Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Year's Worth

The calendar never really starts or ends for a shepherd.  One aspect of husbandry overlaps another and seasons go by but there's never a time when nothing is happening.  The closest we get is mid winter when everyone is hunkered in and eats their way through the cold, dark months.  But then....


A year's worth of nutrition, proper housing and care is harvested in the form of beautiful wool.  Taking the coats off the sheep is like opening Christmas presents.  We shear in batches of ten to fifteen sheep and can get through about 45 a day without turning it into an unpleasant marathon.

 "Is it any safer on that side of the pen?"

"I don't think so.  We can't really run OR hide."

We postponed the starting date twice due to weather and circumstances.  It was a very un-springlike day but the sheep had been penned the night before and so were dry.  Shearing wet sheep is miserable for the shearer and awful for the wool as it will mildew no matter what kind of bag or container you put it in.

It snowed all day.  :-0  

But indoors is was a steady accumulation of pretty fleeces.........

Curly color!

....and in white.

Longwool crossbreds

Glamour shots........

Salsa is a moorit who has faded greatly over the years but apparently this freckle's worth of wool follicles didn't get the genetic message.

And this is why we coat.  This is Peanut with her coat removed.  The grimy wool to the left is on her neck, which wasn't covered by the coat.  It will wash clean for the most part, but it sure looks unappealing now.

And these are her big, shiny, CLEAN curls.  :-D

This is one of the colored Cotswolds - Pixie, maybe? - who has a very high luster fleece in gray shades.

She looks like she's made of tin foil.

Daisy was pretty sure I had alfalfa pellets in my pocket (aka 'snack hole') and kept trying to work her nose into it.


"You aren't getting any ideas about shearing DOGS, are you?"

No need, dear doggie.  We save all your brushed fur for spinning and you make plenty - no need to cut it off!

Thursday, March 22, 2018


4/4/2003 - 3/22/2018

A good breakfast with friends, a big drink of warm water, some sunshine, a little sleep and waking up to bound onto the Rainbow Bridge, cured of cripping arthritis and the other ills of old age.

It was a pretty good day, right Bunny?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Deja Vu All Over Again

We've gotten stuck in a repeating pattern of nor'easter type storms about once a week.  A wet snow of around ten inches plus wind yields miserable conditions for being outside and drifts that have to be slogged through or cut through with shovel or tractor. 

The little birds appreciate the seed we put out, especially in these late winter months when natural food is scarce or buried.  We've started to get a nice sized flock of goldfinches along with the juncos and sparrows.

Sheep chores remain the same - feed twice and water four times a day.  Trudge, trudge.

And Beggar's Row is always full of hopeful faces as we walk back and forth.

L to R:  Nora, Kahlua (aka Crazy Jumper) and Luellen

More often now the days get above freezing and cause the overhanging snow to form icicles.

And when the storm passes and we do get a sunny day it really boosts morale (even if we have to break a new trail to the barn).

Fresh snow is especially tasty, even when the water buckets are full.  Notice the nose marks in the snow of the foreground.

The shadow on the wall shows how much the snow wilts and droops from the east facing barn roof as it starts a slow slide off.  It's good the sheep don't have access to that side of the barn as a sudden avalanche could bury someone.

And the sheep linger in the yard a little longer before pressing on to see whether the hay in the barn or feed bunk is better.

"Hmmm, follow the hooman or stand in the sun?"

"I'm going to go eat.  You can't grow this much wool on just sunshine."

Eeesh, she is really hanging out of that coat.  It's a good thing shearing is going to happen soon.

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Blizzard On Number Seven

Today is Knee Deep in Sheep's blogiversary - number seven to be precise. Wow, how did seven years slide by already?  It sounds like a big chunk of time but it doesn't feel that way.  That happens with a lot of numbers we talk about lately... years out of college, years we've had a vehicle, years since someone passed away.....eeesh.

Anyway, we'll remember this date as the Lucky Number Seven Blizzard.

Our power went out around 4:00 AM and Andy crawled out of bed to go fire up the generator.  Because it's wired to a load center pole instead of a house it doesn't have an auto on/off function.  The generator would run for 17 hours today while NYSEG dealt with the outages across the region. We couldn't be without it.

It was hard to tell how much snow we received since the wind blew it into crazy drifts with other areas scoured bare.  We're guessing over a foot - maybe fifteen inches?  We had waist-high drifts around the house which meant wading to get to the bird feeders.

By the ram barn there were big drifts and other areas where the wind had shifted and was chewing into the snow and taking it away again.

We had pulled the doors to the ram barn closed as much as possible but it IS a barn and the doors aren't tight.  One gap about six inches wide let the wind push the snow in all night long.  It looks like a huge mess but it's probably only half a bucket's worth of water when you think about it.

The bigger snow challenge was at the lower barn.  It hasn't happened in several years but Andy had to shovel to get the sheep OUT.  It was cozy as could be inside and the sheep hadn't stuck a hoof out all night.

He had to work his way all along that side of the barn to the other big sliding door and make two lanes out to the feed  bunk.

After that workout we could actually do chores - refill mangers in the barn and then take some hay to the 'picnic area' in the feed bunk.

