Fiber and More Lambs

I thought you all might appreciate some bonus photos of the lambs in the barn.  Every time I got to do some chores, they are up to something silly:

Lambs pestering…
More lambs pestering…
You can’t blame a ewe for retaliating!


Ewe friendships warm my heart.
Lambs cuddle up for warmth.
Ewe and her twin lambs, cuddling
Family time!

But sheep-raising as a living is more than just cute critters.  I’ve been working through pounds and pounds of wool from shearing.  We sent 40 pounds of raw wool to two different mills, hoping to see which will make the yarn we like the best.   Most will be white Border Leicester yarn, with some natural colored Border yarn and some CormoX, too!

My usual approach is to categorize wool into four piles: the cleanest wool goes for raw Handspinning fleece.   Acceptable but not ultra-clean wool goes to the mill.  Wool that is too dirty for the mill will be hand-picked and hand-combed by me until it will make a good batt or roving.  And finally, if I can’t clean it or if it is britch or belly wool, it goes to compost.  I’m pretty picky, so we also have 30 pounds of wool in the compost category.

I’ve been madly cleaning and carding, resulting in lots of lovely batts.  YouTube has given me a few tips, so stand by for some roving!  I am especially excited to try the techniques.  So far, the Bluefaced Leicester is clearly much softer than the Border Leicester, but both are lovely and will be a joy to spin.  The Border Leicester has finally showed me its beautiful luster!  My picture of the natural Bluefaced Leicester Batts isn’t completely true-to-color – the wool is a rich coffee-bean brown with gray highlights.

I hope you will take a moment to check out the shop to see our array of wool products!

Wool drying by the fiber- it’s getting crowded in here!

Border Leicester ID

We have 10 lambs on the ground and we’re waiting for more.  With all of the girls pregnant and rather waddly, I took the opportunity to tackle a long overdue project: Identify my Border Leicesters and put names to faces.

Sue Johnson sold me 14 lovely prime-age Borders- 5 black and 9 white.  One of the white ones succumbed to an irreparable leg injury, leaving 8 white ewes.   The ewes have small flock-tags with four numbers, and round, white USDA Scrapie tags.  The issue is that the flock tags are small and the scrapie tags are grubby.  Some ewes are missing their flock tags altogether.  This flock is pedigreed and registered, so I wanted to figure out which sheep needed replacement flock tags and how I might keep track of the new tags.

Sheep move quickly and though the flock has calmed down considerably since the week when we tried to get them into the barn, most still won’t let me get within 4 feet of their ears so I can read dirty tags.   Nevertheless, I was able to determine that I had 7/8 white Border Leicesters that I should have.  But I also had a mystery.  I had a ewe on hand tagged as 1620, but she wasn’t on the purchase list.  I also had no sign of ewe 2507, even after matching the scrapie tags all up.  I let Sue know, and we soon realized that she had accidentally sent me the wrong sheep.  She was embarrassed to have mis-loaded a ewe, and I was embarrassed to have not known for six months, so we called it even and had a good laugh.

Here are some photos from my ewe-ID adventures:

A perfect illustration of the challenges of photographing sheep’s ears- This photo is blurry, there is wool blocking the tag, and the camera has washed out the tag completely trying to capture the brownness of the brown!
This picture is a successful one, believe it or not!  This is ewe VT13-256, if you can’t tell.  She has no 4-digit flock tag, but she is ewe 1411, age 3, and as big as an aircraft carrier.
And here is the the mystery ewe!  1620, whom I photographed as she lay by her lambs.
Lots of photos like this from friendlier ewes.  This is no help to naming this gal!


