever its lineage, it caused numerous livestock deaths up and down the road. Despite all efforts by many to capture or kill the beast, it eluded everyone and continued to prey upon calves, adult sheep, cats, and who knows what else. We went into a lockdown with all animals pulled back to our most fortified paddocks and the barn itself. We aggressively patrolled the land and found evidence of its passing, but never caught sight of it again while we had a ranged weapon in hand.

Eventually the attacks in the area stopped. Perhaps something or someone finally got it. Perhaps it moved on. We aren't just going to hope it won't come back. We are establishing a full time guard.

We are going to fight animals with animals. We have obtained a pair a "livestock guardian dogs". These are not herding dogs. There are many varieties from every region in the world that had sheep. They have all been bred over the centuries to independently live with and protect sheep. We now are the owners of two Great Pyrenees puppies.

Meet Agent Jack and Agent Jill. (Real names withheld for security purposes)

Great Pyrenees puppies

July 2007: We've Moved the Website

We have recently changed our service to a new provider. Most of you shouldn't notice a thing. As long as your bookmark points to you'll get here, no matter where we move to.

Sheep with suitcases

One of the benefits of the move is more storage space (bigger closets). So we won't be as restricted in how much we can include. Expect more woolly goodness.

Late June 2007: Ebb and Flow

It's been a good year for hay, doubly so because we just re-seeded. Having the market flush with hay is fine by us since we are primarily consumers not producers. That is to say, we only produce in order to consume. Anything we don't use this year, we can use next year.

Lots of Bales in the field

We've been cutting our pastures more frequently in an effort to get more from them. The sheep can't or won't eat tall and tough grass. Cutting down the leftovers more often results in more new regrowth which they will deign to eat.

In other niches, it's been a good year for coyotes, chipmunks, fireflies, and alas blackflies earlier on. Not so good a year for rabbits, probably because of the coyotes.

April 2007: *Snip*

A sheep being shorn The lady who does our shearing swung through our neighbourhood recently, and so the last of the sheep have been shorn for summer. They also get their hooves trimmed at the same time. Sheep are like cats and dogs in that they look pretty funny without their usual coats. You can see what I mean in the spring gallery.

Now we just need it to stop raining long enough for the ground to dry out. Then we can muck-out the barn. "Mucking-out" is one of those technical terms. It means removing the pack from sheep pens in the barn. The "pack" is the bedding for the animals. When the straw gets dirty, more straw is thrown down. Over the winter, this mixture of straw and manure settles and gets packed down -- hence the name. It still gets very high and one has to step up when entering a pen. And so, come spring, it is time to get rid of this muck by "mucking-out". This is done with a shovel -- preferably attached to a tractor.

Late March 2007: *Click*

A couple of new images are up in the backgrounds page.

No images of us trying to catch sheep in a muddy paddock will be posted.
That is all.

January 2007: The Witching Hour

The re-seeding of the hay fields last April resulted in a good crop by summer's end. However, many sheep started to develop sore eyes after we started feeding them bales from that crop.

The problem was a fine grass that was getting into their eyes. It's appropriately named witch grass (Panicum capillare), also known as: hair grass, panic grass, and tickle grass among other things.

Resolution was obtained by no longer using feeders, but instead unrolling the bales on the ground. That way the loose material won't fall into their face. This results in more waste and is a lot more work, but it sure beats applying ointment and rooting around for hay inside a sheep's eye. The sheep sure seem to think it's better too.

In any event, the opportunist witch grass should not be able to compete in the second year with the mixture of grasses and legumes we have planted, so the problem should correct itself. In the mean time we just keep on rolling.

December 2006: Teledestruction

A nasty wind storm blew through southern Ontario the night of the first day of December.

There was no real damage to the house or barn, however it wreaked havoc with our satellite dish. The dish used to get blown out of alignment constantly until I fixed it with some (now proverbial) duct tape. Just to be clear, the duct tape doesn't actually hold anything together. Rather, it fattens the post on which the dish is mounted so that the clamps can be made tighter.

Still it was impressive that the repair held its alignment until the metal mounting bracket sheared apart.

August 2006: The Goat Days of Summer

We have a pair of visiting orphan goats for a few weeks until they are weaned off bottled milk and can go home.

A pair of goats

They seem to love sitting in a large plastic barrel they have made their home. That is, when they're not climbing all over everything. Goats are much more adventurous than sheep and are hard to keep contained. Containing them is important because, although they don't eat everything as in common folklore, they will chew on anything.

