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A New Project

 

BobolinkWait, WHAT?

Recently, yarn shops have been asking for more of our yarn to buy wholesale.  We had inquiries at both Vermont Sheep and Wool and at Rhinebeck.  Because our retail efforts are going well, we don’t have enough yarn for more extensive wholesale marketing than the two local yarn shops we currently work with.  It’s hard to let purchasers down knowing that they need locally-grown stock to distinguish their shops in a crowded and competitive marketplace.

At the same time, other sheep farmers all around us have piles of wool going unused because they don’t have the knowledge, skill, or interest in doing so, not to mention the capital to have thousands of dollars in yarn sequestered at the mill for a while.  So much wool going to compost or the base wholesale market that doesn’t even offer a dollar a pound.

The third problem is one that Matt and I have acknowledged for Fiscal Year 3 of our farm at this scale.  Our enterprises make money, but it’s looking like they won’t supply enough profit to pay all of the bills without some additional enterprises.  We have too much work on the farm to fit in off-farm jobs.  How can we fill the gaps?

What if we could address all three issues with one effort?  We could buy raw wool from other sustainable sheep enterprises for much more than the base-level wholesale price, get it spun into excellent yarn, and then offer it to local yarn shops to help them curate a fuller local fiber section.  Since our yarn enterprise is generally doing very well, we can run this parallel enterprise similarly.

I have selected three farms to start with.  All three have interesting breeds, amazing fleece and so much potential.  All three are happy to see their fleece going into a worthy product.  I also think that knitters, crocheters and other fibercrafters are ready to move on from superwash merino into other, more adventurous waters.  Remember when sweaters didn’t pill?  It was because they were made from medium wools which stand up much better to daily use.  Not everyone will think this yarn is neck-soft – save your merino for that project and make your snowball-throwin’ mittens out of our yarn.

If you want to support this project, the most helpful thing you can do is purchase some yarn or lamb from the shop.  I don’t want to take long-wait preorders (fiber takes MONTHS at the mill – really!) but I promise I will let you all know when the new yarn is available.  In the meantime, your purchases will go towards purchases of wool, mill costs and other detail-stuff like yarn labels.  Your support means a lot to me, and I hope you find this project as exciting as I do.

Meanwhile, I do have a sheep farm to run, so nothing will change on the Cloverworks end.  A long winter followed by lambs awaits us!

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Winter Came

It’s a good thing that Matt and I completed of tidy-up chores yesterday, because today suddenly became Winter.  A little snow had fallen previously, but a serious amount of snow glazed the roads today.  The weather report suggested that cold temperatures will stick around, preventing us from moving the electronet.  Time to call it a year!

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Weather-cat Louise predicts more snow to come.

The ewes had been grazing in several groups, each with a different ram of their own breed. We’ll keep track of pedigrees when the lambs come based on these groupings. It is important to keep the rams well-apart. Even the gentlest ram will fight another if ewes are at stake!  Everyone has been in pasture in this format for six weeks now.

Even though the Halloween Storm that hit our region of Vermont last week damaged our barn, the ewes needed to come in, nevertheless. I started by dividing up the outdoor loafing area so that we could open the gate to one area without letting loose the ewes already in the barn. This would also be our chance to pull the rams out before they start making trouble.

Border Leicester ewes and ram at Cloverworks Farm
Can we come in now? Nothing to eat here!

We had a simple enough time pulling the two Border Leicester rams out. Bain, the larger Bluefaced Leicester, gave us a little sass. The rams are settled in their own area now, scuffling a bit but generally ready to settle in for a long winter.

I picked up all of the fencing from where the ewes were eating grass just yesterday. As the sheep year transitions, I am grateful for all of the nourishing grass that fed my sheep and delighted their hearts as fresh pasture awaited them.


I picked up all of the fencing from where the ewes were eating grass just yesterday. As the sheep year transitions, I am grateful for all of the nourishing grass that fed my sheep and delighted their hearts as fresh pasture awaited them.

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UnGlamorous

This is the unglamorous time of year.  The two big Sheep and Wool festivals we do are over, and it’s time to get back to routine farmwork,

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All but the most stubborn leaves have blown off the trees and hit the ground.  Frost has ceased the growth of the grass, so all grazing now is merely a victory-lap of somewhat palatable but less-nutritious grass.  Even breeding season has abated – the rams have settled most of the ewes for March lambs, as best I can tell.  Unlike goats, rams woo ewes quietly and subtly.  They grumble gently and nudge ewes while sniffing to determine who might be in heat.

