Archive for the ‘Farm’ Category

Ongoing Changes

October 24, 2013

Life is change. I know that, but that doesn’t mean that I always appreciate it. Over the years I’ve had too many changes imposed on me, with no say in the matter and while I can work with necessary change, change simply for the sake of change irks me. At my old job, they would often shift our desks around simply because they could, and I always objected.

Things around here are changing too. Some of it is good and necessary. Some of it is annoying. I will spare you pictures of the crap-tastic pallet and recycled wood fence I built by the pole barn. One of the neighbors (I’m assuming the idiot next door) had complained to the County, even though nothing had changed in over 12 years. I have a feeling that he thought that after Sweetie passed I would sell off and move, and when that didn’t happen he decided to stir the pot. I got a letter from the County about 18 months ago, with a “solid waste” complaint. When I called to ask about it, I was told that the dead cars in the yard had to be removed, and my pile of trash bags. I don’t have regular trash service; I just make a dump run as needed and it was about time for another. So, dump run accomplished and dead cars removed (3 sedans and 2 pickups), I went about my normal life. Until early this summer, when the Sheriff showed up with a summons. He informed me that I would have to pass inspection, which would have been good information to have from the get-go. Again, I asked for specifics on what needed to be done to make them happy. This time I was told that there was too much “stuff” on my front porch, and that would need to be cleaned off. What an adventure that was! After going almost 30 years without being stung by anything, I was stung by paper wasps 5 times. Each reaction was worse than the one before, so now I’m a little paranoid about being stung again. I called for my inspection.  The County guy ignored everything I had already done, and decided that my pole barn needed to be completely cleaned out, or a sight-obscuring fence needed to be built. Argh! How hard would it have been to tell me that in the beginning. It was now the heat of summer, and I was unwilling to risk any more wasp stings. Luckily, I was able to convince him that I needed an extension until we got enough cool weather to quiet the wasps down, and I was able to get enough of a fence built to appease him.

Once that was out of the way, I started looking at my front porch. A hole had developed in the decking at the top of the stairs, and I obtained enough decking to replace all of the floor. Unfortunately, it has developed into a much more complicated job. After looking at it carefully, I’m not sure how the porch is still standing. Turns out, there is no real structure under it, only piles of wood that are holding the deck up in places. The posts that hold up the front end of the roof over the porch aren’t even attached to the porch, just resting on it! So that means that I will need to tear the whole thing down and rebuild it from the ground up. Times like this are when I miss my dad; he would have been a big help in doing the job right. Oh well, at least he trained me well.

The freezer will be getting new residents in a couple of days. In early September one of the feed stores I deal with got in a bunch of chicks. I got 40 Cornish cross chicks to raise and share with Laura. I brooded them in half of the barn, then moved them all outside to a spare pen. Up until last week I’d done a great job, without a single loss. In a week, I have lost 5 of them. It is frustrating to put all the work and food into them and lose them so close to the end, but the remaining ones are looking mighty tasty. They take their trip to the butcher on Saturday, so hopefully they’ll all last that long. I know other producers can have losses up to 30%, so mine aren’t too bad in the grand scheme, but it’s hard losing them this late in the game.line up at the buffet

I’ve been working at the carder too. I’m slogging my way slowly through the commission alpaca fleeces, washing fleeces while the weather is being cooperative. As a break from all the natural color, I carded up some rainbow batts from some leftover Romney cross fleece.  I did each of the colors separately, adding in some sparkle.Individual colors

Then I split them up and thinned things down for another trip through the carder. Ready for final carding

I’m really happy with how these turned out. They are very cheerful in person. Three of them are being bartered for a Christmas present, but the other 6 will be sold if I can resist spinning them up myself. The pictures don’t do them justice.Finished batts Twisted close up

I’ve been knitting on socks. I had started these yellow ones quite some time ago, with the intention of doing some infinity cables on the legs. They had been on the needles too long, and I was having problems wrapping my addled brain around the cables, so I just finished them off plain so I could free up the needles. Then I jumped in to knitting a pair off fairly quickly, as barter for my massage therapist. Didn’t get them done in time for her last visit, but she’ll be back soon and I’ll have this pair done. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the yarn she left for me so I can get another pair started too. We haven’t worked out an exchange rate yet, but I need to get to work on Christmas knitting too.  finished plain Becky sock