Here is the sales slip to match names, registrations and numbers.  Registered ewes have a faint “R” and black ones a faint “B”

I have a bit more to say about Sue Johnson’s flock:  She has many more sheep to sell as she downsizes to a more manageable flock size.   These sheep are really fine animals and are perfect for flocks managed as an enterprise.  They have desirable wool and grow out large (Sue had some ram lambs dress out at 70 lbs!).   Too many Vermont sheep farms lose money because they raise breeds that finish too small, making it challenging to recoup the cost of slaughter with just 35 lbs of meat.   These Border Leicesters are productive and very easy to care for.  They have sweet personalities and jolly little faces.

We would like to find someone who would like 10 or more and who would keep them purebred for both meat and wool traits.  Sue has provided me with helpful mentorship.    With another nearby farm with similar goals, it would be much easier to justify bringing expensive but high-quality rams from flocks across the country.

Could you be the shepherd for this flock?  Get in touch:



A Thaw

Yesterday, our high temperature was 45F.  Today, we hit 63F with bright sunshine.    That’s pretty toasty-warm for February!

Predictably, this shrank our snowpack from about a foot to mere inches with large bare spots.  We’ve lost snow in all of the locations where the sun shines directly and where the wind doesn’t bank the snow.   The road also thawed, so the sound of dripping and flowing water was punctuated with the sound of the grader and dumptrucks struggling to keep Creek Road passable.


I took the opportunity to walk around the land as much as I could.  I am interested in seeing what areas thaw and dry first.  I also need to familiarize myself with the wettest areas so I can plan to exclude the sheep from those areas as long as necessary.  I noted that water flows from the uphill side of the road, under the culvert, and across our land.  It was rushing down the swale area and bouncing down the hill into the wooded area that we’d most like to clear for additional pasture.  Good to know.



We also have a gentle stream that flows from our spring down to the little kettle where one of the sheep got trapped last year.  The water here is flowing more slowly- I’m guessing this will stay wet longer than any other area.

As the day went on, the sunshine turned to a drizzly rain.  I have been walking up and down the road trying to increase the numbers of steps I take each day to help prepare my foot for the busy season.   I noticed areas of deep, squelching mud.   Trucks coming by me weren’t outpacing my walking by much and struggled not to lose momentum on the extra-deep parts.

So it was no surprise when we noticed stationery headlights on the road.  Matt took the Ford tractor out to have a look.  He came back saying that some travelers from Massachusetts in a 4wd CR-V were stuck in the road.  Matt was able to help them move their car back to pavement.  We expect that the spring will furnish more such experiences as it comes.



Animal Welfare Approved

Cloverworks Farm is pleased to announce that our farm is now Animal Welfare Approved!  We are excited to join the program and proud that we’ve been able to meet their requirements.  We were granted a derogation to continue long-docking tails for breeding ewes.  It feels good to have recognition of our humane efforts in not castrating or docking rams or non-breeding stock ewes.

New AWA LOGO Final Small

Some local farmers are a little nervous about “Claim Proliferation” on labels.  Claims like “Gluten Free” on fresh celery and “Farm Grown” on Lay’s Potato Chips (as opposed to wild caught?) are rankling some consumers.  But the more I talk to people outside of our farming community, the more I realize how much we do need to communicate these facts that feel obvious to us.  When I am not talking to the consumer directly, labels like Animal Welfare Approved convey the information I need to share.  I want buyers in New York or Boston to know that my lambs were raised to the highest standards of welfare.

Learn more about AWA’s standards for sheep welfare.


Taking a Walk Through the Fields

From our vantagepoint, we can clearly see the expanse of all of our fields.  I noticed that we have many tracks going across the fields, so I thought I’d have a look.

After the thaw last week, the snow as a perfect weight-bearing crust.  We can walk with ease across all of our land.  Atop the crust is the lightest dusting of snow, the perfect medium for tracks.    Even better, our land never lacks for a slight breeze, so it is very evident which tracks are one or two days old.  After that, they are fully obscured.

The tracks I followed, with a size medium glove for scale.

