Skunk Cabbage

Forget your daffodils and tulips!  The real harbinger of spring in these parts?  Skunk cabbage.

The rhizomes (horizontal underground stems) that anchor this plant can live thousands of years, according to botanists, and no matter where you find eastern skunk cabbage (from Canada all the way to Georgia) the species is the same—meaning it hasn’t adapted to different zones. All it requires are damp/boggy areas which remain wet year-round.

The name comes from the slight odor it gives off that serves as an attractor for pollinators.

Skunk cabbage is also unique in that it sweats. Its “job” is to drink in the water where it’s anchored and expel the moisture into the air. It can do this successfully in the early spring because leaves haven’t fully developed on trees to shade the plants and they can drink in the sunlight as well. However, by mid-summer, the skunk cabbage has become a slimy mess, shaded by full foliage of the woodland areas.

Calcium oxylate crystals in the leaves help to create a heat in the dead of winter which allows the plant to begin its trek up through the frozen surface. It is NOT an edible plant; parts are toxic.

Skunk cabbage has been around for thousands of years—a native wetlands plant. It intrigues everyone from the weekend hiker to the learned botanist. Me?  I just like to be reminded spring is right around the corner.

Comments Off on Skunk Cabbage

Oley Valley Organics – Keeping a Healthy Farm

The day I visited Barb Dietrich at Oley Valley Organics a few weeks ago, it was still pretty chilly. That was probably a good thing because had I waited to schedule our little chat, chances are she’d be knee-high in asparagus weeding, harvesting, or both, right now!

To maintain a certified organic farm takes dedication, to say the least.

We know, here at our place, the level of work involved to combat weeds without the use of chemicals.

Yet to be a certified organic farm goes beyond that. It means you’re pledging your practices for the safe maintenance of the environment that surrounds you. And maybe, like the Dietrichs, you’ve also taken extra steps toward recovering an area (be sure to watch our webisode about Oley Valley Organics to see what I mean by “recovery”).

Finalizing the paperwork for our farm purchase in 2004 meant sitting in the realtor’s office with the former owners as we exchanged signatures. I remember a particularly somber moment for them when the place officially became “ours.”

There was a pause…and then I believe I thanked the former owner…he looked up, smiled, and said:  “I believe we never truly ‘own’ a place…we’re merely the keepers for a while”.

Here’s to all of those who “keep” healthy farms.

Comments Off on Oley Valley Organics – Keeping a Healthy Farm

About the Milkman

Daryl Mast’s Doorstep Dairy is another fine example of folks getting back to their roots. In just a short time, he’s managed to develop a loyal following of satisfied customers.

Doorstep Dairy supplies a variety of goods that all originate from within a 10-mile radius of Daryl’s home. Daryl then gets those fresh, local products to customers for a nominal delivery fee….and more customers are signing up daily.

Chocolate milk bottle -- minus the milk

Oh, and then there’s the milk. The delicious milk. In glass bottles.

Daryl sent me home with a quart of chocolate milk the day of our video shoot. I had planned to take a photo of it for this blog entry—but it was gone by the time I pulled into the driveway.

Life moves fast. Maybe we’ve reached a point where we desire the nostalgia, heritage, and quality of a time that moved at a different pace. Bringing back the milkman is certainly a step in that direction and I couldn’t be happier!

Comments Off on About the Milkman

Tail Docking

Okay, here goes.

There are two schools of thought on tail docking or removing the tail of a lamb. School # 1 says it’s not humane. I am not of this school. So, let’s move on to School # 2.

Tail with band applied

A Navajo-Churro lamb tail is very long at birth. If left alone, the tail as well as the wool in that area would collect poop. In warmer months, flies would swarm at the back-end of the animal and lay eggs. Maggots would, first, eat at the poop and then at the sheep. ‘Nuff said regarding “Flystrike.”

Elastrator and bands in jar of alcohol

So how to remove a tail as painlessly as possible? Two schools again. I’ll let you guess what School # 1 is so let’s move on to School # 2: the Elastrator or “band.”

It has taken me four years of lambing and, thus, banding to reach my conclusion that banding must be done on day two.

I believe the day a lamb is born is a critical day of bonding and allowing the lamb to get necessary colostrum from mom is very important—not to mention “finding its feet.”

Day Two, the lamb has filled out physically and by Day Three of life, I believe the tail has become thicker and, possibly, more sensitive.

Once, I unknowlingly waited for days before banding a pair and watched in horror as they both flopped around in pain. I cried, standing there helplessly, thinking I’d surely killed them both. They recovered; I never forgot. Therefore, I band on the second day of life and haven’t experienced another incident like that.

Elastrator and band

The banding tool stretches a thick green rubber band that allows one to travel up the tail, position, then release the band. I prefer to leave at least 1-1/2 inches of the tail and not go any higher than the two gentle folds of skin which are on the underside of the tail.

