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Day to day, week to week life at Blue Rooster.
Posted 4/23/2009 10:13am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.


This morning after the girls got on the bus I went out to the barn to feed our bottle lamb and push hay forward for the heifers and rams.  I recognized the sound of cow in labor almost immediately.  As though they are trying to coax out their calf, they begin to give a low and gentle moo as they pace around looking for a place to lie down.   Thankfully Roy decided to take the day off work to recover from the flu.    We separated the heifer into a larger, cleaner pen and then left her alone.  After an hour Roy went to check on her and she hadn’t made any progress.   So like most of the farmers in our valley who are having trouble with a cow, he called Charles and asked him to bring his calf puller just in case.   When Charles arrived twenty minutes later the calf’s head was out and its tongue was beginning to swell, which is an indication that it needed to be pulled immediately.  The heifer was lying down at the time and Charles was able to get the chains of the calf - puller around it's legs and pull calf onto the dust and straw covered barn floor as the heifer stood up.  By the time I arrived on the scene, the heifer was gently licking the calf’s navel, instinctively cleaning the part of her calf that is most susceptible to infection.  So now we watch and wait for it to get up and drink.  A difficult birth can impact the first hours of its life.  It looks promising though since by the time I came back to the house it was lifting its head and beginning to kick its legs. 

I’ve written many times of the invaluable help we get from our neighbors, especially Charles and Tammy, who milk cows on the same dairy farm where Charles was born.  They are generous with their skills, knowledge, and humorous stories.  While we watched the young cow attending to her newborn, Charles told us about his previous day’s adventure learning the skill of artificial insemination.   It is hard not to have some misadventures when one hand is holding up the tail of a cow while the other is inserted in a cow’s vagina up to your shoulder, but few people retell that particular quest with the same self-deprecating humor as Charles.  Can’t ask for a better way to spend a rainy morning than in dry barn with the mothering sounds of cow and calf, laughing at the stories told by a good friend and neighbor.


Posted 3/19/2009 10:30am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Yesterday even our most trivial conversations were somehow related to the arrival of spring. The girls tore off their tights after school and came dashing outside barelegged protesting that they were nature princesses and therefore did not need socks when I reminded them that, officially, it was still winter, and yes, they needed socks and shoes.

Roy took the day off work to clean out the barn in Blacklog Valley where our cows and heifers spent the winter.  Today the heifers, (young females cows who will have their first calf this spring) will be brought home so that we can keep a close eye on them during their first calving.   He uses a skid steer to take out the manure that has piled up over the winter.  After being turned over a couple times to rot down and compost, the manure will be spread on the pastures to feed the soil and increase productivity.  While negotiating around the support poles in the bottom of the old bank barn, he misjudged and brushed the tire of skid steer on the corner of a concrete support.  The tire was punctured and he was forced to take a three-hour break to take the tire off and get it repaired before returning to the work.

I spent my day in the sun cleaning flowerbeds, digging up more lawn for another rock / flower / vegetable garden, and planting some spinach and lettuce in the one bed that is ready to plant.   Since we’ve moved here it has been a goal of ours to decrease the amount of lawn to mow.  As much as I like digging in the dirt and trying to create natural-looking beds that provide food for birds, bees, butterflies, and us, there is a time in every day when I like to sit and look around or read or watch a good movie.  Since I prefer to not have to work all the time, I’ve decided that beds “going native” are really beautiful and I am now convinced of it.   So what if some of them are taken over by Pokeberry.  Pokeberries are really beautiful and the birds love them.  And what is so bad about a big bed of wild blackberry bramble.  The girls like to pick them and we love to eat them and it teaches them that some things are worth a little suffering.

And at the end of the day, we stood still and listened before going inside.  A few Spring Peepers were chirping in the wetlands below the road.   The few tentative chirps will soon be a chorus and join with the song of the Bluebirds, Robins, and Baltimore Orioles competing for mates and building nests.  And then before long, the bumblebees will fly and according to my grandmother, shoes and socks can finally come off for the summer.

Posted 2/4/2009 10:15am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

We woke to several inches of snow we were not expecting this morning.  It must be a Wednesday.  Karen Sapia correctly pointed out last week that this winter we seem to be in a pattern of Wednesday snow or ice storms.  This week however our schools opened on time. 


