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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.

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Shearing 2020

Shearing!

We had the sheep shorn today. Though it feels early in the year, we know we need to have the sheep shorn before lambs are due. The forecasts calls for continuing mild weather, so we aren’t concerned about cold or wind for now. The ewes were eager to itch all of the itchy places they couldn’t reach beneath their fleece. We watched each of them craning their necks around to reach that One Spot and then shaking in relief.

Mary Lake at CanDoShearing shears our sheep. Mary and I have parallel sheep journeys. We were housemates back in 2012 and 2013. She had just finished an internship on a sheep farm when I was in the middle of my goat-milking years. We were both struggling doing hard jobs under challenging circumstances. Mary has always been helpful and deeply honest about my sheepraising, so it felt wonderful to be able to show her a flock of healthy, chubby ewes with great wool. I am endlessly grateful to Mary’s patience and wisdom through all of these years.

Enjoy these naked ladies prancing around on our farm! We were thrilled to see how plump and ready for lambs our flock is. 51 sheep shorn today – the only ones still wearing wool are the Two Old Ladies – we think they’ll do better with a bit more wool on.

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Winter Chores

We have arrived successfully at the quietest time of year.  The ewes are eating and gestating, quietly growing and waiting.  The rams have calmed down and decided to get along again.IMG_20191226_105829

Every morning, I put on my coat, hat and gloves and head to the barn.  The ewes are eager to see me.  They have picked at the caged round bales all night and need me to remove some of the wasted stems so they can get to the good stuff again.  We have three feeders so that everyone can have a fair shake at eating without waiting for more dominant ewes to fill up.  With three 600 lb bales in the barn at a time, we don’t even have to feed the sheep daily.

Sometimes, Louise the Kitty decides to explore the barn.  In the summer, it’s one of her favorite places to hang out because there is shade but no sheep.  Though I have seen many photos of cats and sheep cohabitating happily, my cats and my sheep are more adversarial.  Louise attracts sheep attention and gets assaulted by noses within moments of arriving.  I had to rescue her, much to her chagrin because she hates being picked up and carried.  I bet she would hate being sniffled to death more.

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In sunny weather, the ewes use their loafing area to sunbathe and to scheme about how to bust the fencing apart so they can go eat fallen apples.  They were out under the apple tree when we came home from our Christmas visit to my sister and her family.  It’s embarrassing to admit that we are somewhat losing this intellectual arms-race with the sheep.  If the land beneath the loafing area were permiable, we would put in some posts and be done with it.  Since the land is quite hard and compacted, we have to make some alternate plans.  The ewes know that the green alpaca panels can be rubbed until one lifts out of the linkage with the other.  We solved that temporarily by pinning the linkages together, but the ewes have found that they can reorient the fencing and defeat the pins.  Frustrating.

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Pregnancy Checks and some Updates

With temperatures in the low single digits today, we are surely in the thick of winter.  Last week, we finally received the replacement barn-ends that we ordered after the back of the barn tore in half during the Halloween storm.  Unfortunately, Matt and I concluded that we won’t actually complete the repairs until spring.  Neither of us want to battle stiff, uncooperative materials in terrible weather while the barn is filled with pregnant sheep.

Speaking of pregnant sheep, our vet Dr. Emily came out yesterday to ultrasound each of our ewes to check for pregnancy.  The news was mostly good- lots of multiples, ewes look generally healthy, and we even have a few pregnant ewe lambs!   We sent each ewe through the chute for a fairly low-stress exam.  It was a perfect opportunity to check on some of the ewes who are skillful at avoiding us under most circumstances.  I am so pleased with how chubby and healthy most of the flock is.  I really feel like I have that aspect under control at the moment.  I think the biggest factor is that Matt made all of our hay this year, and the ewes eat it with great gusto.

