Archive for January, 2013

Busy Ewes

January 31, 2013

At least my loss of sleep is being rewarded!

Kays lamb Kay was waiting for me in the barn when I went out to feed Sunday afternoon, presenting me with 2 little hooves and a nose. Soon a tiny little lamb (less than 5 pounds) was on the ground, and Kay settled down to her dinner. The lamb was a long time standing, so I tube fed her to make sure she got some colostrum.  This became a recurring theme with Nellie. She was unsteady on her feet, and to add to the confusion, Kay has more than 2 teats. In fact, she has 4, only 2 of which actually work. Plus, poor Nell’s suck reflex was not the greatest. It took her 46 hours to figure out that all that good stuff I was putting in her tummy actually could be had on demand direct from mom. 46 hours of me going out every 3-4 hours round the clock to tube her. Worth the patience and perseverance, since she is nursing like a champ now.

In the meantime, Fraija went into labor late Sunday night (actually early Monday morning). She was escorted into the barn and with a little help soon was nursing a healthy boy. I hit the hay about 5 am and set the alarm for 9 am. When I went out to feed Nell again, Fraija had delivered another lamb. I had seen her pass the afterbirth after the first lamb, so this was a bit of a surprise. Meet Nelson and Nora:

Fraijas twins again Nelson has lots of small dark grey spots all over his body. Nora is also spotted, especially on her back legs. On one hip, the spots are black. On the other they are much larger, and brown. Talk about multi-colored!

Yesterday morning, Ida Lynn had a strapping white ram lamb by her side when I went out about 9 am. He is a bruiser, already broader than the older lambs. And it looks like he will be horned as well. I’ve named him Ned:

Ned and Ida Lynn

Finally, this afternoon when I went out to feed, I could see that Marge had a lamb by her side. To everyone’s disgust, I held off on feeding until they were both in the barn out of harm’s way. She is a lovely tall CVM ewe lamb. Mom Marge is ok with colored lambs as long as she doesn’t also have a white lamb (yes, sheep have prejudices too!). I haven’t named her yet.

Marges lamb

All this action makes for some shuffling. My barn isn’t very big to begin with (only 8′ by 16′), and it’s made even smaller by the fact that I’ve partitioned half of it off for Ashe (the ewe who is down) and whoever her companion is (Kay and Nell at the moment). The other half can hold 2 lambing jugs (3 if I am very creative). I like to keep a ewe and her lamb(s) in the barn for at least 24 hours, until I can make sure that the lambs have figured out how to nurse well and the ewe is not likely to lose them in the pen. I also take advantage of the close quarters to try to handle the lambs a bit, so they can figure out that I am ok no matter what mama may say. This handling works better with some lambs than others. Norma Jean is perfectly comfortable being picked up and carried around, and will fall asleep in my lap at the drop of a hat, but I’m pretty sure that Ned wants little else to do with me now that he is out of the barn. That’s ok, since I’m hoping that he will be worth keeping a ram.

snuggling with Aunt Ashe Ashe is proving to be quite the baby sitter. Norma Jean climbs through the fence to get back in the barn to snooze in comfort, and Nell is willing to share the snuggle rights next to the warm auntie. You can really see the size difference here. Yes, Norma Jean is 6 days older, but she weighs about 4 times what Nellie does. Hopefully, now that she has figured out nursing Nell will catch up somewhat.

So far the count is 7 lambs (6 surviving), of which 4 are girls. Still to lamb are Faith, Ashe and Irene for sure. Amber is still a maybe, as are the goats. Unfortunately, it looks like Eartha may have lost her pregnancy. She was developing an udder back in December, but last time I felt it was gone. I hope she will prove me wrong, but I am not hopeful at this point.

Hopefully next time I will have some weaving to report. I’ve been planning some warps. Time to dig out the warping board and get to work!

The Ups and Downs of Baby Watch

January 21, 2013

First the bad news: my first lamb of 2013 didn’t make it. It is always sad when something like this happens. I pretty sure I know what happened, and hopefully he will be the only one. As we say, sometimes a new life looks around and figures out what they came back as (“I’m a sheep? What the heck!”) and hits the re-do button.

