Chores at 10F Below

We are in the midst of a pretty solid cold snap.   Nights have been below zero Fahrenheit, and some days have passed without the temperature hitting the positive side.  When your high is -10F, it’s a challenge to motivate.  On the coldest nights, the sheep even forget about their complex social order and just snuggle with anyone available, even a herdmate whom they’d butt away from the feeder under other circumstances.   We have blocked off some areas of the barn with haybales to reduce airflow and help maintain warmth.

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We are now filling waters by hand with five-gallon buckets.  It is too cold to use the hoses, but I am grateful that the frost-free pump has stayed true to its name.   Many mornings, the buckets show a solid ring of frost from water evaporation.  Some of the ewes like to eat snow on principle- a bit of a slap in the face for the person who slowly hauls 20 or 30 gallons of water into the barn twice a day!  All of that schlepping has helped me get the right amount of exercise for my foot, at least.

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Since we have  quite a bit of snow, I had to clean off the roof of the barn.  I use a standard roof rake, but instead of scraping the snow off the roof, I bump the underside of the barn cover.  The snow usually slides right off with a whiff-wump sound.    The sheep feel that this is terrible, even though they would probably agree that it is in their interests not to have the barn collapse from the weight of the snowload.  They wait out in the run area, avoiding the sound and motion.

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Some remaining ice-crusts on the other side of the fabric.

Cloverworks Farm

I am writing this on the morning when our first lamb of the year was born.   A healthy little girl who got up and nursed without assistance.  We didn’t have to pen them or anything.  She’s completely loveable, with classic pink ears.  She is a Border Leicester/BFL cross, so I’ll be keen to see how she grows up.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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The Problem with Sheep and Pickle

Matt and I are making steady progress in buying a property and establishing an enterprise on it.  We have 25 more sheep reserved, we have found a property we are hoping to buy, and we have much of what we need to begin making hay as soon as we see some promising-looking land.

 

There are a few less-tangible things that also need to change, though.  We are going to continue our wool enterprises, of course.  That a huge part of the joy of raising sheep!  But in order to sell 150 to 175 lambs each year, we are going to need to focus on selling meat a bit more intensively.   We need to sell it to people who don’t know us personally and don’t know what we do.

 

Having a farm called Sheep and Pickle Farm has been really fun, and most people seem to think it’s really cute.  But the invariable “Where’s the Pickles” questions plus the general weirdness of the name just won’t work in the broader marketplace.  I’ve been selling specialty food for about 7 years now, and I’m here to tell you that a good name and logo makes a real difference, especially in markets outside of Vermont.  Vermonters don’t care about slick marketing, but your label has to really yell to get attention in the crowded gourmet grocery stores of Boston.  Sheep and Pickle just won’t do that.  It also won’t tell people that our lamb is grass fed, that the breeds we raise are special, and about how much we care about the health and wellbeing of our flock.

 

So a new scale and a new venture demands that we rechristen this farm.  We are working on names that are unique, purposeful, wholesome, values-driven and just a bit cheeky.  Vermont has plenty of farm names that include trees (Maple Hill, Maple Grove, Maple Lane), adjective or verb – animal (Fat Toad, Fat Rooster, Does’ Leap, Turkey Hill).  Sheep puns are also pretty thoroughly claimed (Ewe and I, Ewe-who, Ewe Rock) and I want to make sure that our name would make sense if we were to branch out into raising turkeys or pigs.

 

We have a thought brewing right now, but I’m also open to other people’s ideas.  What catches your eye at the meat counter?  What colors stand out to you?  What annoys you about marketing?

 

I am eager to hear!

Baking a Cake for Peggy

Dear old Peggy lambed yesterday, on one of the coldest and most brutal days of the year.  I’ve been worried about Peggy for the last few weeks.   She has lost condition since shearing, despite being fed grain daily.  She’s old, and filling her massive udder took the last of her energy stores.  She looked much better in the fall.  It’s a lesson to me about why people cull ewes at age 8 or 9.  You might not know that she’s done until she’s really done.

In any case, after a few false alarms, Peggy really went into labor.  While I had feared all kinds of trouble, Peggy had her lambs like an old pro.   She lay down and squeezed them out, knowing exactly what to do.  Peggy is devoted to her lambs and pays full attention to all of their needs.  Sadly for Peggy, her estimation of her capacity to handle her lambs and mine differed.  Her black ewe seemed to be thriving, but her white ram was falling behind.

