It was -5 degrees out when Farmer Bill Stuart left his warm house to meet me for a tour of Stuart Family Farm. Despite having a nice warm barn to rest and eat in, most of the cows are outside, lounging on some hay Bill has put out for them. The Red Angus cattle have grown hairy for the winter.
By the farm store, Gus lazily welcomes shoppers.
Gus is a Maremma Sheepdog. He’s naturally nocturnal and patrols the fence-line at night to protect the animals from coyotes, foxes, and racoons. He has no formal training – he simply relies on his instinct to protect his flock. Most Maremma are standoffish to humans because they have a job to do, but Gus “is a ham”.
As a puppy, Gus tried to play with the chickens, which was a bit too rough for them. However, he has since figured out his place with them.
At Stuart Farm, there are two different breeds of chickens – ones for laying eggs (the Sex-links) and others for meat, a breed called the Freedom Rangers. The Sex-links are cozy in the upper barn during the winter. Once it is spring, the chickens will ride around in a portable wagon that takes them from their roost in the morning to a new spot on the farm each day and back to their roost at night. By moving the chicken coop each day, the chickens help fertilize the farm. Their manure is high in nitrogen, which is great for the land, but too much in one spot can burn the land.