Bonus!

Imagine Jake’s surprise when he found an “extra” lamb! Freshly cleaned off and “baaing” for its mother.

Sunday mornings are generally when we let ourselves sleep in a little bit and last Sunday was no different. But, upon waking we realized with a groan that it was daylight savings time! Already feeling late, we rushed out to begin chores. We arrived at the barn and Jake went over to check the nursery, the area where we put ewes and lambs after their time in individual lambing pens. Everyone in the nursery has bonded and know who belongs to whom. Imagine Jake’s surprise when he found an “extra” lamb! Freshly cleaned off and “baaing” for its mother.

Immediately we suspended normal chores and with the lamb tucked into my jacket, began a search to figure out who the likely mother might be. We assumed one of our first-time moms had this lamb and somehow (as unlikely as it seemed) it had made its way from their adjacent paddock into the nursery. To do so, the newborn would have to maneuver through multiple locked gates. After twenty minutes of “hind-end” reviews and doing a full headcount of ewes, we concluded that none of the first timers had given birth. I returned to the nursery area and noticed that a pretty brown ewe, named Peppercorn was stretching her neck over the nursery fence and calling to the lamb. “Just being friendly” I thought.

At this point, knowing the lamb had been out in the cold for at least an hour and unsure if it had eaten, we decided to take it indoors and get it some packaged colostrum. Inside I trudged with the little lamb who by now was quite cozy in my jacket. I tubed the lamb as Janet and Pete stood by scratching their heads; as confused as us. Once he got the warm colostrum in his belly, he was quite happy. By this time, Jake had examined all the ewes in the nursery and determined that Peppercorn had blood on her tail, a sure sign she had given birth. The only problem was that she had already given birth, a week prior and had delivered twin lambs!?!?

Jake came into the house to let me know. Janet then produced her iPad and did a quick google search, turning up results in the British Isles of this condition called (without much flair) “delayed birth.” It is not unheard of in other species and with sheep it generally results in death for “delayed” lamb.

Still dumbfounded, we returned the lamb to its mum, Peppercorn. She was removed from the nursery with her twins and placed back into an individual pen. The twins seemed delighted to have a new playmate rather than grumpy with their new, younger sibling. Triples are not uncommon in sheep but with only two teats on a ewe’s udder there always tends to be one of the three lambs that doesn’t grow as well as the others. Survival of the fittest I suppose.

I am proud to say that little Bonus is doing well. He gets supplemental milk daily from a ewe that lost her lamb at the start of the season and nurses vigorously from his mother. Despite his age difference he is bouncing around with his brother and sister enjoying being a lamb and Peppercorn continues to be up for the challenge of caring for her triplets.

35 years, reflections on lambing

We are past the first week of February and generally that means if we haven’t gotten things ready in the barn for lambing yet, we’d better get going! So far, I’ve ordered ear tags, inventoried health supplies, cleaned the heat lamps, checked the bulbs and prepared the permanent stalls for early arrivals. And so we wait and watch.

Throughout December and early January Abby and I feed square bales from the southeastern corner of the barn in order to open up more space for the lamb pens. The south facing side is covered with greenhouse film, protecting the new lambs from wind, snow, ice, or rain.  This part of the barn warms up quickly on the ever-brightening winter days. As impatience rises, I start cleaning up udders and legs by shearing off the excess wool. This helps the lambs find the teat and more easily get their first drink. Soon we’ll begin our daily “udder checks” – walking behind the ewes as they eat and occasionally pulling a warm hand from a glove to feel their swelling udders, which gives us some indication of how soon a ewe will give birth.

2020 marks the 35th year of lambs being born at Apple Creek Farm. Since 1985, each Spring the flock has grown stealthily, new members coming late each night and in the early hours of the morning. My father, Pete can claim the bulk of the work for those 35 years. He and my mother, Janet have logged closer to 45 years of lambing since they acquired their first sheep. After celebrating a milestone birthday for Pete at the end of January, I thought back 35 years when we moved from Brunswick to Bowdoinham, sheep and all. I was only six and new lambs were a thing to celebrate, like a birthday. As with much of farming, it’s all about the routines and familiar seasonal rhythms- new each time yet familiar. Three and a half decades of observing ewes whose names we know without seeing their ear tag. Of looking up into frozen, starlit skies on the quiet walk to the barn to check for ewes in labor. Almost four decades of drying off lambs in the dark, moving ewes and lambs from the paddock into pens. Hands covered in blood, milk, and iodine. 35 years of life and sometimes death.