During lambing season I try to check on the ewes at least every 6 hours. The first few days I do this, they are very loud about my visit, sure that I am bringing some sort of snack with me. After a day or two, they settle down and mostly ignore me.  Since I tend to feed in the late afternoon, I take a walk out there at about 11 pm, 4 am (so I can still get a few hours of sleep before I get up for real) and 10 am. Last night when I made my 11 pm tour through the sheep pen, Bridget was pawing the loose hay in the barn and laying down, sure signs of early labor. I sat and watched for a while, but she was making slow progress. I figured she’d get down to business about 3 am. I went back out 3 times between 11 and 3, just to make sure that she wasn’t progressing faster than that. She is my oldest ewe (13 in April), and I didn’t want to miss any problems. Sure enough, at 3:12, there are toes pointing at me, and with a quick assist there was this:

Bridgets not even all the way out yet The lamb tried to stand before the umbilical cord was even broken! Mom cleaned her off (yes, a girl) and I made sure she latched on and had a good drink of milk before I went back inside. I tried to nap, but I’m not very good at that, so I went back out to make sure she could find things on her own at about 5:30 am, then off to bed for a couple of hours. My 10 am check was good. This is a much better picture of the newest addition

Bridgets ewe lamb Isn’t she a cutie? Worth the lost sleep.

Lambing season is hard. I don’t get to sleep through the night, and I’m not very good at napping, so I wander around in a daze a fair amount of the time. Because the ram was in with the ewes for an extended amount of time (mid-August to mid-October), lambing will be strung out over several weeks. There will be times when I’m pretty sure that no one else is imminent and I will take advantage. If I am wrong, there may be problems. It’s not that my sheep can’t deliver unassisted; they can. But when there is a problem, you are needed right then. I have lost lambs and ewes over the years by not being there, and it breaks my heart every time. Even with vigilance, there are losses. Shepherding is not for the weak of heart.

But there is a special kind of beauty in heading out in the cold, dark night to check on my sheep. The moon was so bright last night that I carried my flashlight without turning it on, watching my shadow walk along side me on the frozen ground. It was cold and breezy, but warmer than some times. There are times when the air is so cold and crisp that it makes your nose hairs feel crisp when you breathe. I am reminded in those moments of being a child in Norway, where we spent a year. We were told not to run for the bus if we were late in the winter time, so that we wouldn’t breath through our mouths and risk freezing out lungs. It being the olden days, the girls had to wear dresses, and I would wear 5 pairs of tights to try to keep my legs warm. When it got to -30, we could wear pants. So silly, that fashion and society would dictate that girls couldn’t dress warmly unless it got to a certain temperature. Every winter now, I think of that as I bundle up and step outside my back door. When there is snow on the ground, the moonlight makes it sparkle like diamonds sometimes, and I wish there was a way to capture that on film. I do have old pictures of hoar-frost that I took several years ago (on actual film, imagine that), and they are beautiful too but the weather that brings it is not my favorite – cold and humid is not a good combo to my mind.  But even the weather I don’t relish has an appeal to it, a beauty if I will only open my eyes and accept it for what it brings. I feel blessed that I am still able to do that.

Enough philosophy! I finished another prayer shawl for my mom’s church group. Hopefully I will get all the ends woven in tomorrow and get it blocked. I used up lots of leftover acrylic yarn that I’d gotten at the thrift store, alternating shades of orange with other colors. Mom thinks I should call it Joseph’s Coat, but I am leaning more towards Circus Whore. It is garish, but someone will love it. I also started playing with my felting needles again. I am working on a small bust of a slave man. The armature is leftovers from a commission spinning fleece, and I am applying moorit Romeldale for the skin.  Lots of stabbing (very therapeutic), adding layer upon layer to build up the features of his face. He is a long way  from done, but here he is so far:

a bit more progress

Surprise!

January 16, 2013

I spend a fair amount of time most days planning blog posts. And then life happens, and days and weeks go by with those ideas just floating around in my head.

Any way, yesterday when I went out to feed, the ewes were not happy with me. Instead of going and buying more corn, I spent the afternoon playing with Laura (more on that in a minute). So they are milling around, complaining loudly that they are starving, that hay just isn’t good enough, that they will keel over and die if I don’t have a bucket of corn for them. Silly girls. It had finally warmed up enough for the hose faucet to work, so I’ve stretched the hose out and am filling waterers while I can, which includes using a bucket to fill the tub in the barn. I am walking back and forth between the barn and the big tub when I spot …. (you ready for this?)… a lamb!

