Sunday, June 26, 2011

I'll Take 'Fly Tying' for $1000, Alex

All us sheep and fiber people know how many purposes you can find for sheep and wool products - yarn, felt, batting, meat, milk, cheese, soap, lanolin, and just sheepy friendship.  Here's a tidbit of info on another sheepy item that's guaranteed to make you the talk of the next cocktail party you attend.

The Tup's Indispensible.

Tup's Indispensable

I went fishing a lot with my folks when I was a kid, but it was worm-on-a-hook type fishing for bass and sunfish, not fly fishing for trout and such.  I was vaguely aware there were people who tied flies and that there were lots of kind of flies meant to imitate different kinds of delicious and irresistible insects and that fur and feathers and fiber were used, but I didn't know any of those people who did that.  Then one day a few years ago a very nice man emailed saying that he had searched and searched and found my website and hoped I could be a source of the magic ingredient of a Tup's Indispensible fly.  And that is.........drumroll, please.......the wool from a Cotswold ram's scrotum and lower belly. 

She wants whaaaaatt??

Wow, you learn something every day.  He was actually very sweet and was trying to find a way not to upset anyone's delicate sensibilites, for he used words like "nether region" and "private parts" rather than the good old anatomical terms.  When I said I could get that for him and guarantee that it was THE genuine item he was thrilled - thrilled! - and I sent him a baggie of very scary looking fiber which he was over the moon about.  Since then I've had several other fly fishermen get in touch and order that essential ingredient.  Here's the latest order.

Sheepy short curlies.

This little pile of trout fishing goodness is headed to Germany.  Are there trout in the Rhine?  I have no idea, but Oliver K. can make about 100 flies with this amount, I think.

I grew 18 pounds of wool last year, and that's what she takes from the bag first.  Sheesh.

So next time the dinner conversation rolls around to fly fishing (and it always does, doesn't it?) you can smile brightly and say "Oh, yes, I was just making a Tup's Indispensible the other day, and.....what?  You've never made one?  Secret ingredient too hard to find?  Oh, please, let me share my source with you..."

They'll be talking about you all night, maybe the next day too.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rainy Day

We just can't catch a break with the weather around here.  This is the time of year when we should be able to make hay like crazy but we're getting hit with one storm after another.  The hay is getting more mature by the day (and losing nutritional value) but there isn't a thing we can do about it. 

The only good part is that the pastures are plenty lush and the sheep aren't suffering from the heat.  They aren't thrilled to be rained on, but as long as it's warm summer rain they will just have to tough it out. 

Umm, I'm really kind of wet here......

The Cotswolds are especially pretty when clean from the rain.

She won't let us in.  <Sigh>  She's the MEAN lady.

I'm so wet my color's running.

Isn't that a cool marking?  Looks kind of like a heart on his side.

And after the storm, if it's the right time of day we get bee-yoo-tiful clouds and sky.

Evening glory

I doubt the sheep can appreciate how lovely it is, but I"m sure they're glad it stopped raining.  It doesn't take much to make a sheep happy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New Horizons

The sheep always know when we're shifting them into a new pasture.  This time they were clued in by our work to fence them away from a diversion ditch with some standing water.  Pounding posts brought them to the door of the barn where they saw us and started yelling.  The ditch water wasn't deep enough that anyone would get in trouble crossing it, but there's always somebody wanting to swill down that nasty stagnant crap instead of walking to the nice clean water tub.  Not this year!  A couple of rolls of old snow fence makes a dandy barrier around the wet spot.  Then it was The Big Moment.

Sheep Parade

Sheep are funny - when faced with a new pasture they don't just put their heads down and start eating.  They first have to run joyously over all the nice forage to see just how big the pasture is.  They do trample and waste some grass this way, and folks who practice daily rotational grazing, where they move the fence just far enough to expose one day's worth of serious grazing, are cringing.  But we aren't that intensive and this works for us.  So, off they go into the great beyond.

Yay!  We're going.... Beyond The Fence!

Over the horizon!

"No sheep left behind."

Once they've trooped out of sight, Andy can open the gate to the pasture they just finished and get in there to brush hog it down short.  This encourages the plants to grow again and also opens up the ground to sunlight which helps to make life hard for any parasite eggs and larva lurking on the damp ground.  It doesn't kill them all, but it does cramp their style to some extent.

