Posted on

Excited for the Great Northern Yarn Haul

What a year for us to have decided to focus on getting more visitors on the farm, eh?

We’ve given a lot of thought to the risk factors in having farm visitors this year. Matt has risk factors, so we know we need to be careful. But that said, visitors will be walking outdoors with masks on in a context where remaining 6 feet or further apart presents no problems. No Covid-positive sheep are yet recorded, so there’s another worry sated!

Our plan involves showing visitors the nearest group of sheep by walking or briefly driving to their location and showing. After that, we also have an outdoor yarnshop set up on our back deck. We’ll be on break from grilling so we can have yarn out for you to enjoy in the open air. This also helps to keep product sanitary from group to group, as ultraviolet rays from the sun(the same ones that cause sunburn) are nature’s own disinfectant!

Enough about the tough stuff – let’s talk about the cool stuff!

We’ll be offering our own yarns as well as our Bobolink Yarns lines. This is your chance to learn a bit more about our new project and sample our three current Bobolink yarns side by side.

We’ll be premiering a new pattern by KnittyMelissa – the Apricity shawl is a gorgeous, charming shawl with a weave pattern along one edge. Originally made from our Greensboro Bend BFL Fingering, it would look amazing in either the BFL or the Derby Line Border Leicester Sport. Let your creativity go wild!

Apricity!

But Wait, There’s More!

Readers of the blog may know that we saw Meadow Moon by Jennifer Steingass and fell in love. We are offering $25 off 9 skeins or more of our Derby Line Border Leicester Sport to encourage folks to follow our lead making their own gorgeous sweater for Fall. I’m not just tooting my own horn when I say that our yarn really suits this pattern. Soft, drapey, easier to handle than the pattern-suggested two strands of laceweight: We don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Meadow Moon

Don’t worry – if you aren’t up to a shawl or a sweater, we have some fun kits and patterns for you to peruse.
And sale yarn – don’t forget the sale yarn!

So we are confident that we can invite you to enjoy our farm and our view without exchanging aerosols, and we look forward to seeing you!

And if you are not going out right now or would rather shop from home anyhow, internet visits count, too! Just be sure to leave a note or send me an email that you are part of GNYH.

More info about Great Northern Yarn Haul.

Posted on

Responding To A World Without Festivals

Recently, I wrote about our anxiety about the cancellation of VT Sheep and Wool Festival and Rhinebeck. I’m glad the festivals were cancelled – we simply cannot risk joining each other in crowds during a pandemic.

We’ve spent several weeks reimagining our sales efforts. We can’t rely on folks to come find our yarn, touch it and fall in love, so we need to focus on visuals to really bring the yarn to you. Here’s what we’ve come up with:

For our Derby Line Border Leicester, we went searching for a flattering pattern that’s just right for all of the extra knitting time many of us have working at home. Dozens of patterns later, I fell in love with Meadow Moon from Jennifer Steingass. It’s a simple, modern sweater design that flatters a lot of shapes and sizes. The pattern is highly-rated and clearly written. The pattern is on sale at the moment so now is a great time to nab this cute pattern. You have the whole summer to knit this sweater that will be your go-to sweater all Fall.

With a pattern in mind, I chose my colorways carefully. I would need dark, rich semi-neutrals that would look good in a large colorblock and contrasting light colors to contrast. Of course, you could always choose a light sweater color with a dark contrast, too!

We’ve also created some fun variegated colorways – there’s no rhyme or reason, just ideas that I had and carried out:

For the BFL, I focused on colors for our favorite shawl, the Vermont Maple Shawl from Melissa Beyer, aka KnittyMelissa. This shawl is grand and simply gorgeous. Our soft and drapey BFL yarn compliments the flow of the garment perfectly.

We have several yarns and sets that would be amazing options for this gorgeous shawl.

And if these patterns aren’t your jam, there are still thousands of gorgeous ideas on Ravelry. I always love seeing what folks make from our sheep flock’s hard work!

Posted on

A World Without Festivals

We just got news that DCSWF, commonly known as Rhinebeck, will be cancelled for 2020. Clearly, this decision makes sense: Dutchess County has a high caseload of Covid-19, and a festival where 60,000 attendees walk around in close quarters could be an invitation for disaster. From a vendor perspective, Rhinebeck is an expensive and time-consuming show to attend. It would have been challenging to attend Rhinebeck in a context of building occupancy limits or limited attendance and still have made the revenue we need to cover expenses. Earlier in June, we were informed that VT Sheep and Wool Festival was also cancelled for 2020. While we have signed up for a few other shows, those were our main events and an important source of revenue .

