Monday, January 1, 2018

Never Say Never

We had seriously considered not producing any more lambs.  The barn is full of animals and I don't want to 'get rid of' anyone, either selling into another flock or <shudder> send to auction.  As we have chosen to discontinue the freezer lamb part of the farm business it was hard to justify producing animals without a specific need or purpose.  And, knowing how long our sheep tend to live (we have three right now who are fifteen years old) part of our long range plan was to let the flock dwindle from natural causes until in a dozen years there would be just a few that us old farmers could manage.

But.....having been contacted by a few buyers who really, really wanted lambs in the future we decided (OK, it was pretty much just me) that we'd expose a maximum of ten ewes to three different rams.  While my decision to not breed again didn't hold, I can say that we are D-O-N-E with trying to shear and lamb in frigid winter weather.  Sheep gestation falls quite reliably between 145 and 149 days so one does the math, looks at the calendar and sets the schedule.  The boys were put with ewes in mid-December so the earliest possible lambing date is after I return from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in May.  Likewise, they are scheduled to come out shortly so that the last possible date will be before I attend the Central New York Fiber Festival.

In the non-Cotswold group we have big handsome Brick in with Taffy, Macaroon, Tiffany and Violet.  They are all super crimpy medium wools, and Brick should add some length and solid body to them.  All except Taffy carry moorit genes (Tiffany herself actually is a moorit herself so that will double her odds) but the color is a recessive trait so it will depend on how the genetic dice roll.   I would love to get a moorit lamb or two as some of my very old girls like Ruby and Foxy won't be around much longer.  All have been covered by him and Taffy has repeated.  I'm not too surprised since she's fat as a market hog over conditioned and may not conceive at all but I'm hoping his full attention during the second heat will have done the trick. 

Old Isador is the last able-bodied F1 (first generation) Cotswold ram from the AI we had done ten years ago using a British ram and I really hated to not ever see lambs from him again especially since I have such nice young ewes who aren't related to him.  He has a group of three -  Paige, Peggy and Olivia.

The third group is exposed to the young colored Cotswold Norris.  He has three ewes - Lovey, Ophelia and Oleander.  Lovey is two-tone gray like Norris.  The other two ewes are white but have colored parents so the chances of colored lambs from them is high.  And white would be OK too as I'm sure the fleeces will be lovely.  They are housed in a long but narrow ad hoc pen which will be fine for a limited time frame. 

Once the rams have been returned to the bachelor barn the ten ewes will be housed together in the last pen on the floor where Isador's group is now.  We can feed them most appropriately if they are together. 

So the die is cast!  We'll be lambing in May when the sun is shining and the grass is growing! 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

'Twas The Night Before Christmas

....and the sheep are all cozy in feed bunk and barn.

The friendlies are lined up, all begging for treats.

While Daisy peers out as it's starting to sleet.

Holly and Shadow Holly take a late walk in the snow.

Then it's off to our beds we gratefully go,
knowing that Christmas soon will be here
spreading wonder and joy over all we hold dear.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December: The Month of More, Part 2

December also features a couple of notable fiber-oriented gatherings for me.

First is Christmas On The Farm - a cozy group of vendors who kick off the holiday craft festival season at Stone Edge Fibers in Phelps, NY.  Fibergoddess Amy (and DH Fred) clear their garage to make a lovely venue for herself and five other vendors to offer goods to early Christmas shoppers. 

I made up more beginner drop spindle kits and packaged some yummy alpaca/silk, camel/silk and dyed waste silk roving.

Besides Amy's and my fiber and yarn (and Andy's fiber tools and 'gift items' like cutting boards), there are vendors with amazing soap and lotions, jewelry, turned wooden bowls, holiday decorations and jams.


Don't you love this sweater? I asked the lady if she had made it.  She did not, but I think it could be done reasonably simply by embroidering those flowers on a plain sweater with yarn.  Done by someone... probably not me.  Sigh.

Also at this event was a Guiding Eyes pup in training and an information booth about the organization which was selling baked goods and hot cider as a fundraiser. 

This is Vanguard.  He's actually a 'loner' pup from another family as a female pup in his household was coming into heat and the policy is to remove males from that distraction until it passes.  He was a very good boy and worked very hard at ignoring people and tempting items on the floor during his lessons and concentrated only on his handler.

But don't worry, he eventually went off duty and we all got to pet him and he had a good nap too.

