Just a taste of what I’m bringing to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival this year. I have about 100 skeins of yarn, hot off the mill(?), soft, huggable pelts from lambs and adults, hand-carded batts, some natural and some hand-dyed, and patterns. My mom wrote a nifty new cowl pattern that we are excited to share with you!
Some Sheep Updates, because I like doing them:
With all of the maintenance mowing we’ve been able to do with the new tractor, I can finally say that the sheep are really thriving. It’s hard to find a spine or ribs on the Bluefaced Leicesters, and the Cormos are looking better, brighter and healthier than ever.
Peggy, who is probably about ten years old, is still going strong. I thought I should cull her, but she has teeth enough and is keeping up with the herd very comfortably.
Tardis and Dalek are getting ever friendlier. Eleanor is a ham, and is fat enough to be made into a ham. She is the size of my adult Cormos at the age of six months. Little Moose is taller but leaner, and Marianne is lagging in growth a little. She gets extra grain at feeding time.
The rams deeply resent being separated from the ewes, but have nevertheless been great ram-bassadors in my front yard, greeting passers-by.
Eleanor, Chickadee and Phoebe (sheep) will be at the Sheep and Wool Festival, along with me, Matt and Phoebe (person). I earnestly can’t wait to see you there.
It’s not like the Merguez we made in June. Without the benefit of added pork fat that we put in the Merguez, this sausage is, frankly, more like ground meat in a tube than sausage. Cooking it is a delicate affair, since fat creates juiciness and crispness. On the upside, this sausage is leaner and healthier than regular sausage. Even better? This sausage has fabulous lamb flavor with the rich garlic, pepper and oregano of traditional pork Chorizo.
Still, it’s tasty and flavorful meat that just begs to be part of soups and stews. Use it to make rich, creamy soup or Cuban beans and rice. The off-grill possibilities are endless and perfect for fall and winter.
We don’t fault brisket for not being prime rib, and neither need we fault this sausage for being intended for flavoring soups and stews rather than frying. That said, I’m charging less than I intended to for this sausage because it is less versatile than other sausages.
Please send me an email or give me a call if you’d like to try some tasty sausage! I am offering 10% off ten or more packages. Sheepandpickle at gmail is the email you’ll be looking for.
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!
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.
After an escape and a few other instances of naughtiness, primarily instigated by The Doctor, I gave in. Knowing a bit about sheep psychology, I made a guess: if I put the BFLs with the larger flock, they would be more inclined to stay put because the larger flock doesn’t pressure the fence. After a few hours of intensive bum-sniffing and then a few days of not associating with each other, team Bluefaced and team more-or-less-Cormo have concluded that they can play nicely. The Doctor has become something of a leader, though Peggy is still skeptical that this young upstart could have anything valuable to contribute to *her* flock.
While the Doctor has learned that being fenced in is okay, Little Moose and Fred have gleaned from their fellow sheep that Matt and I are not as vicious and horrible as they initially feared. Little Moose doesn’t flee anymore, and Fred will even approach for a hand-sniff. Petting is still forbidden at the moment, but time and some grain should help that.
Here are some pictures of our pasture paradise:
We had a little rain over the past week, and the Bluefaced Leicesters are showing off their amazing wool.
We were up at 6:30 for a second day in a row (well, I get up at 5:45 almost every day, but still). We were out of the hotel before the continental breakfast was out, so we made do with IHOP. The traffic reached the festival before we did, but excellent parking management got us on the grounds and in the door rapidly. After orienting to the space and buying our teeshirts and totebags, we headed barn-ward to find our BFL farm contacts.
What we found were our sheep-sellers hastily clipping and tidying their charges. The Bluefaced Leicester National Show was scheduled from 9am-12pm, but Karakuls were still in the showring and no one had been called in yet. I introduced myself to Cindy and Margaret from Pitchfork Ranch, and then settled in to watch the show before Mom and I were able to find Brenda from Beechtree Farm. My sister, her husband and my little niece Cora were there with us, and we alternated between watching the show and looking at other exhibits. At the tender age of 11 months, Cora is skilled at making a “baa” sound and at joining in a round of applause. We sat in the stands as she moved from person to person, giving hugs and coo-ing and pulling the glasses off our faces.
In the stands, we encountered the grandmother of the gal whose ewes we are bringing home in two weeks! She raises her own sheep for wool and is also from New Hampshire, so there was plenty to chat about. We watched as the Chapin Family picked up several show ring victories in coveted categories, like Champion Ewe. Way to go!
Finally, with the show over, the sellers and I finally had a chance to talk. We met with Cindy and Margaret from Pitchfork and discussed their sheepraising program at length. I realized that I have anxiety about being perceived as uncommitted or likely to abandon my sheep-raising program. I may have overcompensated for that fear by talking about dairy goat genetics longer than anyone cares to hear about that topic. We noticed that they were selling an extra ewe. Reading her pedigree, I could see that she had just enough distance from most of my flock to be a good brood ewe and a possible source of a ram to keep my flock going without input for a while. I think I knew we were buying her when I felt along her back and could not palpate a spine. She had so much strong, hard meat and muscle there that her spine and her ribs were completely obscured. That is just not the case for my Cormo flock, even in their best condition. Selling Tim and Swift gave me just enough money to make the purchase possible.
