Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Focus Pocus

Today, was one of those hectic thought days. I experimented with all kinds of fiber arts; ripping out a knitting project, felting over a beachball (bouncing it in the shower), instructed John in the making of some weaving tools out of scrap cedar from the arbor project, carded some fiber for felting and stuffing, darned a hole in a favorite sock by needle felting and I did some preliminary layout for my future website. When my head was swimming I went down to visit the animals.

It was a quiet- rainy day. Good day for inside work but not to rainy to go down to the barn periodically. I realized today that I am spending more and more days here with no need to go to town. I love it. (saves money too) I am getting more done, even though my thoughts are scattered. There are still a few things I want to experiment with but I told myself last month I was going to focus on one thing. I think I picked the wrong thing. I guess I can change my mind-- will have to consider that and then refocus.

Tomorrow is December 1st-- 18 days until Beau's birthday. Last year it snowed around 20 inches on his birthday and the pasture was covered with snow for almost 2 months. What will this winter be like I wonder. At least this year I don't have anywhere I have to be-- though John does. I like working from home.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Thanksgiving was wonderful! Lots of love, laughter, food, and fun. It is always interesting to see how the animals act around company and how company is around the animals.

Jen collected eggs and gave Beau treats. Jen was giving Beau some grain and was cornered by 7 sheep, which can be rather disconcerting, but she handled it well. Earlier, Beau didn't want Jen to let the chickens out of the coop for some reason. He took his guard pose and stayed between Jen and the coop. Jen gets the medal for courage. Lyndy was the most comfortable around the animals and was good at moving them with me which was great (could have used her today). Cal was not particularly captivated by the sheep or Beau even though Beau was affectionate with him. Cal was, however, an immense help with my computer. Individuality is what makes the world so interesting.

Individuality with farm animals can make life much more difficult. I let the animals out into a new area today. All was going well until it was time to go back. While they were grazing, I cleaned the barn and water buckets. Then I put grain out in bowls in the little pasture and opened the big red gate. I took one bowl with grain over to fetch the sheep and Beau and all came running as planned, or so I thought. When I closed the red gate I realized Beau had stayed behind. Llamas don't think like sheep and are not so easily swayed.

All the sheep went back to the big pasture and wondered why Beau wasn't with them.

Beau just kept grazing in peace until one of the sheep baaed. He looked up quickly, checked everything out, and went back to grazing. I brought some grain and peas to coax Beau back but realized when I opened the gate, the sheep were all going to come out again. If I had left all the sheep in the small pasture it would have made things much easier (next time). I coaxed Thor into the small pasture so at least I wouldn't have to deal with ram behavior. A couple of sheep got out as Beau was coming in but only into the transition area between two gates.

It really isn't that difficult moving sheep if you think like a sheep-- or a llama, if you think like a llama, but my thinking, as a human, always makes me want to take short cuts. Maybe some time (hopefully soon) I will start thinking like a sheep farmer and then, maybe, I will be able to move animals more easily.

Monday, November 22, 2010


This gold, single ply, white cotswold yarn was dyed with bright orange marigolds using alum and cr of tarter as a mordant--not the color I expected. I later mixed an old, but brilliant, fuchsia dye bath (from poke weed / vinegar base) with the gold and got the orange loose fleece in the picture-- not the color I expected. I like them both anyway.

The white, double ply white cotswold has a little silk spun in. The coltswold is shiny, even without the silk, but I added the silk in to soften the yarn. It came out nice. My spinning is getting better (most of the time). I am having a little problem with the tension on the spinning wheel I used for this yarn.

It is nice to have beautiful things around to inspire me to do more. I am doing a few goofy things too-- just for fun, but must stop to clean and organize for Thanksgiving.

Yesterday, we had, as part of our church service, a procession to bring things we were thankful for, up to the front of the church. I brought locks from the animals. There were lots of pictures of family, as you would expect, but also pictures of new calves. Besides pictures there were shoes, deer antlers, favorite toys and an assortment of other things-- very interesting and moving.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Copying Bad Behavior

One of the hens pecks me hard occasionally when I am not expecting it. Today, I held her down and told her I would do so when ever she attacked me. Sweet little Amelia halfway butted me today and the others have recently shown acts of aggression. Are they angry at the rooster and Thor and taking it out on me or do they want to try it out to see what it feels like being mean and ornery?

I have learned to watch out for the males around here but the rest of the girls on the farm are not so careful. Thor butts anyone who tries to eat out of any bowl he wants for himself and he butts whoever is near the lower gate waiting for me to open it. He butts hard and sometimes on the side of the body (I am afraid for my pregnant ewes). I feel sorry for the other animals but I don't know what I can do.

It is one thing, holding a rooster or an ornery hen down, but quite another reprimanding a ram that weighs more than I do. I stay out of Thors way for safety sake and don't know why the ewes don't. Hildegard has tried to stand up to Thor a few times.