Our sheep aren’t needy. They don’t ask us for much, least of all an abundance of attention. But after a ewe has delivered a lamb or two, they let us carry their newborns to a safe, dry place to bond. They tolerate us sitting with them, waiting, helping the lambs find the udder.

The pre-lambing season involves a lot of standing around and watching. After morning chores Abby and I will lean on gates looking across the sea of wool and hay and snow. We speculate aloud about who looks ready, playfully place bets on which of us will be right. We recount the previous year and who lambed first, who was bred to which of the rams. In the evening we remark how a particular ewe is walking, whether she is gazing thoughtfully into the night sky chewing her cud or if she is laying down rather than joining the others at the feeder. During each of the nighttime checks we walk through the stillness of the night, ears perked, listening for the telltale sounds of new life. A small bleat, a nicker from a new mom, a groan from as a ewe shifts her bulk or paws in the hay as she readies her nest. Arriving at the barn we slowly ease open the gate and slide into the paddock to avoid waking the sleeping ewes.  A third are chewing their cud and another third pushed up to the feeders, still not sated.

As long as it seems we wait, with the first birth a familiar rhythm takes over.

Open Farm Day 2019

We’re really excited to be part of both Bowdoinham’s Open Farm Day & Art Trail & Maine’s Statewide Open Farm Day again this year! Our farm will be open on Sunday, July 28 between 10:00 am – 2:00 pm. We hope you’ll join us!

Let’s us know you’ll attend by visiting the event page.

What type of activities can you expect?

  • Self guided farm tours all day
  • Farmer led tours at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. Farmer led tours are about an hour, involve walking over uneven ground, will include visits to all our animals and cover various aspects of farm production.
  • Children’s Activities including feeding the chickens, adventures in the “Grasshopper Field,” grasshopper ID and coloring.
  • Meet & Greet with our canine crew including Ida & Rye
  • Get to know our friendliest goats & sheep
  • Delicious snacks and treats from Turtle Rock Farm
  • Shop at our Pop-Up Farm Store (All sheepskins & goat hides ON SALE!)
(this is a photo from last year, I promise they are still adorable)

Be sure to pack a cooler to pick up some meats for the grill, or stick around for the Barbecue, 3-6pm at the Mailly Waterfront Park. The meal will include Apple Creek Farm chicken along with veggies and strawberry shortcake made with ingredients from Bowdoinham farms.

Things to consider Our farm is a working farm. We’ll mow the lawn but don’t expect everything to look picturesque! Please bring appropriate gear such as close-toed shoes or boots, a water bottle and snacks for your children. We’ll have a boot wash and ask that if you are coming from a farm with any critters that you wash up before you walk around. Likewise if you’re headed to another participating farm, we suggest you rinse off before heading out.

What won’t you see when you visit? Dogs! Having three on-farm dogs, we ask that you make other plans for your canine friends.

Open Farm Day 2018

Open Farm Day 18 (1)We’re really excited to be part of both Bowdoinham’s Open Farm Day & Art Trail & Maine’s Statewide Open Farm Day again this year! Our farm will be open on Sunday, July 22 between 9:00 am – 1:00 pm. We hope you’ll join us!

Let’s us know you’ll attend by visiting our event page.

What type of activities can you expect?

  • Self guided farm tours all day
  • Farmer led tours at 9:30 am, 10:30 am and 11:30. Farmer led tours are about an hour and will include visits to all our animals and cover various aspects of farm production.
  • Children’s Activities including adventures in the “Grasshopper Field,” coloring and games
  • Meet & Greet with our canine crew including Ida & Rye
  • Get to know our friendliest goats & sheep
  • Delicious snacks and treats from Turtle Rock Farm
  • Shop at our Pop-Up Farm Store (All sheepskins & goat hides ON SALE!)

Be sure to pack a cooler to pick up some meats for the grill, or stick around for the Barbecue, 3-6pm at the Mailly Waterfront Park. Catered by the Texas Barbeque Company the meal will include Apple Creek Farm chicken along with veggies and strawberry shortcake made with ingredients from Bowdoinham farms.

