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Sheep for Sale

I have two BFL ram lambs and three Border Leicester ewe lambs available!

Dorward Highlander is a BFL ram with all the right stuff.  He has lovely wool, great length and perfect blue coloration.  His lines are Pitchfork and Magic, tracing back to Myfyrian Trueblue, Llwygy Black Mountain and Beechtree Bruce’s Stone.  $500.

I also have Dorward Chieftain, smaller than Highlander but born a twin and handsome in his own right.  He is registered and would be perfect for crossbreeding into a fiber flock.  His coloration and wool are both perfect.  $400

I also have three lovely Border Leicester ewes available.  All three are white with good coloration and lovely Border fleece  They are registered.  Hardy and friendly, these ewes would make a perfect starter flock.  $300 each.

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Berry Picking

Many days leave me feeling utterly spoiled.  Even with a huge bruise on my leg from handling a lamb who didn’t want to be medicated and scratches on my arms from moving through rough brush, I feel like the most fortunate person alive.

After a long day of work, I took a moment to walk slowly around my property, gathering berries.  Black raspberry season is just wrapping up – I was able to find about a cup of sweet, crunchy berries on my walk.  We do not have a large population of true blackberries with their vicious thorns and inevitable large spiders (what is it with the large spiders in the blackberry patches?).  Black raspberries are my favorite for saving for later.  In the depths of winter when nothing is in season, they are my go-to for a milkshake to boost my vitamin levels and shake the blues a bit.

I also found a few raspberries.  We have raspberries near the murderbarn.  I am not sure if they were intentionally planted or if they are wild volunteers, but the berries are not as sweet as I would like.  I only located and picked a few.

Our apple crop is out-of-control this year.  Our property contains dozens of old, shaggy apple trees dotted with mealy, dry, feral apples.  Only one tree produces tasty fruit, so I watch that tree carefully.  Last year was an off year, with only a few apples on the good tree.  This year, the tree is weighted with the bulk of crisp, lovely apples.  I’m already digging up that apple chutney recipe that was so delicious.

Our land does not support blueberries, which need a very acidic soil.  I am spoiled, again, from having access to wild mountain blueberries back in New Hampshire, where I grew up.  Planting cultivated ones doesn’t really appeal to me.  To me, cultivated blueberries are sour, not sweet, and lack the rich flavor of the wild-type berries.  So I will go to New Hampshire for blueberries and leave the cultivated ones for others to enjoy.

We do, however, have gooseberries.  I don’t recall the gooseberries fruiting before this year, but we have quite a few plants.  Anyone know what to do with these weird, blandish berries?  They have a texture like a kiwi and a bland sweet/tart flavor.  I’m open to ideas!

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A Trip to the Museum

If you know me in real life, you’re probably aware that I am pretty nerdy.  So a day trip to a local historical society and museum was just the thing to share with Matt and my mom.  We decided to check out Old Stone House Day at the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington, VT.

Much of the grounds was given over to a farmer’s market, pie auction and activities for children.  We rapidly found our way to the historical agricultural tools barn, where we looked at an old sheep-powered treatmill for small tasks like churning butter or running other simple devices.  We learned that there were once many more sheep in Orleans County – hard to imagine now, as there are only a few large sheep farms in this area.

Here are some pictures from our day at the museum that I found particularly compelling:

This cutie was my first stop, for obvious reasons.  Not sure if I petted Danny or Mr. Wrinkles, but these two chill guys were taking it easy under a shade tree.  Touching their wool, I am brought straight back to why I abandoned my efforts to raise finewool sheep in Vermont.  They both had damage to the wool on their backs from our humid climate.

 

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This picture speaks for itself regarding changes to the farming economy in Vermont.  Whether you support conventional dairy farming or not, the farming infrastructure that comes with it is vital to the success of all of the small farms in the state.  We lost another 10% of our dairy farms in 2018 due to milk prices again lingering below the cost of production.

