Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When It's Very Cold

We started the morning at -7 with a windchill of around -25 degrees F. 

It was not fun.

But it was very pretty.

A fine sifting of ice crystals in the air caused this awesome effect.  I put the sun just behind the peak of the barn.  The colors are bit washed out - it was quite rainbow-like. 

The sheep didn't mind in the least that it was so cold, but the bottle lambs always have a comment or two about everything. 

"Mom, the water is hard and crunchy again.  Mom?  Mom! Mooooommm!"
We've gotten into a section of the hay mow that has bales with a bit of alfalfa but also some coarse weedy stuff that the sheep pick out.  Unless they are like Gilly, who doesn't seem to mind wearing some like a fashion accessory.

"Why yes, I do look mahvelous.  Thanks for noticing."
Here are some observations about weather like this:
- If the cord on your jacket hood has a metal aglet which swings around and makes contact with your lip it WILL stick in a nanosecond, feel like a bee sting and pull off skin when you tug it off.
-Frozen sheep berries are just as hard and dangerous as ball bearings underfoot.
- No matter how you lean away from a bucket or tub, if you are trying to knock a hole in it with a hammer you will get a geyser of water in the face.
- Barn cats don't want to eat dry cat chow that is stored in the barn.  It must be like eating ice chips so they will stare at you with sad eyes until you bring warm dry food from the house. 
-You can wear thermal socks, two pair of sweatpants, a thermal shirt and sweatshirt, ski pant bib overalls, two fleece insulated vests, a down coat, two termal cowls, a knit hat and gloves.....and your hands and feet will still get so cold they hurt like they're being dipped in acid.
- If your nose is dripping and you use your bare hand to wipe it off and realize it's actually frozen beads of "drip".... you should probably go to the house for a while.
- A really big swallow of chocolate flavored liqueur before doing chores really does help keep you warmer... and happier.
And when you are finally done and can come inside I recommend getting warmed up by a fire.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Random Thursday

Pictures that don't have a big narrative, just daily scenes.

Last week.

Tuxedo - "Aren't you ever going to let us in for breakfast?"
"A sheep could starve to death out here.....oh, it's only been 10 minutes?  Well.....that's still a long time."
Then we had a big thaw and all the snow melted.  This morning the big rams came out to horse around and get some fresh air.

Waiting in the sheep yard doesn't mean having to stand around in the snow. 

Front to back - Drambui, Mickey, Gooseberry, Bug, Ruby, Luna, Shasta and Kisses
And Mr. Bill.
"Really?  You have to take my picture with the gate tied in two places?  Like I'd have anything to do with trying to open a gate.... geez."

And Clem in the sun.

More story next time.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


2007 - 2014
Cleo was a cat with a lot of personality. Dropped off in the middle of the night with her sister and brother she was full of confidence and took over the duty of farm scout, ranging all over the property and up and down the road daily to check on things. She loved Holly and any dog she met. She detested other cats and her own siblings. She was a fierce hunter and I wish she could have concentrated on rats and mice instead of including birds, bunnies and flying squirrels. She was a licker and would reach out her paw to pull your hand close so she could lick all your fingers, even with strangers. She loved to lick the sheep's faces and let them breathe on her and nuzzle around in her fur.
Cleo and Charlie 2012
She made some kind of grievous error involving crossing the road this afternoon.  Although I don't think the other cats will be unhappy  she will be sadly missed by people, dogs and sheep. 
Thanks for being our cat.  I wish you had stayed longer.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Stills - White!

So for this week its another colour challenge and I do believe we have never done white before and since its winter here in the northern hemisphere I figured why not??

A ewe named Pretty, squinting in the bright sun.  She's Pearl's last daughter.

Elderly Bunny, against the snow.  She'll be eleven in April.

"I'm white....really."
The fleece on one of the Cotswold ewes.

Cleo, trying to find a little warmth from the sun.  It was two degrees in the barn Friday morning.

Holly, out surveying her domain behind the barn while we did chores.

For more Sunday Stills.....

Friday, January 3, 2014


So here are the batts from yesterday's Fancy Kitty exercise. 

