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Off the Rails

Yesterday, lambing really went off the rails.

A few days ago, we noticed that ewe 1417 had developed a hernia-like lump on her side. Heartbroken, we had to acknowledge that she ruptured her prepubertal tendon. Uncomfortable and vulnerable to pushing and shoving from other sheep, we placed her in her own space so she could eat and drink freely. We are very concerned with her comfort.

Based on our concern, we decided that inducing lambing would be a good choice for 1417. The lambs would certainly be viable, and she could get relief as soon as the lambs were out. We administered meds, and then the waiting began. For a while, it seemed like nothing was happening. Then, after delivering twins from Clementine, we noticed that she was discharging some goo. It was hard to see labor in 1417 – I assume that losing a key tendon might make her muscles function differently. So I reached in and found she was ready to deliver two smallish lambs. The first was a normal, healthy lamb, the second a smallish weak lamb. We rushed the weak one into the farmhouse while allowing the ewe to begin licking the stronger lamb.

While we were debating what to do with the weaker lamb, we checked on the ewe to find her slowly birthing a third lamb. We thought there might be more in there, but I hadn’t been able to identify them with my hands while examining. Triplets made a lot of sense given the size of the belly of the ewe. We borrowed lamb #1 for a bit and let Momma lick lamb #3. Normally, we would let Momma lick all of the lambs and only assist in drying the lambs a little, but we knew that the weakened ewe would struggle to keep up with too many lambs. After lamb #3 straightened out, Matt went to town for some colostrum replacer. The ewe had none, owing to being induced before her udder was prepared. We took some colostrum from Clementine, who fortunately had a huge supply. Colostrum is vitally important for normal immune function in lambs.

I went out to check on how lamb #3 was doing, only to find 1417 delivering lamb #4, a huge ram. It’s strange to admit this, but I felt better about the ewe’s injury knowing that with such an excess of lambs, she was in great danger of issues or injuries of some kind. Four lambs is simply too many.

Decision time: Momma ewe was not going to be able to raise four lambs in her compromised condition. We delivered the ram lamb to a friend who will raise him. We have the weakest lamb plus a second ewe lamb in the house, and Momma has one lamb to raise, which is about all she’s going to be able to manage. No sooner were the quads delivered but Chloe the BFL had twins, and at the 3am check I was up for an hour and a half caring for 1601’s new Border triplets. So everyone is exhausted and strugging and chugging coffee, but we’ve successfully started our first -ever set of quadruplet lambs here at Cloverworks Farm.

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In the New Year

Another year, another opportunity.

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.

Border Leicester and Bluefaced Leicester ewes in the barnyard
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More Sheep and Wool Festival Preparation

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Preparing for the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival

Somehow, getting ready for my second Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival seems like it will be more challenging than the first.

First, I am not currently certain whether I will have yarn or not for the show.  With three weeks to go, it would be helpful to know if yarn is happening or not.   The issue is that the owner of my mill recently had surgery, and I know from experience that recovery is pretty variable, so we don’t know if he will have time to process my order or not.   I am hoping to bring the fleece to sell raw if spinning can’t take place, but it’s all up in the air at present.  This is not a complaint or an indictment of anyone- it’s just the way that cookies crumble when you’re dealing with small businesses owned by real people, and I know that.

Second, I am hoping to have sausages back soon from the lambs I dropped off a few weeks ago.  The slaughterhouse told me that they had run low on casings, so I await them awaiting their casing order.  I will not have sausage for sale at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.  The logistics of bringing it and the insurance and licensing implications thereof are too much to deal with.  If you want some sausage (and you do, based on the deliciousness of the last batch!), contact me now.

Third, with uncertainty about yarn hanging over my head, I’ve been madly processing all of the non-yarn fleece into batts for sale.  I now have a cellar full of beautiful natural-colored and hand-dyed batts.  I will confess that I am scared because I’m a newbie dyer and I have a persistent nightmare about getting mountains of phone calls about dye washing out of finished knits!   Here’s hoping I didn’t mess it all up too badly.  Does anyone know of a way to test a dye-job that doesn’t chew up too much of the dyed material?

And Fourth, I learned recently through helpful Facebook crowdsourcing that brochures are hopelessly old-fashioned and that post-cards are the way to go.  It’s likely that friends of the farm saved me a fair $100 on printing costs while also updating my tastes.  Thanks, friends!  I designed what I hope will be a very attractive card with some charming sheep photos on it and a list of available products.

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A combination of Eleanor and Little Moose’s fleece

 

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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.

 

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Talking about Solace

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I’ve been feeling sad for the past week or so.  Even though the attack in Orlando feels very personal to me, it’s not one particular event or situation that’s upsetting me.  I think that it’s the tone of conversation I’ve seen over Orlando, Black Lives Matter, Brexit, the presidential election, and even topics that are important but not ultimately tremendously significant, like merging local school districts.  I’m less upset that terrible things happen than I am at how poorly, shortsightedly, and provincially we handle them.  I am most upset at how people talk about other groups of people.  When we forget that large groups are made up of individuals who are as complex and contradictory as we all are, terrible words and decisions follow.

