Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Extremes

I am living in the land of extremes.  Last week my little thermometer read 28 F. when I got up in the morning.  Yesterday we hit a record high of 90 F.  The bunnies have a fan on them.  The sheep are panting.   I am desperate to get the wool off them.  Big Jim Baldwin is coming on Sunday and I'm trying to round up some help.  Never have enough boots on the ground.  He's squeezing me in on a Sunday, which he ordinarily never works, because he knows how anxious I am to salvage some wool.   Some of the fleeces are too far gone to save.  Lambing took a toll on the wool.  They put everything into growing the babies.  I'm comforted by the fact that I have a box car full of lambs, 34 to be exact, to grow wool for fall shearing.  Everybody is thriving on the lush green grass the rain and warm temps have given us.  I'm thrilled with the way these Wensleydale/Bluefaced Leicester lambs are turning out.  They are tall and sturdy with thick coats.  It's hard to tell just how the wool will turn out.  I'm hoping for some lustrous curls.  The Nubian goat kids are absolutely gorgeous.  They leap around gracefully in their own ballet troupe.  I'm hoping for some goat milk but the Nubian moms are not anxious to share.  I'm letting the babies have their fill for now.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Maryland Sheep and Wool 2015

I'm back from a Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival that went so smoothly and nicely I can scarcely believe it.   Funny how the harder I work the better the outcome of the festival.  I've never worked so hard in my life, between the farm and supporting the farm, but it was all worthwhile.  What I didn't move in Maryland I can take to the farmer's market.  My corner space in the Main Exhibition Hall continues to be a blessing I didn't ask for.  I was moved there after the fleece sale moved into my old building.  I love the natural light from outside and the extra space an end booth enjoys.  I won't get too cozy as Md. Sheep and Wool tends to move people around.  The weather was perfect - cool and breezy - for sheep and humans.  I could walk around at night and touch noses with the sheep in their stalls.  Kim booked us a spot at the Shepherd's Feast Saturday night and the Shepherd's Breakfast Sunday morning so we didn't have to leave the grounds at all.    We slept on Kim's air mattress in the back of my Honda van, warm as toast in Canadian Army sleeping bags.  After months of sleep deprivation due to lambing and "making stuff" late into the night I got a record nine hours of shut eye Friday night.  Saturday night not so much as my eyes popped open at 4 am.  I should have taken two of Kim's allergy pills instead of one.  Some positive points...

1.  I sold my first Bundaflicka Knitting Tote to Kevin Potter, a shepherd from Lexington, Virginia, and a direct descendant of Beatrix Potter.  It was the Goofy Bird design I lined with Gunlocke office furniture fabric I picked up at the Hemlock festival last fall.  I had five totes made of that fabric and I sold them all, including one special order.

2.  Tote sales were steady and incredibly gratifying, considering the festival was vast and full of totes.  Most customers came back after looking them over then checking out the rest of the show.  One woman bought a tote then came back the next day to pick up another one.  I love my bag ladies.  They keep me sewing, and sewing and sewing.

3.  My new Shepherd's Friend Lip Balm proved to be a good idea.  People didn't balk at the $5.  I had a question I couldn't answer about SPF but told them the beeswax would help protect their lips.  I hope that's true.  Why wouldn't it be?

4.  My Goat Milk Soap was a big success.  I sold out of Peppermint and my Chocolate Espresso was a big hit.  Several people said my soap smells the best of any at the festival.  I was glad to hear that as I spend a fortune on essential oils and keep the soap in closed boxes.  I don't know anyone who wraps all their soaps in quilt fabric like I do, a nice touch that keeps the bars from getting nicked and holds the fragrance in.

5.  The Shepherd's Friend Hand Creme was very well received, with most anybody who tried some in the tester leaving the booth with a jar or two or three.  The macadamia nut oil was a brilliant addition to the creme.  The owner of Columbus Foods, Mike Lawson, suggested it when I balked at the price increase in jojoba oil due to a crop failure in Venezuela.  The macadamia nut oil soaks into the skin so nicely and the price is much easier on the pocket book.

6.  I hired two Boy Scouts to help us pack up at the end of the show, saving many little trips back and forth to the van.  I hope they are around next year.  They made short work of it and we were on the road much sooner.

Some not so positive points...

