Hanging out our shingle!

The sign is finally up!  No more telling people to turn when they see the big white 15 passenger van in the driveway!  




As we stood back to admire the sign after hanging it, one of our neighbors driving by slowed down long enough to give us an ear to ear grin and a big “2 thumbs up” over his steering wheel!  Definitely a good feeling!


Lambs are due in about a week!  We’re pulling out all of the supplies, making sure we have everything ready.  Roy’s planting more grass seed, taking advantage of the rain.  Otherwise it’s been an unusually low key Saturday.  I feel rather lazy!


We’ll be posting some baby “bump” pictures this week.  Bindi looks about to explode, she’s so rotund!  

Fixin’ to die…

Just discovered one of our older hens feeling pretty poorly.  We’ve brought her in and given her antibiotics, syringed her a little antibiotic laced water (after I made sure she could swallow), and left her under a heat lamp.  We’re leaving her tonight in the basement with a wish and a prayer and a pretty guarded prognosis.


Impulse craft!

This is one of those crafts I’ve been meaning to get around to for some time!  Finally, on impulse, we allowed ourselves to be distracted from school briefly to get started!


My friend, Deb, and her sisters have been making natural soaps for quite a while, and on her last visit to the farm Deb brought me a bag of soap for felting.  I’ve kept it on the kitchen counter since then so that I wouldn’t forget about it!  Had I known how quick and easy this craft is, I think we would have done it a long time ago!


We’re not making the fancy felted soaps that I’ve seen “floating” around the internet.  These are simple natural white ones.  Now that we have it down, I think I might start trying to incorporate a stripe of colored wool here and there.


We start with our bag of second cut wool.  I was worried the fibers might be too short, but that’s the beauty of felting.  Everything mashes together, and short fibers actually work better than the very long fibers of Icelandic fleece.


We put the raw fleece onto the carding brush a little at a time.  There are even some hay fibers still in it, which make for natural exfoliative properties.  Initially there will also be lanolin in it, but much of that will wash out from the soap.




We kept brushing to fill the brush with unidirectional, blended wool.




Once the brush is really full, I used a thin metal rod to try to lift the batt of wool from the brush.




Here’s the batt all ready for the soap.




Then position the soap on the batt 



and start to wrap it






Once it’s wrapped in one direction, I added a second layer of fibers going the opposite direction to give the best coverage.


Until you end up with a big fluff of wool around the soap, ready for wet felting.




Then we gradually wet the wool, compressing it around the soap and agitating it as it begins to matt down on the soap.  The more matted it is, the more you can agitate and smack it down, trying to mold it and keep it to the shape of the soap.


Here it is in the early stages.



And here it is a bit more matted down, almost complete.




And the final project…just needs to dry!  A nice natural soap bar wrapped in it’s own natural washcloth!



Waiting expectantly…

Two weeks and counting until the pitter patter of little hooves, and what’s a shepherdess to do?


It’s cold and gray outside, so today’s project is to get a start on the final skirting of the fleeces for the Sheep and Wool Festival in Vernon, CT on April 28th.


While tending to the crockpot every once in a while I’m busy preparing fleeces for our handspinning customers.  Skirting is a two step process here.


We roughly skirt all the fleeces as they come off the sheep on shearing day.  




This saves so much work later on.  We have 2 bags ready — one for the good wool and another for the dirtier, less desirable wool that can be used for non-spinning projects.


Once we have the “good” wool bagged we bring it inside until we have time for the final, more meticulous skirting, which brings us to today.


I’m now mostly removing “second cuts,” which are the very short clippings that result from the shearing blades going over the animal for a second time.  These second cuts are beautifully clean and fluffy, but short fibers are not good for yarn — they’re the bits that make your wool sweater itchy.


I’m also removing obviously big pieces of vegetative matter — mostly dried alfalfa stems that tend to get stuck in the neck wool.  A bit of vegetative matter can give yarn some character, but sticks and stems will not be tolerated!


Here you see the bit I’m skirting on the table, the skirted wool in the bag at the top, and the second cuts in the bag to the right.  I’m planning to card the second cuts and use them to felt around some soap that my friend made.




Lastly, we bag the fleeces individually and label them for each animal.  Today I finished all of the white fleeces.  




We will bring our fleeces to the wool festival this year, but if you’d like to get a head start on the crowd (it gets mighty competitive for fleeces when that barn door opens at 9am!), feel free to contact us at the farm and let us know what you need.  We love for our fleece customers to come right to the farm and meet their fleece producer in person — er — um — “in sheep!”(?)  


Early crops…planted!

Had another successful day today, once again starting out with some socializing and this time meeting new farmers!


