Thursday, August 11, 2016

Yarn Along (A Day Late) - Goodbye July

The drought continued on through the end of July and into the beginning of August.  We switched the sheep over to the pastures that lie to the south of the barn and let them have free range over it all to try and stretch their time outside.  We did finally get one day that gave us a half inch of rain and some misty conditions that lingered into the next morning.  It felt like a monsoon after such a length of days without rain.  As there was no lightning with the rain we locked the sheep out in the pasture so they'd get a decent bath.  It made a huge difference!

I usually carry beet pulp pellets in my pocket as treats and Peanut hung back hoping for another serving as everyone else trooped out to the field.  I told her I'd give her more later and she then followed the flock.

It's almost foggy enough to lose sight of them in the tall brown grass.

The mist also showed lots of spider webs in the flower bed.  These are sheet weaver spiders and they are quite abundant this year!

This one is a high achiever!

 I can imagine this web as the setting for some children's story about a spider, since it looks very home-y and inviting.  If you're a spider.....otherwise I guess it's more like a Brothers Grimm children's story.

The owl hasn't been hanging around much lately, at least not during daylight when the birds would alert us, but I did find a calling card in the grass.  I just love the tawny, rusty colors.

Andy completed a four day clean out of the lower barn.  It was quite overdue but first the skidsteer needed repair necessitating dismantling many components and installing new parts (which we were lucky to find considering how old it is), then the tractor needed some parts, and finally the manure spreader needed parts too!  And of course none of it was on a shelf somewhere - each thing had to be ordered and 'we can get it in tomorrow or Monday' which required extra trips to town.  Thankfully, the sheep were still on pasture during those 4 days so there wasn't any shuffling from pen to pen required.


The rain we did get wasn't enough by any means to reverse the drought and so the flock was confined to the barn/barnyard/feedbunk complex and put on dry hay starting last weekend.  To say they weren't happy is to put it mildly.  The hay is leftover from last year - not unwholesome but tired and not as nutritious as it once was - but it will work as a maintenance diet since we aren't feeding lambs or moms needing to put condition back on.  Thank goodness we don't have a bunch of lambs to try and give really good nutrition to - we'd be buying something.  The sheep complained loud and long and ran to the gate anytime we went into the barn but after much grumbling and a few days time they settled into the new routine.  We hope it won't be more than a few weeks and that we don't have to dip into the new hay in August.  That is ALL needed for winter, especially since getting any second cutting is looking pretty iffy.

The old ewes get a separate pen where we can feed grain, alfalfa pellets and some of this year's hay on the ground so it's easy to eat.  They might have a couple of full mouths of teeth between them all.  :-/

We're using the 'picnic area' out in the feedbunk which gives more room for everyone.

And having more bodies outside and fewer inside keep the barn as airy and ventilated as possible when it's in the 90s as it is now.

While Andy did the grunt work in the lower barn I've kept plenty busy in the wool shop.  I've gotten out  over a dozen more reserved fleeces in the last few weeks as well as the occasional order for roving or a few pounds of raw Cotswold, and I've still managed to get fiber washed and dyed to send to the mill to be processed into roving.  This is going to be new batches of Wine Country, Blue Jeans and the black and white fiber is a combo of black alpaca and white Cotswold lamb which will give some pleasant shade of gray (I'm not real picky there - I'm sure it will be nice!).

There's been blessed little knitting going on here but I have been listening to books while I worked.  I've gotten through The Ridge which was interesting and had some plot twists I wasn't expecting.  Then I went to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and immediately followed it with the second book of the trilogy, Hollow City.  I'm loving this series!  The action is fast, the characters are interesting (besides the obvious peculiarities, like being invisible or having a swarm of bees live inside you) and the language is rich and satisfying.  I'm dying to listen to the third book but the library doesn't have it to download as an audio book yet.  Curses.   I'll have to see if it's available on CDs instead.  I must find out what happens!

