Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Shocking, REAL Story Behind Modern "Sheep Farming"

The secret is out.    What sheep do when we're not around.

Sheep and power equipment.  It's the future - embrace it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

After having no snow for all of December we were graced with just enough on Friday to make a greeting-card type Christmas scene.


Holly and her friend Angel had a glorious doggy play-date with lots of action.

Arrr....I'm gonna get you!

Smack down!

Wait, did you hear something?

All I hear is you going down!

Angel weighs about the same as Holly, but is taller and therefore faster, but she's so good natured that she lets Holly win the 'I'm going to eat you' part of the game.

Christmas morning was sunny, and the sheep enjoyed standing in the sun waiting to be let back inside for breakfast.

Mmm.....dis is nyce..

Nyce......but is it breakfast yet?

Yeah, we's starffing.  What's da holdup?

But eventually everyone trooped in for hay.  We give them especially nice alfalfa hay on Christmas (although they then complain bitterly about every subsequent meal for about a week until they realize that was just a special occasion and not regular fare yet).

Cleo enjoyed the chance to get her feet warm.  Yes, she's sitting on a ewe's back, but the others mobbed around her so fast it's not clear just what's going on.  These sheep LOVE this cat and want to smell her and if she licks them they just about fall down in a swoon.  It's really weird.

It's Cleo!  Hi, Cleo!  Cleo, c'mon! Lick me! Cleo!

She decided they were breathing too. much. sheep. breath. on her fur and she hopped off.

Woolly wishes to all this Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Buzzing With Activity

Although it was only 12 degrees this morning we are still without any snow to speak of.  All this open weather has allowed Andy to keep working on outside chores.  Once the basement was packed full of firewood it was time to get serious about the fuel for the outside wood boiler which supplies heat to his wood shop and my wool shop.  Heavier trunk wood was cut to length and divided into smaller pieces on the tractor-mounted wood splitter.  Now the big pile of limb wood which has been waiting since early summer is being converted into chunks sized to fit the boiler.  No more hiding place for woodies!

Working through the pile of limb wood.

Each length of wood is hoisted and carried to the faithful tractor-powered buzz rig, set in the cradle and pushed into the spinning blade.


The saw blade makes a distinctive ringing noise as each cut is completed and the rpms shoot back up with the load of chewing through wood taken away.

Making another pile of work

When the pile of cut pieces gets big enough to interfere with more dropping onto it, it's time to take a break and stack the pieces.

Closing in on 20 cords

The old saying is "wood warms twice", but in reality it's more like six times by the time it's ready to chuck in the boiler. 

I've heard that people pay good money to go to a gym and do repetitive weight lifting type exercise.  I'm thinking we should be selling memberships..........

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Guild Gifting

The December meeting of the Genesee Valley Handspinners Guild featured two holiday staples - goodies and gifts.  The cookies were varied and delicious and the gifts were so temptingly wrapped that thievery was the word of the day.  Actually, this is how it works:  Everyone wishing to participate brings a prettily wrapped gift of 8 ounces of ready-to-spin fiber.  The packages are brought in plain brown bags so that no one knows who the giver is, and your name goes in a hat.  At the appointed time, the first name is drawn and that person gets first pick from the table of packages.  The following people have the option of either taking from the table or stealing from the first person.  The first few participants tend to select the most elaborately wrapped packages, but soon people are stalking the rows of spinners looking for 'that box' that they had their eye on which someone else selected first.  A person whose package is stolen can either select from the table of also steal from another person.  The game limits stealing to 2 people in a turn, so the third person finding themselves suddenly bereft of their gift has to pick again from the table - a time limit of necessity as about 40 people participated. Some packages changed hands a dozen times before landing with a spinner for good.

I had three boxes stolen away from me and finally ended up with this promising package.

Gift from a fellow spinner

And the contents did not disappoint......


I'm the happy owner of four 2 oz. puffs of beautiful Romney batts from Longmeadow Farm in Freedom, NY.  This will be a special spinning treat for some time in deep winter when a mental pick-me-up is sorely needed.