1.  My yarn was a bust.  No interest in the hand spun basket at all, and only a skein or two of the mill spun left the booth.  Sadly, I don't think most people care where their yarn comes from.  So many vendors buy white wool skeins, dye them and think it's a big deal.  Not so much support for the small hard working shepherd who sits up nights in a cold barn waiting for lambs to be born.  Most commercial yarn comes from "dead wool" that was shorn from sheep killed for meat.  I remember when Linda Cortright of Wild Fibers Magazine told me about that.  She visited a processing facility where the dead wool pile was huge and the live wool pile very small.  When you buy commercial yarn you might be supporting the worst kind of cruelty without knowing it.  There were other small flock shepherds at the show and the ones I spoke to were disappointed as well.  There is the yin and the yang of the fiber art business.  Kim sold a couple of skeins of hand spun wool and angora.  She had a good point - our hand spun baskets are a protest against a world full of commercialism.  I like that.

All in all I think it was a fabulous Maryland year.  I spent time with so many good friends I hardly ever see, like Lisa Merian, Candace Cain, Joanie Schneiber, Piroska Toth, Denise Wilkinson, Kathy Davidson, Lisa Hughes,and others.  I was visited by a group of Tasmanian shepherds and a Congressional Representative from Texas.  My critters were thrilled to see me home, even Coco the cow was bellowing her welcome, standing under the moon in the driveway.  I milked her the next morning and gave her an extra scoop of dairy feed in the mash.  The grass is growing finally and the lambs are thriving.  I'm happy I can provide for them with my skills and energy.   Life on the farm goes on.


   

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lamb Count - 34 Goat Count - 3

So much has happened in the last month it's hard to know where to start.  The minus 28 nightmare nights and icy commutes are buried in a fog and I'm trying to let them stay there.  I have 34 beautiful lambs alive and leaping.  Two angora goats gave me "Nugora" kids, a product of  little runty Spikey getting loose from the pen with the big Nubian girls he couldn't mount.  They are adorable and will give me some fiber, not much, but they are making their mommy does happy.  I cuddle them and let them suck on my chin.  My lambs quickly become too big to cradle in my arms, but the goat kids stay little longer.


The sheep have been out on the hillside for a few days.  There is a green tinge to the hill from the tiny sprouts coming up through the thatch.  Ordinarily I would not let them out so soon but I am almost out of hay.  I found hay to get me through another two or three weeks in hopes warmer weather would bring the grass.  Cold temps and icy rain conspire to keep it underground but the grass is struggling to the surface.  The sheep don't care, they want out. The bellowing at the barnyard gate was finally too much to take and I let them out.  They LOVE it.  The lambs are nibbling at the juicy green shoots and running hither and yon, rejoicing in the fresh air and wide open space.
  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

33 Lambs



The last week has been a blur of morning chores, work, home to more chores.  Winter requires more work in terms of feeding and watering...add 33 lambs coming over the course of a month, in the most intense unrelenting cold, and you have a daunting and ongoing challenge.   This has been the winter that was, and the sooner it "was" as in past tense, the better it will be for everyone.  Yesterday morning it was 8 degrees F. outside, this morning 4 degrees.  All the water buckets and bowls freeze.  Hopefully the sheep, goats, bunnies and chickens have consumed the water we give them or we have blocks of ice that have to be removed before we give them more.  Animals do well in the cold as long as they are out of the wind and have food and water.  It's harder on the shepherd, who has to suit up and protect hands and face from the burning cold.  The lambs are doing fine, fat and happy.  It's a big job keeping the moms fit enough to feed all those babies.  Three moms are still in the old mama's twins, are being supplemented with bottles.  I've tried to give the triplets bottles but they don't want milk replacer, just mom's teats.  Poor girl, I try to baby her all I can.  Last night after chores I thought I better go to the way, way back and check around.  My shepherd's intuition paid off...there, tucked under the hay feeder, was a newborn black ram lamb!  This is Gippeto's baby, Wensleydale ram number 2, from Laurie O'Neill's lovely black ewe Erin.  I brought them forward to the maternity ward for the special newborn treatment.  Erin is a fantastic mom and loves her boy.  I got inside around midnight, relieved that I caught this birth not long after it happened.  I found the frozen placenta by the back door and gave it to the very grateful Knut.  Livestock Guardian Dogs, LGD's, are programmed to eat placentas so as not to attract predators. They think they are delicious.   Not sure I agree.  I think I am all done lambing except for one more of Laurie's ewes.  The fleeces should be incredible.  I'm proud that I have another young flock of sheep to love.  In six weeks they'll be on green grass, leaping and bounding over the hillside, drinking from the pond.  I will lie down on the grass and soak up the sun and rejoice that we made it through this winter.  33 is a nice round number.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Morning in the Barn


