The forecast promised us warming temperatures this week. Perfect for lambing after a sharp cold snap. We awoke on 2/22 to find two perfect Bluefaced Leicester lambs waiting for us from Pearl.
These first lambs precipitated six more over the next four days. We assisted with one case of tangled triplets. The first lamb had his head backwards, so it just took a bit of help to get him oriented correctly. One of this trio of brothers needed a little warming.
This morning, I awoke to find a single ewe lamb snuggling with her mother, already warm and dry. Perfect! I got her situated and then ran errands in Hardwick. On my way home, a friend phoned to ask if I could come help with a difficult lambing. She had been working for an hour and couldn’t reach the vet. Sometimes we just need another set of hands on the problem. So I set off to assist with tangled twins.
We entered the barn to find the ewe lying down uncomfortably. In this case, the extra-large shoulders of the first lamb were blocking the exit, and his sister’s hind legs were also in the mix. Yikes! A gentle massaging of the cervix around the shoulders sent the ram lamb shooting into my waiting arms. Since it was hind legs from the second lamb, I pulled her out as quickly as I could so she wouldn’t take her first breath while still inside Mom. Both lambs seemed fine despite our intense ministrations and Momma ewe looked relieved. A cup of tea and a shepherd-to-shepherd chat session felt good after that.
Matt and I had plans to go to the Taste of Vermont event at Jay Peak this evening. I knew, though, that if I planned to go, lambs were sure to show up and sure enough, they did. As I completed the last session of chores before hopping in the car, I noticed that Frances had toes protruding. She’d had triplets last year, so it felt prudent to stay and observe. A decent-sized ram lamb appeared first, followed by a lovely ewe. Momma barely had time to start licking the second ewe when the third set of toes and nostrils appeared. Two ewes and a ram, all perfectly blue and very lovely.
Six down, 35-40 to go (since we don’t know precisely how many yearlings are pregnant but due later in the season).
2019 represented a turning point for our farm. With our yarn sales, we’ve reached a point of some sustainability. We are really grateful for everyone who has supported us in this by buying yarn, sharing a post or just by offering encouragement. If we are going to turn the climate crisis around, we need people like you who value local, sustainable and biodegradable clothing. On the meat side, progress hasn’t been quite as dramatic, though we’ve made some breakthrough connections that we hope to continue. We are focusing on lamb box delivery while we are also moving a lot of lamb through our partners at Pete’s Greens, City Market and the Craftsbury General Store.
So what will 2020 bring?
We are cautiously optimistic that we will have more of both our Derby Line Border Leicester Yarn and our Greensboro Bend BFL available in 2020. Avid readers of this blog will know that Bobolink Yarns launches in February. We are expecting our first Bobolink Yarns product back from the mill then. I have not let readers know that 300 additional pounds of wool went to the mill in December. We are partnering with Sheep to Shawl to offer our unique yarns in their 2020 yarn club. Donna tells me that her yarn fans love unique wools with stories to tell.
On the sheep side, we are keeping our flock size similar to this year. We’ve concluded that until the land fertility begins to improve significantly, we can’t really add much to the number of ewes we manage. We will keep 8 or so ewe lambs from this coming crop and we may have yearling ewes to sell to buyers. If you are looking for breedstock, this is a great year to look at our Border Leicesters in particular. I have two fantastic unrelated rams. Buyers could buy compatible ewes and rams from us. Get in touch if you are thinking about getting sheep in 2020.
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.
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.
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.