Trust a spinner to know just what another spinner needs.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

And Now, For Something Completely Different

The corn is all picked, the basement is full of firewood, and while there is still the outside boiler to finish cutting firewood for, equipment to put away and some manure to haul out, That Andy is turning to thoughts of time in the wood shop.  He has an order for a lawyer's style bookcase of cherry from someone's property.  He sawed their small logs this spring and let them air dry over the summer.  Slow and natural drying is least stressful on lumber.  Now that he's almost ready to work with it, the lumber needs some final drying to get down to a moisture content that will be stable when in someone's house.

lumber stacked to dry

This is the small finishing kiln Andy built within the shop.  It holds more than enough lumber to complete almost any project at one time.

Heating system to dry lumber

The heat source is some reclaimed baseboard hot water runs left from a renovation project.  The hot water is pulled off the main heat exchanger he built which heats the whole shop.  The heat from the water in the pipe transfers to the fins of the heat run and radiates off, rising up through the layers of lumber, and drying the wood in a gentle manner.  The source of all this hot water is our outside wood boiler. Andy has it plumbed to heat my wool shop and his wood shop, but we also pull some extra 'free' heat off it to bring the water heater up to temp faster for washing wool, and now it gives heat to this little kiln, too.

Breathing holes

A couple of holes in the top, far corner of the space will allow for hot air to vent out and carry humidity with it.

Sealed shut, and working

Simple design, uses 'free' energy, and works quietly all the time without any input from him.

Now if I could just find a way to get wool to wash itself.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Second Verse, Same as the First

So, what have I been doing since moving the rams out of their breeding groups? 

Skirt, wash, dye, repeat.

I'm working through the white Cotswold lamb fleeces and doing some dyeing for a special request colorway.  A group of spinners saw Berry Patch at FLFF and wanted me to do it in lamb and add some silk as I had done for September Glow and Spring Meadow.

Berry Patch
So, I've been spending time each day doing the aforementioned skirt/wash/dye routine.  I'll have almost 30 lbs of washed fiber for processing, so I should get back 25 lbs or so.  The actual basic colors for the blend are lilac, pink/crimson and kelly green/emerald green.

Pink and Crimson, mixed

Kelly Green and Emerald Green, mixed

It always amazes me how colors that look like clown barf when sitting in bags next to each other will cozy up together and be pretty when made to roving.  Seriously.  Look at Berry Patch.  Now look at these colors.  Now look back at Berry Patch.  Really??  Yes, truly a miracle.  I'll be eager to spin a sample with the silk added and see how it looks.  Maybe similar to Spring Meadow, but that has blue and yellow and this doesn't.  So. Many. Color. Combos.

My favorite color is green and wouldn't you know that's one that gives me trouble.  I suspect it's our uber hard water, but I really have to add a good bit of vinegar to the dyebath and heat much longer than other colors and it still doesn't exhaust 100%.  Spruce goes a little easier, but these bright greens are problematic.  I had a gray fleece (Mr. Bill) that became un-reserved so I decided that I'd overdye it.  I've done blue on gray (Blue Jeans) and purple on gray (Wine Country) so I thought I'd go green, but I really didn't want to beat on it so I thought I'd make my own green by putting yellow and blue together in case that helped somehow.  Apparently, despite being thoroughly blended in the pot, the dye attaches to the fiber as though it were two colors.  I actually like this and I think it will card into a nice roving with some depth of shading that should be pretty.  At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Yellow plus blue equals yellowgreenblue

As soon as the dyed lamb is on its way to the mill I'll grab some gray Cotswold to add to this.  I like to send a batch big enough that it will have a little shelf life.   More skirt, wash, dye in my future.

And then what color shall I do?  Hmmmm.........


Monday, November 28, 2011

When the Party's Ooo-vveerrrrrr............

Breeding season is officially over today, and not a moment too soon.  Isaac has worked himself near to death.


Ha ha, just kidding.  He was just enjoying a nice post-breakfast lie down.  Sheep sometimes do like to lay flat out on their sides and they sure do look alarming until you see them breathing.