For those who care about this particular opinion, Ben & Jerry’s was MUCH better ice cream before Unilever bought them.  It hurts to see the chain of consolidation moving on up.  Jasper Hill and Vermont Creamery (dealing in goat’s milk, owned by Land’O’Lakes) are doing the same thing with the cheese market.

Here is the display on wool from the museum.  Under the sign, there was a picture of a UK-style Border Leicester.

 

 

Of note to longtime readers – if you recall two years ago when we were hunting for a home to buy to use as a farm, we almost bought a property in Brownington, only a mile or so from the museum.  We drove by the home we had considered buying, only to find the 1810-era farmhouse torn down and replaced with a modern home and a horse barn for pleasure-horses.  Such a loss, though small in the grand scheme, is nevertheless a blow to valuable agricultural land and to preservation of historic homes.   It was sad to see.

 

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My Favorite Follows

After a long day in the fields, I admit that I am as inclined to scroll through Social Media as anyone.  I saw a blog post on State 14 recently recommending some good Vermont farms to follow.  I thought I would add some of my own favorite accounts that I follow:

therunningshepherdess – Amazing photos and views of sheep farming in the UK.  This account has a great sense of humor, too.  I will look at pretty sheep faces all day

wingandaprayerfarm – Tammy inspires me to make my posts sharper and more interactive.  Her lovely yarn and darling sheep remind me to lay off the shoptalk in my feed and focus on the beauty of sheep farming for my audience.  She also inspires me to bake more pies, because hers look incredibly delicious.

vtgrandviewfarm – Kim’s natural color palette and exquisite taste reminds me to think more openly about the texture possibilities of my yarn.  I am also grateful for her beginning shepherd series. Her expertise in sheep-keeping will be invaluable for new shepherds and the sheep-curious

nepalikitchenvt – This is my favorite restaurant, period.  Started by refugees who are also community organizers, the food is fantastic and the community is fantastic.

huckleberryknits – In a phrase, “Yarn Porn.”  So much beautifully-dyed yarn and inspired design

grassfatfarm – I love the name and I love this diversified, regenerative farm in Kentucky.  For folks who love meat and want to see animals raised with love and care, I highly recommend this account.

thefeltedgnome – Susi is a local fiber artist who does incredible work.  The eyes of her animals and fairies look so alive.  I don’t know her secrets but I know that I’m always excited to see what she’s concocting next.

dotranch– An insightful feed from a sheep farmer who is indigenous, a veteran and a mother of an autistic son.  She raises Navajo Churro sheep and advocates for farming and for Native cultures.  I am waiting for her to decide to write a book, but for now, I eagerly read every post.

porkbellyuptothebar – I want to live this person’s life.  This is an account full of delicious, creative restaurant food.

archwayfarm – After I left my hometown of Keene, NH, a local pig farm sprang up!  Enjoy these charming pigs and piglets in this thoughtfully-curated feed.

And be sure to follow our accounts, cloverworksfarm (sheep and yarn) and cloverworksfarmkitchen (lamb and cuisine) if you don’t already!

 

 

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Our BFL Yarn is Here

I am so happy with the BFL yarn that came back from Battenkill Fibers this year.

In past years, our BFL clip has been too small for me to send it to a mill.  Bluefaced Leicesters are bred to have light fleeces.  In the UK, this was done with the idea of reducing the fleecy bulk of Cheviots and Scottish Blackface ewes.  The ewes from these crossbreedings are known as mules, and they are famous for having better wool and more lambs than their mountain dams, but more fleece and ruggedness than their BFL sires.

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We just love our BFL sheep!  Here, Sally gets all of the petting she wants from farmer Matt.

In the US, where BFLs are not used as much for creating mule ewes, the small fiber clip is a bit of an issue for mill processing, which requires minimum amounts.  This year, with 17 adult ewes contributing, we finally have plenty of lovely yarn to sell.

