The Master Gardener Program

Join Tracy to learn more about The Master Gardener Program made available by your local extension service. The program provides interested individuals with extensive training in many phases of gardening. They, in turn, volunteer their time to share their learning with others.

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A Visit to the Cooperative Extension Service

Tracy visits the office of the Cooperative Extension Service in her community to learn more about the type of agricultural information that is available.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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