So I turn to my sheep in search of peace.  In June, I usually find them relaxing under their shade, taking pleasure in the comforts of home and company.  An ear shakes off some flies with a quick flick.   They turn to see me and usually baa an acknowledgement.  Sometimes they all get up, hoping I’ll set up a new pasture.  But sometimes, I can just sit down, and a few will come and visit, and gradually we’ll all sit down together.

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Lambs on the Lam

Matt and I were preparing dinner on Thursday, when we happened to look out the window.

“Huh.  Are those lambs out?”

“Oh, yeah…two of them!”

So I went out to get them.  Here’s where we have a full display of lamb personalities.  Todd Chavez, Bobolink’s friendly and ebullient son, ran straight up to me.

His expression said, “Hi Person!  We’re just hanging out here, outside, where we aren’t supposed to be.   It’s really BadHorse’s fault, because he was out here first, but he jumped back in and now we’re just out here.  Can I jump on you?”

About 20 feet away, Phoebe was staring at me with the utmost caution.  She seemed to be saying “Todd  SHUT UP!  Don’t tell the human anything about us being out here!

So I started petting Todd, and Phoebe felt the need to come closer because she needed to be near other sheep.  As soon as she was close enough, I grabbed her and pitched her back over the bars of the enclosure.  Todd just watched, and when it was his turn he nibbled my face as I tossed him back, too.

For the third time this year, I lifted the metal enclosure bars onto the increasingly tall manure pile.  You guys just say in there!  Grass is a few weeks away, still.

 

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Phoebe- she’s pretty sure I can’t be trusted

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Todd just wants our love. All of it.

 

 

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Several Lambs Later

My usual pattern is to write a little lamb story, and then maybe a post about shearing.

I’ve done that before, so I’ll give you a brief synopsis of each:

The sheep were shorn on February 21st, which is about a month and a half early relative to normal shearing times.   We’ve had mostly good weather for naked sheep since then, with a couple nights were I felt very guilty for leaving them wool-less.   Joe St. Marie did a great job, as always.  The wool clip was decent, but with a few problems.  The sheep need to be cleaner.  Not massively cleaner- very little fleece was ruined by the presence of VM, but a lot wasn’t hand-spinner-worthy due to VM.  Cinder, especially, attracts dirt like a magnet.   I plan to coat Meadowlark and Bobolink, at least, and perhaps Chimney Swift as well.   Swift made a splendid fleece with beautiful crimp.  I am pretty set on keeping another Cinder daughter this year…that is, if I have one.

The lambs.  There have been four single rams and one single ewe this year.  Non-pregnant sheep would be a disaster, but all singles qualifies as a setback all the same.  I had requests for a total of NINE ewe lambs this year, and I won’t be able to supply any, at all.  Meadowlark looks pregnant but fairly trim.  She may lamb late.  Swift is bred to her own sire (she doesn’t mind) so her lamb will meet a freezer in the fall no matter what.

I will admit that I feel some panic about the financial implications of a second poor lambing in two years.   Most shepherding books agree that a healthy single lamb is a break-even proposition at best.  With all of the labor and capital I’ve put into the sheep, I’d really like to do a little better than breaking even and going unpaid.

My first thought was genetics- had I messed up my flock by using too much Cormo input?  Cormos are known for producing fine fleece, and secondarily, for twinning a little more than half the time.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get much information about two of my rams, so I don’t know their twinning backgrounds.  I blamed myself and my focus on fine wool.  Should I get a Finnsheep (A breed of sheep known for having numerous lambs and for increasing lambing percentages in its offspring) to mix into the flock?   Finnsheep have a very different kind of wool and are generally smaller than mine, so adding Finn genetics would bring big changes to the flock.

Picture now the ubiquitous “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme from WWII Britain.  Substitute “Call UVM Extension Agent Joe Emenheiser” for “Carry On” and you’ve got my calmer response to the issue.  I really admire Joe’s dedication to profitable shepherding, and his extensive knowledge can only impress.  Joe pointed out that Vermont is very selenium deficient.  Not only could selenium deficiency be to blame for the tough amniotic sacs that have caused a few stillbirths in my flock in past years, but it might also have diminished the fertility of my later generations.  Perhaps my original sheep were well able to cope with low selenium, but offspring of the Cormos and Corriedales I’ve since added might have increased need for selenium that I’m not meeting.  So I haven’t destroyed my gene pool.  I simply need to better meet their needs.

With relief that the problem is fixable.  I began supplementing selenium last fall, and intend to continue adding selenium as much as is safe to do so.