I feel badly sending Thor to his pasture since it may just be what rams do. I can understand the competition thing but just being rough because you want to be first makes me angry. I know sheep understand aggression as a way of establishing hierarchy but do they understand human punishment? Should I let them all work it out or should I intervene? I think I need advise from other shepherds.

Sometimes, it is so hard to figure out animal psychology. But, I am determined to learn what I need to for us all to live in peace.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Animals on Vacation

My sister, Gail, blogged about being on vacation (see Women of Great Taste link below) and thoughts and mindfulness and I decided Beau and the sheep could bennifit from a mini vacation today. They went to the cabin for a little R&R.

Most farmers would call it rotational grazing but I call it a mini vacation because they get way too excited about going- to call it rotational grazing. As I get out the orange fencing to connect the two gates they are on top of each other wanting to be the first out the gate.

They love being in a different place with new things to eat and explore. A few, especially, like to brouse on the forsythia and even the grass is better than in the pastures; longer and more lushous.

They also like to explore the wooden deck and the stone patio.

I told them they were on vacation and I wanted them to smile at the camera (a real sign of a vacation) but they didn't see the point.

Is Thor being thoughtful or mindful? Doesn't he look better for his mini vacation?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Toe Sweaters and Other Things Wool

Karen modeling a Beau/Mira/Finn hat

It always surprises me when I realize I haven't blogged in 5 days. I have been so busy doing all things fleecy and assume that I have been sharing them and then I look and realize it is not the case.

Karen and I trimmed hooves last Monday. I have been watching Thor try to convince his favorite gal of the day to stand on level ground--and we thought mowing and gardening, on the slopes, were difficult. And I have been learning more efficient ways to move animals.

I knit a hat with fleece from Beau, Mira, and Sarah or Annie (some of the Finn fleece is unmarked and Annie's and Sarah's fleece is very similar. Karen is testing it for quality control. I knit a toe sweater and felted a bracelet.

toe sweater modeled on my finger so I didn't have to wash my feet

beginning of a felt bracelet

The toe sweater is part of my therapeutic wool line. Wool is good for all kinds of things. The toe sweater is suppose to improve blood flow to an injured or ailing toe. More on the therapeutic qualities of wool in an upcoming blog.

I finally got some Alum so I am currently waiting for the mordant bath to simmer ( it takes forever to boil water at this altitude- it was easy at sea level). I am going to dye some yarn orange (I hope) from marigolds.

And now I am off to try to get some foam scraps for needle felting from a place near by.

Took all the animals to the cabin a few days ago and now if I go down that way Beau runs to the lower gate in hopes of joining me.

I love my new schedule-- things are really starting to come together. --FINALLY

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CSA or it takes a village to raise sheep

CSA (community supported agriculture) has made it to sheep farming.

Most of the CSA groups that most people know about are like the old co-ops except you know where the food is grown and you pay for it way before you get to eat it. Also you get to work a day or two on the farm during the growing season.

Here is how it works. People decide they want to eat better and decide they want to know where their food comes from and how it is grown. Then they find out that there is a farm near them (or at least somewhat near them) that they can support by buying a share of the crops that are going to be grown that year. You can usually buy a share or a half share. You write a check to the farmer in the spring along with others and the farmer uses this money to buy seed and whatever else he needs. During the growing season you pick up your share, usually once a week, at a convenient location. You are asked to help out a few days over the season by working at the farm or by putting shares together or delivering them. You get what ever is being harvested each week.

I like the concept but John and I don't eat enough fresh vegetables each week for it to work for us. I would be freezing stuff every week. If we didn't have a garden and two local farmer's markets I would do it though. Or maybe if we had 11 kids.

Last Saturday I went to a sheering party at a sheep farm that has a CSA group. A very good friend of mine sent me an email forwarding info on this farm so I went to check it out. This woman who has this farm is new to sheep, as I am, and has decided to offer shares of roving for spinning or skeins of yarn for money up front. Also for your $175.00 share you get to come to two shearing parties a year and read the woman's blog that updates you on what is happening on the farm.

I went to spy on her opporation so I casually wondered through the crowd (and what a crowd!). I overheard people saying they were so glad they knew where their yarn came from and they were so happy that they could have a close connection to a sheep farm and they felt like family--that kind of stuff. When I arrived she was giving away door prizes. She had a modern house with a two car garage with some yarn to buy in it that wasn't her yarn because that went to shareholders. She also had a calendar for sale. A young woman shearer was shearing Angora goats in a small barn. I saw some of her sheep in a pasture that surrounds her house but they didn't seem to be a focus of the day.