I have also found my hand cards. Sweetie had packed a tote that was on the front porch. In his normal fashion, there was not much rhyme or reason to the things in the tote. I found beads, a steak knife, a flashlight, my cards and an assortment of fleece bits. Most of the fleece was toast, but I played with the cards and some of the fleece that I indigo dyed back in late April. I made up batches that were pure undyed, pure dyed and 3:1 ratios (both directions). I’m thinking a new hat and matching gloves or mittens might be in order, but I haven’t settled on a pattern yet. I’m toying with the idea of doing some color work, but will see what I finally settle on. I do like to colors, and the progression. hand carded variation

The biggest change I’m undergoing right now, I suppose, is self-imposed. Back in late April, I changed my mindset about food. I have had issues with my weight most of my adult life. My weight had held steady for the last 20+ years, within 5 pounds. Didn’t seem to matter what I ate or how I exercised. I’ve always had a fairly good diet. I don’t eat candy, I love fruits and vegetables, I’m just an easy keeper. When I paid attention to how many calories I was taking in, I was holding steady at about 1200 calories a day (most indications are that I should have been losing at least 10 pounds a month at that input).  Until the last few years I wasn’t seeing any real negative issues. My cholesterol levels were fine, and my blood pressure was ok, and so I didn’t worry about my weight too much. Then, a couple of years ago, my bp sky rocketed. In early April, it went as high as 170/100. That is not a number I’m comfortable with. While a simple diuretic was able to control it, I now have no insurance and wanted a chemical free way of keeping it down.  In April, I moved to a mostly raw food diet. I tried doing a juice fast for 3 days, but my body quickly informed me that I needed protein. So I listened to my body. I juice once or twice a day, I can eat whatever I want (just not all of it). Before I dried Myrtle off (for breeding), I was using raw milk and making raw milk cheese. I’ve cut way back on the amount of carbs (bread, pasta, etc), but if I want them I can have a reasonable serving. So far, I’ve lost about 25 pounds, and more importantly, my blood pressure is back to normal! Even if my weight hadn’t changed at all, it would be worth the effort (little as it is) just to have my blood pressure back where it should be. I don’t feel like I’m dieting, which is huge (as any of you that struggle with your weight will understand). I still eat out occasionally, I’m cooking well. I’m not sure how I managed to reset my mind & my relationship with food, but this is one change I am thankful for. I’m not losing pounds quickly, which is fine since I couldn’t afford to replace my entire wardrobe all at once. But my clothes are fitting a bit better, and I’m getting a few compliments when I’m out in public, which never hurts the ego. Still a long way to go to get back down to what most would consider a “normal” weight, but I’m good with that. I may never get back to “normal”. I am more concentrated on feeling better, on making my body last as long as possible. I would like to enter my 60’s healthier than I am now, with less pain. I’ve got this!

 

 

Stocking Up

September 16, 2013

It’s been a while since I did any substantial amount of canning, and I seem to be making up for lost time.  Last count was over 50 1/2-pint jars, and I’m not done yet.

It started when I saw a flyer at the feed store, announcing that they would be having a box produce sale early this month. The timing was perfect, since I would have a little disposable income from judging at State Fair (more about that later).  I came home with a 25 pound bag of onions and a box each of Gravenstein apples, peaches, and Roma tomatoes.

The onions are amazing, probably the freshest I’ve ever bought. I caramelized about a dozen of them in one batch. I love having them in the freezer. I store them in small bags, then use them in soups & stews, or add them in to all sorts of other dishes. I’ll do the rest once I catch up with all the canning.

I discovered a wonderful new (to me) blog, http://localkitchenblog.com/. She has a lot of great jam recipes and most are pretty low in sugar, which I really appreciate. Several of the creations coming out of my kitchen right now are either directly from her site, or inspired by things there.

First up was a handful of the apples. The pulp became Bourbon Apple Butter, and the drained juice became Apple Jelly with Lemon and Lavender. I still want to make applesauce, but the apples will hold for a little while, and the soft fruit was demanding attention. The tomatoes were easy, just peeled and put up in quart jars with a bit of citric acid.

On to the peaches. From the Local Kitchen site, I settled on a Peach Jam with Caramelized Onions and Basil. This is more of a savory jam, and I think it will be fantastic on pork or chicken. I’ve made one batch, but I think another is a good idea. I also made a simple Peach Butter, and on the recommendation of my friend Brenda, the pits and skins were made into Peach Pit Jelly. I’m still waiting for that to actually gel, but all the sites say to give it up to 2 weeks before adding more pectin. It’s a very subtle taste, and very pretty.

