Our First Guest Blogger

As Melissa (aka The Farmer) recovers from surgery with her nose pressed against the front door, longingly gazing toward the barns and animals and work, and as I am outside slaving away (oops, I mean cheerfully tending the flock), I decided making her my guest blogger would be a good idea.

She didn’t agree. It took my considerable persuasive skills, and a list of questions to give her direction, before she warmed to the idea. So below is a Q&A. If you have any questions for our guest blogger, don’t be shy.

Here’s your chance to ask about the reproductive cycle of sheep, why chickens have belly buttons, and what it’s like to live with a very reasonable, patient, totally laid back, non-anxiety-prone writer!

Okay, Melissa, what’s your favorite part of farming?

The animals…and the machinery…and the open space. Do I have to pick one?

Least favorite?

Mucking out manure… although I don’t really hate it; I like to keep the animals’ bedding clean and healthy.

Funny things that have happened to you?

The time I tried moving the flock up a short, wide, fenced area so I could de-worm them. I stood in the middle of the flock, and some sheep decided to run one way, and the rest of them ran the opposite way. Wool is a lot like Velcro– my pants stuck to the sheep as they ran by me (in different directions). The flock spun me around until I finally was able to fall to the ground. They didn’t step on me, they just ran around me. Catherine was at the house and saw me disappear into the ocean of sheep! By the time she got out to me, I was up again and laughing.

Is there anything you wished people knew or understood about farming?

They should read your book, “The Compassionate Carnivore”. That will help people understand small farmers. [Thanks for the plug, dear.]

About sheep?

Y’know, sheep have always had a bad reputation. People think they’re just dumb, but in raising sheep for 12 years, I’ve observed them at length. Sheep can’t bite you (no upper teeth in front) and they can’t fight back if attacked. Sheep are ever vigilant because they are prey animals. Their only means of defense is to stay in the flock or run like hell. Here I need to add that a ram, the male sheep, is like a miniature bull. A ram is unpredictable and can “ram” into you. That’s how they play (and fight) with each other. So a ram can defend himself to a point.

Sheep have personalities, like cattle and goats. Some are more docile than others, some can’t get far enough away from the shepherdess! Some are determined to go where you don’t want them to go! (We call this a “mutiny.”)

I think I may be starting to ramble… I’m known for making a short story long.

How do you feel about Catherine being in charge of the animals for 2 weeks? Does it make you a little nervous?

Just a little apprehensive… she doesn’t see all the little things that constantly need fixing/ improving. I know she’ll do a good job, and the animals will still be here, safe and sound, when my two week grounding is over. I miss them already!

If you weren’t farming, what would you be doing?

Probably working with agriculture in some capacity. Or maybe repairing electronic equipment.

Which do you like better, poultry or sheep or cows?

I like them all! I’ve thought about “thinning the herd” and only having one or two species on the place. I can’t decide which group of animals to part with. I love them all. Each is fascinating in a different way.

Favorite songs?

I can’t narrow it down. I grew up in the late ’60s and early ”70s. I like the older Beatles music, Cat Stevens, Shawn Phillips, Melissa Etheridge… Not “hard” music. Lighter, happier stuff.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading 2 books right now. One is titled “Dewey”. It’s about a stray kitten who was allowed to live in the library in Spencer, IA. The other book is “Coping With Your Difficult Older Parent”. (Guess who’s got a difficult older parent?)

Favorite movies?

Harold and Maude, The Sound of Music, Grosse Pointe Blank, Mumford, Willow, The Princess Bride. That’s all I can think of right now.

Once you’re done healing, what’s the first thing you’ll do when Catherine releases you from house arrest?

Run outside and greet all the animals! Then look for things to fix.

21 thoughts on “

  1. What a treat to find a new post this morning! Welcome, Melissa! I hope you get addicted to this blogging thing . . . but I know how the farm is your first (no, wait, SECOND!) love. 😉

    So, question #1: What will you do if you have your hopes up too high that you will be able to “hit it” at the precise calendar turn of two weeks (but your body doesn’t quite agree)? (Of course, I ask out of been there / done that!)

    Question #2: Do you ever find yourself resentful that Catherine is the one “out and about” and seeing people while you’re “stuck slaving away at the farm”? Even tho our homestead is MY love, and I am “the farmer” around here, I do – occasionally – feel resentful when my husband is out and about and runs into friends . . . which turns into a nice visit . . . while I’m an hour out of town mucking out chicken sh*t.

    I know I’ll come up with more questions . . . thanks for letting us ask them!

    🙂 Chicken Mama

  2. Long-time-lurker-dreams-of-being-an-alpaca/sheep-farmer here, welcome, Melissa. I hope your recovery time flies by. Seriously, chickens have belly buttons?!

  3. Wow, two posts within three days! I’d hate to think Melissa would have to have surgery over and over again for these frequent postings to become normal!

    I have a question for you, Melissa. How did you first become seriously interested in becoming a farmer?

    Loads of good wishes for speedy healing!

  4. Melissa here. Chicken Mama,
    #1: In that case, I’ll be grumpy. I’ll also remember that many people have told me that it may take up to a year to feel myself again. I’ll do what I can (maybe slowly) and ask friends for help more often.

    #2: I don’t feel resentful when Catherine is off the farm seeing people– I might feel resentment if I have to leave the farm, too!
    I’m very happy puttering around here, feeding or just visiting with the animals, and repairing whatever needs it.

  5. Karen,
    Yes! Chickens have belly- buttons! It’s where the yolk of the egg attaches to the chick’s stomach. Just before it hatches, the remaining yolk gets pulled into the belly, and a little scar forms to close it up. Thus, the belly- button.

    Thanks for your good wishes!

