Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Apple Party

Every fall our for ancient apple trees give us far more fruit than we can make use of.  The Wageners come ripe first, followed by the Wolf Rivers, then the Pound Sweet and then the Northern Spy.  I try to find time to use the best ones and I feel very guilty letting a large part of the bounty go unused but we don't let it go to waste entirely.  The rams are happy to get a small bucket of small or damaged or wormy or knotty apples every morning when they are turned out into the large, back pasture.

Our big Cotswold ram, Neville, doesn't care for them and waits by the water tub for some petting while the others are eating.  Not liking apples is a bit odd, like a dog not wanting cheese, but he's certain he does. not. want.

Castillo and Brick noticed me hanging around the gate and had to see what I was up to.

I really like how Brick is built.  He's a very pretty gray under the sunburned tips.

And then Norris and his two 'uncles' are turned out into their small close-to-the-barn pasture.
We cut the apples into smaller chunks for him and the old guys.  Norris likes apples very much but can't get his jaws around them well enough to crunch them if they are whole.  The old boys have some missing teeth so it's harder for them too.  The last thing we'd want is to have somebody choke to death because they couldn't chew a whole apple.
First Norris eats with Isador.
Then he runs over to Ian's pile to 'help'.  (Ian has a stiff shoulder and limps.  Two piles keep the shoving to a minimum).

It's always a hard sell at the end of fall when the apples stop dropping and there are no more to distribute and I have to convince the rams I haven't just forgotten.  But it's good while it lasts!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Norris Gets A Haircut

This is the time of year that spring born Cotswold lambs need to be shorn.  Fleece is now five to six inches long and lovely to process and spin.  Trying to overwinter them in full fleece is problematic, at least at this farm where the animals are housed in the barns.  Hay chaff will ruin them quickly and coating them has given mixed results including some unfortunate felting.  Moreover, lambs are hot in all that wool and will eat and gain better if they are more comfortable.

Normally I would call our good shearer, Brian, but for just one lamb..... surely I could do it myself.  I've shorn adults before when necessary but I did them standing and I didn't try to manage any particular pattern or take the fleece off in one piece.  I sheared Norris in my head several times and had a plan of action.  This was the week when we had 90 degree days so I knew he'd feel so much better with it off and that cemented my resolve to do it right now.

I didn't want to wrestle the big sheet of plywood into his pen so I fished a giant piece of cardboard out of the recycle pile.

"Hmmm, what's this?"

"Kinda tasteless......"

So, armed with hand shears and a clean bag to put his lovely fleece in I tipped him on his butt and gave it a try.  Have you seen that commercial where the couple is staring up at the wrecked ceiling and pipes dripping water and the husband says, " I can do this."  and the wife does this strangled laugh and shakes her head and states, "No."  The wife was the smart side of my brain about 2 minutes in.  I'm dripping sweat (remember it's 90+ degrees), I have cut off zero wool, Norris is already fussing and I'm afraid I'm going to cut him.

Plan B.  Halter and shear standing up with the help of my trusty ancient trimming stand.  Even that took longer than I like to admit but I can say that neither of us got hurt (although by the time I finished we were both done. with. this.).

I sorted and skirted as I went and ended up with a 3.6 lb bag of colored lamb wool.  Next will be washing, picking and then blending....with something....just for fun.

Norris is much happier and cooler.

As I didn't shear as close as electric clippers would you can already see the waves in his wool that will shortly become curls.

He's growing nicely and showing a significant increase in height compared against the old boys.

And he's staying as sweet and friendly as ever.  I left his forelock on and wanted to get a nice picture but he kept running toward the camera.

There.  The next shearing will be by a pro-fess-shun-all.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Time To Come Clean

Somewhere during the summer I lost my blogging mojo.  No big disasters to blame, I just sort of got out of the habit and.... didn't.  I did have good intentions and have lots of pictures on the phone.  So many that it's telling me my storage capacity is at its limit so be prepared for posts from late spring and summer scattered among the more current ones.

First up is a current post.  I hate to think it but we'll be getting into cold weather soon and then winter.  (Boo, hiss)  I had vowed during the summer that I was going to wash all my good wool sweaters while the weather was warm and dry this year and it was an intention that I'm pleased to say I actually followed through on!

Spa Day for the sweaters.

I recently got turned on to Mrs. Meyer's products and can give two thumbs up to their laundry soap.  I was delighted to find it being carried by a local Ace Hardware.  I love the light lavender scent and it cleans well (as does the dish soap).

