Monday, August 30, 2010


Usually the definition you will get for weed is "a plant in the wrong place". My definition for pest is "an animal in the wrong place". This morning I have had to deal with 4 categories of pests.

First, I found some fleece that Rosemary had given me that had not been washed and it had moths in it. I had to shake it outside and look up herbal concoctions to keep them at bay. Now, I have to put that on my list of "things to do".

Next, I went down to do clicker training and looked carefully at the grain that has been looking less appetizing. Probably meal worms and I will have to get some fresh today and store it better.

I looked at my white sheep and they looked black. Tiny black flies or gnats of some kind on all the sheep and Beau-- millions of them. I will put fresh pheromone stuff in the fly trap and see if that helps.

And then, as my mind was focused on all of these, I neglected to close one of the gates and Beau and Amelia wandered out. More animals in the wrong place! Amelia has not started clicker training yet but Beau has been doing great the last two days so I decided to try the follow command with Beau. He was on his way up to the house and I clicked the clicker. He immediately looked up at me. I went closer to him and held out my hand. He followed for a short distance and got his click and reward. Great, I thought, and tried it again planning to go further. Unfortunately, Beau decided he was done with clicker training for this morning. They, not too much later, came back on their own as they saw the others heading to the barn for a nap.

I don't mind moths but get very depressed finding them in fleece. I don't mind meal worms but I don't like mealy grain. I don't even mind gnats or black flies if they don't bother my animals. I LOVE my animals but when they are in the wrong place it takes time out of my day that I need to devote to other pests.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Schedule Change

All my life I have noticed the change in schedule that happens the last week in August or the first week in September whether I was in school or not. You think it correlates with going back to school or your kids going back to school but I propose it is more to do with the light or temperature change.

The interesting thing is my sheep and Beau have changed their schedule starting maybe three days ago. O.K. they could have seen the yellow school bus go by this week but I don't think so. I wasn't quite ready to change my schedule yet. I think, for me, it happens the first part of September. Maybe that is because I lived in New England for 33 years and the light and temperature change isn't dramatic yet or maybe I forget when that was or is it just that I am slow to do everything . With Adam going back to school and the animals changing their schedule I suppose it is time for me to come around.

On the new schedule, the sheep and Beau are at the far corners of the pasture when I go down to clean the barn in the morning. They used to come to the gate to greet me. They come in earlier to rest in the barn so I have not figured out what the new time for clicker training is. Then around 5 P.M. when we used to get together again they are out in the pasture again.

It seems like the last couple of days we have hardly spent any time together. But tonight when I went down to close the chicken door (shortly after dark) they all came running down from somewhere and wanted to go out to graze in the adjoining pasture like they used to at 5 P.M. I told them it was too dark and told them to come up to the barn for a treat instead.

I am excited to continue clicker training because Mira is really getting it and I found something Beau especially cares for which might make him more excited about training. I remembered he really liked the peas from the garden and we had so many at one point I froze some. I took a few out and put them in the refrigerator and gave him some this morning without asking him to do anything. He loved them. I will offer more tomorrow and then try to pick up training again if I can figure out the new schedule.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sharing Space and a Place

The bird bath is DONE and in its place but I haven't seen any birds near it yet. I keep checking out the window. The handles are a vine that grows up trees here-- not sure what it is. The adornments are beach pottery from the shore of Lake Erie. The next step in taking care of all who call this property home.

When I first stood in front of our house taking in the incredible peace here, I knew that this was not just to be a home for John and I but also a place to be shared in some way. I am in the process of unraveling the plan and 3 clues have come up in the last 24 hours.

Yesterday afternoon, the friend I have been processing wool for, came to play with fleece and we were talking about the workshop scenario.

Then I got an email from one of my neighbors who I had shared some ideas with about having fiber retreats with people who want to connect or reconnect with a loved one around fiber. She was telling me about a friend of hers who has a friend who is going through some tough times who needs a place like this for a getaway for herself and her daughter. She also mentioned that this woman is looking for a good home for some llamas that she can no longer take care of and did I want some.

This afternoon I got a phone call from a former co-worker asking if she could bring a 9 year old client out to meet my animals.

I said yes to all (except the llamas) so now I will just have to see what happens next.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I couldn't resist. I know I said I wasn't going to put energy into natural dying now and instead concentrate on how to combine the different browns and blacks and greys and white but I just couldn't resist.

Adam and I cut down alot of pokeweed a few days ago as it was getting really ripe and was in an area where the sheep were likely to dye their wool while they were still in it. My friend over the hill who has sheep scolded me around this time last year for having it growing where the sheep could brush against it saying it would turn their wool purple (she has all white sheep).

Most of what you read about dying with pokeweed berries says it is beautiful but not colorfast. I found one site that said it does O.K. if you set the color with white vinegar so I had to try it.
I have always loved playing with the berries and squishing them so another reason to do it.

There is quite the contravercy as to what degree they are poisonous. Some old timers swear by their medicinal value if you eat one berry a day and many sites say you should not even touch them without gloves. Since I was dealing with so many I did wear gloves but I don't if I am painting with them or just squishing them. If the color holds to some degree, next year I will have Lyndy come over and stomp them in my galvanized tub but I will give her thin white cotton socks to wear.