Things to consider Our farm is a working farm. We’ll mow the lawn but don’t expect everything to look picturesque! Please bring appropriate gear such as close-toed shoes or boots, a water bottle and snacks for your children. We’ll have a boot wash and ask that if you are coming from a farm with any critters that you wash up before you walk around. Likewise if you’re headed to another participating farm, we suggest you rinse off before heading out.

What won’t you see when you visit? Dogs! Having three on-farm dogs, we ask that you make other plans for your canine friends.

May Newsletter

Yellow Egg Spansion Instagram-2Thank you for a great start to the season! Our crowdfunding campaign was successful due to your support. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on our progress throughout the season. Several of you asked about the nest box technology we’ll be using. One of the companies that makes the “Roll-away” nest boxes we’ll be using made this neat video that explains how they work and the benefits for both hen and farmer.

 


We, along with the animals are impatiently awaiting the April showers to give way to the May flowers. We had a group of ewes escape their winter paddock over the weekend and that taste of grass has ruined their appetite for hay! Since our animals are used to be out and moved around, you can imagine that being in their winter paddock for the last few months has gotten really boring. The goat nursery is anything but with 25 kids running around. Rainy days find the kids jumping on overturned tubs, on their mom’s back or snoozing in the hay. Its a great place to spend a few minutes relaxing at the end of the day. IMG_6260We had our final lamb of the season and he has joined one of the most varied and personable groups of lambs I’ve met. One stand-out is Bill, his mom Barracuda is pretty infamous as she is loud and bossy. But any complaints I’ve had about her have been silenced by the sweet presence of Bill.

IMG_6177We are launching a Market Share CSA. The program is modeled after a traditional CSA where the farmers receive payment upfront in return for a share of the harvest throughout the season. In Apple Creek’s model you will receive a 10% bonus for every $100 share purchased. So a $110 market share will be priced at $100, a $220 market share for the price of $200 and so on.  When you purchase a Market Share you’ll receive a card loaded with your share amount to use on whatever products you’d like throughout the 2017 season. The card can be used at any of our markets including the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Farmers’ Market and the Brunswick Farmers Market.  More details and the sign up for can be foundhere.

PATE NEW FLAVORSWe have TWO new pates in our line-up! Our new beef liver pate and chicken liver mousse, like all our value-added products are made by Jenn Legnini of Turtle Rock Farm using ingredients grown here in Maine. We plan to have fresh chicken mousse available weekly and frozen beef pate throughout the summer.

February Newsletter


Lambing is underway! So far lambs have been arriving every 12 hours and wow, that would be amazing if that pace kept right up.

2016-annual-report-pg1In case you missed it- our annual report is now available. For those of you unfamiliar, the report is our opportunity to share the year’s numbers and statistics through infographics. We had an amazing season despite the lack of rain and our thanks goes out to all of you for purchasing our products and coming out to markets. We have finalized many of our poultry orders for 2017 and geese will be BACK!

open-farm-day-17Please mark your calendars and plan to join us at Open Farm Day. This year’s date will be Sunday, July 23rd. The date coincides with the Maine’s state-wide Open Farm Day as well as Bowdoinham’s Farm & Art Trail. As in the past a local foods BBQ will be held in the afternoon. The farm will be open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm for tours, an opportunity to meet the animals and to visit our pop-up farm store.

If you’re looking for a unique addition to your Easter celebrations you can find it at Wilbur’s Chocolates in Brunswick or Freeport. Janet learned the art of making these ornate “panorama” decorative eggs from  Jake’s great grandmother, Lucienne Galle. The eggs are filled with tiny figures and each is accompanied by a story about the animal inside, imagining a life on Apple Creek Farm. You can read more about this tradition in a past post, Eggs of All Sizes.

shopWe’ve added an online store for our sheepskins and goat hides. While these are available at the farmers market year-round the online store will be stocked with an entirely different inventory. Our hides are tanned by the kind folks of Vermont Natural Sheepskins and by the traditional craftspeople of Buck’s County Fur Products.