The other (or AN other) big cleaning type job I'm tackling is to wash all the sheep coats in preparation of hay feeding season.  I had a dedicated washing machine for super dirty items such as the coats, work coveralls and coats, dog beds, lambing towels and other filthy textiles.  Unfortunately, during the summer it sprung a fatal leak - the drum had rusted through.  Gee, and it was only forty years old.  ;-)

I thought about just using the washer in my shop which I use for fleece washing but it's not a heavy duty unit and I was afraid it would quickly get beaten to death.  I searched the internet and was getting pretty disturbed - the majority of the washers were front loaders (NO!), eco-friendly high efficiency/low water users (NO!), had electronic controls (NO!), had a safety locking lids (NO!) and either cost a fortune or were cheap, lightweight, and looked it.

Then...... (cue Heavenly chorus).... I found this one by Speed Queen.  All the stuff I wanted, none of the features I didn't want AND it's made in the US - win/win/WIN!  It wasn't cheap but it was exactly what I wanted and I expect it to last a looooong time.  I ordered it through the same Ace Hardware that carries the Mrs. Meyer's products and it was delivered a few days later.

Look at all that room!  I could nearly climb in there myself.  It holds six or seven sheep coats at a whack depending on the sizes with room for the water to slosh around the way it's supposed to.

The agitator goes all the way up - none of this low profile, barely there nub of an agitator nonsense as we have in the 'people clothes' washer that I stupidly bought before I knew how ineffective it would be.

Nice simple manual controls that won't die from a tiny electrical hiccup.

So the coat washing marathon is underway.  (I don't use the Mrs. Meyer's for that - good old Arm and Hammer laundry soap from Dollar General is doing a fine job.)  It's going to take a while but they're being sorted when they come off the line and either go to the storage tubs in the barn or into the pile for mending first.

Progress on all fronts!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Yesterday's eclipse was interesting and fun to look at (through a welder's helmet) even though we didn't achieve more than about 70% coverage here. The light was odd at the darkest point - the sky was clear and you knew the sun was shining brightly but your brain knew it wasn't the normal amount of light.  We had gone to the woods to drop a few ash trees for some grade stake material and everything just looked 'off'.

Andy only needed a few trees but wouldn't you know - one of them just caught the wrong side of the crown of a little tree and it guided the ash right into the bole of a cherry and it scraped the bark off on the way down.  Dang!  Turned out that the cherry had a seam where it had been struck by lightning and it wasn't ever going to develop into a great specimen so he ended up cutting it also.  Andy can always use more cherry lumber for the fiber tools he creates.  Although not the same species as the trees that bear cherries that we eat, the scent from the raw bark was amazing - the most pungent and tangy cherry smell you can imagine.  Just like sniffing a bottle of cherry extract flavoring.

And here's a very curious thing.  Before we left for the woods - about 20 minutes shy of reaching the darkest point in our eclipse - I heard really loud buzzing.........  our tree bees were swarming.

They went up into the higher branches of the locust tree and formed a mass that was quite a bit bigger than a basket ball.  A big swarm!

They hung there for a couple of hours.  It was too high up to think of trying to capture them but I kept an ear and eye on them.  I wanted to see what direction they went off in.  Later in the afternoon I heard that distinctive buzzing again and knew they were on the move.  But.... about half the mass of bees had fallen out of the tree and lay in a puddle on the ground.

The air was thick with bees again and I thought they were going to regroup around a queen and head off but instead I saw they were going back into the tree.  The puddle of bees continued to evaporate and after half an hour there was just a slow, small cluster in the grass.  I've heard they can do that - change their minds because the queen goes back to the hive - but it's certainly not usual.

By dark there was just a handful of bees still on the ground. I felt sorry for them since they seemed confused but it was just Nature at work - nobody did anything bad to them or interfered with their plan.

So here's a question:  Did any beekeepers out there observe their bees doing weird things during the eclipse?  Of course it could be a double coincidence - swarming at nearly the exact moment of peak eclipse and then going back into the tree later - but bees are sensitive so maybe they felt an odd gravitational shift or something.  

Things that make you say "Hmmmmm......"

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Norris Update

Young Norris is doing just fine!  He's been here a bit over a month now and seems very happy with his lot in life.

He's gained 20 lbs and it shows in both width and height.

He has the sweetest temper and loves to be petted.

Andy was even helping him channel his inner Cheviot today.  Not!  He's the opposite of a Cheviot's temperament and took the ear lift with good graces.