Believe me, the lamb realizes what has just occurred. However, the reaction I generally witness, if done at the “right” time, is a flurry of their tails as if trying to shake the band off (it usually falls off in one to three weeks). Almost 99 percent of the time, they go straight to mom’s udder and have a drink. Probably not a bad idea.

Comments Off on Tail Docking

“Rejection” Update

Tate and his sister

It’s been ten days since our littlest guy began his bottle feedings. In the beginning, I had to lift him to a standing position so that he’d feed (as if he was nursing from mom) and when finished, he’d find his spot, curl up, and  lie down again. I’ll admit: I had my doubts he’d make it.

Tate has since graduated from drinking a half cup of replacer at each feeding to almost a full cup. He’s still relatively small in stature compared to the other lambs his age and his actions are a bit tentative. However, his feedings in the morning are quite aggressive—a good sign that his strength is building (slowly, but increasing).

We have been careful to watch momma Brownie as well. It’s still a mystery as to why she rejected him in the first place. Our good friend and fellow Churro breeder, Linda Cummings, suggested we keep Brownie under close supervision because apparently these situations have been known to become violent. In this case, I suppose it’s a good thing Brownie wants nothing to do with Tate.

Oh, don’t worry though–he’s getting plenty of love and attention from us and from his sister. Churro siblings seem to instantly bond. She is as playful and as loving as she can be. In a week to ten days, everyone will be out on pasture and in one, big, happy flock so he’ll have lots of support from the other 16 newbies!

1 Comment


Brownie (named for her caramel color) is one of our most affectionate, sweet, and lovable ewes. She had a single lamb last year—a little brown girl, Friday. She twinned this year: the first, a little brown girl and the second a little white boy.

One of the first signs you look for in newborns, once they’re on their feet (which is normally minutes after being cleaned by their moms) is whether they’ve latched on to mom’s udder. The first pulls provide the colostrum from momma which is essential to getting baby off to a healthy start. Imagine our surprise when Brownie would not let either baby latch on, especially the little white ram-lamb. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to watch a wobbly little newborn attempt to bond and the mom keeps inching away or turning from the baby.

Some say rejection can be rooted in the baby’s color. I don’t know if it was the case here but I’m suspecting it might play a part in her rejecting the little white ram-lamb. Brownie nuzzles him and will answer him…sometimes (other moms will call out immediately to newborns) but her attitude just seems different with the little brown girl.

Yesterday, we brought him in the house. He appeared so weak and thin and cold all of a sudden; it’s amazing how quickly they can slide downhill.

We placed him in a towel, under a heating blanket on “high” and held him for hours while giving him Purina’s “Kid Milk Replacer” with a syringe. It is a powder formula you mix with hot water– specifically for livestock babies.

After five hours inside, offering replacer and warm water, he appeared a little more energetic so we took him back out to momma’s stall. She seemed genuinely happy to see him. Nevertheless, we’ll keep a watchful eye on him, keep the replacer coming at prescribed intervals (he drank a full “dose” this morning!) and, of course, bring him to cuddle on the couch….often.

1 Comment

How close is the lambing???

Our first lambing season was incredibly exciting because we had absolutely no clue what to look for in a ewe that was close to delivering. The entire family constantly ran to the barn for “ewe-checks” to see if a lamb had just dropped out.

Linda Cummings (Shepherd’s Loft Farm) had given us a few pointers—physical traits to be on the look-out for—still, at four months, I was convinced Reese was ready to deliver at any minute (sheep gestation is five months).

Here are some photos taken this morning with some ewes drawing closer to their due dates. As I’ve said before, the Churro tend toward multiple births and it’s rather easy to tell who will “twin” at this point. This late in the game, the babies are putting on most of their weight which really makes the ewe’s belly protrude.

Reese - "Rounding-up"

On Reese, you can see how she’s “rounding-up” on the sides. Late in the gestation period, the lambs appear to move forward from mom’s back hips and make a mound on each side of the ewe.

In this next picture Pixie, a first-time mom this year, is carrying twins (99 percent sure).

Pixie "hollows"

Notice the area along her spine seems to have “hollowed out”?  That’s another trait to look for signifying the late stages of pregnancy. My camera was flash-happy and evened out the shadows or the “hollows” would have been easier to see.


One sure-fire way to tell that lambing is just days away is the ewe’s udder. In preparation for the lamb’s arrival, the ewe will “bag-up.”  Her udder will begin to fill with milk and the physical change in the udder is undeniable.

This will be our fifth lambing season and, although we now have a few years experience, it is still an incredibly exciting event.

Between you and me?  You can mark on your calendar exactly five months from when the ewes and the ram were together…and you’ll be able to predict arrivals within days. Still, it would take the fun out of running out to the barn every few hours during that last month to see if a lamb has “dropped.”