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One major job awaiting me was the ram barn.  We clean the bedded manure pack out of the main barn with a tractor, but because the rams live in a converted horse stall, removing their bedding is a hand-shoveling job.  If we bedded them with shavings, shoveling would be easy, but we mostly bed them with waste hay.   Waste hay plus manure creates a substance that I term “Crap-thatch”.  Crapthatch is challenging to shovel because the long strands of hay do not want to disengage, while the moisture in the pack makes every scoop you can move very heavy.

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Keep on scoopin’!

It took three long days to complete the shoveling job.  We added most of the manure to the manure pile, but we brought one down to the village of Albany to share with some folks who let us rent their land for hay.  Matt deposited the scoop of poop straight on their garden for use next year.

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At least we have a nice stack of hay bales to see us through until spring.  It’s hard not to get anxious about my hay math – it’s expensive to be 20 bales short in April!  That said, I think we are in the clear.

 

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Gratitude

At 7pm Sunday night, I rolled in to our lumpy driveway after a two hour drive home from the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.  The frustrated lambs in the passenger area of the truck murbled slightly as I directed the vehicle down the farm field road and out to pasture.  I turned off the fence, tamped it under the truck doors and released our patient lambs back into pasture.  After two days of petting and poking, they were grateful for a return to green grass and friends.

I am also grateful for a return to green grass and friends, though mine actually happened at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.  Vending at the festival for the fifth year now feels like coming home to friends and family.  I see familiar faces and remember conversations from prior years.  Visitors come to my booth to say that they have driven by my farm recently, or to share the project they made with yarn from my farm.  I am always floored by this – I never take for granted that people might take the time to seek me out to show or tell me that my work has had a little, tiny influence in their lives.

As always, Mom handled the complex knitting questions and helped to bolster the confidence of people who were timid about tackling colorwork projects.  She really has a gift for encouraging and teaching.  I appreciate my mother’s help so much.

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Cutest visitor of the day!

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This beautiful shawl from KnittyMelissa inspired many people to knit one of their own!

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Derby Line Border Leicester Yarn, on display

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Our miniskein array.

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We sold almost all of our roving and much of our BFL yarn.

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Did the ewes miss me while I was gone?  Hard to say…

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Our Bountiful Wild Harvest

At Cloverworks Farm, we raise lamb as an enterprise plus chicken and ducks for our own use.  We also have some wild foods on the farm – you may recall that a few months ago, we were hastily picking a variety of berries.  Now is the harvest time for our apples, crabapples and rosehips.

We are overrun with apples this year.  In all seriousness, we have literal tons on the trees, and they are more than I can physically pick or utilize.  We are considering getting some clean tarps and gathering all we can to bring to local cideries.   We considered cider presses, but I don’t think we can justify adding another significant enterprise to our farm at a time of year when we are already fraying at the edges with hay and breeding season planning.

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We have had an embarrassment of apples this year.  Last year was a poor year for apples, but this year has made up for it and then some.  We have thousands of apples, some small and scrawny, other juicy and snackable.  It feels a shame that I can’t pick every one – I hate to think of them going to waste in any way, since I imagine we even have more than the wildlife can handle.

We have one particular tree that is clearly not a wild field-apple.  It has a dwarf habit, an identifiable graft, and the juiciest, best apples in the whole place.  I feel a special connection to this tree, so I carefully protect it from the sheep.  This year, it has already given at least five bushels of apples, while more apples await on the top.

I feel guilt for the apples that have hit the ground.  Wasting a food resource is anathema to me.  Feeding apples to livestock feels fine, but leaving them to rot on the ground feels so painfully wasteful, but yet I cannot physically cope with the tonnage of apples here.  That said, I have made and frozen several pies, I have donated apples to be made into cider, and I intend to have a little cider made so we can add yeast and enjoy the consequences.

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We also have rose hips on hand.  I juiced these rose hips with crabapples to make another batch of my favorite jelly- crabapple rosehip.  The rosehips lend a floral richness to the pungent crabapples.  Crabapples grow right under our deck.

Not everything I put up in the last week has been my own – I traded apples for these tomatoes, which proved to be absolutely wonderful in flavor.  Just a little tomato puree in the freezer to help beat the winter blues later on.