Yesterday, I noted some tracks coming from the northwest of the property.  Two canid tracks, heading southwest.  I followed them, intent to determine if the tracks were dog or coy-wolf.  I would much rather they were coy-wolf tracks than loose dogs, as we’ve already dealt with enough dogs for a lifetime.   Coy-wolves are possibly more dangerous to the sheep, but are predictable in their behavior.  The tracks beelined to a brushy area and then sniffed around there.  A urine mark was evident beside a tall clump of grass and then the tracks proceeded south-southeast.

Following along, I could see that the dog/coywolf tracks took an interest in some deer tracks.  I took an interest in the deer tracks, too.  Following their trails, I came upon two deer beds.  Notice the perfect leg-prints.  The deer have kept to the field edges, wandering around where stray, ancient apple trees drop a few fruit.  Seeing them, I thought I’d give some of our apple trees a shake to let down some of the remaining hanging apples.

A deer bed.

Rejoining the canine tracks, I continued to observe their straight trajectory.  More and more suggestive of coywolf-tracks.   Finally, a scat and a urine spot told me that this was a female, subsisting on fuzzy animals based on the grey fur evident in the scat.  Some internet friends were already thinking coywolf.  The couple left the property at the middle of the south boundary.  I’m glad we were able to identify the species.  I know to have an eye out for trouble now.

Friends, I give you: A Coyote or Coy-wolf Butt-print with a tail drag.

Other tracks observed on the property include turkey, rabbit, various little scurriers, and the small wingbeats of a bluejay near the chicken coop.   I’m looking forward to taking more walks and learning more about the animal activities happening on our land.

Turkey, two ways.


A wee little hopping bird on our deck.



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.

Cloverworks Farm

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.

Cloverworks Farm

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.

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.



Now that I’m back on my feet more, choretime is a bigger proportion of my day.


In the morning, I first check the status of the bales we are feeding.  Right now, we are feeding some mediocre first-cut hay, so we give the sheep pretty free-access to their chow.   While they eat, I have the opportunity to look at them closely.  Some of the older ewes show their pregnancy quite plainly, with sagging tummies and udders just starting to bloom.  Others, especially the Border Leicesters, look like the same chubby sheep as before.  Fred sniffs a ewe now and then, but even he seems certain that they’re all set.


If we need more hay, Matt will bring it in with the tractor.  But I will check the water.  Through trial and error, we’ve determined that “three” is the optimum number of 22-gallon heated waterers.  The sheep always muck them up with hay after a few days, so I clean one or two waterers out completely every day to prevent slimy buildup.  Yuck.


Outside of the main barn, we have two pairs of sheep in special quarters.  Because Fred would fight our other two rams, “Bob Loblaw” and “Oliver” have a suite all their own with a cozy stall and a small outdoor area.  Oliver has an intestinal issue at the moment, so he’s getting daily Pepto Bismol to top off his hay ration.

We also have two Border Leicester lambs that we noticed weren’t competing well for food.  They are very timid and retiring and had become too thin.  They now have a stall of their own where they can enjoy regular grain feeding.



A significant but pleasing change between this year and last is our ability to properly house our rams and separated ewes.  Instead of a tent in the back yard, they have a safe, enclosed building that effectively breaks the wind.  Because of this, we can maintain unfrozen water for them and monitor their health more closely.  After losing a ram to bladder stones possibly caused by dehydration over the winter, we are glad to have the correct facilities now.




I am offering 20% off our scarves at Our Etsy Shop   Offer code: FLEECENAVIDAD

The photos don’t quite do these justice.  Five of the scarves are made from the last of my Cormo yarn and two from our natural-color Bluefaced Leicester.  The softness, comfort and drape is unmatched.  Even wool skeptics will find these scarves next-to-the-skin pleasant.  Dad and I are really proud of these gorgeous scarves.  We think they are a sustainable gift worth giving (or a gift to yourself- after all, you’ve worked hard this year!)

Please feel free to get in touch with any questions.


Walking Again

So I am just starting to walk again.

