Blog

Sitting Back is Hard To Do

It has now been almost two weeks since I broke my foot.

Matt has been out flat trying to keep up with the sheep work and the barn-building we need to do.   The issue is that we need to complete the barn this month, and we can’t seem to connect with interested friends on a day when we can get a person-lift and when enough people might be available.  We also recognize that it isn’t our family or friend’s job to be available on demand for barn-construction purposes.  We are working on alternative plans.

A friendly student from Sterling College is helping us move sheep right now.  Her name is Carly, and we are thrilled to have someone with knowledge of our fencing system and a cheerful demeanor come and assist us.   Yesterday, Carly and Matt made a effort to clean up some of the Border Leicesters who have had a touch of the runs.  The sheep weren’t very cooperative, but they made progress and we’ll keep trying.

The foot in question has turned into a rainbow of blues, greens and yellows.   I have a really intense charleyhorse in my calf muscle on that side, and I still can’t have the foot down for any amount of time without swelling and increased discomfort.  I’ve had it checked out with the doctor just in case it’s Deep Vein Thrombosis.  The fact that they haven’t called suggests it’s just a killer cramp.

So that covers the facts of the matter.  The feelings are that I HATE sitting still.  I feel restless and frustrated, and my days are just a blur of sleep and quiet sitting.  It is an issue not easily solved with company or food because I am naturally energetic and I can’t just sit.  Because I am wanting to move so much, it is very challenging to concentrate on the seated activities that I could be doing.  I would usually solve this by going outside and being active and then attempting the seated activity later.  Without that option, I’m kind of sitting here vibrating with energy but unable to address it.

I am also endlessly grateful: to Carly for stepping in at just the right moment and saving Matt’s mental health, to Julie for moving the last of the wood with Matt, to Tam who went grocery shopping for me, to Eric and to Mom for some interim employment, to Prin and Bianca at Sterling for helping us find Carly, to Erin and Mike for their how-to-be-broken supplies and advice.  Feeling grateful is the best way to fight the antsy-ness I feel.

20171016_125850.jpg
This is about how close I can get to the sheep these days.
Advertisements

Sheep and a Broken Shepherd

Today is the third day of convalescence for me with this broken 4th metatarsal.

WP_20171005_19_16_38_Rich
Ice on foot, cat on Katie…how things are generally looking here most days.
Every day living is a lot more work without a working left foot.  My day starts with just trying to get down the stairs.  My crutches stay downstairs, so I hop around in the bathroom or crabwalk to get around.  The hardest part is getting up from the floor using just one leg.  Matt has to get my clothes for me, and then I bump, bump, bump down the stairs on my bum.
My crutches are right at the bottom of the stairs, so I stagger over to the couch, exhausted from the work.  Matt is kind enough to feed me some breakfast and coffee before he heads out to manage sheep.  Even going to the bathroom is a huge exertion, since my body is putting a lot of energy towards healing.  I’m finding I’m very sleepy throughout the day.
I usually get started on some of the computer work that I am trying to get done while I’m confined to sitting.  Elvis the kitty has gotten a lot out of my need to sit.  She’s been cuddling up quite a bit.  Lucky the parrot doesn’t understand why I can’t come and get her right now.
I miss spending time with the sheep.  I miss getting sheep cuddles and chin-scritches and the smell of their sheepy bodies.  I trust Matt completely, but it’s hard to let go anyway.  Matt has been giving our injured ewe pills in marshmallows.  Apparently, she is an expert at eating only the marshmallow and tossing the pills as much as possible.
WP_20171005_18_39_07_Rich
She’s avoiding Matt for the moment…
I tried to cook dinner last night.  I lost my one-legged balance and fell down, so we decided to improvise a little more creatively.  Here I am cooking on a chair.
WP_20171005_18_44_40_Rich
The orthopedist says I am off the foot for six weeks, at a minimum.  I never thought I’d say that it’s a best-case-scenario for a ladder accident, but I won’t need surgery and it looks like healing should be fairly straightforward.  The doctor examined the foot for tendon damage and thinks I may be in the clear for that, too.
We are still looking for an intern who’d like to help Matt move the sheep.  We’ll train our helper on rotational grazing and we can pay in meat or wool.  Room and board might be available for the right person, so please let me know if you are interested, because Matt’s already exhausted and we’ve got quite a while yet to go.

Change of Plans

I was all set to write a post about my third Sheep and Wool Festival and how successful it felt.  I made new friends and renewed contact with acquaintances.  I sold fleece with confidence, knowing I’ve finally learned what I need to about the products I offer.  I talked to other vendors about their sales successes and lessons so that I can improve next year.  I had a wonderful time, and I have enough revenue on hand to pay some nagging bills.