Just in case you think all the odd animals of the county end up at our place, about a dozen of our sheep are having a summer vacation over near Shelter Valley. They're cutting someone's extensive grass over there in a nice lightly wooded spot. This extends our own pasture.

Finally, we lost the purple locust just as it seemed to be recovering. One of the many strong afternoon thunderstorms snapped the tree clean at the base. We'll have to plant something new to shade the veranda.

June 21st, 2006: Summer Solstice

Summer officially began at 12:26 UTC (8:26 AM EST), but it got nice and warm long before June this year.

~78°W x 44°N
Sunrise: 5:30 am --- Sunset: 9:00 pm
15 hours and 30 minutes of sunlight

Normals temperatures for the period: low 13°C, high 24°C.
But it's been much warmer than the average.
'Tis hot and bright.

Some Updates
The lambs have been weaned
The purple locust tree has survived
The re-seeded fields are growing well
... actually everything is growing well this year

April 2006: Re-seeding the Hay Fields

The fields need to be renewed after a certain number of years. So we call in the big equipment.

Seed planter
Spot the Farmer

Seed planter on the move
Action Shot

Lambing is pretty much finished, except for a few stragglers.
The sheep have been shorn for summer.

February 2006: "Nominal" is Our Word For the Day

It's been a quiet winter so far. This is good. We've been doing routine chores and maintenance mostly. Lambing is to start in mid-March, with an obvious increase in activity.

Update and Sudden Volume Increase
It would seem things aren't so quiet in Brighton, the next town east on the 401 highway. We buy our groceries and stuff there. We also have propane delivered from a supplier there. It seems they had a cascade of explosions from small containers in the storage yard. Fortunately no-one seems to have been hurt. Probably due in no small part to the response of fire-fighters from two counties that ensured the fire didn't spread and ignite the main 60,000 litre tank.

Many, if not most, fire-fighters in rural areas are volunteers who have to put in long hours of difficult training. This involves chemical handling, first aid, and all manner of safety training as they are the designated first responders to emergencies in many areas. They carry their gear with them wherever they go and have to drop everything at their normal job when the pager goes off. These are people who often aren't thanked enough.

December 2005: Merry Christmas

Since several people asked where the image for the Christmas card came from, I will reveal the source here. It's me. All the covers since I started doing them in 2000 have been photographed with a digital camera using locations and props on the farm. We strive for authenticity in our illusions.

The process only involves a 3 mega-pixel camera, various lamps and utility lights, occasional white sheets, the GIMP image manipulation program, and lots of junk, er, antiques lying around. The technology is now fairly easy and accessible. Coming up with an idea is by far and away the hardest part. I hope you all enjoy the result, and have a happy new year.

The 2004 Christmas Card - A Woolly Christmas in Oils
2004 Christmas Card

November 2005: The Wily Coyote - Your Source for Farm Updates

Sheep prices have recovered for the first time in a long while. Whew.

The wild turkeys made it past Thanksgiving. The cows went back home just before Halloween. The cats are all doing well individually. Unfortunately D is stalked and roughed-up by B. And C has a grand time thumping B every once in a while. Curiously, D is the biggest one.

October 2005: Fun With Pests.

Caterpillars attacked our beloved (okay, much liked) purple locust tree. They did a lot of damage before we noticed, but the tree may yet pull through thanks to tender care of the damaged trunk. The caterpillars on the other hand had a real bad day. Here's hoping the tree survives because they apparently have become a popular item and have gone way up in price.

Dandelions are everywhere, and good foliage isn't any more. So, we are looking to replant the hay fields over the next few years in rotation. We'll be eradicating the dandelions as part of the process.

Fritz and Pepper gave me poison ivy. At least that's the deduction. They must have picked it up from the ditch by the road and then rubbed it off on me. The roadside is the only place on the farm where there is any poison ivy. Several large weeping and bleeding wounds later, my not very strong respect for poison ivy as a valued part of the ecosystem has been appropriately diminished. Standard medicines don't do much and it takes weeks to clear up. As a famous duck once said ... this means war.

Important safety tip for various plant and animal species:
Don't tick off the humans.

August 2005: Turkeys at the Gates

I don't know how turkeys survive in the wild. They have no real defense. They're slow to move. They're slow to run away. And they're just plain slow, if you know what I mean.