Then the feed store sent out an e-mail saying that any produce left on Sunday was half price. I was really hoping for another box of the apples but they were all gone. Instead, I came home with a box of Bartlett pears. Luckily, Tien Chu mentioned that she was going to be making a Pear-Lavender Jam and she generously shared the recipe with me. My first attempt could have been a fiasco, because I turned on the burner and sat down at the computer. I completely forgot about the pot on the stove until I smelled burning sugar. Oops! It turned into one of my best “mistakes” ever! The lavender got lost under the caramel, but it was tasty enough that yesterday I recreated it, using ginger instead. I also made 2 successful batches of the Pear-Lavender.

jelly collage

To top it all off, I came home from a massage on Saturday with 2 more boxes of peaches. I chopped up most of the first box this morning and let them macerate with some lime juice and a bit of sugar before cooking them long enough to soften them up enough for the food mill. Now the pulp is cooking down, and it will become Peach Jam with Lime and Balsamic Vinegar (I’m inventing this as I go). And yes, the color in this picture is accurate. These are some of the reddest peaches I’ve seen in a while, and very tasty. A peach pie is definitely a possibility…

peach puree

So what about State Fair, you ask? It was a fun experience. Mom came along, since she had never been to the State Fair before. We drove over in the morning, checked in to the hotel and dropped off our luggage, then headed to the Fairgrounds. After a quick lunch, we strolled the grounds, checking out the entries and the commercial booths. We spent a lot of time looking at the orchid exhibit (we have a hard time believing that they are really easy to grow). We were headed over to spend a little time watching the horse show, but got distracted by the big cats and a wonderful reptile exhibit, and then by the birds of prey show. Then it was time for me to report for duty. For their first show, the Angora breeders did themselves proud. Several of the classes put me through my paces, and I tried to incorporate the things I’ve learned as an exhibitor (even if you’ve made up your mind everyone deserves a look, find something positive to say about every animal, and let everyone know why you put the class the way you did) . I won’t be upset if they ask me back next year to judge again. It was a nice couple of days with my mom, and a good introduction to the State Fair for her.

Last week I delivered 4 sheep to their new home, 3 of mine and an extra from another local breeder. Meridoc, Manny and Nelson are now enjoying life on the coast with their new owner. It’s always fun seeing the looks I get with a van full of sheep. I even had a Highway Patrol man following me for a while, and when he pulled around me he paused long enough to catch my eye and wave. It surprises me more how many people don’t notice the sheep staring out the windows. The trip also allowed me to have a quick overnight visit with Kid the Younger and see the new apartment, and to treat him and the roomies to dinner out.

I wish I could say that I’m totally ready for Oregon Flock & Fiber in 2 weeks, but I’ve been distracted by the fruit. Oh well, hopefully I’ll get my act together this week.

Paying Attention to the Little Details

August 26, 2013

We all get caught up in the day-to-day banality of our lives and let the little details slip by unnoticed. It’s one of the things about spending time with little kids that I miss, their ability to be completely absorbed by some minor aspect of life, and it’s something I try to do at least occasionally. I had the opportunity to be reminded about this a couple of times in the last week, and I’m glad I slowed down enough to pay attention.

The first detail caught my eye as I rounded the front corner of the house, headed to turning on the hose so I could fill water troughs. The mound of dirt got my attention first, then I noticed the hole. That is my daughter-in-law’s hand for scale. After much reflection, I think a neighbor dog must have done the damage. The cats don’t normally dig like that to go after a rodent, and I have seen no evidence of anything living in or near the hole. Guess I’d better fill it in before I twist an ankle in it.new hole

 My spinning wheel (a Schacht Matchless) has been having some issues lately. That led to my 2nd little detail. I needed a screwdriver to work with, and grabbed this little brass one that Sweetie’s dad had given me several years ago. I have always enjoyed using it, but never really paid attention to it until this week. screwdriver There was a little noise when I used it, a slight rattle. Instead of ignoring it (as I must have in the past), I investigated. And I love what I found. Not one, not two screwdriver2, not three, screwdriver4 but four screwdrivers,  screwdriver4all nestled together like one of those Russian dolls. I love it! The biggest is about 6 inches long, and the tiny little one is just over an inch. I’ve always loved good tools, and this one just moved up a notch in my favorites list. And with its help and a little TLC, the Matchless is back to behaving beautifully, and I am finishing up the last of the Merlin blend yarn that I started during the Tour de Fleece.

