Sunday, October 12, 2014

Market Day

There won't be too many more market days.  I hesitated to go with so much to do for Sheep and Wool and sat in the driveway for five minutes before deciding to just go on and do it.  Matt was staying back to do some work on the farm.  I hate to miss the market when I know people come by to see if I'm there (thank you, friends).   I took a skeleton booth and no tent.  I needn't have worried as the Pettingills and Tennants, my wonderful booth neighbors, jumped up to help me unload.  I even got a curb parking space in front of my little patch of lawn.  The market was slow and steady.  I scored a dozen of the fabulous mugs I need for shaving soap from Susanne Farrington.  She likes to trade mugs for wool she can use for her beautiful, and warm, felted garments.  The morning was cloudy and cool, with market friends stopping by to say hello.  Robin Mizrahi's son, Nathan, is now raising English Angora rabbits.  She was delighted to see that I have a buck for him to use on his doe.  We decided to trade for her delicious granola.  Bartering is very popular around here and makes perfect sense when we raise or make products we all can use.  I got a lot of soap wrapped while sitting behind my table.  Home to the farm where I stopped at the upper field to check on the sheep.  They were lying so comfortably on the hillside, sunning themselves and chewing their cud.  The flock is so used to me chasing them back down to the barnyard they got up and started in that direction.  Tanner, Bertha and Reba heard me up top and came running up to greet me.  I couldn't go back on the road with them following me so I slowly drove the Honda van down the hill.  Matt showed me the flood lights he put up in the hay mow with another shining on the north side barnyard.  The mow won't be quite so spooky this winter.  I'll have to climb up there to put the barnyard light on, which is inconvenient, but here we are. New wiring in an old barn is tricky and expensive.  When the farm was in it's former glory, and the giant mow was filled with thousands of square bales, Sister Bernadette would climb up to the roof and replace the bulbs on the existing lights.  With the round bales I'm using now, and the gamboled roof, I can't get up that high.  We're talking 30 feet up.  Times have changed and life goes on.  On deck for today...working very hard to get ready for sheep and wool.  That "other Maggie" seems to be showing up a lot lately, the one who stays up late, stirring pots, spinning wool and running the machine.  She looks a little rough around the edges at work the next day, but the farm, it's own living entity, has to be sustained by whatever grist the mill requires, as Captain Jack would say. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Lovely Fall Sunday Morning

I got out early with the doggies while the frost was crunching under my boots.   The morning was already giving way to a lovely sunny fall day.  The sheep and goats were out grazing already.  I am still in awe of the wild beauty of the pasture in the early morning.  It is the perfect time to give thanks in my Church of the Universal Shepherd.  We wandered back down to the barn to check on everything.   I love to do my morning chores in my long, plaid nightie and boots with a sweater that is quickly removed when I build up some heat.  The barn is my favorite place at this time of year.  The flies are gone in the barn, but, sadly, still active inside the house.  I have several tasks in the morning including carrying water and grain to the front barnyard for the dogs, chickens and ducks, and more to the driveway where the chickens and two remaining Swedish Blue ducks live.  So far they've eluded the fox.  I'm planning to bring them inside the barn when it starts snowing but they won't like it.  The rabbits get fed and watered morning and night, with snacks of fresh hay stuck in the doors for snacking.  My new sheep, Gippetto, Finute, Edie and Erin (they came with those lovely names) are still in quarantine in the pig run which stretches the full length of the barn and offers them views of the barnyard and hillside. They are very healthy and sturdy.  The ewes have thick coats of lovely black wool.    I saw Louie, Wensleydale ram number one, on the hillside, trotting after a ewe, checking her back side for the signal that tells him if the time is right for mating.  I still have not seen him successfully mount a ewe, but he is trying, and I'm not always outside to look.  Some sheep prefer privacy - the ewes not the rams.  I don't think they care.  I'll let Gippetto out as back-up in another month.  I'd like all my lambs to come on spring vacation in April.  Wouldn't that be lovely?    With my luck - not a chance.  I had a very productive day yesterday with a batch of Lemongrass soap that set up very nicely.  Soap is tricky and most people take it for granted with so many people doing it.  Truth is if you are not very careful you end up with a failed batch that has to be re-poured.  I got two more knitting totes partially completed last night.  Summer School put a real dent in my production and I'm struggling to get back into speed.  It took me two hours to cut out three totes last night.  When I was too tired to sew any longer I sat down to cut out soap wrapping fabric and spin some yarn from my latest roving.  I still have three more runs to get shipped home before the next wool show.  So much depends on how well I do.  Many repairs are waiting, like the sliding wooden doors on the East End which have been bashed to bits but sheep pushing through.   Fence must be repaired.  Once again time has run away with me and many jobs will have to wait for spring.  With spouse laid up for three months things had to be put off.   The big barn cleaning and manure spreading on the fields will cost me a fortune.  Why do I do it?  This life is amazingly wild and wonderful, with never a dull moment.  With all the anguish and heartache, I wouldn't trade it for the world.  It challenges me and keeps me outside in the fresh air.  The farm keeps me healthy, mentally stable, and young.  I love the smell of wool and manure in the morning.  Without my sheep I would be as fat as a cow, sitting on the sofa knitting sweaters and reading books all the time, sorting out my antidepressant, blood pressure and rheumatism pills.  No thanks!

