Friday, April 29, 2011


.........another first..... Mittens!

Mittens.....after a fashion

So why am I motivated to make mittens in April?  (Besides the fact that most of April has been in the 40s ?).  My spinning guild,  Genesee Valley Handspinners Guild, does "exchanges" every year- scarves, hats, and this year Hand Coverings.  It seemed like a good idea when I signed up last fall.  The fiber I got to spin was lovely and that part got done in just a couple of weeks.  But...... I wasn't about to fool around with that nice yarn making attempt after attempt to produce mittens, so practice was in order.  I pulled some of my handspun yarn from the stash and borrowed "Folk Mittens" from the guild library.  How hard could it be?  Sure, I think, give me a book and I can figure anything out.  I picked what I thought was the simplest pattern, with the least complicated type of thumb.  Under the heading "Mittens from Greenland and America" was a lovely pair of white mittens.  Nice, plain design that would show off the yarn nicely and they had the classic mitten shape I wanted - not square and pointy on the tip of the fingers, or with a thumb lying flat against the palm, beautiful though that style can be. 

So here is the result.  A pair of mittens..... which are more fraternal twins than identical twins.  One mitten is definately bigger boned than the other, which is weird since it's the same yarn, same needles, same number stitches, and I don't *think* I'm manic-depressive enough to knit tight some days and loose another.  So.  I pretty much understand the construction of these things (and can find all the mistakes I made and there are many) , but they don't have the same sex appeal as the the mittens in the picture.  OK, these are wool and those are angora, but seriously... the picture in the book has slim, sophisticated mittens.......the Audrey Hepburn of mittens.  My mittens are more Gilda Radner.  And what's up with the yellow thumb??  That's what I get for going back to pick up the thumb stitches after the variegated yarn has moved on in its life to that shade.

One of these things is not like the other......

The "real" mittens are due May 14th. 

I'm hoping to work my way up to Jamie Lee Curtis style.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Well, done waiting for moms to have lambs, anyway.  Ginger lambed yesterday between breakfast and lunch all by herself without fanfare or hints that It Was Time.  Sorry I doubted you, Ginger.

"I got it under control.  Chill, already."

So with the last lambs on the ground, I can put away some of the lambing kit paraphenalia, but that just means different work is coming up.  The first part of the lamb crop is almost a month old so we'll be scheduling a day to give first vaccinations and a booster of BoSe.  Andy is working on spreading the stored manure from winter clean-out, but he's been working between rain storms, and even worse, snow storms.  Enough with the snow, already.  As soon as the littlest lambs are strong enough their small mixing pen will be blended with the main flock of moms and lambs and we'll set up the creep area.  The lambs are already nibbling hay, and we always give them their own area to eat at their own pace.  They can't begin to compete with the adults, and sheep. don't. share.   Not even with their own young.

In the meantime, these cold gray days are great for napping.

Mmmmm, heated pillow

Pile o' lambs.  The 3 moorits are triplets.

The lamb in the middle is asleep with her head tipped back.  Kind of the sheep version of falling asleep sitting at the table, or upright in church.

Some friends came over to see the lambs.  Holly and BB (Bottle Boy) were in Heaven.

I like this lady. Can we keep her?  Pleeeeeeeze?

So, the season stats are as follows:

69 ewes put with rams........58 got bred.  Not a great percentage but it's my fault.  I wanted to use my oldest ram "just one more time" and gave him too many girls, so I don't hold it against any of the ewes that they didn't get bred.  Lambing period lasted 30 days - could have been better, could have dragged out another 6 days.  I prefer the lambs to be all close in age, but this isn't too bad.
99 full term lambs born, but 3 were still born and 3 were euthanized for medical reasons.  I'm not happy with the 3 euthanasias, but at least no one died due to overlooking a problem or lack of attention.
Of 93 live lambs, 42 are ewes and 51 are rams.  It's normally almost exactly 50/50, so this counts as "a ram year" and I hear a lot of other sheep people saying the same thing.  Of all the lambs, 48 are Cotswold and 45 are crossbreds.  Forty of the lambs are white and 43 are colored including 5 which are moorit.  The bulk of the white lambs are Cotswolds.  I think I'd like to keep back a nice crossbred white ram lamb to use here in the future.  Colored fleeces are fun, but so is white and a bunch of my whites are middle aged.  Just sayin'. 