The other fun gathering was my spinning guild's December meeting.  It features Christmas cookies and a 'secret Santa' style fiber gift exchange.  Participation is not mandatory but many people choose to join in. 

The cookie table (more came in later, too).

Look at these!  Almost too cute to eat!  (Almost).

And the table of gifts was full to overflowing.  Anne Marie presided over the drawing of names and gift choosing.

My name came up second!  I took one look at the box with this little guy on top and grabbed him up.  It's Dominic the Donkey!!

Alas, I didn't get to keep him very long as 'stealing' was allowed during the course of the gift game and he changed hands many times.

It's been such a busy month I didn't get a chance to give the crazy guild challenge roving much thought but I figured I better jump in and decide how to handle it.  I laid it out and stewed on the colors a while.  I could make them harmonize fairly well except for that white - it stuck out like a sore thumb to me.  I finally settled on laying them out in a dark/light/dark/light sequence and hoped it was random enough that the white would be spread out and quieted down when the finished yarn was eventually plied back on itself.

I started from the left, rolling the roving like a cinnamon bun and adding each length of roving in turn as I had laid it out.  I also sprinkled some Forest Blaze angelina on the roving as I rolled it up.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  It ended up looking rather appealing and I was eager to spin it.

I had to spin it a little chunkier than I had wanted.  Since the fiber came from lots of different sources the preparation varied a lot.  Some colors spun easily, some seemed to have been around the block a few times and were almost felted and didn't draft well.  All in all, it didn't turn out too badly.

Next was plying.  And measuring.  The plying went well in that the colors blended quite nicely and the only color that matched up to itself in one place was the white.  Wouldn't you know.  Happily it was only a few yards.  Then I measured it.  Ninety-nine yards.  In the immortal words of Scooby Doo... "Ruuh-rooh!"  The pattern we're to use calls for a minimum of over 200 yards.  It's adjustable in that you can make it shorter or narrower but I have a sneaking suspicion that to avoid looking like a choker I'm going to need more yarn.  At this point I turn to the vast stash of handspun samples I have from roving colors that are long gone.  I'm thinking I can alternate a few rows of the challenge yarn with something from the stash to stretch the total yardage.

I hemmed and hawed and held everything to the light of day and finally decided on using the mocha (moorit) in the middle.  At least, that's the thought right now.  I know I don't have time to get started until after Christmas so I'll look at it again then with fresh eyes.  So it's decided......kinda.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

December: The Month of More, Part 1

Somehow December's thirty-one days have more of everything packed into them than any other month.  More fun get-togethers, more food, more meetings, more deadlines, hopefully more fun and not more stress. 

We made sauerkraut again this year.  Fifty pounds of clean, trimmed cabbage was shredded on our old three blade kraut cutter and blended with one pound of non-iodized white salt.  Andy just went by what his mother always did and it was nice to see that the recipe in the Ball Blue Book, (edition 32) agrees with us.  If you need a canning guide the newest edition is here. The heads were large and tight and six made an adequate amount although we could have squeaked in a seventh.  Given that cabbage was twenty-nine cents a pound at the farm stand, sauerkraut is one of the least expensive canned goods to make.

The heads were cut into wedges that would fit into the cutter box and the tedious task of running the box back and forth over the blades fell to Andy.  I suppose they make some kind of tool nowadays to hold the cabbage down but we're used to doing it by hand and just being careful when the cabbage is almost all cut through.

Salt is added and stirred into the chopped cabbage until all is mixed well in the crock.  This is an eight gallon crock and we could have gotten another cabbage in there but it's hard to tell at the beginning. 

The salt draws the juice from the cabbage and by the time you're done you can press your hand into the middle and liquid will well up around it.  Sauerkraut is just fermented cabbage and fermentation is an anaerobic process.  Air equals spoilage.  To minimize the loss we put a big dinner plate on top and weight it down with a bag filled with water.  This seals the edges nicely and holds all the cabbage down under the juice.  You can just see a little liquid squishing up around the bag.

We put a towel over the top and tied it tight with a string.  This keeps out both fruit flies and cats.  (Ha ha, just kidding...... sort of.)  And five weeks later we have sauerkraut!  We've already used a couple of quarts but this should last us most of the year.

Mackerel skies brought an end to the streak of warm sunny weather we had been enjoying and turned it more chilly and somber as befits December.