What a good lamb!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Horsey Day

My friend Sue and I were both 'horsey girls' long before we met in college.  In fact, we went to different colleges originally and must have ridden against each other as we were each on our school's respective riding teams.  Then we met at SUNY Delhi and have been boon companions alllll these years since.

"Hey, Robin, want to go to Walnut Hill for the day to watch the driving competitions?"

What a silly question!

So off we went and had a great time despite rain.  The carriage driving at Walnut Hill seemed to me to harken back to a more genteel time when everyone dressed nicely and no one seemed in a hurry.  I found it much more enjoyable than watching the driving classes at the state fair.  That's probably not fair to the people at that venue but with the ring being outside, seating under the trees, no crazy music or noise from the midway, white tents with white tables and chairs where you could sit and sip the cocktail made for you by the honest-to-gosh white jacketed bartender....  it's just got a totally different feel than other shows I've been to.

The 'barns' for housing the horses were actually specialized tents. There were several tent barns set up and I saw license plates on trailers from as far away as Florida.   Clearly the horses were all well mannered and refined too since the walls were only canvas.  Staying in your stall was more of a polite suggestion than a command.  ;-)

Exhibitors were busy with horses and equipment, either getting ready for their next class or rinsing the mud off the carriage wheels from the last outing.

This cart looks like the carriage world's version on an ATV!  I'm guessing it's made sturdy for training.

It wasn't really possible to get close to the horses during the actual classes.  These four-in-hand teams had just finished their class when we came onto the grounds.  Such a grand sight to see teams of four horses turned out so beautifully with shiny harness and bright paint and footmen in uniforms.  It's easy to see the romance of that lifestyle, especially from the safety and security of 2017.

There were a few classes particularly for ponies while we were there and charming little ponies they were!  It was a pleasure to watch them clipping along.

It's a little pixilated but look at the white Shetland pony second from the left.  So cute and little when he was trotting it made my voice go up an octave.  ;-)

And the vendors there were primarily horse oriented in one way or another, whether driving or fox hunting, or offering equipment, or painting portraits of your horses or dogs from photos.  Although, some how these guys snuck in.  And really, who doesn't need a pig made out of horse shoes?

But the art for sale is what impressed me the most, in particular a booth filled with hand painted furniture.  One would have to have the right home (and coordinating wallet) to bring these pieces home but did I ever drool over them.  Trust me, the pictures don't do them justice.  (Pics taken with permission of the artist).

And even though it was an equestrian venue I still found wool!  A pair of beautifully needlefelted purses - a clutch purse size and matching coin purse.

We caught one last class on our way out - the Old Guard's class, wherein all the drivers were required to be 65 years or older.  By then the sun had come out and it was a delight to see all the exhibitors and think that they were all enjoying their passion, and managing it just fine, well into their 'seasoned citizen' years.  May we all be so lucky!

There's that teeny white Shetland pony again, in the center!

And the class winner drove an interesting unicorn hitch of three horses.

If you've never gone to this event I encourage you to mark your calendar for next year.  The show runs for five days and any one of them will be a treat to watch even if you aren't a bona fide 'horsey girl.'

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Lamb Despite Not Breeding

Meet Norris, the newest addition to the Cotswold flock.

Norris is a lamb from the last colored Cotswold ram I sold who went to a very nice farm and shepherd in MA. (Norris' mom was from here too.)  That ram was the last son of Gilly, one of my favorite colored Cotswold ewes. She's now too old to breed again and I have been regretting not having any young males from her.  Long story short, young Norris here became available and so I couldn't resist adding him to the flock.  I hope to breed a very select number of ewes in the future and I can't wait to see lambs from this line.

He has a perfect companion in old Ian who has a stiff shoulder and is penned separately from the other rams to avoid further injury.  (Not to worry, they can all see and hear each other - nobody is housed truly alone.)  Anyway, I told Ian he was going to become an "Uncle".

"Excuse me?  I don't think I was consulted."

It's working out just fine and they go out together after their morning crunchies to graze the little pasture attached to the barn.  (The other boys are let out first and they pass through it to the larger pasture.)

 "Man, this kid is wearing me out."

But when Ian gets tired and goes in to rest Norris quite often stays out a while longer to graze.  He's a Cotswold, therefore a natural born good eater!

"I'm coming......just a right there............."

He's an extremely friendly and personable lamb who clearly got loved on a lot by his first shepherd.

This is the view I got the most of.

He's a sweetie!