Losing Yoda

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There’s no easy way to lose an animal. The farm’s ram, Dragonwool Yoda passed away on Thursday and we’re frustrated to say the least. This is our first time losing a sheep to an illness and although we think we know the culprit, it doesn’t make it easier.

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We have always been warned that sheep go down fast. We can attest to that fact now from our own experience. After treating him for what appears to be internal parasites and doing everything recommended, he still died. It was too late when we realized he was thin (he had an amazing fleece and showed no other sickly symptoms other than his body weight which is hard to visually observe under a gorgeous wool coat) and despite our best efforts to give him plenty of calories, supplements, medicine and time to heal, he’s gone.

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I think the hardest lesson for me is feeling like a complete failure and terrible steward and admitting that a sheep died in our care. I know that death is a fact of life. I know that Yoda was a ram and not a person. I know that farming is hard and not for the faint, I’ve written about it over and over on our Urbanna Farm blog and experienced it over and over with different species. The sheep have a special place in my heart. They are special and losing a young, seemingly healthy, very promising ram just stinks. A gal who I’ve come to know and love sold Yoda to the farm and introduced us to the world of Jacob sheep. She’s become like a sister to us and I couldn’t even call her to give her the news. Andy had to do it. She’s been nothing but supportive (the entire farming/sheep community has been) because she knows. Sheep people know. She knows life happens and things don’t always go as planned. She’s been there and she still stands behind the breed and gives the encouragement needed to persevere. We will. Of course we will. Another amazing lady called me today to encourage and remind me of God’s sovereignty in all things. It’s exactly what I needed to hear.

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We didn’t fail. All of the other sheep are healthy. With the exception of one of the ewes lambing early and her lambs not being viable, we are still going strong. The rest of the flock is expected to lamb any day now and we are hoping for a strong healthy crop of lambs. Hopefully they’ll all get the best of what Yoda had to offer. We’ll observe them carefully and the flock as a whole and continue to learn what good shepherding is all about. We strive to be excellent stewards. We want to produce excellent genetics and breed quality animals that need minimal medical intervention. We still want to grow our own socks and we’ll work toward that goal as long as we have the opportunity and knowledge and resources to do so. Dragonwool Yoda taught us some good and hard lessons about life. I’m thankful.

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XO.

3 more ewes

3 more ewes are coming to the farm on Saturday. They are pretty girls from the Canoe Lake flock and are being sold by a neat couple who raises dexter cattle in TN and wanted to have sheep as sort of a novelty addition on their farm. They brought the sheep home and soon realized that their dogs weren’t too pleased with the new sheep or maybe they were too pleased and viewed the sheep as play things, so in everyone’s best interest the sheep were posted for sale. My friend Alena from Dragonwool Acres tagged me in the ad on Facebook and the fun began. We asked Don (the owner of Family Tree Farm) if he’d be interested in adding the sheep to the existing flock, because we sure were interested and when his reply was ‘let’s do it’ I started figuring out acquisition logistics.

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We have never used a livestock hauler before but that looked like our only option because Andy is completely  booked from now to forever in preparation for a new season on the farm which means new babies (animal and human alike), new plantings, more eggs than ever and so so so much more. I get dizzy just thinking about what his daily lists look like much less trying to figure out what he’s got going on any given day, week or month.

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After following leads for 4 different livestock transports and waiting for two other buyers to pick up the sheep, I did not expect them to actually join the flock here. After all, there was a deadline for the sheep to be rehomed and none of the haulers were available for a few weeks and other buyers were surely going to pick them up before us. Then, we arranged for Willie (Don’s son) to meet the sheep just west of Atlanta this Saturday. It’s sort of a middle ground meeting place which is incredibly helpful for us since we can’t make the trip all the way to Cleveland TN during this crazy busy season.

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I am very excited to meet these girls and since I’m finally able to put faces with names of the Jacobs already here, it will be neat to figure out faces, names and personalities and eventually fleeces… These girls will need to be sheared right away too, which is another adventure to deal with. In the meantime, we are waiting for this year’s Jacob lambs to be born and getting the flock’s paperwork in order and preparing for our own sweet baby and painting cabinets (one of these days) and enjoying the craziness that comes with farming and homesteading. As Susan Brant always says, ‘never a dull moment.’

XO.