I have gotten a few farm chores done also, including shearing three sheep. Manny and Meriadoc went from shaggy boys to nearly naked. I love their colors, but I still need to really look at their fleeces and assess the quality. I did discover that I messed up when I banded Meriadoc and only caught one of his testicles. This would explain some of his behaviors (very pushy with his pen mates, and occasionally head bashing wood panels). He has never shown any inclination towards being aggressive towards people, so if he stays here I will probably leave things as they are.Manny yearling face onMeriadoc yearling face onManny and Meriadoc shorn

I also sheared the old lady of the flock, Bridget. At 13 years old this spring, she has earned the right to retire, especially since she gave me such a nice replacement ewe lamb this year. I think she looks pretty good for such an aged sheep, and she is now doing “Ashe duty” and getting some grain as a reward. Bridget after shearing 2013

Speaking of Ashe, she is doing well. I am trying to hold her weight steady where it is now (don’t want her getting too fat), and she and Bridget have full run of the barn pen.  She is fairly mobile, even if she does look funny getting around. I hope that she will regain some more flexibility in her front legs, for comforts sake, but she seems content. As I’ve said all along, as long as she is willing to keep up the fight, so am I. Her lamb, Navid, is doing well also, and is a friendly little guy, always ready for a chin scritch.

Navid face on

I am getting ready for State Fair later this week. My mom has never been, and since I will be judging the Angora goats in their inaugural showing this year we are going to make the trip over the mountains together. I have booked a hotel room so that we can relax a bit after seeing all there is to see. Should be fun; I always enjoyed taking the kids to the Fair as an “end of summer” treat. Then next month, we will be enjoying the circus. Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey are coming to our local fairgrounds, so Kid the Younger and Fiancee are coming over to go with mom & me.

No word on my missing shawl yet, but the response I have gotten online has been wonderful. My picture has been shared all over the world, so whoever took it will not be able to wear it in public without being spotted. I have made peace with the fact that it is gone, and will dig out the book so I can make myself another one (in a different color so I don’t get accosted wearing it out!). Someone shared how a shawl of theirs made it home 6 months after being taken, so I won’t give up hope, I just won’t waste any energy thinking nasty thoughts about the person who took it. I prefer to fill my life with positive thoughts and actions. Not always possible, but I try.

 

One Step Closer To Being Ready For The Zombie Apocalypse

May 15, 2013

Just kidding, I’m not getting ready for the Zombie Apocalypse. But I do enjoy making myself as self-sufficient as I can, and yesterday I took another step in that direction.

It somehow seemed appropriate that I take the occasion of the 4th anniversary of Sweetie’s passing to play in the kitchen with the goat milk that I have been collecting from Myrtle. And while he would not have appreciated the mess I made, he would have found a great deal of joy in how much I was enjoying myself as I experimented with making not 1, but 2 kinds of cheese.

I have been following Leigh’s adventures with her goats and homestead for quite some time, so earlier I had checked out her archives for the info I needed, as well as doing a little additional research online. Can’t have too much education when starting a new project! I had been scooping the cream off the milk in the fridge and putting it in a jar in the freezer, and Saturday morning, the jar was finally full enough to try my hand at making butter.

Butter starting to come together It was a warm day, and once it solidified it was too warm to stay cohesive until I could take a picture of it. A little time in the fridge though, and I had butter! I find the taste difference between cow’s milk and my goat milk more noticeable in the butter than in the liquid milk. Not objectionable, just different. I was already aware that it wouldn’t be the standard “butter yellow” that we are used to in store-bought butter, but that doesn’t bother me in the least. Used on something (like the fresh corn on the cob I shared at Mom’s for dinner that evening) it is very tasty. First butter Enjoying first butter

Yesterday morning, I got up ready to dive into cheese making. I had read several things that indicated that mozzarella might not be the easiest cheese to start with, but I laughed in the face of danger. I’m not ready to do hard cheeses yet, and I’m not a huge fan of chevre, so mozzarella it was.

Just added milk to citric acid I added my gallon of milk to the citric acid in a pot set in a sink full of hot water.