Breeding season started on October 24.  We had seven breeding groups and one group of youngsters and old ladies that didn't get a ram.  Given that gestation is 147 days, give or take a day or two, our first lambs should arrive on March 20 and the last possible lamb could be born April 24.  A span of 35 days allows for all ewes to cycle once and most will have time to cycle twice if they don't catch on the first breeding.  And if someone doesn't conceive, it's OK.  The barn is always full!  We schedule lambing this way so that we are past the worst of the cold before babies arrive but by the time everyone is done and the barn is bursting at the seams they can start going out to pasture.  Also, I'm sure that all ewes have lambed and all lambs are out of the jugs before I go to MD for the sheep and wool festival in early May.  I would never leave Andy with pregnant ewes to watch when he has so much other stuff to do that time of year!

The rams are all haltered and tied in the trailer for the trek back across the road to the upper Bachelor Barn.  Having just come out of their harems, they are primed to fight with one another so tying them is the safest way to get them where they're going.  They were all gentle and well-behaved with us when we went into the pens to feed or water, but it's like flipping a switch when they get together.

Hmmm........I have a bad feeling about this........

Once in the upper barn we build a temporary - but very sturdy - small pen for them to get reacquainted in.  We make it small on purpose so that no two rams can back up and get a running start at each other to butt heads.  Broken necks can - and have - resulted.  It takes many days, even a couple of weeks, before they have resigned themselves to the fact that the girls are gone and they have re-established their pecking order among themselves.  We move them off the trailer and tie them again until we can get the heavy panels secured that will hold them until they come to grips with the new reality.

If I can...just...chew this...a little more....ugh....almost there...

Once everything is secure it's a free-for-all of pushing, grunting, sideways head slamming, jumping, thrashing and general mayhem.  But they really can't do worse than bruise each other.

*#$*#!&*&...I'll  fix you, you $*&#%$&#* !

We did use one ram lamb this year.  He's very promising and seemed to have no problem breeding the girls, but we didn't need to put him in with the big guys.  He's not all hopped up on attitude the way the adults are, and besides...he'd probably get killed.

Nooo!  Don't put me in there!  I'll be gooood!

Isaac is especially peeved at being back in with other rams and worked himself into a state pretty quickly.  He only weighs 275 compared to the two white rams' 325, so while he was hurling himself at them they just took it and gave him a whack in the side for good measure.


Sorry guys, eleven months must seem like a long time, but it will give you something to look forward to.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Frosty Thanksgiving

The last two days were foggy and alternating freezing rain, snow and regular rain.  Today the sky was clear.  Hooray!  It did go below freezing last night, so this morning eveything had a lovely rime of frost on it.

This oak leaf blew in from the woods

A cluster of apple leaves

I love how delicate the bit of wild carrot leaf in the lower right corner looks, and the buttercup leaf in the upper left looks like it's dusted with confectioner's sugar.

Single apple leaf

Notice how each little hair on the devil's paintbrush leaf is outlined in frost. 

We need to remember to give thanks every day - for family and friends of course, but don't forget the blessings we live with every minute:  to see the beauty around us, to breathe deep the cold clean air, to have the bounty of fruit trees and plants and the animals we keep, warm clothes, clean water, medicine when we need it, to be living in a free country.....

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Spinning Saturday

The Genesee Valley Handspinners Guild meets monthly throughout the year.   I'm usually able to attend half or more and they are always a delightful day out.  Any spinner or wannbe spinner ought to try to hook up with a local guild.  They are THE best place to gain inspiration, knowledge and a dose of renewed enthusiasm for that project that's been languishing in the bottom of your tote bag.  Today's meeting was well attended (around 60 of the 100+ members signed in, I believe) and lively. 

Spinners, spinners, everywhere

Several of us set up vendor tables in the back of the room and sell fiber, equipment and related things, and sometimes handcrafted jewelry, soaps, candles and the like.  You can always find that small birthday or thank-you gift that you were needing if you shop the tables in back. 

One of the best features of our meetings is Show and Tell.  It's a great way for us to show off our triumphs to people who will appreciate them, whether it's a skein, garment, book, piece of equipment, dye experiment, or 'the first time I ever did one of these'. 

The line for Show and Tell

We also have a potluck twice a year and November is the year's second.  Naturally it features hearty, hot dishes, but also lots of salads, fruit and good-for-you items which tend to balance out the tables of baked goodies.  With so many fantastic cooks under one roof the array is astounding and everyone finds just the cuisine they want.  We really should compile a cookbook using the recipes of the bi-annual potlucks, but so far no brave soul has stepped forward to do it.