Now, the day before when everyone was sucking down corn as fast as they could, I had walked around behind the ewes, feeling everyone’s udder, to get an idea of who might lamb when. Some are closer than others, but no one feels imminent. As compared to Faith, who is in the barn with Ashe, whose udder is full and has changed to a rich pink color which normally indicates impending babies. The lamb cozies up to Midge, who is still big as a house and whose udder was soft when I checked. She talks back to him and lets him nurse. He is dry and has obviously eaten already, so I pick him up and walk over to the barn. She follows. I open the barn gate, Faith comes out, and Midge and her son go in.

Midges lamb To add to the surprise, when I was snuggling him at midnite I’m pretty sure I felt horns. Both his parents are polled (no horns). Hmmm.

So what fun things was I doing with Laura, you ask? She had called me to see if I was available to go with her to pick up a Craigslist find (a small mangle for pressing her woven goods), and then she came back to the house to card some angora fluff she had gotten from a mutual friend. It was fun, and it will be great to see what she makes with the finished yarn.

I haven’t talked here about why Ashe is in the barn. She is Kid the Younger’s last remaining sheep from the flock that he had from being in 4-H, and I had held off on telling him she was having problems until he was here for his birthday. She has been down, unable to stand for over a month. There was one day where I was afraid she was checking out (she refused food and water), but other than that one day her attitude has been good. She is very skinny (she has always been thin), but eating and drinking well. I put her in the barn with a companion to provide her with as much comfort as I can. At first her companion was Eartha (who has always been my thinnest ewe). They got corn long before anyone else. After a few weeks of confinement, Eartha was getting a bit testy, so I let her out and brought in Faith, who seemed the closest to lambing (ha!). My other big surprise was finding out that, despite her illness, Ashe is still pregnant. She has never had a lamb that survived, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for her and the lamb.

Our weather has been miserable cold, not getting above freezing for days on end. This week is supposed to be back to normal. Living in an old (40 years old) mobile home, is a challenge in cold weather. If I am not careful (and sometimes even when I am), I have to deal with frozen pipes. It isn’t often that I have no water at all, though it has happened. Last week, I had water to my bathroom sink, but not that tub or toilet. The 2nd bathroom had water to the tub. The kitchen had cold water, but not hot. The hose bib was frozen shut. It makes doing things much more challenging. The toilet can be flushed, for example, but I have to manually refill the tank. Buckets of water have to be carried out to the animals so that they have something to drink (not enough snow on the ground for them to eat). It’s not quite pioneer living, but it’s as close as I want to get. I have no illusions about how hard life was in the “Good Old Days”. I laugh when someone tells me they’d like to go back and live at some time in the past. No thanks! I love my modern conveniences.

When I wasn’t dealing with wood and water, I’ve been knitting and spinning. I got the Christmas stocking fulled, finished one prayer shawl for my mom’s church group and started another, and finished the first pair of socks of the year:

Tony April Mara Matt Sue waste (this is about 70% of the ends I had from the Christmas stockings. The dime in the lower right corner is for scale) prayer shawl 1  Bias knit prayer shawl. The dark green is a bulky yarn, the cream is 3 strands of worsted weight.first socks of the year, mohair blend First socks of 2013, from a mohair blend yarn that I had in stash. There is enough yarn left for another pair.

In spinning, I have been working on some yarn spun from one of Faith’s old fleeces. I washed up some of the skirtings from her fleece using the directions in Margaret Stove’s “Spinning for Lace” dvd, and have been spinning them worsted from the locks. It is turning out very pretty, and with 2 spinning dates last weekend I’ve made a lot of progress on the bobbin. I am selecting locks to emphasize the color variations in the fleece.

Faith on St Distaff Day

I also took a couple of minutes to play with my new toy from Santa, a mandoline. Made quick work of some onions and potatoes for a tasty soup.

mandoline in boxmandeline ready to usemandelin cut onions This will get used a lot. Makes slicing so much faster (and uniform).

Hope you are staying warm (or cool, depending on where you are) and keeping busy. Talk at you soon.