We discovered a lovely young family a couple of miles away who are working very diligently at getting their farm business off the ground.  The Sawyer Family Farm is growing by leaps and bounds with goats, rabbits, hens, meat chickens and horses.  The owners are full of great ideas and enthusiasm and were gracious enough to have us for a visit this morning!  We were impressed!


Here’s our newest addition to the farm!  A couple of friends collaberated and constructed this awesome new sign for us as a gift!  It’s going to look GREAT out by the road!




After our visit and a trip to Tractor Supply for…well…supplies…we came home, grabbed a quick lunch, visited with some prospective customers who are now anxiously awaiting the arrival of our lambs, and then got to work.


We hooked up all of the sheep water troughs to float valves so that they will automatically keep full.  That will be a huge time saver!  We re-tilled the garden and started planting!




We’ve put in carrots, spinach, snow peas, shelling peas, lettuce and onions so far.  



This photo gives you a perspective of where everything is in relation to the garden…house, barn, hen house.




Here’s some of the rhubarb coming back to life.




One of the boys got sidetracked and built this bunkbed for his sister’s doll house.  

Ain’t that sweet of him?




Roy’s finishing up the day right now getting limestone granules spread around the property to help pH balance the soil.  



And, as usual, Blue was less than helpful.



But he does make up for it in just being so darn cute!


Fields, flocks and friendships…

Lots accomplished today — and even had some time for socializing!  We spent the better part of the morning with our friends the Steinhagen’s, who bravely hosted all 10 of us for a delicious breakfast served in and on many of Erich’s wonderful pottery and stoneware mugs and plates.  After returning home we had a couple of surprise visitors, including a wonderful older local couple, the Van Deusen’s, who stopped to buy eggs and stayed for tea and some inspirational conversation.  I say inspirational because Mrs. Van Deusen is my new idol!  She is 86 years young and grew up on a dairy farm, raised horses as a young woman and still can’t get the country out of her!  If it weren’t for her arthritis and artificial joints and reconstructed shoulder, she’d still be using a chain saw!


One of my favorite tidbits she shared that I could relate to was how she used to have to feed her horses before she could have her own breakfast, and her husband could never understand it.  She said, “They’d be out there looking in at you, waiting for you to feed them — they could see you in there and it just didn’t seem right sitting down for breakfast with them looking in at you waiting for theirs!”  Roy can never understand how I can go out there before I even have my morning coffee, but it’s just like Mrs. Van Deusen said — the sheep, like her horses, know how to make you feel guilty!


After all of the wonderful socializing, it was time to get to work – double time – to try to accomplish all of our goals.  All I can say is thank goodness for that extra hour of daylight we have in the evening now!


We spread our composted manure on the garden, moved the new manure pile into place, limed and tilled the garden (yep, that’s me, having a blast!) and moved the rams to a new paddock to allow their paddock to rest and be ready for the lambs and ewes after the lambing is over.




I’m tuckered out, but it’s a good “tuckered” feeling, and for that, I feel totally blessed!

Checking it off the list!

We’re having a bit of a party here to celebrate the completion of our earliest spring shearing ever!


Well, considering it’s only our second spring shearing, I guess there’s not a lot ot compare to, but seeing as how the weather has been so mild, we decided to go ahead and shear everyone early. This also gave us nicer spring fleeces than we had last year, and it will give the fall fleeces a little more length, which is always a good thing.  And the sheep will be less stressed as things begin to warm up over the next month.  


I am happy to report that I have kept all of my fingers intact, and all male and female appendages of the sheep have remained intact as well!


See — doesn’t this picture make you cringe!?




Everyone seems pleased — the sheep as well as our family.  It’s nice to have this all out of the way before the lambs come and before things get busy in the garden!


We finished up with the ewes first.  All four mommies-to-be are ready to go now!  










I kept thinking they looked so large because of their wool, but even without it they are still carrying wide loads! 





Lastly we sheared the rams.  They were all very well behaved, especially Boomer.




As you can see, he still has his horn bandaged.  We checked the healing process a couple of days ago, and I’m happy to report that the split is healing perfectly, just as if it had been a broken bone!  A couple more weeks and he can have his “cast” taken off.




All fleeces are for sale.  They have been roughly skirted.  Since the sheep have been eating hay all winter, there will be a bit more vegetative matter in some of them than there would be in the fall, so fleeces will be priced accordingly.


Molly and Monty are queen and king of the hay feeders, and since none of the others were tall enough or tough enough to spill breakfast over their backs, their fleeces are the best!



7 down. 7 to go!

Saturday was a huge success! 


Saturday morning was spent trimming hooves, vaccinating and worming.  Everyone complied fairly well.  We took a break for lunch and then the clippers and wool started to fly!