My doctor made Physical Therapy sound optional, but given that I’m already in physical therapy for abdominal issues, I’m hardly going to skip making sure that my feet will be okay for years to come.  It’s no surprise that my physical therapist observed that I am really, really strong, but have little flexibility.  Labor that involves restraining animals and lifting heavy loads will do that.  This is a good time for me to focus on my overall body capabilities so that I start farming again at the top of my game.

I am just starting to walk comfortably into the barn and out of it.  Without good control of the ball of my foot and my big toe, I have to take it easy.  I am not confident that I’m going to be able to control the clutch of the tractor sufficiently, so I am holding back on doing tractor work for the time being.

Matt has done a fabulous job with the sheep.  It almost seems like a boon – he’s developed his own handling habits and ability to evaluate the sheep.  Without me to help, he’s harnessed his own observational skills and grown his confidence.  I can’t thank Matt enough for managing everything while I’ve been on the couch.

The sheep also recognize Matt’s work, as they now run to him first for petting and attention.  I don’t think I’m a stranger in their eyes, but I can hear the “where have you BEEN” in the way the sheep respond to me.  I wish I could go headlong into handling them and feeding them again, but I have to be very cautious that I don’t twist my ankle or get my foot stomped.  I am still fragile, and it stinks.

Some scenes from the barn, now that I’m back in it:


Sometimes, Sheep are Jerks

in the new barn.

The last two days have been very hectic in preparation for the sheep going into the barn for the winter.  You’d think, “We have a barn, so we’re good” but we had yet to complete the electricity, the end panels, the floor and a few other small details.  My parents came and helped tremendously.  They are a model of how to cooperate and plan a multi-task effort. Mom applied rabbit-fence to the large gaps on the bottom of the large cattle panels while Dad and Matt worked on installing the electricity and affixing the cattle panels to the barn walls.  I was even able to help a little despite my broken foot by moving some hay around for bedding and helping Mom.

With a little cleanup, today was the day to move the sheep into the barn.  We figured they’d be really pleased with the opportunity since they stood out in the sleet all last night.  But as Matt led the flock up the hill to their new winter quarters, two of the Border Leicesters decided that they’d rather be outside after all and led a few of their more gullible friends along as well.  Oh well, we’ll try again!  But the more we gathered the sheep and tried to get them in the barn, the more sheep began to refuse to cooperate.  With only two people, only one of whom could walk, we could get most of the sheep in but couldn’t close the gate behind them, allowing several to escape every time we tried to pen them.  We tried every configuration of gates and moving at different speeds and leading them in different directions to lure them, but finally we had to concede that we had 20 sheep in the barn and 16 on the lawn and there wasn’t going to be much we could do to make ground.

Matt was angry and frustrated and I was frozen and crabby.  I began to feed the lawn-sheep little bits of grain to intrigue them to stay where they were.  This was easier said than done, as the grain-lovers were all in the barn and the grain-skeptics in the yard were mostly avoiding me.  While impatience made our situation worse when we were trying to force the sheep into the barn, patience and the fine art of pretending not to pay attention to the sheep eating the grain I was providing allowed me to hold the sheep in one place.  Meanwhile, Matt gathered reams of Electronet fence and  hauled it up the hill again and again to enclose the sheep.  He is having some nerve pain, so schlepping fence around was about as comfortable for him as standing on one foot for two hours trying to be nonchalant about the timid sheep was for me. But within half an hour, he had set the fence up around us.  He was hot and exhausted, and I was frozen and had lost feeling in my toes.  But we got all of the sheep contained.

When we got inside, Matt asked me to prepare the mutton chops we had in the fridge.  He felt he needed to eat sheep after an afternoon like this.  I cooked the chops and they almost made up for how sore and exhausted we are.  A brandy and pear tart I also made made up the difference.

Tomorrow, we have a couple of friends joining us to move the rest of the sheep into the barn.   We should be able to do without moving the sheep outside of fencing.   Hopefully, it will be a smoother process than today was.