Starting to coagulate with just citric acid It started to coagulate almost immediately, which was fun to see. Once it was up to 90 degrees, I added in the rennet. From what I had read, I thought it would take a while before I would see clear whey, but after just 5 minutes I was ready to proceed

five minutes after rennet was added I cut the curds and let them sit for a while before scooping them into a colander to drain. I added 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the curd, but I think next time I will add more (it seems a bit bland to me)

Then comes the really fun part – stretching! I had put a pot of water on the stove earlier to heat up, and found out that on low, the front left burner kept the water at the perfect temperature (140-150 degrees). I had bought a brand new pair of insulated rubber gloves for this step, because that’s a little warmer than I’m comfortable with. I dropped about half of the curds into the hot water, breaking them up with my fingers so the heat could get into everything. You work the cheese, lifting it up out of the water and back down as it cools. The transformation is very cool, at least to my cooking geek. When you start, the curd is kind of grainy looking, but after a short while it gets glossy and workable, kind of like taffy. Couldn’t really get pictures of that part, since I was home alone, but this is what I ended up with: First mozzarella done Isn’t it beautiful?!

And while I was working on stretching the mozzarella, I had put the whey on to try my hand at making ricotta too. I had read mixed reviews about how well that process worked but figured I had nothing to lose.Starting to heat the whey for ricotta I didn’t measure the whey, but judging on where it was hitting on the pot I figure there was about 3/4 of a gallon. I heated it slowly, working it slowly up to 200 degrees. Not seeing any changes by the time it had reached 180, I chickened out and added 2 tablespoons of vinegar (next time, I will trust the process and try it without). At about 190 degrees, I finally started seeing something happen

Ricotta curd

This got drained and salted also Ricotta done Plus, I now have whey in the fridge to play with.

Finally results: 14.9 ounces of mozzarella, 5.4 ounces of ricotta, and a half-gallon of whey. I used some whey in a brine that the mozzarella sat in for a couple of hours. The ricotta is wonderful, very tangy and smooth. The mozzarella is very firm (I hesitate to use the word tough, though that was my first thought). It shreds very nicely and melts beautifully (yes, I tested it on a piece of french bread set under the broiler. Yum!) I am now researching how best to use the whey.

I’m not getting a ton of milk out of Myrtle, but next year I will hopefully be milking all 3 of the does. My goal is to make hard cheeses like the daughter of one of my friends used to (before she got married), and to try my hand at Camembert. For now, I will be satisfied playing with a gallon at a time. I started a Dairy Journal, so that I can keep notes on what I did and how it worked.

I am also slowly working on getting the garden back up and running. I’ve weeded 2 beds completely, and rescued the rhubarb at the end of a third bed (I thought it had died off, but it was just buried under grass. Freed from that and with a top-dressing of alpaca poo, it has made a very happy recovery). My back only allows so much digging, but I’ve got peas, beets, spinach and chard in the ground. Hopefully, they will produce something before summer gets here. The sheep and goats are very happy to deal with the weeds I’m pulling from the beds, which haven’t been really worked in 5 years. I get my garden back, and they get snacks; it’s a win-win situation!

Dealing With Death

April 24, 2013

Not the cheeriest of titles, I know. But this time of year, that is where my mind goes. Tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of my beautiful Daughter’s passing, and in less than a month it will be the 4th anniversary of Sweetie’s passing also. For most folks, spring marks the beginning of things. For me, it marks ends. The passage of time has not made it easier, and I am a mess a lot of the time though I do a decent job of hiding it from most folks.

It is also an unfortunate fact that, as a farmer, I have to deal with death more often than most people do. It is simply a part of the life that I have chosen. I know that some people don’t want to think about the more unpleasant parts of my life style, and it won’t hurt my feelings if you choose not to read this post. I promise to get back to happier subjects next time.

Some years are worse than others. A few years ago, I grew to dread going out to feed, as it seemed that more often than not there would be a dead animal to deal with. Lambs dropped like flies, it seemed, and ewes too.

Inesh after Malcolm napping in a sunbeam  at KelliesThe first picture is Inesh just after I sheared him before breeding season a couple of  years ago. He is the father of all of last year’s lambs. Next is Malcolm as a lamb, then Merlin.

Since November, I have lost him and my other big ram, Kirk. They had been fussing with each other for a while, and I can only surmise that they caused each other some internal damage since they died within a week of each other. This month, I lost both Merlin (last year’s bottle lamb) and his twin Malcolm. Fine in the morning, dead when I went to feed in the afternoon. In reviewing my books, I have had problems with all of their mother’s lambs.

