Friday, June 28, 2019

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival From the Vendor Side

What a busy and cold, wet spring!  The weather has hampered everything from cleaning the barn to doing field work.  Andy and I have been doing a lot of shop work, turning wool and wood into spinning fiber and tools.  We have a full spring festival season mapped out and need to build inventory so the shelves stay full.

The biggest festival of the season is the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, and Nistock Farms was a vendor there for the first time.  We were accepted into a tent space in the upper gravel lot, but being in a tent gave me pause as I know how wet it can be there.  Setting up on gravel felt as safe as possible though, so off we went with great optimism the first weekend in May!

Julie and I drove on Thursday so that we'd have all day Friday to set up.  New space, new dimensions, uneven floor.... we knew it would take a while.  Here was our home for the next two days.

I was alarmed at the lack of sidewalls, especially since it was raining and foggy, but was assured that the tent company would be back at some point during the day to put them up (and they were) so we forged ahead with unloading.

"Trailer full of heavy stuff?  Sure, no problem!"

Our tent walls were clear, thankfully, and despite not having electricity it was quite bright inside, even on Sunday which was raining and dreary.  With the tent wall pulled up to function as a door we looked inviting with sort of a bedouin flavor.  ;-) 

We are a fiber provider of Cotswold for the Livestock Conservancy's 'Shave 'Em to Save 'Em' program which works to connect fiber artists with the producers of rare sheep breeds' fleece.  We had raw Cotswold available by the pound, prepared roving and Cotswold yarn so we had all angles covered and sent a lot of folks home with wool from a breed they had never sampled.  Awesome program, Livestock Conservancy!

One happy shopped discovered that we had the same taste in colors - I had created roving that matched both her blouse and her shoes!

We made one purchase prior to the festival season and ordered the grid panels and hardware to construct a free standing "H" shaped display.  Andy had cut some nice shelves and it functioned well for small, lightweight items. 

The far wall displayed yarn and our Cotswold blankets and then there were two tables and upright grid wall for Andy's fiber tools.  I spent a fair amount of time demonstrating Oxford rug punching and punch needle embroidery, both of which are easy to do and the Oxford rug punching has the added allure of being able to eat up handspun yarn - a plus for spinners like myself who have totes full of yarn with no specific purpose.

All in all, the tent space worked out well and I've already signed up for next year.  The major downside of being a vendor is that it's tough to get out of your booth and see the festival!  Spinning guild friends stopped by to say hello (don't know where the group hug picture went, darn it) and my only trip to the sheep barn was on a mission to steal some electricity for my phone.  Not ever having dealt with a non-electric booth I didn't think about phone battery life - and one needs it to process credit cards.  Yikes!  Thankfully I was able to park my phone in the sheep show office and bring it back to life.  First purchase upon returning home - a battery pack with USB ports for just such situations.  Apparently the world has been using these for some time and once again I'm firmly behind the technology wave.  :-/

I was really sad that I didn't get a chance to peruse the display of fleece types.  Apparently there was an extensive collection of breed samples including the rare and foreign and I should have found time to see it.  I hope it might come back another year.  One event that I did manage to get to was the Skein and Garment display and that was because the festival committee members were generous enough to keep the building open for one hour after the festival closed so that vendors could enjoy it.

As usual, the talent and artistry was astonishing.  Every entry deserved a photo but I grabbed a few of the items that most caught my eye.


Photography and graphic arts.....

Thecrazysheeplady's wool house image earned a blue!  :-)

Amazingly realistic felting.....

Items that are both artistic and functional......

I don't remember if this was hooked or punched but the design is the artist's original.

And my favorite entry.....

The Travelling Fleece.  A 'handspinner's basket' entry featuring wool spun from Buddy, a sheep from our flock who moved to Equinox Farm at a tender age and lived a long happy life there.  Buddy's sire was British (thank you, artificial insemination technology) so England, New York (our farm), Kentucky (his lifelong home) and Pennsylvania (where the spinner worked her magic on the fleece) are all involved, hence the 'passport'.  How clever is that?? Far beyond what I could have come up with and very worthy of the blue and purple ribbons adorning it.

Having been initiated to the rhythm of being a vendor at such a big show I will be better able next year to plan some time to get out and see more of the events, even if it has to be 'after hours'.  That's one of the fun things about such events - the sheep barns never really close!

Monday, March 4, 2019


Our oldest barn kitty has crossed The Bridge after several months of spa treatment in the luxury of the wool shop.  She was a great kitty and had an easy, gentle passing.  See you again, Natasha.

2002 - 2019

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Why Tractors Catch Fire

Continuing with trying to catch up the blog from last year, we bring you a cautionary tale about expecting the unexpected. 

European starlings can easily reach plague proportions on a farm.  They are precocious and prolific breeders and can produce multiple clutches per year.  They eat anything they can get their beaks on, they aren't shy around people or activity and they are cavity nesters so their chicks are more protected from predators and environment then other birds.  Populations build quickly.  And the more numerous they are the more creative they become in finding nesting sites.  We've had them plug chimneys, grain elevators, downspouts, the eaves of buildings, the elevators of corn pickers and the horns of forage choppers with nesting material.

Last summer Andy climbed on one of the tractors to start it and nearly had a heart attack when a starling flew into his face from a narrow gap next to the throttle lever on the dashboard.  The tractor had been idle for a few days....

Removing the hood over the engine revealed what the bird had been up to - nest building way up toward the nose of the tractor.

In just a few days the starling had investigated and found the spot acceptable despite the smell of diesel and oil and metal, dragged all the material in for the nest and laid a clutch of eggs.  Thankfully they had not hatched so we weren't faced with a quandary of what to do with live chicks.