Despite this we see a family every year.

And they do manage to get to the trough for daily vegetable scraps faster than the cows.

Wild Turkeys

Hey! Where did the others go?

2005: A Hot Summer Sunday Afternoon

A good time to sift through my burgeoning collection of unevaluated photographs and decide which ones are worth cleaning up for the picture archive.

And so ... new images are up in the summer gallery and two new backgrounds are available.

June, 2005: Peed On By A Toad

We were showing the children a toad in the garden when it fell down a window well. I'm confident it could have gotten out on its own. But since it careened down there because of us, I picked it up. I also wanted to show the nervous kids that toads are not scary. They are pest-eating harmless little garden critters. Well, although it isn't true that toads give you warts, there is something else that can be scared out of them.

June 21st, 2005: It's A Pity That The Days Can't Be Like The Nights

Summer officially began at 06:46 UTC (2:46 AM EDT)

It's been very hot and humid, like high summer, since the start of June. So we got an early start this year.

Late May, 2005: The Wild Apple Tree by the Road

Some new seasonal images are on the backgrounds page. It's apple blossom time.

This is apple country, with numerous orchards full of modern dwarf trees. Ourselves, we have a wild tree in the ditch and one by the pond on our property. These are somewhat taller than the trees currently grown commercially and have much smaller apples. Years ago one of our dogs used to enjoy rooting around in the late winter snow to eat the well fermented apples. (hic)

Also, the sheep are out on pasture and the rent-a-cows have arrived.

Early May, 2005: Showtime

Killdeer's Broken Wing Act Killdeers make their nests on the ground in gravel, stones, dirt, or similar camouflaged surfaces. When their nest is approached, the adult bird will try to lure anything away by crying loudly and moving away from the nest while feigning a broken wing.

Although the first three weeks of April had beautiful weather, we then got hit with two weeks of relatively cold weather with a few overnight frosts. Now that it's past, things are sprouting, blooming, nesting and being as melodramatic as my five year old niece.

We have finished spring lambing. That is to say, the sheep having finished having lambs. It went quickly this time, which is what we aim for.

April 2005: At Least the Insects Don't Get Too Big

Most people don't notice that southern Ontario is at the same latitude as France and Italy. But due to the lack of anything like the Gulf Stream and its moderating influence, we don't even get as long a summer or as mild a winter as Britain.

So, in April, we start planting some flowers in trays indoors. This lengthens the growing season and gives us more and bigger flowers by summer's end. Sadly there isn't room in the house to grow enough hay, so the sheep will have to wait a bit longer.

Seed Packages

Place seed in dirt, then just add water. Acme instant flowers.

February 2005: Good Packing Snow

Check out the snow fort in the winter gallery.

And that's not the only way to get protection from winter. Behold the evolutionary wonder that is wool -- it's the background on this page.

Wool is crimped (wavy and kinky) and covered with lanolin (a natural oil somewhat like human skin produces in lesser amounts and efficacy).

The crimping, along with the follicle's microstructure, traps lots of air. And air is one of the best insulators around. Sheep can walk around all day with snow on their backs, since the wool insulates so well that their body heat doesn't escape to melt the snow. The wool gets so thick that it feels like a giant water-repellent sponge. Our ewes coats are over three inches at the moment. It makes them look much bigger than they are.

The oil, along with the follicle's microstructure, repels water. The wool coat as a whole will hold water, but it doesn't penetrate far. Wool will absorb 18% of its weight in water before becoming damp, and 50% before becoming saturated. Sheep can stand in the pouring rain and not get their skin wet.

Isn't nanotechnology grand?

Mid-January 2005: New Year

Although it has been mild again lately, all of the sheep are back in main barn for the coming worst of winter. The temperatures will drop, but already the next cycle is starting. There is about a minute more daylight every day, and that will accelerate in the coming months.

The light returns.

Both mars rovers have survived the coldest part of the Martian winter. Even after a year, they are still going strong and we are still learning new things every day. Go rovers!

December 26th, 2004: Indian Ocean Tsunami

Tsunami Ribbon

December 21st, 2004

The winter solstice occurred at 12:42 UTC (8:42 AM EST)

~78°W x 44°N
Sunrise: 7:45 am --- Sunset: 4:38 pm
8 hours and 53 minutes of daylight

Normals temperatures for the period: low -13°C, high -4°C.
although it's been much colder than that recently
(such as -28°F) the other night when we were out helping the drover load sheep

December 2004: Quickly Does Christmas Approach

Snow arrived early in December and has stayed around despite some relatively mild temperatures. Very nice and seasonal weather for walking around and collecting cedar boughs from the bush.