So, what does one do with a dead animal? I have always chosen to treat them with respect. Used to be, they would go into the ground here, with a pile of rocks on top to keep them from being too attractive to the neighborhood dogs. We have quite the graveyard in the back, including Kid the Younger’s horse (thanks to a good-hearted acquaintance with a backhoe).  My back, however, no longer makes it easy for me to dig that big a hole. So now I take a drive out to federal land and lay them to rest there. It is a solemn undertaking. No radio, my thoughts centered on the animal in the back of the van, words said in thanks to all they have given me. Their body goes back to nature, and I am always amazed at how quickly that happens. Within a month or less, there is little left but bones and fiber.

Most areas do not have an easy, inexpensive way to deal with animals that have passed. There used to be a rendering plant locally, but it closed due to new neighbors complaining about the smells (which were there before they built their fancy houses). The landfill does not knowingly take livestock. Some friends compost or burn dead animals, some donate them to zoos or places that keep large cats or wolves. It is a fact that all of us have to face, that none living survive forever. I am glad that I am able to honor my animals contributions to my life respectfully. I just hope that I don’t have to do it again soon.

On to happier subjects. Fiber Market Day went well and several of the bar code towels went to new homes. Last week, I did a new-to-me show, sharing a booth with Laura at the Small Farm Journal Fair. It is interesting how different things sell at different shows. I sold several of the silk scarves I’d dyed a few years ago, as well as some batts and finished items. We did a lot of demo-ing, and I took Myrtle and Naveed as pr animals. It was a fun show, but being on for 4 days straight was almost more than my poor introvert brain could handle. In addition, on the last day of the show I spent the morning at another venue teaching beginning drop spinning. Sunday I spent recuperating, so exhausted I could barely follow the tv show I was trying to watch.

I took advantage of the fact that I would be gone for most of the day during the show to wean the lambs (that way I miss most of the drama and noise). Naveed was the last to get weaned since he was at the show with me. When we got home, Myrtle joined the other 2 goats in with the wethers, while Naveed went back in the main pen with Ashe and the other lambs. Starting Sunday morning, I have been transitioning Myrtle to a milk goat. It is so nice to have fresh milk for my morning coffee! It has been slow going making the switch, but she gave me 8 ounces yesterday morning and 6 in the evening (as compared to 4 ounces each time the day before). I’ve got a jar of milk in the fridge that I am letting sit for a while to see if I can separate the cream off and make a little butter. Wish me luck! Making cheese will probably have to wait for next year, when I will hopefully be milking all 3 of the goats. All in all, I am very happy with my progress so far. Myrtle has a nice little udder for a first timer, and I am keeping my fingers crossed for Clara and Cloe.

Ashe is doing well, working really hard at getting up. I opened up the barn now that it’s just her and the lambs, and she gets herself outside to enjoy the sun. She still can’t straighten her front legs all the way, so she looks strange, but she can get herself a drink of water on her own and her spirit is unbelievable. She is putting on weight and eating like a horse. Even if she never recovers completely she is an inspiration, and she will be auntie to the lambs as long as she chooses to stick around.

Next up on my to-do list is getting all the stuff I didn’t sell listed on Etsy, so keep checking back there if you are interested in any of the bar code towels, batts or hand-dyed top & yarn.

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.

Progress Is Good

October 20, 2012

I’m making good progress on the Eartha & Etta sweater. The body is done, and last night I picked up stitches for both sleeves. It will be a nice, light weight sweater, and at this rate I should be done in less than a week! There is more variation in color than I noticed in the skeins. Not objectionable to me but it might bother someone else. Maybe it helps that I know the animals that it came from. I’m already mentally making plans for my “Ode to Neville” vest, based on the sweater that Neville Longbottom wore in the last Harry Potter movie.  There are several gorgeous sweaters in the HP movies, but this one really caught my eye. I’m leaning towards a double-knit Fair Isle vest, which would be reversible, but nothing is set in stone yet. Of course, I should be setting my sights on Christmas knitting for those on my gift list. We’ll see.

I made some major enhancements to the stash last week. Laura had commented the other day that she has decided that she hates weaving with 8/2 cotton. Of course, she made that decision after she had purchased a bunch of it. She made me a deal I couldn’t refuse and I relieved her of it. 16 pounds of it! Very pretty colors, and I am looking forward to weaving a bunch of kitchen towels. I’m playing with bar code generators online to come up with stripes that actually say something.