Quite the feat - the gap it entered is just to the left of the levers with knobs and the route goes behind the dials, then up and along the length of the tractor, under the metal arch that holds the hood rigid and to a void.  How many trips did it take to fill the space with enough material to make the nest?

Andy was in up to his elbow clearing it and took a good peck basket of dry grass and twigs out of the gap.  You could hardly ask for more combustible material.

Disaster averted, thankfully.  I wonder if the insurance agents have heard 'fire from bird nest' before?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Blog Binge - Picking Up Where We Left Off

Poor neglected blog.  Why haven't I posted?  No valid excuse like a long illness or sinister reason like being in jail.  Summer just got real busy and I fell out of the habit and so here we are - months of things to catch up on.  Although I didn't blog, I did take pictures so if I can remember what they are........

First up - Julie and I trekked to Kentucky to visit thecrazysheeplady at Equinox Farm.  It's a vacation for us although our 'men folk' back home have extra work with our various creatures.  Maybe the resultant peace and quiet is a good trade off for them.  ;-)

This was the maiden voyage for my new truck!  The big Dodge was retired and traded in on this new Toyota Tacoma.  This seems to be the only brand and model on the face of the Earth with a manual transmission, four wheel drive and a six foot bed.  We've never had a Toyota but was willing to try.  As I write this five months after the purchase I can say that we're hugely impressed and very happy with this vehicle.  And Andy was NOT happy with this picture - the angle makes him look like a bent old man and that ain't the case.  ;-)

Kentucky was plenty hot which suited me just fine.  One of the fun (for me) things we did was put on bee suits and check on the health of neighbor Stella's beehive.

Miss Stella, surveying the situation

Someone else was keeping a close eye on the goings-on, too.  You never can tell when something might need to be herded on a moment's notice.

Julie took pictures with my camera so there aren't any close-ups, but basically the hive was OK except for an infestation of tiny, tiny ants under the lid of the beehive and the bees were really angry about it.  

After Sara took the lid off we could see the ants and brushed off as many as we could find on the underside of the lid and the top edge of the frame.  They seemed to only be under the lid, not down inside the hive.  The bees calmed down a good bit after that.

We took the upper box off and set it aside as not much was going on there.  The next level down had some frames with honey.

The bees seemed busy and present in good quantity.  Sara felt things were going well in the hive and we put everything back together.  I found it very interesting and something that would be fun to do.....someday when I don't have fifty other fun things pending.  ;-)

We spent some time refining Sara's monarch butterfly nursery set up, collecting more caterpillars from the wild,  releasing butterflies that had hatched (The proper term for that is 'eclosed'.  There, that's a thing you know now.) and trying to take pictures of the stages along the way.  She put up several really good pictures on her blog.

Poor Kate found it dreadfully boring.

It did rain off and on most days so setting the adult butterflies free was dependent on when the sun came out.  The sheep didn't care for the rain either and most of the flock spent a lot of time in the barn under the big fans but Rocky and Jared, two retired (and neutered)  breeding rams originally from our farm, didn't care if they got wet and were often the only two sheep out grazing.

When we did get an opportunity to let butterflies go, they usually went up into a tree to rest and adjust to their new reality.  One has to wonder whether they remember being a caterpillar and have to wrap their mind around now being different than they were.  Or maybe they don't remember what happened to them two seconds ago and suffer no existential crisis over their changed condition.  They do remember how to get back to where they hatched after wintering in Mexico.....  Hmm, so many mysteries.

We had the good fortune to visit when Sara and Stella were celebrating their birthdays (momentous numbers for both) and so naturally there had to be a party.  And because the forecast was for rain it was planned for the barn.

"A party??  Gladys, that usually means cookies!"

"Did somebody say 'cookies' ?

 "Cookies?  Meh.  I do not care for cookies."

 "But Cheerios........if there were to be Cheerios..........  "

"Um, I like cookies AND Cheerios.  Just so you know."

 "I'm not really sure if I want you to throw me a party."

"Wait - what do you mean the party's NOT for me?  It should be."

The party was grand, with lots of food and friends and cake.  It did rain so being in the barn was smart although Gladys went to bed before it ended.

By the time Sara gave everyone a last scritch before bed the clouds had rolled back to show a full moon.

"I'm in bed and I'm not getting up, even for scritches."

"Us neither."

"Did somebody say 'scritches'?"

Everybody who wanted petting got some quality time.

Woody came from our farm and spent some time with me getting reacquainted.

Talk about leaving an impression on someone.  He was damp, leaned against me and left this pattern on my jeans.

Jared has revealed himself as a lover at heart and seeks attention when ever possible.  The photo is unfortunately blurry but it shows his sweet nature.  I'm so glad he and so many others have landed with Sara.

The next day was sunny.  And hot.  And humid.  These butterflies were 'mud-puddling' at the foot of Stella's driveway.  There's a monarch - maybe one that Sara raised.

And this pretty one was by itself.

We took Stella on a little tour in The Unit to check the cattle behind her property, look at some barn renovations and just see what the neighbors were up to.  ;-)

The neighbor's horse enjoyed some watermelon rind from Julie as a treat.

The cattle were about as comfortable as anyone could be.  All they lacked were beach chairs and a cooler of adult beverages.

On the way back Sara stopped to snap the farm from the perspective of Stella's yard.  We'll call this 'Girl with camera looking home'.

All too soon it was time to head back to New York.  One last breakfast on the porch with everyone.  (Dreadful picture through the screen door, but that's Tilly, Comby and Gladys companionably sharing kibble).

The flock was out grazing.......

..... and Betsy waited to say goodbye.

"So long, hoomans!"

So long, Betsy.  See you next year!