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A Little Help from my Friends

There’s nothing better than a farm friend when you need one!

January is conference season, even in a year where all conferences are virtual. I was lucky enough to attend a sheep chat hosted by Cornell discussing small ruminant management. While the content of the conference itself varied a bit, I was lucky enough to meet Lee, who runs a dairy and multi-species meat operation. He comes from the entertainment media world, and we had a long discussion about current thought in marketing. Marketing always sounds so cynical to me: I hate feeling like I need to convince people to buy yarn or lamb. Some of my hesitation comes from my own shyness and my cultural background of humility and modesty. Lee understood this and managed to convince me that bringing myself into my marketing doesn’t have to be pushy or obnoxious. It can look like opening up and inviting people in more. Mind, this is not easy for a repressed Yankee like me, but I think that after nearly 10 years raising sheep, I’m ready to welcome you all into my world a little more.

A blog post that’s uncomfortably centered on me. Here I am, attired in woolens and a shabby coat, ready to share myself more generously.

A hastily-composed bio:

My name is Katie Sullivan. I’ll turn 38 in October. I was born and raised in NH, went to college in Massachusetts, and then settled in Vermont after graduation. I came with dreams of working in non-profits. Though my dreams lay in working in social justice organizations, my skillset and personality didn’t fit in that world. I gave the field two solid attempts before quitting for good in 2010, heartbroken, traumatized and looking for a different path towards making a better world.

In 2011, I began an internship on a goat dairy farm that became a job, and that job turned into a new career in value-added food production. In 2012, I got my first sheep and began blogging. In 2014, I went through a divorce, left the goat farm, met Matt and moved in with him. My sheep were fostered that winter with neighbors back at the farm- I still feel tearful when I think of the generosity of the friends who kept my sheep dream alive during that difficult time. The sheep followed me in spring to Williston, VT from 2015-17. In 2017, with some inheritance money of Matt’s, we quit our regular jobs and bought our farm in Albany, VT.

More fun facts:

  • My favorite color is red, even though our home interior, cars, sheep trailer and one tractor are all blue.
  • People think I look just like my mother, but if you saw a picture of my paternal grandmother, you’d see the resemblance.
  • I am a former vegetarian/almost-vegan who made a full 180 shift into raising animals for wool and meat.
  • I am preoccupied with the flavors and textures of East Asian snackfoods. I can eat Gochujang until I breathe fire but I don’t love jalopenos. HMart is my happy place.
  • I speak France-French, but I am not always effective understanding spoken Quebecois-French. I am working on this issue.
  • I’m not a skillful knitter (all the good stuff comes from my mom!) but I’ve been knitting a bit more lately because I love the texture experience of yarn.
  • I have fine motor skills deficiencies, Sensory Integration Disorder and some other ASD goodies, so when I say I love wool and yarn, I mean REALLY LOVE. Unsurprisingly, I have a big chip on my shoulder about people telling me to “try harder” at things that I simply do not have the mental or physical ability to do. You asking me to write it again, more neatly = me asking you to flap your arms until you start flying.
  • I love most cats and some dogs. Matt has a parrot who mostly hates me.
  • My biggest strength and biggest weakness is that I am always intense, singleminded, and determined about whatever I am focused on, to the detriment of other activities and needs.
  • Matt has taught me a great deal about engines and electronics.
  • I enjoy casual birdwatching. I would like to improve my auditory birding abilities.
  • I’m a Public Radio nerd and a big nerd in general, so no one should ever feel bashful about demonstrating their passion about obscure topics around me.
  • Nothing better than exploring an old barn!
  • My favorite TV show is Rick and Morty, followed perhaps by OG All Creatures Great and Small or Law and Order. I enjoy Star Wars and Star Trek equally.
  • I can be very, very funny.
  • I normally swear a lot but I can clean up nicely.
  • I am the rare Millennial who likes mayonnaise.
  • Southern New England aggression is my native tongue, but Vermont has taught me to be nicer and kinder.
  • I speak with a strange mixture of Eastern New England R-less-ness with some adopted Vermont pronunciations so people here can understand me.
  • I read the entirety of Emily Posts’ 1967 etiquette guide, so I know what I *should* do but I don’t always behave
  • I don’t enjoy smoothies.
  • Several people have told me that I am the most “internal” person they know.
  • I do not know how to apply makeup.
  • I wish I could dance but I have zero rhythm.
  • I am uncomfortable with hugs or touch from strangers, so please ask first.
  • I have not had many opportunities to travel and haven’t really left the Northeast much.
  • My only “bucket list” task is to swim in a warm ocean before I die.

    If you have enjoyed this list, thank Lee at Moxie Ridge Farm in NY. You can stay tuned for a bit more “personalized” experience of Cloverworks Farm going forward, and I sincerely hope that you’ll enjoy it. I’m also happy to get to know you. What do you want to learn about, or see more of, or dive into more deeply, or share about your own experience?
A picture of me, the human, and #40, a BFL ewe who LOVES cuddles.
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Waiting for Grass

Everyone on the farm is waiting for grass right now.

Every time we step outside, a sheep in the barnyard notices and starts to baa. Soon, a resounding chorus of baaing joins her, and I endure a jeering crowd as I walk to the garden. They can see that the grass has emerged and that it’s green. What they can’t see is that it is so short that it would last them half an hour, max. So we wait for the grass to grow without being able to tell the sheep why. And they resent us, slightly.

Most ewes lambed in February and early March. The stragglers were about done by mid March and we were grateful to return to a normal sleep schedule at that point. Just today, though, one of our yearling ewes dropped a sweet little ram lamb who reminds us that the sassy, leaping lambs were once tender baby lambs.

I’ve started a garden for the first time in years. I’m not immune to the gentle surge of our culture back towards self-sufficiency. We’ll have peas, potatoes, lettuce and cilantro of our own to enjoy. I did go straight to the things we eat the most- the garden is only 15x15ft. Matt admonished me not to bite off more than I could chew, as is my tendency, so my huge garden bed got whittled down to something we are sure we can manage.

Here’s that new lamb:

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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.