“Peggy – can I milk you and see if I can’t help your lamb along?”

” NO I’LL DO IT MYSELF”

So we argued, I milked her, fed the lamb, and the next thing I saw returning to the barn was that dang lamb finally finding her low-slung teats and nursing on his own.  I could swear she glared at me a little.

But on to the cake:

My sheep are total grain addicts, and even opening the passenger door to my truck sends them baaing and scrambling.  To feed just one shy sheep, I realized I’d need to offer a tasty, grainy treat that didn’t announce itself.  Taking some steel-cut oats, eggs, veggie oil, molasses salt, cornmeal and a touch of baking powder, I baked a cake designed to deliver calories, nutrition and a wealth of sheep-approved flavor.

Two sniffs convinced Peggy that she needed to eat this cake.  I put it on a flake of hay, and soon Peggy was digging deeply into her hay to clean up the crumbs.  Snuffle snuffle snuffle and she was done.

A rough recipe for sheep cake:

  • 3 cups of steel cut oats
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Bake at 350F in a lightly greased 9×13 pan for 25-30 minutes.

Lambs go Wild

Here’s a rundown on how the lambs are doing.

Born on 3/1, Summer and Morty are fat, sassy little brats.  No longer timid newborns, they bounce around the barn and annoy all of the pregnant ewes.   They are also milk-seeking guided missiles, trying to sneak a sip of milk from any ewe standing still.   They are healthy, happy, living-testaments to hybrid vigor.  Bobolink is a fabulous and attentive mother.

Little Moose gave us Sue Perkins and Gordon Ram-sey on 3/6.  Little Moose had Gordon first.  It was cold out, so I toweled him off straightaway.  She seemed alarmed and annoyed by his presence.  I was concerned that my assistance had put her off mothering, so when she had a second lamb, Matt and I decided to leave them be.  Little Moose lay there, lamb behind her, and lay, and lay, and didn’t turn around or look at her lamb.  Nothing.  I tried to milk her so that we could bottle-feed the lambs, but nothing let down.  If we were prepared with a headgate, we could have imprisoned Little Moose until she decided that being a mother was better than being in jail.   Without a headgate, we set Little Moose free and pulled out our supply of emergency colostrum.  The lambs are growing well, though the feeding every four hours is very wearing on Matt and I.  Matt has been so kind as to always do the 2am duty.  He’s a hero in my eyes.

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Little Moose’s bottle lambs, Sue Perkins and Gordon Ram-sey

Dalek had her lambs on 3/10.  Her girls, Dame Judi Densch and Dame Maggie Smith, are GIGANTIC monster lambs, at least 15 lbs each.  Judi, the black ewe, was a little dopey at first, but both got the hang of nursing on Day 1 and are now happily roaming the barn.  So excited that the BFL ewe lamb count is at three already with more registered ewes yet to lamb.

Then, this morning, Peggy went in to labor.  We had a false alarm earlier this week regarding Peggy, and I’ve been worried about her since the fall as she is so old now.  Lately, she’s become too thin.  I’ll write a bit more about how I’m intending to help Peggy later.

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Bobolink’s newborns
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Summer is full of beans
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Family portrait with Dalek
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Dalek’s babies staying warm

 

End of the Summer

 

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The ram lambs left on the 12th of the month, so the flock is down to the girls all dining in the Donkey Pasture, and the boys, banished to mow the lawn and subsist on shrubs in the periphery of the fields.   The guys were quite large when they left, and I’m looking forward to a goodly amount of Chorizo sausage in the near future.  You should be, too – let me know if you’d like some!

We sheared Fred and the ewe lambs on the 21st.  I am gradually getting better at shearing, though I’ve only done it assisted by some sheep-holder-downers.  With Phoebe, Matt and my parents involved, we were still not actually overstaffed for the project.  The first two sheep looked a little gnawed-on, but the second two looked great.  Now that I feel comfortable with the blade, I’ll work my way up to doing it mostly on my own!