We met with Brenda from Beechtree, as well. We didn’t find her until a little later, and didn’t have as much time to meet and greet. It was now nearing 2pm, two hours later than our ideal departure, and it was past time to plan the sheep loading. Mom and I had recognized a serious problem a few days before the festival. Due to crowds and rules at MSWF, you can’t just drive up to the sheep barns and load sheep. We would need to move them across open country. So we agreed that Brenda would bring the adult ram from her pen, and Margaret and I would meet her leading the ewe lamb, while Cindy fetched the littler ram lamb from their trailer nearby. Our silly sheep-moving group provided plenty of entertainment to the crowd as we passed. Like a ninja, Mom snuck the truck through a gate. It was great to see it waiting as we rounded the corner with the sheep in tow and Brenda joined us with Outlander, the adult ram!
Getting the ewe in the truck was a simple lift job. I got in the truck to hold her in, and I was handed Outlander’s lead rope while Brenda and Margaret each lifted a side. We made a really tricky task look easy. The last lamb was small and no trouble. I really owe a lot to Margaret, Cindy and Brenda for shlepping those sheep across the fairgrounds.
Again, the strong degree of organization at MSWF helped, as we were able to get the sheep cooling off on the road quickly. Mom drove the first half of the trip up I95. To cope with the crazy traffic that is far beyond what we’re used to, Mom and I began an index of reckless driving behaviors. We counted 25 incidents between the start of our drive in Friendship, Maryland and the New Jersey/New York border. We were well over 10 after Maryland and through Delaware, but the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway made solid contributions of scary incidents, near misses, and the crossing of multiple lanes through constantly shifting traffic. This incident happened just a short time before we reached Brunswick, and that earned a point for scary driving! I could not have withstood the kind of hair-raising driving that my mom handles. Crowded roads make me very anxious. I would have lost my mind handling the DC metro area. Thanks, Mom! The Adirondack Northway only amassed 7 points, but the speeders were really cruising on that road. The truck shook every time the sheep stood up and shuffled around, so we didn’t even try to keep up with the left lane traffic.
People give weird looks at rest stops when the back of your truck is bouncing and baa-ing. We never left the sheep completely unattended, so it was one coffee-break at a time.
We reached the Vermont border at 10pm, and I focused on staying alert all the way home to Williston at 11:30. There was no feeling like lying down after we unloaded the sheep in the barn and went to bed.
The tough part about bringing in some new sheep is having to part with a few old friends.
When I reserved two new Bluefaced Leicester rams, I knew that Cinder’s days on my farm were numbered. As delightful as he is a companion, he doesn’t have the value of a purebred, registered ram with production records. I can’t risk a giant, powerful $200 ram injuring a taller but lighter $500 ram (or two!). I know that a small flock like mine gives a ram a two year window of work before he has too many relatives in the flock. Despite my connections to many New England shepherds, no one expressed any interest in buying Cinder (a fact which further justified my contention that Cormos do not have adequate breed support and a critical mass of interested breeders).
So what to do with Cinder? Even neutered, he would still be strong enough to continue to divert food from ewes. His wool, while beautiful, would not support his eating habits alone. So Phoebe, Todd, Matt and I loaded him into the truck on Thursday and took him to Vermont Livestock. Like his last move, Cinder is a very reluctant passenger. It took all four of us to push him up a plywood ramp while he counterbraced his legs. Of course, he obediently jumped right out of the truck when we reached the abbatoir. The handful of curious ewes waiting for him in an adjacent pen in the clean, brightly lit “waiting room” probably helped. On May 20th, I’ll be making merguez sausages with the hundred or so pounds of meat that I anticipate from Cinder. Let me know if you’d be interested in some!
Adding to the farewells, I parted with Timberdoodle and Swift yesterday. Due to thesize of my barn, I knew that I would need to pare the Cormo flock down to about six to fit the four ewes coming from New Hampshire in a few weeks. I thought through the ewe requests in my backlog, and remembered that one person was looking for two ewes for a starter flock. I knew that Timberdoodle would do much better on richer pastures. Who could go with her? Peggy is too old and potentially delicate to offer to a beginner. I would like her to live out her life with me. Bobolink and Meadowlark are too dear to me, and Valentine is not friendly enough for beginners. Swift. Her fleece is perfect, and she’s small and a delight to handle. Her little son went with her for additional companionship. Matt and I enjoyed coffee and a homemade-sourdough-bread snack with their wonderful new owners.
So the flock is looking a little sparse for a few days, but we’ll soon be back in business!
I am buying four ewes from Smiling Sheep Farm in New Hampshire on May 22nd. I purchased two adult ewes aged 3 and 4, and my mother invested in two lambs. Technically, I’m buying these sheep from a 12 year old girl who has them as a project alongside her parents’ Romneys. For financial matters, I’ve been talking to her mom. I’ve really enjoyed corresponding with Hilary (Mom), and I hope that we can be resources to each other raising Bluefaced Leicesters in the Northeast.
More pressingly, Mom and I are now planning our May 6-7th trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. This festival owns sheepandwool.com, so you can tell they’re a big deal. We’ll be meeting two Bluefaced Leicester farmers from Michigan there. Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival hosts the Bluefaced Leicester National Show every other year, so we’ll get some great information about how to evaluate our sheep and which flocks have the features we want most. As a bonus, we’ll get to spend some time with my sister and niece!
We are buying a ram lamb from Pitchfork Ranch . He will be white. We are also buying an adult ram lamb from Beechtree Farm, also in Michigan. It took me a really, really long time to pick the right ram with the right pedigree configuration, but I finally settled on two year old “Outlander”. Look through these shamelessly-pilfered pictures with me, and let me know what you think!
Nice, nice wool, and perfectly in line with the breed standard.
He doesn’t want to be on the stand. Lucky for him, I don’t own one of those (yet).
This is the business end of a ram. Not for the obvious reason, but because that width and nice, meaty leg is what makes money in the meat business. As much fun as wool is, the meat business pays the bills.