Seems like people want the clean peaceful side of farming not the down and dirty. I want to share my farm and the animals with people but I will do it differently. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Roosters and Rams

Awhile back, I said that the rooster's orneriness behavior was to teach me something. Well, I now know what it was. He taught me to always know where he was in preparation for always knowing where the ram is. Unfortunately, I have been a little slow in learning the lesson.

Both the rooster and the ram are generally nice animals and in Thor's case, he can be a real sweetie; more affectionate than some of the ewes. So why does he butt me, seemingly, out of the blue? I think you have to attribute it to male hormones. Roosters and Rams have one thing on their mind and if anything remotely resembles competition they feel it is their right to attack.

Farming has taught me to look at things in a different way (more literally or basically). I believe it is their right to fight off competition, but what I want to know, IS, how can I appear less like competition.

Perhaps attitudes will change once we get breeding season behind us. It is interesting how males (at least intact ones) always tend to complicate things. A farm with all females or males that have been castrated, is such a peaceful place. Add any male animal and watch out. I am hoping it is all about a learning curve for the farmer.

It is a valuable lesson to learn-- to watch your back. The world is not a totally peaceful place. We have all tried to teach our children to be aware of their surrounds and know about the people they hang around with. I am getting to understand the animals who live here better everyday. At this point I think it is O.K. that they all live here but I know sometimes that isn't the case and there has to be some changes made.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Orchestrating Animals

Beau concerned about his charges being outside the barnyard

This morning the arrangement went something like this--Fade out sheep and Beau through the red gate for a change of scene, a couple missed their cue. Two chickens followed, not in the score. The last two sheep finally caught up but two more chickens out of place. Beau and three sheep back to the barn for hay, a quiet measure. Mix up the grain with the herbal dewormer to distribute to all. Beau's goes in his bowl then off to the small pasture where all the sheep's bowls are from a few days previous. Sheep in the barn follow and all come running when they realize what is going on--a dramatic crescendo . Chickens come in and out and shift as the sheep indicate. Two chickens escape to the outside of the red gate. As the sheep finish they go back to the barnyard so I get some chicken feed to coax the stray chickens back. As I open the gate to let chickens in others want to go out. Throw the chicken feed further into the barnyard. As the chickens find the beat Hildegard slips out before my eyes to the wrong side of the red gate. Beau is watching all of this and gets concerned with this measure. Hildegard dismisses my offers of chicken food, to play out of place, but finally reenters and joins the rest of the orchestra.

chickens in the orchard yesterday

I Thought Beau was concerned about the chickens up near the house yesterday, but that was nothing compared to Hildegard being the only sheep outside the fence this morning. I wonder if he was concerned for safety or just want to be out too.

Karen once said you have to have chickens to be a farm, now she says the chickens here are not chickens and I am beginning to believe her. The chickens love to follow me, especially if I have a bucket of water to dump. Then they scratch in the wet dirt. They like to be on the other side of the fence but don't fly over or even roost on the fence. Two days ago the rooster jumped up on Hildegard who was near the gate and then onto the gate but seemed very uncomfortable up there and wasn't sure how to get down. He finally got the courage to fly down back to the barnyard. When the chickens do get out they come back on their own but wait by the gate until I come down and open it for them.

If they aren't chickens, does that change the status of the farm? I don't think so-- with the chaos of this morning it has to be a farm.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Body Language

The last couple of days, especially, I have been observing animal body language.

Beau likes to go over to the small pasture, sometimes for the different grass and perhaps sometimes to get some space away from all the girls. When I recently let him over, I made the mistake of giving him a handful of hay that was in the Barret Groc. garage/barn. Then all the animals were suddenly on the scene. Thor got upset that they were eating in his area and began showing that he could butt. He all out butted Beau. Beau stepped aside. Thor wouldn't share the hay with anyone so I let the others back in barnyard and closed the gate. Then Thor was mad he was all alone. He started pacing at the fence only taking a bite of hay occasionally. I gave the others hay in the barn. When they were almost done, I let Thor back over to join the others. He wasn't aggressive in the barn.

This morning, in the barnyard, I noticed Beau step aside when he felt Thor was too close. They were all at the gate so I tried to open it but Thor was in the way (he hasn't learned that it opens in, yet). When I finally got it open they were all squeezing in at the same time and Thor was getting pushy but Hildegard wouldn't put up with his rudeness and pushed him aside. Once in they all grazed peacefully.

Later, in the barn, there was alot of posturing going on (even with Thor and me). I just kept putting hay in different places and they all worked it out. It is funny how one minute it is fine that someone is eating next to someone else and the next minute it is no longer fine.

This afternoon, I looked out the upstairs window of the cabin and saw Beau chasing some of the sheep. He looked like he was herding them but it was just a few. They kept getting out of site so I couldn't tell what was going on. . When he got them where he wanted them he walked to a different area and began grazing. I just have so much to learn I guess.

I either need to spend more time watching when they can't see me or I need to put spy cameras all around.