Thursday, October 02, 2014


I can't walk out my barn door without gasping in delight at the burst of colors on the piney ridge running along the edge of my land.  This is the spectacular week of peak foliage here in the middle of New York State.  The weather has been cooperative and provided us with sunshine and mild temps to be outside and enjoy the show.  The flock is still enjoying a hillside covered with lush, green grass.  This time two years ago I had been feeding hay for a month already.  Local farmers are getting third and fourth cuts of hay.  I'm happy for them and all the animals that will have full bellies through this winter.

New Blood

I've been talking to Dr. Ann Merriwether of Nyala Farm in Vestal about a Wensleydale ram for a year or so now.  I finally took Louie home with me.  He is absolutely adorable and a real sweetie.  My plan is to have fewer sheep with heavier fleeces.  I adore my Bluefaced Leicesters and crosses but some of the fleeces are very light.  I've been noticing that Bluefaced Leicester breeders often have another breed of sheep that produce a heftier fleece.  I tried a Border Leicester ram, Zack, for a year or two and have two lovely ewes from him, Margot and Margareta.  The Border Leicester wool is a tad coarse, but the fleeces are huge.  Louie was living with his buddy, Spike Lee, a purebred Nubian buck, for a month.  They kept each other fantastic company while I was feeding them well and preparing them for the task ahead.  Spike Lee is going to pair up with Fancy and Matilda soon to give me Nubian babies and goat milk in the spring.  When I put Louie in with the flock he went right to work, doing his best to mount the big girls from behind.  Louie is on the small side but his will is mighty.  I don't see a lot of breeding going on - some sheep like privacy - but I see that his nose is always in the right place.  We'll see how it goes.  In the meantime Louie is enjoying the lush green grass that still covers the hillside.

Friday, September 12, 2014

My Carder

I spoke to my personal carder, John Erlinger, from Frankenmuth Woolen Mill in Frankenmuth, Michigan, today.  John is shipping four of my seven runs to me so I can take the luscious blends to shows with me.  The rest will come soon.  I'm anxious to see what John has done with my fibers.   It was at least a dozen years ago that I was at my booth in Rhinebeck when I dashed out with a raw fleece to drop off to a processor.   The line at Zeilinger's Mill, coincidentally also in Frankenmuth, was a mile long.  There was not a single person in line at Frankenmuth's trailer.  I had to get back to my booth inside so I gave the wool to them.  I've been patronizing Frankenmuth ever since.  I'm very happy with John's work.  I harvest, wash, dye, wash again, and dry the different colors according to the look and feel I'm trying to achieve.   He knows just how to feed the various colors into the carding machine for a lovely variegated blend.  When the bags are heavy or light, John figures out how to distribute them evenly through the runs.   The turn around time is better than any other mill I'm aware of.  Sadly, the owners of Frankenmuth Woolen Mill have decided not to go to wool festivals anymore.   They have so much business with mattress pads and comforters they don't see travelling to shows as cost effective.   I don't get to visit with John in person and we do all our business over the phone.   He ships my wool back to me postage free.  It's always an exciting day when those giant boxes are dropped off at the farm and I can play with my newly blended fibers.  I spin them into yarns that are so much more luxurious and beautiful than commercial yarns.  An added bonus is knowing the yarns come from animals who live out their lives in comfort and are never subjected to the terror of auctions.  . 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Subtle Changes