Isn't it delightful! I am glad I didn't resist the temptation.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Clicker Training

Clicker training is under way. Clicker training is reinforcing behavior you want with a click on a clicker at the precise instant the behavior happens followed by a reward.

I wanted to start with Beau because I want to get him back to letting me put a halter on him so we can go for walks outside the pasture. Also I want to train him to stand still while I trim his hooves or someone shears him. Basically it is gaining his trust that I won't hurt him.

So this morning early it was off to the barn to begin. When Beau saw me with a bag I didn't usually have and a clicker in hand he got nervous and didn't want to have anything to do with the training. What I didn't take into account was that it is Beau's job to notice anything different and be cautious. SO

When Mira volunteered to do training I took her up on it. She whizzed through target training so we went on to touching. With Mira I want to be able to gain her trust to let me pick up her feet since she is the heaviest and hardest to do work on. When I tried to touch her foot she lowered her head to butt. I then back tracked and tried touch shoulder- click- reward. That was fine with her so we did that a few times and then moved down the leg just a bit.

By the end of Mira's first short training session, Beau was watching out of the corner of his eye so I will try again with him after I work a few times with Mira and he sees that nothing bad happens to her.

After the training session I went down to the Farmer's Market and was talking to a friend, Catherine, and her husband and told them I was doing clicker training. They were interested in listening but didn't think it would be too helpful with their 130 sheep. Catherine's husband (I always forget his name) said they do "sick um" training. If their sheep are not in line they tell them they are going to have the dog sick um.

I can see their point but I am excited about the POSSIBILITIES on our farm!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On to a New Focus

Bat house is up, bird bath is curing, Holly bush is trimmed back, thanks to Adam's help, projects are flying off the list. Those are just this week. Hopefully we will get the cedar logs I need out of the woods tomorrow or next week and then I lose my farm hand to college. I feel really good about what we have accomplished.

I always have so many projects in different stages occupying space in my house, my outbuildings, my yard, and my mind. It seems like John always has one project he is focussing on at a time. He is organized, mostly, and it gets DONE in a reasonable amount of time. I am just not that kind of person and I am O.K. with that.

When you live in the country and want to make money living in the country I think you have to do many different things and maybe, all combined, you can scratch out a living. I am not sure which aspect of the fiber process will bring in money so I think I should just keep a broad mind and try many things. With extra outside projects out of the way I can now focus primarily on the fiber end of things.

Yesterday, with it being much cooler, the animals were out in the pasture two of the times I went down to the barn. When I went to close the chicken door, the sheep and Beau came to greet me by the gate and seemed to be glad to see me. I am going to start clicker training tomorrow so I will be spending more time with them. This should be interesting. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 16, 2010

So Much To Think About

As I looked again at the previous picture posted I realized that it was a terrible sample of spinning and especially plying so don't look close if you haven't already. Some days I am pretty good but I am still very inconsistent. Someone told me when you start to get better it is hard to get that irregularity back which is sometimes desired. I hope I can do both.

I am on a waiting list for a workshop at a fiber festival in October. The 4 hour workshop is called something like "the next step". It deals with ratios and more consistent spinning and plying.

John asked me today if you could send your fleece away to have it washed and prepared for spinning. (I think he is tired of all the fleece all over) No he was, I am sure, concerned with my tedious fleece preparation and my mental health. I told him I have to do it all the first time to really understand the fleece I have and realize which parts of the process I really enjoy and find relaxing and which drive me insane.

Right now I am washing some fleece for a friend and may process it further but this is in exchange for massages so that will even out any stress involved in doing a fleece for someone else.

My washing technique is pretty good but it is different for different sheep due to grease levels and also fineness of the fleece and it's possibility of felting. The fleeces I am doing for my friend is Icelandic which has inner and outer coats that are of different textures.

I spent almost the entire day (except for about an hour and a half of mowing) working on some phase of fiber production but now I have fiber in so many stages that I can go from one to another and not be too repetitive--- I don't get bored.

Some things I can do while doing something else so that helps move things along too. I will be so happy this time next week when all the washing should be done. I am still thinking about the hot tub for next year --throw it all in together.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's Complicated

I liked math in school. I especially liked algebra. They told me I wouldn't use it in real life but I do. I was always intrigued by probabilities. I like formulas but sometimes I get overwhelmed.

So here is the problem I am working on now. I have 6 sheep and a llama that give me beautiful fleece but different fleece has different attributes. I wouldn't use Hildegard's fleece for a baby sweater and definitely not a scarf but plied with Beau's soft fleece I knit Lyndy a hat last winter that didn't feel too itchy.

I am compiling a set of sample yarns so I can see what looks good with what and what needs some cotswold thrown in for luster and how soft I can get Charlotte's fleece by adding some of Annie's or Sarah's. You get the idea.

There is color to consider and memory (ability of a yarn to remember what shape it is to take after it is washed).