But this post isn’t about that.  This post is about how Matt and I were rushing to get one last barn-building task done yesterday before I planned to move the Border Leicester group.  I was on the ladder, and he was driving the tractor.  We were trying to move a big truss that will hold up the cover of our yet-unbuilt barn.  We didn’t notice that a strap was inadvertently hooked on the implement behind the tractor.  As Matt drove forward, the strap pulled the truss, the ladder and me forward. I fell 10 feet, breaking my left foot – Fracture of the 4th Metatarsal, to be precise.
Farming while unable to move is a challenge, for sure.  We are looking for someone who’d like to do sheep chores daily in exchange for the experience or maybe a room in the house.  Unfortunately, I’m necessarily on break from my part-time job, as it requires walking, so I am not in much of a position to offer pay. We could barter some meat or fiber, though.
In other sad news, the ewe whose struggle to walk we’ve been following was finally seen by the vet today.  Diagnosis- busted tendon near the patella.  So we are medicating her with meat-safe painkillers for a week to keep her comfortable and will have to butcher her.  We are really sad.  Just another freak accident in a weird and unaccountable year!

Preparing for the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival

Every year has been a little different at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds in Tunbridge, VT, September 30-October 1.  Even if you don’t knit, it’s a ton of fun with great food and lots of opportunities to learn more about fibercraft.

In the past, I have brought natural-color Cormo X yarn – soft yarn in natural white, gray and brown shades.   Additionally, I’ve brought some hand-processed batts for handspinners and felters.

20170908_080728

This year is a little different.  The last run of Cormo X yarn will be for sale, available in eight (yes!) attractive and wearable colors plus three natural shades.  We will be debuting our Bluefaced Leicester yarn, which is soft and silky with a subtle sheen.  I hope you are as excited as I am to touch this awesome yarn.  Our BFL yarn comes in two natural colors and supplies are limited.

20170908_132303

We will also be offering raw fleece in several formats.  We have small packets of hand-selected Bluefaced Leicester and Border Leicester locks for crafting.  Border Leicester fleece is on offer in larger volumes.  I know many handspinners with they could sample more fleeces with a little less commitment to a whole sheep.  I have chosen to offer fleece in smaller purchase units so that you can enjoy a pound or three of quality fleece without being tired of it by the end.  I’ve been there.

Additionally, gorgeous and intriguing pelts made by Vermont Natural Sheepskins will be on offer in both white and natural shades.

20170819_121643

So please come by our booth in the animal barn.  Friendly lambs want to nibble you, and I want to hear what you think of this blog.

20170905_111151.jpg

20170905_111151

UVM Pasture Walk at Cloverworks Farm

Hi All,

If you are buying a farm, reclaiming a pasture, or even just considering getting into small ruminants, please join us for a pasture walk at Cloverworks Farm!

The Deets:

Join UVM Extension and the VSGA at Cloverworks Farm in Albany, where farmers Katie and Matt have moved their operation from rented pastures to their own place with 40 Border and Bluefaced Leicester sheep. Learn how to identify your pasture’s needs and deficits and learn to plan an improvement strategy through haying, mowing and rotational grazing. Careful application of soil amendments will also be covered. Light refreshments served. Please wear booties provided for biosecurity.

Location: 4558 Creek Rd., Irasburg, VT 05845

To register, call Katie Sullivan at (802) 324-2039 or email at cloverworksfarm@gmail.com

Free to members; $5 for non-members

The Problem Child

Each day, we take down the old paddock for each group of sheep and build a new one in its place.  Simple enough.  I spend my time picking up Electronet, laying out Electronet, setting up Electronet.

But we have one sheep who makes the whole process trickier.  Nevermind that the adult ewes haven’t figured out that moving willingly out of the old paddock will be rewarded with a new paddock in short order.  There’s no reasoning with some critters.  But the lambs have a problem child: Sue Perkins.

20170625_125707

Sue was hand-raised by us, and views humans as friends.  She is especially fond of Matt and comes running to his special Sue-call.  But she also views herself as an exception to general sheep rules.  She feels that she can approach us for petting anytime, even when we are trying to drive the sheep from one place to another or dealing with an emergency.  She is first on the scene if someone has a bucket in their hand just to check on whether there is grain inside, so carrying medication or other non-food items must be considered from a Sue-attack context.

And when it comes time to move fence in the lamb area, she has this irritating habit of testing the fence delicately with her nose to see if it is on, and then diving under it to get on the new pasture while her friends pace at the fence line.

Yesterday, I caught her in the act- totally busted!  She didn’t go low enough and is actually caught in the lowest wire.  Clearly, I need to think through some ways to teach this valuable ewe some respect for the fence!

20170907_104817

 

A Day about Pigs

We are having a little piggy-roast next weekend in honor of Matt…getting older, let’s say.  We brought a live pig home last week.   She was cute as could be – a 60lb gilt (young sow) with endearing eyes.  She loved the apples and sheep grain I offered and would batt her long eyelashes at me.  When Mary Lake came to dispatch the piggy with adorable son Hugo in tow, I felt more hesitation than usual.  We don’t have facilities to keep a pig, however, and the thought of crackling pork was enough to go on with the matter.  Mary said that our little pig had some parasite damage to her liver and kidneys and wouldn’t have been a good candidate to bear many litters of piglets.  That’s some consolation, and we will revisit the idea of raising pigs in our farm plans for next year.