Thirteen days till I leave for Maryland, so I'd best get busy. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Watched Pot......... Ginger.  Ginger is the last ewe left to lamb.  This will be her first time, so we're staying vigilant, partly because you don't want something bad to happen, especially not at the very end of lambing season, and also partly because Ginger is not the brightest light in the harbor.  It would put a damper on the whole season if things went bad at the last lambing.

Lambs?  What?  I thought I was just fat.

C'mon, Ginger.  I reeeeally want to start sleeping through the night again without the 2:30 AM trip to the barn.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Coffee and an English Roll, Please

Now that lambing is almost over I'm starting to skirt fleeces.  I really enjoy this task.  It's my chance to take my time and fondle handle each fleece and assess its quality, both individually and how it stacks up against previous generations.  Am I making the progress I want in staple length, consistency, luster, etc?  So much easier when the fleece is lying there, not jumping around!

The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is coming up fast.  I've gone for about 20 years now, and always take fleeces for the show and sale.  To preregister, I need to decide which fleeces to take and get them skirted and weighed and the form sent in.  When fleeces are reserved from our fleece list for spinners I kind of hate to put them in the show since I can't sell them there, and I'm always concerned something bad will happen to them in transit, so I've lately used first shearing fleeces from yearlings for the Festival. 

Today I worked on a ewe called Copper.  She is a medium wool moorit who is starting to fade in an uneven mottled manner.  It's a lot prettier than it sounds.

I start by bringing the bagged fleece up from storage in the lower barn and tipping it onto the skirting table.

Fleece right out of the bag

 As long as the sheep didn't have a tantrum during shearing the fleece will generally hold together in one big piece.  We try to put the shorn fleece into the bag with as little twisting or flipping as possible and so it unrolls fairly well on the table.  I carefully work it into the proper shape, with the head and one end and tail at the other.
Copper on the table

I start on the side of the fleece where the belly wool is still attached (that's the dark brown lump on the right side of the fleece).  I work my way around the fleece dropping totally trashed wool on the floor and putting marginal wool that needs some TLC to become nice roving in a bag to deal with later.  When I'm done skirting, I've taken off the neck roll, belly wool, lower leg wool that's short and less-than-perfect, anything from the britch that's drastically different in texture, and wool from around the butt.

100% clean and prime for spinning

When showing a fleece you want to present it in the best way possible.  The accepted method is to put it in an English Roll.  First you fold one side of the fleece into the center.
Right side folded to center

Then you fold the other side in and on top of the first part.

Second side folded and ready to roll

I put the mouth of the bag the fleece will go into under the neck end of the fleece.  Now the fleece is rolled from the butt end toward the neck end.  When the fleece is rolled to the edge of the table I bring the bag up and carefully feed the fleece into the bag letting gravity help me.  When it plops into the bag the neck and shoulders will be at the top of the bag.  This is typically where the nicest grade of fleece on the sheep is, so the fleece is showing off its best qualities.  Of course the judge will dig and paw inspect the fleece that's deep in the bag, but this method shows off the best parts immediately.  Actually, I prepare all the fleeces this way so that the spinner who buys it could tip it out of the bag, unroll it and lay it out in perfect shape so that if they decide to split the fleece or divide it in any way they can do it.
Ready for judging

Six more to skirt. 

Where's that coffee?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More Signs of Spring

We had a great, warm day yesterday.  We brought down a load of alfalfa from the upper barn for the ewes and lambs.

Summer in square packages

It was so nice to see the sun.  Even just a few hours of sunshine and warm temps gave a faint green tinge to the pastures. 

 "Landscape with tail" - Not a very romantic photo caption

Yes, that's a dropped tail lying on the concrete.  We band the lambs' tails to dock them as opposed to cutting or cauterizing.  It's bloodless and after hurting for a few minutes the tail goes numb.  After about 10 days the tails drop off.  I had a very nice lady once ask me "How old are the lambs when they shed their tails?"  I had to gently explain that they have 'help' in shedding them.