It’s Official – My Kids Are The Best

January 5, 2013

Having survived the holidays, I did want to share that the kids outdid themselves with Christmas presents this year. Kid the Elder and his wife replaced my dying stove (one burner had a broken knob, and one had an intermittent short). Plus, it was at least 20 years old. The new one is used, but for the first time in over 20 years, I have a stove capable of self-cleaning (though I am not likely to use it, since it gets SO hot and I am in an old mobile home). It is wonderful to be able to cook on all burners again. It got installed the day after Christmas, being that I foiled the plan to install it while I slept Christmas Eve. I was sleeping in one of the comfy chairs in the living room, since I have been fighting a lung infection that prevented me from sleeping laying down for almost a week. The old one went to the dump as soon as this one was installed. No sense in putting it off while we had help.

new stove

Kid the Younger wasn’t able to come home for Christmas, but made it over a few days later for his birthday. Having a birthday so close to Christmas sucks, but I was well-trained by my dad, whose birthday was the 27th. The rules were simple – a joint present was not acceptable, and the birthday present could not be wrapped in Christmas paper. When Kid was younger we would forgo a birthday party in December for one later. Sometimes in January, but usually at the end of the school year, when we could invite the whole class over to run amok outside once filled with cake and ice cream. He way out did himself in the present department too – a ginormous gift card to Home Depot. He does know the way to his mama’s heart. I’m having as much fun figuring out what to do as I will actually spending it.

We did our traditional Christmas Eve dinner – tacos (been doing it since I was about 9) at my mom’s, but Christmas day was pretty laid back. Kid the Elder made coffee cake (another long-standing tradition, ever since he was old enough to run the stove with supervision).  He changes it up every year, playing with recipes.

I finally decided that it was time for new Christmas stockings. When I was pregnant with my eldest I started making stockings for my potential children. I was running on memory for how big mine was and had way over-estimated. So for many years, Santa has had to break the bank filling them. Now, Daughter is gone, as is Sweetie, and Kid the Younger has changed his name. I placed an order to KnitPicks in early November, dug out the knitting books, and started knitting in secret. I got them all finished (except for weaving in some ends on mine) on Christmas Eve, and they got hung just before I went to bed. They still need fulled, and I will post a better picture once that happens, but here they are in all their glory:

Christmas Stockings As you can see, there are 5 of them. Kid the Elder is blue, DIL is purple, Kid the Younger is red, his fiancée is green, and I am yellow. The kids all have their mates color alternated with white on the toes, and the toe of mine has all 4 of the others. Since I’d ordered yarn without having a plan, I cut it very close on the yellow. I have only a tiny little ball left of it, approximately 2 yards. I am very happy with how they turned out, and it won’t be hard to do more if I am ever blessed with grand-babies.

I also knit socks for both Kid the Younger and his fiancée, but I don’t have pictures of them yet. They are supposed to send me a picture as soon as they find a second.

The ewes are starting to bag up (develop udders), so lambs are on their way! It’s always exciting to see what I get in the way of new babies. I borrowed a ram from my friend Correy, so I have high hopes for structural improvements. It will be interesting to see if I get some fun color patterns. I’m a total sucker for spotted lambs, though it is unlikely that he carries spotting. Some of the ewes do, so there is a possibility. I still can’t tell if the goat girls are pregnant, though I did dream that one of them was.

My other big adventure was helping Laura do in her two big white turkeys. She had been putting it off for a while, and finally conceded that she needed the prompting of my being there to get them done. We started with the hen, who was almost small enough to carry. Laura did most of the work on her, with me mostly supervising and bracing the carcass to facilitate certain maneuvers. Before we broke for lunch and to warm up a bit, we walked the tom up to the where we were working (no way we were lifting  him up) and hung him up to bleed out. A hot cup of tea, a slice of homemade frittata, and a little sit down time were a nice break, before we went back out to finish the dirty work. We both worked on skinning him out, and pretty soon he joined his mate in the cold water bath in her front yard. They spent the night there before being boned out today. She will be making a lot of turkey sausage, and I may be smoking some of it. I’m pushing for one that includes dried apricot.

Hope you all had a nice holiday season, and are off to a good start in the New Year.