Inspired by everything good

A brand new Charolais heifer calf was born just a few hours ago. Andy called me because he needed some help opening some gates while he carried the calf to an adjacent pasture that all of the mamas and babies are on with Frank, the bull.

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I haven’t moved our minivan since my dentist appointment on Tuesday. It’s Saturday night. The kids have had colds. I’ve been homebound. It’s good.

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When the boys and I went out to give daddy some assistance, while Buttercup napped, I was gently reminded over and over and over again why I love this lifestyle that we eat, sleep and breathe. It’s the life. The life all around that takes my breath away. It’s the miracle after the tragedy that makes me want to soak it all in.

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The LGDs watching over the 4 horned sheep in the pasture. The chickens running around chasing bugs and scratching up the field. It’s the mama cow with her new calf and the geese on the pond. It’s the heirloom corn taller than my husband’s head and the farm boys learning how to drive at 3 and 5 years old. It’s the seeds in the soil and the sunset in the sky that give me hope and encourage my soul.

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It’s the melted beeswax being poured into candle molds and the homegrown meals that are served at our homemade table. It’s the fresh food and the fresh air and the beauty of life all around. It’s the grace that follows the grave and the life that follows death. It’s the joy that comes after sorrows. We have many sorrows and heartaches. It’s part of life in our broken world. But, there is so much beauty to behold.

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Today I saw a lot of it. Tomorrow is not promised, but these glimpses of our glorious eternity give me great hope. It’s a gift from God and I’m so thankful to Him for all of it and I’m inspired by everything good.

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“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”(James 1:17)

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Proud to be The Farmer’sWife

Our friend Josh took some awesome photos of Andy harvesting honey recently while helping him all day long at the same time. Josh has helped us out quite a bit actually, but the point of this post is really about how I was reminded of just how far we’ve come these last few years after finding this snippet on Josh’s website. (Www.joshgalemore.com)  From a dozen chickens and a couple of beehives and half a dozen meat rabbits and a big ole garden to the care-taking of a big ole hunk of hundreds of acres with a whole lot of blood, sweat, tears, and poop in between. To think it all started with a free subscription to an organic gardening magazine…

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Puppy Love

Our sweet and awesome Great Pyrenees, Remi(ngton) recently had her first litter of puppies. After years of failed attempts at using different dogs as livestock guardians, we are so thankful for ‘the right tool for the right job’ as Bull Frog learned to say from Andy. We’d been given dogs in the past and had some wander onto our farms and they just never made the cut. Unfortunately, we lost our hard earned investments to the paws and jaws of some of those dogs and learned a million hard and painful lessons.

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We were discouraged because our stewardship of dogs was looking bleak and poor and our resolve was quite different than the mainstream’s opinion of keeping pooches on a pedestal. We just couldn’t do it. Dogs either have a place on our homestead where they work and provide protection or they don’t.

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We can’t keep dogs just for the sake of keeping them. They work just like every other animal we have, except for maybe the silkies which are purely entertainment. Silkie’s eggs are fine, but their meat is a bit too ‘gamey’ so they are strictly for fun, but they 100% free range and we put zero effort into keeping them alive, so they stay. Dogs on the other hand need regular maintenance, care and upkeep and finally, after years of failure in the canine department (ever tried using a golden retriever as a guard dog?) we have arrived!

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My first introduction to Great Pyrenees came when I had the awesome privilege of taking care of the sweetest heart with cerebral palsy. He had this big beautiful Great Pyrenees named Tosca who you just didn’t want to mess with. She was bonded to her boy and his mom like you wouldn’t believe. Tosca has now passed the baton to George since she’s gone to the grave, but meeting her and knowing her loyalty to her bond made a lasting impression.

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I loved her loyalty, confidence, gorgeous double coat and size. I loved that when she knew you were ‘approved’ by her master then she’d let her guard down a bit and I loved that my sweet charge had this beautiful guard dog by his side and now another one.

Fast forward a few years and Andy and I are married and farming. When you’re immersed into a culture, whatever it be (church, skateboarding, rock climbing, sustainable farming, other countries, etc) you learn the ways of the culture and the how tos and what nots. When we started farming, we dove in headfirst and with everything we had. We tried everything and then some, we read books, networked, watched videos, went to conferences, you name it. With that, came the big names of farm/ranch dogs and livestock guardian dogs: Anatolian Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, Blue Heelers, etc.