 The playful piggies think it's funny to tease the chickens who are trying to snack on their slop.  They tipped the pan on the poor little hen up against the fence.  She wiggled out alright but came back for more.  I've heard of pigs eating chickens who wander through the pen, but I haven't noticed any behavior like that.  My pigs are so well fed they don't need to scrounge for food.  I throw the trampled down moist hay I drop while I'm carrying it through the barn into their pen and they LOVE it.  What they don't eat they make a bed out of.  I'm so proud of the way the pigs are turning out.  I'm going to let Matt take the "pink" boys first, then keep Natasha and Niven so they can have a litter.  They are crossed with Berkshire, Tamworth and Olde English Spot so there is enough diversity to have a healthy litter for food.  Thankfully I will never have to sell lambs for food, due to my teaching job.  The thought of eating sheep who could grow up and produce wool is not within my realm of possibility.  I don't even like the taste of it.  Who could eat babies anyway???



The sheep are doing well and all 32 lambs are alive and kicking.  Still expecting one or two more sheep to deliver then the Nubians will start dropping babies.  Old Mama is hanging on and her boys are cute and spunky.  Don't think she will see another winter.  She put everything she had into these twins.  All the supportive treatment in the world can't extend her life too much longer.   More tails and balls today.  Much easier on the lambs when it is done very early.  Bad news - I have put out too much hay and will have to find more to buy.  Thought I could make it through but with all the moms feeding great big lambs, no way.  Wish me luck finding good round bales that can be delivered with a vehicle that could get them up this slippery north side slope.  Fingers crossed.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Care Package


Look what I found at the village post office today!  A care package came all the way from Kim and Crew in Kingston, Ontario.  It contained several knitted lamb coats, delicious Multatelli French Roast Coffee, a beautiful knitted sweater for the shepherd, candy corn, lemon chamomile tea. and a lovely applique pillow created by the talented and beautiful Lindsay Parkinson, upcoming fiber artist.   After a week where I was hanging on by the proverbial thread, this is just what the doctor ordered.   Words can't express...

Three's A Crowd


This four year old ewe, first time mom, is valiantly trying to feed her three newborns.  I'm not as worried about her as I was earlier in the week.  She looked dazed and not fully with it.  I thought she had twins, then came home from work to find another baby in the pen.  I think the oxytocin I gave her the night before helped birth the last baby.  I gave her a vitamin B complex injection and wormed her.   I've been trying to supplement the little ones with milk replacer to give mom a break but they seem to be getting enough from her.  She refused the coveted  warm bucket of pig slop the other ewes would kill for.  She hardly nibbled at the rabbit pellets mixed with cracked corn that sheep love.  I am giving her some of the second bales that I sort out from the mold.  She smells me coming down the ladder with it and perks up.  I wish I could find her a bale of alfafa.  This late in the season it won't be easy.  I love this girl.  She had a funny set of triplets.  Two look just like her, a ewe and a ram lamb.   The third is a big gangly white ram lamb with pink ears and nose with lots of black freckles.  I almost think this guy was another ewe's lamb she claimed from a more timid ewe.  We'll never know now.  She has claimed him as her own and makes noise whenever I pick him up.  We'll see how it goes.  Green grass will solve everything but it's two months away at least.  Maybe three.

Piles of Lambs


I love to watch the lambs pile up for a nap.  Some of them have already outgrown their sweaters.  I pull them off and lovingly wash them to save for the next lambing.  With temps at 40 F. now I don't have to worry about frozen lambs.  I do have Nubian babies coming, probably in late April or May, and hopefully they won't freeze.  We have had snow on Mother's Day so I can't be too sure.  Every sweater has a story.  They've been knitted by friends and sent to me from far away, even other countries.  It is very gratifying to pull the knitted tubes over shivering newborns, wet from their mother's nurturing tongues giving their first bath.  The lambs stop shivering and curl into a bundle, like they've gone back into the womb.  Sewn or purchased garments just won't do for my lambs.  They are bred for wool and wool they deserve...with love in every stitch.

Protecting the Nipples!