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Our Chef Dinner

Yesterday got a little hectic, I won’t pretend otherwise.

At the farmer’s market, a family of five came by and expressed interest in joining us for our Chef Dinner.  I was feeling prepared for our small contingent, but almost doubling the guest list meant we needed to kick into high gear.  I was so excited by the prospect of our new guests that I went to another market vendor and commissioned some bouquets.  When Peggy from Newfield Herb Farm came by with her flowers, she spontaneously offered to run to the local nursery to pick up some chrysanthemums for me!  She kindly brought me back three ‘mums about 45 minutes later.

Nadav and Bru arrived around 3:45 to set up.  I had gathered all of my most quaint and charming items, but I am not really much of a decorator.  Bru swiftly set up my mason jars, straw bales, lamb fleece and photos to create more ambiance than I have ever seen in any other hastily-tidied carport.

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The apples and the leaves strewn artfully about was 100% Bru.  It was really a treat to get to chat a little and get to know Nadav and Bru while we worked to get this set up.  There’s something magical in taking ordinary objects and arranging them artfully so they lend gravitas.

Soon after the table was set, we received an unfortunate phone call.  The family of 5 was having a family emergency and would not be attending.  We appreciated their call but it was hard not to feel a little disappointed.

Our joy was renewed, however, when our first guests arrived.  Dan and Marda have been friends ever since I worked at Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield.  They purchased and refurbished the drafty old farmhouse I lived in during those years into a house with the same charm as the old place, but with modern conveniences and full insulation.  They are kind and generous people, so getting to show them around my sheep farm dream, realized, was a real privilege.   Dan and Marda raise bees, harvest apples and boil maple syrup, among other endeavors.

Then Matt and Reeni arrived.  They are friends of Matt’s from before he and I knew each other.  Matt and Reeni also appreciate the journey Matt and I have taken in our relationship and in creating this farm as it stands today.   Matt works in management at a large food co-op in Chittenden County, so he has perspective on the other side of food-dom.  Reeni’s family is Egyptian, so we got to discussing her family lamb recipes with Nadav, who is Israeli-American.  Reeni is interested in writing a recipe book that we can offer alongside the lamb we sell.  She would get paid per-book, and we would have recipes at-hand to help people get the most out of their lamb orders.

Seeing our friends was wonderful, but I imagine you’d like to hear about the food:

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Our first course was braised lamb riblets over a fall salsa with a currant glaze.  I am completely in awe of how Nadav made the riblets so tender, yet crisp.  I usually get one or the other.   The salsa, entirely sourced within 10 miles of the farm, provided a sharp, tangy contrast to the lamb.

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Our salad course provided another flavor and texture contrast with three layers of vegetables.  On the top, a variety of the freshest local tomatoes.  In the middle, lightly wilted greens with a subtle dressing.  On the bottom, local brussels sprouts over discs of beet and carrot.  The carrot was braised in beet juice, creating a delicious and original flavor and texture.   The sprouts were sauteed in lamb sausage fat and apple cider, which eliminated the bitter undertones and left a pure brassica bliss.  On top, crumbled lamb sausage and goat cheese.  Delicious!

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The main course was Nadav’s most creative venture yet.  We were advised to play with our food, and handed a little glass of opaque pinkish-orange juice.  We learned that the juice was raw tomato water.  The tender, thin, ravioli revealed tomato puree inside.  Underneath was a subtly-seasoned pulled lamb.  So we mixed our ravioli and lamb while drizzing tomato juice on top.

You know that tangy, sour flavor you get from cooked tomatoes?  That canned flavor?  Imagine lamb with tomato sauce where the tomatoes don’t have the slightest hint of that sour, metallic, “cooked” flavor.  Just pure lamb with pure, fresh, bright tomato.  I didn’t really think that there could be a new way to put lamb with tomato, but Nadav found one and it was amazing.  Real creativity in cuisine is a marvel to behold.

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How to top this series of lamb revelations?  Why not have a generous slice of apple pie with local ice cream on top.  Nadav said that our apples are as good as he’s found.

I am very grateful to Nadav, Bru, Dan, Marda, Matt and Reeni for coming to celebrate our harvest of lamb and apples.  Next time, you should join us!