  6. Mama Pea,
    Ha ha! No, I don’t think I’ll be having repeated surgeries.

    I became interested in being a farmer when, as a kid, we’d visit my grandmother’s farm in IL. Later, I went to the College of Agriculture at the St Paul Campus of the Univ. of MN.

    I worked for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly SCS), where I met and worked with many, many farmers. After awhile, I decided to BE a farmer, and, with no small amount of help from Catherine, I did it.

    No regrets, except on mornings when it’s -40.

  7. Hello Melissa, Welcome to blogger world! Questions about sheep, are they nearly as aggressive with each other as goats? Do they have a herd queen, too? I know most herd animals have a ranking system of sorts, but the goats seem rougher on each other than even the cattle. Are the rams more aggresive to people than bucks? I’ve heard things from various sources about pretty mean rams, just wondered if those were the exceptions or the rule. My bucks are pretty easy to handle, although I’m always cautious. Do rams have any of the not-so-pleasant habits like a buck? Do they get musky? Wag their tongues? (I find that hysterical!!) I could go on, but I’ll stop for now. Hope your recovery is quick… maybe Catherine will let you at least go out to visit the critters if you promise not to do anything but observe and say “hello” to them. I know that I would miss checking on mine!!

  8. Melissa & Catherine–

    Greetings from Maine, where this morning’s fun involves a crowbar, an ax, a frozen 100-gallen water trough, and the new de-icing unit that needs to be installed, somehow, under all that ice.

    I work on another two-woman farm and we fought (nicely) over the copy of “Hit By a Farm” that we got each other last Christmas. Good thing my sweetie is busy with her Off-Farm Job (running a food bank) so she doesn’t read blogs… she won’t guess that I’m planning on “Compassionate Carnivore” for this year’s official “cool farm book” gift!

    Just wanted to say thanks for all you’ve both done–all the hard work, thoughtful farming, and good storytelling–to keep up the courage and build the confidence of other farmers. Take good care of yourselves, ’cause we all need you around for a good long time!

  9. OK – 1 or 2 species…. assuming you and Cath are 1, then you’d have to choose among the dogs, the cat(s), chickens, peafowl, pheasants, ducks passenger pigeons, cattle, sheep….let’s see who am I leaving out….bees! Perish the thought!

  10. Wishing you a speedy recovery! Two questions:

    1) I about wet myself laughing so hard at all the stories Catherine tells. Is it as funny when it’s your life? Do you ever think, “Oh, no, this is going to end up in another book?” 😉

    2) Will you drop in again for a guest post or two? Pretty, pretty please?

  11. Carol B,

    Catherine here, typing for our guest blogger because she’s finding it painful to sit at the computer. So she’s resting and dictating to me. Melissa says…

    Sheep aren’t as aggressive as goats, and we’ve never really observed a queen, although now and then two ladies will haul off and butt heads.

    Our rams don’t wag their tongues, but they curl their lips. A ram has olfactory nerves on the roof of his mouth, so curling the lip allows him to suck ewe scents past those nerves,..this way the ram will know just who’s ready for action, and who’s not!

    And I miss my animals terribly. Everything’s wrong ’cause I can’t see my animals… Catherine came in this morning and delivered the news that the animals were all dead. She had to peel me off the ceiling, then confessed she was joking. ha ha !

  12. Lynanne,

    Melissa says: Some things are funny right away…some things need quite a bit of time to seem funny!

    And yeah, I do think about what might end up in Catherine’s next book. She has this sweatshirt that says “Careful, Or You’ll End up in My Novel.”

  13. MaineCelt,

    Catherine here (for real, not just channeling Melissa.)

    Hope you got that de-icer installed. Days like that make you wonder why you’re farming above the Equator!

    Thanks for the words of encouragement. I need them as I slog…I mean joyously move through these days as Head Farmer. I’m spending about 3 hours outside every day. It’s about 20 above during the day, so it’s not too bad yet. Here’s hoping your weather improves so you can get that water thawed!

  14. This is wonderful! Thanks for being a guest Melissa! Hope you are feeling better. I have a question or two. How do you keep the sheep from eating too much? Is it possible to have fat sheep? Is it bad to breed fat sheep????

  15. LostInColor, Are you talking about your own sheep, or sheep in general? If the sheep are eating too much, feed them less, and don’t allow them access to more than they need.
    It’s a bad idea to breed a fat sheep. She may not conceive, she may abort along the way, or she may be too fat to give birth naturally, and she’ll need a C-section.

  16. Thanks for the answers. These are not my sheep, they are my friends and I am concerned. They are pasture fed, so it isn’t like he is feeding them too much. I think they’ve just been eating too much. Maybe too long on pasture. Thanks again.

  17. LostInColor-
    We find that if a ewe goes through a year (or a summer) without lambs, she’ll get noticeably fatter than the ladies who’ve been feeding lambs that whole time. A “freeloading” ewe can get too fat on pasture! Putting a fat ewe on poorer pasture, or bringing her to the barn and feeding her lesser quality hay for awhile will bring her weight down. If she’s got a full coat of wool, she may just look fat. Also, as ewes get older, they loose their youthful look, and a sagging belly can be mistaken for extra weight. (Can I get an “Amen” from the other readers?)

  18. Hi, I just want to thank you for your book “…Saved By A Farm.” which I have just reread for ,oh, maybe the third time.Watching my 24 year career at G.M. disolve around me, I realize my 70 acre sheep,hay,carriage driving horse farm needs to be a “…Real Farm That May Make Some Money…”(if I want to keep it, anyway).Thanks for the inspiration, Sue @ Glenwillow Farm.

  19. jumbocalves—- So sorry about your job woes. Damn, but it’s hitting everyone. Good thing you have your animals to fall back on. Charge people just to come and look at the animals!… Okay, probably not… but you’ll figure something out.

    Good luck!


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