The yarn itself is something else.  I have never had yarn so smooth, shimmery and soft, while not being ropey or hard at all.  I love how it shows off the dye efforts I’ve made.  It’s easy to envision this yarn as a luxury shawl or treasured scarf.  Slouchy hats would also be a great use for it.  I’m not saying that your BFL socks won’t stay up, but I am saying that this yarn deserves to be used doing what it does best, which is draping beautifully without pilling.  I chose colors that I thought would lend life and interest to single-color projects, though the colors complement each other well, too.

Our BFL yarn is fingering weight, 200 yards per skein.  

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Cloverworks Farm Greensboro Bend Yarn

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Riblets

Raise your hand if you like Barbecue.

Alright…

Raise your hand if you like the crispy parts where the sauce and the fat melt into tasty meat.  Is that your favorite bit?  Would you nibble on bones all day?

Congrats, you are my barbecue twin.  Because that’s my favorite bit.  I’m all about texture in food, and the crispy/juicy contrast has to be my favorite.

Cue the Lamb Riblet.

I dry-rubbed some of my lamb riblets with Memphis Dust and cooked them at a low temperature on our Weber kettle grill for 3 hours.  I probably should have stopped at 2.5 hours- they were a little overcooked in spots.  The meat had a rich pink smoke-ring and the fat was well-rendered.  I love that unlike pork, which is kind of a neutral flavor substrate, lamb tastes lamby no matter what.   I paired it with a sour beer that broke up the unctuous fattiness nicely.

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Instructions for cooking riblets vary a great deal depending on your grill or oven setup.  I recommend amazingribs.com for real, tested recipes.  Don’t let the shouty, blinky nature of the site fool you- I promise it is the real thing for food science-based recommendations and techniques for making great barbecue on any kind of grill.

We have 18 more sets of riblets, so get some for your next barbecue at the next Craftsbury Farmer’s Market!

 

 

 

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Something Genuine

Every morning, I step outside and pause at the blackberry bushes growing by the deck.  I pick all of the ripe berries I can find, relishing each one.   Anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen fresh berries greet me each morning.  It feels like an ad for something low in calories.  Sunshine warms my hair and a bit of sweat starts to trickle.  I know I am going to roast in the sun today, but I don’t mind.

Fresh out of school, before I started farming, I remember how much time I spent walking on hard concrete, rushing to get to my office chair and longingly gazing out through a slim window at a tree by the street near my building.   I felt badly for folks out working in all weather, but at the same time, I yearned for more physical activity, less sitting, more action.

I think about this when visitors at the farmer’s market ask about sheep farming.  I think that visitors to my booth assume that I’ve been farming my whole life.  Since many who farm are following in family footsteps, that’s natural.  There’s not a concise way to express that I gave up my feeble efforts at climbing up a career ladder because I wanted to be outside, moving.

Farm work offers a different set of tradeoffs versus office jobs – I’m never restless and I’m seldom bored, but sometimes I am frustrated or exhausted by animals or economics.  Sheep as coworkers are not always direct communicators and don’t readily ask for help.  Nevertheless, they never gossip and they seldom take my lunch out of the fridge.   Working with Matt also brings an incredible intimacy of teamwork and additional challenges of being so fully in each other’s space at all times.

It’s the same as any work that takes place in all weather- there are good days and bad.  Sometimes I am soaked to the bone, but I never again yearn to sit in an office wishing the sun were shining on me.

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Summer Goes On

The days are slightly shorter as July passes into August.  The grass is growing more slowly now, but the sheep don’t seem to mind as the ewes regain weight and the lambs slowly grow up.

Our fence-diving ewe lamb left on the trailer with other lambs who had reached finished size.   We still have one escaper, but the lambs are away from the road and I no longer worry about this all of the time.  In fact, we’ve really cut down on the number of sheep break-outs.  The lambs are in an area with plenty of shade and interesting terrain to explore.