Last Wednesday’s snow day was pretty eventful for the girls and me.  We got bundled up and went out to check and feed the sheep. Our barn is an old Pennsylvania bank barn with a large new loafing area attached to the east end.  From the haymow on the top of the bank barn we can look into the loafing shed and watch the sheep that have wandered away from the others gathered around the hayracks.  This year many of our ewes have lambed in that area and last Wednesday I noticed a ewe was in late labor while we were feeding the others.   We stood quietly and watched for almost an hour.  She would lie down and strain and push then stand up and paw at the ground.  Every now and then she looked up at us, clearly nervous that she was being watched.  Finally, chilled to the bone, we went in the house for some lunch.  When we went back out she was cleaning a set of twins.  The brown ram lamb had a big, fuzzy head – we blamed him for her difficult labor even though it was most likely our presence that kept this ewe from delivering quickly – his sister was a tiny, but vocal white lamb.  Both are growing well.  


That night it got very cold and before going to bed I suggested one of us go out to check the sheep just in case some lambs were born and separated from their moms.   I should know better by this time.  A quiet, dark, cold barn is much preferred by flighty herd animals; open a door and turn on a light and chaos breaks out. Unfortunately when Roy went out there were several newborns whose moms ran away from them.  Rather than cause more chaos Roy left them to sort out the babies.  We fully expected my ill-conceived plan might end in a couple dead lambs in the morning, but thankfully the next day all the lambs were alive and accounted for.  Whether it was our disturbing them or just bad mothering, over the course of the next day, we noticed two lambs appeared hungry and uncared for.  We brought in the two ram lambs and began bottle-feeding them a mixture of cow’s milk and raw eggs.  So once again we have lambs to raise.  This year, with Harry Potter books fresh on their minds, the girls have named them Albus (Dumbledore) and James (Potter).   They live in the barn with the flock and come running to us every time we go out feed them.  Even though after a couple weeks the novelty wears off a bit, it really is fun to raise bottle lambs.  Curiously enough, nearly every time we are feeding this year’s bottle lambs, last year’s bottle lamb, “Sweetie pie” comes nosing around as though she remember when it was her turn.  (Last year I wrote about her – she was lame in her front leg and we put a cardboard splint on it – this year she runs with the other sheep and doesn’t even show signs of a limp!)

Albus and James barn feeding

Posted 1/21/2009 1:00pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

What an eventful past week; more for our country, than for us personally.  After some morning errands I was able to return home in time to watch the inauguration of President Obama.  Perhaps it is the dormant history teacher in me, but I found the events very moving.  I am still kicking myself for not planning ahead and making arrangements to actually be there in person.  It surely would have been more memorable for our daughters than their parent’s (okay, mostly mom’s) euphoric outbursts and the fake-looking grocery-store flowers and box of ice cream we shared in celebration.  One reporter’s story of parents frantically searching for their lost child in that crowd however made me think twice about my wish to have taken the girls. 


Here on our frozen farm life is pretty good.  New lambs began to arrive on January 6.  The first little ewe lamb was deemed “epiphany” and yesterday’s hulking, energetic ram lamb was named “Obama”, of course.   So far we have eight live lambs and two that were born dead or very weak.   This is just the beginning of lambing so every time we go to the barn we are expectant.  It is like an extended Advent season for us.

 new lambs

My husband, Roy Dale as childhood friends and immediate family know him, unlike his father, farmer Roy of Village Acres, is not friendly with machinery.   I too am not mechanically minded.  I am more apt to kick and curse a machine than to ponder its inner workings and try to figure it out. I wish I were more curious about them.  I just want them to work for me.  Roy D. would prefer to work with animals than machines and he is good with them.  This is in part why Mac is such a valuable member of the family farm.  Already his skill at keeping animals in their place or moving them where we need them to go has been invaluable.  All this love of animals however doesn’t change our reliance on some machines.  While Mac is great at moving cows and sheep, he really struggles getting those half-ton round bails to move into the feeder.  For that we have a Bobcat skid steer and an old David Martin tractor pulls the feeder wagons around the farm.  Because we need them and they do good work for us, we do care for our machines too.  Like anyone suffering from over-exposure in cold weather, this weekend they needed a little TLC.  Their fuel lines froze in sub-zero temps so we took our electric bathroom heater and some old blankets out to barn to warm them up.  They responded beautifully and in no time sputtered to life. 

 tractor TLC

There are many signs of life and hope around us, even during these frigid days of winter. 

Posted 1/8/2009 10:25am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

On Tuesday Roy came in from the barn after feeding the cows and sheep to report the arrival of our first set of twin lambs.  We were expecting them in about two or three weeks but here they are braving the howling wind and icy barnyard. 


