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.  ;-) 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Never Say Never

We had seriously considered not producing any more lambs.  The barn is full of animals and I don't want to 'get rid of' anyone, either selling into another flock or <shudder> send to auction.  As we have chosen to discontinue the freezer lamb part of the farm business it was hard to justify producing animals without a specific need or purpose.  And, knowing how long our sheep tend to live (we have three right now who are fifteen years old) part of our long range plan was to let the flock dwindle from natural causes until in a dozen years there would be just a few that us old farmers could manage.

But.....having been contacted by a few buyers who really, really wanted lambs in the future we decided (OK, it was pretty much just me) that we'd expose a maximum of ten ewes to three different rams.  While my decision to not breed again didn't hold, I can say that we are D-O-N-E with trying to shear and lamb in frigid winter weather.  Sheep gestation falls quite reliably between 145 and 149 days so one does the math, looks at the calendar and sets the schedule.  The boys were put with ewes in mid-December so the earliest possible lambing date is after I return from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in May.  Likewise, they are scheduled to come out shortly so that the last possible date will be before I attend the Central New York Fiber Festival.

In the non-Cotswold group we have big handsome Brick in with Taffy, Macaroon, Tiffany and Violet.  They are all super crimpy medium wools, and Brick should add some length and solid body to them.  All except Taffy carry moorit genes (Tiffany herself actually is a moorit herself so that will double her odds) but the color is a recessive trait so it will depend on how the genetic dice roll.   I would love to get a moorit lamb or two as some of my very old girls like Ruby and Foxy won't be around much longer.  All have been covered by him and Taffy has repeated.  I'm not too surprised since she's fat as a market hog over conditioned and may not conceive at all but I'm hoping his full attention during the second heat will have done the trick. 

Old Isador is the last able-bodied F1 (first generation) Cotswold ram from the AI we had done ten years ago using a British ram and I really hated to not ever see lambs from him again especially since I have such nice young ewes who aren't related to him.  He has a group of three -  Paige, Peggy and Olivia.

The third group is exposed to the young colored Cotswold Norris.  He has three ewes - Lovey, Ophelia and Oleander.  Lovey is two-tone gray like Norris.  The other two ewes are white but have colored parents so the chances of colored lambs from them is high.  And white would be OK too as I'm sure the fleeces will be lovely.  They are housed in a long but narrow ad hoc pen which will be fine for a limited time frame. 

Once the rams have been returned to the bachelor barn the ten ewes will be housed together in the last pen on the floor where Isador's group is now.  We can feed them most appropriately if they are together. 

So the die is cast!  We'll be lambing in May when the sun is shining and the grass is growing! 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

'Twas The Night Before Christmas

....and the sheep are all cozy in feed bunk and barn.

The friendlies are lined up, all begging for treats.

While Daisy peers out as it's starting to sleet.

Holly and Shadow Holly take a late walk in the snow.

Then it's off to our beds we gratefully go,
knowing that Christmas soon will be here
spreading wonder and joy over all we hold dear.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December: The Month of More, Part 2

December also features a couple of notable fiber-oriented gatherings for me.

First is Christmas On The Farm - a cozy group of vendors who kick off the holiday craft festival season at Stone Edge Fibers in Phelps, NY.  Fibergoddess Amy (and DH Fred) clear their garage to make a lovely venue for herself and five other vendors to offer goods to early Christmas shoppers. 

I made up more beginner drop spindle kits and packaged some yummy alpaca/silk, camel/silk and dyed waste silk roving.

Besides Amy's and my fiber and yarn (and Andy's fiber tools and 'gift items' like cutting boards), there are vendors with amazing soap and lotions, jewelry, turned wooden bowls, holiday decorations and jams.


Don't you love this sweater? I asked the lady if she had made it.  She did not, but I think it could be done reasonably simply by embroidering those flowers on a plain sweater with yarn.  Done by someone... probably not me.  Sigh.

Also at this event was a Guiding Eyes pup in training and an information booth about the organization which was selling baked goods and hot cider as a fundraiser. 

This is Vanguard.  He's actually a 'loner' pup from another family as a female pup in his household was coming into heat and the policy is to remove males from that distraction until it passes.  He was a very good boy and worked very hard at ignoring people and tempting items on the floor during his lessons and concentrated only on his handler.

But don't worry, he eventually went off duty and we all got to pet him and he had a good nap too.

The other fun gathering was my spinning guild's December meeting.  It features Christmas cookies and a 'secret Santa' style fiber gift exchange.  Participation is not mandatory but many people choose to join in. 

The cookie table (more came in later, too).

Look at these!  Almost too cute to eat!  (Almost).

And the table of gifts was full to overflowing.  Anne Marie presided over the drawing of names and gift choosing.

My name came up second!  I took one look at the box with this little guy on top and grabbed him up.  It's Dominic the Donkey!!

Alas, I didn't get to keep him very long as 'stealing' was allowed during the course of the gift game and he changed hands many times.

It's been such a busy month I didn't get a chance to give the crazy guild challenge roving much thought but I figured I better jump in and decide how to handle it.  I laid it out and stewed on the colors a while.  I could make them harmonize fairly well except for that white - it stuck out like a sore thumb to me.  I finally settled on laying them out in a dark/light/dark/light sequence and hoped it was random enough that the white would be spread out and quieted down when the finished yarn was eventually plied back on itself.

I started from the left, rolling the roving like a cinnamon bun and adding each length of roving in turn as I had laid it out.  I also sprinkled some Forest Blaze angelina on the roving as I rolled it up.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  It ended up looking rather appealing and I was eager to spin it.

I had to spin it a little chunkier than I had wanted.  Since the fiber came from lots of different sources the preparation varied a lot.  Some colors spun easily, some seemed to have been around the block a few times and were almost felted and didn't draft well.  All in all, it didn't turn out too badly.

Next was plying.  And measuring.  The plying went well in that the colors blended quite nicely and the only color that matched up to itself in one place was the white.  Wouldn't you know.  Happily it was only a few yards.  Then I measured it.  Ninety-nine yards.  In the immortal words of Scooby Doo... "Ruuh-rooh!"  The pattern we're to use calls for a minimum of over 200 yards.  It's adjustable in that you can make it shorter or narrower but I have a sneaking suspicion that to avoid looking like a choker I'm going to need more yarn.  At this point I turn to the vast stash of handspun samples I have from roving colors that are long gone.  I'm thinking I can alternate a few rows of the challenge yarn with something from the stash to stretch the total yardage.

I hemmed and hawed and held everything to the light of day and finally decided on using the mocha (moorit) in the middle.  At least, that's the thought right now.  I know I don't have time to get started until after Christmas so I'll look at it again then with fresh eyes.  So it's decided......kinda.