I have four BIG batts totaling 13 ounces.  Even trying to be pretty careful about keeping proportions of color the same they are all somewhat different, but the silk unifies everything so they coordinate with each other just fine.  If a person was really rigid and didn't want much change of color the batts could be split into strips and spun in sequence and any color variation would cease to be noticeable.  I am not that person and will be happy to just spin it as it comes.  Actually, I might spin just the smallest one as an example of how the silk will show up and then sell the rest.  It's not like I don't have a vast stash of spinnable fiber waiting for me ;-)

I like the very smooth finish without having to run it through multiple times.  I can see that you need to start with well picked fiber to achieve that and of course don't expect the carder to kick out VM and second cuts because it won't (much).  Start with good fiber and you're half way there.  I can also see that what doesn't look like much silk going on the drum shows up like a lot more in the batt. I knew to go light on the sparkly stuff and that came out OK for my taste.
Static was not a problem during carding, which I thought it might be, but it sure did show up today while I was handling the batts.  Of course it's zero outside and the air is super dry so it's to be expected especially with the finer alpaca fiber in there.  This finger of fiber is levitating on it's own from static.
All in all I'm very pleased with the whole process.
Now I have to get busy and skirt/wash/dye more wool!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year - New Goals

Happy New Year to all!

Except for the weather I generally like the start of a new year.  I'm always optimistic about how much better I'll do THIS year at meeting my goals.  I changed over to the new calendar, putting notes on dates each month about this birthday or that anniversary, the start and end dates of lambing, fiber festivals, when to have tax forms and such ready to be mailed..... in general, just getting mentally ready to take on the year.

We have quite a few changes in mind for things here.  Nothing dire, but setting in motion events that will impact us five, ten and more years in the future.  The main thing is that I'm going to breed many fewer sheep and do much less of the freezer lamb trade.  I've never liked it but as the flock was being expanded - and hopefully made better by keeping only the best lambs each year - there were lambs that didn't fit into the plan.  Rather than consign them to the evil uncertainly of the sale barn (and take a financial beating in the process) we decided to market them ourselves.  This has proved to be do-able but it's eating up way too much of our time and energy.  I'll concentrate on the Cotswold flock and breed the best of them each year, but all the crossbreds are done reproducing.  They can stay and be fiber sheep and leave the flock with time but they won't be replaced.  The point is to give us (me) more time to work with the wool, which was my whole plan from the beginning.

To that end, I treated myself to invested in a new piece of equipment....... a Fancy Kitty "Little Tom Wide" drum carder. 

I chose the motorized version because I hope to produce ridiculous quantities of spinning batts and a crank just wasn't going to cut it for me.
The instructions advise to run dark fiber through the first few times because there is sometimes metal dust residue on the carding cloth that will show up on light fiber.  No problem.  I have Cotswold roving in Twilight Time colorway and black alpaca which I planned to blend together as my learning exercise.  I also had some silk and a bit of glittery white firestar to add in for fun. (I didn't use the green glittery fiber nor the creamy silk, just the dyed silk and firestar).

I had washed the alpaca recently but hadn't picked it.  I thought that if I picked it by hand the carder could handle it, then I would take and blend it with the other fibers in a second pass through.
I had it on super slow and there was no problem at all.  The motor is totally silent and has a dial for speed that allows you infinite settings.  Just breathe on it and you can hear the speed adjust.  The first batt I did was 3.5 ounces and came out exactly as I had hoped.

In all, I had about 7 ounces of Cotswold, 5.5 ounces of alpaca and an ounce of dyed silk.  I used the firestar sparingly and maybe used a quarter of an ounce.

I divided everything into four fairly equal piles, each with the same proportion of each type of fiber.  In future I will use at least 50% Cotswold in all batts (because Cotswold is AWESOME!) but I needed dark fiber and the alpaca won the honor. 
I spent a couple very happy hours learning the machine, the process and handling fiber.  I have to say, I was doing a fair impersonation of Meg Ryan from "When Harry Met Sally" as I pulled the batts off the big drum.  :-D
Tomorrow..... the batts!!