Only two of the four tables laden with food.

And another really good feature of the potlucks at a guild meeting is that nobody freaks out if there's a hair in the food.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Class Picture Day

I had a fellow in OH phone about possibly getting some Cotswold ewe lambs to start a flock.  He'd like to stick with the ACRA registry, so I flipped through my record book to see who was eligible and who would also be a lamb I would sell.  (Must. Not. Keep. Them. All.)

Once I had them picked out on paper we went through the lamb group and separated them into a smaller pen so I could (try) to take some pictures.  Taking decent photos of a group of milling lambs is like watching fleas in a teacup.  It's a good thing I started with fresh batteries.  They were shorn a few weeks ago so they are at an unflattering stage right now.  Typical kids.  Besides side views and butts, I took a head shot of each. 

Looks studious.  Voted "Most Likely to Succeed".

Clueless party girl.  Voted "Most Likely to Make the Headlines".

The Drama Queen.  Voted "Most Likey to Make it to Hollywood".

Gets along with everyone.  Voted "Miss Congeniality."

Teacher's pet.  Voted "Miss Goody-Four-Shoes".

Very athletic.  Voted "Miss Jock-ette".

Biggest hair.  Voted "Most Likely to Be a Cheerleader".

At least I didn't catch anybody with their eyes closed and mouth open.  This time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Last Weekend...... cousin Carolyn and I went to a small craft show "over the border" in PA.  We had not heard of it before, but having gotten a personal invite to attend (they really wanted spinning and hooking demos and gave us a plum booth spot) we decided to go.  Besides, it was a fundraiser for the local library system so how could anyone say 'no'?

Turns out Prattsburgh is a thriving metropolis compared to Genesee, PA.  We were housed on the open main floor of an old hotel.  We saw a thermostat on the wall, but it must be a sacred item as no one touched it all day :-(  Ah, well, dressed in wool and drinking hot coffee all day we were able to stave off frostbite.

Lamb, yarn, sheepskins (and Julie!)

Quilt batting and lots of roving

Rug hooking fabric, kits and samples

Carolyn brought some nice hooked items she has done including this one of her son's dog.

Tezel, hooked from her portrait

Having tallied up the hours and dollars spent making the rug, Carolyn opted to send her son a photo of the rug.  He can visit it anytime he wants.

We didn't get out much as the craft organizers graciously had runners to get lunch for us, but Julie did see this flock of exotic birds.

Rusticus shovelia, subspecies pennsylvanium

Gotta add that to my Life List!

The people there were really nice, but it wasn't a fiber crowd.  Roc Day in Ithaca, hosted by the Black Sheep Handspinners Guild,  in January will be a different story!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Indian Summer

We are having a gorgeous, unusual streak of warm sunny weather.  Everyone is loving it.

The ram boys are queued up every morning to go out and poke around in the pasture.  They have hay available in the feeders at night to snack on. Even though the pasture is old and past its prime this time of year they still want to go out and do sheepy things.

C'mon, lady, hurry up with the gate already.

Mr. Bill photo-bombs the scene

This black lamb had dozed off while waiting.  Note the white spot on his side.  It's the only white mark he has.  His buddy was kind enough to sit and wait for him to wake up.


Then he woke up and ran to catch up.

Crap, I hate being last.

And everyone spread out for a nice day of grazing.

Living that good sheep life.

Andy has been able to get after picking the corn.  For ear corn to keep in the crib it should be 24% moisture or less.  The snow and cold we had slowed its progress but now we're good.

Trusty gravity box and elevator

Flowing out well with the help of an occasional poke to keep it moving.

Filling the center bay of the crib

The ears are not husking nearly as well as last year's variety.  It might be peculiar to that type or it might be due to weather and environment.  It's undesireable to have so much husk in the crib as it cuts down on air circulation and promotes mold growth, but there's nothing to be done but hope for the best.  We are much luckier than some people who have lost their corn crop to drought or flood.

Last year's corn on left - husked well.  This year's on right - not so much.

Wouldn't this make a cool jigsaw puzzle?

Holly got as far as the apple trees before collapsing in the sun.

Huh?  Wha..?  Could you not make so much noise?  I'm trying to rest, here.

Such a hard, doggie life.