Joining in with Ginny.....

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Yarn Along - This Is Actually Fun!

The Finger Lakes Fiber Festival is sponsored by the Genesee Valley Handspinners Guild.  Last year was the guild's 30th anniversary and to commemorate the occasion Amy the Fiber Goddess dyed BFL roving in three distinct multi-color colorways and all who wanted to participate received two ounces to spin any way they wished.  The small skeins were then displayed in the guild's booth at the festival last year.

This year's guild display is to be items made from those small skeins.  Can be anything and can include other yarn.  I spun my original two ounces a little soft and chunky so there really wasn't much yardage to work with.  Amy had some roving left so I grabbed another bag of the color I had last year (which turned out to be slightly different shades from the first roving but that's OK, it's all pretty) and even a bit more of a second colorway from a friend who didn't need all hers.

I had settled on a pattern some time ago and printed it out before I went to Kentucky to visit The Crazy Sheeplady.  I knew I'd need help making sure I understood what was written, and during the Summer Swap gathering an excellent knitter helped me figure it out.  (Thanks, kbdoolin!)

I'm liking it so much I want to go sit in random waiting rooms so I can knit and have people notice it!  ;-)

I love that there's no set stopping point - when you're out of yarn, you're done!

I've listened to a few audio books lately while driving and working.  I really liked two of them although they are world's apart in plot and style.  Across Five Aprils has apparently been around as long as I have ( ! ) but I hadn't stumbled over it.  I'm pleased to think there are tons of good 'old' books out there waiting for me to discover them.  The other one is much newer - Station Eleven - and is quite popular judging by the people in line ahead of me waiting to download it from the library so in this one tiny event I'm current with pop culture.

Joining in with Ginny....

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


This is why I was fretting about an owl having nabbed Chloe.

A lovely, big great horned owl sitting right on the electric pole in the yard at dusk while robins and grackles swooped around squawking in alarm.  While I think an owl would have to be motivated by serious need to tackle an adult cat instead of smaller prey, I'm very sure they could dispatch one with a bit of effort.  

We'd never hurt an owl but I'm really, really glad Chloe is back so I don't have to look at this beauty with suspicion.

Geez, Don't DO That!

Being an outdoor kitty is a hazardous life.  While barn cats are often thought of as being super disposable (grrr) ours are not.  They all came here as drop-offs or wanderers and we've been able to accommodate everyone as they've appeared over the years.  Newcomers blend into the social structure with little problem and come to use the lower barn as home base.  Any new cat that shows up gets neutered immediately, receives yearly vaccinations, have dry food available daily, go to the vet when needed, and get petted every day. They range all over the farm - barns, out buildings, fields, pastures, woods, where ever they want to go - and put a dent in the rodent population which we are glad of. We don't want to use poison if at all possible. While we've had as many as seven,  at the moment we have only two "functioning" barn cats (Chloe and Clem),  geriatric Natasha who rarely pokes her nose out the back door of the barn, and Kittin who is now the wool shop cat because of getting hit by a car last year.

Chloe and Clem hunt a lot and feed themselves probably more than we even know.  Still, they usually check in at chore time to get some fresh kibble and some petting.  Sometimes one will miss one chore session but is back at the next feeding or seen strolling around the farm randomly during the day.

We saw both Chloe and Clem Friday night.  Saturday AM Chloe wasn't in but we didn't think much of it.  Saturday night I realized I hadn't seen her all day.  Andy didn't recall seeing her out and about either and he went and checked the big Morton building in case she had gotten shut in by accident.  No Chloe.  Well, it was an awfully hot day and maybe she was just cool and comfy somewhere and we'd see her in the morning.