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We had a good scare from little Fred.  We FAMACHA’ed all of the lambs, and his lower eyelids were WHITE.  I’m not sure if the recent rains gave him an extra large dose of worms or if he has lower innate resistance, but some giant doses of dewormer and some NutriDrench seem to have straightened him out.  I was pretty worried for the first day or so until he really brightened up.

While I’m going to start flushing the ewes (feeding increased nutrition to help stimulate large lambing rates), I am also starting my preparation for the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.  Because Michael is having knee surgery, it seems uncertain as to whether I’ll have raw wool or yarn to sell from the Cormos, but I’ll have some gorgeous, cuddle-able BFL on offer at the show in any case (unless it vanishes first- I sold a pound of it today!)

Even though having only three ram lambs for meat sales means that this year will be a wash financially, I’m still really thrilled to be poised for good lambing and a better showing next year.

 

MSWF Part III- Meet the Bluefaced Leicesters

It’s been four days since Beechtree’s Outlander (whom we’re calling the 4th Doctor after his long, dark, shaggy locks), Pitchfork 926 (Fred) and Pitchfork 882 (Little Moose) moved into the barn.  The grade Cormos are out in the fields, grazing.

The process of bringing home new sheep is like meeting new friends.  Right off the bat, it’s clear that The Doctor is a relaxed and confident guy.  He boldly approached and sniffed Matt and I as we sat with the flock the second evening after he arrived.   I’ve noticed that he likes to quietly walk behind me as I distribute hay, but he has not yet shown even a tidbit of aggression towards humans.

Lambs, on the other hand….he certainly doesn’t like those guys that much (until we led them away for halter-training, that is – then he missed them terribly!).  The Doctor butts the lambs away from the hay at almost every opportunity and makes it nearly impossible to feed them grain.  I keep finding solutions that work for one day, but then he figures out my trick the second time and gets more than his share.

Fred and Little Moose haven’t relaxed and shown their true colors yet.  I am confident, though, that a little grain and some TLC will help them calm down and relax.

I hate to admit it, but the difference in physical quality between these sheep and my Cormo X sheep is really astounding.  When Mom and I picked out the ewe, we were impressed with how hard it actually was to tell the ewes in the pen apart.  They were almost completely uniform in size and appearance.  Uniformity makes flock improvement much easier.  In my Cormo cross flock, I have long sheep, short-bodied sheep, tall sheep, stout sheep, lean sheep…it is impossible to choose a ram who can improve a trait in the offspring of one sheep without compromising a trait in the lambs of another.  The BFLs won’t have that problem.

I also already adore them.  Their gentle, deer-like looks and compliant natures already provide plenty of delight!

The BFLs will get their own website to focus on them and to market the flock.  They will be known as the Dorward Flock, after my grandpa, and will have marketing to fit their own, special niche at Sheep and Pickle Farm.

 

A Real Scare

I thought that Chickadee might choke to death.

I had taken the ewes out for a romp on the Wedding Meadow.  They aren’t allowed there after May, so I thought I’d let them have a few nibbles of it while their own pastures grow a little taller and greener.

The lambs decided to have a goodly romp, and they raced from ewe to ewe until they were all openly gasping for breath.  At 60 degrees, it’s warmer than they’ve ever experienced before.  The ewes ate and ate, and eventually the lambs settled down, too.

It was time to go in, so I put out some grain for everyone to lure them in.  I did not consider that one of the hay mangers was empty of hay, while the other had plenty.  When the lambs and adults came in, the ewes went straight to the hay-less manger to have an easier time getting grain.  That allowed the lambs free access to the grain in the other manger.

Shortly after the end of the dining session, Chickadee began coughing and staggering.  Her breathing was harsh and rapid, and I noticed goop coming out her mouth.  Her mother was baahing at her while the other sheep backed away.  I grabbed her and started knocking her  sides, trying to loosen the goo.  Her coughing worsened and she fought me, hard.  A big wad of goop flew out of her mouth.

She stopped fighting, but began panting hard in great distress.  I called the vet.  The same vet I called for Agnes.  Thankfully, one of their field vets was just driving by, so she was examining Chickadee only 20 minutes after the call.   The vet confirmed that Chickadee’s lungs are raspy and probably at risk of infection.  She’ll get some antibiotics for a week to help her heal.

Phew!

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