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I hold a sheep, Dr. Emily scans, assistant Allison evaluates

On the downside, we do have three open adult ewes.  Ewe lambs get a pass on not breeding their first year, but 1616, Beth and Eilis all scanned empty, much to my disappointment.  Sadly, we are reasonably sure that Eilis is dying, so we are preparing to euthanize her soon.  Two vets, endless exams and many treatments have all yielded no improvement in her condition.  Dr. Emily and her former owner agree that cancer is not unlikely.  I am so, so heartbroken that after all of the TLC we provided to Eilis, we have no offspring from her or from her sister, Beth.  Beth has been fat and healthy the whole time, but just won’t settle a pregnancy.  We are blood-testing her for a final chance that maybe her pregnancy could have been missed, but I am not holding my breath.

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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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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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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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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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Summer Arrives

Summer arrives to find the bobolinks have fledged from our neighbor’s hayfield.   Three streaky brown birds making little plink calls were flitting and bouncing around the pasture I set up for the sheep.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide habitat to this struggling species.

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We are so close to weaning time.  I know the ewes are ready to send their lambs off on their own for a while.  Some have probably already weaned their babies without my help.  For others,  it’s adorable yet concerning to see lambs who are nearly the same size as their mothers still nursing.  The ewes need pedicures and a spa treatment (or hoof trimming and some Selenium supplementation, depending on your perspective).

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We have two especially naughty lambs who have figured out how to slip under the electric fence.  They taunt the other lambs by eating the grass I am saving for later meals.  Sadly, one is a ewe lamb that I would have considered keeping, but I don’t really need troublemakers.  Worse, in the process of slipping out, the lambs have occasionally knocked down the fence and allowed other sheep to escape.  We do not want loose sheep in roads and on neighbor’s land.

Our haying efforts have produced 75 round bales so far.  We have several more fields waiting for first-cutting, but Matt is struggling with equipment breaking down.  First, the round baler wasn’t operating smoothly, so he needed to adjust the tension on the belts that roll the hay into a snowball.  Then, one of the bearings on the new mower seized, causing extensive damage to a part that is no longer made.  Good thing Matt is a decent welder.  He’ll need to replace the gnawed-off metal with in-fill, and then use a lathe to make it smooth and round again.  Yeesh.

I have learned how to rake the hay into windrows that the baler then scoops up and rolls.  There is a satisfying rhythm to it, like mowing the lawn.  Would you like to know more about how hay is made?  I’ve been debating whether or not to write a post explaining hay, so let me know if an explainer would be useful for you.

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The Yarn is Here

Most years, I have sent my wool to the mill with the expectation that my yarn might come back just a few weeks before the festivals I regularly attend.  Usually, that was just enough time to count it and dye it while Mom might knit a sample or two.

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This year is different.  Our mill, Battenkill Fiber, has a different reservation system that allows me to place my wool earlier in the queue by making an earlier deposit.  This saves me a lot of stress and hassle in the fall; a time of year when I am busy with lambs and farmer’s markets as well as yarn.

Our yarn came out wonderfully, once again.  The Border Leicester wool we sent in became our Derby Line Sport-Weight yarn.   We also sent our BFL to the mill and got back stunning, drapey, glossy fingering-weight yarn.  It’s all dyed up, but I haven’t gotten it into the online store yet.  Ditto for some hat kits we will be offering- there’s lots to look forward to!

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As you read about in The Reality of Yarn,  getting the yarn off of the cones and into skeins took a lot of time and patience.  Choosing colors and dyeing the yarn relies a bit more on some of my experience.  I took careful note of which colors appealed to people and which ones just sat.  I really like orange, but I’ve eased-up on orange a bit this year in the Derby Line.  I have also made more solid shades and fewer semi-solid.   I did choose to make semi-solids and multicolor yarn with the BFL.  It was BORN to be an art-shawl, cowl or scarf, so having an art yarn is more appropriate.    Overall, I am pleased with the palette I’ve made and eager to see how customers receive it!

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The BFL yarn – freshly dyed and now drying out.

I admit that I am a bit selfish about dyeing the yarn.   Even though it would be a potentially fun group activity, I hoard it for myself.  Dyeing is the one place where I can do a bit of artwork in a profession that is otherwise mostly physical, so I make an afternoon of it with the radio on, a glass of wine, and a drawerful of powerful dyes and my dedicated pots.  I hope that my creative outlet will be your crafting inspiration!