Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Top Ten Things - Haying Edition

Farming in general has a lot of specific seasonal tasks - planting time, lambing time, getting in firewood, shearing time and lots more.  One of the busiest and most taxing is hay season.  For a variety of reasons we use small square bales, not the big round ones.  I've never worked with the big rounds so I can't say for certain but I don't think putting them up requires the same amount of human grunt work that the small squares do.  For everyone who's never been pressed into service baling hay, here's the Top Ten observations about it.

You know it's haying season when:

10.  You're too tired and it's too late to go to the store anyway so supper is Spam sandwiches, heated up leftover mashed potatoes and a bowl of ice cream.

9.  As you unload a wagon it dawns on you that the thump and squeal of the elevator mirrors a Justin Bieber song - "Ba-bee, ba-bee, baby, OHHhhh........ Ba-bee, ba-bee, baby, OHHHhhhhh."  Great.  Now that earworm is stuck in your head every time you unload.

8. You lose track of the days.  Thursday?  It was just Monday.  How'd that happen?

7. After sweating and grunting and working for three weeks you shed a few pounds of flab which is great until you realize this is probably the best you're going to look all year.  Meh.

6.  You wear through the legs of your jeans handling bales are hear yourself sound like the cliche 'old people' - "They don't make clothes like they used to!  This denim is like tissue paper!  It's this $#%&$ stuff from overseas!  When I was a kid you got hand me downs from when your father was a kid and they never wore out....."

5.  You develop a farmer's tan so stark that it precludes you attending weddings, graduation parties, picnics or other public functions in anything other than a short sleeve top with a round neck.

4.  You watch the bale count climb with more breathless anticipation than any presidential candidate gathering delegates.

3.  You drink more iced tea in a few weeks than you do the entire rest of the year.

2.  Checking the Weather Bug app on the phone six times a day and comparing it to both the newspaper's and radio's forecast doesn't seem excessive.

and the Number One way you know hay season has arrived........

1.  You drop your drawers in the bathroom and chaff flutters down like confetti.  Wheee!  Looks like I'm a winner!

We're at 2,920 - just over half way there!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dog Day Afternoon

Angel is recovering well from knee surgery and can now Go Walkies on leash with Holly as long as there's no vigorous romping around.  The girls were keen to go down the road and when either one stopped to investigate something the other one came over to see.  Must be like shopping with a friend - "Oooh, look at this!"

Crossing the town line the road changes from paved to dirt.

A nice slow stroll downhill is fun even when it's hot but then you have to turn and walk back.

"Mom, the ditch is full of buttercups, not water!  That's just wrong!"

But back at the yard the big water bowl was filled to the brim and big drinks were had, followed by a flop on the grass.  Holly even dipped one foot in to cool off.  That's all she would have done even if the bowl were a pool - she's not a water dog.

A walk with a pal, a drink and then a rest in the shade - that's the way summer is supposed to be!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fickle June

April and even May are supposed to be the months with big temperature swings.  This year June followed along.  Last weekend was the Central New York Fiber Arts Festival  and I took a day and trekked out there to investigate.  It was gray, rainy, very windy and in the low (low) 50s.  I ended up wearing four layers and lunching on hot sausage with peppers and onions topped off with hot coffee to try to keep warm.

The venue is very nice.  Long tents of vendors were laid out facing other tents that had a fleece sale, workshops, kids' area and sheep shearing trailer.  Despite heavy rain Saturday the grounds were not muddy and the vendor booths inside were fine.  The tents were high and quite bright inside despite the gray day.

There were supplies for spinners, knitters and other fiber artists and also a lot of finished goods for non-fiber people.  I picked up a couple of well-crafted items that are destined to be Christmas presents.  (Ha!  Got started on that  list!)

There were several vendors with fiber animals in their space and one farm brought one of their LGDs (livestock guard dog) along too.  This sweetie is Aziza (I think that's right) and she's an Akbash.   She's nine years old and is built tall and long bodied with a very coarse, short hair coat. She was a great ambassador.

She was unfailingly polite and friendly to everyone and people were petting her all day.  She never seemed concerned at the strangers petting 'her' lambs, but she did bark a deep bark when a border collie went past the end of her tent.  These little Tunis lambs were her charges for the day.

Another fun attraction was The Gypsy Tinker's wagon.  I must admit, it's a mighty seductive way to travel to shows - cuter and less costly than a commercial camper and the owner built the entire thing herself on a good old Tractor Supply trailer bed.

Apparently, Gypsy wagons are a 'thing' and popular with people who have construction ability and a nomadic bent.