Sunday morning, no Chloe.  Now I was getting really worried.  Cats have a reputation of being aloof and independent but as friendly and domesticated as ours are it was not normal for her to not check in for this long. We walked the ditches, thinking maybe she had been killed by a car.  Nothing but some empty Red Bull cans and beef jerky wrappers.  (grrr, again).  We don't have any open wells or cisterns, no exposed chemicals, no poisoned rodents staggering around, no buildings or vehicles to be shut in...  No Chloe on Monday.  We went through all the buildings, climbed into the rafters to look at the top of the hay mows, wandered through the tall weeds around the corn cribs, fence lines, backside of buildings, calling and listening for a meow.  A dead or hiding cat could be nearly impossible to find.

A dozen ugly scenarios ran through my head.  She got caught and eaten by one of our too bold coyotes.  A big owl, like the one that likely took the rat off the lawn last winter, caught and ate her.  The fisher came back and got her.  She got attacked by a coyote/owl/fisher but got away and hid and is slowly dying.  Or rolled by a car and is now holed up somewhere, dying.  Or got beaten up badly by a feral tom cat (there are a few around) and is holed up, dying. Has been secretly developing diabetes/kidney failure/heart issues and is holed up somewhere, dying. See the pattern?  It was awful to not know what had happened.

I'm ready to write her obituary and this morning she comes strolling into the barn.  No injuries, no scruffy fur, no sniffles or weepy eyes, full belly.......

"What a nice day.  This cooler weather is lovely."

But the sun is nice too....mmmmm...<rub, rub, roll>..... makes me feel like a kitten."

Where the h*&@ have you been??

"There's no need to take a tone with me.  Call it a midlife crisis.  I went walkabout.  You wouldn't understand."

"No midlife crisis here, no sir, I'll be right here for kibble any time you're handing it out."

Give your sister a talking to, Clem.  We don't wan to do that again.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Morning Commute

The drought here wears on.  Since the second week of May we've had less than 1.0 inch of rain.  The only things green now are the trees and the thistles.  :-/

The sheep are in the south pasture again.  Stuff they left last time looks interesting now.  We've also started to feed hay in the barn feeders at night so they have something to munch on if it's too hot to graze much during the day or pickings are too sparse.  It's leftover hay from last year.... we'd really like not to dip into this year's hay since it doesn't look like second cutting is going to happen.  We should have juuuussst enough of the first cutting to get us through a normal winter.

Since the pasture isn't green and yummy the trek out of the barn in the morning is a sedate affair and the girls were easily distracted by me standing by the fence.

If anybody knows a good rain dance we'd sure appreciate you doing one on our behalf.

Friday, July 15, 2016

So Long, And Thanks For All The Hay

The yearly sojourn to Kentucky to visit Sara and all the people and animals at Equinox Farm was modified from a car trip to a truck trip.  Not having any lambs this year, and so no new faces to join that flock, we were going to go in Julie's vehicle as it's easier to maneuver and better on gas.  But then an email arrived asking if I had any crossbred rams who would like to go live in Kentucky and be put to "work" (wink, wink).
As a matter of fact.....

I ran the idea past Rocky and Jared and they agreed that while they liked it here just fine they really didn't want to live out their days being celibate.  They are both half Cotswold, built well with nice fleece, and could have a very nice life siring commercial lambs and hopefully improving wool too.  We had the vet out to do paperwork, rigged up the gridwork that fits within the truck cap, arranged space for the spare tire which doesn't hang beneath the truck anymore because the screw thingy that held it up rusted out....grrr...., filled empty jugs with 'home water' and off we went.

The boys rode like old pros. We really appreciate rams that are quiet by nature and handled enough that a sudden trip like this isn't a rodeo.

We offered water at every stop (four) and at one Quik Fill there was this great old car next to us.  Guesses?

Yep, a Rambler.  Not sure if it was from when they were still made by Nash or afterward when American Motors picked up the brand.  If I had a million dollars I'd fill a garage with old cars just to pet and admire them.  Old cars have class!   :-)

The trip went well and the boys were installed in their new place before the end of the day.  They have a nice roomy space in the barn to acclimate.  The barnyard has some grass but not a lot and that's good - they are essentially eating standing hay here because of the drought. Sudden unlimited grazing on lush pasture would not be a good thing.