Mow, mow, mow your grass

Throughout the day the flock makes the trek back up the hill to get a drink (NOT from the ditch) and then stand in the shade for a while.

O, hai ! *

And at the end of the day they come back in for the evening.  They're plenty full and ready to just sit and ruminate on life - literally.

Wide Load....Coming Through.

Andy stands at the door to prevent pushing and shoving.  Kids.

"Hi, B.B.  Had a good day?"

We've already set the table for the lambs with their creep ration.  They don't get a lot of grain, but enough to make them "bloom" and also train them to come in and be worked around every day.  They aren't so little any more!  They push and shove sideways and their butts do The Wave to the left or right.

Dancing cheek to cheek. (apologies to Fred Astaire)

The nice warm day also brought the Mock Orange to full bloom.

And the Stone Crop.  My kind of plant.  Grows on rocks, looks nice and asks for nothing.

While everyone else was outside being industrious in one way or another, Dexter was holding down the window sill.

Man, watching the new little rug rat is exhausting!

Nice work if you can get it. for translation.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Nothing Very Special

I haven't blogged in too many days.  It felt like nothing particularly noteworthy was going on, just routine work and the progression of the season.  Then I chided myself about that just being a lazy a** excuse for not doing it, and blogging isn't about sensationalism every time, it's about what happens daily.  So after 20 whacks with a wet skein of yarn as punishment, here it is.

The honey locust trees on the front lawn have bloomed.

Locusts in full bloom

At least 100 years old, and we have the pictures to prove it!

The clusters of blooms are really pretty and smell wonderful as you might guess from the name.  The bees give them a real good workover.

If only the blooms lasted longer

Warmer weather brings out more interesting bugs.  I'm a bug person, also reptiles and snakes.  I can honestly say there's no critter out there that makes me go "Ewww" and while I don't exactly LOVE earwigs, I can appreciate them for how the good Lord fit them into the scheme of things.  I'm still working on appreciating ticks and deer flies :-/

Anyway, this spider set herself up in a perfect spot in a doorway.  The breeze actually kind of sucked the bugs right into her web.  It was pretty tattered when I noticed her, and she was carefully de-constructing the web, following a strand around the circle of the web, gathering the silk up in a wad, and then she deliberately threw it off the web.  Way cool. She had a new one built in a few hours.

This spider literally keeps a neater house than me.

We keep a flourescent light on in the barn every night to act as a night light.  It helps keep the sheep from spooking and causing a stampede if the cats get into a row or a pigeon falls down the metal silo chute after dark.  This guy must have been attracted by the light.

Yeah, I'm soft and fuzzy.... but so's the picture.

He also has cool eye spots on the wings underneath the top ones, but you really can't see that picture worth crap :-(

The cats spend a lot more time outside, but still manage to check in at chore meal time. 

Clem says, "You're looking at bugs when you could be petting me??"

Speaking of cats, we got a new kitten!!  Say hello to Calvin.  He is going to be a strictly indoor kitty.


Calvin's about 11 weeks old and adopted from the Yates County Humane Society's Shelter of Hope.  Us deliberately adopting a kitten is like taking coal to Newcastle since we're usually the unwilling recipient of drop-off kittens.  But.  You can't count on that sort of thing, and while I love our current housecat, Dexter, to pieces, he's not a cuddly cat.  He does not want to be hugged, loved on and certainly not sit on your lap.  Besides, he was lonely.  After a couple of days convincing him that the kitten is SMALL and not up to being used as a chew toy, they are now best pals.

Hold still kid, I'll get that spot for you.

In other news, we sent 3 Cotswold yearling ewes to a new home - the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore where they will be joining a display of rare breeds of farm livestock.  At first I thought, "Ummm.......I don't know...."   I mean, there are zoos and then there are zoos, but after talking with the Mammal Collection Director and asking questions we knew it would be OK.  To city people, farm animals are as exotic as anteaters and capybaras, so the MD Zoo has a great display area of some of the more rare breeds of livestock - Dexter Cattle, Flemish Giant Rabbit, Ossabaw Island Hog, Nubian Goats, and until just recently when they went to the big green pasture in the sky from old age - Jacob sheep.  So, wanting to have sheep, but looking for something a little different, one thing led to another and we sent Kay, Kate and Kiera the Cotswolds to be lambassadors. 