Wow, if you could just pack all your vendor materials in the back of your pickup with some extras in the wagon and hit the road.......

All in all it was a fun day!

That was Sunday.  Tuesday it was sunny and 70 at home and Andy turned this....

...into this.

We unloaded three wagons last night and two this morning and he finished the field before 1 PM this afternoon.  That made somewhere over 900 bales, so we're off to a good start. We haven't been able to bale hay in June in some years - it's been wet until July.  We need rain, but if we can't have rain we'll sure take hay!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

That Fella Over There With The Hella Good Hair

Cotswolds are known for their long wool including on their foreheads.  Other breeds either have clean heads with no wool growing there or poofy, fuzzy wool which just grows in all directions.   With Cotswolds, wool hangs in locks which tend to felt with time and wear into little dreadlocks.  Some most of our sheep end up with so much trash in their "hair" that we just clip the locks off.  They aren't attractive and pose the threat of getting pokey things too near eyeballs.

Neville, on the right, is all Cotswold and has 'nice hair'.  Castillo, on the left, has a small percentage of Cotswold in his background but he got the good hair gene too so I left his on for fun.

Brick, on the left, is one of those boys with no significant wool on his forehead so he gets a buzz cut all over.

Communing with the wild and dangerous rams - Brick (notice he's licking my arm), Wee Guy with his one wee crumpled horn scur, and Castillo.

Just to be funny I put a hair scrunchy on Castillo.  Gives him a Dr. Seuss look!

"Dude!  What's going on with your hair?  Is that one of those 'man buns' that are trendy right now??"

I didn't leave the scrunchy on very long as it was attracting a bit too much attention from the other rams.  I wonder if human guys with man buns get beat up too?  ;-)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

From Then Till Now

Poor neglected blog. No entries since coming home from Maryland.   Let's catch you up.

We've had lots of weather.  Rain......

and worse than rain - snow.

"Maybe there's a slow, cold mouse in the grass over there....."

"Less picture, more indoors, please."

We started letting the sheep out on grass, beginning in the Baby Pasture as usual.  Just a short time each day so they don't overdo on the rich stuff but they will get accustomed to it again in a couple of weeks.   The pasture is slow because of the cold but maybe that's good - maybe they'll be able to keep up with it better when they get out on the bigger areas.

The old girls made it to grass!  Alfalfa pellets and beet pulp pellets made a big difference for those with crummy (or non-existent) teeth.  The lucky dozen - Alexandria, Bug, Bunny, Drambui, Pickles, Kahlua, Nibbles, Gilly, Ruby, Dollar, Fiesta and India.  Some are still gaunt but not deathly so and they are old....    Bunny and Drambui are the oldest at 13 each.  Four more are 12, and a couple each at 11, 10 and so on.  

The Shepherd's Market was a good day.  People shopping and also just taking the opportunity to sit and chat and do fiber things in the central gathering area.

My space consisted of 2 big round tables (a bit odd to set up with round ones, but we made it work.)...

And a smaller table in a corner.  Andy built a nice book stand for the booth.  We're starting to carry a small collection of books and DVDs that pertain specifically to spinning, knitting, and weaving - mostly basic materials that will compliment our fiber and yarn and be excellent resources for newcomers to the fiber world.

I've been working in the wool shop getting reserved fleeces skirted and also filling online orders and trying to keep dyeing to have more roving processed.  Kittin has been a big help.  At least she thinks so.

The deadline (it's a flexible deadline but I made it a firm one in my head) for handing in the guild KAL project was Saturday so I had to  found time to finish knitting the shawl.  I played yarn chicken twice, once on the border with two colors .....

And then on the bind off.  That little ball is all I had left and there was nothing else in the stash that was even close.  Whew.


And then it got a bath and was blocked and had a fan on it all night to get dry.  Nothing like waiting till the last minute.  It's bigger than I thought it was.  It got kind of hard to tell what was going on because of being all scrunched up on the cable.  Gee, I bet a better knitter would have figured out that that might mean something. Sigh  :-/

Spring seems to have come this week and I think it's going to stick this time.

The main flock has moved to the big pasture by the road and is enjoying fresh spring grass as only sheep can.  It's kind of quiet without lambs in the pasture, but boy - there's a lot of sheep out there.  :-0

OK, back to work!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Through The Looking Glass

Going to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is like going to another world - a magical place made especially for addicts enthusiasts of all things sheep and fiber related.  It's fun for muggles non-fiber people, too, since the whole thing is a carnival of color, creativity and sheep.  Nobody gets bored at Maryland!