We were able to keep letting the rams out to pasture daily and the supply of apples, and thus apple parties, lasted until just a few days ago. 

Norris and his 'uncles' got their share.

The curls are showing up well across his back now, do the snow pellets that were falling.

The ewes are completely off pasture now and have to wait outside in the yard while we clean the mangers and set out fresh hay. 

Tahiti always looks so hopeful to me.  Some sheep just have an expression that's all theirs.

Andy has been putting firewood in the cellar and got into the big 'buzz pile' - firewood about as thick as your arm that needs to be made into shorter pieces on the buzz saw.  He found some interesting insects who had worked their way into the pile to escape the weather.

A butterfly!  I tried to look it up online but didn't get very far having only the underside of the wings to go on.  I didn't want to force him/her to flutter around since it was clearly trying to avoid the weather so I settled for relocating him to a big void in one of the apple trees and hoped for the best. 

There was also a cluster of three pretty moths and while they were also seeking shelter in the wood pile they were more active when exposed and I only got a picture of this one.  Couldn't ID him, either.

Wee Little Guy says,

"I'm just gonna put my feet up while you figure out da bugs.  Crazy lady."

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Mischief Managed

We managed to get one large job finished this week.  It took a few sessions but we finally got the ewe flock coated.  It's a big job that takes more time than you'd think it would.  We've gotten quite good at estimating which size coat will fit a ewe but when it's actually on them, before you lift hind legs to slip into the straps..... sometimes you see it's going to be too long or too short and you pull it off and reach for the next size.  Lots of bending over.  It's really nice to see them all jacketed and know their fleeces are safe from the dreaded VM.

They will pick up some chaff from the floor on the area we call "the butt poof" and some on the back of the neck.  Our feeders are really good but there's no way to protect that area other than put a show hood over their heads and that's unnecessarily extreme.  Only the locks on the back of their necks suffer some - what's under their throat is often clean and lovely.

Now that everyone is safe from contamination we started feeding out in the 'picnic area' again - that's the hay feeder Andy constructed in the old feed bunk.  Some of the young, athletic ewes jump up from the backside and eat out of the manger.

This eases any congestion in the barn proper and no one is crowded - unless they want to be.

Some of the geriatric girls and the rams are still without coats.  The ewes I had to order a few more of certain sizes for.  The rams are still enjoying going outside for a morning apple party followed by grazing so I don't want to coat them until they are solely "barned up" and on hay.

Another item ticked off the list is the Oxford rug punching kit I learned on when I went to the school earlier this month. I finished it and am think it's a decent first effort.

I'm pleased with how it came out. Despite how simple it looks the pattern teaches you borders, shapes, curves, filling in areas, the stitch gauge you should try to attain in various areas, how to make dots..... and how to stray off the instructions.  I didn't care for the navy and white marbled yarn they included for the sheep so I substituted some of my gray handspun which was languishing without purpose in a bin.  I also wasn't jazzed with the random squiggles all over the sheep so I reduced it to just a few along the back.  If anyone is inclined to try an Oxford kit you will get the foundation fabric with pattern drawn on (they have hundreds), yarn in very generous quantities, and a boxed punch tool with a stitch gauge and small (20+ pages) instruction book.  The bigger book on the left I purchased on Ebay and it's really super.  You can easily get by with the small pamphlet that comes with the punch needle but the bigger book is so pretty and full of pictures and information that you should get a copy if you can.

The next project that needs attention is a guild spin-and-knit along.  For this one, those members who want to participate brought in 4 ounces of ready to spin wool - roving or batts were OK as long as the fiber was clean and carded in some manner.  The fiber was sorted by the project organizers and put into piles and then randomly creatively reassembled into 4 ounce lots of mixed colors.  All included one neutral (mine's white) and the rest is colored.

Alrighty, then.  We are to spin yarn by combining these rovings in any way we choose and then knit something using That Nice Stitch.  Hmmm.  Put opposites against each other so they all pop?  Try to blend those in the same color family?  If my goal is to keep the colors unadulterated I should chain ply.... which I don't usually like the feel of.....but if I spin and ply the yarn back on itself I will totally randomize the colors which might not be too bad although I don't usually like striped yarns.  I do like all the colors.... by themselves.   This will take some thought.  The project is due in May so I can't dither too long.

Holly says,

"When the sun comes out in late November you should stop, drop and enjoy it.  You can think about stuff later."

What a smart dog!