We have sold all of the BFL ewe lambs we intend to sell this year.   We have two handsome ram lambs who would be great choices for BFL flocks.

The ewes have been feeling sedate lately.  This is their “me time”, in a way- no lambs to look after, not pregnant, just eating and sleeping and socializing.  All of the ewes that I have worried about all year have stabilized – Eilis looks well, 107 who had grown rather thin is plumping back up, our oldest ewes K and J are still thriving.  I am so grateful for their health and wellbeing.

I have a few interesting items in the works:

  • We are making dog treats from all of our unsold lamb liver.  Stay tuned for more liver treats.
  • Our first batch of lambs will come back soon.  If you would like a lamb box, let me know – I can deliver anywhere in Vermont as long as you don’t mind me coming on my schedule.
  • My BFL yarn is ready – stay tuned for more yarn online!
  • We will have lots of pelts this year and next.  Pelts are a great gift, but spoiling yourself a little is important, too.
  • We offer farm tours!  If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to visit, now is the time.  We would love to have you.

 

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Lamb Frustration

This year, I have a few naughty lambs.

Border Leicester #125, who is a really pretty ewe lamb, and her sidekick Border Leicester #151 persistently wiggle their way out of our electric fencing.  Sometimes, Border Leicester #122 joins in.

For a while, it really was my fault.  We only had a 1 joule charger on a large amount of fence, and the charge simply wasn’t hot enough.  Worse, we were using some old, slightly droopy netting that was easy for lambs to slip beneath.  I could watch them slide their little Roman noses under the wires and then shuffle under, awkwardly.  Sometimes, a lamb would inadvertently pull the fence out of the ground while shimmying, releasing the rest of the flock.  Having your sheep at-large will ruin your reputation in the neighborhood pretty quickly.  We needed to take action.

Then the arms race began.  We bought a hotter charger with twice as much power.  Still, 125 and 151 would sneak out.  We stopped using the older fence and even bought $600 worth of new fence.  Still, 125 and 151 were out-of-bounds somehow.

So at weaning, I went nuclear.  We are fortunate to have a neighbor’s hard-fenced horse-pasture available.  We tightened up that fence and then deposited the weaned lambs in there.  After a hard day of lamb separation, we were keen to prevent the lambs from escaping and running off to find their mothers.  Every possible escape-route was blocked and bolstered.

Yet still, this morning, the lambs are loose.  They knocked down some of the fencing in the process of escaping – fortunately, the main group of lambs was well-behaved and did not try to escape.

So our new policy is that those lambs are just “out”.  They are out, at risk of being eaten by coyotes, but they are not putting the main flock at risk.  They’ll also be on the first trailer out of here.  I am so, so frustrated at being outsmarted by two five-month-old lambs!  Unbelievable.

Some images of our at-large delegation:

 

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They are quite a ways from home, so I drive if I am carrying something large.
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Good lambs to the left, naughties to the right.
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Trying not to show their faces.

 

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How Haying Works

By request, here’s a basic primer on how haying works!

First, some definitions:

Hay is grass and grass stems that animals eat.  It’s cut from fields that could also serve as pasture.  Correctly made, hay provides most or all of the nutrients an animal needs to survive the winter.  The best hay is greenish in color.  Whether fresh or in hay, the leaves of the grass provide the nutrition, while stalks and stems are roughage that animals often avoid eating.

Straw is the leftover stalk after a grain is harvested.  Oat straw and wheat straw are the yellowed, leftover stalks that the seedheads we know as oats and wheat grew on, respectively.  Straw is not a nutritious or complete ration for animals.

Silage is any crop that is stored in an anaerobic environment, effectively “pickled” for animal feed.  Commonly, corn is used as silage.  Corn growing at your local dairy farm isn’t palatable for people, but when the whole stalk is ground up and ensiled, cattle love it!  Corn silage is not safe for sheep, but Haylage, which is hay that is wrapped and slightly pickled is good feed for sheep.  Haylage and silage both require special storage to prevent pathogens that can cause catastrophic illness.