It’s really hard to envision exactly how we will sell our yarn in a world without fiber festivals. Customers need to feel the yarn. Yarn is a tactile experience . I am convinced that exposure to natural textures makes fibercraft as relaxing and soothing as it is. Moreover, fiber festivals connect our customers to the sheep. At the VT Sheep and Wool Fest, customers would often pet our sheep and then buy the wool the sheep gave, creating a beautiful, complete circuit. If one in one hundred visitors considers raising sheep and a few of those folks follow through, the future of sheepraising is a little more secure.

Both festival directorships are currently planning a digital festival. I very much hope that it will help fibersellers salvage this year. At the same time, I worry that with online shopping as their only option, fiberists and fiberistas will not branch out from familiar vendors and yarns. It’s easy and tempting to stick to old favorites, and reassuring that superwash Merino is as predictable as the sunrise. I hope, though, that our patrons will take a little risk to try something new even when touch is unavailable. It would be a great shame to see smaller self-raised vendors die off.

Just so we’re not leaving on such a glum note, I have two creative solutions to my worries above. One is that we offer samples of our yarn. I’m happy to send you a few yards to touch and knit up so you can touch the yarn before committing to a larger purchase. Second is that I offer simple websites to folks who need a helping hand getting their fiber flock online. I can also advise folks about setting up a webstore and choosing a platform. Get in touch if you are a fiber-seller who needs a little help getting online.

Posted on

Tours and a Sheep FAQ

We are relaunching tours here at Cloverworks Farm! We want to share our sheep and our vision of a more sustainable food and textile future with you. Enjoy our beautiful scenery and meet our charming sheep!

We will be offering tours by appointment. Tours will be entirely outdoors. Tours will be socially distanced – visitors will be asked to stay at least 6 feet away from us. Out of state visitors must meet VT quarantine requirements to be eligible to visit. We want to share the farm with you, but we have to keep ourselves safe and healthy for the farm to function.

Sheep FAQ

We get a lot of similar questions from folks about our sheep – Here are all of the questions you’ve been wondering about but haven’t wanted to ask:

How often are sheep shorn?

Some breeds are shorn twice a year, but we shear our adults only once per year in early Spring. We shear early so that the ewes are wool-less at lambing time. That helps us see the ewe’s labor, helps the lambs find the teats, and encourages the ewe to lamb in shelter rather than out in the snow!

Does shearing hurt the sheep?

Shearing is just a haircut. Once in a while, a sheep might get nicked but overall, the sheep always seem relieved of their heavy wool. Mine go straight for fence post and scratch all of their itches that have gone unrelieved for a few months.

Do you spin your own yarn?

With over 100 pounds of wool from our sheep each year, we cannot possibly hand-spin our yarn. Our yarn is locally mill-spun. We offer batts and roving to handspinners who enjoy spinning BFL and Border Leicester wool.

What do all of the sheep terms mean?

  • Ewe: A female sheep
  • Ram: An intact male sheep
  • Wether: A neutered male sheep
  • Lamb: any sheep under 1 year of age. A 9 month old could weigh 150 pounds and still be a “lamb”
  • Breedstock: Sheep of high enough quality for breeding. Not every sheep born meets this definition.
  • Flock: A group of sheep
  • Herd: A group of goats, cattle, or other non-sheep ruminants

How can you tell sheep from goats?

Most sheep have wool and no goats do, but some sheep have hair that can resemble the coat of a goat. Most easily, goat tails point up and sheep tails point down.

What is wool?

Once upon a time, sheep had dual coats with guard hairs on the outside and insulating wool beneath. Shepherds grew tired of having itchy hairs in their wool garments, so they gradually bred sheep not to have guard hairs any more. Wool is the insulating former-undercoat that sheep grow. It is structurally distinct from hair or fur and shouldn’t be referred to by those terms. Only sheep grow wool – other fiber animals grow fiber such as cashmere and mohair from goats or alpaca and llama from camelids.

I have a few acres that I want mowed – should I get sheep?

Raising sheep is more intensive and complicated than just putting them on a pasture and leaving them there to eat. I recommend sheep for people who are interested in maintaining open land AND who are passionate about animal care and management. Using a lawnmower is less overall work compared to an equivalent number of sheep.

Are we eating baby lambs?

