Sheep Become the Job

For the last few years,  I have worked full time (and more), fitting the sheep in on mornings, evenings and weekends.  I am used to making do, making sheep wait for later, making what I had work.

Now, the sheep are right in front of my life.  We’ve really had to adjust our schedule, but mostly we’ve had to change our mentality.  It is critical that we solve issues immediately.  Emergencies aren’t just inconvenient- they are now a much larger factor in whether our venture succeeds or fails.  Matt and I have had several intense conversations establishing our expectations in this regard.  We could work on this farm every minute of every day.  But we also have a few decades under our belts and I am having a return of some health concerns that are slowing me down.  So we make sure that we take periods of rest.

Some things we have accomplished since we started:

  • We knocked down all but one acre-ish of standing, overgrown milkweed and goldenrod to promote grass growth.
  • We met two more neighbors- a former sheep-farmer and a dairyman with 40 Jerseys who hays the field adjacent to our fields.
  • We acquired an adorably small manure-spreader.
  • We added 90 more bales to the 30 bales Matt made.  Only 60 more bales are needed for the winter. 

  • We ordered and received our 60′ x 30′ barn.  We have yet to build it.
  • We have stacked some, but not all, of our wood.
  • We haven’t stacked all of our wood because we’ve been shoveling free horse manure into the back of my truck and spreading it on our smaller hayfield.
  • I have taken soil samples around the land, so we will soon know how much of which nutrients we will need to import to the land.
  • I am now keeping a daily flock journal.

This year, we are breeding the adult sheep for January lambs, so Fred is hard at work charming the ladies.  The lambs have been growing steadily with some grain in their diet, and at Mary Lake’s recommendation we’ve finally purchased and begun to administer BoSE (a Vitamin E and Selenium supplement) to the flock to improve their health.  Here’s to a brighter and healthier future for the sheep.

A Few Weeks In

We’re now a few weeks into living and working our new farm.  Huge changes continue.

  • We separated the ewes and the lambs again.  This time, it’s so that we can breed the adults for January and February lambs and breed the ewe lambs to have babies in May, when their bodies will be more mature and prepared.  This does mean that we will have some Border Leicester/Bluefaced Leicester crosses
  • The house desperately needed a new roof, so we found a roofer and got the job done.  The lambs baa’ed at the poor roofers all day long.
  • We got chickens!  We are very excited to have eight lovely Rhode Island Reds and a very handsome rooster of a breed that I can’t recall the name of.  He looks similar to a Welsummer and we appreciate his gentle (so far!) personality.
  • The land here has been transformed by our mowing efforts.  We bought a house with overgrown fields and small shrubs starting to come on.  Now, the fields are moving away from goldenrod and ragweed and back to clover, orchardgrass and forbs.
  • Matt made a first cutting of hay – 30 bales isn’t a bad haul!  The hay is crummy, but hopefully we can add some fertilizer
  • I am in love with the beautiful Border Leicesters who came to the farm.  They’re so bright and healthy.  Mary sheared three of them and we now have some lovely wool to play with.  I am mixed on offering the white for sale as fleece or making some batts.
  • We shipped four ram lambs to meet our fresh lamb orders.  Two Cormo/BFL crosses dressed out at and above my goal weight- hooray!  The other two were a little scrawny, but I know that they didn’t get everything they could have with the move and other factors in play.
  • Every day, I step outside and breathe in fresh air.  I look at the sheep, and I realize that I don’t have to make any compromises in my efforts to meet their needs.  If I need to change something or move them, I can do what I need to without hesitation. We can finally invest in the sheep as deeply as we need to without thinking about mobility.  Our land is sunny and breezy.  Our home is quiet and peaceful.  I have abundant gratitude for everything we’ve been given.   I hope that Pete would be pleased with what we’ve done.

 

The Wonderful Gift

Today, 14 beautiful registered Border Leicester ewes joined the flock at the farm.  Sue and Bruce Johnson came up from Hinesburg with some of their finest yearling and two-year-old ewes.  The sheep are wide, square, clean and lovely.  They represent decades of careful breeding and it’s really an honor to have them here.

Sitting in the field, I saw before me the flock we’ve been waiting for.  Beautiful sheep, ready to transform this grass into fleece and meat.  This is the dream I barely began to formulate in 2012.  Now, the dream is literally wandering around before me, confused but contented.

After an hour or so, they settled in.

Because my life is action-packed at the moment, tomorrow, I will get my yarn for 2017.  This will be the last year that I’ll have the CormoX yarn, so stock up!  We are excited that some of the new ewes have fleeces that will go to the Sheep and Wool Festival, along with a couple of lambs fleeces.  Stay tuned for more.

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And We’re Out

July 1-4  – I am at a retreat at the Abbey of Regina Laudis, coping with the fact that we just bought a house in Albany, VT, just north of Craftsbury and Hardwick.

July 5-12 – Every day, I wake up in Williston at 8, handle the sheep, cat and birds, and pack the car until 11ish.  Then I drive to Albany and unpack.  Matt is busy making the water run, installing a hot water heater, and bringing the electrical systems up to code in Albany.

July 12-20 – We have moved most of the house items to Albany, but we are still living in Williston in a ever-more-empty room.  Matt still has many repairs to work on.  We are starting to move large items, like the tractors and implements.  My mother comes and helps us move the cat and the birds.  We also move the flock up to Albany in two trips in my truck.  The back of the truck still smells.  I’m glad I’ll never have to move the sheep en-masse again.

July 21-24 – Mom and I travel to Ohio and back in three days to purchase five more registered Bluefaced Leicesters.  Day One is just drive across New York State, Northeastern PA and Ohio.  Just rolling hills terminating in flatness.  We reach a hotel just outside Cincinnati by 9pm.  We spend the following day just stretching our legs, touring Cincinnati and preparing for the long slog.  We got to meet Lowell Bernhardt.  He has a beautiful flock of sheep nestled among the corn and soy fields.  On Sunday, we got up at 5:30, grabbed some coffee and loaded the trio of lovely ewe lambs from Lowell.  We set off for Howard, Ohio, to meet Anne Bisdorf and Lisa Rodenfels.   Anne owned the ewes I was buying.  Lisa no longer keeps sheep, but her flock was a major influence on the breed in the US.  She was kind enough to drive a distance to see the lambs that descended from her flock, as both Lowell’s and Anne’s flocks originated with Lisa.  Mom and I then drove back to Vermont, sheep baa-ing away in the back.  The rest of the drive took 14 hours, and we arrived in Albany after midnight.  We are both wiped and the sheep were sick of each other in their tight quarters in Mom’s van.  Matt has been managing all of the animals for three days.  He’s tired, too, so Monday is a rest day.

July 25-July 30th – Matt and I complete our move out of Williston.   We took down all three of our Garage-in-a-Box outbuildings in one day and moved the chicken coop in an epic struggle with four of our best friends helping.  I have put 2500 miles on my truck doing this move, with half of those towing heavy weights.  We finished cleaning the house at 8:30 Saturday night and turned over the keys.

The flock is adjusting well to their new home.  The grass here isn’t as good as the grass was in Williston.  The soil here has been robbed of nutrients for too long, but we’re already moving forward on improvements.  There is still much to be done just to make the house work, but the roofer starts next Monday and we have the chimney repairs scheduled too.  We’ve ordered the barn, and we’re working on our Current Use enrollment.