Friday it absolutely poured rain so set up was miserable for vendors. Thankfully, Saturday was dry (although it stayed gray all day) and the crowds were thick. (Biggify to get a sense of the density of people. Attendance is usually 50K.)  Notice the lady at lower right.  Yes, her hair is green. Yes, it's supposed to be green.  A lot of fiber folk are inclined to dye their hair for these types of events.  Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple - it was all there.  Maybe someday I'll dare.....

I was tickled to see that two of our fleeces placed in the show!  Cotswold 'Nancy' took second in her breed class and gray Cotswold 'Irene' earned an Honorable Mention in the Colored Long Wool class (essentially 5th place) competing against some very popular breeds. Woot!  Overall, between the show and sale-only fleeces there were nearly 1200 entries.

After checking the fleece show results the next stop was the Skein and Garment competition.  I'm always blown away by the creativity and technical expertise of the entrants.  Tables and tables and shelves and racks and displays - all covered in amazing fiber art.

Hooked rugs (this one was done with yarn, not wool fabric strips).....

Drawing (check the hand mirror - how sweet is that?!?)


Needle felting (yes, that's wool, not paint)........

Knitting (and more needle felting)..........

And of course, spinning...........

The sheep shows started at 8:30 AM both days and ran till the very end.  There were two judges working adjacent rings and they were both just what one would hope for in a judge - thorough, careful and clearly knowledgeable.  When judging livestock, animals are usually judged from the bottom up, meaning that the judge will dismiss to the rail animals that aren't in the running for the top spots.  I was very impressed to see the judges pause all handlers as they were dismissed and have a word or two with them.  This is huge for the animals' owner - if you don't know why the judge dismissed you then you have no insight about what to work on in your breeding program.  All too often classes are decided and the judge tells the reasoning for placing the top three and no word is made of the others.  The judges took an extra amount of time with young exhibitors and I like to think the comments were encouraging - "Your lamb is fitted well and is built nicely but in this class she's just so much younger than the others that she doesn't compete well and that's the reason she's at the bottom this time.  It's not because she's a poor animal." Or words to that effect.  When you see an eight year old pulled out first and she ends up smiling after the judge speaks to her you know something positive was said.

As one class was finishing up the producers would bring the sheep for the next class and pen them around the perimeter so they'd be handy.

It was fairly bright out when this white class was being judged and the light was good.

By the time some of the colored classes were happening it was clouding up and getting late in the day - not optimal for comparing black fleeces on animals.  No problem - the judge directed the class out of the arena and into the natural light.

"Colored sheep" covers a lot of territory.  Basically it's any color other than solid white.  Black, brown, gray, harlequin - they were all there, and beautiful!

I can't even guess how to describe this one.  Spotted merle?  Spots on ticking?  Solid over mottled coloring? Appaloosa??

The barns are open to the public and people were milling through the aisles looking at different breeds, talking with shepherds about their animals and getting up close and personal with the sheep themselves.  A lot of people had never been closer to a sheep than the chocolate lamb in their Easter baskets.

This boy was delighting in giving an appreciative Cotswold a good back scritching.

This colored  Blue Faced Leicester was willing to share a blueberry muffin.  (He didn't really eat it - the man holding it out knew better than to really feed someone's animal anything.  He just used it to get the sheep's attention.)

There is a whole barn devoted to breed association displays.  Just about every sheep breed you can think of brings literature, props and a representative sheep or two for display to the public.  It's a great way to learn about different breeds and what their principal uses are.  This big ram is a Montadale.  As luck would have it, our spinning guild is doing a sheep breeds study (sampling the fleece of many different breeds) and Montadale was on the list.  Thanks to Emma's Daisyhill Farm we now have his fleece to work with! 

He was a very mellow, friendly ram and after representing his kind in the display all weekend and the Parade of Breeds on Sunday he was whisked down to the shearing area.  A lot of show sheep were shorn after their classes were over so there was a steady stream of animals needing shearing which also provided a steady demonstration of that skill for all who wanted to watch.

This is Emily Chamelin, a professional sheep shearer.  She's amazing to watch - can shear with either electric or hand shears - and had this big ram neatly parted from his fleece in just a couple of minutes.  So adept is she at handling the sheep that this big ram never struggled a bit as she clipped him.  (She's still in costume from shearing for a Sheep to Shawl team earlier that day.  Argyle isn't the usual dress code.)  FYI, the other shearer on stage is a lady, too.  No gender bias on a farm when work needs to be done!

And after a long day of fun at the festival everybody gets to eat a good supper....

....put on your jammies and relax for the evening.

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival - there's no event quite like it!