The sheep were totally unconcerned by the storm and the snow although they didn't like trudging through anything over their knees.

Clem says.........

"I hates snow.  I is pretending to be an indoor kitty - indoors of the barn, that is."

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Cold Comfort in Midwinter

Winter is creeping along - the calendar confirms it even when it seems to be never ending.  The days are enough longer that we can see it so that's a morale booster.

We had some miserably cold weather in January.  Taking care of livestock during times like this is a challenge to say the least.  Water is always an issue.  Keeping the pipes from freezing requires some ingenuity.  We are fortunate to have an excellent well which supplies the house, barn and outbuldings but that means pipes are buried several places.  The pipe to the barn runs under the road (!) from the house and up through the floor of the barn about eight feet from the outer wall.  Keeping it from freezing was never a problem when we had the dairy since the herd kept the barn above freezing no matter how cold it was outside and with so many cattle drinking day and night the water was almost always flowing.  Now, with sheep in the barn the temperature is just about the same inside as it is outdoors.  We run hoses to the various tubs in the warm weather but now we have to lug buckets. The 'faucet' is the vertical pipe that comes up from the floor around which Andy built an insulated column.  A short hose can be directed into buckets.  The narrow pipe chamber is usually kept warm enough with a 100 watt incandescent bulb mounted about half way up from the ground but when it's very cold we use a trouble light and dangle an extra bulb in there, down almost to ground level. Because the space is insulated and no animals can get into it we feel that it's a much safer system than heat tape.

With the door closed the space stays above freezing and water can be drawn for the sheep.  

The younger sheep laugh at the cold but it takes a toll on the old ones.  They are receiving a grain ration twice a day and now we've added some alfalfa and beet pulp pellets in an effort to get more calories and energy into them.  Dollar and Bunny are within a couple of months of their 15th birthdays and the cold is grinding them down.  Both are wearing double sheep coats with a thick beach towel sandwiched between for extra insulation.  Dollar is spry but really starting to look like The Crypt Keeper.  We bring her out into the alley to get an even more special ration of grain without competition. 

"Grain is especially good if you can steal it from a bucket other than the one they give you!"

"I'm old too!  Just how old do you have to be to get that extra grain?!" 

We've even taken to bringing the bucket of grain into the house before feeding so it can set next to the chimney and get warmed up.  Everything the sheep eat is ice cold - the hay, the grain, the water - and it all draws warmth away from their bodies when they consume it.  A hammer and sieve are used to remove ice from buckets and tubs as needed, up to four times a day.  We carry down two gallon jugs of really hot water from the house to warm up the water the geriatrics are drinking and also use a bucket heater to warm the water in some of the other buckets but we don't leave it plugged in - we only use it while we're in the barn. It takes the edge off the cold and keeps the water liquid a bit longer. Water is so important for good health and we don't want anyone to drink less because the water is nearly slush.

But last Thursday we had a real warm up and we grabbed the opportunity to change the coats to the next bigger size on those who needed it .  We have some awfully pretty wool under those coats!

Not a speck of VM on Oleander the Cotswold!

Oleander's fleece, parted.

 Violet has gone a nice medium gray.



We also found a few ewes who had lost some condition from the last time we handled them.  They weren't old enough to need the geriatrics pen but were past middle age.  We shifted them to the pen that holds the bred ewes as there was plenty of room.  They will benefit from the grain ration and better hay.

One small ewe, Prudence, we put in with the geriatrics because the bred ewes were going to be too pushy with her.  She had meningeal worm when she was a lamb and although she recovered with treatment she doesn't have the strength and balance in her hindquarters that a sheep should.  After an initial banquet at the hay feeder she announced she was DONE with being in that group.  She baa-ed incessantly and has a sad, mournful voice by nature so it sounded like someone was dying a hard death all. the. time.  I mean, she would not shut up even during feeding time.  Figuring that we were causing her more stress than assistance we put her back in with the main flock.  Now we know what she was yelling about - she missed her sister, Patience.  Sheep have a strong sense of family and some are even more bonded than others.  These two are really tight.

Another mid-winter project I've gotten into is making spinning batts from some of our dyed Cotswold.  I want to have a good bunch of them for the vendor booth this year and two different events are coming up fast - The Knitting Circle Fiber Arts Festival  and the make up date for the Roc Day Gathering hosted by the Black Sheep Handspinners Guild.  I'm hoping they'll be appealing to all spinners but especially to those who haven't yet tried Cotswold.  The batts are a hefty five ounces (closer to six really, but we're calling them five) so they should yield enough yarn to make something large enough to get a real sense of how the fiber handles.

I'm starting with some solid colors and adding some sparkly eye candy.  Later I'll try blending some colors and doing gradients.  Right now I'm working on green and orange.

Green Cotswold with white silk and green firestar.

Green batts with white silk, blue silk and varying amounts of angelina and firestar.

Orange batt with "Tropic" firestar which doesn't show up too well in the picture but has shades of red and brown.

Neatly rolled and bagged.

I have tags that identify the various fibers that I might incorporate into any batt.  I think under 'Other' I should list cat hair/dog hair just to be safe.  ;-)