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Useful Things

So I promise that this blog isn’t about to become a paid product placement vehicle.  I was just thinking about some of my favorite sheep care items, and I thought I’d talk about them and see what others think!

This Fantastic Pilling Gun: 

“The Gripper” from Veterinary Concepts,

Some of you may have tried to give a pill or bolus to a goat or a sheep in the past.  Did you succeed, or did you chase spat-out pills around the barn?

When I was responsible for COWP-pilling 50 goats back at Fat Toad Farm, we got really sick of crappy push-rod pill devices.  I don’t remember just how we discovered this gun (maybe our bolus supplier?) but we never looked back.  Veterinary Concepts won’t take internet orders from non-veterinarians, but if you call them you can order this item with no trouble.  They wear out after about 100 pillings because goats chomp them and break the inner parts, but even so it costs perhaps 15 cents per pill to not have your fingers seriously chewed by your goat or sheep’s back teeth.  I think that’s worth it.


A Good Crook from



When I started, I caught sheep by running them down and grabbing lower legs.  That works in a tiny space, but when you have more sheep and more barn space, you just stress the sheep out and wind up empty handed.  Not to mention the potential for serious injury if you are diving after sheep – sheep can take a much sharper corner than us bipedal types.  So I got a crook, and I think you should, too.


High Quality Net Fence



There are electric fences, and then there are Electric Fences.  The sins of the fence are low, saggy, cheap wires that don’t conduct well.  Paired with thin fiberglass posts that allow the middle of each section to short out on the ground, and you have a fence that won’t contain your animals for more than an hour or two.  I don’t care that I paid twice as much for my fencing, because it’s been a rare sheep indeed who hasn’t respected my high-quality net fences.  Even sheep who came to my farm as adults not knowing electric fence have tested this fence a few times only to conclude that the grass on the other side was not, in fact, green enough to be worthwhile.


Muck Boots


Anyone who knows me knows my aversion to changing clothes for different purposes.  I hate the idea that I would have to go inside to change clothes in order to go into the barn.  I’ve been wearing Muck Boots since I started working at the goat farm back in 2011.   While cheap wellies are fine for wearing once in awhile, if you’re going to be working for hours you need shoes that support your feet more than a flat-bottomed rain boot.  Tread is always a plus, too!

The only downside of my muck boots is how terrible they smell.  There’s something about the combination of daily use, occasional manure and copious sweat that creates a reall persistent odor.  Uggh.





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We Went to the Festival

And I sold lots of yarn, batts and pelts.

Saturday started off with lots of visitors inspecting the goods, but few purchases.  I was anxious that no one would be in a buying mood!  But suddenly around 12:30, an unheard “buy-things-now” alarm went off and suddenly 4 pelts, a pile of yarn and half of my batts went to new homes.  Meanwhile, Matt was manning the sheep pen and chatting about Bluefaced Leicesters and Cormo with all comers.  The sheep who came this week weren’t as friendly as the 2014 crew, so they hung back while children reached for them.  Eleanor, Phoebe and Chickadee are happy to be home, but maybe a little braver than they were before their eye-opening experience.

Patterns were a huge seller. The Climbing Trellis Mittens and the Vermont Sheepscape Sweater were standout performers.  Unlike our festival experience in 2014, though, the pattern purchases didn’t seem to inspire yarn purchases – the yarn was bought generally after the customer made a few observations like”Wow, soft” and “Amazing quality.”  The yarn, made at Hampton’s Fiber Mill, was as good as anything at the show.  I did get to brag a bit about my mother’s pattern-design and knitting skill, as the samples she had knitted me were greatly admired.

With respect to our booth display, it was hard not to feel inadequate compared to other vendors.  My cobbled-together booth with materials lent to me by Mom and a coworker reflected our relative inexperience.  The fact that we arrived at 8:30 on Saturday morning and were still frantically searching for a screwdriver ten minutes before showtime probably reinforced that.  However, once people started milling more, the slightly disjointed character of my display seemed to matter less, and the presence of adorable sheep mattered more.

Saturday was devoted to sales, but Sunday offered lulls in the booth traffic that allowed Phoebe to shop and permitted me to cruise other booths and vendors to make and renew some contacts.   Shepherds don’t meet up often, so this was one of my few opportunities to meet friends from farms a few hours away.

Some familiar faces included Wing and a Prayer Farm, whose proprietor Tammy I admire tremendously for her fiber skills and her ability to share and expand fibercraft to new audiences with her activities and workshops.  We’ve got a pending phone date.  I caught up with Peggy at Savage Hart Farm, too.  She had sausage for sale, so we compared notes about having sausage made.  She’s been my go-to recommendation when people have contacted me about breeding stock, since I didn’t have any spare lambs this year or last year.  I also had a brief chat with Cindy at Ewe and I Farm.  We met years ago doing Holistic Management.  Perhaps most critically, I had a meeting with Hilary Chapin of Smiling Sheep Farm, which allowed us to conspire more about bringing more Bluefaced Leicesters to the Northeast from the Mid-West and West.  Hilary has an outlook on husbandry and  an understanding of sheepraising that I largely share – sheep must express both form and function, and we can’t excuse low quality, even in a rare or unusual breed.

The main takeaway may be that I finally feel a little like Sheep and Pickle Farm is on the right track.  People remember the farm, people have read articles in Vermont’s Local Banquet that I’ve written, and Matt is engaged in shepherding with me.  He is developing his own areas of expertise in haying and tractorwork while he also learns more about the science of sheep.  Phoebe has learned a great deal in her year-or-so of sheep education, and her help was invaluable as we hastily packed up at the end of Sunday, completely exhausted from smiling and chatting so much.