Every year we attempt to keep better lambing records.  About two years ago we succeeded at getting ear tags in every ewe so that we can keep record of her lambing success from year to year.  Getting ear tags in however is only helpful if you can actually read the numbers!  The first couple tags went in pretty easily until we looked at their new accessories and realized we had the tags in upside down so that the number was hidden inside the ear.  A simple change corrected that problem however even with the tags facing out they are not easy to read.  During lambing season we check on the sheep three or four times a day. We rarely have to intervene and only if it appears necessary do we separate the ewe and lambs from the other sheep.  So in order to keep accurate records we have to watch closely to see which lambs belong to which ewe.  Frequently we can be found in the barn with binoculars trying to get an accurate read on the ear tag without going into the pen and causing added stress.  About once a week over the next several weeks we will go in and catch the newborns, record their gender, and dock their tails.  The reason we dock tails is to keep them clean over summer when flies will lay eggs in long, dirty tails, and, in the case of ewe lambs, so that when they start birthing lambs, it is easier for their lambs to find the udder and get an early drink. 

  lamb nuzzle

There is no doubt that docking tails is stressful for the lambs, mostly because they are taken from their moms and handled by us.  We use a hot docker that cuts the tail just below the bone and cauterizes the end to stop the bleeding.  Frances and Riley return the docked lambs to their moms.  They love to nuzzle and comfort the little lambs and often get the lambs to suck on their noses in the process.  Of course sometimes a lamb is just too lively, or so we claim, and Roy and I get cuddle that little guy back to its mom. 

Posted 11/9/2008 5:27pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

I heard from Patrick this morning that CSA distribution combined with Election Day made for quite an energetic combination in State College!  I understand the line for the polls extended around the block at Friends Meeting House.   Kudos to any of you who braved the long wait; I hope you were able to enjoy free pizza or snack on your Village Acres veggies while you waited.


Voting here in Shade Valley is a much quieter affair.   About a mile from our house, in the village of Cross Keys an old, one-room school house is our township / precinct headquarters. The poll workers, three older women, have worked elections for as long as I’ve been voting here.  I arrived at around 9 am and was voter number twenty-one. Dorothy said turnout was up considerably this year.  Jim B., his wife Susan, and her elderly mother were chatting with the poll workers, who are neighbors they have known for years.  They know who I am too so there was no need to call out my party affiliation, for which I was rather relieved.  After voting I stood and talked for several minutes with them too.  I learned from Jimmy that when he began working for PennDot back in the sixties, Election Day was a state holiday and as a state worker he was expected to be available to drive people to the polls.  Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.  Apparently when they unionized and were given more personal days the state took away Election Day as a holiday. 

   I am quite encouraged by the level of energy and participation displayed on Tuesday.  No matter how you feel about the outcome, I hope the sense of possibility and the call to unify will encourage you to be engaged in the process.  One fellow organic farmer told me that voting is one of the least important civic activities we can do. He feels that how he chooses to grow and eat food and protect the environment is a much more important civic activity.  I know he is right, but maybe because I am a little sappy, witnessing collective action, like voting or picking up a CSA box, is a real shot in the arm for me in a way that weeding my garden alone on a hot day just isn’t. 
Posted 10/23/2008 9:43am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

I took Mac out at 6:00 this morning and the stars were so prominent and air so crisp it was a surprisingly refreshing way to wake up..  I hate the thought of a long, dark winter approaching, but mornings like this leading up to it make it a little more tolerable. Every morning this week when the girls and I go out to wait for their school bus, the grass has that icy autumn glitter but by 10:00 the sun is warm enough to dry the laundry and lawn is just dewy and wet.


The landscape around our farm went through another annual change last week.  All the corn that Charlie had planted in the fields around our pastures has been cut.  Now when I wake up in the morning and stumble into the bathroom I can see the lights on in their stall barn and I am reminded that Charlie and Tammy have already been up for over an hour doing the daily milking.  And to the west in the open fields we frequently see deer making a mad dash across the valley from ridge to mountain or vice versa, as though they can sense that archery season is open and rifle season only a month away.  The crows too are more raucous as they glean corn left scattered on the ground where the combines and wagons have spilled some of their load.  There are days I wish I was working in some office or classroom, with adult colleagues to converse or gossip with, but those days are rare in the fall and I feel a little guilty at times that at this stage of our lives Roy is the one who has to drive away from our farm to earn an income and provide health insurance we need, knowing that this is where he’d prefer to be too, especially in high autumn. 

Posted 10/10/2008 9:31am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Last Saturday a farm that adjoins ours along the southern ridge sold on auction.  The farmer that sold it has had knee trouble the last several years and he and his wife decided it was time they slowed down and moved south to be with their grown children. 

