Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Getting closer to THE day

Last night I went to our local sheep & wool growers association meeting. Another talk on sheep parasite control. My friend who has a sheep farm on the other side of Short Hills from us was there which reminded me that I wanted to borrow her book on blade shearing which another sheep farmer friend has not returned. Unfortunately that woman wasn't there last night so I went over to her farm today.

This woman raises Finn sheep and she is just at the end of her lambing season-- down to one ewe delivering a day. There were 1 day to 2 week old lambs everywhere! I asked how many and she said she lost count but around 200. What a racket they can make. Anyway, she said she gave the book away to someone and she was going to have to purchase another copy. So much for the step by step from the master blade shearer.

My friend feels guilty and just happens to have a few ewes that need a partial trim so she demonstrates. She ties the ewe to a fence and begins clipping with the ewe standing perfectly still. RIGHT! I can't imagine any of my 6 holding that still but who knows. I like her blade shears - smaller than mine. Then she says use a scissors or get a pair like hers and just start. Do 1/2 a sheep at a time or 1 a day or whatever works. O.K.. Karen, now I know we can do it.

My friend tells me again about her sheep deck chair (her "best thing since sliced bread") so later I go to the website and see a demo of a sheep lounging in the deck chair. Since they sell the replacement webbing I decide Karen and I can make one from pvc pipe. Then the girls can relax in style while I clip their stomach wool or legs or trim hooves or whatever. This sounds too good to be true.

I can't believe I am starting to get excited about shearing!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


The spring rains have started. This evening's rain is so gentle I didn't even know it was raining until I went out to the barn but a few days ago we woke up to thunder and heavy wind driven rain. There are streams everywhere and as the small ones empty into Buffalo Creek (near us) and Buffalo Creek flows into the Maury River and the Maury into the James. The rivers muddy up quickly but clear again almost as quickly. In the Spring I volunteer with Boxerwood Gardens environmental education program and my favorite part of the program is putting on knee boots with 4th and 5th grade kids and taking a big net into the cold waters to check the health of the local rivers. The kids take their jobs very seriously and are proud when the rivers get a good rating and they know how important it is to keep the cows out of the streams.

I signed up for my first river assignment today. This means my schedule will change a bit. ALSO, (drum roll) Valley Slot Car officially opened it's door for business today and this too will mean a change in my schedule. John will be working many nights (at least for awhile) which means I will be eating alone most nights and it will be very quiet for sure.

I have always acknowledged and enjoyed changes that new seasons and new interests bring. I don't mind schedule changes and I wonder, with each new beginning, what gifts will come. How will it change my life for the better.

This is easy for me to say because I come from a history of new beginnings- new gifts. The hardest thing for me in my professional life working with kids, is that very few kids I work with have had this experience and so they often fear change. They are young-they are poor- and very few will allow themselves to believe opportunities will open for them and gifts will come in something new and different.

Spring is my best chance to try to show them that change can bring GOOD as everything comes to life and new hope is in the air. All I have to do is get them to open their eyes and ears and take a deep breath.

Meanwhile, in the pasture, the sheep and Beau don't need as much hay and are happy and content with the arrival of the Spring rains and the new GREEN that is the gift of this season.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Special Photos

My sister Gail is a an exceptional photographer and she carries her camera with her everywhere. Not me-- too heavy, I forget, don't want to worry about it etc.etc. So I don't get a large number of good photographs. My daughter Lyndy is my favorite photographer. Not because she is my daughter--- mostly because I love her subject matter and her angle of shooting. I think they would say COMPOSITION though my photographic language is not good. Lyndy's photos are also very sharp and clear. I have taken some GREAT photographs but alot of things have to go right so there aren't many. And, because I don't often have my camera available, some of my best are photographs in my mind.

Back in 1976 or 1977 I was snorkeling in the Bahamas and I came across a beautiful Trigger Fish. We surprised each other and he/she cocked its head to get a better look at me and I started laughing and had to return to the surface. Since I did not have an underwater camera with me I captured the picture in my mind and remember that picture to this day. We have some great pictures of our trip to Europe in 2000 (Lyndy probably took most of them) though John is a good photographer when he puts his mind to it. None of the pictures I have ever taken of the Grand Canyon are as good as those in my mind's album.

This week I have to add another fabulous picture to that album since once again I didn't have my camera handy. I was trying to move Beau and the sheep over to the cabin yard. Five of the sheep made a dash out one gate and through the other but Beau and Amelia decided to dally so I was trying to coax them to join the others. When I turned around I saw Sarah running back toward us with a daffodil she had just picked between her teeth. I had to laugh and I called her Carmelita.

Last night, when I was talking to Lyndy on the phone, she asked me if any of the new baby chicks had escaped yet. I told her no and then today, when I was talking on the phone to a friend on the Cape, I heard a very loud squawking. I got off the phone and went to investigate and found one chick had escaped and was standing in the middle of the floor with an expression of "where did everybody go". Perhaps another for the mind's album since I think John has the camera with him today.