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We’d done lots of research and knew we needed a breed to protect our flocks and herds. We had donkeys (and still do) for the larger animals (milk cow and now beef cows), but we needed something protecting the sheep, the chickens and even the goats (although Andy would just as soon use goats as coyote bait-not truly but he and the goats butt heads-truly).

We needed a dog that would keep the other animals safe from predators like hawks, foxes, stray dogs, coyotes and we needed a dog that would be a well rounded asset and able to be versatile on the farm/homestead. Enter the Great Pyrenees.

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Y’all this story is getting long and I’m not sure where to cut it off or how much detail to go into, but I am just ecstatic about these dogs. I’m especially ecstatic because Family Tree Farm has 2 Great Pyrenees that we found last year from two breeders in North GA and we were recently given another one, who has helped train the other 2 and brought a ton of balance to the place. Remi hadn’t even worked a farm full-time when we got her! She is just that awesome!

We picked up Remi from Rockin H farm near Athens and you’d think she’d been born here when in fact, we are third (and final!) home! After all of our tried and failed attempts of assimilating other dogs to become livestock guardians and not chicken killers, we have finally succeeded! Finally!!!

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Our goals of breeding a line of dogs that will benefit the small homestead needing a dog to lookout for a variety of animals to the family wanting a dog to lookout for their children to the large farming operation needing a dog to protect their hundreds of pastured chickens or sheep or goats is coming to fruition. With the help of a strong, healthy sire and Remi’s field partner and Remi’s awesome genetics and temperament, we have our first litter of what we hope to be a long line of fantastic farm dogs: welcome to the world little pups! We are so glad you’re here!

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It felt like yesterday

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She’s one! An entire year has gone by since we welcomed our sweet Buttercup into the world. It seems like only last week that I was pacing the farm anticipating her birth, wondering when she’d arrive and what she’d be like. 9 months of praying constantly for her safe and healthy arrival and years of research after our first born arrived via unexpected c-section and our second arrived as a repeat c-section, because our dr no longer offered VBACs and I’d been diagnosed with cephalopelvic disproportion after a strenuous labor and failure to progress the first time.

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I never shared my ‘birth stories’ before, because the bottom line was that we had 2 (now 3) healthy, amazing children. Regardless of how they were born or the years I struggled with shame and guilt of not feeling like a ‘real woman’ because the natural birth that we’d planned at a local birthing center ended up as a hospital transfer and life-saving cesarean section that completely rocked our world and made us thankful for modern medicine, because Andy could have lost his family that day, I just couldn’t bring myself to write about it all.

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I’d read so many birth stories and I know women who have had every birth experience under the sun. I know women who have lost their children during labor and delivery-Women whose children never took their first breath. I know women who would give the world to be able to carry a child in their womb regardless of how that child is delivered. I know doulas and ICAN advocates and labor and delivery nurses and anesthesiologists. I know women who have had home births and water births and csections and vbacs and vba2cs and the list goes on…

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I thought csections were unnecessary interventions-until I needed one to deliver my son. I thought epidurals were evil and dangerous, until I needed one. I thought I could give birth painlessly (even though I know it’s part of the fall for women to have pain in childbirth!), because of a book someone gave me and hearing of a first hand experience of painless childbirth, but that wasn’t my case. I thought doulas were some sort of waste-of-money-witch-doctors until we had one and she helped us get through our ‘trial of labor’ as we attempted a vba2c with our 3rd child!

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We had some healthy and not so healthy criticism and a lot of skeptics for attempting a VBA2C. We knew the hospital would be the safest place for us to deliver, because of the response time in the event of a complication and we had an incredibly competent staff of doctors and nurses and residents working around the clock during the entire pregnancy, labor and delivery for which we are forever thankful. I remember so many of their names and faces and am so thankful for their hardwork and encouragement as we worked hard to bring our daughter into the world.

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I can’t say that I was fully confident or optimistic or hopeful for a ‘successful’ vba2c.  We struggled big time with knowing that we were doing the best thing for our family. It may seem contrary to some but, when it came down to it and our sweet baby arrived 10 days after her estimated due date, larger than both of the boys had been and without a c-section involved we knew that we’d been carried through. Despite the doubts and fears and struggles and unsolicited advice from loved ones and strangers, God carried us, protected us and provided for us and had mercy and grace enough to give us a safe, healthy delivery of a beautiful baby girl. Her name means ‘Pure, Bright and Bringer of Light’ and it’s my hope that she will live up to it all of her days.