 

Early August

For me the weather in July seemed more like August, so it feels a bit like we’re getting an extra month of summer! We’ll be busy this month with our last two groups of broilers, introducing the turkeys to pasture and hopefully enjoying a day or two at the beach with visiting family members.

We had a fun Open Farm Day and thank everyone that came out despite the rain. The day cleared shortly afternoon and we were able to enjoy the local foods bbq with family, friends and neighbors. We are hoping another such rainy morning will come along soon as our pastures are getting quite dry. If you have been to the farm you know we have many beautiful trees and this year there are distinct patches of dry grass around them. If you’re curious about where we stand with rain visit the US Drought Monitor. We are fortunate to have options to mitigate the dry conditions though this does mean feeding hay earlier and grazing what has in the past been an on-farm hay field.

No GeeseDue to a variety of circumstances we won’t be raising geese. While this a big disappointment (they are the most adorable babies) it also a blessing as the dry weather means there is less grass coming up. The geese are fantastic grazers and grow best with plenty of pasture.

We will be raising turkeys for Thanksgiving again this year. These Turkey Promobirds are available to order now, so be sure to make a note. Birds are priced at $5/lb with average sizes between 12-15 lbs. We sold out last year so don’t delay!

So what else has been happening on the farm?

20160729_154429-ANIMATION20160703_11100520160704_09024420160718_17515820160722_06503620160703_10154420160728_07322320160804_174806

 

Keeping Warm in Winter

When the temperature plummets we are often asked how the animals cope, here’s how.

20151226_105612Bedding
For each animal group we make sure there is ample bedding. For the hens that means fresh shavings on the floor of their coop and in their nest boxes. In the cow barn we put down several bales of shavings with bedding hay on top. For the ewes and does a fresh layer of hay in the barn is plenty. The kids like fresh hay in their houses and in their feed tubs (a favorite sleeping spot). The sheep are the most flexible. They love having hay in the barn so they can catch some rays, but they are also well insulated by their wool and many spend the storms outside. After the snow stops the paddock is full of sheep “snow angels” where their shapes are outlined. Sometimes they even lie so still they end up with snow caps, like in the photo of Sap Bat (below).

20151229_152606-ANIMATIONWater
Everyone drinks more water when it is cold and we often add molasses when it is windy, cold or rainy. The sweet water encourages sipping and adds some extra energy and trace minerals. We fill water at least twice a day, making sure that all the ice has been removed from buckets and troughs. The chickens need water for egg production. For every hour without water it is 24 hours without an egg! We have a heated waterer for the laying hens inside their coop as well as water buckets out in the cow barn so none of the hens have to walk too far. For the geese, water serves an entirely different set of functions. They use water for drinking, bathing and mating activities even in the coldest weather. 20160213_071528-ANIMATION
Feed, and more Feed

IMG_2859I’m always hungry this time of year and find even after a big hearty breakfast that I am ravenous at mid-morning. Likewise the animals like to snack as often as possible, particularly when it is very cold. For the chickens a generous helping of cracked corn is spread on the bedded pack of the cow barn. The ladies spend much of the morning scratching around and finding every last bit, while fluffing up the bedding for the cows.Since the cows, does and ewes are ruminants (or cud chewers) they need to keep their stomachs full to keep their bodies warm.

Unlike humans (as well as chicken and pigs) who are monogastric (one stomach) ruminants have a four-chambered stomach through which their cud is processed. For more on how rumination works visit this page for a detailed description of each chamber and its function.