I must be very careful to protect these nipples.  They are filled with rich, juicy milk replacer and everybody with teeth on this farm wants to bite them.  I have to carry the bottle around in my vest pockets and make sure nobody nips off the tips from behind me - yes, grown sheep have done this.  I can't put them down on a barn beam while I do other chores.  Kitties will chew off the expensive rubber teats in an attempt to get at the delicious milk, even if it's a drop or two.  These are Pritchard's Teats, which have to be ordered by mail or they are even more prohibitively expensive at the local feed store, where I only go in desperation.  Pritchard's Teats are soft, small and more like a mother's teats.  I've had more success with them than the hard round rubber nipples that don't fit easily into a newborn's mouth. They can be screwed on to soda pop bottles.   I'm very lucky to only have four on bottles.  Out of 32 that's not bad.  I am supplementing the triplets but they are getting something from mama, too.  The cost of milk replacer is ridiculous and much higher than four years ago when I had a big lambing.  I don't understand why considering it is powdered whey, a by-product of cheese and yogurt making.  We'll have green grass in two months and the lambs will be outside.  I enjoy sitting in the dark, with a lamb on my lap, listening to the rhythmic sucking of the tiny mouths on the bottle and mama munching on grass next to me.  It is a sound as ancient as time itself.  It is life.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lamb Count - 32

I rushed home from work and found the old girl's little twins standing and nursing.  Perhaps she has some milk after all.  I peeked in the pen of the big black ewe with the newest twins - and there was another lamb in the pen!  She had a triplet in there?  Really?  The oxytocin apparently had helped her birth that third lamb.  I really am very lucky I have not had to pull lambs this season.  The only lamb I pulled would have come out on it's own, but that's Monday morning quarterbacking.  As I was pondering my new set of triplets, I saw another monster lamb, cord hanging, standing by the maternity pen gate.  A year was crying pitifully nearby.  She seemed to be more interested in calling me than paying attention to her new baby.  The lamb toddled around, going to random sheep for comfort.  I quickly got the dogs out to pee/poo then prepared the afternoon bottles.  I brought the bottles out to the barn with me along with the newborn kit.  I fed the only true bottle babies I have, the darling black twins - one of whom I pulled, interrupting the birthing process, big mistake - and watched the newborn across the barn as they drained the milk.  I got in the old girl's pen and made her little ram twins drink some milk.  While I was with them I saw Finn, retired sheep guard dog, come in through the back of the barn, snooping around for afterbirth.  The dogs follow the scent and eat it, even if it's days old.  LGD's, livestock guardian dogs, are hard-wired to eat afterbirth or dead lambs to keep predators from being drawn near.  The new lamb toddled over to Finn, after all he is big and fluffy white, and sidled up to him.  Finn sniffed him all over then backtracked away.  I really had to finish the bottles and get to that lamb.  I scooped him up, all 15 or so pounds of him, and gave him two shots of NutriDrench newborn elixir.  I clipped and dipped the cord.  You would think mom might be curious about what I was doing to her lamb, but nothing doing.  She was too busy being flighty, and baaaing into the air.  I tried showing the lamb to her, I tried catching her with my crook.  Nothing doing.  The phone rang and it was spouse telling me he would be leaving soon.  Thank goodness as I really needed help catching this irresponsible ewe.  Finally he arrived and together we got the ewe and monster ram lamb penned together.  We had to let two ewes and their four lambs out to make room in the maternity ward.  Matt held this big, fat ewe while I nursed her out.  The yellow colostrum came out in a healthy stream and hit the bottom of the cup I was holding under her with one hand while pulling on the teat with the other.  Music to my ears.  How I wished I could give this ability to produce milk to all my ewes.   I gave the colostrum to the big ram lamb in 3 cc syringe barrel fulls.  When it was all gone I went back to work, toting water to all the pens and communal watering buckets, forking hay and mixing pig slop.  The flighty ewe kicked at him a few times but by later in the evening she was perfectly at home with him pulling on her teats.  Motherhood prevails.  I heated some Chinese food from the night before and we had dinner.  More chores, more bottles and I had to go horizontal.  Mia's meds were keeping me alive but the cold virus had an icy grip on my chest.  I barely remember Matt standing over me pouring some cold medicine in my mouth.  I made me sleep through until six am, when I woke with a start.  Had I let somebody die during the night?  The morning light revealed everyone still alive.  No new lambs.  Sigh of relief....then off to work to get some rest.  The infected finger is about to explode making barn chores painful.  The cold and cough is still dragging me down.  I am the shepherd of 32 lambs, their mothers and brothers
.  The joy is sustaining me.  This is my life.