Comments Off on How close is the lambing???


Reese - The Matriarch

I laughed out loud when I took this picture.

I was so careful to line up behind Reese. I wanted that perfectly square-on shot from her back end to show her growing abdomen (her lambing is just weeks away). Normally, she doesn’t let anyone stand behind her for too long. She is the matriarch, after all, and is usually front and center with everything and everyone.

The reason I wanted the picture in the first place, was to show her symmetrical, expanding abdomen.

Rosie - A Riveting Image

With only two weeks left until the start of lambing, the ewes that appear to be carrying twins are shaping up nicely — almost as if they have saddle bags hung neatly on each of their sides.

Early in the gestation, I jump to all sorts of conclusions based on the way they are “presenting.” One year, I was convinced Reese was only carrying one lamb (she has always twinned). She was carrying so low, and her sides just didn’t seem to protrude like they did in years past. When she went into labor, we watched in amazement and delight as she gave birth to triplets!

This year’s shaping up to be just as exciting….stay tuned!


Egg Anatomy Q&A

In the local elementary school, fourth grade students hatch chicks as part of the science curriculum—learning about the daily development of a chicken egg along with way. Egg customers of ours will occasionally ask about eggs so I thought I’d include a few of the answers to the frequently asked questions (I stay refreshed because both my children have hatched chicks in class in recent years—plus, I can always ask them!)

Are all eggs fertilized?
Nope. Only if a rooster has been in the “company” of a hen. Usually, one rooster can “service” approximately ten or so hens. Roosters are necessary only if you wish to hatch chicks (of course, they’re also beautiful to have around).

You mean a hen will lay an egg that’s unfertilized?
Yep. In fact, that’s how it happens in, I’d say, most of the commercial egg “battery cages.” See our egg in the dish on the left?  Note the blastoderm. That’s the little concentric circle in the yolk. It’s indicative of a fertilized egg. The egg on the right is one I purchased from the grocery store (hadn’t done that in years).

Why are the yolks from your chickens so orange-ish?
We feed our chickens “feed corn” purchased from a local farmer and supplement with “layer” feed. They are free-rangers (given access to come and go as they please) and are outdoors from sun-up to sunset. I say:  orange-yellow yolk equals happy hen.

What are the white squiggly things attached to the yolks?
The chalazae are on either side of the yolk, stretched tightly, to anchor the yolk to the shell. They recoil against the yolk and “squiggle” when the shell is broken. There is no harm in eating the chalazae.

Are brown eggs better for you?
Unfortunately, I just read that some white shells are dyed brown (news to me?!) because consumers believe the brown shell means a healthier egg. I can’t find any evidence to support this. I will tell you a chicken with white lobes (they look like earlobes—if chickens had ears) will lay white eggs and a chicken with red lobes will lay brown eggs. There are a few exceptions to this. The most noteworthy is the green-blue egg laying Auracana (but that’s another blog post, altogether).


According to Storey’s Guide To Raising Chickens, “sperm of a fertilized egg contributes an insignificant amount of nutrients to a fertilized egg” and “shell color has nothing to do with an egg’s nutritional content.”

Comments Off on Egg Anatomy Q&A



Colette was to be one of our “new moms” (everyone is due in a couple of weeks). She was bred for the first time last October when we brought “Blue,” the ram, to our farm.

With Colette, we knew we’d have a special delivery, or deliveries (Churro tend to have multiples). She’s a big girl and has great Churro conformation. Not only that, but her temperament is so very sweet. So, like I said, we knew she was going to “throw” special babies. I was certain.

About 10 days ago, David came in from the barn and said one of the ewes had given birth during the night. I knew instantly the lamb couldn’t have lived. None of the ewes were at full-term (5 months).

After checking all the ewes in Colette’s stall, we found evidence it was Colette who had miscarried. I was headed to New York that day for a shoot and left, heartbroken.

She seemed to be acting fine. She was eating. There was no additional discharge. We all just figured Nature had run its course and, for whatever reason, the odds were against that little ram-lamb.

I was shocked to learn (once again, on another shoot a week later in NY) that Colette was in labor again. It hadn’t even dawned on any of us she could still be carrying another lamb!

Unfortunately, she needed assistance to deliver; this lamb was, also, stillborn. David ended up calling the vet at midnight and I was so glad he did. Dr. Dickerson helped deliver a sour afterbirth and administered antibiotics to clear any infection.

Colette - on the mend

After 5 years of lambing, this is our first experience with a miscarriage. It’s a very sad occurrence but, thankfully, Colette seems better now and hopefully, she’ll have a better go of it next year. She’ll be a wonderful mom with beautiful babies; it’ll be worth the wait.

1 Comment

« Previous PageNext Page »