In all of the climates that have a dry season or deep snows, animals need some kind of forage for the period of time when grass is unavailable.  Winter forage production (both hay and root crops like mangels) and storage governed how many breeding animals could be overwintered, both before mechanization and now.  There was no use keeping an extra cow if she was just going to starve in March, so farmers took winter feed calculation seriously.

Making hay requires ripe grass and dry weather.  Ripe grass is a whole separate treatise, but a simple rule of thumb is that leafy species should have three leaves, and grass is best before the plants in the pasture go to seed.

Prior to mechanization, farmers cut hay with a scythe.  An efficient scythe operator might cut a couple of acres of hay in a day.   Without weather reports, farmers had to trust their wisdom and experience to predict the likelihood of 3-4 days of good dry weather.

Once the hay was cut, it needed to be raked up into windrows (long, linear piles) and then raked out again.  This ensures that the hay dries evenly, preventing damp spots that could rot your hay (and even cause fires) and excessive drying.  Hay that is too dry will crumble to dust during the baling process and be lost.

Before mechanization, hay was stored in stacks.  Most of us have seen childish renditions of farming where there are yellow haystacks everywhere.  That cultural idea is a relic from before the invention of baled hay.  Creating a haystack is a special skill that has all but vanished, though it is discussed in the book Far From the Madding Crowd, incidentally, a worthwhile read for anyone interested in historical sheepraising.

After two days of drying, with sessions of raking hay to spread it out and then raking it into windrows, modern hay is baled.  Bales are a nice, portable format to move hay around the farm to the animals that need it.

Three types of bales are common – small square bales, large square bales, and large round bales.  In the Northeast, small squares and large rounds are most common.

Small squares are probably what you are picturing if someone says the words “Bale of Hay”.  They are usually about 3/4 feet long, 18 inches wide, weigh about 35-45 pounds, and are easy to move with a bit of muscle.  We used this format of bale before we began making our own hay.  It was easy to load some in the bed of the truck, drive them to our farm and gradually feed them to the sheep.  For about 10 ewes, small squares were perfect.

However, when you start to manage large numbers of sheep, small bales become exhausting and impractical.  Back during my years working on a goat farm, we would feed upwards of 12-15 square bales a day for five to six months.  That’s a lot of bale-schlepping!  For my comparable numbers of ewes, we feed two round bales every other day.  Much less work for us since we have the tractors to do the heavy lifting for us.  We wrap our round bales in plastic to make those “marshmallow” bales you commonly see.  Not ideal, obviously, so we are looking for solutions that are better for the earth but ideally don’t require an enormous barn to store the bales.  We wrap the bales to protect them from damaging water, which can destroy a hay bale completely.

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For people interested in making hay, there are a wide variety of equipment options that cater to larger and smaller scales, different kinds of terrain, and personal preference.

We have two tractors, a 27 Horsepower Ford 1720 and an 80 Horsepower Zetor Major 80.  The Ford can power everything except our large mower and our baler.  The Zetor does those larger efforts, plus tough jobs like moving bales around and doing barn cleanout.

This is our smaller mower for small fields.  We have two drum mowers, one for small fields and one better suited to large fields.

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The drum mower spins at high speed, allowing small cutters to cut the grass evenly.  We prefer this mower to a disc mower because hitting a rock is less potentially catastrophic with this design.

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This is our side-delivery rake.  It’s a basic old rake – try to picture the two discs turning, causing a motion that always directs the grass leftward.  It neatly sweeps the cut grass into windrows.  I learned how to rake recently and I have to say that I enjoy the work.

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This is our tedder.  It is in a folded-up position right now – in operation, the spinning circles are in a line perpendicular to the tractor.  The tines on spinning circles pick up the mown hay and fluff it around, allowing it to dry evenly and breaking up clumps.

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