We, on the other hand, are a little late with the Christmas cards. They have been made and are coming.

September 22nd, 2004: Reap Tide

The autumn equinox occurred at 16:30 UTC (12:30 PM EDT)

It has been such a wet summer that the grass and foliage is still a vibrant green, even at this late juncture. With the livestock keeping the pastures trimmed, it is quite idyllic looking. The cows have cleared much of the parasitic undergrowth in the more wooded areas.

Fall is a good time for general maintenance of the land. The ground is not saturated with water as in spring and the heat is no longer oppressive as in summer. So we are clearing brush, dead trees, paths and streams around all the places that we use and regularly visit. We also prepare for the winter this time of year by fixing buildings, fences, gates and outdoor equipment while the weather is still pleasant. We may do a frost seeding to re-generate one of the recently cleared pastures.

June 2004: Rustle of Leaves in the Wind

Purple Locust It is summer, so there is field work, cow tenants, and our sheep herd tends to be at its maximum extent.

The trees we planted years ago are now getting large enough to provide shade and really come into their own. We had planted poplars and pines in a tree line, maples, a cedar, a willow, a purple locust, an oak, and some other less identifiable types. As you can surmise, we have a variety of terrain and soil around the house and barn areas. You can also deduce that we have a lot of space to fill. Of the mature trees that were present when we arrived are favorites are the old walnut that casts its dappled shade, and the mighty oak at the foot of the driveway.

June 20th, 2004

The summer solstice occurred at 00:57 UTC, June 21 (20:57 PM EDT, June 20)

... which was not long after we were subjected to the rustle of little bat wings in the bedroom. We (I) got the rodent back outside, but still don't know how he got in. All hail the Lord Protector who stood fast in the face of a harmless insect-eater whilst everyone else ran away.

May 2004: It's Sprouting Flowers

The lilac bushes are in full purple bloom and the wild apple trees by the side of the road have blossomed, leaving little white petals on the lane. The sheep have been out on pasture for some time now.

March 2004: It's Sprouting Pictures

New images are up in the spring gallery.

January 1st, 2004: Processions of Stars, Time, and Knowledge

The passage of the Earth past its winter solstice point reminds us of how our calendar and timekeeping are derived from the Sun, Moon, and other celestial objects. On a smaller scale, the shorter days affect the animals and their shepherds daily rhythms as they have for millennia.

We have had mild weather and many clear skies recently, yielding excellent opportunities for viewing the vast night sky away from the lights of the city. Mars is currently visible in the evening, with an array of scientific probes converging on it. We live in a wonderful time, where learning is possible and valued. Take some time to look and learn of the universe in which we live.

Year End, 2003

The christmas card image is available as desktop wallpaper. It has been added to the backgrounds page.

Also, new images have been added to the winter gallery.

September 2003: Recurrances.

Fritz Fritz (the too friendly guard-dog) has returned.

The hay regrew sufficiently at the end of summer that we got a small third cut off the fields. This is fortunate since the weather confounded our efforts to get a large amount from our second cut.

We lost power like everyone else on August 14th but have contingency plans. We're used to it, being at the end of the line. We've been losing power several times a year since we bought the farm in 1988.

August 2003: Work With Me.

Take a gander at our lessons learned about dealing with the subjects of the animal kingdom.

The second hay cut is ready and will proceed as the weather allows.

Lots of things are breaking in little, annoying ways. But, we've been able to fix most of them ourselves. It's doing a lot to improve our repair skills.

June 2003: Animal Planet.

We have an arrangement whereby a few beef cattle are allowed graze in our northern bush, which has plenty of forage but we feel is a little too predator friendly to leave sheep in. It has varied terrain, a stream and a pond. It's kind of like summer camp for cows.

One of our neighbours have placed some horses in an adjacent field. Add to this the large number of sheep and spring lambs in the other fields, and we have quite the menagerie visible out our windows.

Speaking of animals, the grey barn cat is about a year old and has decided it should be an assistant to whatever kind of work we do outside. It's nice to have the company of such a friendly cat, but it can be a little inconvenient to have a tail in your face while dangling upside-down deep in the innards of the hay bine.