Maybe I will never get any prizes for my special photos but they sure bring me a happy feeling when I see them in my mind.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's Official

It's Official-- John has 6 chicks; 4 Rhode Island Reds and 2 Yellow chicks. They are so cute!! I gave them to him for his birthday and he didn't even ask for them. What was his reaction, you ask? For any of you who know John; he is at his "Oh boy" stage. How do you put in that tone in the written word? Anyway, it that "what now" stage for those who don't know him as well. I can tell he really does like them though.

Awhile back, Karen said you can't have a farm unless you have chickens. I called her yesterday and put the phone in with chicks. Now it is official. I don't think I will ever be able to call myself a farmer (officially) though. Farming is hard, hard, work and I am not sure I could ever handle it. I REALLY admire farmers.

The picture is red because the chicks are under a heat lamp and I didn't want to use a flash. They are suppose to have one area of their environment 95 degrees and surrounding area a little cooler. Then you decrease the temperature by 5 degrees each week down to 70 degrees.

Speaking of 70 degrees that is what the temperature is suppose to be here today! We got lost in winter-- thinking winter and now John tells me it will be Spring (officially) is a couple of DAYS -what happen to weeks? When the snow finally left, everyone took a long sigh and by the time we started looking for signs of Spring it was a shock to see that it had already sprung. Yesterday, I went to get the tub for the chicks out of the shed. I looked down and behind some light woody debris were some daffodils - not and inch high but full grown with three flowers ready to open to greet the official Spring this weekend.

Beau and the girls are enjoying the beautiful weather too. They are grazing their pasture and taking breaks to relax in the barn. They still get hay to suppliment their daily food intake and unfortunately, now that they are not as hungry, they are not eating all the hay off each others backs. Now I am thinking I should have had them sheared a few weeks ago. Oh well.

Got to go water my peas.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Long Distance Visitors

I told Meghann and Robin that their 2 hour visit was not a record and in fact at least 3 other sets of visitors were here 3 hours or less. These aren't people from instate or Mid Atlantic -these are mostly visitors from New England 12+ hours away.

I hate Interstate 81 but I love Interstate 81. It is terrible to drive on (in my opinion) but it takes people to Florida, North Carolina, and in this case Mississippi which makes our home on the way to many places our family and friends like to go. We wish people could stay longer, and in some cases they do, but we are honored that people in-route to other places take the time to go 12 miles out of their way to visit us for 2 hours.

I think Beau and the girls are often a highlight of the visit for many visitors with photo ops and barnyard smells. The interesting thing is that the sheep and especially Beau seem to really enjoy having visitors. Beau will often come right up to someone he does not know and get right in their face. Some visitors don't enjoy this part but others do. Why is it that the ONLY thing most people know about llamas is that they spit? (bad press) LLamas don't look for opportunities to go around spitting at people. They don't yell or swear. They won't punch you out for a comment they don't like. They just spit; and only when provoked.

Where Beau sometimes seems to be checking people out for potential threat, the sheep seem to just be curious. And maybe they all just like to hear "they are beautiful" or "I love the one.......".

With a 2 hour stay I don't usually suggest flipping sheep and trimming hooves so Meghann and Robin got off the hook. They got some great pictures, we had some laughs, we ate birthday cake (to celebrate Lyndy and John) and we caught up on who is doing what. And we got to meet Robin (hope I am spelling her name right). And then off they went to spend 12 more hours on the road. Thank You Meghann and Robin.

Now it is on to finishing the hooves (kidding is over for awhile) and shearing. The next long distance visitors will get to see 6 well groomed sheep and a mighty handsome llama.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Preview

This is a preview of what the fleece is going to look like for anyone who wants to put in an early order. I expect to have it all called for before we shear the end of this month. Ha Haa. From left to right is Hildegard the curliest and whitest, Amelia (just longer because of area it came off of), Charlotte, Mirabai ( you can't see the variation in this lock), and Sarah and Annie who look the same but Annie's fleece will be smaller.

It is funny how the natural colored sheep (as they are often referred to) look brown as they graze in the pasture but on closer inspection are nearly black. The lighter tips is from sun bleaching. Hildegard and Amelia don't dye their fleece so are natural in my book. Sometime the non white sheep are called colored sheep. All fleece can be dyed but preferable after it comes off the sheep.

Sometimes I get excited about the idea of having them sheared and sometimes it makes me nervous. I am now planning on having some sheep shearers come. One is experienced in blade shearing and the other wants to learn better. Karen and I are thinking we can do one of the small sheep in the time it takes the guys to do the rest and Beau. The plan is to have the one, who knows how to blade shear, teach us. The one, whos business it is, wants to shear Beau by a mechanical method which is what Beau is used to. He said when he does it he will put a bag over Beau's head. He actually assured me it would not be plastic. Maybe burlap. He said it calms llamas to have a bag over their head and they almost go to sleep. Sounds a little weird to me so I am going to check with the woman I got Beau from. Could be right-- who would think a sheep would be so relaxed sitting up?