Not really. Sheep are fully mature at one year old. Lambs that go to slaughter are not tiny babies -they are well-grown “adolescents” who weigh over 100 pounds.

What does a “Sheep Year” look like?

  • In March, our lambs are born. The ewes raise their lambs for three months. At the end of three months, most lambs weigh 50 pounds or more and are ready for independence. Remember, prey animals have to grow up fast in order to be less vulnerable to predation.
  • Our sheep graze on grass all summer long- we rotate them to new pastures daily. The hunt for tasty grass is mentally stimulating to the sheep and optimizes their nutrition intake, too.
  • By fall, most lambs weigh more than 100 pounds. We only need one ram for every 20 ewes, so we only keep the very best rams for that job. The rest go in the freezer.
  • Breeding season also takes place in the Fall. We separate the ewes into breeding groups and send a ram in with each group. This allows us to pure-breed our Border Leicesters and Bluefaced Leicesters for pedigree purposes.
  • After breeding season, the ewes go into the barn and the rams to their separate shelter area. The sheep eat hay all winter.
  • Sheep gestation lasts 5 months. Our sheep typically have twins, but can have singles, triplets and even quads. We prefer when they have twins because that ensures that all of the lambs get plenty of milk from their ewe’s two teats. Sometimes, one of the triplets in a set gets less than the others, meaning we have to intervene to feed the weaker lamb.
Posted on

How to get your Lambs Out

Background: It’s spring. The grass is finally up after several late-season snowstorms and you can see your BFL former-bottle-lamb Sue with a mischevious glint in her eye. She’s tested every inch of the loafing area fence for weakness and now she’s just waiting, WAITING for someone to latch it wrong so she can make her bid for freedom. In past years, the sheep have, in fact, dismissed themselves from confinement and spread out across our generous front lawn area to graze. We do use the lawn for grazing, but only after blocking sheep from accessing the wellhead. Nothing spells defeat like having to shock your well because your sheep dropped a few ewe-berries into it.

Step 1: Stress out for a week trying to think of possible exigencies. Could the ewes turn left and run up the driveway and into the road? Could they turn right and run down to the rich wet area full of burdocks? Will there be a cold rain that could hurt the smaller lambs? How will we deal with the lambs that are in the isolation ward? This kind of preparation is not my strength. I’d rather make five complicated spreadsheets in an hour than try to develop a step-by-step physical plan.

Step 2: Phone a Friend – Dom and Donna Druchunas seem to like visiting my sheep, so it seemed only natural to press-gang them into wrangling the sheep out of the barn. They cheerfully said yes to my request for assistance, unaware…

Step 3: Have you ever tried to secretly build a fence? If your sheep baa because you’ve approached the garage where they know the grain is kept, then you’ll understand why I took pains to sneak around with fencing so they wouldn’t serenade me for the whole 90 minute setup time. I reserve the right to enjoy my podcast-listening-time.

Step 4: The Shuffle – With a little quick thinking, we took the lambs away from the ewes in isolation. We then took Sam the ram and two cull ewes out of the main group. Then we blocked off the creep area and removed all lambs from it so they can’t hang out in there.

Step 5: Chaos. We opened the fence and opened the gate with some portable gates blocking the sheep from running up or down the driveway. The ewes all exited in a huge mass. They ran, pronking and kicking out, onto the grass and set to work eating. Their lambs did not, though. The lambs have never left the barn before, so they were reluctant to run out, even to follow their mothers. They stayed behind, bawling. Dom and Donna were assigned to shuffle lambs forward, but the lambs really gave them a run for their money. Lambs dashed to try to get into the creep, and they thwarted every attempt at predictable herd behavior. Bottle lambs followed us like dogs while confused general-population rams ran in circles, crying. It took a lot of yelling, shooing and regrouping to try to get all of the lambs out. Lambs knocked down temporary blocks and a few got out of the barn and loafing area completely.

Step 6: Technically, we won. Even though getting the lambs out took a solid half hour and left us all sweating and gasping for breath, we only carried five lambs to pasture bodily. Last year, the carried-lamb-count was 30. So that’s a win, I guess!

Step 7: Bonus Content – the exertion of going out onto pasture was just enough to send 1616, last seen actively breeding with Oliver on pregnancy-scanning day, into labor. In a half an hour, she had squeezed out adorable BFL/Border cross twins! She’s doing well and the lambs are healthy.

Posted on

Waiting for Grass

Everyone on the farm is waiting for grass right now.