We spent several hours playing grease monkey, fixing the hydraulics and drive chain on that particular piece of machinery. When asked what we're doing, the answer is: "Cutting hay. Can't you tell?"

April-June 2003: The Adventures of Stargazer.

Occasionally we have to graft a young lamb on to a foster mom. We normally try and trick a ewe into accepting a triplet or orphan just after she has given birth to a single lamb. There is a time limit on this, and some ewes just never fall for it.

So, we ended up with a lamb that had to be bottle-fed. Although cute, we try very hard to avoid this because it's a lot of extra work and a full grown sheep that thinks you're mommy is a hassle.

By all accounts, this lamb shouldn't have survived. It couldn't even work the nipple on the bottle for the first few days and had trouble standing. The lamb's most curious trait was that it couldn't walk a in straight line but would instead rapidly spin with it's head in the air. It could move this way by unbalancing the spin and slowly gyrating in a given direction. Well -- somewhat. This tendency to spin whilst looking up earned it the name "Stargazer".

Eventually Stargazer did learn to walk slowly and in a straight line, but she still spins whenever she gets really excited. Grain will do it every time. She also runs over whenever we walk by and talks to us (such as sheep can).

Shipping sheep isn't too upsetting when they all look the same and are identified only by a number. Shipping a lamb such as Stargazer is another matter altogether. She has a personality and fought just to stay alive in the first few days. We finally found a home for her. She has gone to a house where they keep another sheep or two as pets. Happily ever after.

Spring 2003: Ace Reporter Breaks Story.

A very nice (and warm and fuzzy) article about the farm has been published in the spring edition of the lovely
Watershed Magazine.

Watershed Article

Copies are available in many areas of south-eastern Ontario.

March 2003: Squeaky Birds.

The birds have returned in large numbers and are doing their best to bring the sound of wildlife back to the outdoors. We've seen plenty of robins, various types of sparrows, crows, and a few blue jays. One can't avoid hearing the shrill cries of the killdeers and the persistent honking of migrating geese. Spring has arrived.

January/February 2003: Squeaky Snow.

You know what snow is like when it is really, awfully cold.
The snow squeaks as you walk upon it,
and it's the only sound in the world.
It is the dead of winter.

The shepherd only works in Fahrenheit, so the measurements of note are that it was well below 0'F during the day for much of January and February. That's bad enough. We had some stragglers who hadn't given birth to their lambs in December. This kind of severe weather meant constant supervision on our part to ensure no newborn lambs would succumb to the cold. It's harder than you might think because if you aren't extremely careful about how you warm them up and later acclimatise them to the barn again, they will easily get pneumonia. Happily, they all did just fine.

Next time around we're going to refine our breeding program to make sure all the ewes get breed within the same cycle or two, so that we don't have any stragglers. Of course, that's what we said last time.

December 2002: The Old Well Is Packing It Up.

For many years now the water table in our area has been declining. Considerable pumping and trucking of water out of the area has been a sore point for local residents. Like everyone else around us we've had to drill a new well, because it's now at the point where the 56 foot deep dug well is continually running dry. This is a well that supported a fair sized dairy operation once upon a time.

September 27th, 2002: The Replacement Cats.

Two kittens arrived to reinforce our mouse hunting squad in the barn. The older black-and-white cat (Barn Cat B) is going into semi-retirement. The two new kittens are a black-and-white male (Barn Cat C), and a grey-and-white female (Barn Cat D). Suggestions for more imaginative names are welcome.
Please note that Paws, Fluffy, Blackie and the like are not sufficiently more imaginative.

July 28th, 2002: Lightning Strike.

A bolt of lightning hit a tree about twenty feet off the corner of the house and blasted fragments of bark all over the place. It left a hole in the ground above where the telephone wire runs underground and severed the line. But, not before it ran along the line to the entry box to the house where it charred all the connections and split apart the plastic cover which landed fifteen feet away.

May 2002: The desktop backgrounds are back.

They are scenic pictures from around the farm 1024x768 pixels in size.

Ribbon for America September 11, 2001

August 26th, 2001: Pepper Arrives.

A new dog from a rescue organization.
Pepper is a female australian shepherd, about four years old.

November 2000: Coyote Run Website Goes Online

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Thanks to Alon Cohen for the ribbon art

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All rights reserved.