I was thinking maybe I should just go out every morning and cut a lock off and eventually they would be sheared without realizing it. I read a story (don't know if I have mentioned this before) where a woman was shearing one of her sheep with scissors and then in the middle of the job her young children needed attention so she put down the scissors and tended the little ones and let the sheep run around half sheared. She just picked up where she left off later in the day. So I guess there are many ways to shear a sheep and soon I will be reporting on how it went.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Visitors Welcome

It is always fun to offer visitors the opportunity to help with sheep chores. John's sister Jen came for a few days and was fortunate enough to be here at a time when the sheep needed their hooves trimmed. We did two of the sheep and Jen really did just fine.

The first thing I tell everyone after we flip the sheep is "get comfortable and relax". At that point most bend over stiffen up and hold their breath. Not sure why this happens but it does. Eventually, who ever helps, realizes that it is going to take longer than they thought and they begin to breath again. Next comes the statement about how calm the sheep are which is interesting since they are the ones that are getting something done TO them.

One of the reasons I like having family and friends help is that I then realize how comfortable the sheep and I have become with each other in the 9 months we have shared the "farm" (almost Karen). I guess part of it is the closeness due to 3 months of snow cover and the dependence on John or me for food. Anyway, I really enjoy their company.

The sheep were going to get their hooves trimmed last week but first the weather was cold, windy and not inviting and then Karen's goat, Poppy, had her kids. This week more kids are expected but that is O.K. because that will give Lyndy, Megan, and Megan's friend an opportunity to cradle sheep this weekend or trim hooves if they wish.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Yesterday, I went over to witness the birth of Poppy's kids. Poppy is a Mini LaMancha Goat. She is one of Karen's goats and Karen called to let me know Poppy was ready. It takes me 30 minutes to get to Karen's house and Poppy did not have the usual warning signs so I missed the first one being born and arrived to see Karen holding a beautiful tiny new buckling. We were watching him try to do all his firsts ( bleat, nurse, stand up, walk). Truly amazing.

Then we noticed that Poppy was still uncomfortable and having what appeared to be more contractions. We watched and waited and watched and waited but nothing happened. It became apparent that things weren't as they should be and we had to ask each other questions, confer, and eventually investigate. In the end Poppy's second buckling was delivered with Karen's help but was unfortunately, a stillborn.

Though, this little goat spent no time alive outside his momma, he taught Karen and I many things for which I know we are both greatful. He taught us to listen to his momma carefully to know when to intervene. He gave us the courage to put on elbow gloves and explore to try and find feet that were nowhere in sight. (We had talked a few times about what others had said about trying to get fingers or hands inside to check position.) It was difficult but we were all (James and his mom were there too) able to remain calm and monitor Poppy for what needed to be done. Karen knew when it was time to get that buckling out and she did it beautifully (with Poppy's help). Unfortunately, Poppy's second buckling was not meant to see the light of yesterday. He did not die in childbirth but before.

Poppy, finally free from pain, began caring for her first born again. Lots of kisses and licks. James took the honor of burying her second born. The whole experience was sad but not so difficult as strange as that may seem. It was somehow just what happened yesterday and what was meant to be.

Poppy and baby Shamus are doing well.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Photographing the flock

The previous picture of four of the sheep waiting for me is really unusual. I can get distant pictures but you can't see the personalities. When they get close they get too close and don't listen when I ask them to move back except Hildegard sometimes. Beau always poses with his "I am guarding pose" which I am sure I have probably posted. He also wants all the pictures to be about him. Mira likes to lick the camera lens for some reason.

I saw a blog that a friend told me about where two rams are photographed up close and they look like they are in deep contemplation. I bet that woman has a good camera with a powerful telephoto lense (is that what they are called Gail?) Or maybe they aren't hungry and it is a warm summer day. Oh well, I will keep trying. I think my sister Gail took some good ones last fall but I don't think she gave them to me. Jen took some good ones too. Wonder what happened to those.

On the sheep forum people put pictures of their new lambs and about 12 people comment and say "Oh, how cute! Congratulations." The only other pictures you see are when people are trying to identify some sheep that they got cheap or rescued and the people they got them from don't know what kind they are.

I wonder if I will keep taking pictures or if it will be like pictures of kids -- the longer you have them the fewer pictures you take. And if I don't get a better handle of how to enter them into the blog body without getting so frustrated you may not see too many here. I'll have to remember to ask Karen-- she is very good with pictures in blogs. (Remember that tomorrow too Karen).

Grazing the Pasture Again

It is so nice to lookout the window or come home to sheep grazing the pasture again. There isn't much growing yet but Beau and the girls are getting more exercise and a bit to eat while waiting for me to come bring them something more substantial. And when I do this is the welcome I get.

And then when I don't get the hay out right away I get these looks.