Our first act after slaughter was to figure out a way to remove the hair from the pig.  The skin of a slaughtered pig is the tastiest part, but no one wants scruffy hairs all over their plate.  Youtube to the rescue – we found a technique where you put a towel on the carcass, pour boiling water on the towel, and then scrape the hair off.  Easier said than done!  We were having high winds, and the towels cooled rapidly.  The hair was as attached as ever and the knife shaved the pig more than it epilated it.  We tried a few more water-pours, but didn’t make much progress.  Time to throw in the towel, as it were.

So we moved on to Plan B.  When Plan B involves a blowtorch, you know it’s a good plan.  I dutifully torched all of the remaining hair off that hide.  The smell was terrible, but the job was oddly satisfying.  Matt and I had to neaten up quickly as we had a date at a restaurant that we love that is closing this fall.  Wouldn’t want to go to a real-tablecloth restaurant reeking of blood and scorched hair.

The pig is hanging in our cellar fridge, but we have had a little advanced sample of the liver today.  I’m keen to do a better job of using our animals nose-to-tail to honor their sacrifice.  I found a promising recipe for liver pate that came out very well.  The pate is quite rich and satisfying, featuring the mineral-y liver flavor very favorably.   The kidneys were cooked up for the chickens this time, but I’d be keen to hear any good recipes for those if you have them!

20170905_164657

Totally Unadapted to the Problems of Aviation

content warning: deadstock.

Everything seemed fine with the lambs this morning.  They had a pleasant shade-tree and lots of vetch and clover in this pasture.

20170826_085214

When we got back from the Caledonia County Fair, however, I found our homebred ram lamb, David Tennant, dead beneath the lovely shade-tree.  My mind raced- though I was upset to find his corpse, the critical thing at the time was to determine a cause of death and prevent any further loss.  Could he have had Urinary Calculi, like his sire?   I would need to separate my other ram lamb from the group right away.  Clostridium would be the worst situation – the whole flock could die of a digestive system infection.  Could he have simply rolled incorrectly and bloated, unable to stand up?  Matt and I thought that the small indent where we found him should have been easy to exit.

As we loaded him into the tractor, we noticed that his head swung excessively and strangely.  Could this sheep have broken his neck?  Maneuvering his neck answered our question- I could move his head anywhere and I could feel a harsh *click* moving his head and upper neck from side to side.  This poor fellow broke his neck, instantly paralyzing and killing him.  Very sad, but fortunately not a contagious condition!

20170826_184931

We believe that he may have been trying to climb higher than this low trunk of the apple tree in their pasture.  We found him just beneath it in a weird, crumpled position.  Not a responsible choice, but he was the sheep equivalent of a teen boy.

20170826_183342

An ex-sheep.  RIP to my very promising ram lamb.

20170826_183858

We didn’t butcher him, even though he seemed pretty fresh.  But I did try to get some wool from him so that he wouldn’t go totally to waste.  It’s a small, completely insufficient compensation for the loss.

Needless to say, we removed the sheep from the paddock with the tree and we will not allow them access to the tree in the future.

Montypython addressed the issue of sheep aviation once, if you’d like to lighten your mood.  Link goes to YouTube video of the skit.

Back to Rural Life

Living in Williston had its advantages.  If we forgot milk or butter, we could just go a mile to the store.  If we felt like eating Vietnamese food, we had three takeout options.   Friends were near.  World class events and shows were happening, too, but we are both shy about crowds so those mattered less.

Back out in the country,  circumstances feel different.  My years in Brookfield prepared me for the idea that anything we didn’t pick up on our grocery run could be unavailable for days.   Instead of choosing between 30 or 40 restaurant options, we will become regulars at one or two.  We are pretty fond of Cajun’s Snack Bar.  You can get alligator around here, but you’d be hard pressed to find good Italian food or Vietnamese.  Go figure.

Our saving grace is having a good general store.  I am completely in love with the Craftsbury General Store.   For a tiny store, they somehow have almost every grocery item I would ever need except white vinegar.    I mentioned that we were celebrating Matt’s birthday and the store attendant handed him a complimentary piece of cake!  I was also visited by another one of the shop folks who was driving by the sheep farm and recognized me.  I appreciate having the opportunity to spend my money locally, keeping my community vital and active.

20170822_130007

We can stay local purchasing our vegetables, too.  We are spoiled by the pile of gorgeous vegetables on hand at the Pete’s Greens farmstand.  I’ve been pickling and preserving my way right through their basil, green beans and tomatoes.  I’ve also been buying  produce from smaller farms at the Craftsbury Farmer’s Market as well.

20170822_124910
The wall of squash at Pete’s Greens

Another thing to get used to up here is the lack of gas stations.  The ones we do have use 70’s era pumps without card slots. This is a place where store proprietors trust people not to drive off, as you typically pump first and then pay.  I assume that a shotgun behind the counter reduces the risk.  I have had to re-acclimate to the inevitable gun-beside-the-door in homes I visit.  Anyway, I have to plan my gas carefully.

I am very much looking forward to rejoining a very solid community.

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.