If you are interested in learning more about Chef Nadav and his farm dinners and private chef services, check out his website: http://chefnadav.com/

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Lamb Enterprise Calculator

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I recently read a conversation on the Vermont Sheep and Goat Association listserv on the topic of calculating a profitable lamb production enterprise.  Some producers hadn’t calculated their production costs, while others weren’t sure what market prices looked like.

For our lamb enterprise, I calculated our cost of production and then did a bit of research on comparable products.  Comparable products are lamb produced by other enterprise farms (farms where vegetable and animal enterprises make money, whether or not the farmer farms full-time or not).  Local lamb in grocery stores counts, but not imported lamb.  A quick google effort is all that is needed to see what other farmers are charging.  I then deducted my cost of raising lamb from the prevailing price, and calculated how many lambs I would need to raise to make the amount of money I would like to from my lamb efforts.  Lamb needs to pay about 2/3 of my annual income.

Predictably, I would need to charge much more for my lamb than the market would support to make something close to the median US income, but farm life has other benefits.   We breathe fresh air, eat local food, do enough work to avoid needing a gym membership, and we get to spend our time together.  It all comes down to what kind of lifestyle is enough.

I have a spreadsheet to share with any sheep raiser who needs a little help calculating the cost of raising their lamb.  This calculator is only as good as the accuracy of the numbers you have, so be honest with yourself about how much the lambs cost to keep.  If you are trying to calculate what it would cost to start a sheep operation, there are lots of resources online to help you estimate how much hay your sheep will eat and how much fencing might cost.

Download Your Lamb Enterprise Calculator

Please feel free to customize your copy with additional info pertinent to your farm and to share this resource.  I love writing a good spreadsheet, so this is my gift to you.  If the sheet that downloads has format problems for you, I am happy to send you a copy of the form in Google Drive – just get in touch with the form below:

 

 

 

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Cloverworks Farm in the Media

If you’ve ever ridden in the car with me, you probably know that I’m a bit of a public radio buff.  I am a huge fan of VPR, and particularly of Brave Little State, which is a podcast about questions about quirky Vermont topics.   Recently, a question I asked was featured on the program!

My question is answered on Brave Little State

Matt and I spent a lot of time driving all around the northeastern part of Vermont on our search for a suitable farm to buy.  We noticed Star Pudding Farm Road in Marshfield more than once, so I wanted to ask about it.  Turns out that the answer brought a tear to my eye because sometimes it feels like my farming efforts are rewarded with dining on wind pudding.

Our other major media effort is a new children’s book about lambs growing up on our farm.  April and May: Two Lambs at Cloverworks Farm tells the charming story of two lamb sisters who explore their surroundings, with educational commentary for adults to enjoy.  The book is appropriate for pre-readers and early readers.  Buy a copy through the link above, or come see us at the Craftsbury Farmer’s Market on Saturdays!

In other farm news, Mary Lake came to shear the lambs who aren’t slated for retention yesterday.  We got over 50 pounds of top quality fiber, so I am debating whether to have roving made or whether to hold out for more yarn….what do you think?

 

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On Farm Dinner

Join us on the farm for a dinner celebrating the harvest.  Craftsbury chef Nadav Mille will be preparing a tantalizing menu of foods using lamb from our farm and other local ingredients.  Chef Nadav’s cooking is vibrant with flavor and creativity – I sincerely hope you will consider joining us for this special evening.

If you can’t join us, we have plenty to lamb for sale!

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Doner Kebab

Have you ever experienced the magic that is a vertical stack of meat, slowly rotating and barbecuing, then shaved into a pita or flatbread with lettuce and sauce for eating?

I have.  In a perfect word, I would have a vertical Doner Kebab spit, but this is not a perfect world and I don’t tend to favor “unitasker” kitchen implements anyhow.

When I discovered the Spruce Eats “shortcut” Doner Kebab recipe, I was elated.  And friends, it works.  It’s not QUITE like the vertical spit kind, but it’s crispy and good and close enough to fill that void in my life.  And it’s so simple: in short, make a spiced lamb loaf, then finely slice and fry the slices.  Nothing elaborate needed, no special skills required.

Here are my lamb loaf slices, cooking up crisp.  I didn’t have good pitas available, so I just ate it on bread like a sandwich – delicious, nevertheless.

We have ground lamb available in all of our Lamb Boxes – order today and I’ll deliver as soon as I am in your area in NH, MA or VT.

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