I'm going WHERE??

"I'm sure it will be fine ..... but maybe keep eating just in case."

They rode in fine style in separate giant Sky Kennels inside a nice van with AC.  Probably had a good radio, too.  Or maybe a book on tape.

Bye.  Thanks for everything. We'll try to write once in a while.

Private accomodations.

These three are on the small side of the breed standard which is what the zoo asked for, and they won't be used for breeding - just sit around and be fed and looked at all their lives.  They're just coming into pretty curls post-shearing, so they'll look nice when they get there.

Cotswolds......the girls with the curls.

It's finally warmed up and the William Baffin rose is just coming into full bloom. 

Tough as nails, and blooms like crazy.  My kind of plant.

And that's pretty special.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Task Du Jour

Some days you know just what you have to do from morning till night.  Other days you look at priorities and weigh them against the weather, time available, what else needs doing and then figure out what the job of the day is.

Today there were a couple of big jobs.  First Andy serviced the haybine and mowed the first field to make hay.

We mowed hay - expect rain in 2 days.

This is actually the upper section of the ram's pasture.  They have been excluded from it so far this year.  We let the field grow, take off a cutting of hay, and by the time it regrows to a nice lush carpet we'll be bringing the weaned ram lambs up here to live with the menfolk.  So far the strategy has worked out quite well.

While Andy was doing that I finished washing the last of the 3-ply sport weight yarn, and then we tackled this.

Doorway to the ram barn

  This area hs been churned into a deep muck hole by all the tramping in and out the rams do.  They drag litter out all winter and then with the constant rain in April and May they've turned it into a morass they can barely slog through and can't jump over.

Two pitchforks and 8 tractor buckets of slop later.........

Down to bare dirt

And then half a dump wagon of mixed rock from the gravel pile.......

Problem solved

Driving the skidsteer back and forth over it a few dozen times packs it down pretty good.  Heavy sheep feet will finish the job.

And while we've been doing that, Holly has been on her self-appointed job of waiting for Woody Woodchuck to make the mistake of poking his nose out from under the woodpile.

I know he's in there.  I can hear him fartin'.

Woody Wood's days are numbered.

I See Fiber.........

......everywhere.  Much better than seeing dead people, I'm sure.

Before the 2 inches of rain we got earlier this week, Andy had gone over this field again to crush down the big lumps left after plowing. 

The 1066 with duallies on, pulling the vibrashank

Then after the rain and a couple of days drying, I saw this from the upstairs window.

Waffle Weave!

Besides creating a neat pattern, this is a good illustration of soil compaction.  The dark stripes show up where the tractor tires have run and crushed the dirt more, the light areas only had the teeth of the vibrashank stirring the dirt so the rain soaked in more fully and the top layer has dried out faster (although the picture doesn't show the whole field is still too soft to work).  Fast forward just a few days and it's time to put in the crop - timothy overseeded with oats.  Notice how much more the trees have leaved out in about 5 days' time.

Andy sowing his wild domestic oats

We were going to go with straight timothy, but the field where we wanted oats still has standing water.  If we hope to get anything this year, it's going with Plan B here.  The die is cast, now we'll see what we get.

In other fiber news........ Yarn!

The Cotswold I sent to Stonehedge Mill in late winter came back very quickly, I just lacked time to work with it.  Right now I"m washing the 3-ply sport weight.

Cotswold yarn, drying in the sun

Click to biggify and see the shine

I have about 15 lbs of this, and alsto 15 lbs each of 3 other yarn weights.  An electric skein winder *may* be on my horizon.

And then we have fiber on the hoof.  This demonstrates why we walk the fenceline every night when we bring the sheep in.  Yes, he is stuck.  I'll be glad when the lambs get big enough that they can't get their pointy little heads through the fence squares.   Two nights ago there was one stuck in the very farthest corner of the pasture out of sight from the barn.  With so many lambs, we can't begin to do a head count when they come in, so it's easier to walk the line.  If they aren't out there, they must be in.  If we never checked what's out of sight, we'd lose animals either to dehydration or coyotes.

A little help, here?

And when everyone's in for the night, this lamb comes to get his fix of cat fur.  For some reason he's obsessed with smelling and nuzzling the cats while they eat.  The cats are tolerant or they and their toenails would have broken him of that behaviour pretty quickly.


Maybe he was a cat in a former life.