Here’s the setup.  Not sure who snapped these little panoramic pics, but I thought they were kinda cool and captured a bit of the setup inside the shed.  We have bags labeled for each ewe for their primo wool, and we have shopping bags for the second cuts and skirted wool which will be saved for non-spinning projects.





We have plenty of paper towels, because you can never have too many paper towels.  




We have bandaids for Mommy, because the kids know that Mommy can be a shearing clutz and cut her fingers and thumb on her left hand.  But alas, Mommy had a new weapon in the fight against left-hand cuts this time, which she will reveal later!  


There’s also plenty of clipper lubricant and cooling spray, and, for when Mommy is a clutz and nicks one of the sheep, we have magic veterinary wound adhesive — skin super glue — ready and waiting.  There are also a couple of water bottles for thirsty shearers.


You know the routine, girls…You’ve been through this before!




“Please,” says Bruna, “Do we REALLY have to go through with this?”




Age before grace.  Millie, our matriarch, goes first, to be an example to the youngest girls, last year’s ewe lambs.  Here she is before…







And after…




A bit of clipper cleaning and lubricating in between…




Who will be next?




You can run, but you can’t hide!  




But for now, you’ll be spared, Laverne and Shirley!


We like to get all of the white sheep done first, so as not to contaminate their wool with colored fibers.  Esther is next.


She was very accommodating.














Then Fatima, who we affectionatly call “Mini Millie”






And here I share my secret to a happy left had.  A glove!  Worked like a charm!






Ok, Bruna.  Here we go!




And lastly, the squirrelly girls…






And Laverne…



This afternoon we’ll shear the rest…expectant mommies and then the boys…stay tuned!

A month of preparation before welcoming the new life of spring!

Our first lambs are due right around Easter Sunday.  That’s only about a month away!  


Lots of preparation must happen before then!


I love lists.  I have quite a large list for this weekend.  We got a head start on it this morning, trying to get all of the weekly chores out of the way today so that we can keep tomorrow clear for big jobs.


Right now we have basically 3 groups of sheep.  


The rams are one group.  




They’ve done their job for the year, so they’re on very low maintenance at present.  Boomer’s horn is still healing – still bandaged.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to check under the bandage tomorrow.  We may even get around to shearing them tomorrow.


The ewe lambs are growing well.  They have the year off to continue to mature for this fall’s breeding.  They are all super friendly, which we hope will pay off when it comes time to work with them.  Tomorrow will be a true test.  We hope to shear them and trim hooves.  




It’s warming up during the days now, and they have the warm barn to go to at night, so they really don’t need all of that wool any more.


The bred ewes are looking great.  Bindi, in particular, is slowing down a bit.  She should be the first to lamb, due as early as Easter Sunday.  Her lambs should be starting to grow more quickly in this last month — in particular during the last 2 weeks of her pregnancy.  


We’ve started all of the bred ewes on some complete sheep pellet supplement to give them a bit of extra protein. Studies have shown that increasing protein a bit toward the end of pregnancy helps them deal with the inevitable increased load of parasites that comes after lambing.




We can’t wait for lambing!


Tomorrow we also plan to vaccinate all of the sheep for clostridial diseases.  




This will be their annual booster.  Vaccinating at this stage of pregnancy will mean that the ewes will pass this immunity (temporarily) to their lambs in their colostrum to keep them healthy until their own immune systems kick in and are ready for vaccination.  The clostridial diseases include, most importantly, bacterial diseases that cause tetanus and overeating disease. 


We’ll also give all of them a dose of injectable Vitamin E/Selenium to help them deal with the stresses of late pregnancy, lambing and lactation.  



Our area is very selenium deficient.  Most of the year we supplement orally in their loose minerals and via an oral gel, but before lambing we like to give them the injection for more long term results.


And as if we weren’t giving enough injections, all of the sheep will be given an injectible wormer (anthelmintic) to try to lower their burden of worms when spring begins.  




Right now the Haemonchus (barberpole worm) larvae are sort of hibernating in the sheep’s tissues, waiting for spring when they migrate and start taking up residence in the sheep’s abomasum where they do their damage, sucking blood from the animal.  




From here they lay their eggs which pass into the manure and infect other animals.  I could write a whole blog on this nasty pest about which we will be having a workshop here at the farm in May.


Injectible wormers help find these hypobiotic larvae and reduce their numbers prior to the post-parturient (after lambing) rise.


On top of all of the sheep work, I have on my list to start working in the garden.  We have to fix up all of the deer fencing that was pulled down by the winter weather.  We need to till in the lovely compost we’ve been making all year.  We’ll also need to work on getting fence posts sunk down the back where we hope to set up a new permanent pasture, where, in the past, we’ve used temporary electric fencing.  


But all of this garden stuff might have to wait a bit!  When April comes around, those lambs will wait for no one!


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