Generally knitters work with two ply yarn but sometime it is 3 ply or more. One can knit with single ply but single ply is more the norm for weaving tapestries or rug hooking.

So here is the problem for all the math wizzes out there--- If you have fleeces from 6 sheep and a llama and you make a single ply from each and then ply each with all of the others and then do some 3 ply and then combine each with all the others while carding before spinning and then try the same thing only combining three different fleeces and then 4, 5, 6, and 7 and then ply these with the other combos ...... how many different yarns can I produce with the fleeces I have?

How many stacks of index cards will I need to purchase?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Resting Places

THE BARN-- a GREAT place to rest. Shady, usually a bit of a breeze going through, mostly people leave you alone here.

THE TREES -- Up behind the barn the animals have carved out some nice places to rest (reminds me of the beach and digging out the perfect spot for a nap). Cool dirt, a better view than most of the barn offers, a good hiding place where no humans have a reason to go.

One of Beau's personal favorites. He can lie here in his "play dead" position for a long time. I am not sure of the attraction for this one.

The chickens like to carve out these little nest areas under the coop but I never see them resting here and they haven't laid any eggs here. Looks comfy to me.

One of the chickens likes it up here (above the closet in the barn). The only attraction here is the height, I think. I keep it cluttered to discourage her from laying eggs up here.

I am very excited about a new place I am designing and building for a resting place for me. Shady, a pretty view, nice smells. No picture yet.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A 3 Shower Day

We have had many hot days this summer but it almost always cools off at night. Last night it was 80 degrees when I went to bed. It did eventually get down into the 70s but it usually get down in the 60s or 50s. I thought it might be a good idea to start today with a shower.

Most days I start with a shower unless it is cool and I am going to immediately go out and do some farm work and get sweaty. Then I wait until after the dirty work to take a shower. Today seemed like a day that should start with a shower even though I was going to immediately go out and get sweaty.

So today was-- a shower to start the day cool, four hours of sweaty farm work, a shower to wash away the salty sweat and grime, a trip to Karen's, an hour or so of holding goats while Karen trimmed hooves, and later a shower to wash away sweat, grime, goat hair, and goat smell. I always feel sorry for the people Karen and I encounter on our way home from each others homes, especially today, but I needed to make a quick stop at the organic market for a few ingredients for dinner.

Once home and showered, I went up to the barn to make sure the animals had plenty of water. One thing always leads to another at the barn and I could have used another shower to rinse off the chicken and sheep poop I brushed paths with but decided another shower would start to wear away my skin so I rinsed my feet instead.

Karen gave one of her turkeys a shower with the hose while I was there and it seemed to truly enjoy it but Karen said the rest of her animals aren't keen on showers and neither are my sheep or Beau. Beau would rather have a dust bath any day.

I wonder what a dust bath would feel like!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sheep Parasites

6 hours of parasite training--that is how I spent my day today. I finally got my training in FAMACHA and fecal egg counting.

The FAMACHA system of knowing when to treat sheep for parasite load was named for its originator Dr. Francois "Faffa" Malan (FAffa MAlan CHArt) . It is basically a small chart that has colors of red and pink that you hold up to the lower eye lid of a sheep to see how anaemic it is. That is an over simplification (but not by much). The people at one of the universities in GA have the charts in this country and won't sell you this little chart unless you get a signed certificate that says you went through training. And now I have the chart and certificate.

The other part of today's training was to understand who the enemies are and what they look like under a microscope. We also learned how to count them.

What really gets to me, though, is that these are systems to determine when you need to give the drugs which are barely working now. They say that drugs are not going to be part of the solution in the future but lets keep using them and combining them and put off finding a better solution.

Enough negativism. There are people looking at predatory fungus and plants with tannins. They continue to say about herbal treatments that "there are not studies available to evaluate either safety or efficacy" which translates to "there is not enough money to be had" (oops, there goes that negativism again).

The important thing to remember is that now I have more tools to monitor the worm load in our flock and I understand new strategies for maintaining sheep health. Six hours isn't so bad when you have a good presenter, good snacks, and sheep to hang out with part of the time.

Monday, August 2, 2010

andy goldsworthy

Here is a sampling of Andy Goldsworthy's artistic talent and way of thinking. If you want to see what he does with sheep fleece you will have to view "Rivers and Tides" or check out a future blog here. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Looking at things differently

I gave my mom some watercolors a few years before she died. She was a very artsy person and I thought it would give her a new purpose. Even if she didn't start painting, I told her, it would influence the way she saw things.

I finally saw Rivers and Tides (a movie about Andy Goldsworthy and his work) last night. If you haven't seen it I highly recommend it -- and watch it on your porch at night-no lights. (Lyndy turned me on to this)

Goldsworthy's work is breath taking and INSPIRING! When he tried to explain how he saw things and what questions it brought to mind he often just couldn't explain and would fade off into a deeper place in the universe.

On a lighter side, it was visually beautiful and intriguing .

Some of the film was shot on his farm in Scotland and I especially liked the part with his sheep and what he does with some of their fleece (two more exciting uses for fleece).

I begin this week with new creative inspiration and a pledge to create some kind of sculpture before week's end.
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