Snow finally blew into central Ohio last Sunday, with winds of 45-50 mph. Proof of the velocity was the toppled heavy information sign outside the big greenhouse at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road. It landed on a metal support, and no damage was done to the new paneling.
The warm weather has been good for farmers and livestock. It has allowed a much longer grazing period, saving the winter hay. Once the snow arrived, all the livestock headed for the barn and stayed there. Even the hens would not leave their house. Farmer Jeff had to put their feed inside and their water just outside, to avoid wetting the straw-covered floor. If the feed and water had been outside, the hens would have flown, rather than walked, over the snow to reach them.
It is too bad the hen that persisted in climbing up the wooden cross-braces supporting the wire fence, and escaping into the children’s garden, did not stay inside. You would think she would have learned her lesson after Farmer Jeff rescued her from the talons of a cooper hawk, otherwise known as a chicken hawk. But no, out she went again when no one was around and the only evidence left was a lot of white feathers.
We continue to keep the speckled Sussex rooster and a few hens on one side of the pen, and two roosters and the rest of the hens on the other. The Sussex came off very badly with the roosters when introduced in late fall; fortunately his eye has completely healed. We want to keep him to breed with our Sussex hens next spring, and incubate their eggs. He was somewhat rough recently with one of the light-weight Leghorns; she retaliated and stood her ground until he backed off, which is usually never the outcome.
We are about a month away from keeping the ewes penned together ready for lambing. One week before they begin, their feed will be increased — a practice called flushing, to ensure they are in good shape to produce sufficient milk. Hopefully, some ewes will oblige and lamb on the last two Saturdays in February or the first in March. On those days we offer an opportunity for folks to come out, view our sugaring operation and tour the barn.
After it was cleaned out, the three hogs have respected their bedding area, rather than using it as a bathroom! Hogs are one farm animal that will not usually dirty their own bedding in this way. The biggest hog will go to the processor at the end of February, then one in March and the other in April. The latter two will both gain more weight when the competition is gone!
The deer are finding spelt under the snow in fields 1 and 5. Rather than hinder its growth, it causes the spelt to send out more shoots, a process called tillering, resulting in more seed production. Eight deer were spotted pawing the snow in Farmer Jeff’s garden, and eating the winter rye cover. It would be preferable to leave it intact, ready to turn under in the spring.
Thanks to the warm weather and volunteers, we are more on top of things at Stratford than we have ever been. The machinery is a good example, as we have replaced the tines on the cultivator. Another, the increased thickness added to the wooden runners on the portable, wooden shade-providing structure built originally by an Eagle Scout. This effort should help prevent damage to the walls and roof as it is moved around. It is so much easier to work on prevention than putting out fires.
The 2016 calendar is almost completed. Maple sugar guide training is on Feb. 10, between 10 a.m. and 1 pm. Sign-up is available online. The maple sugar tours are scheduled for Saturdays, Feb. 20 and 27, with the maple sugar breakfast on Saturday, March 5. Volunteers to help at the breakfast are more than welcome.
The photography club holds its first meeting of the year on Thursday, Feb. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. The combined classroom and fieldwork program, “How to capture the perfect shot,” will be led by two experienced naturalist photographers. The cost is $10, and you do need to register, but you can pay at the door.
The herb group continues to flourish, and meets the second Tuesday of the month at 1 p.m. One of the presentations on Feb. 9 will be “Herbs for Arthritis.” With myriad options at Stratford, we hope you will take advantage, and come out and experience many of them.