Every time we step outside, a sheep in the barnyard notices and starts to baa. Soon, a resounding chorus of baaing joins her, and I endure a jeering crowd as I walk to the garden. They can see that the grass has emerged and that it’s green. What they can’t see is that it is so short that it would last them half an hour, max. So we wait for the grass to grow without being able to tell the sheep why. And they resent us, slightly.

Most ewes lambed in February and early March. The stragglers were about done by mid March and we were grateful to return to a normal sleep schedule at that point. Just today, though, one of our yearling ewes dropped a sweet little ram lamb who reminds us that the sassy, leaping lambs were once tender baby lambs.

I’ve started a garden for the first time in years. I’m not immune to the gentle surge of our culture back towards self-sufficiency. We’ll have peas, potatoes, lettuce and cilantro of our own to enjoy. I did go straight to the things we eat the most- the garden is only 15x15ft. Matt admonished me not to bite off more than I could chew, as is my tendency, so my huge garden bed got whittled down to something we are sure we can manage.

Here’s that new lamb:

Posted on 2 Comments

Obligatory Covid Post, I Suppose

To tell the truth, not much has changed for us in a world without social interaction. We focus on the ewes and lambs at this time of year. We have 73 little lambs, most thriving and gaining and a few special ones that we’re trying to nurture.

But even though social distancing is just how we live generally here and even though our area has had only 9 cases during this whole situation, we can’t deny the changes afoot.

We have seen a surge in meat orders as people look to local again to feed them. There’s nothing like seeing whole megacorp meat plants being shut down due to illness and contamination to remind you that local and decentralized sourcing minimizes the hands that touch your provisions. Personally, I think it’s time to consider that the consolidated model will be a problem every time a new disease emerges, and that Covid-19 will not be the last disease we see. We are running low on lamb right now

Preventing egg shortages starts at home, says this tiny Brahma chick.

We have also gratefully enjoyed a huge surge in yarn purchases. Our 2020 yarns are back from the mill and I am skeining and dyeing like mad. We have a new shawl pattern coming up from KnittyMelissa that we’re very excited to launch. I’ve also made some gradients that will go wonderfully with the Vermont Maple Shawl we featured at Rhinebeck last year. We have more new patterns in the works, too!


Speaking of Rhinebeck, there’s a lot of “what if” out there about the likelihood of large gatherings like Rhinebeck going forward, now or in the future. I admit I am scared. I depend on big shows like Rhinebeck and VT Sheep and Wool to help me sell product. Yarn is tactile – people want to touch it, see it knitted, feel the fabric. I hope that they will adjust to a world of trying new yarns online. I wonder if samples would help – I used to offer yarn samples for $1 that came with a dollar-off coupon if you bought the yarn, but I never had many takers. Maybe now is the time to try that again?

More broadly, I wonder what the new normal will look like. We have had an uptick in lamb sales, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Just like in the Great Recession, folks seem to be remembering that being self-sufficient and capable really matters when our fragile distribution systems break down and fail. I’ve never been more grateful for our freezer full of stocked-up food now that continued shortages are projected. Centralized systems for transport and food are failing and centralized spaces full of people are where the illness has spread the most. With companies considering whether working at home might be the new normal, now is a great time to return to the countryside where you can have the goats, sheep and chickens you’ve been wanting. Homes are cheap and much of the land wants for good stewardship and a bit of care. Supply chain disruption shows us that “city conveniences” have been illusions all along.

Posted on

Delivery to Arlington, MA on 4/27

Order your lamb, meats and cheese now for delivery to Arlington, MA on Monday, 4/27. We are looking for $400 in orders to ensure that the 8 hour round trip is worthwhile for us (UPDATE: Order size has been met – thank you!). Your purchases support two farms whose farmer’s markets are currently closed. We are both full-time farmers and not usually in the transport and distribution business, so your patience is appreciated. Thank you so much!

If you would like delivery to a location other than the address provided, please note this at the time of purchase. If access to your residence is restricted, please also note that so we can coordinate handoff. Deliveries will take place on Monday morning, 4/27. Yarn orders can also be delivered along with food, but orders of only yarn will ship separately.


FAQ:
Can I order chicken?
– We only have one farm that sells federally inspected poultry and they are sold out of most products at the moment. I cannot legally bring you poultry that is not federally inspected.

What about veggies?
– Veggies are not yet in season in Vermont’s cold climate. We will carry them if we can as they become available.