It was a cool, rainy day but Ralph and Maria’s farm lane and fields were packed with pickup trucks and SUV’s.  If it had been in the spring, this would have definitely qualified as a “mud sale”, sales that take place just after the spring thaw.   The girls and I were only there long enough to get them each a bowl of chicken noodle soup for lunch, but Roy had his eye on a cattle-handling chute that might sell at a reasonable price and since he’d only have to haul it two miles around the ridge it seemed worth waiting for.   Farm auctions can be an affordable way to buy equipment and they certainly are a great way to catch up on valley news, they can also be a colossal waste of time, especially if you are only interested in one or two items, like we were.  Knowing there was more pressing work he should be doing, Roy impatiently waited for the auctioneer to turn his attention to the chute.  He got to it soon after lunch while the girls and I were there to witness the bidding.  We had already discussed our high bid when the auctioneer started his sales pitch about how “you don’t see them built this well very often.  I can’t read the name but I think this is a __________ chute, and boys, you just aren’t going to find a better made chute than this.”  With that the bidding began and in no time it was at our high bid and only two bidders, our neighbor three miles down the road and us, were left.  Bidding between neighbors in a small community is closely watched so I was a little surprised when Roy kept bidding well beyond our agreed price.  No doubt several onlookers saw the “what are you thinking?” look I flashed at Roy.  I was still unaware of who the other bidder was, but Roy had caught his nod and wanted to push just a little higher.  Soon the bids slowed and our hesitant bids gave in to our neighbor’s deeper pockets and greater desire. Oh well.  At least now Roy was free to return home and attend to more important matters. 

            That evening Roy walked down the road to get milk and Charlie lost no time in discussing the events at the sale. “I told _______, ‘I hope your happy bidding up Roy like that! He waited all morning in the rain for one item and you go and out bid him.’ That just isn’t neighborly.” Roy just smiled, warmed by Charlie’s sense of neighborliness. 
Posted 10/5/2008 12:02pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

I’ve written several times about our neighbors here in Shade Valley.   So many of them have family connections that extend back several generations.  Even though we’ve lived here for ten years, we still feel like the new folks in valley.  Last summer, (2007) I became a little alarmed when I noticed a green mini van driving slowly past our farm several times in one week.  Since our girls were often outside playing when the van went by I allowed my mind to assume the worst.  I mentioned it to Roy and he too had noticed it, so I decided the next time I saw it trundling slowly by the farm, I would very obviously stare at the driver and license plate.   I was quite surprised to find a little silver-haired lady smiling and waving back at me.   She certainly did not look like the predatory pedophile I was trying to intimidate.  Her pattern of driving slowly up and down the road continued and soon other neighbors were filling in the details.  “Oh, there goes Evelyn again! If they don’t take her license away soon, she is bound to cause and accident,” another mother fretted when she picked up her daughters, whom I had been watching that afternoon.   Charlie, the dairy farmer down the road informed us that her husband had died recently and she “live alone on that farm before the S-curve.  She is a sister-in-law to….”   By mid-summer we routinely stopped what we were doing in the yard or garden to smile and wave at Evelyn when her little mini-van drove by going about 30 m/h.  A couple times I walked towards her hoping she’d stop and we could talk but she seemed more comfortable just smiling and waving as she passed.  I imagine it was a reassuring break in perhaps a lonely day to drive up and down the valley she had lived in most of her life and catch glimpses of her neighbors, relive memories, or just wonder at the small changes taking place as new people moved in.   I hardly noticed this summer that her van was no longer making it’s daily pass until the other evening when Charlie called to let us know that she’d died over the weekend.  I didn’t really know Evelyn, but briefly sharing this narrow, beautiful valley, vibrant with its seasonal routines and predicable yet quirky characters, connected us in some small way and I suspect when our family reminisces about life in Shade Valley, the summer we had a daily “visit” from Evelyn in her green minivan will be a memory that will make us smile.  

Posted 9/4/2008 11:33am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Last week we went to the farm in Blacklog Valley where we graze some of our cattle.   We discovered our best and oldest bull had a very bad limp.   We had him in the barn for several months this spring to keep him from breeding the cows too early.  His lazy days in the barn allowed his hoof to grow too long; it is the walking on ground and stones that keeps hooves ground down to healthy length.  In years past we always put him in a separate paddock away from our cows but he is a very formidable bull and he would stand alone at the corner of the pasture bellowing to the neighbor’s cows and intimidating their bull.   We thought is was amusing and liked to imagine just what sort of trash talking was passing between our hulking Angus bull and the short, shaggy Scottish Highland bull next door.  The neighbors didn’t find it very amusing however, so Reto was on barn arrest for a couple months and we forgot to schedule a pedicure for the old guy.  Thankfully the vet was already scheduled to come out to pinch our young bulls (to make them steers) and pregnancy-check our cows.  He took care of poor Reto and we brought him home to a valley with more courageous neighbors and no other bulls for miles.