The warmth made the lambs sleepy and they were happy to sit around in a half doze.  Lucky lambs.



Just wake me up for supper

And here's a funny little marking.  Usually we get black lambs with white splashes.  What's up with this little guy?  What's the gene for "butt spot"?

Heck of a birthmark, bro

And lookee - not just crocus, but some little blue flowers.  I'm sorry to say I can't remember what they are.

Spring flowers

Today we're back in the 40s, but they can't take it away from us - we're another day closer to spring. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It Must Be Christmas Somewhere

Just before shearing I was given an order for 20 ounces of Santa bearding curls.  I asked my customer if she could wait until I had fresh fleece to work with, and I was grateful for her patience.  Now that I've had a lull in lambing, I can seriously get after preparing her order.

First I pick a Cotswold fleece that I think will have long, relatively clean locks with good curl character.  I made some notes during shearing on the name tags about who was a good candidate for this.  I generally take from the back and shoulder area.  Farther down the sides of the sheep  I sometimes see the tips of the curls getting mangled from rubbing against the other animals.  Curls along the very backbone are in good shape but sometimes pretty trashy from chaff.

Raw Cotswold curls selected from a fleece.

I have to wash these in my big double sink, carefully, by hand.  This is almost a pound and will fit comfortably in the sink.  I use EccoScour to wash wool, and the wood-fired boiler that heats my shop and Andy's is also plumbed into the shop's hot water heater with a domestic coil so I get water about 180 degrees or better.  Scary hot, but great for greasy wool.

First soapy soak.

I do two soapy soaks and two clear-water soaks, then spin it out in the washing machine.

Damp curls starting to dry.

The wool is clean, but still has a lot of chaff and tiny bits of junk.  That will have to be dealt with when the wool is dry.

Drying curls with VM.

And after sorting and shaking the curls clean, I have 12.5 ounces done toward the 20 ounce order. 

More washing tomorrow if the sheep let me, and in fact, I just got a phone order from Idaho for another pound. I can practically hear Jingle Bells.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Holly Happydog

Something that always cheers us up when the weather is gray and cold is Holly having a playdate with one of her best dog friends.  We get together a couple of times a week.  Brandy and Angel are my neighbors dogs and Holly loves them both.  She is quite the wild woman when playing.  Lots of teeth and growling, hurling herself on her friends with body-slams, getting rolled over in mid-stride.......she takes it all and turns around to get more.  Today was Angel's turn.

C'mon, I dare ya!

Wait!  What was that?

Ha!  Faked you out! (Bite, chew)

Grrr!  Om nom nom nom. (Chomp, chomp)

OK, ya got me that time kid, but prepare to feel my wrath!

Now, if I could just harness that dog energy..........

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hi, I'm Robin, I'm a Shepherd and I'm in a Fifty-Nine Step Program...........

........because that's how many steps it is from the porch door to the barn door and I do it a LOT.  During lambing season I make the trip at least every few hours including the dreaded 2:30 AM sleepwalk.  I'm not a morning person.  Waking up takes time.  Hopping out of bed and throwing on clothes like a fireman when the alarm goes off does not come naturally to me.  There's a lot of brainstem function going on, and not much else.  But, it's reflex by now and I can get up, dress, go down  and be back in bed in 12 minutes if nothing's going on.

The flock has been pretty busy, and we only have 6 ewes to go.  The lambs are really growing fast. 

Hey, I think we're supposed to eat this.....

We've moved most of the lambs into mixing pens where they spend the bulk of their time hanging out and playing and sleeping.

Geez, lady....the flash - do ya mind?

If you don't know the password, you can't come in the fort.

This new arrival in the mixing pen is happy to sleep in the sun with mom standing guard.

The colored Cotswolds have some wild shading when they're lambs and the patterns are easy to see.  When they have markings on their faces instead of being solid color it's called "facial drama".

Dramatic lamb!  Dum - dum- DUUMMM!

And finally........Finally!....... a sign of spring.

 It's not much yet, but I'll take it.