The trees are slowly changing color.  It seems earlier this year.  It has not been dry for long periods of time.  The grass is still lush and green with clumps of clover and soft dandelion leaves.  The sheep are so fat some of them have a hard time pulling themselves up the hill.  Even the withered old ladies have a little meat on their bones.   The cold weather is not far away.  The barnyard thermometer registered 38F. two mornings ago.  I'm still doing chores in shorts and tee shirts.  What bliss!  I'm not looking forward to dragging hoses around.  Green grass and the pond provides the flock with all the water they need. When they are eating hay in the winter they are thirsty all the time.   I've been busy making soap.  Last night it was Cinnamon Leaf.  The night before I made Clove soap.  The flies fled the kitchen when I was cutting up the clove bars.  Didn't realize clove was a bug repellent.  Nice surprise.  I have several totes on the machine.  A hundred plus pounds of lovely colorful wool blends are waiting for me at the carding mill.  It's a very busy time of year.  I don't feel like I caught up from summer school.  No vacation this year as spouse used up all his sick/vacation time recovering from the two foot surgeries and subsequent staph infection.  The four days away in Maine last year will have to suffice.   The picc line was removed and IV meds were discontinued on Monday.  The surgeon says he's fine and all the numbers look good.  He's back to his exciting job, meeting with our congressional representative to discuss energy issues, and travelling around the state teaching technical certification courses.  I rush home to the farm every day and hike up to the top of the hill to let the dogs drink from the pond.  Soon it will be covered with drifted snow.   The forecast says early snow and a long, cold winter.   

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Sheep in the Mist

I forgot to lock the gate and the sheep were out grazing early this morning.  Apples are starting to ripen on the trees and the few that fall down on their own are enough to keep the sheep waiting, hopefully, underneath.   I've started knocking the apples down with a big stick, which is comical to watch as my aim is not that good.  I get more results when I stand directly under the branches and shake them.  Large apple orchards have machines that shake the trees to make the apples fall down.  When I get conked on the head I wish I had a machine like that.  One would think the apples would be shaken off in the wind, but that's not always the case.  They will rot or be bug eaten if left on the branches.  I often think how lovely it would be to rehabilitate my orchard.  I don't have the manpower or the time to give it what it needs.  A team of Amish farmers would love this orchard and bring it back to it's former splendor.  They may get it someday, and that would make me very happy.  I had to leave for work and, just as I was rushing out the door, I saw them emerging from the mist, headed down the hill, but there was not a minute to spare to collect them all and lock the gate.  I know their habits and they should have gone back in the barn to sleep on the cool poo-pack, avoiding the hot sun.  Let's hope that's the case.   I would love to install barn and field cams so I could take peeks at the goings-on while I'm at school.   I'm thinking about letting my new Wensleydale ram, Louie, out with the flock.   He's very small, even at a year old, and I'm worried the big FAT ewes and wethers will knock him around, a natural thing to do with a new member of the flock.   His buddy, my new Nubian buck, Spike Lee, has to stay in his separate area so he doesn't breed the angora does.  I will put the Nubian does in with him for breeding.  He is also very small at six months old.  The Nubian does are gigantic - big strong girls.  I hope they are very fond of him and accommodating as well.  They will have to be in order for him to service them.   I'm hoping for goat milk this winter and the girls can't produce it without being bred.  That's how it works. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Colorful Weekend

The 20th Annual Colorscape Chenango Fine Arts Festival was a fantastic success.  We dodged a horrific weather system which dumped rain on surrounding areas but not on the Norwich town square.  Traffic through my booth was steady all weekend.  Colorscape has many incredibly talented artists participating and I'm honored to be in their company. I received many compliments and much validation in the form of repeat visitors.  One amusing comment..."I love all this hippie stuff!"  I don't really think of my products as hippie stuff, more like farmy stuff.  Okay with me.  One woman arrived in a tizzy, having made three circles around the festival before finally inquiring at the information booth about the location of my booth.  Another woman was wheeled in with three friends in attendance.  She was covered with crocheted blankets and shawls, and looked very ill, as in terminally so.  A friend had parked her facing the bag rack, in front of a tote featuring a beach scene.  I saw her eyes melt into the picture and take on a far away look.  She said, "I want that," and pointed at the bag.  At once two of the friends reached for their wallets.  I realized they may not ever have a chance to give their friend a gift again.   The son of a colleague visited me to buy his mother a Christmas present and asked me to help him pick it out.  Many colleagues from school and our sister campus, along with former students stopped by.  People I do business with in Norwich wandered through.   A woman told me that she goes to many wool festivals and wades through the commercial yarn but, "You are the real deal."  I was reminded how wonderfully unique it is to raise my own materials, from lamb to loom.  I've never won any of the booth design awards, or prizes for my work.  I do too many different things, and my presentation is very basic.  That's okay, I'm happy with what I do.  The festival patrons loved watching me spin and  often baby strollers were parked in front of my wheel, put there purposely to mesmerize the little ones so parents could shop.  I packed up Sunday night, contented and with renewed purpose.