Where can I learn more? What if I have a special request?
– Please Contact Us with further questions and additional requests!

Posted on

Bottle Lamb Shenanigans

This is a Covid-19-free post, so read and enjoy!

We have a whole passel of bottle lambs in 2020. We have the two remaining ewe lambs from the quadruplet situation. We have a BFL ram lamb who never caught on to nursing his mother. We have a Border ram lamb who was rejected due to having sharp teeth (we fixed the teeth but couldn’t repair the relationship. Then, we have triplet BFLs whose mother just can’t keep up with their needs.

Almost all bottle lambs start out in the house. Because we can’t feed them as frequently as a real sheep mom, we choose to keep them indoors where they will be warm enough to not suffer chilling and hypothermia. Hypothermia causes most needless deaths of young lambs – lambs who are too cold won’t nurse or digest milk, resulting in a downward metabolic spiral. We try to give the lambs motherly attentions that they would receive from a real mom – ewes don’t hold their lambs, but they mutter to them and nuzzle and groom them. Petting and stroking the lambs meets their need for attention.

This guy likes sleeping among the woollens. Of course, where he sleeps is also where he relieves himself, so I’ve been cleaning up ever since!


Of course, bottle lambs in the house are adorable. We show you the cute pictures of a lamb snoozing in a corner, but we don’t show you the mess they make. Lambs do not potty-train, so we do upwards of two large laundry loads of towels each day just trying to prevent indoor lambs from destroying our floors and furniture. Diapers aren’t really in the lamb’s best interest as we don’t want to leave manure in contact with their wool for any length of time. Finally, scampering lambs need space which is best found outdoors in the barn. They need playmates and guidance from ewes, too, so they learn to be good flockmembers and not frustrated wannabe-humans.

We gradually introduce houselambs to life outdoors by sending them out to the barn for short periods and then not bringing them back into the house eventually. We then must train these lambs to use the nursing bucket instead of the bottle. We use a Pritchard teat initially to facilitate nursing initially to facilitate nursing. Once the lambs are larger, however, they are too strong for small rubber teats. At that point, teat-bucket feeding becomes more practical.

The bucket is a competitive space, but we work to ensure that all lambs get the milk they need without overfeeding the aggressive ones.

We have set up a lamb creep as well. A creep is an area of the barn only accessible to lambs through a gate that admits only small sheep. In the creep, we offer grain, nice hay to nibble on and a sunny, dry floor. It takes the lambs a few days to discover the space, but once they do they really take to having a clubhouse just for them. We do feed some grain at this stage to help out the many triplets we have. Not all ewes can provide enough milk for fast-growing triplets, so this is our most practical option to grow them out effectively without overtaxing Mom.

So that’s the news from the lamb barn. We have 71 lambs bouncing about and only a few more ewes expecting. We are tired but finally beginning to catch up on sleep.

Posted on

Lambing Open House

Even as the economy and some degree of social order collapse around us, there is still time for admiring playful lambs.

Lambpile time!

We had our lamb open house last weekend. My friend Betsy and her spouse came up to just to help as a steady stream of visitors came to enjoy our 68 little lambs and tender sheep moms. A steady stream of children, parents and curious adults visited all day long. We answered questions about lambs, sheep and wool while the lambs danced and dozed. Small children helped us bottle-feed the four orphaned and rejected lambs who are “on the dole”, as it were. We took necessary precautions and didn’t touch anyone needlessly or stand near each other.

I am glad that we got our open house done before the threat of Coronavirus drew nearer. Social isolation is a way of life for me, but I understand why others are struggling. It took a while to get used to seeing fewer people, to keeping my own council, and to relying on my knowledge and ability routinely. I know that folks who are now home with kids and restricted from public areas are scrambling to find suitable activities for themselves and their kids. If you like us on Facebook, you’ll get advanced notification when the livestreams will occur.

I am also grateful that we have a huge stock of staple foods and supplies on hand. I know that having huge chest freezers doesn’t make sense in a city, but at the same time, the way grocery stores look now nationwide reminds us that local food systems and food sources have a lot of value. We’ve been getting takeout from our favorite restaurants and trying to lend support to other small businesses. We could all use the boost right now.

To that end, don’t forget that we are happy to deliver yarn or lamb in a sanitary fashion. We are also doing some virtual trunkshows instead of in-person trunkshows for our Bobolink Yarns project. Interested? Get a sample here and tune in to our livestream