Christmas Eve with a Shepherd

This essay is from Two Farms: Essays on a Maine Country Life by Janet Galle
Published in 2006. it is available at Gulf of Maine Books, Brunswick or from Apple Creek Farm.
Originally titled, “December, 1992”
          I went out to the barn this afternoon when it wasn’t time to do the chores. If the clouds hadn’t been piled, one gray pillow on top of the other, I could have seen the sun hanging just above the tree line. I slipped over the fence on the east side of the paddock to avoid the geese and their incessant honking. I wanted peace. In the barn, Sam the ram peered through his fence, but he keeps quiet these days. I silently crossed the frozen earth, pockmarked with hundreds of cloven hoof indentations. What was once November mud is now December hardpan.
          On the west side of the barn is the newly-opened section of the paddock. Here a giant hemlock tree, hanging heavy with tiny cones like Christmas ornaments, stands like a protective umbrella in the center of the area. A small creek, essentially empty with but a trickle of water clinging to the bottom like shards of glass, meanders at an angle toward the obscured setting sun. The sheep seem to like this patch of land away from a direct view into the barn.
          Ours is an open south-facing structure which allows plenty of sunlight to enter the barn in winter. If you are a sheep who has to be enclosed, you like this. But if you are an outside sheep looking in, it can be a noisy, bothersome place full of crowing roosters, cackling hens, and honking geese.
          This afternoon there are twenty-three ewes outside, sixteen of whom should be pregnant. Number 19 looks ready to deliver any minute. She is built like a tank, slung low to the ground and, when she spies me, gets to her feet looking a bit like my father does when disturbed from a quiet afternoon in front of the football game. Once Number 19 is up, the others, who are scattered on the ground like moguls on a ski slope, get to their feet, too, their ears cocked forward with an air of surprise. No one comes to the barn at this hour of the day.

          I just read a farm book in which the author explores the idea that sheep are not really dumb creatures at all; rather, their annoying habits, like running en masse right through fences, are logical responses to situations. Sheep have no defenses. They have no way to fight except by flight. I could see that look about them now. Until they were sure who had arrived in their paddock, they needed to be prepared to escape.
          For a moment I have become a tomten making my rounds of the farm animals on Christmas night. I whisper to them, “Sheep, fat ewes, stay warm in your wool coats — eat your alfalfa hay.” I repeat the mantra. Who am I to know whether these words work for soothing sheep on a December evening or not?
          I crouch against the fence post and call Tilly’s name. A small, thickly-fleeced ewe separates herself from the group. She trots over to me. Down low is the best level for greeting Tilly; she likes to nuzzle in close and then get her nose and chin scratched. My husband calls her annoying, but I can easily call her lovable. Tilly stays with me, and I am glad, for I have decided to stay with the sheep for a long time. It is hectic in the house. We are cleaning for the holidays and everyone is helping. I have no complaints, but still…
          An old friend whom we had not seen for twenty years came for coffee this morning. With him arrived a flood of memories. Wasn’t it only yesterday that we were young? I ask Tilly about time flying and holiday meanings and such; her response is to push closer, snuffling for a handful of grain and another hug — the simple needs.
          The barn is the place to go during the holiday season. And the sheep are the animals from whom I seek comfort. They don’t wag their tails like our dog in blind affection nor are they as cozy and intimate as the cats. Sheep are accepting, tolerant, non-demanding. I expect to sit here for half an hour, talking out loud to them. They will listen without comment.
          Teeny Spot, who looks like she ran into a wall and was squashed from both ends, comes nearer to see what is up with Tilly. Tilly is, of course, the tamest, and the others stand watching her behavior with a human, but I suspect Teeny Spot wants to know a little more about me. Maybe before winter is over I will know more about her. She is the great grandchild of my first ewe, Cassie, and by that bloodline alone captures a corner of my heart.
            Leaning against the fence, not moving for a long time, I can feel the temperature dropping. The air is ice-cracking cold. Snow swirls furiously in fragments of ice chips. I feel like I am part of a scene from one of those magical Christmas globes which some giant’s child has just picked up and given a shake. Here I am, caught in the “barn and shepherd scene,” just right for Christmas. It grows darker. A few older ewes are no longer curious about my voice or my ideas and they turn away, walking in their slightly stiff-legged manner, looking for all the world like matrons on the streets of Pittsburgh or Chicago, finishing the holiday shopping in their thick fur coats. These matrons, however, are content to wander back to the welcoming shelter of the hemlock boughs and have no interest in Marshall Field’s windows.
          I stretch my legs. All the sheep except Tilly move away now. Tilly is still intent on grain. She knows I have a handful of cracked corn waiting somewhere. We walk together back to the barn and I produce her treat. She snuffles, inhaling the kernels from the palm of my blue mitten. I scratch her head one more time before I return to the lighted house. Electric candles have been turned on in the windows, inviting the traveler, the friend, the adult-child coming home, or the shepherd to come inside and stay a while.
          An hour in the company of sheep was all I needed. They reminded me what should be done during December.