  

I woke last Sunday to a lamb crying. When I finally looked out the window, I could see Mary all by herself in the movable pen. Yep, the rest of the little girls were out. Clara had gotten out several times on Saturday, so I had already put her in the barn pen by herself after I gave the little girls their wormer. When I went out, she was in with the boys! I haltered Mary and moved her over to the big pen, then got all the little girls in with her. Clara put herself back in with her buddies. Since I was outside already, I decided to get everyone resettled. That meant worming the boys before I could put the big girls in with the little girls. The catch pens I set up using my welded wire panels worked great. Even Midge didn’t freak out. The big girls and I had a bit of a disagreement about which direction they were supposed to head when I opened up their gate, but the crook & I were able to get them going right. Love it when things work right without any major headaches! And it does make feeding easier now that the weather is turning nastier.

The turkeys only have a month to go. Their date with the butcher is just 2 days before Thanksgiving. While growing them up in the barn was easier and less messy than having them in the house, they aren’t as friendly as last year’s birds were. Not a problem with these guys since I’m not keeping anyone, but something to possibly consider next year since I’m hoping to get heritage birds and keep a breeding trio. Decisions, decisions.

Real Progress

October 8, 2012

Late last night I finally bit the bullet and put 4 of my patterns up on Ravelry. Look for Majora Acres if you’re interested. It was very exciting that not 10 minutes later I had my first “fave”. No sales yet, but I’m excited none the less. Hopefully this will give me the push I need to get the shawl patterns completed and up too. I’ve had lots of requests for a couple of them when I’ve worn the shawls at fiber shows. I’m naming all my patterns after mountains and waterways here in Oregon. There are 2 cowl patterns (Tumalo Creek and Crooked River), the Siskyous scarf and Paulina mittens. I’ve sold copies of the patterns at shows, but this is my first foray into online sales of patterns.

I also got a very nice note from someone who has a local tie, and she is encouraging me with my plan to put my sheep up for “adoption”. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. Being a farmer is hard work, and not cheap either. I think that, since I do have a very endangered breed and a lot of folks out there love the idea of having sheep but can’t at this point in their lives, we can help each other out. I need to take some really good pictures of each of the sheep separately and iron out a few details, but then I will be putting my sheep out there for the world to love.

The little girls spent a couple of days cleaning up where the hay pile goes and are now penned out behind the pasture in an area that has never been grazed (and hasn’t been mowed in about 3 years). They all got a little more practice being haltered and led. Maggie is a pro now, walking right next to me. The others are not quite so impressed with my plans, especially Milly. She pulled back as I was slipping the others back into the pen this morning and was LOOSE! It didn’t last long; I managed to get behind her and encourage her to join her sisters in the pen. When I caught the end of the lead rope, you would have thought I was the big bad wolf! She did her best to escape, but I sat down in the grass and held on while she tried jumping over and into me. I tried scratching her, looking for her sweet spot, but she wasn’t having any of that nonsense. It did give me a chance to really feel her fleece though, and I do have to say I am really impressed. It is incredibly soft, and I am looking forward to shearing all these babies as soon as possible.

The little boys are not real happy with me. In order to stay here, they all needed wethered. For those of you that don’t know, that means castrated. Wethers make better fiber, since they don’t have the seasonal hormonal surges that the ewes and rams do. Also, they tend to be less temperamental (those hormonal surges again). I still have to do Manny. He apparently took the judge’s comments to heart and he is too big to do with my bander. I am borrowing a larger one later this week when I return the borrowed ram and bring the goat girls home from their honeymoon. Hopefully at least one of them is pregnant. I could see if I can find someone to ultrasound them in a month or so, but I’m not sure it’s worth the money. Either they are or they aren’t, and if they aren’t there really won’t be anything I can do about it until next fall. It will be nice to have them home again.

As a reward for finishing the Monster Socks, I started a sweater for myself. The yarn is from 2 of my ewes, Eartha and her twin Etta. I had it spun up several years ago by a friend who had started her own mill (BelTine Farm). I worked up a sample, working up several different stitch patterns but finally settled on simple stockinette. I’m about half way through the body already. It will be a light weight sweater, which is exactly what I want. I’m kicking around an idea for something a bit heavier when this one is done.

 

 

Oh, and I planted a bunch of strawberry plants I got from my mom yesterday. Hopefully the weather will cooperate so that they can get well rooted before it gets nasty. Guess I have been a bit busy after all.