They have never seen a dog except Holly and we were a little concerned that they'd be scared.  Not to worry.  The guard dogs are very sweet and the rams were totally unconcerned.

Really, really unconcerned.  Rocky was getting his ear washed and I expected the dog's tongue to come out the other side the way he was working.  Or maybe the dog was whispering to him.

"Ppsspppssssppspssppsss.   Don't worry, I'll take care of you here."

It was good to stretch after the drive (11 hours) and we had a lovely look around at the farm where the boys would be living.  Besides the sheep flock and guard dogs there were herding dogs, chickens, guinea hens, peacocks and a nice orange cat.

One of the fields with the bulk of the flock on pasture there.  The boys are going to think they've died and gone to heaven.

Here's a cool structure.  It's a cistern to catch water coming off the barn roof.  A previous owner of the property dismantled the piping system which could supply water troughs around the farm.  Seems monumentally dumb to me to render it inoperative but maybe it wasn't holding water anymore.  After I got back home it dawned on me that I'd seen that brickwork before.  That Sara!

The boys never made a peep when we left and I'm sure they're happy there.  Now to wait for lamb pictures!

The next day featured a gathering/yarn swap at the farm which turned into a spin-in/knit-in in the barn alley.  How great is that?  Big fun was had by all and spinning and knitting help was there in spades.  

Bullwinkle went on walkabout toward the end and seemed intent on finding something edible  learning to spin.

He immediately understood the value of a Woolee Winder and checked them out on both a castle wheel and an e-spinner.

He inspected the actual yarn and declared it a fine job.

I'm not a morning person but the front porch is so inviting....

Sunday included a church service and then the afternoon was spent with the amazing Sara taking video of me as I walked through the use of our skein winders, teasing boards, blending boards and Quad Kate.  It will be a while before those get posted as I have a lot of cutting and splicing to do.  There's a darn good reason I got a C- in public speaking in college.  :-/

Monday came all too soon.  The sun wasn't quite up yet but the sheep were grazing right by the driveway.

"You all come back now, hear?"

"And bring some more of those jerky treats?"

We'll for sure be back!  Can't wait!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

And Then It Stopped Raining

Remember May?  Wet, cold May?  One extreme follows another they say, and that proved true for June.  For the first time ever we were able to cut and bale all our first cutting hay - in JUNE - without it getting rained on.

Andy would cut enough hay to fill the five wagons in a go and we worked day by day to cut, ted, rake, bale and unload one field after another.

It got hot as well as dry.  We had some pretty sunsets but the clouds never carried rain.

Then we started trying to work even faster because the standing hay was actually shrinking - drying out as it stood and losing volume.  You can see the landscape has turned from green around the edges to just dried out tan.  Unless we get some decent rain there won't be a second cutting which would be a big problem.

Thank goodness for the kicker on the baler.  Pulling bales from the chute with a hay hook was a lot easier 30 years ago.  :-/

The sheep spend parts of the day searching the pasture for forage and other chunks of time hanging out in the shade behind the barn.  So far no one is coming in hungry but we've started putting some leftover hay from last year in the feeders at night so there's something to work on if they feel empty.  They are pretty grimy, though.  Lanolin + dust = grungy wool.  When it does start raining again they are going to find themselves locked out in it.
Pretty soon we'll have to turn them back into the south pasture that they've been in once already but there isn't much new there.  The plants are mostly ankle high except for seed heads that are taller and it has the pale gray-green shade of really dry plants.
Still, the sheep have nothing to do all day except meander around looking so they will find enough until it rains again.  
Bale count is 4488.  With no lambs this year it's possible that we could squeak by without a second cutting especially if it rains normally and the pastures regrow as they should.  Theoretically we could keep the flock on pasture into November. 
If anybody knows a good rain dance........